John Armstrong’s Meddling
John Armstrong’s Meddling--Again!
There are still some things in life I don’t understand. One of them is when people outside of a particular denomination feel that they have to weigh in on certain issues. A case in point is John Armstrong’s blog about the PCA (Jan. 12, 2008; “The PCA Divided Again by the Charges Against Steve Wilkins.”) I’m not certain that it’s all that beneficial for those outside a denomination to express their opinion on a matter, unless it is of a very serious nature. If say, the Southern Baptist Convention denied the Trinity—which they haven’t—then that would be just cause to weigh in on the issue because it would impact the SBC and Christianity in a big way. If, on the other hand, the SBC made a statement on the use of alcohol among Christians—which they have—then I must confess that I don’t feel much compunction to voice my opinion except maybe to say, “I’ll drink to that!”
I preface my remarks this way because it seems that John Armstrong believes he’s the watchdog for the PCA. My rebuttal is: Thanks, John, but I think our denomination can handle it without your help. Moreover, if you are an ardent member of the Reformed Church in America I might suggest that you devote a little time and effort into policing the ills in that denomination. It was bad in Bavinck’s day and the American counterpart hasn’t improved much.
Anyway, just to walk the reader through what Armstrong is complaining about this time, I’m going to cite certain of his comments verbatim and then comment on them in an attempt to set the record straight. He begins this way: “Sadly, some leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America refuse to tolerate what they perceive to be ‘deadly errors.’ I am not suggesting ‘deadly errors’ should be tolerated, not in the least, but let's be honest here. This debate is about whether or not the errors themselves, assuming they are errors, are indeed “deadly.” Additionally, this is about whether or not the person who holds the supposed errors really denies the Westminster Confession of Faith (WSF) or not.”
I’m assuming that WSF stands for Westminster Standards of Faith, but back to the opening salvo. First, why is this situation “sad?” John might not like it, but that hardly qualifies it as “sad.” So at the outset we’re dealing with tendentious language. Without even giving the briefest of outlines as to why the PCA made the decision it did at its last General Assembly in Memphis, John has declared the situation “sad.” That’s sad.
Second, John says that “some” leaders in the PCA refuse to tolerate the unidentified and undefined problem. Here John is very accurate, especially if by “some” you mean more than 80%. When the vote was taken on the floor of the GA, at least 80% of the PCA delegates acted, according to Armstrong, in an intolerant manner.
Third, it is also of interest that Armstrong chose to place the words, “they perceive to be” in bold italics. What in the world is this supposed to mean? Was Armstrong on the floor of the GA? Had he done the requisite research on what was transpiring? Even if he had, could he vote? No. This is a huge slur and slam. 80% + of the delegates thought they knew what they were doing, but no, John, sees that we only perceived a problem in the Federal Vision. Whose perception is important here? Is it only Armstrong’s? Who appointed him to be the watchman over Jerusalem? Why should we pay any attention to what he thinks? He is a member of a denomination (the R.C.A.) that needs to do a lot of housework and he’s out critiquing the P.C.A.? Why don’t you start at home, John? How do we even know what the delegates perceived? Was a survey conducted? Was Armstrong at the GA? I was and I am here to say that the Moderator handled the discussion on the floor of GA in a very orderly, decently and equitable fashion.
But as he has done in the past, Armstrong proceeds to meddle in something that is outside of his church affiliation and to make all kinds of judgments based—on many occasions—on distortion of the facts. Let me provide you with some examples of what I mean. In order to do this, I’m going to use Armstrong’s words. “This debate is about whether or not the errors themselves, assuming they are errors, are indeed ‘deadly.’ Additionally, this is about whether or not the person who holds the supposed errors really denies the Westminster Confession of Faith (WSF) or not. This is an honest debate, in the formal sense, for sure. And Presbyterianism allows elders to have this struggle. (This is a matter for more thought but I seriously doubt that this ‘type’ of presbyterian practice can thrive, and help a groups [sic] of churches grow, in the new century. Clearly, the next generation has no tolerance for it at all. Sadly, many in my generation really love it and thrive on it, preferring rational debates about doctrine to actually dealing with real people in pastoral and missional ways.)” My initial response to this as a P.C.A. pastor is that this is a slap in the face from a man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about—and that is the kind version.
