Yesterday I received the honor of being chosen to serve the CREC for the next three years as her presiding minister. When we say we are honored by an honor and when we say we are humbled by an honor, it is too easy to assume that these are sentiments that pull in opposite directions. But actually, biblically understood, they are the same sentiment. This responsibility is a weighty one, and I would genuinely appreciate your prayers for the CREC, for me, those who will be assisting me, and for the presiding ministers of our seven presbyteries. We have some glorious opportunities before us.
What will it mean for this blog? Very little will change, but it is true that we will have to address some things at the very front end, and by this I mean the business of disclaimers.
We are all familiar with the statement that “the views expressed by old so-and-so are not necessarily the views of the fill-in-the-blank entity.” This is a commonly expressed sentiment because it is a necessary one. How we represent ourselves, particularly when we are also representatives in other senses, is an operation that calls for care and finesse. “But if it calls for care and finesse, why’d they pick you then?” I see that this is a reasonable question.
I have finesse. It is just a different kind of finesse, the kind you wield with a cricket bat.
Nonetheless, explanation is required. I do need to lay out what the relationship is between the CREC as a whole and the views expressed so cogently in this space from time to time. Our difficulty is particularly acute because the ethos of the CREC is by-and-large transformationalist.
Postmillennialism is not a doctrinal requirement in any way, but it is very common in our ranks. This means — apart from the general cheerfulness — that we believe that no area of life is outside the authority of the Lord Jesus, and we want to bring biblical principles to bear however and wherever we can. The difficulty is that not every proposed integration of life and Scripture meets with immediate or unanimous acclaim. And where there is ongoing debate and interaction, it would be inappropriate for me as presiding minister to act as though this were not the case — as though my proposed intersection were the only option, and that the CREC had adopted it simply because I wrote it.
Start with the obvious. If I were to write a post arguing that PopTarts are actually pretty good for you, the views expressed in that post would not necessarily be those of the CREC. Let us hope not. We are still trying to figure out why I did that.
Posts in this category would not represent subject areas where the authority of Jesus is irrelevant, but they are areas where His people are still engaged in legitimate debate over what that authority entails. We are talking about topics like rap music, organic peanut butter, and whether or not junipers are the orcs of the plant kingdom. As I continue to write in such areas, I am doing so as a participant in the debates, and not as the moderating chair.
More difficult would be those issues which are not really the kind you can defer or opt out of, and where feelings can run high. Trotsky is often credited with saying, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Politics matter, and every Christian who is committed to transformation is committed in the first instance to the transformation of our coercions — that is, of our politics. The CREC has a strong presence in Eastern Europe — Poland, Ukraine, etc. We also have a presence in Russia. I am a conservative American who believes that Putin is a bad man doing bad things, while Obama is a bad man doing inept things. The combination sometimes results in blog posts.
The fact that I am presiding minister will not prevent me from saying on this blog things like “invading Ukraine was evil,” knowing I will receive letters from others explaining to me how the CIA engineered the whole thing. Because I am presiding minister now, I might go so far as to read those letters.
As I write on politics, foreign and domestic, I am trying my level best to integrate the claims of Jesus Christ with the facts on the ground as I understand them. But I know that a Russian brother might consider my analysis a tad simplistic and a Ukrainian brother might consider it a trifle anemic and a Canadian brother might wonder why I as an American am writing on the subject at all. So the ins-and-outs politics expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the CREC.
But I can say for all of us — Russian, Ukrainian, American, Canadian, Polish, Hungarian, Japanese — that we confess that our allegiance to Jesus Christ trumps all our national loyalties, while at the same time confessing that this same allegiance insists that we labor to disciple our respective nations. We are called to baptize the nations, teaching them obedience. This means we must work hard to figure out what that obedience might look like, and that means trying to learn what disobedience looks like as well. As Christians in the same communion, we are committed to loving each other in this, and also committed to dealing with camels before gnats.
The actual views of the CREC are found in our respective confessions, our memorials, and our constitutional procedures. To reapply a comment that the apostle Paul made once, it is my responsibility in representing the CREC not to go beyond what is written. My idiosyncratic doctrinal views are in no way the responsibility of the CREC, except to the extent the CREC is in fellowship with the one who holds them.
When there are differences between two of our confessions, say the Westminster and the London Baptist, it would be inappropriate and wrong for me to say that the CREC is paedobaptist just because Westminster and I are. When I say that the CREC is Trinitarian the situation is different because this is something that all our confessions share. This means that when I represent our confessions together, I am seeking to represent the views of the CREC. But when there has been historical debate and honored variation between Reformed brothers, as there was within the Westminster Assembly itself, part of the genius of the CREC has been our attempt to replicate that same kind of breadth — not so that our differences might be fossilized, but rather so that might work on them together. A central part of my responsibility is to be jealous of that principled breadth, and to protect the charity that produced it.
My tenure as presiding minister will be up, Lord willing, in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And as God’s kindness to us continues, I would love to see that date marked with a semi-colon and not with a period.
Presumably some Westminster fathers went home unconverted to that confession, but still loving Jesus, the Bible and their brothers.
Were they all kicked out of the confederation?
So, do you and your admirable “principled breadth” want to bring in any and all such brothers?
Some of us love you dearly.
We disagree on some ticky tack but important stuff, but want full hugs and fellowship and worship.
Do you receive such into ye?
Blessings in your new role, Doug. This Canadian brother supports the choice of you being Presiding Minister (PM means something different up here in the Great White North) and I say a hearty AMEN to your statement of unity amidst the breadth of reformed opinions and convictions within the CREC. As a minor aside, I support the sanctions the Canadian gov’t has put in place against Russia as a response to its sponsoring the aggression against the Ukraine. I also support our fighter jets, military transport, elections observers and soldiers who are there to help promote stability and show solidarity… Read more »
Praying for you in this new role (and glad to hear it). Also, you can’t make gin without juniper.
Technically speaking, by the way, all us amillers are postmill.
Of course, finesse is often an adjective used to describe people wielding cricket bats – see here, for example.
Sorry, Doug, but I find this to be a category error. I’m not saying that our confessions should be amended, but the issue of junipers merits a memorial statement of clear opprobrium.
“the issue of junipers merits a memorial statement of clear opprobrium.”
Woe to you who call evil good, and gin and tonics evil.