This is a response to a long discussion that got rather riotous on FB the past two days, and I thought it would be good to post it here on Warhorn for permanent record. If one wishes to view the ebb and flow of the original discussion, you can find it on FB under the post on my page dated July 26 at 11:36 AM beginning “When we belligerate against “tyranny,” mocking and lampooning and scorning the civil authorities God placed over us, the unspoken assumption is that we know how to do their jobs better than they do.”
Following are my responses to questions asked by my brother, Daniel Foucachon:
Tim Bayly writes:
Most of my comments have been written on the fly and on my phone these past days, in between walking seven or eight miles a day in 90-95 degree heat, sweating like a horse. This moment we’re back in our AIRBNB (at top of Spanish Steps, if you’ve ever seen Roman Holiday) cooling off before dinner, so I’ll have a hack at answering Daniel’s questions.
Daniel Foucachon asks:
If a pastor were gating his church, checking for vaccine passports as a requirement for coming in, would you be incensed with this pastor? Would you not tell his parishioners to find a new church? Would he not be the ultimate schismatic?
Tim Bayly responds:
I’ve answered this question before in connection with Covid, doing so publicly. But to repeat, I’m a presbyterian and our Evangel Presbytery as well as the church I served for twenty-six years have always included the Preliminary Principles in our constitutional documents. Specifically, these two principles so directly applicable to this sort of question Daniel asks: First, from the PCA Archive, this explanation of these principles’ origin and adoption:
Since the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, there have been numerous Reformed denominations with varying forms of church polity—some more hierarchical and others more democratic. These eight principles were originally adopted by the first American General Assembly in 1789. Our American Presbyterian forefathers had come to America with fresh memories of the persecutions under the Act of Supremacy fostered by Henry VIII in England. They did not want to form a denomination that was governed “from the top down” but “from the bottom up.”
In 1787, when the original four Synods agreed to have a General Assembly, they appointed a Committee to first draft a series of Preliminary Principles to be approved before the Book of Church Order was written. This Committee worked for a year and presented these eight Preliminary Principles to the meeting of the Synods in 1788. These Preliminary Principles were approved so that the denomination would not be hierarchical in its polity. They then appointed a committee to draft a Book of Church Order based on these eight Preliminary Principles. This Book of Church Order was adopted at the first American Presbyterian General Assembly in 1789.
Now then, the two principles most directly pertinent to this discussion:
Number One: I. That “God alone is Lord of the conscience; and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship:” Therefore, they consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal, and unalienable: they do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and, at the same time, equal and common to all others.
Number Two: II. That, in perfect consistency with the above principle of common right, every Christian church, or union or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission to its communion, and the qualifications of its ministers and members, as well as the whole system of its internal government which Christ hath appointed: that, in the exercise of this right, they may, notwithstanding, err, in making the terms of communion either too lax or too narrow: yet, even in this case, they do not infringe upon the liberty, or the rights, of others, but only make an improper use of their own.”
If a pastor were gating his church, checking for vaccine passports as a requirement for coming in, would you be incensed with this pastor?
Would you not tell his parishioners to find a new church?
I (Tim Bayly) respond:
No, I would never respond by creating schism. It is of the essence of presbyterian polity for the session to govern the church. The CREC is not presbyterian in polity, and so I can understand the vehemence you have on these things, but in Presbyterian polity, the elders and session are honored, respected, and submitted to. We are not the-pastor-as-pope (“if a pastor were gating HIS church”!!) nor the congregation each doing what is right in his own eyes. As presbyterians have always done, we defer to the elders and their session in matters that the congregation is divided over. They keep the peace and we submit to them in their judgments as to how best to keep it. And yes, sometimes they err, but that’s their right and we recognize they are the right ones to be wrong—not the pastor and not the private judgments of the congregational members rabble rousing (let alone Muscovites spitting their rhetoric into the fellowship by virtue of their long reach through social media).
About the “pastor gating his church… checking for vaccine passports”: “Would he not be the ultimate schismatic?”
I (Tim Bayly) respond:
Again, the focus on one man, “the pastor,” is not presbyterian. Neither in Evangel Presbytery nor any of our congregations would this decision be made by the pastor. Rather, it would be the domain of the session. This is a very important point that I think almost no one in Moscow is able to understand.
But to return to the question and improve it, let us assume it was the session that was requiring vaccines to join together in worship and fellowship. If so, the only thing I would say firmly in this regard is that it is schismatic in the extreme for other pastors to rabble rouse and shout and yell and beat their chests trying to foment defiance of a session that does require vaccination for participation in their worship and fellowship.
