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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

ECM and Criticism--Is it Biblical?

[Understand that as I work through these posts, I am not saying these issues relate only to the emerging church movement. I also am not saying that every emerging church has these issues, some will not. All I am saying is that the emerging church movement (or ECM as my lazy fingers will from here on type) has been a recent and/or prevalent catalyst for certain topics. I also understand that the ECM discussion may stir up topics for me that others do not see as germane. I am not claiming to be an expert and will confess that in many ways I feel like an outcast in my own generation.

Understand also, that I do not believe that modernism is glorious. Modernism has major problems too. I am baffled and grateful for God's continuous divine working in this world; for my own salvation has no other explanation. I do not believe science has all the answers and I do not deny that there is mystery in this world. These posts are in no way an attempt to call people back into modernity. I believe Christ's message trandscends all eras and times, therefore I would not call myself a modernist either. Understand that this is not a nostalgia quest for me.

Understand also, that it makes me nauseous that I find it necessary to introduce a post with such a caveat.]


ECM and Criticism--Is it Biblical?

Boy, wouldn't it be nice if in one sweeping post I could evaluate an entire movement and breakdown whether it is Biblical or not? If you came to this post expecting that to happen, you will be disappointed. I am far too verbose, the topic is way too broad, and let's be honest, your attention span is far too short to answer that question in one incredibly long post. Yes, I understand that the question "Is the ECM Biblical?" is not even a fair question to ask. (Don't make me start writing retractions again.) But if you look closely, that wasn't the question. Blog titles must be relatively short (It looks really odd on the FGBC blogpage if I use long titles) and therefore can affect clarity. I am not saying that I am critiquing the ECM on the basis of its biblicity. I'm asking:

Is even criticizing something, like the ECM, a Biblical practice?

In the past, this blog has received significant heat from some. I will admit that my posts are not strictly positive and complimentary. Typically, if I critique something on my site, within a day I will get a comment from someone that says, "Why do you have to be negative? If you didn't like the book/author/sermon/speaker/event/host/seminar/program/curriculum/etc just don't do it. You don't have to say it was bad. You simply could just point to what you consider a positive alternative." While this is not the fault of the ECM, I have received this comment every time I have said something non-complimentary about emerging/emergent. I am told the proper response would be to leave well enough alone and continue to serve in my specific sphere. If someone else wants to minister in that way, it's none of your business! I'm told I don't have to participate, but that I should just get out of the other guy's way.

I'm sorry, I just can't do that.

No seriously, I can't.

And pastor/elder, neither should you.

You see, I'm not claiming that I find it impossible for myself to do that. Contrary to my impression left on some, I do not crave confrontation. I think I generally have a healthy and normal attraction to peace and comfort. I do not go looking for a fight. I can not link my compulsion to speak where I see error to heredity, environment or even to sin (though my response may not always be pure). I chock it up to calling.

And no, I am not alluding to that ultimate Christian trump card. I am not stating that God gave me a vision in the evening, calling me to defend issues and point out error. I'm not trying to claim some experience or even burning in the bosom that compells me to refute error, but which--since it was entirely personal--is conveniently impossible to challenge. I have received a very real, very tangible, very public calling to refute error.

Don't believe me?

Check it out:
For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.--TItus 1:7-9

A couple of observations about this calling:
    1. Non-prioritized.
While many believe the opening statement that an overseerer must be above reproach (a concept repeated from verse 6) may be an umbrella introducing all of the other qualifications, it is clear as you work through all of the rest that this is not presented in any prioritization. Are we to claim that not being self-willed is more critical than not being controlled by substance? Obviously, each qualification is equally important.
    2. Not on the curve
Paul does not say that an overseer must generally adhere to these qualifications. This is the standard. Therefore, meeting 80% of the qualifications is not a "passing grade." Like the fruit of the Spirit, this is a list where the standard is to hold all of these qualifications. (Obviously, no man is able to claim absolute perfection in any of these areas. However, he must see enough sanctification in his life for others to acknowledge they see him as qualified in these areas.)
    3. Disqualified by being qualified?
These qualifications cannot be mutually exclusive. Contrary to the climate of our current culture, it is possible to refute errant doctrine without being quick-tempered, self-willed, pugnacious and out of control. Of course, it is possible to disagree with someone and fail to preserve these other qualifications (I have lost my cool before and failed to meet above standards). However, we must acknowledge that the action of refuting unsound doctrine is not disapproving action in itself. Just as we would expect any elder to be able to exhort in sound doctrine, Paul says he must hold fast to the teaching well enough to refute those who contradict as well.

