Friday, July 08, 2005

The Epistemological Deficiencies of the Postmoderns Formerly Known as Protestants (Part 3)

In his article titled “Toward A Legitimately Reformational Theory of Private Judgment,” the Postmodern formerly known as a Protestant had this to say:
Against the commonly expressed Protestant view that "private judgment" is to be construed as the absolute responsibility of the private individual to always do only what he himself can verify as being True or else he himself will suffer the wrath of God for believing Falsehoods, I don't see the situation being one of "Gotta all the time personally make sure I have no errors or gonna be personally under the wrath of God." According to Holy Writ, God is SLOW to wrath and He remembers our frame, that we are but dust. I think He can tolerate a LOT more error amongst His children than a lot of His children think He can--or than they are willing to tolerate themselves.
Rule # 1 for Winning an Argument: Always present your opponent’s view in the worst possible light, using the most extreme examples; paint everyone in that camp the same color using the broadest brush you can find; and then triumphally show how ridiculous are the views of the entire camp. No one I know thinks he's got everything right, or even that it’s necessary to do so. No one. And that’s just the point I made in yesterday’s contribution to this series when I took pains to show that denominational differences among brothers in Christ, based on varying theological views, are to be held between oneself and God, and that we are to bear with one another in love and to strive for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That is exactly what I practice in my relationships with my Presbyterian brothers, my Lutheran brothers, my Anglican brothers, my Pentecostal brothers, and even my Reformed Baptist brothers with whom I might disagree on a few things. All these things are minor to me, and I condemn no one for the views they hold that are distinctive to their own denominations. I certainly do not agree with them on their distinctive views; but I bear with them in love as they bear with me in love even though they disagree with me as well.

That attitude is far different from what we find in the approach of the Postmodern formerly known as a Protestant. Not only does he refuse to acknowledge “Babdists” in particular (except, of course, to dismiss them categorically as “radical, Enlightenment-enslaved Gnostics”), but also evangelicals in general (posting articles titled “I Hate My Generation,” and equating “generation” with evangelicalism). He has absolutely no tolerance—zero—for anyone who does not fall in line with his idiosyncratic understanding of the Reformation. Moreover, he even condemns members of his own denomination—pastors, no less!—who have attempted to take him aside as a friend to council him on his attitude and approach to these things.

On top of all that, his view, approach and attitude on this are all at odds with those of his own church, which is a member of CREC ("Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches"), a confederation whose membership includes Baptist churches among others. I have documented the sharp differences in approach between the Postmodern formerly known as a Protestant and his own local church’s confederation at this link.

This, remember, is the same person who promotes the authority and absolutely necessity of church councils, but openly rejects personal submission to such “councils,” “synods,” and “confessions” as the Constitution of CREC, the Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, each of which represents a broad spectrum of the Evangelical and Reformed world and is therefore "conciliar" in its own right. The writer also rejects large portions of the Westminster Confession in his attitude toward Rome, the place of councils, the gospel, and the identification of the pope as the antichrist. This is the same person who claims to hold to “churchly authority,” the necessity of church councils, and condemns the rest of us for being “rugged individualists,” “radical sectarians,” and “anti-Reformational”—one and the same.

So if he rejects the teaching in these councils (to which he claims necessity of submission), what pray tell, can he mean by “submission to councils”? Does he include only the early “ecumenical” councils to the exclusion of all others? If so, then he is again at odds with the Westminster Confession, which uses no uncertain terms in its assessment of the place of those councils (see yesterday’s article)—not to mention the fact that the Westminster Confession specifically rejects some of the theology of the earlier councils in its teaching on Scripture, the Lord’s Supper, the sacraments, the “sacrifice” of the mass, etc.

Which “authority” will our writer follow when there is a contradiction between the Westminster authority and the “ecumenical” authority? Moreover, on what basis does he make such a decision? More importantly, on what principle was the Westminster authority operating when it decided it would reject the earlier “ecumenical” authority? And does our writer believe they had a right to do that? And if so, what is the basis of that right, and just why doesn’t anyone else have that same right?

