Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Reflections on the "Babylonian Captivity" Post; Didn't "His Barking Dog" Go Too Far?

Several readers have reacted to my last post on the Babylonian Captivity of Evangelicals in the ABC. One of my dialogue partners raised several important points that deserve a response in a wider context. (His words appear in blue).

I have understood you as not wanting to call names and trying to speak the truth in love. That's part of the reason that I thought the passage in quotes wasn't from you!

I have consistently tried to affirm the integrity and the personal character of those with whom I disagree. In other words, some measure of civility is called for, even when taking strong stands. These are really, really, really, sincere and committed sisters and brothers! However, the image of the Babylonian Captivity (NOT the Antichrist aspect) does seem useful for several reasons.

* Luther sought to reform the church from the abuses imposed upon it by Roman leadership. While the material principle of the Reformation was sola fide, the formal principle was sola scriptura. And, my evaluation of Valley Forge's approach to heterodoxy under the protection of "Baptist principles" is just about the most significant attack on sola scriptura as I can imagine from within a "Baptist" organization.

Further, my contention is that bibliology relates to Christology; attacks on sola scriptura are in reality diminutions of the authority of Christ, the Lord of the Church, who endorses the authority of the Word.

* Luther only "left" the church when he felt that the establishment would not accept necessary reforms. Valley Forge has made it abundantly clear (cf. the opening words of Dr. Medley's biennial address last summer) that we will NOT deviate from our present untenable course.

* You are correct that Luther wanted reform, not revolution. However, before the publication of the papal bull excommunicating him, Decet Romanum Pontificum on January 3, 1521, (not the more famous Exsurge Domine, where Leo X called Luther a "wild boar" in the Lord's "vineyard"), Luther had already symbolically excommunicated Leo by burning Exsurge Domine and a book of canon law in December of 1520. So, under the weight of a bureaucracy both unyielding and unlikely to accept reform, Luther said enough is enough even BEFORE the Roman authorities excommunicated him formally.

* My use of the term "Babylonian Captivity" was evocative not allegorical. No, there are some significant differences between Leo X and Roy Medley. For example, Leo was corrupt; Roy is a good and Godly man who impresses everyone as sincerely well-meaning.

In allowing Tetzel to peddle his indulgences for the capital campaign to build St. Peter's, Leo "tolerated" an assault on truth. Roy's desire to remain "personally traditional" while "holding on to" sisters and brothers who sincerely disagree with him sounds magnanimous. However, deconstruct the statement and you find that Roy is willing to allow heterodoxy to grow, even to flourish under the protection and patronage of VF leaders who keep using far left spokespersons for conferences, committees, task forces, and national gatherings. What Dr. Medley "tolerates" undermines the force of his claim to personally hold to orthodox views.

In my estimation, permitting and providing for (actually "catering to") the promulgation of de facto assaults on the authority of Christ warrants the evocative use of the Babylonian Captivity imagery, even though it would not form a tight allegorical or analogical correspondence at all points of detail.

In addition, where the heck does the idea that evangelicals are about freedom come from? That completely looks like rhetoric from the left! Then again, I tend to fall more on the whole "slave to sin or slave to righteousness" thing. Or, as Bob Dylan put it: "you gotta serve someone."

My read on much criticism of the right by the left often relates to issues of freedom. "We 'progressives' believe in embracing human potentialities and possibilities, in liberating people from the shackles of spiritual and emotional restrictions. You 'fundamentalists' are all about rules, not relationships. You are just like the Pharisees" (notice how closely the infamous Roger Williams Fellowship address at last year's biennial mirrors these points).

Since I was lifting up the image of Luther, it seemed good to admit that some on the left might say that Luther better fits them rather than those on the right. My respone was to say, "OK, Luther was attempting to free people from the shackles of the papal system. We need to free evangelicals from the shackles of the VF system." Rhetorical overkill? Perhaps. But that was my reasoning in using the idea.

IOW: the whole analogy is flawed.2)in what way is the ABC like other mainline denoms? I see the distinctives at work even at the most liberal churches in my regions. I might not consider them Christian, but I would still consider them Baptist -- if that makes any sense....

OK, the analogy is flawed. But, I would still defend the use of the imagery in the context and for the purposes described above. The seven mainline denominations ALL are fighting over this same issue of human sexuality. On the continuum, we have Episcopalians with gay bishops and UCC policies affirming same sex unions on one side and a generally more conservative position (although not practice) by the ABC on the other side.

The unique feature of ABC thinking and polity (at least since 1905-1908) has been a split between those who see sola scriptura as the "norming norm" drawing together all of our distinctives and those affirming (following E.Y. Mullins) Christian "experience" as the sine qua non of all Baptist distinctives. When experience substitutes for the regulatory role of scripture, we are forced to accept just about anything as long as one claims to have had an experience with Jesus (cf. some of the wild views on some of the other "Baptist" message boards). In principle, then, how would one challenge a "Buddhist Baptist" or even an "Atheist Baptist"? Cut adrift from the nearly universal teaching of the church over two millennia, "experience" becomes a very dangerous criterion as the norm of Baptist life.

Clarification on this would help at least me understand what you're trying to do here.

Quite simply, after receiving some communications recently (one from a denominational official who signed off with a somber: "May God have mercy on your soul"), I have decided that cautious dialog will no longer do (even though civility is still called for!). There are many good reasons for evangelicals to find a new home. I am trying to build my case for that move (cf. Transformation Ministries nee ABCPSW). That is my present purpose. Enough is enough.

I can like Roy, even love him, and thoroughly enjoy his company, but his way is not faithful to my sense of "radical discipleship" regardless of the rhetoric. I firmly believe that unless evangelicals are willing to "change" VF (a most unlikely possibility), they should leave it. Allow the progressive vision to have its day and let the Lord bless as he will. Both "sides" will be better off and the mission of Christ will flourish better without these enervating distractions.

We rightly affirm that the obligations of the biblical imperatives are rooted in the overflow of the biblical indicatives of God's grace. In the covenantal pattern of Scripture, the "law" was not given to "save" people, but to "saved" people. Nevertheless, with Jesus affirming "Your word is truth," we cannot easily squirm out from under the press of the imperatives in God's word without demonstrating that we not only reject the indicatives of God's grace but the gracious One who stands behind them all as well!

On Saturday a former dean of one of our ABC seminaries (after which he became dean of one of our premier progressive evangelical schools) and father of one of our most successful ABC pastors asked me, "How can anyone seriously pretend to believe that the New Testament teaches anything other than the traditional view of human sexuality?" Lamenting the direction some of his friends and former colleagues around the ABC have taken on this subject, this man who once sat as a graduate student under Reicke, Cullmann and Barth in Basel, seemed frankly perplexed and puzzled at the twists and turns taken by some of our contemporary exegetes who attempt to evade the clear teaching of the Bible. This same man has written in support of PSW's withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships.

The time for polite dialogue has past; the day for decision has come. Evangelicals should rightly perceive the futility of remaining in the "family" and find a new family to belong to now.

[Obviously these personal responses are just that; they do not pretend to speak for any group, organization, or conspiracy anywhere. His Barking Dog yelps alone in his own living room]

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