Friday, September 27, 2013

The stated aims of the original New Evangelicalism

[A]s outlined in Ockenga,

  1. Evangelicals want to see a revival of Christianity in the midst of a secular world which, because of its loss of contact with God, is facing imminent destruction.
  2. Evangelicals want to win a new respectability for orthodoxy in academic circles. This requires the production of dedicated scholars who will be prepared to defend the faith on the intellectual’s own ground.
  3. Evangelicals want to recapture denominational leadership from within the larger denominations rather than completely abandon these denominations to the forces of contemporary liberalism
  4. Finally, evangelicals want to make Christianity the mainspring in societal reforms that it once was and that it ought to be.

— Ronald H. Nash, The New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1963), 177

The New Evangelicalism began with lofty aims and a sincere desire to promote the Christian faith. Sadly, history has given us the disastrous record of the New Evangelicalism, a movement which spiraled out of the control of its original founders. In his book, Ronald Nash put forward the agenda of the New Evangelicalism with its lofty goals. Yet as we examine these goals, we see that they are all flawed from the start, and thus the seed of the failure of the New Evangelicalism was present from the very beginning.

Goal number 1 is laudable, and certainly all of us should desire to see Christ's name lifted up and the Christian faith esteemed in the world, with many turning to Christ for salvation. The problem with the New Evangelicalism is how it goes about trying to achieve its goal. Can a movement convert a world? Perhaps, but certainly not the Christian faith. The Christian faith works through the means ordained by God, through the Church. Without a biblical doctrine of the Church, how can the goal be attained? How can Christianity be revived when the leaders do not have a proper doctrine of the Church in the first place?

The second goal is really sad, only because it is not possible. It is possible to be scholarly, and Christian theologians should be scholarly. But being scholarly does not necessarily mean that orthodoxy would be "respected" by unbelieving scholars, since the ground of rejection of the Bible's teaching is not intellectual but spiritual. As 1 Cor. 1:18 states, the wisdom of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It matter not how scholarly one is. The unbelieving Academy will not accept the teachings of Scripture no matter how scholarly it is presented. Now certainly Christians theologians ought to be scholarly, but to think that just being scholarly will get one respected in the Academy is a fool's dream. Nash's further proposal to do that "on the intellectual's own ground" is astonishing. What if their ground is one of unbelief? Should we be asked to adopt materialism before we can even began the conversation? What if the "intellectual's own ground" is that "there is no God"?

The third goal is to recapture denominational leadership from the larger denominations. This betrays a naive view of reform as well as a forgetfulness about the recent past. What do people like Nash think happened in the PCUSA that led to the defrocking of J. Gresham Machen? If the liberals stand their ground (which they do) and block all reform actions, should the New Evangelicals wait (forever) for the dream that the Liberals would perhaps one day hand them the denominational leadership?

Lastly, the fourth goal showed the New Evangelical nostalgia for the Old Evangelical social activism, an activism that however has no basis in Scripture.

The New Evangelicals have good motives. However, good motives are never enough. As it has often been said, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." By not following the biblical manner for reform and revival, the New Evangelicalism was doomed from the start, although outwards success was phenomenal for a time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Evangelicalism: What is in a name?

[Previous: Reformed and Evangelical?]

Historically, Evangelicalism as a movement began only around the time of the First Great Awakening. In the deconfessional era and with the slow erosion of orthodoxy in the churches, those who believe in the Bible began to see fellow compatriots across denominations. Pietism with the emphasis on one's personal spiritual walk broke down the link between corporate and individual spirituality, which enables believers to see the former issues that divide them as being of lesser importance compared to their shared conversion experiences in the faith.

Evangelicalism (with a capital "E") therefore seems best defined as a social, as opposed to a theological movement. It is a social movement centered around certain experiences (i.e. conviction of sin, assurance of salvation, burden for the lost) with a claim to follow the Bible; a social movement with a theological claim(s). In other words, the Evangelical claims unity around certain theological truths, whereas it actually is more centered around certain experiences assumed to be consonant with those theological truths.

