Orthodox Joe

Greenbaggins is continuing our discussion, and this exchange revolves around two basic questions. The first has to do with my examination by the CREC presbytery (in 2004, before we divided into two presbyteries). Lane asks if the CREC has any TRs in it, and if they were invited to participate in the exam. And pressing his point home, he asks if there were no TRs on the examination committee, then how would this do anything to allay the charge that the CREC is nothing more than a “rubber stamp denomination,” the better to enable me to say things like bwah hah hah. Lane goes out of his way to say that he is not saying this, but wonders what good the exam did in a world where people are saying that.

Several things. First, I actually think the CREC does have some TRs in it, but I don’t know that they would be owned as such by those who are currently wearing the mantle. At least one of the gentlemen I have in mind in this category was on the examination committee. But in addition, I have to point out that I did not form the committee. I requested the examination, and the committee was formed by our moderator. I do know that the goal of the committee was to ask questions that TRs would acknowledge as the questions that needed to be asked, and I believe they did a very good job of this.

The committee did decide that I was orthodox, but that was not the real point. I acknowledge it was not exactly a Perry Mason courtroom moment. So Lane’s point is correct as far as it goes — if someone wanted to dismiss the verdict, that would be easy enough for them to do. The verdict was that I was okay, but of course I was judicially okay before I requested the exam. I didn’t need to go through an exam to establish that. The point of the exam was to establish a public record, on the record, of how I answer certain controverted questions. And since the time of that exam, we have not trumpeted the results of the verdict — as though the CREC took me behind closed doors, pretended to examine me, and then came out to announce that I was Orthodox Joe. No, what we have circulated is the exam itself — the questions and the answers. We have circulated written questions and answers, and we have circulated recordings of the oral exam.

This means that if someone says that the verdict was rigged, all we have to do is refer them to the contents of the exam and ask where the problem lies. And, given the content of that exam, there are only three responses that an honest to goodness TR can have. The first is to ignore everything. This has been the path not less traveled. The second is to acknowledge that the questions and answers were really good, and that I might actually be descended from A.A. Hodge. The third is to say I am lying. But whatever happened, we did not think that a verdict by itself would persuade anybody. Honest answers to obviously good questions should be able to do that though.

Lane worries a bit that I might go off on a little bit of rhetorical terryhooting in response to his blog post, but I have no intention of doing that. I do that sometimes but never when someone is honestly trying to communicate with me — as Lane obviously is trying to do. I have been known to make light-hearted comments about grand exalted potentates and wizards running freethinkers out of their moose lodge of a church, but this is all in good fun, and not directed at guys who are honestly trying like Lane.

The second point resumes his interaction with my book “Reformed” Is Not Enough, and his basic question here concerns my “minimizing” discipline as one of the marks of the Church. The traditional marks of the Church in Reformed theology have been Word, sacrament and discipline. I tweak this slightly, making discipline the fence that protects the two marks of the Church, Word and sacrament. Lane gets my illustration exactly. A church without discipline has no immune system; it is a church with AIDS. But people with AIDS are very sick people, not dead people. Churches without Word and sacrament are not sick churches, but rather dead churches. One of the commenters at Lane’s blog suggested that I was “minimizing” discipline like this because of my supposed baptismal nominalism. But those who know what the church culture in Moscow is like know that this is really wide of the mark. We do practice church discipline. My reduction of discipline to a “semi-mark” of the Church was simply an attempt to answer a theological puzzle, not an attempt to shy away from discipline. A church with no discipline is a church with AIDS.

I see Word and sacrament as essential to life, right now — like breathing or the circulation of the blood. I see discipline as essential to the protection of those things which are essential to life, but as not necessarily essential to life right this minute. A man with AIDS can live for years. A man whose heart stops, or whose lungs collapse, dies immediately. I was simply trying to account for this analogous difference.

Lane asks if I allow exceptions to the rule that no salvation is to be found outside the Church. Absolutely. I much prefer Westminster’s formulation of this to Cyprian’s — outside the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. I grant that the last day will reveal the salvation of many who never had any connection to the visible church. But this is not the way it ordinarily goes, and this is not the way the New Testament usually speaks.

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