Presbyterianism In Secret or in Private?

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness Presbyterianism before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

2“Thus, when you give to the needy commission deaconesses, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

So what does it mean when a pastor is Presbyterian in name but known nationally and interdenominationally by his own evangelical brand? You could say, he is practicing his Presbyterianism in secret and God, who sees in secret, will reward such Protestantism. He keeps his Presbyterianism to himself. Likewise, it could be that the critics of parachurch evangelicalism on Presbyterian grounds are the hypocrites who practice their Presbyterianism in public by identifying with a particular denomination or communion and letting that shape their reputation. This is a form of practicing Presbyterianism for others to see.

But what if practicing Presbyterianism in secret also cuts you off from practicing evangelicalism in public? Isn’t the point of the Sermon on the Mount partly to avoid hypocrisy? In which case, ministering in a Presbyterian church is inconsistent with ministering in an interdenominational setting. And avoiding an evangelical ministry because of Presbyterian convictions is a version of practicing Presbyterianism in secret since the confessional Presbyterian’s absence from the Gospel-Industrial-Complex conference is invisible — no one knows the Presbyterian isn’t there or why he or she is not.

So isn’t an application of Christ’s warnings about practicing piety in public that you better mean what you believe (and oh, by the way, vow)? And if you mean what you confess as a Presbyterian, why and how can you minister with non-Presbyterians?


Another Difference between New and Paleo Calvinists

New Calvinists are mean but don’t know it.

Jonathan Merritt was an unlikely person to confirm a point made here before, namely, that when you define orthodoxy you also draw lines that to outsiders will look unloving and mean. (Think undergraduates at Oberlin seeking protection from disquieting perceptions.) For a while New Calvinists and their allies at the Gospel Coalition have portrayed Paleo Calvinists as mean. Now with Merritt what goes around comes around.

He observes that New Calvinists are full of criticism (and instructions on how to do it):

The website’s archives read like a how-to handbook for criticizing. TGC managing editor Matt Smethhurst tackles how to criticize fellow Christians. Blogger Jared Wilson lays out when you should criticize your pastor. Popular blogger Justin Taylor explains how to criticize your non-Christian friends and how to criticize another person’s theology and how to criticize the evangelical movement at-large.

Their rebukes are not always theoretical. TGC bloggers regularly express sharp disapproval of theologians, pastors, authors, and politicians using strong language. When writer Thabiti Anyabwile wanted to criticize homosexuality, for example, he encouraged readers to recover their “gag reflex” and focus on the “yuck factor.” Setting aside the many–and I mean many–problems with this way of thinking, Anyabwile’s approach is not exactly a silver-plated conversation starter in a non-Christian culture. You can’t transform a culture while you’re browbeating, rebuking, name-calling and gagging. That’s not a recipe for cultural engagement, but rather cultural enragement.

Then there is New Calvinists’ refusal to entertain criticisms themselves:

Most people who have been blocked by TGC say they were punished for questioning the coalition’s disastrous defense of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a prominent Calvinist ministry that was embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal. TGC personalities connected to SGM continued to express support and friendship for those involved with the scandal even as it became clear that Sovereign Grace leaders were complicit. Many who questioned TGC’s stance were blocked. Some who merely used Twitter handles such as #istandwithsurvivors were similarly punished by TGC.

TGC’s blocking spree has swept in countless pastors, seminary professors, bloggers, and others. One person told me they were blocked for challenging their comments about transgender people, while another said they were punished for questioning their stance on “biblical masculinity.” Several told me they were blocked for retweeting someone else’s critique, while others — like Northern Seminary professor Geoff Holsclaw — said they had no idea why TGC blocked them. . . .

A pattern of offering criticism while not being able to receive it, according to Dr. Leon Seltzer of Psychology Today, is a characteristic trait of narcissism. As Seltzer writes, “Deep down, clinging desperately not simply to a positive but grandiose sense of self, [narcissists are] compelled at all costs to block out any negative feedback about themselves.”

Finally, Merritt points out the problem of belonging to a club instead of a church:

TGC has established a system where in order to be a part of the network, one has to believe a set of doctrines that are more specific than some denominations. Basically, you have to be a conservative Calvinist protestant who holds particular views about gender roles, reads the Bible in a certain way, understands human sexuality like they do, etc. If you don’t agree to these positions, you’re out. And those who add their church to the directory of TGC-approved congregations are encouraged to police others. The site asks members to “report a church that doesn’t align with TGC’s Foundation Documents.”