In his book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, D.W. Bebbington claimed 4 distinctive characteristics of Evangelicalism. They are (1) Conversionism (a focus on the necessity of each person to individually turn to Christ in faith for salvation), Activism (a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission in the world), Biblicism (a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith), and Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins). In light of historical realities, it is better to elaborate these points as follows (with the underlined parts added for clarification):

  1. Conversionism, a focus on the necessity of each person to have a decisive act of turning to Christ in faith for salvation
  2. Activism, a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission by identifying all manner of causes to which Christianity has possible implications for and promoting these causes through the agency of trans- and non-denominational agencies
  3. Biblicism, a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith with a minimalistic understanding of what the Bible teaches and a naive view of exegesis and hermeneutics, with a corresponding rejection of any authority of creeds and confessions, and an emphasis on individual spirituality at the expense of the corporate dimension
  4. Crucicentrism, a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins without a necessary soteriological framework which shows why the Cross is meant to be central and thus a weak assertion of its centrality.

As it can be seen, each of the underlined parts indicate a particular tradition or practice Evangelicalism has either subconsciously (mostly) or knowingly adopted. The first tradition is revivalism, which emphasized the conversion experience over the reality. Profession of faith is insufficient in this system; one must have the conversion experience in order to be considered a true "born-again" Christian. The difference between the older Evangelicalism and the post-Finney Evangelicalism is in whether the experience is man-made and able to be perceived as to the very day and hour, or whether it is not so.

The second tradition is the continuation of Constantinism as seeing the Church is in some sense intertwined with Society and thus bearing moral obligation upon the church qua church to get involved in all manner of causes. The Pietist tradition elevated the value of godly behavior above doctrinal fidelity, while deconfessionalism eroded the value of theology in general. The last two resulted in the perception of commonality between "evangelicals" from different denominations to come together, instead of them trying to reform the churches or split off from apostate denominations to join orthodox denominations.

The Romantic impulse behind the elevation of experience over doctrine resulted in a denigration of "dead" theology and thus resulted in biblicism, "me and my Bible in the woods." Lastly, Pietism and Deconfessionalism resulted in minimalizing doctrine to its supposed "essentials" which is "the Cross" (whatever that means), leaving the entire soteriological framework behind as being "technicalities."

Evangelicalism is thus more than just a movement that focuses on the Gospel. Implicit in the movement is an entire framework of theology for faith and life which is antithetical to true Christianity. One can be a Christian and be an Evangelical, but one cannot be a biblical Christian and continue to be an Evangelical, for its worldview and praxis are not in line with Scripture.

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.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The PRCA and what Reformed is

My previous church in Singapore, Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC), has a magazine ministry called Salt Shakers. At the time I was a member in that church, the church was exploring closer sister church relations with the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA). Given my disagreement with the PRCA on various doctrinal issues, I was obviously not happy with what would happen when such fraternal relations become official. As such, I would probably have left the church even if I have not moved on into the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

Recently, the Salt Shakers magazine issue 21 for July 2013 had an article by PRCA theologian Herman Hanko as it relates to being Reformed. The whole article is just sad only because of its total misrepresentation of the Reformed faith.

From the very beginning of Reformed theology with John Calvin, theologians that dealt with the doctrine of the Covenant and most continental theologians maintained these basic doctrines. It is true that some did not, but they were in the minority. The true line of Covenant theology held to the following truths:

  • God triune is in Himself a Covenant God.
  • He has chosen to reveal His own Covenant life through Christ.
  • Christ is the Head of the Covenant, and the Covenant is established with all those who are elect in Christ. Election, therefore, determines who are in the covenant and who are not.
  • The Covenant is established and maintained by God through Christ and his work of atonement and redemption. It is, therefore, an unconditional covenant.
  • That Covenant is established with believers and their spiritual seed.
  • Elect children of believers are, as a general rule, brought into the Covenant at birth, or even prior to birth – as was the case with Jeremiah and John the Baptist (Jer. 1:5, Luke 1:39-44). Baptism does not bring children into the Covenant, for baptism is a sign and seal that they are already in the Covenant.

Herman Hanko, "What is Reformed," Salt Shakers 21 (July 2013): 10-11

The problem with Hanko's position is that his definition of what "Reformed" means is basically what the PRCA thinks "Reformed" means. It has little to do with the actual historical definition of the adjective "Reformed." Hanko's definition of "Reformed" is anachronistic; whatever agrees with the PRCA is Reformed, whatever does not is not Reformed. Instead of approaching the definition of what "Reformed" means with a sincere seeking after truth, he already has an a priori definition of what "Reformed" means and then read all the Reformed theologians within that framework.

