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Two recent posts of mine addressed relativising sin in the Church (read here and here).

By now, some of you might be wondering what to do in your own congregations.

Green Baggins, which is largely about the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), explored this topic recently. Even though many of you are not Presbyterians, you can put his defence of confessionalism (e.g. the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity) into your own denominational context (e.g. Book of Concord or Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion).

I think the Revd Lane Keister wrote this post, so I’ll work on that assumption. He has a couple of other churchmen who also contribute.

Keister begins by laying out the wolves’ strategies, which he has himself experienced. I’ll reword this bit to make it more general.

So, how do we recognise the wolves in sheep’s clothing in our church — the type of people Keister refers to as the Can’t We All Get Along [‘cwaga’] crowd?

1/ They take offence when believers raise a point of doctrine.

2/ They have little interest in the spiritual welfare of the sheep in their congregation and denomination.

3/ They accuse good Christians of elevating doctrine to scriptural level.

4/ They tell orthodox believers not to obsess on ‘peripheral’ tenets of belief, belittling them by accusing them of loving minutiae, not the Gospel.

5/ They discuss ‘tradition’ — which encompasses anything from obscure ancient tracts to New Age beliefs — never doctrine, church confessions or the Bible.

6/ They say that denominational confessions of faith or the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are obsolete and should be forgotten or revamped.

7/ They accuse believers of legalism.

8/ They are quick to accuse good Christians of being harsh and unloving, perhaps even lying.

9/ They accuse those who wish to find a more faithful church of being schismatics.

Keister writes:

Just about all of them have happened to me and many of my friends at one point or another, most of them dozens of times.

I, too, have been told by Anglican clergy using some of the same tactics that I am ‘divisive’. Perhaps you have experienced something similar.

This is Keister’s response to the wolves opposing the confessionalists (real believers). Emphases in bold below are mine:

Now let me tell to you the heart of a confessionalist. He is quite a different species than the cwaga folk, and operates on different principles. So if you really are concerned about love, and are not just mouthing off words of unity and love in order to score political points off the confessionalist, then here is how to love the confessionalist.

Firstly, don’t speak about love without speaking about truth. Truth and love are not in competition. The Bible says that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. “God is love” is in the Bible. So is “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” God is not MORE love than light. Stop pitting the attributes of God over against each other, or claiming that there is a fundamental attribute of God more important than any other.

Secondly, remember that confessionalists love the sheep and are trying to see that the sheep (and not just their own!) are getting fed the Word and not poison. Confessionalists know that pastors are eminently expendable. Pastors are going to get attacked. It comes with the territory. Stop idolizing comfort and recognize that people can easily get poisoned by false teaching, and that confessionalists are trying to protect the sheep. In other words, stop misreading motivations.

Thirdly, enough with the good ol’ boys club. This creates political machinations that are extremely distasteful to the confessionalist.

Fourthly, stop patronizing the confessionalists (not to mention speaking out of both sides of your mouth!) by telling them that they are needed in the denomination, and then doing everything you can to thumb your nose at them and push the envelope. Going along with this, stop claiming to be confessionalists yourselves, if almost all your actions undermine the Standards.

Fifthly, recognize that true creativity in theology does NOT mean shifting sideways and discovering new and uncharted doctrines. Rather, true creativity means understanding the SAME doctrines better and deeper. There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints. Going along with this, stop pushing the boundaries! There is NOTHING that confessionalists hate more than this. Stop telling them to accept this, accept that, accept this, be quiet about it, don’t debate it, or else we’re being unloving. The envelope is not infinitely extendable …

As for Protestants who do not understand or appreciate the historical and theological aspects of the Reformation, he says:

Sixthly, stop pretending that the Reformation is irrelevant and was really unnecessary. If you believe that, go back to Rome.

Keister says this because of a strange splinter group in some Reformed churches called Federal Vision which has clergy who dress like Catholic priests, have religious convictions which go against Reformed confessions and who often preach theonomy. Certain presbyteries (similar to dioceses but without bishops) are turning a blind eye to these men, who are highly intelligent and rhetorically artful.

That said, I know quite a few quasi-atheistic Anglican clergy who deny the necessity of the Reformation. They have come into the C of E with no church background at all and no knowledge of church history. It seems they are so into false unity and reconciliation that any disagreement with them is a mistake, even when it puts us closer to the Lord and His Son Jesus Christ. I have been ridiculed by clergy in front of other members of my congregation for reading Calvin and Luther. The same would happen were I to read the Anglican divines (on my reading list).

Finally:

Seventhly, assume that a confessionalist, when quoting the Standards, is using them as shorthand for what he believes the Bible to be saying, as opposed to worshiping the Standards.

Oh, yes, this applies to Anglicans, too! If you ask whatever happened to the Thirty-Nine Articles — why they are no longer taught — you get coals of opprobrium heaped upon your head. More accusations of being stuck in the past, divisiveness and so on.

Whilst I deeply share Mr Keister’s frustration, I do not think that wolves — especially clergy and lay leaders — give a fig what the faithful sheep think.

Another spirit moves through the wolves, one which is hellbent on destroying the Church — whether they realise it or not.

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