Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Reform and Ecclesiology

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (Jas. 2:18)

Evangelicalism (both Old and New) as a movement came about partly as a pietistic reaction to deconfessionalism and growing liberalism. Its piety is by and large a scrubbed-down renovated version of Medieval spirituality, defanged of its worst elements. Yet by and large the Platonic dichotomizing between Spirit and Matter remains in some form, and such Platonism when applied to the life of the church has resulted in a separation of individual from corporate spirituality, and thus a downplaying of the visible church.

The downplaying of the corporate dimension of the Christian life is pervasive among Evangelicals, and it is being further encouraged by the radical individualism found especially in Western cultures. How many times do we see the emphases being placed upon one's "personal relationship with God," and the focus is in self-renewal and sanctification? Even the study of doctrines become a personal affair, as if the study of Christian doctrines have no bearing whatsoever on corporate life in the church. Why otherwise would evangelicals in Liberals church bodies like the PCUSA in the 20th century refuse to separate themselves from their apostate church? Or why would evangelicals like John Stott continue being in fellowship with all the rank liberals in the Church of England? Closer to home, why would people who claim to hold to Reformed doctrines have no problems continuing their membership in non-Reformed churches? Isn't it the case that there is a dichotomizing of individual from corporate spirituality — that as long as one is biblical, it is almost irrelevant what church one attends? After all, the reasoning goes, there are no perfect churches (as if Reformed churches claim to be perfect!) and the most important thing is not one's church membership but one's standing before God.

Theology however is not mere head knowledge. True theology works its implications out in the lives of those who actually believe it. Those who use theology as a mere academic exercise do not actually believe that theology they claim to hold to. This after all is how faith works. Faith does not consist of a mere assenting to propositions, but a true assent that throws one's trust upon the object of those propositions. Likewise, believing the true theology of the Christian faith will necessarily result in the person acting on that theology he claims to believe in. In other words, one's actions "betray" one's actual theology.

Individual and corporate spirituality in Scripture are intricately linked but not the same, distinct but not separate. A person holding to Reformed theology will sooner or later desire to be in a Reformed church. If one believes in Reformed truth, one cannot tolerate the rank errors permeating Evangelical churches on issues like the charismata, worship, church governance, and most certainly piety. Sure, one should try working for reform if possible, but what happens if the church (probably most churches) resist any effort at reform? What if they claim that their view is actually biblical, but it actually is not? If one cannot agree with the leadership on these issues, and they will not bulge, how can one fulfill the command to obey your leaders in Heb. 13:7?

In our lives on this world, works are important. But in Reformed theology, the "works" are not necessarily the "works" looked for in the Pietists. The Evangelicals and Pietists have an unbiblical view of "godliness" — defined as almost synonymous with being civil and kind and being the ideal Victorian lady and gentleman. We discern fruits as being those who act upon the teachings of Scripture, who submit to God and His Word. Those who look humble, kind and outwardly devout, yet reject the teachings of Scripture, as far as the Scriptures are concerned have evil deeds. Such "godliness" is the "godliness" of Man, which stink like filthy rags before an all-holy God. The only "godliness" acceptable to God is the "godliness" of those with true faith, as they place their trust fully and wholly on Christ and His imputed righteousness to them and to us.

The Reformers did not have such a pietistic view of spirituality, and because of that, we have the Reformation. Those who claim to be Reformed must likewise reject Evangelical ecclesiology and aim for consistency between doctrine and life.

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