The New Evangelical Left (XXIV)
Gradually Slouching Towards Ecclesiastical Change
History is fascinating, and, as the philosopher Santayana warned us, not knowing it means you’re destined to repeat it. This is true in all realms of life. Politically, Americans did not learn much from the progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, or Bill Clinton. Today, when our politicians announce that they are “progressives” (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama being recent cases in point), we hardly bat an eye. Yet, if we were acquainted with history and what progressivism stood and still stands for, we would have good reason to be upset. But since few read anymore, let alone read history, they remain ignorant of trends and ideologies.
I’m transcribing the words in this installment that I wrote on a recent flight from
On part of the flight to
What complicated matters substantially, however, were the subterfuges and obstacles thrown up by the supporters of the five points of the Remonstrance. Jacob Arminius, then professor at
It’s next to impossible to keep quiet in ecclesiastical circles if you’re in disagreement with the going theology. It was true of Arminius, it is true today, and it is true of every heretic and theologian that was in serious error that has come down the pike. Views held either heretically or in stubborn error manifest an urgency to be out in the open, as if no one had every heard them before. The amazing thing about heresy and error is that people act as if it’s new. It isn’t and shouldn’t be treated as if it is. If we had an historical consciousness, we’d know that it isn’t new.
A dead giveaway regarding stubborn error and heterodoxy is a sentence or statement punctuated this way: “Of course, I hold to orthodoxy as far as (fill in the doctrinal blank here), but…” Increasingly, that sort of statement is heard in my church affiliation: The PCA. We’ve done that drill with the Federal Vision crowd and we’re starting to hear it with those who want “unordained” deaconesses. This amounts to the “big tent” mantra. The question is posed whether the PCA is a big enough tent to allow for differences. There’s a short and long answer to this. I’ll begin with the short answer.
The short answer is simply Yes. We can allow for differences, but it does matter what those differences are, doesn’t it? Hughes Oliphant Old reminds us that “Reformed is not the same thing as Lutheran, Zwinglian, or Calvinist.” We also know that differences were allowed in the manner in which the Lord’s Supper was celebrated among the Reformers. Thankfully, the Reformers gave us the dictum, “Reformed and always reforming.” There is, however, a negative way to understand this truth. Positively, the Reformers and those who wish to follow in their footsteps, understand that what is aimed at here is “always reforming” according to Scripture. In a negative sense, this same saying can be used as a blunt object to promote a sort of theological Trotskyism. As Old puts it, “It can mean submitting the worship of the church to perpetual revolution.”
The long answer involves a little more. In many ecclesiastical circles today the words “tradition” or “traditional” are dirty words. But are they really? Old contends that “A tradition that gets radically changed every generation is not really a tradition. For tradition to be tradition, it must have a considerable amount of permanence and changelessness. Tradition can become tradition only when it is passed from one generation to another. That is what the Latin verb tradere means, ‘to hand over,’ from one hand to another, from one generation to another. Tradition cannot be invented. It can be discovered or recovered, but it must be received from someone else.”
Within the context of the two great dissents the PCA has faced recently, we find the Federal Vision and the renewed efforts to argue that deaconesses were a fixture in the early church. The latter is simply not the case. Certainly, within the Eastern Orthodox Church we find a fairly refined office of widow and deaconess early on, but with very different functions and duties than those being advocated in the PCA today. I have written rather extensively on this development within both the Western and Eastern churches and they can be found archived on this blog.
Yet another phenomenon that is being observed with a disturbing degree of regularity in the PCA is that of candidates taking a litany of exceptions to the Westminster Standards. Hearing or reading some of these exceptions really does make one ask oneself why someone with so many exceptions would want to remain in the PCA. Wouldn’t it be simpler and easier merely to look elsewhere, especially when one’s views are so out of line with Reformed beliefs and Presbyterian polity? I ask myself from time to time why someone who desires to commission unordained male and female deacons wouldn’t simply seek ordination or transfer of membership into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church, or the Reformed Church of America? Some have, but others, who are totally out of line with the Constitution of the PCA insist on bringing up the same old hackneyed material General Assembly after General Assembly. It seems to bother these brothers little that unless they took exceptions to ordaining only male deacons in their ordination vows, they are in violation of those vows and the PCA Book of Church Order.
PCA pastors know going in what the BCO requires regarding elders and deacons, and yet they act in blatant disobedience to their vows and decide to have unordained male and female deacons anyway, because it “works for them and their congregations.” I dub this the pragmatist, pomo (post-modern) non-argument argument. While most PCA pastors would not permit this type of vow breaking in, say, a marriage in their congregation, they are more than willing to practice it themselves. Why is this? I’m just askin’.
 See Michael Allen & Larry Schweikart, A Patriot’s History of the United States, (NY: Sentinel, 2007), pp. 457-588.
 Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship, (
 W.F. Dankbaar, Communiegebruiken in de eeuw der Reformatie, (
 Old, Worship, 165.
Labels: The New Evangelical Left