We note first of all that Hanko asserts that "[Reformed] theologians that dealt with the doctrine of the Covenant and most continental theologians maintained these basic doctrines." Which theologians? Herman Witsius? Johannes Oecolampadius? Zacharias Ursinus? Which mainstream Reformed theologian before Herman Hoeksema has ever denied the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture (Covenant of Works/ Covenant of Grace)?

The proper way to define what being "Reformed" is to to define it as the teachings of the Reformed Confessions. Defined this way, we find Hanko's revisitionist historical account more than a little problematic. The Formula Consensus Helvetica (1677) is a confession of the Continental Reformed tradition subscribed to by the Swiss Reformed Church and by people such as the Reformed giant Francis Turretin. This is what the Formula says regarding Covenant Theology:

Canon VII: As all his works were known unto God from eternity, (Acts 15:18), so in time, according to his infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, he made man, the glory and end of his works, in his own image, and, therefore, upright, wise, and just. Having created man in this manner, he put him under the Covenant of Works, and in this Covenant freely promised him communion with God, favor and life, if indeed he acted in obedience to his will.

Canon VIII: Moreover that promise connected to the Covenant of Works was not a continuation only of earthly life and happiness but the possession especially of eternal and celestial life, a life namely, of both body and soul in heaven, if indeed man ran the' course of perfect obedience, with unspeakable joy in communion with God. For not only did the Tree of Life prefigure this very thing unto Adam, but the power of the law, which, being fulfilled by Christ, who went under it in our place, awards to us nothing other than celestial life in Christ who kept the same righteousness of the law. The power of the law also threatens man with both temporal and eternal death.

Canon IX: Wherefore we can not agree with the opinion of those who deny that a reward of heavenly bliss was offered to Adam on condition of obedience to God. We also do not admit that the promise of the Covenant of Works was any thing more than a promise of perpetual life abounding in every kind of good that can be suited to the body and soul of man in a state of perfect nature, and the enjoyment thereof in an earthly Paradise. For this also is contrary to the sound sense of the Divine Word, and weakens the power of the law considered in itself.

As it will be seen, the Continental Reformed Covenant Theology agrees with the Presbyterian theology of the Westminster Standards on the issue of the Covenant of Works. The Formula Consensus Helvetica is not some novelty written and adopted by people as a repudiation of their supposed former "one covenant" theology. But let us look at Hanko's points first

Hanko's first point of Covenant Theology is that "God triune is in Himself a Covenant God." The problem here is that the PRCA and Hanko have redefined what "covenant" is. Before Hoeksema, Barth, Schilder and any of these 20th century innovators came along, who actually defines "covenant" without a reference to concepts such as "agreement," "stipulations/ conditions," "sanctions/ punishment" and "reward"? The PRCA redefinition of "covenant" merely means that they are claiming that the triune God have a loving relationship and bond among the persons of the Godhead, and nothing more. The question then becomes, "Do the Reformed historically teach the Covenant of Redemption, otherwise known as the Pactum Salutis?" If they do, do the PRCA agree that such a covenant relation complete with stipulations exist as a covenant arrangement distinct (not separate) from the intra-trinitarian love the persons of the Godhead have for each other?

Hanko's second point is that God "has chosen to reveal His own covenant life through Christ." Again, what does this mean? What is God's "covenant life" even? The historical understanding of "covenant" for the first 19 centuries of the institutional Church is that covenant refers to an agreement between two parties. So in the historical usage of the term, there is no such thing as "God's covenant life" for what is this even supposed to mean? God does reveal His covenant [of grace] through Christ, not His "covenant life."