The word “coalition” is defined as “a combination or alliance, especially a temporary one between persons, factions, states, etc.” But the structure of TGC allows for almost no diversity among its members–certainly none that would be noticeable to anyone who is not a Christian insider. So, technically-speaking, The Gospel Coalition is not a coalition at all; they are a club.

If the New Calvinists were more ecclesial and less parachurchian, they might not lose their critical side. And contrary to Merritt who thinks engaging culture is a positive, if New Calvinists were churchly they wouldn’t worry about the culture so much. Belonging to a church and working within its structures would not make them less critical, though Robert’s Rules supplies a structure for critique that takes away some of criticism’s sting. The best thing that might happen to New Calvinists if they looked to the church instead of the club, they would not be so doctrinaire about so many peripheral matters. The visible church has a way of focusing your outlook (not sure what happened to Pope Francis).

You Can't Spell Presbyterian with "Me"

My personal advice to any American Protestant is never to interrupt a debate between two English dissenting Protestants about celebrity pastors, but when one of them, Paul Helm, calls the other, Carl Trueman, a Presbyterian perfectionist, afflicted with “Bannerman’s Disease,” and “the zeal of a convert,” I can’t resist.

There are books of Church Order to be read, the contents of which are mastered by the lawyer-types of the church, and I confess that I do not find these a very satisfying genre. But besides this, I know without looking, that presbyterianism, like any such human system, leaks all the way. It leaks through nods and winks, through unattributable comments, through what is said and what is not said. Human society cannot be otherwise. We all know of poor people who have to protest their innocence all the way up, in courts of law and in Christian denominations, and that have been ruined by the attendant exposure, quite apart from the weeks and months of strain while documents are prepared and friendly counsel advised and the day of judgement awaited…. I say, in such circumstances thank God for religious consumerism. At least the aggrieved party can walk away, find another place of worship, and still earn a living.

I fancy that Carl goes on about this because he suffers from a sort of presbyterian perfectionism. Call it Bannerman’s Disease. A cynic might say that he has the zeal of a convert. When he bids us all to think with him of the church of Christ as a remnant, as living its life as if in exile, I’m with him all the way. And as I said in the post, I agree with critiques of the Big Men such as his. But not with the cure-all of Presbyterianism. The Black Book does not solve the bugbear of accountability. And the point is, if there’s nothing better in the Church of Christ that presbyterianism, let’s at least acknowledge its flaws. Carl recognizes the imperfections of the human natures of those that thumb the Black Book, and this is welcome. And this was my point. A perfect system administered by those with imperfections is de facto imperfect. Spurgeon famously said (from memory) ‘For me “lead me not into temptation” means “keep me off the committee”’.

Helm is right in a general Protestant church-is-imperfect sort of way that Presbyterianism leaks. But the system of church government that Calvin developed has real assets that Helm too readily ignores. Imagine, for instance, a faculty meeting where provost, department head, senior professor, and lecturer are all equal and you have some sense of the dynamics of session or presbytery. Or imagine a meeting of politicians where queen, prime minister, and back benchers are all equal, with the same authority, same access to debate, the same number of votes — 1. Presbyterianism is the great leveler and is no respecter of celebrity, age, fame, or Facebook friends. And because the meetings of elders are regular and absences must be excused by the wider body, to be Presbyterian is to be involved in a regular pattern of attendance where you are just one more member with no more rank or privilege than the guy sitting next to you. You have 12 books. He doesn’t have a Masters degree. You have journalists from national publications seeking an interview. The guy next to you fixes leaking toilets. In Presbyterianism, if you both are ordained you are both equal.

For the sake of the temptations that had to accompany his fame, Spurgeon should have said, “committees, put me on more of them.”

And even in those odd circumstances where a single officer has broad power thanks to the consolidation of finances and administration — say in a denominational committee — in Presbyterianism that rule of one becomes a secretary of a committee. The head of the foreign missions committee, does he have powers of the purse and can he influence votes? Maybe. But he’s merely a “general secretary” in Presbyterian church government. That means he is doing the bidding of the committee on foreign missions, which is a sub-committee of the whole assembly.

You want to knock the pride out of celebrity pastors? Make them Presbyterian.

