The Whites of Their Thighs

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An essential part of a pastor’s duty is to fight heresy. But it is not an essential part of his duty to screech at it in such a fashion as to make all the heretics bless their false god for having given them such an incompetent adversary.

Some shepherds fight so listlessly or apologetically that it would be easy to assume that they have a tender spot in their hearts for the wolves. Other shepherds fight so enthusiastically that it is not long before we are suspecting that they do not fight because they love the sheep, but rather because they love the fighting.

Not only is there the moral problem of having messed up motives, there is also the pragmatic problem. The heresy-hunters who start typing up their indictments with the CAPS LOCK ON are not effective. If this issue is as important as everything seems to be saying, then shouldn’t we want to fight it effectively?

Now heretics always loooove them some nuance, and so it is not surprising that the orthodox are routinely suspicious of nuance. You can smuggle a bunch of foreign mercenaries over the border when the fog of nuance is thick. This is quite true, and it is a real problem. But the solution should not be to “bomb whatever is in the fog.”

Change the image somewhat. When cultbusters take the Agent Orange approach to the jungle of various theological opinion, they do get the heretics . . . and a lot more besides. That is not what we are called to do.

I have — many times — seen false teachers try to entice me to step into the caricatured role they have assigned to me. The fact that they want me to take that step makes me wonder why so many valiant-for-truth types are so eager to do as they are bidden. The approach I try to take is that of being the kind of adversary that the bad guys don’t want me to be.

Pinched-face advocates of truth and spacious and generous distributors of lies have this in common — they need each other.

Because the postmodern rot is so far advanced, the lie-mongers have a lot more scope. The contenders for truth still think they are in the 17th century, when both sides of theological debates still had a shared conception of Truth. Their debates were over what that Truth was, but they were not debating whether such a thing existed.

Today, the whole thing is different. Our great adversary now is not Rome, but rather Pome. A lot of the evangelicals heading to Rome are just what an RC friend calls “theater kids.” They are just playing postmodern dress-ups, and the bishop’s purple shirt is kind of Elton John campy. When this sets orthodox Protestants off, as it should, the problem is that they start shooting at Jesuits who have been dead for three centuries, instead of at pomo-friendlies in virtually every Reformed seminary. This is more convenient because the dead Jesuits don’t shoot back.

So my approach to heresy is a creative mash-up of the words of the apostle Paul and Israel Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill. “The works of the flesh are manifest, streaking up the hill like that, and so don’t fire until you see the whites of their thighs.” Or something like that.

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Tim Bayly
Tim Bayly
7 years ago

>> Our great adversary now is not Rome, but rather Pome.

True, and yet…

Justification by faith alone, but not faith by itself, is never secondary or tertiary to our battle for the protection of the sheep. Rome has seven sacraments, as Fr. Tom Forrest puts it, and thus Rome never fails to entice the sheep. Which is to say, wise shepherds are able to fight on more than one front.

As always, with love,

BJ
BJ
7 years ago

Doug, Not only do some of our defenders of the faith fail to see the true nature of the fight (Truth vs. postmodernism), but they also sometime fail to find the proper front on which to fight. It is perhaps true that many understand the nature of the fight, but fight it on the political front, instead of in the heart. They seem to think that simply because the laws are changing in favor of the pomos, the solution is to change the laws back. Wrong, wrong, a million times wrong. The reason I opted for the ministry instead of… Read more »

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Laws aren’t powerful enough to change the heart. God proved this with Israel in the Old Testament, and they were given a perfect Law, no less. When opposing parties each affirm the existence of Truth, then arguments are important, but when they don’t, or when arguments have all been exchanged, then it’s more important to live one’s arguments. If we find that our arguments don’t really shape the way we live, then what is the value of arguing? Usually a gracious and grateful and generous life is the best argument we can offer. This is something I’ve appreciated about the… Read more »

Roy
Roy
7 years ago

, help me understand. You regularly bring solid posts. I’m right there with you on this being a heart matter. At times, it seems that you advocate a more combative, earthly attitude toward similar subjects. How do you reconcile the (to me) difference? I ask because I would like to be able to do the same.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
7 years ago

It is a pastor’s duty to help his flock rid themselves of heresies. But isn’t fighting heresy “out there” more the calling of the gifted Dougs?

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Roy wrote: “@Katecho, help me understand. You regularly bring solid posts. I’m right there with you on this being a heart matter. At times, it seems that you advocate a more combative, earthly attitude toward similar subjects. How do you reconcile the (to me) difference? I ask because I would like to be able to do the same.” Thanks. Well. Good question. It may just be a reflection of my own personal inconsistency, and not something to be emulated. There’s a side of me that likes to argue and debate. Although, I appreciate Doug’s distinction between refugees from the world… Read more »

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

katecho wrote: and we should all know how to stand firm, but swinging an edge at the front lines somewhere may not be everyone’s calling. Still figuring out if it’s even mine. If its not, please consider teaching others how to do so as you have been doing here on these pages. Your patient relentlessness exposing the materialistic abyss that is Eric The Red’s “Humian Utilitarianism” was edifying for those of us who witnessed it. As Christians, its difficult to transition from the gratitude and happiness that (for many of us) is our normal, everyday experience to the tenacious ferocity… Read more »

MrsMac
MrsMac
7 years ago

Katecho, you are much appreciated.

Roy
Roy
7 years ago

, I appreciate the thoughtful response. I think I’m inclined to err on the side of caution because I remember my own blindness so clearly. I was just as confident, smug, and wrong as many of those whose paths I now cross. Hopefully, time and discernment will tell. As an aside, the idea of a force multiplier is intriguing. Perhaps another illustration that this is not a zero sum situation.

timbushong
7 years ago

The reason I opted for the ministry instead of the public office route was that I believe we must change hearts, not laws. This coming from a postmillenialist. Am I wrong?

No, I’d say you’re quite right.

RFB
RFB
7 years ago

katecho and timothy, I do not want to appear obsequious or fawning, but both of you have encouraged me. The “force multiplication” principle is absolutely operative; there is also something else alluded to by katecho ( or at least how I understand it). Engaging with opponents (in a martial sense), when done succesfully (read: smartly) uses supporting elements. Whether it be wingmen, overwatch (bounding, traveling, etc), or contact and cover, the foundational principle is to give the lead the support/protection to push the engagement. In its simplest sense it says “I have your back”. What both of you are doing… Read more »

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

@RFB, Thank you for the kind words; I am just a brawler, Katecho brings the art to the task. I find the battle very unpleasant; I literally tremble a bit while praying on whether to respond. I ask God to examine my heart and expose to me if I am sinning or protecting a secret sin like pride or anger (which, I am prone to). When the Holy Spirit approves, I do my duty, come hell or high water. I do not know where I first read this thought, but when I am afraid, I remind myself that “Courage is… Read more »