Why Moderation and Charity Are Overrated

In Jake Meador’s review of Rod Dreher’s BenOp, he makes this passing observation of the NAPARC landscape:

A desire to preserve unity at the cost of clarity and an unwillingness to take a stance is not a solution and, in fact, will probably cause as many to drift as will a lack of charity and restraint in our rhetoric. Being in the PCA, this is the concern that occupies my mind more as it seems the greater danger in my immediate ecclesial context. I suspect that it is also the greater danger in most Catholic dioceses and many non-denominational evangelical churches.

Even so, a lack of charity and restraint in our rhetoric will lead some who might otherwise be persuadable to dismiss us. That seems the greater danger in the Southern Baptist Convention, if my read of things is accurate. It is also the greater danger in many reformed microdenominations such as the OPC and CREC, I strongly suspect.

For the record, the books that came out recently about the contemporary cultural bankruptcy had no ties to the micro Reformed denominations. They came from an Eastern Orthodox layman (Dreher), a Roman Catholic archbishop (Chaput), and a Roman Catholic layman (Esolen). Those are churches that have labored under the Christ and culture burden, have tried to make society Christian, and are now showing the effects of that weight.

What has the little old OPC produced about the current crisis (a conference on gay marriage that technical glitches prevented from being recorded?)? Nothing. It is still more or less wedded to J. Gresham Machen’s assessment of the Protestant mainstream and is more or less committed to passing on the faith without the assistance of America’s cultural or political institutions. But when a church simply tries to do what a church is called to do (see 25.3 of the Confession of Faith), it is in danger of showing a lack of restraint and charity?

Not to be missed is the kind of transformationalist vision that has become the PCA’s calling card of late. Perhaps the idea of being a church to the big city is charitable and restrained (though to anyone with half a brain it sure looks delusional to think you can teach Woody Allen’s New Yorkers to become Wheaton’s evangelicals). But from the perspective of the Protestant mainline, the PCA looks downright sectarian.

That may be the single recommendation for Rod Dreher’s book — to provoke those who want a seat at the table (or a mouthful of the Big Apple) to consider what it means to be a stranger and alien. I know Jake Meador already knows this. But sometimes his PCA identity gets in the way of his inner Stanley Hauerwas and he never says “boo” about PCA exceptionalism in the era of Tim Keller.

Show Me Ze Money, Lebowski

If you ever wanted proof of how wealthy American Christians are and how little the ordinary means of grace receive from believers’ charitable contributions, just take a look stories like this:

In its fourth annual State of Giving report, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) reveals that charitable giving to more than 1,600 of its accredited organizations increased 6.4 percent last year. Donations reached $11 billion in 2012, compared to $10.3 billion in 2011. . . .

The biggest winners among 28 categories: foundations (up 25%), adoption (up 12.2%), K-12 education (up 12%), short-term missions (up 12.1%), and higher education (10%). The presence of education among the top five is notable, given the segment has seen one of the biggest declines since 2007.

Better yet, go to ECFA’s own website where you find numbers (for 2012) like this:

Bethany Christian Services — Expenses $82,735,557 Revenue $84,569,821

InverVarsity Christian Fellowship — Expenses $84,192,000 Revenue $83,494,000

Home School Foundation — Expenses $1,790,302 Revenue $1,770,418

Evangelical Presbyterian Church — Expenses $12,097,370 Revenue $16,059,164

Desiring God Ministries — Expenses $5,784,699 Revenue $6,023,726

Gospel Coalition — Expenses $1,106,824 Revenue $1,456,923

So that Roman Catholic readers don’t feel left out (or superior), I should mention that I tried to find figures on various diocesan budgets. Guidestar will provide them for a fee. But I did run across this dated tidbit in a pastoral letter from the Bishop of Albany (why the press did not cover a church officer sporting apostolic succession and episcopal charism is beyond me):

A recent study by Bishop William McManus and Father Andrew Greeley entitled Catholic Contributions: Sociology and Policy reveals that although American Catholics earn on the average over a $1,000.00 a year more than their Protestant counterparts, Catholic financial contributions to their Church are much less than those of Protestants. For example, on the average, Protestants contribute $580.00 to their Church annually as opposed to $320.00 for Catholics. Furthermore, Catholics contribute only 1.1 percent of their income to the Church while Protestants donate at the level of 2.2 percent of their income.

More strikingly, the study finds that the disparity between Catholic and Protestant giving is the result of the dramatic change in giving patterns of contributions to one’s Church over the past 25 years. In the early 1960’s, Catholics gave the same proportion of their income to the Church as Protestants contributed. In the last quarter century, however, the Protestant giving rate remains stable at approximately 2 percent of annual income while the Catholic rate has fallen from more than 2 percent to about 1 percent.

Why has this occurred? Is it that Catholics have become stingier or more miserly? I hardly think so. Is it due to the changing levels in Church attendance? No, because Protestant church attendance has declined significantly more than Catholic in this time frame but their level of giving has not. Is it because Catholics give to our schools rather than the Church? Statistics reveal that this is not the case because parents who send their children to Catholic schools contribute more rather than less to the Church than do other Catholics.

I believe that the decline in the pattern of Catholic giving to the Church is due primarily to the lack of communication and the lack of leadership.

Forensic Friday: Anathema

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XIII.-If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.

CANON XIV.-If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema. . . .

CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification)