Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lemme talk to your elders!

I'd like to call attention to a pattern that I've seen for a while among many in Reformedigelical circles. I've indirectly alluded to it before, such as in my review of Tony Miano's Should She Preach?.
Many in Reformed circles these days default to some variation of "Are you a member of a church? What do your elders think of what you just said?" in Internet encounters, and at times the questioner even demands the name and contact information of the interlocutor's elders so as to circumvent the issue under debate, to contact the elders directly, rather than dealing with the interlocutor himself. This turn of events is quite unhelpful, is intellectually dishonest, and displays a very unhealthy view of elder authority. Let me provide two examples of what I mean below the fold.

In a thread about a month ago at Adam Gray's Facebook wall:
  • Rho Logy How does admonition differ from rebuke?
    Are you aware that AHA does not say that we rebuke pro-life churches? We *exhort* them.
    What was special about Paul's way of admonition? He *commujicated* to the church. So do abolitionists. It is special pleading to make a distinction without proving the distinction exists.
  • Rho Logy Based on what biblical substantiation do you assert that Hebrews 10:24 is not relevant for relationships between believers? Are you proposing that we should not provoke other believers to love and good deeds? Only those in our local church? Where is that in the scripture? Chapter and verse please.
  • Adam Gray That is a great question to ask your church Elders. In the meantime you could do a word study on the two. I believe you will find a significant difference. The way in which AHA "communicates" to the local church is not found in Scripture. It is also certainly not a form of exhorting...another good word study to check out. Using these words without the proper context of how they are used and defined in Scripture is apparently another problem you have revealed for AHA.

    As for the passage in Hebrews, I was only giving you the context that you ripped the verse from. Right Christian relationships start in the local church but of course do not end there.

Here, instead of answering the question, what does Gray do? Tells me to ask the elders of my church. 
Later in that thread, I said the following:
How precisely would seeking elder counsel help me? Are elders automatically better-versed in the Scripture than others? Why not just show me my error, and answer my questions? Come to think of it, I'd like to ask again if there's a reason you didn't want to talk to me in any other format than Facebook. 

His response:
Am I to assume by the quick manner in which you responded that you have not consulted with your Elders regarding the biblical difference between admonishing, rebuking, and exhorting?
This theme would later be repeated several times during the course of the thread, culminating in his refusal to discuss with me any further after reminding him no less than three times that the names of my elders and their position on anything I do or say is none of his business. 
Ever ready to try to shed darkness on these issues, another critic made sure his position was known:
I am also curious if your elders approve of CR?
My reply to him:
That's awesome. So... I guess it's OK for you to meddle in other churches' affairs but not OK for abolitionists. Is this not more hypocrisy on your part?
How amazingly bizarre it is for him to say things like this may be totally lost on him, or he may be lost in wickedness. Or both.

Anyway, another example is RC Sproul Jr speaking to Grant Keeter, as cited by the same critic in a recent hatchet job he put together (EDIT: and later took down):
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This exchange is disheartening and unnerving. Instead of engaging Keeter on the level of the idea and of the Scripture, RCSJr instead insisted more than once that Keeter give him the name and contact information of the elders of his church. Why? It's not entirely clear, but it would certainly seem that Sproul was trying to get someone else to silence Keeter, having failed to defeat his ideas in public. Perhaps if the elder of a church calls another elder on the phone, there is some sort of Good Ol' Boy Club respect that Sproul expects will be extended his way. "Oh, is that boy Keeter acting up again? Oh, well, Fellow Shepherd of Souls, you know how that goes. I'll take care of it right away. Can't have these little laymen getting uppity, thinking they can read the Bible or think for themselves!"

Keeter was right to call Sproul out in this wicked attitude: "Deal plainly right now and stop trying to take it into the dark office of a pastor so you can say what you think...Swing that heavy sword of pastoral authority." Exactly.

Based on the pattern of behavior I've observed, I'd say it's because they, like so many, have overcorrected away from an incorrect Lone Wolf Christian model that is so popular in modern North America, toward a quasi-papist ecclesiology. 

The point here is not that it is bad to care about church membership. Nor is it that I think Christians should neglect to be members of churches outside of rare and unfortunate circumstances that might mean a Christian has to leave a church for a time (and of course it can be quite difficult to find a halfway-faithful local church!). What we are seeing here is an obsession. It's like these men think that
lack of church membership is the root of all evil and being a member of a church will fix all sin problems. It's like they themselves are not members of churches that actually also include other people.