If Presbyterianism checks the sort of privilege to which bishops are prone, it also beats congregationalism. To be sure, the democratic nature of congregational polity could also restrain the kind of egotism that afflicts celebrity pastors. But more often than not, the politics of local congregations witness large clans or members with large wallets having more sway than other members or families. And pastors of independent churches often resemble bishops since they function in a capacity above the rest of the church and have no formal peers in ministry.

What Helm fails to see is that Presbyterianism, if all officers go to meetings and submit to their fellow presbyters (if they don’t, they’re not Presbyterian), by its very nature humbles the proud. And face it, famous preachers are prone to pride as much as any other celebrity. But among those churches where Presbyterian government is most evident and Roberts Rules most consulted, celebrity is hardest to discern in the deliberations of assemblies.

Presbyterianism is not a perfect solution to either the parachurch (Gospel Coalition) or helicopter church (Rome), but it has its moments.

The Gateway Drug to the Gospel Coaltion

Peter Dietsch gets off to a great start about the importance of ecclesiology to being a Christian:

As you can hopefully tell from the language of the confession, the Westminster Divines had a decidedly high ecclesiology. I’ve found that a good way to test whether or not someone has a high ecclesiology (what they believe about the importance of the visible church) is to ask a question that try to ask of every candidate who comes before presbytery for ordination: “What do you think about this statement: The visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

This question really strikes at the heart of what one believes about the importance of the visible church, whether or not they have a high ecclesiology. For, as the confession here teaches (and Jesus and the Apostles taught), the visible church is the institution through which God ordinarily confers salvation. The Great Commission to make disciples by baptizing and teaching Christ’s commands is given to the visible church (Matthew 28:18-20), preachers are sent to preach the gospel by the church (10:15), the sacraments are administered in and by the church (Acts 2:41-42; Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34), church discipline and the corporate sanctification of God’s people takes place in the church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-10).

But then he takes most of it back when he makes the invisible church more important than the visible:

More could be said and I could go on; however, as one who professes to have a high ecclesiology, I wish at this point to say how my high regard for the visible church was arrested and challenged this week. Being a baptized member of the visible church is important, but it of far greater importance that one be a member of the invisible church!

This point was struck home to me with particular impact this week as I’ve been preparing for the sermon this coming Sunday. The text for our sermon is from John 1:19-34. John the Baptist testifies before some Jews who come as a delegation from Jerusalem as to the nature of his ministry – why he is preaching and baptizing. He says that he is voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23) and that he baptizes in order that Jesus might be manifested (or revealed) to Israel (John 1:31).

And then, in order to clearly delineate between his outward and temporary ministry and the inward and eternal ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist makes the point: I baptize with water, but Jesus who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He baptizes in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).

Fine, but who is akin to Christ today? The Holy Spirit? But why does God give to the visible church the ordinances other than to connect the visible with the invisible, the Spirit’s call with the word preached?

Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto. (WCF 25.3)

Folks who think they are members of the invisible church need the visible church to confirm that thought. Otherwise, they will think that visible church membership is optional and choosing the right one is merely a matter of preference.

No Ecclesiology, No Identity

Here are a few quotations to support the earlier claim that World Vision and evangelicalism more generally is infected with modernist Protestantism:

World Vision now has staff from more than 50 denominations—a handful of which have sanctioned same-sex marriages or unions in recent years, including the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Meanwhile, same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states plus the District of Columbia, and federal judges have struck down bans in five other states (Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, and—most recently—Michigan) as well as required Kentucky to recognize such marriages performed in other states. (All six rulings are stayed until the appeals process is complete.) . . . .

“Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,” he said. “So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.”

The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? “It’s kind of a historical issue,” said Stearns. “Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.”

And the change has been painful to watch. “It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church,” he said. “It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”

Highlighting the church/parachurch distinction: Board member and pastor John Crosby, who served as interim leader when a number of churches split off from the Presbyterian Church (USA) after the denomination dropped a celibacy requirement for gay clergy in 2011. At a conference that laid the foundation of the new Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, the Minnesota megachurch pastor stated, “We have tried to create such a big tent trying to make everybody happy theologically. I fear the tent has collapsed without a center.”

However, as a World Vision board member, Crosby didn’t have a problem voting for the policy change. “It’s a matter of trying to decide what the core mission of the organization is,” he said.