So our writer arbitrarily decides to follow some councils, but not others. He arbitrarily decides some of their teaching is worth following, but not all of it. He arbitrarily picks and chooses authorities that we must follow and obey, regardless of the mutually exclusive internal contradictions that exist among those authorities. So how does he justify this approach? Here’s his explanation:

In a non-emergency situation (that is, in normal life conditions), I would construe my personal responsibility like this: Within basic Christian orthodox confession, I choose to submit to my leaders even when I personally think they are wrong about some application of the orthodox confession. In other words, I would exercise my personal responsibility to avoid making unnecessary strife in the Church, and if later it turns out that I made a mistake and say, should have opposed something that I didn't or gone along with something that I opposed, I'll simply throw myself on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, knowing that He remembers my frame and is SLOW to wrath. Not only does this make a lot more sense than the "private fancy" theory in terms of building a stable community, but in actual fact it is the way that most Protestants actually live relative to their own immediate authorities. The disconnect that is pointed out by the Catholic and Orthodox apologists is precisely the disconnect between what the Protestant recognizes in terms of his immediate authorities and what he simply refuses to recognize in terms of his more remote authorities (historic creeds and conciliar actions and so forth). But there does not appear to be any strictly logical reason why the theory that operates on the lower level cannot or should not also operate on the higher level.

Except, of course, for the mutually exclusive theologies and theological assumptions represented by each one. I do not disagree that we should all be subject to our church leaders—leaders of our own choosing, I might add (how could it be otherwise?). And I agree we should put personal beliefs on secondary issues aside for the sake of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That’s a given in my approach. I do not advocate willy-nilly church hopping based on the personal whims of the individual, and neither do any of my associates. I am a strong believer in the authority of the church, so long as “church” is defined biblically, and so long as the whole church (read contemporary as well as ancient) is considered and is not reduced to some static articles of faith defined in language and context that may have been suited for its time and are largely correct but which, upon reflection, go well beyond what the Scriptures actually affirm. As the Westminster Confession affirms, they may err and may be in need of correction.

Yet, the councils--all of them--and the Bible itself all affirm that there are some issues worth dividing on, not least of which is the gospel, a right view of God's word, and a right view of God, Christ and his work. That's where the Scriptures draw the line. It's where the Reformers draw the line. It's where the Westminster Confession draws the line. And it's where I draw the line. All three of those sources recognize the false gospel of Rome, as do I. Unfortunately, the Postmodern formerly known as a Protestant does not draw the line there, and as such finds himself in the precarious position of giving lip-service to submission to his professed authorities, but practices something very different indeed.

The writer continues:

The reasons given for the disconnect are, in fact, the ones briefly noted above emanating out of the rise of Secular Modernity and its subsequent warping of Christian discourse about societal concerns.

And just what accounts for the writer’s own “disconnect” in his rejection of portions of the Westminster Confession, portions of the ecumenical councils, portions of the Constitution of CREC, the Chicago Statement, and the Cambridge Declaration? If it’s not “the rise of Secular Modernity,” just what is it? It seems the writer wants everyone to conform to his theory but himself. The writer continues:

The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura does not forbid externally binding norms--that it does is probably the pre-eminent myth of our ReformedlyEvangelical culture which radically misuses the solas in the service of its alien, reductionistic agendas. Sola Scriptura forbids only infallible external norms and their associated concept of "implicit faith".

Well, only if you don’t count the Westminster Confession as part of that “Reformation principle.” I am fully aware of the Confession's statement in 31.3:

It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.

But this statement is immediately followed by 31.4:

All synods or councils, since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

Hence, whatever 31.3 means, it must be tempered by its qualification in 31.4. At the very least, the Confession seems to be teaching the authority of the present church to lay down rules and decide on theological matters for its members (such as is found in CREC, the Cambridge Declaration, the Chicago Statement, etc.), while warning against making past statements a rule of faith and practice. But that's exactly the opposite of what our writer is suggesting we do.

The writer continues:

What sense does it make to think of the institutional Church as too fallible for the individual to ordinarily trust in her judgments, but then imply that the individual himself, equally fallible, is certainly not so fallible that he cannot ordinarily trust in his own judgments instead? What happened to the biblical maxim that "In the multitude of many counselors there is wisdom"?

Alright then, let the writer explain why he rejects the Chicago Statement, the Cambridge Declaration, the Baptist-inclusive attitude and approach of CREC, the portions of the Westminster Confession that condemn Rome, its pope, and its gospel, and the place it assigns to councils, confessions and creeds. What sense does it make, indeed, to reject these things in favor of his idiosyncratic approach since the writer freely admits his own fallibility no less the value of a multitude of counselors? The writer continues:

This, and not some perpetual theory of individual radicalism, is the meaning and lesson of the Gospel, which frees us from both the tyranny of an uncorrectable institutionalism and the equal and opposite tyranny of an unteachable individualism.

Unless, of course, that “unteachable individual” happens to be the Postmodern formerly known as a Protestant.