Justin Taylor made me do it.
He linked to Ray Ortlundâ€™s blog from a couple days ago at the Gospel Coalition â€“ calling it a â€œclassicâ€ in which the he warns TRâ€™s (i.e., Truly Reformed) about the danger of falling into the Judaizer trap. Ortlund writes:
The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive â€“ the rite of circumcision â€“ as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.
This is truly an amazing assertion by the Nashville pastor. Even though Reformed folks think they are following Paul in their teaching and ministry (letâ€™s not forget the Jerusalem Council or the pastoral epistles which say something about presbyterian polity), they become Judaizers by following Paul and insisting that the church heed everything Christ commanded â€“ from theology to worship and polity. I feel like I am in a Coen Brothers movie where up is down, white is black, and rodents are felines.
Ortlundâ€™s post is standard fare among evangelicals who look for a lowest-common-denominator approach to Christian unity and so regard sticklers for doctrine and practice â€“ like the Reformed â€“ as sticks in the mud and unloving sectarians to boot. (Ortlund fails to remark that Baptists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans, who insist on the correctness of their distinct teachings and practices, are also would-be Judaizers. Rather than acknowledge that differences exist within the church because different parts of the visible church interpret the Bible differently, Ortlund, like many a pietist before him, disregards actual differences and chalks up resistance to unity as a lack of love â€“ for both Christ and for other Christians. As the Church Lady might say, â€œisnâ€™t that charitable?â€
But the neat trick that Ortlund adds to this standard kvetch about Reformed particularists is a claim about the psychology and sociology of being Reformed. He comments on Gal 4:17 â€“ â€œThey make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of themâ€ â€“ in the following paraphrase:
â€œWhen Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know somethingâ€™s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: â€˜See? Weâ€™re better. Weâ€™re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. Weâ€™re the buzz.â€™â€
Ortlund adds, â€œWhat is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self.â€
Isnâ€™t that charitable, indeed.
Is it so hard to imagine that other people with whom we disagree may actually have good reasons for what they hold, and that they may actually be trying to honor, serve, and love the Lord and his church? Apparently, Ortlund would rather speculate on motives and psychology.
Ortlund concludes with this plea to Reformed Protestants:
My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart â€“ toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one â€“ in Christ alone.
Brother Ray, I have been around the non-Reformed and they are not nearly as much fun as Reformed folks are. As much as I do enjoy Mark Deverâ€™s company (sorry for name-dropping), I refuse to smoke a cigar or drink a Gin & Tonic in his company, not because I find him unworthy of such camaraderie but because I know my smoking or imbibing could get Mark in trouble. Baptists still bulk large in the prohibitionist camp and for that reason the merriment supplied by leisurely conversation over a pipe or a pint (better with both) is off limits to many of the Christian groups that Ortlund wants me to hang out with and have fun.
This may seem like a trivial point but it actually bears much more on the passage to which Ortlund appeals than it might seem at first. Paulâ€™s battle with the Judaizers was over the misapplication of Scripture. In the Judaizersâ€™ hands formerly God-made rules had become man-made norms because the work of Christ introduced freedom from the old covenant norms. In other words, the Judaizers were effectively substituting man-made rules for being Christian than the gospel that Paul was preaching. The Judaizers were denying Christian liberty in the way that contemporary believers do when they conclude that smoking or drinking is sin with (erroneous) appeals to Scripture. Without a proper biblical justification for their prohibitions they wind up enslaving Christians and thus burden the very gospel that Paul was out to protect among the Galatians.
In my own knowledge of church history, it is the Reformed (and other confessional Protestants) who understand much better than the â€œJesus onlyâ€ evangelicals the difference between the word of God and the words of men. And it is this difference that makes Reformed Protestants (with apologies to my friend, Mark Dever) more fun.