If World Vision’s leadership is largely worshiping in mainline Protestant churches, then this quotation on the organization’s reversal makes more sense, as in, “wow, we never considered that”:

“The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent,” said Stearns. “Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

“We listened to [our] friends, we listened to their counsel. They tried to point out in loving ways that the conduct policy change was simply not consistent … with the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives,” said Stearns. “We did inadequate consultation with our supporters. If I could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders.”

Somewhere along the line, a lot of U.S. Christians (Protestant and Roman Catholic) gave up the battle with modernism. In my reading of the record, it started for Protestants with the neo-evangelicals of Billy Graham fame who wanted a kinder gentler conservative Protestantism. That neo-evangelical project ignored ecclesiology for the sake of a broader effort, and so it refused to rule out Protestants who were members of modernist churches. For Roman Catholics, it seemed to come with Vatican II, a time when Pius X’s oath against modernism looked like a quaint relic (can encyclicals be relics?) of an era different from the life and times of the 1960s church. (It is more of a mystery, given all that infallibility jazz, that Rome has gone soft on modernism. Evangelicals have long been confused.) Only where the battles with modernism are alive and well have the saints (Protestant) the capacity to see problems in World Vision even before their recent waffling.

Postscript: As an example of how modernism continued to haunt some confessional Protestants, here’s a quotation from E. J. Young’s December 6, 1955 letter to Carl Henry in which he declined serving on the editorial board of Christianity Today:

As you well know, Carl, there was in the Presbyterian Church a great controversy over modernism. That controversy was carried on by Dr. Machen in part. There were many who supported Dr. Machen in his opposition to unbelief. On the other hand there were many who did not support him. When matters came to a showdown and Dr. Machen was put from the church there were those who decided it would be better to remain within and to fight from within. . . . Since that time I have watched eagerly to see what would be done by those who remained in the church. They have done absolutely nothing. Not one voice has been raised so far as I know to get the church to acknowledge its error in 1936 and to invite back into its fold those who felt constrained to leave, or those who were put out of the church. . . . What has greatly troubled me has been the complete silence of the ministers in the church. They simply have not lived up to their ordination vows.

More Gall

Now the New Calvinists are telling us about the need for church unity:

The history of Christian thought leaves no place for unbridled individualism. The Nicene Creed declares that we are “one church” (unam ecclesiam), and according to the Westminster Confession, such oneness has implications for our corporate identity: “The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (25:1). In other words, when God redeems us, he births us into his community. We are the bride of Christ. There is only one bride.

A robust ecclesiology recognizes that in uniting with other believers we constitute something greater than our individual selves, for in Christ we represent living stones that God joins to form a spiritual house (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-10), members who are organically connected to one another (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31). In the words of New Testament scholar Robert Banks, “Paul’s understanding of community is nothing less than the gospel in corporate form!” Insofar as our communities proclaim the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Banks is right.

Don’t you have to be in a church before you pursue church unity?

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.

The Danger of Revivals and of Their Critics

Our favorite PCA blogger has once again kicked up a little e-dust with a review of Kenneth Stewart’s new book, Ten Myths about Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. The review itself is worth reading, as is a subsequent post that explains the author’s perspective (the author being pastor William H. Smith aka The Christian Curmudgeon). But what is particularly striking about the review and its responses (some from Ken Stewart himself) is how sensitive the topic of revivalism is.

Not to make this all about me (about which it generally is), but Stewart even calls my interpretation of revivalism “dangerous.” In fact, one of the underlying factors in Stewart’s purpose and in the book’s reception will be the way Reformed Protestants consider the relationship between being Reformed and being evangelical. Some like Stewart – John Frame may be the most notable exponent of this – tend to view evangelicalism and Reformed Protestantism as co-extensive, with Reformed being in some constructions a subset of evangelicalism. Others like the informal members of the Old Life Theological Society regard this relationship as more troubled than peaceful because of important differences between evangelicals and Reformed Protestants.

One of those differences is revivalism. Stewart believes that Reformed Protestants have generally been supportive of revivals. He even wonders who would not be in favor of unbelievers being converted and believers becoming more devout. Stewart believes that the critics of revivals have been a minority view, and that such folks are – well – dangerous. Is this the evangelical academic version of Gilbert Tennent’s “The Danger of An Unconverted Ministry”?