Once again Armstrong has set himself up as the arbiter of what is erroneous and not erroneous. Thanks ever so much, John! We were just stumbling along being intolerant until you came along to enlighten us. Now I am certain that a meticulous, fair arbiter like John has read the entire document from the General Assembly, but it has just slipped his mind to report to the gentle reader that the word “deadly” does not appear in either the Declarations or the Recommendations sections. In the 9 Declarations there is a kind of refrain to explain the unanimous findings of the committee: “…is contrary to the Westminster Standards.” A committee of technical theologians, a professor, and pastors examined the teachings of the Federal Vision and found them contrary to the Westminster Standards. They presented that to the General Assembly; the matter was debated on the floor for quite a while; a vote was taken; and the Declarations and Recommendations carried. So what is the problem? How does this affect Armstrong and why in the world does he feel obliged to weigh in on the matter now? This all went down in June of 2007. Was it a slow news day for Armstrong’s blog?
The GA believed—overwhelmingly—that the Federal Vision positions are contrary to the Westminster Standards. One can only wonder what it means when Armstrong writes, “This is an honest debate, in the formal sense, for sure.” No, it’s quite actual for those of us in the P.C.A., the O.P.C., and the U.R.C. That is why all three of these churches wrote reports, came to similar conclusions, and condemned the Federal Vision. Perhaps Armstrong and N.T. Wright can team up and write a book with the title What Saint Paul Really Says about the Federal Vision.
Then Armstrong—now turned prophetic—offers a piece of information that no one asked for. Dr. Armstrong, this may come as a shock and a blow, but I really don’t care what you think will thrive and help churches grow in the new century. Clearly, the R.C.A. isn’t thriving spiritually and neither are the hip, cutting edge P.C.A. emergent-wannabes. The next generation thankfully is not characterized by Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Don Miller, or Brian McLaren. There are still some sentient ones in the “next generation,” although they are on the endangered species list. Armstrong obviously has a crystal ball.
The last statement (Sadly, many in my generation really love it and thrive on it, preferring rational debates about doctrine to actually dealing with real people in pastoral and missional ways.) really angers me. Armstrong ought to be ashamed of himself, but he’s too busy defending the indefensible. That’s right, John, everyone who disagrees with you just loves and thrives on holding (and winning—you forgot that slur) rational debate—as opposed to, say, irrational debates. It really cheeses me off that Armstrong—who is so loving and caring; especially to those who agree with him—would make such a stupid statement! I don’t use that word a lot, but in Armstrong’s case I’m willing to make an exception. Is he the only one dealing with real people in pastoral and missional ways? How does he know what we’re doing in our churches? I suppose I should conclude that the people in my congregation are computer generated. Anyone who voted against the Federal Vision is neither pastoral nor missional in Armstrong’s view. Give me a break! I cannot begin to tell you how much I resent what Armstrong said. It is simply unconscionable.
Note Armstrong’s language about those who disagree with him: They are defenders of “strict confession” who approach their rather militant judicial approach. There are few things or people more militant that meddling do-gooders. I mean this is the most disgusting and undocumented rant I’ve read in a while. If by “strict confession” defenders he means that the Intolerant Gang adheres to the Covenant of Works then yes, then we’ll have to change our name to the Militant Intolerant Gang.
Armstrong complains because the P.C.A. followed its Book of Church Order in bringing charges against Steve Wilkins. And your point is John? Do you even know where the R.C.A. Book of Church Order is? Or, just for fun, you might want to consult the Church Order from the Synod of Dordrecht. It says pretty much the same thing. What is your problem? Someone should have sent an overture to the GA saying, “When you discuss this matter, please remember that Steve Wilkins is John Armstrong’s friend.” Steve is a big boy. He’s a theologian. He has chosen his path deliberately and consciously. I would be ashamed to have a man from another church affiliation doing what I am perfectly capable of doing myself—defending my theological position—especially more than half-a-year later and one who doesn’t have a horse in the race. For someone who has no horse in the race, Armstrong has certainly managed to make outlandish, unsubstantiated accusations and vague, general assertions.
This will come as a shock to all but Armstrong left the pastorate in 1992 to counsel. Is this blog supposed to, in any way, pass as counsel? Armstrong wonders how pastors that spend a lot of time on the Internet pastor their flocks. That’s a legitimate question that they/we will all have to answer to God for. But if this is the best counsel Armstrong can offer I suggest finding another job, because this was yet another one of his unsubstantiated blogs taking a shot at the P.C.A. John, why don’t you entertain us with a blog dealing with the many problems in the R.C.A.?
Labels: John Armstrong