Instead of dealing with Christians directly with open Bibles, they prefer to play a game of one-upmanship. Instead of working through difficult issues with discernment, participating in the marketplace of ideas, they prefer authoritative dissent-quashing. They don't care about convincing. They care about maintaining what they think is proper church structure. Instead of placing highest value on truth, they place highest value on authority and submission.

Just like Rome.


Anonymous said...

I may not agree with you on much Rhobology I think your first name is Alan. But I think you are being more consistent with your world view then the other people involved in this issue. Hope it all works out. Have a nice day.

Rhology said...

Thank you. I just wish these others would strive for consistency rather than to be lorded over and to see others lorded over.

Glenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn said...

"Instead of dealing with Christians directly with open Bibles, they prefer to play a game of one-upmanship. Instead of working through difficult issues with discernment, participating in the marketplace of ideas, they prefer authoritative dissent-quashing."

I couldn't agree more. Going straight to another party like this to make trouble for a person just because you disagree with them, without actually intellectually engaging with that person, is cowardly.

... whether that other party is an elder or an employer.

People who have done this in the past, I think, have a debt of repentance and apology to pay.

Rhology said...

You and I don't agree on everything :-) but we definitely agree on that.

David said...

I seem to recall you asking me, "Does your pastor know about this? Why don't you submit yourself to authority?" All because I HAD a "heterodox" belief as you termed it. And you didn't even give me a chance to discuss it from Scripture, preferring instead to talk down to me. And now you espouse a free marketplace of ideas under soft ecclesiology? Where were you with your open bible and concern for discernment & interlocution when you came knocking? Why did you call me to submit to authority (which I took seriously and ended up doing... coming into theological alignment with my church and missions organization) and yet now you distance yourself from that, calling such need for ecclesiastic authority "quasi-papist ecclesiology"? Alan Maricle, I'm honestly dismayed by your convoluted stances. I really want to give you the benefit of the doubt right now.

Rhology said...

Hello David,

I am going to try to give the benefit of the doubt here and try to hear a less strident tone than my initial instinct. God knows my initial instincts are not always right.

I don't believe, if you search our email thread, that either of us ever used the word "authority". It wasn't that long ago, really. Just two months. I definitely wouldn't've said something like "Why don't you submit yourself to authority?" just two months ago. Two years ago, maybe. I am growing. At the same time, there are vestiges of old-style talk that I am trying to grow out of, and I still revert now and then.

Though it's not like you have access to my innermost thoughts, I asked you that question b/c I wanted to find out if you talk to people about these convictions you're writing about so strongly on the Internet. Accountability is important! And Hebrews 13:17 clearly says that overseers keep watch over our souls. Now, what an overseer is and does is what I'm jabbing at in this blogpost. As a matter of fact, I think "keep watch over your souls" is sort of like shorthand for all the "each other"s and "one another"s in the NT; in a very real sense we're all supposed to watch over each other's souls. Kind of like Eph 5:21 - submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Naturally I should submit to an overseer, since he's a one another. And he should submit to me. Just all depends on who's right, who is saying the true thing at the moment.

Which brings me to the issue at hand. Your view is heterodox, there's no doubt about it. Believe me, there are others who'd probably use stronger language. Another "h" word. You disagree; I don't really care. I don't want to make a big deal out of this pet issue. I think y'all at your site are wasting your time on something that matters not all that much, while before your very eyes 3500 children are being murdered every single day. But you're focused on a theological side issue, the meaning of "destruction" and all that. Grow out of it. See the signs of the times all around you!

I don't agree that I talked down to you. I'm happy to post the entirety of our email exhange so anyone can read for themselves. For my part, I'd say you got really defensive really fast.

Where were you with your open bible and concern for discernment & interlocution when you came knocking?

I wasn't interested in discussing the actual merits of the site to which you were (are?) contributing. Relative waste of time. I wanted to know if you were in the closet, for a few reasons, a few at least of which I explicitly raised in our exchange.

Why did you call me to submit to authority

I never did anything of the kind.

which I took seriously and ended up doing... coming into theological alignment with my church and missions organization

I'm very glad to hear that.

I really want to give you the benefit of the doubt right now.

Well, though it might be difficult for both of us, I'll do you the favor of making a real effort to do so.
And though you didn't do me the courtesy of addressing me in the way I prefer to be addressed on the Internet, I won't return the non-favor by revealing your own full name. I pray you will see it as a small gesture of goodwill. I don't want to fight with you. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from, and also I hope you'll re-review our email exchange and see that I never appealed to authority.

Thanks for reading my blog, though. I hope it edifies you, though maybe this particular post wasn't your favorite.