But the critics of revival, like myself anyway, are not opposed to conversion nor to increased godliness among the saints (why we need to call that revival is another matter). At the same time, critics of revival see that revivals generally undermine those aspects of church life that make Reformed churches Reformed. If you look at the Old Side Presbyterians critique of the supposedly good First Pretty Good Awakening, their concerns about subscription and church polity were not without merit. Similar criticisms informed the Old School Presbyterian critiques of the pro-revival New School Presbyterians. New Side and New School Presbyterians were of course pro-revival and so less attached to Presbyterian convictions and practice that was becoming officers who had taken vows about being Presbyterian. (Do evangelicals have vows?)

Here is how Charles Hodge put the division among colonial Presbyterians during the allegedly Calvinistic revivals of the First Pretty Good Awakening (danger alert!!):

It appears from this history that the great schism was not the result of conflicting views, either as to doctrine or church government. It was the result of alienation of feeling produced by the controversies relating to the revival. In these controversies the New Brunswick brethren were certainly the aggressors. In their unrestrained zeal, they denounced brethren, whose Christian character they had no right to question. They disregarded the usual rules of ministerial intercourse, and avowed the principle that in extraordinary times and circumstances such rules ought to be suspended. Acting upon this principle, they divided the great majority of the congregations within the sphere of their operations, and by appealing to the people, succeeded in overwhelming their brethren with popular obloquy. Excited by a sense of injury, and alarmed by the disorders consequent on these new methods, the opposite party had recourse to violent measures for redress, which removed none of the evils under which they suffered, and involved them in a controversy with a large class of their brethren, with whom they had hitherto acted in concert. These facts our fathers have left on record for the instruction of their children; to teach them that in times of excitement the rules of order, instead of being suspended, are of more importance than ever to the well-being of the church; that no pretence of zeal can authorize the violation of the rules of charity and justice; and on the other hand, that it is better to suffer wrong than to have recourse to illegal methods of redress; that violence is no proper remedy for disorder, and that adherence to the constitution, is not only the most Christian, but also the most effectual means of resistance against the disturbers of the peace and order of the church. (Constitutional History, Part II, pp. 249-50)

So the criticisms of revivalism and evangelicalism more generally is not necessarily the product of idiosyncratic or Dutch Reformed (as Stewart alleges) outlooks. It may simply follow from reading the splits in American Presbyterianism caused by revivals.

But to make sure my own views of revivalism are not obscure, and to let folks see if they are dangerous, I conclude by listing my major objections:

1) Revivalism (and evangelicalism generally) is anti-formal because of an emphasis on the work of the Spirit (especially in conversion but also in preaching). This stress makes presbyters or church members less worried about the wording of creeds or the requirements of polity than they should be. “It’s the Spirit that matters, not whether presbytery follows church order.”

1a) Revivalists (and evangelicals generally), because of their anti-formalism, disregard the importance of the sacraments. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the way that pro-evangelical Reformed folk regard Baptists as Reformed.

2)Revivalism (and evangelicalism generally) cultivates an appetite for the extraordinary in matters of devotion. This leads to a piety that is often discontent with the outward and ordinary means of grace that God has instituted in the church, such as the word preached by ordinary ministers, and the ordinary elements of bread, wine, and water, or even the really dull aspects of session and presbytery meetings.

3) Revivalism (and evangelicalism generally) does not know what to do with children of the covenant except to demand conversion. How you take a child who has grown up participating in family and corporate worship, has tried to lead a pious life, has prayed regularly, and tell him to convert from his wicked ways is beyond me. It is also a recipe for spiritual schizophrenia or a baptized child going to a non-Reformed church as an adult.

These views may be dangerous. But how could anyone who has studied the history of the church look at revivalism or evangelicalism as Christian expressions without problems? Reformed churches, of course, have problems too. But you can’t be Reformed if you think that basic aspects of your creed and ministry are your problems. And that is what evangelicals want from Reformed Protestants – give up those distinct aspects that make you Reformed (in doctrine, worship, and polity) and we’ll give you a seat under the big evangelical umbrella. (I might be tempted if they were serving drinks with umbrellas, but that would be really, really dangerous.)

If Justin Taylor Gives to the OPC’s Thank Offering, I’ll Contribute to the Gospel Coalition (maybe)

Golfers know the adage that you drive for show and putt for dough. The translation for non-golfers is that 300-yard drives don’t matter if you three-putt the green on to which you’ve chipped because of your impressive – u-dah-man!! – drive. In fact, if you don’t sink your birdie putt (one under par for the golf challenged), you are not going to be much more than a duffer.