Hanko's third point subsumes election under the covenant. Christ is the Head of the Covenant, and election determines who is or isn't in the covenant. Here, Hanko flattens Covenant theology and confuses election and covenant. In Hanko's (and the PRCA's) scheme, covenant is election and election is covenant. There is no such thing whatsoever that there can be someone within the covenant (externally) while being not elect. That is why in his fellow PRCA theologian David Engelsma's book The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers, Engelsma was left to grounding infant baptism in the promise God will save the elect children of believers although all are to be baptized. The Covenant must necessarily relate to election to the extent that infant baptism does not necessarily bring an infant into the covenant, but elect infants only. One wonders how one can say that baptism is the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace, since a baptized infant is not necessarily in the Covenant of Grace in any sense unless he is elect! How does one deal with the circumcision of Ishmael in this system, since Ishmael is certainly reprobate?! Election, covenant, election is covenant.

Reformed theology on the other hand does not so tightly link election and covenant. We recognize that there is an external aspect to the covenant, so there are two ways of being in the covenant. The sign of the Covenant is to be applied to those in the Covenant regardless of whether they are elect. In other words, even if God somehow supernaturally revealed to the minister that baby X is not elect, we still baptize baby X, just as Abraham circumcised Ishmael. We do not so link election and covenant. True, God's promise of salvation extends to the children of believers, but our basis is not some expectancy about their elect status but as an expression of our faith in God's covenant promises regardless of their election status. We baptize infants because the covenant is to believers and their children, not because the covenant is to believers and their elect children! Hanko's fourth point is thus a distortion of Scripture. The promise is to "you and to your children" (c.f. Gen. 17:9-14), not to "believers and their spiritual seed." If the promise is to "believers and their spiritual seed," why baptize infants? Why not wait until they have made a credible profession of faith (thus having a greater possibility of them being actually elect) before baptizing them? Furthermore, if the promise is only to elect infants, one wonder how Hanko and the PRCA actually ascertain which infant is elect or not elect in order that they may be assured they are actually in the covenant of God!

The PRCA are historical revisionists of the Reformed tradition. As we can see, Canons 7 to 9 of the Formula Consensus Helvetica has a fully developed doctrine of the Covenant of Works. Canon 9 of the Formula even rejects the PRCA's doctrine of the Covenant! Among "Continental" theologians, Francis Turretin confessed the Covenant of Works, as do Herman Witsius, Herman Bavinck and Louis Berkhof.

Zacharias Ursinus is the writer of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the documents that form the Three Forms of Unity, confessed also by the PRCA. Ursinus did use the phrase "one covenant" in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, but that was merely a teaching of the one covenant of grace [Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Second America Edition; Colombus, OH, 1852; repr. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, n.d.), 97-100]. Even here, we see Ursinus describe the covenant in legal terms as follows:

A covenant in general is a mutual contract, or agreement between two parties, in which the one party binds itself to the other to accomplish upon certain conditions, giving or receiving something, which is accompanied with certain outward signs and symbols, for the purpose of ratifying in the most solemn manner the contract entered in, and for the sake of confirming it, that the engagement may be kept inviolable. (Ursinus, 97)

In the same commentary, Ursinus showed that he does hold to some form of bi-covenantalism when he deals with the Law/Gospel distinction, which is the parallel principle to the Covenant of Works/ Covenant of Grace distinction:

According to the definition of the law, which says, that it promises rewards to those who render perfect obedience; and that it promises them freely, inasmuch as no obedience can be meritorious in the sight of God, it would seem that it does not differ from the gospel, which also promises eternal life freely. Yet notwithstanding this seeming agreement, there is a great difference between the law and the gospel. They differ,

1. As to the mode of revelation peculiar to each. The law is known naturally: the gospel was divinely revealed after the fall of man.

2. In matter or doctrine. The law declares the justice of God separately considered: the gospel declares it in connection with his mercy. The law teaches what we ought to be in order that we may be saved: the gospel teaches in addition to this, how we may become such as this law requires, viz: by faith in Christ.

3. In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ. With this faith is also connected, as by an indissoluble bond, the condition of new obedience.

4. In their effects. The law works wrath, and is the ministration of death: the gospel is the ministration of life and of the Spirit (Rom. 4:15, 2 Cor. 3:7)

(Ursinus, 499)

Note the language of clause 3 of the conditions. The law here, as a short-form for the Covenant of Works, "promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness." That is the language of the Covenant of Works in a nutshell! Adam if he were to obey would merit eternal life, not due to some "ontic merit," but because he fulfilled the requirement(s) that God has set.

