Why I Signed, Too

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I thank Carl for providing the link to the Church of Scotland on-line petition, which I signed yesterday.  Like Phil, I thought it was well-written and compelling.  I think there are some good matters for reflection here, including points already made by Carl and Phil.  Like Carl, I am generally concerned when Christians are more inflamed over matters of morality than doctrine, especially hot-button items for cultural Christianity like homosexuality.  I, for one, consider the mainline abandonment of Scripture, Christ, and the gospel to be of ultimate significance: compared to attacks on the trinity, atonement, and inerrancy, homosexuality is a pretty small-fry issue.  But like Phil, I think it most important that we stand in solidarity with faithful men and women as they are fighting unbelief and apostasy in their church communions.

 

More generally, based on reflections from church history, I have come to the conclusion that one should be careful in expressing criticism of the tactics of other faithful Christians.  Can we really expect that others are going to form the same judgments as we are regarding where the line is drawn, with whom one can safely associate, and how sharply to express our polemical stance against error?  I don't think we can.  Too often in church history, faithful Bible believers (usually described as "conservatives") have broken with each other not over matters of doctrine or practice, but over tactical judgments regarding the fight against secularism and unbelief.  In my view, we should be loathe to do this.  Rather, while we may certainly give our counsel (in private will normally be best), I think that we should stand with faithful brethren to the greatest extent that we can in their fight against errors of doctrine and practice.  We should not stand with them if they compromise on matters of doctrine or practice.  But when the subject is how they will seek to fight against error and heresy and how they will seek to encourage others in their own communions to remain faithful, I think the best practice is for us to lend as much support as we can, avoiding any disunity because of differences in tactical judgment.

 

There have been a number of times when friends of mine have criticized me regarding judgment calls in opposing error (usually because some think my approach not forceful enough).  But no one can face my particular pastoral challenges and I have to answer to the Lord for my judgment in the pace of reform and my forcefulness in refuting error.  I have learned that such matters are usually far beyond my competence, which is why I so value the prayer of James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach."  Many times the demands of wisdom in making tactical judgment calls has clearly exceeded my own capacity, so I have turned to God for aid and have asked my friends for indulgence.  Having experienced this myself, I have become more reluctant to criticize the judgment of faithful friends in a difficult situation that they alone really understand and I have become more willing to stand by them when I disagree with their approach (so long as they are not sinning and it is a biblical agenda they are pursuing).

 

This is not to say that there never is a place for public criticism of such a major and public endeavor as the Church of Scotland on-line petition.  Carl has obviously believed there was a point to be made that demands public attention (an issue in which I am sympathetic to his concerns).  But the fact is that these are faithful brethren making difficult decisions in their own church context.  How easy it is for us to criticize their judgment from across the ocean, especially from the academy, often not realizing the particular pressures they face.  Carl probably knows a lot more about the situation there than I do, and I respect his belief that his concerns warranted publication.  Yet, however we judge tactical matters, surely we must now all affirm that cause of our friends with the petition is right and biblically important, and that they should receive all the solidarity, both in prayer and in public support, that we can give them.  With this in mind, and with respect to his concerns, I respectfully call on Carl to sign the on-line petition, so as to stand with the faithful brethren despite concerns over their approach.

Posted May 5, 2009 @ 12:12 PM by Rick Phillips
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