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October 06, 2008


It was refreshing to hear Rev. Brown suggest pastors can demonstrate a renewed ecclesiology by simply praying for their neighboring non-PCA churches in the weekly worship service. And if that prayer will be more than just generic, I suppose pastors will contact their fellow ministers to learn of their needs. Week after week, as the liturgy shapes us in other ways, so too will this “love of neighbor” shape our people. What a wonderful ethos, to be known as a denomination that prays for those on other teams. In the Air Force, we never saw the Navy, Army and Marines as our rivals. Different emphases and tactics, but same goal. And it’s encouraging to view Rev. Schuster’s Orders of Worship online and see how they regularly incorporate Prelude Quotes from various branches of Christ’s Church – Solzhenitsyn, Wright, Ryle, Lewis, etc. http://www.christtheking.com/worship/order_worship.html In addition to serving other purposes, it reminds our people Christ’s truth can sometimes also be found outside Westminster and the PCA. And we can rejoice in that.

Wouldn't you say though, that without a proper theological foundation, all other aspects of the church have a significant aspect of futility? It would seem that being missional and theological are not two equal things, but rather one is the product of the other; or in other terms a proper orthodoxy leads to a proper orthopraxy. I agree with your statement that our churches need to be characterized by humility and love, but when the basis for that love is challenged, the elders in each church need to manifest that love by jealously guarding what has been entrusted to them. That response is very much lacking in regards to both sides of the issue: being overly liberal or conservative in our theology. And, the humility to which you speak is more of demeanor and attitude than epistemological.

I don't know that it works quite that simply, saying that orthodoxy yields orthopraxy and not the other way around. Just looking at the history of the Church in the NT, where do we see its theology develop? Is Jesus' primary concern during his earthly ministry to instill a proper theological orthodoxy in his disciples? Not to say that he doesn't do so through his teaching, but it seems like what comes first when he calls them is much more a summons to a mission (being made "fishers of men") and an agenda to make witnesses of them, even when it's clear they only slowly come to understand what and Who it is they're witnessing to.

A verse that's popped up more than once recently for me is Isaiah 43:10. "'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe and understand that I am he.'" Interesting here that being being made witnesses and chosen as servants is done for the purpose of making those very witnesses know God - not the other way around, that they've been taught to know Him in order that they may witness and serve.

So I think it's important to see orthodoxy and orthopraxy as organically - maybe perichoretically? - connected, each building up the other, neither ever to be laid aside in favor of the other. It seems so strange to me to hear even the suggestion that "a happy commitment to theological fidelity" could possibly "be a deterrent to thriving missionally as a church." If we're not thriving missionally, then either there is something wrong with our theology or we are not exercising fidelity to it.

Philemon 6 applies here as well.

"I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ."

I am most thankful for all of you are staying in the conversation--whether with comment on this blog or in the myriad of conversations around coffee, office, and kitchen tables. Deeply appreciative of this.

Knowing many of these pastors, i know how grateful they are to having some push back--some sharpening of their ideas. One of the main reasons for such a conversation was their desire (especially as younger pastors) to learn from older pastors even more. Please keep it up.

So let's keep going.

Tom, i think the very prioritizing of theology over mission unnecessary and hurtful. Not sure if you read Greg Thompson's response to all the comment-ers, but it seems he's done a good job re-wedding what is oft torn asunder. (Ethics/misison and theology) He shows how they are always connected--we cannot have either without the other--one is not the prime mover.

If that's not convincing to you, i guess i'd like to argue that to prioritize theological foundations before all other aspects misses the point of many scriptures. Though renewing the mind is certainly one way of being sanctified it is not the only one and certainly one can miss scripture’s insistence on how our ethics (any of our doing) corrupts our minds. If I understand Paul to Corinth, you can speak the tongues of angels in worship, you can have the gift of prophecy and fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, you can have mountain moving faith, or you can be the social justice guru selling everything to the poor. But if it is loveless (I take this as an ethical/moral or to use your words demeanor category) then it’s for naught. Foundational knowledge, like social justice, can mean nothing in Christ's Church. I also think about Paul who says that we were once alienated from as enemies in our minds BECAUSE of our evil behavior. It seems to me that ethics (mission or any other aspect) can produce bad theology. Though he doesn’t say this, I believe the inverse is true too. Our real obedience to our Lord produces better theology—even better nuanced foundational theology.

So I guess I think epistemology is a subset of ethics. It may be the other way around too, but at least our ethics help us learn. Regenerate hearts see more clearly than unregenerate hearts. More sanctified hearts do the same. And we are sanctified in some pretty strange ways—not all would be primarily or prioritized as “theologically foundational” to modify your term. But of course, see Thompson again, because he seems to say they are indeed--but in a very different way that you are saying.

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