Remember where we are going with this blog.
We MUST tell the truth but we MUST do so in a way that “promotes the good name of the neighbor” about whom we are speaking (the quotation is from the Westminster Larger Catechism).
I’ve mentioned the problems involved when evangelical Christians use labels to describe other evangelical Christians. And of course, it’s not just labels that are the problem. Here is a direct quotation from one evangelical Christian which was posted on Facebook recently, “The Family Research Council is the Christian version of Boko Haram.” I just don’t think that kind of comment is helpful. One can certainly call into question the policies and actions of the Family Research Council without using this kind of inflammatory language. I will have much more to say in future blogs about labels and statements like the one above .
In the blog just prior to the present one, I urged us all to “Consider the Church.” That’s because, so far as I know, the church is the only human organization which the INERRANT Scriptures directly commend to us. And, in most ecclesiastical traditions, the church is regarded quite highly. For example, Calvin says that we must “ . . . give due authority to the church.” Thus, ignoring the church is precisely how NOT to tell the truth.
When it comes to “truth-telling,” what exactly would it mean to “give due authority to the church?” This question is much harder to answer today than it would have been in Calvin’s day because of the current fragmented condition of the church. But hard doesn’t mean impossible. In fact, I would suggest that that, for modern Western Christians, the hardest part of “giving due authority to the church” is that “contagion of liberty” about which I spoke several blogs ago.
I maintain that it is nearly impossible for Western Christians to step outside the cultural framework which has been set for us by such events as the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the period in Britain which the Oxford historian Christopher Hill calls “The World Turned Upside Down.” But if we cannot escape that framework, we can at least try to keep conscious of it and how it impacts every part of our lives.
For most of us, this “upside down world” involves the notion that the church is little more than a spiritual club. We go when we want to go, we stay away on a whim, and we seldom seek the counsel of the church except when we are absolutely forced to do so. We certainly seem to “give due authority to the church” very rarely.
This seems to be especially true when it comes to our dealings with other Christians with whom we disagree. The “contagion of liberty” combined with the ubiquitous availability of Facebook and Twitter has created an atmosphere within which we can make the most extreme statements to the entire world about other Christians without ever being held accountable ourselves for those statements. This is what, for example, makes it possible (and easy!) for a self-identified evangelical and Reformed Christian to announce to the world this “fact” about Tim Keller: “He does not proclaim the historic gospel of truth once delivered to the saints, but a gospel of his own making.”
Certainly those with concerns about Dr. Keller’s theology need to be able to follow up on those concerns. But they must do so in a way that does not violate what the Westminster Larger Catechism says about the duties required and the sins prohibited by the Ninth Commandment. And they need to follow up on those concerns in a way which “gives due authority to the church.”
What exactly might this mean? Well, Dr. Keller is a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America and that church proclaims its commitment to the absolute authority of the Scriptures as those Scriptures are interpreted by the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Instead of broadcasting to the world such claims as the one above about Dr. Keller, the author should first contact Dr. Keller to communicate his concerns. And if Dr. Keller does not provide a response which is satisfactory, the author should make a formal complaint about Dr. Keller to the Presbytery of which he is a member. That’s THE LEAST that it would mean, in this case, to “give due authority to the church.”
But that would take so much time! And those folks are his friends; they wouldn’t listen!! And worst of all, that Presbytery is far too busy to be bothered by what a single person thinks about Dr. Keller. Therefore, I will just blast away, knowing that I will never be held accountable for what I say. I have FREE speech and I’m going to use it. If it walks like a contagion and quacks like a contagion, then I suspect it IS a contagion.
Considering the church also means consulting the church . . . especially when I believe another professing Christian is in the wrong. At the very least, I must do that consulting before publicly speaking any words or publicly taking any actions which might, in any way, damage or even raise questions about the good name of my Christian neighbor.
A quick (but very painful) example – as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was, in December of 2003, told this by the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary: “We would ask Dr. Logan to consider that . . . he has been guilty of shading the truth and thus bearing false witness.” It was absolutely imperative, in my judgment, that the church to which I was accountable be considered and consulted about this matter. And it was. The Ministerial Relations Committee of the Presbytery of New York and New England of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church received a full report of this action and participated in an extensive follow-up process. This was done even though there was and is no official connection between Westminster and the OPC. It was done because this is what it means to consider and consult the church and to “give due authority to the church.”
But there are so many problems with always trying to do this!
Yes, there are, and I will, in the next several blogs, try to address some of those problems. I would simply suggest here that if we lived biblically obedient lives only when our obedience caused no problems, we probably wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. [But then, that, too, would cause problems!]
Sam Logan is a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, though neither of these is responsible for the comments above. To hold accountable the one who IS responsible, write to firstname.lastname@example.org