I would like to conclude with a paragraph from Richard Muller's address concerning the relation of the British and Continental traditions, which originally appeared in the Mar/ April 1994 issue of New Horizons:

Even so, there are only two Reformed confessional documents that teach the two-covenant schema of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace - the Irish Articles and the Westminster Confession- and the schema is, admittedly, a minor theme in the Irish Articles. Nonetheless, the two-covenant schema is a significant, even central, doctrinal motif in much Dutch Reformed theology, where it has never been a confessional theme. In the English Reformed tradition, the schema became a matter of confessional teaching - in the Dutch Reformed tradition, it did not. We might even hazard the guess that the difference is rooted purely in the historical development of Reformed theology and in the fact that the Dutch Reformed confessional development came to a close at the Synod of Dort, before the great flowering of Reformed covenant theology, while the Puritan Revolution brought about a confessional situation in England after that flowering had taken place. In any case, this confessional diversity does not mark a point of dissention in doctrine between branches of the Reformed faith. Terminology and interpretation of the prelapsarian covenant varies in the orthodox Reformed systems sometimes the concept is absent, sometimes it is present as a "covenant of nature," and other times as a "covenant of works." More importantly, the outworkings of the doctrine of the covenant of grace are clearly present in the baptismal teaching and practice of all the Reformed churches.

There is no sharp contrast between the "British Presbyterian" stream and the "Continental Reformed" stream. Difference in emphases, yes, but substantial differences no. Thus, the PRCA, with its substantial revision of history, the Reformed tradition and Reformed theology, is certainly not Reformed, regardless of what they proclaim themselves to be.

P.S.: See the quotes from Reformed sources on classical Reformed Covenant Theology here.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The problems with the Shepherding Movement

The first major problem with the Shepherding Movement was that it was extremely adverse to institutionalism, as was much of Charismatism, and thus could not see that what they were doing was essentially creating something analogous to a denomination. The Fort Lauderdale Five were Idealists who believed there could be “organic unity” and discipleship without actual institutionalism. As Idealists, they believe they could just minister to all regardless of the practical reality of church and denominational differences and divisions.

The second major problem with the Shepherding Movement is their unbiblical ecclesiology resulting in an errant view of church office and an errant view of authority. They embraced the idea of “every-member ministry” to such an extreme that anyone and everyone could be a shepherd, thus opening up the ministry to those who were neither called nor trained for the task. Their errant view of authority also gave rise to the excesses and abuses of authority, as they did not have a proper view of authority as it relates to Christian liberty.

The following paragraphs are an excerpt from the article (or mini-book by the time it is completed) I am working on which gives a brief overview of the history of the Church. The Shepherding Controversy is important for all Christians not just because of its practical outworking in some branches of Charismatism, but also because it is an object lesson of what happens when anti-institutional Christianity suddenly encounters texts in Scripture that promotes institutionalism.

[Protestant] Charismatism, with its naive biblicism, rejects most of historic Christianity as it tries to be "fully biblical." The restorationist impulse is prevalent throughout the entire Charismatic Movement. Distorting the Reformation of Sola Scriptura into the principle of Solo Scriptura, Protestant Charismatics are notorious for always claiming that they are just following the Bible (as if their opponents do NOT!) Thus, the Charismatic Movement will always reinvent the wheel. Compounding this problem is an over-realized eschatology, and we have the conditions for the Shepherding Controversy.

We note that the Fort Lauderdale Five, the guys behind the Shepherding Movement in the '70s and early '80s, attempt to reach out to all the Church. Given the anti-institutional nature of Charismatism, this of course means the "Invisible Church." Since there are no denominations in heaven, so denominations are likewise irrelevant on earth. The Church should be one, united in Christ. So if denominations are utterly irrelevant, if unity is so paramount, then what's wrong with the idea of trans-local discipleship? Is the pastor of the sheep being discipled merely being jealous because of the influence someone outside his church has on a member of his church? But I thought we are all united in Christ and thus we should not have such petty jealousy? So are denominations important or are they not? The Charismatic critics of the Shepherding Movement seem to want their cake and eat it too. Is denominationalism actually bad? Then why object to trans-local discipleship?! Furthermore, it is extremely ironic when the Charismatic critics object to trans-local discipleship. Just what does anyone think they are doing when charismatic churches reach across denominational lines (ignoring them really) to minister to other charismatics?! Pat Robertson and the Full Gospel fellowship does it, circumventing institutional denominational lines, but then do they cry foul when someone does it to them?!