I should also explain the term "doctrine." I am not speaking only of head knowledge and facts. Doctrine is not pleasing to God unless it plays an active role in the believer's life. Therefore, when I speak to doctrine, I am not simply saying that a person must affirm facts. They must follow those facts. A person can claim to understand the sovereignty of Christ, but if they lack obedience, it is not accurate for them to affirm Him as Lord (Luke 6:46). Therefore, when an elder is called to refute unsound doctrine, he does not merely evaluate a verbal profession, but is called to examine whether the mode is consistent with the creed. Does the person practice what they preach? If they regularly act in a way that is contrary to a faith statement they make, it must be concluded that they do not understand the faith statement they claim to affirm. Therefore, the elder must be prepared to lovingly refute their method, exposing the error in their understanding, and calling them to consistent thought and action. This is doctrine.

Therefore, if the ECM (or anyone else) incorporates a method which contradicts a doctrine, the elder is obligated to speak up. In fact, his ability to contradict can only be evidenced if he does, and his refutation of unsound doctrine is the outworking of his faithfulness to the word.

I've been told this as a pastor before. "It's one thing to say what you believe. It's okay to say what another believes. It's even okay to say that you believe differently than someone else. You may even find it appropriate to lay out your case for why you have a belief. However, you really shouldn't say someone else is wrong." I have been told this by so many within our fellowship, that I've wondered if it has replaced "The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible" or even "Knowing Him and Making Him Known" (which wouldn't be tragic if the latter was lost).

Frankly, that's American advice, but it's unbiblical. It may sound consistently gracious, but it's self-contradictory as well. When I have received this "just do your own thing and leave the ECM alone" advice from others, I have noticed a few contradictions:
    1. Impeded Vision?--Postmodernity is a response to modernity. It is a reaction. Therefore, much in the ECM is a reaction to "traditional church." In nearly every post, book, sermon or ECM lecture I have listened to, they must make their point for why they do what they do by stating how the traditional church is doing it wrong. From my observation, the movement has no problem pointing out the "traditional church flaws" but can get quite upset when they are questioned.
    2. Brothers' Keepers?--Most in the ECM will acknowledge a desire to think more globally and outside of denominational borders. However, when one outside of their camp questions their practice, the thought is often raised that each man should mind his own business. This seems contrary to thinking globally. If I want to expand my thought from beyond my geography and I want to focus on the church beyond my denomination, shouldn't I also acknowledge my responsibility to my brother outside of my practice? If we are truly united in Christ, shouldn't we care about one another enough to confront one another?
    3. Method free?--Many in the ECM are frustrated with an easy believism that seperates belief from action. However, many seem readily willing to divide methodology and theology. But Peter said that life and godliness are borne out of true knowledge of God. Therefore, the two cannot be so easily extracted. What you believe will impact the way that you live, and the way you live is a reflection of your beliefs. Certainly liberties extend to many things. God is so gracious in the freedom He gives His bride. However, a methodology can be a manifestation of a faulty doctrine and therefore should be open for examination.

In the past, I have been called arrogant, rude, mean and childish for challenging certain things. My judgment has been questioned and my motives have been doubted. This has not just happened with the ECM discussion. It's happened when I've questioned books, sermons or even celebrity statements. Apparently, my ministry would just go smoother if I would keep my mouth (or laptop) shut. Perhaps people are right. Perhaps my role as an elder would be more peacable and calm. Most would not deny that we must exhort in sound doctrine, even though this can occasionally disturb the peace of ministry. Yet we know that peace is not our guide for action, God's calling is.

And He has called us to refute that which is unsound.


  • At 1:25 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    That is an outstanding exhortation, Danny.

    The "call" to be an undershepherd of Jesus Christ bears this enormous responsibility you have carefully explained.

  • At 5:27 PM, Blogger Jack Brown said…

    Over the past several months our ministerium has been discussing licensure and ordination exams. It has been echoed many times that we must be the gatekeepers of our fellowship in reference to these exams.

    Does the gatekeeping stop once a guy has passed his exams?

    Thanks Danny for being bold in your comments... Your love for God, His Word and our fellowship is obvious.

    I pray that we all would take seriously our responsibility to hold one another accountable to the truths of God's Word!

    Keep up the good work, my dear brother!

    Jack Brown


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