Church reform(5): warriors who hide
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” He willed the entire life of the Church to be one of reformation. -Luther’s 96th Thesis
One gentleman in the PCA circulated among his friends a private response to one of our previous posts. I’d have wished to reproduce it here, but since he didn’t quote, link to our piece, or name us, we’ll honor his desire for anonymity. (One of his friends was kind enough to forward his response.)
Which brings me to make the observation that conservative Presbyterians are all about trademarks, cliques, and secrecy.
It was a formative moment during my decades in the PCA when I learned of a scandal at Covenant Theological Seminary and called Lig Duncan to see if he could do something. He responded by expressing concern and thanking me for the information, but then he went on to explain he was “working on Covenant’s problems privately.” Everyone with concerns should believe he was doing the hard and dangerous work of battle—but privately. Trust him.
From that time on I didn’t.
When he said “privately,” my decade in the Presbyterian Church (USA) came back to me and I remembered how tall-steeple pastors like John Huffman, Clayton Bell, and Harry Hassall forevermore worked behind the scenes “privately.” They would assure their fellow Evangelicals they were in the know and things were looking better and nothing bad was going to happen with them on the watch and we should go back home and be quiet and trust them.
Evangelicals did trust them year after year. In time, though, it became painfully clear what they were doing behind the scenes was protecting the status quo which had been oh-so-very good to them, allowing them to receive promotions until they had risen to the level of shepherding the super-rich of Highland Park and Newport Beach, sitting on the boards of Christianity Today and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and so on.
Meanwhile things got worse and worse in the PC(USA)’s churches, presbyteries, seminaries, denominational structures, and general assemblies. Look carefully at the condition of the PC(USA) today and learn the lesson that tall-steeple pastors, both liberal and conservative, are all—every last one of them—inveterate enemies of reform. Sure, those who are more conservative will occasionally make public shows of flexing muscles and parading their degrees, troops, and money, but they hate reform. Why would they do anything to threaten the system that has treated them and their friends so very well?
They’ll slide into retirement while receiving accolades from liberals and conservatives alike, then Saulsville, Rufville, Covenantville, Kellerville, Redeemerville, and Revoiceville will be other men’s problems.
What’s pernicious about guys like this is how many sheep and shepherds look to them as deserving of their respect and trust.
Watch these generals of the church as they inquire of their lieutenants whether there’s a breach in the wall where they might put in an appearance without risking life or limb?
The lieutenant scopes out the city walls and returns to report the south-southeast corner just past the mobile home retirement park is perfect for the purpose.
The general surrounds himself with splendid pageantry—fierce mounts prancing and neighing, all decked out; buglers who will call the oldsters to step outside and watch; men bearing the standards who will not waver; a bunch of front men passing out leaflets and hanging posters announcing The General is Coming; but then when he actually arrives, look carefully and you will see he’s surrounded by such an entourage of valiant warriors that there’s no possible chance he’ll even get mud on his boots.
Let’s move from the denomination to the local church. Take the pastor who is asked by someone considering his church for their new church home whether he and his elders practice church discipline?
Rising to his full height and speaking with the utmost seriousness, he responds, “Of course we practice church discipline! Eight years ago one of our troubled teenages came to the front of the sanctuary during the pastoral prayer and hacked an eighty-eight-year-old grandmother to death. With a hatchet! It was all very sad. It took a long time to get the blood out of the carpet, but our elders were firm that he had to be disciplined. And yes, they were faithful and did it.”
Understand that both the pastor who goes ape-bat against Revoice privately and the pastor whose session disciplines after a liturgical ax-murder prove nothing by their actions. All they have demonstrated is their ability to recognize the tipping point when more of their sheep will be scandalized if they don’t do something than if they do. Such moments don’t come along often in congregational and denominational life, so if one presents itself, it’s important to recognize and use it. The pastor’s leadership depends upon knowing his congregation’s breaking point and keeping slightly ahead so it appears as if leaving the denomination or disciplining the ax-murderer are his own idea flowing directly from his own high doctrinal and moral commitments.
This accomplishes his true goal which is to assuage the fears of his own congregational members and officers who were wondering why they didn’t learn about the wicked doctrine and practices of their denomination’s bad guys from their own pastor? Did their pastor not know about these things? And if he did, what was he doing to expose and oppose them? Why doesn’t he have any wounds or enemies? How has he escaped suffering the opprobrium the three or four men who have fought publicly are suffering?
It will be hard for these pastors to explain to their sheep why they were not leading the fight; why they are not bloodied; why they have left the sheep unwarned; why they have forced their sheep to discover the wolves and false shepherds themselves? Also why they speak in such hostile ways about the men who have sounded the alarm?
So having to play catch-up ball and recover the trust of their congregation, they meet with some other clean pastors, privately, and think about leaving for greener grass now while the sheep are antsy. It’s a great opportunity these bloody men have given them, allowing them to form something new without shedding their own blood.
Generals who refuse to fight lose wars. The PCA has no warriors. Lots of men claim they’re warriors, but quietly they explain they are fighting their battles, privately. In time they’ll have something to show you, so be patient.
Meanwhile all men speak well of them. That’s the noteworthy thing.
NOTE: This is fifth in a series of posts on practical matters related to the reform of your church and denomination. Other posts in the series may be found here. The series will have reference to the book Church Reformed and it would be helpful to get a copy and read it as you go through these posts.