On this first point, the Shepherding Movement likes its critics similarly wants to have its cake and eat it too! How can one set up an entire hierarchy comprising churches and ministers and and then claim that they are not a denomination? This is disingenuous, for then what is the reach of this "hierarchy"? Since all of these shepherding relationships are not public, it is understandable that much suspicion be cast on the movement, for who knows whether one's pastor is actually submitted to (and thus under the authority of) one of the Fort Lauderdale Five?

The second point is the radicalization of the idea of "every-member ministry" (the idea that essentially all Christians are able to and may minister like pastors and elders and deacons, thus there is no such idea of the special office). If there is no special office in the church, then the Shepherding Movement's concept of appointing intermediate level shepherds from the "laity" is logical. Since everyone can do the ministry which was once retained for the special office, then the only criteria left is perception of spiritual maturity and whether the person is willing and could commit the time to do the work. Criticism of the Shepherding Movement being a pyramid authoritarian scheme is unwarrented. Swap the "shepherds" with clergy and you will get the episcopal system of church government, so the hierarchy by itself does not necessitate abuse. The problem is the radical "every-member ministry" results in the potential for all manner of abuses by people who are uncalled and untrained for the work they are entrusted with. The Shepherding Movement is thus merely being consistent with the idea of "every member ministry" and thus much of Charismatism have no moral high ground to critique them on this point.

The third point is of course that they have an unbiblical view of authority as it relates to Christian liberty. Much Charismatic criticism it seems are basically unbiblical knee-jerk reactions to the idea that God has actually ordained HUMAN authority over them; radical individualists chafe at the idea that somehow they have to answer to God-ordained HUMAN authority. The problem with the Shepherding Movement as it relates to authority is that it abuses authority, which is not surprising since, well, what can you expect from untrained and uncalled people who are suddenly given almost total power over another person? As Lord Acton says, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." One should not be surprised that untrained and relatively young Christians, given much power over the lives of others, would actually abuse that authority; that abuse is guaranteed to occur!

Much better is Scripture's view of authority as it relates to Christian liberty. As the WCF states:

II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has 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. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.

III. They who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life. (WCF 20.2-3)

Christian liberty is given to all believes, yet the liberty ends where the law begins (just as liberty begins where the law ends). Authority within a church therefore follows the word of God, and it is only to be obeyed insofar as it conforms to God's Word and God's Law. Where Scripture does not speak however there is liberty, and no person can bind the conscience of another on such matters.

The Shepherding Movement misunderstanding of authority is what give rise to the specter of shepherds dictating to their sheep who they can date and who they should marry, among other "excesses" of that movement.

The Shepherding Movement is not dead, although it has officially disbanded. Its doctrines can be found in the G12 movement (which in Singapore is found in Lawrence Khong and FCBC), and possibly many other charismatic movements. While the critics like to paint the Shepherding Movement as alien to the Charismatic Movement, even "demonically-inspired," the fact of the matter is that the Shepherding Movement drank from the same well as the Charismatic Movement. Their ecclesiologies are remarkably similar, and both unbiblical. The only major difference between the Shepherding Movement and its critics is that the former focus on visible church unity through formal accountability while the later focus on invisible church unity without formal accountability.

As long as Charismatics continue to be anti-denominational and anti-institutional, they are always susceptible to errors such as the Shepherding Movement. There will always be Charismatics who react against the "invisible church" mindset and focus more on the visible church, and since they are still operating with the same foundationally errant paradigm, all manner of error and abuses may arise.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Discipleship in the Charismatic Shepherding Movement

The movement held high expectations for participation and involvement. Members were expected to verbally commit themselves, to tithe their income, be fully involved in all aspects of church life, and submit all areas of their personal lives to their shepherd's counsel. Members were confronted by their shepherd if they failed to live up to their commitments.

[S. David Moore, The Shepherding Movement: Controversy and Charismatic Ecclesiology (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2003), 78]

I believe Scripture knows of no such power given to any man, church or denomination.