This adage would seem to apply to the Gospel Coalition, though it needs to be adjusted to this – join for show and withhold the dough. According to Justin Taylor, GC is in the midst of a year-end fund-raising effort in which supporters who contribute the most will receive ten free registrations for the GC annual conference, along with ten free nights at the conference hotel in Chicago. (Since I doubt W. C. Fields would have been much of a fan of GC, I wonder if his joke would be that second-prize is 20 free conference registrations and 20 free nights in the hotel – 30 if in Philadelphia.) And so that everyone can benefit from the effort, anyone who starts a campaign page at his or her blog or website will receive a copy of Tim Keller’s DVD curriculum, Gospel in Life.

To what purpose do contributions go? So far GC amounts primarily to a website/blog presence and a national annual conference. To accomplish this, the Coalition employs three full-time people. According to Taylor, “The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is not a church, but it does exist to serve and honor the Church. TGC is ultimately ‘a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.’” He adds that the Coalition is more than just a set of blogs or a conference sponsor but “ a place where ‘humble orthodoxy’ is modeled, thoughtful arguments are made, people are loved and honored, conversation is advanced, and the gospel is applied—all to the glory of God.”

Among the benefits of belonging to the Coalition is the Ordinary Pastors project. Since the link that Justin supplied for this endeavor is defective, either GC attracts no ordinary pastors or they need another staff member.

Another feature that caught my eye was GC’s directory of churches (which again has a defective link at Tayloy’s blog). This is a nifty device that shows where GC congregations can be found across the greatest nation on God’s green (and warming) earth. But the directory comes with this warning: “Disclaimer: The Gospel Coalition does not endorse all churches in the directory. We are not able to fully vet all churches.”

This is a remarkable concession and points to the relevance of applying the golfing adage about putting to GC. Apparently, churches will join GC but will not give. The advantage of this strategy is obvious – you get some free publicity and can draft off the celebrity of John Piper and Tim Keller, but you don’t have to find any money in your budget for membership dues. At the same time, why wouldn’t a coalition committed to the gospel be willing to vet anyone that joins its ranks?

So Taylor’s pitch for GC could be improved if the Coalition offered a better product. In fact, better products exist and they are called not parachurch organizations but churches. In my own case, the OPC can vouch in some way for all of the congregations that belong to its fellowship. Not only that, the OPC can vouch for all its church members who are in good standing. We also have a website with a church directory that allows people to find an OP congregation. We also have lots of publications that are widely available to anyone, whether they belong to the Gospel Coalition or to the Southern Baptist Convention or to Redeemer Presbyterian Church. And we have way more than three full-time employees – just look at our directory and see all the pastors, missionaries, and teachers. And we also have a relatively uniform product – all of our officers agree about infant baptism and follow the Westminster Confession on the Lord’s Supper. And don’t talk to me about the sovereignty of God. The OPC has the sovereignty of God coursing through its spiritual veins, from Van Til’s apologetics to its commitment to the ordinary work of proclaiming the gospel in the United States and foreign lands. For those interested in a conference, can anyone beat a visit with presbytery or an all-week’s paid trip to General Assembly?

By the way, the OPC is also having a year-end fund-drive, called our Thank Offering, which solicits offerings for the General Assembly’s programs and agencies.

If the OPC is a better philanthropic value than GC, why does Justin Taylor want his readers (including Orthodox Presbyterians like me) to give to the Coalition without mentioning better options like the OPC for spiritual investing? And a related question is why do parachurch organizations have no problem looking far and wide for contributors while churches don’t expect non-members to give to denominational or church causes? I wonder, for instance, what kind of budget Keller’s Redeemer church has allocated for the Coalition in this fiscal year? Or Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist? Shouldn’t a fund drive for GC start with GC members, especially those congregations that have more than others? Meanwhile, shouldn’t the Coalition be circumspect about raising funds from believers who should be giving to their own churches?

Of course, in that case, if church members gave to the local churches or denominations, then GC would have no budget. But since we have churches that need money, and churches that provide services superior to the Coalition, why does GC actually exist? I know such questions might seem mean spirited, further evidence of Machen’s Warrior Children’s instincts. But the parachurch folks only consider such questions impertinent because they have no sense of propriety. They have no idea that they are duplicating the work of the church and then taking energy and support from the very churches that they supposedly seek to serve.