Sunday, November 13, 2005
Proof It's NOT About the Polity!
A Commonsense Argument That It’s NOT About the Polity
By Dennis E. McFadden
As recently as Dr. Medley’s visit to the PSW last week (and for nearly three hours in his infamous Sept 7 meeting with PSW leaders), we heard about the “unique unenforceables” (to use the inelegant language of the Regional Executive Minister Council) of ABC life. It is all about our polity, or so we are instructed. Patiently, with sighs and longsuffering shrugs of the shoulders, Dr. Medley declares that we are not a connectional denomination. The issue of human sexuality is one that slips between the cracks of our governance and our resolute adherence to congregational autonomy.
Conservatives maintain that THE issue is not about human sexuality or about polity. We continue insisting that the crisis is one of worldviews and what is at stake is nothing less than “sola scriptura,” biblical authority. Ultimately, the battle being waged concerns a conflict for the very Gospel itself, a battle which transcends polity and denominational differences.
The ABCUSA is not the first or only denomination facing a crisis over biblical authority. In yesterday’s blog, I quoted Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. He contrasts former missionary zeal in American Christianity with what he characterizes as a suicidal embrace of the spirit of the age. The Nigerian Primate makes it crystal clear that the issue today IS about biblical authority.
If the problem were really one of polity, you would think that it would be limited to one or two forms of church government. Yet, all three major polity persuasions are contending over the very same issues. The highly hierarchical episcopal ECUSA and United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church in the USA with its connectional governance, AND the congregational American Baptist Churches, USA, are all struggling with the same conflict. Dismissing it with a shrugged shoulder trivializes the seriousness and depth of the concerns animating the debate across denominational lines. In the past two weeks, pastors from both the PCUSA and ELCA have written me affirming that the arguments in our various denominations are all the same: the issue is biblical authority and worldview differences.
Rather than seeking shelter under the structurally unsound shack of radical autonomy, Dr. Medley would be advised to build on the firm foundation of the Word of God. Sisters and brothers eccumenically distributed in many other church bodies are fussing with each other using identical arguments.
When VF leaders say that it is "about the polity," what they mean is that in our particular form of organization, we have no centralized means for dealing with doctrinal conflicts of any kind. This begs the question. The fact of Baptist polity may make joint action more difficult. It does not, however, absolve Valley Forge leaders from facing the issue.
[Not representing anyone's opinion but that of the blogger, this is a totally unofficial blog]