We didn’t require vaccines. We wouldn’t have. But we are not England or Scotland or New Zealand or Maine or Washington DC. Each church has a Sitz im Leben, and their freedom of cultural contextualization is foundational to presbyterian polity. So no, if a session is requiring vaccines because it’s required by their public health AUTHORITIES!, to rabble rouse against them through social media, encouraging the woman to stay home rather than to (mask) in worship (as Doug did) is the very definition of schism. We must be very careful not to foment schism in one another’s congregations.
As I mentioned in that thread, what is emphasized here is freedom of conscience. We have had maskers at church all of the last two years.
Seriously? If your pastors have called masks “sacraments” and “idolatry,” how can they allow what they consider such serious wickedness in your worship?
Now then, here are a few quotes from Doug followed by critiques by one of my (former, since I have now resigned the call) elders, Josh Congrove:
Doug’s post: “7 Reasons For Unmasking the Masks, July 8”
The Federalist notes, the turning point was June 4. At that time, it was made manifest to all careful observers, not to mention more than a few casual observers, that the lock downs and restrictions were political. They were simply a form of partisan crowd control. This realization extends to the masking mandates, which are being driven by the same political agenda. This whole thing was high hypocrisy. It was hypocrisy on stilts. Consequently, our conclusion ought to be no more lock downs, no more restrictions, no more masks. The people dictating these things to us are not sincere. They are not telling us the truth.
More impossibly huge statements. ‘The people dictating those things”’—again, who are they, exactly? Because there’s a patchwork of laws and regulations around the country, differing by state, county, etc. Isn’t that a triumph of federalism? So how can we reduce everything to ‘the people’, ‘the rulers’, etc.
The politicos who feel like they are running this show think that they have the authority to just issue decrees, diktats, and dumber-than-dirt efforts at manipulating us. They do not have this authority. They are wrong on the facts, and they are wrong on the process.
Such illegal orders may be disregarded, and they should be disregarded. Where people comply, it should be out of necessity, and not because there is any Romans 13 basis for it. When you give a mugger your wallet, you are responding to coercion. You are not granting any moral authority to him. It is the same here. These orders are transparently hypocritical, unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral.”
But when the orders are based on a series of trumped up lies and manipulated data, transparently bogus, and we are told, on the basis of these manifest untruths, that we may not meet to worship God, our response must be that of meeting and worshiping God. On top of this, we need to worship God as free men, women, and children. Nobody can be told they must come into the throne room of God wearing a secular burka. No free Christian should obey an order from the civil magistrate to put on their servility badge as he or she offers the worship of a free Christian.
And so what should Christian worship look like? It must not look like they are trying to make it look. No singing? Are you kidding? Cover your face to interrupt the Spirit-wrought transformation from glory to glory? Why in Heaven’s name would we do that? Why on earth would we comply? You know, I don’t think we should be listening to you guys.
Except of course Pastor Wilson’s argument assumes that the mask is a symbol of servility. He hasn’t established this, nor can he, of course, because he’s already admitted in posts past that masks have no one fixed meaning. As to his abuse of 2 Cor. 3:18, it’s supported by the thinnest of contexts. The Apostle isn’t talking about physical masks at all, of course—he’s not talking about *anything* physical, really. He’s using the example of Moses (which wasn’t a mask, of course) to argue metaphorically—that we see the glory of the new covenant and are allowed to see its full flowering. Pastor Wilson says covering one’s face interrupts ‘the Spirit-wrought transformation from glory to glory’—seriously? Surely Pastor Wilson doesn’t want to argue that the power of the Spirit is impeded by a random piece of fabric? Assuming not, it’s silly for Pastor Wilson to argue thus. It’s rhetorically effective, but again, substantially empty.
Now, I (Tim Bayly) sum up:
Daniel, I hope now you understand that, while you simply observe the laissez-faire application of their online rhetoric within your church fellowship and rejoice that it’s so lenient, we watch from the outside and see the damage done to congregations around the country by such schismatic arguments and declarations. They are not presbyterian.
We are. We honor our elders and sessions. We believe in the plurality of the eldership. We believe in elder-rule.
What we see is something approximating a conglomeration of pastor-as-pope baptist, or each-man-does-that-which-is-right-in-his-own-eyes congregational.
You can distance yourself while enjoying the freedom you observe there, but CrossPolitic and Mablog’s constituents take them at their word, and have wreaked havoc in churches around the country. Not our churches, although there have been a couple men who have imbibed Moscow and have left because we weren’t fan-boys.
I have often pointed out that the most serious thing we face in the coming years is keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as we go deeper into persecution. We will never have precisely the same places we choose, as individuals and as sessions, to take a stand. But we must not be Donatists.