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Anglicanism, Fundamentalism, separation

>Discussion: When to Walk Away

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Conservative Christians can easily be accused of liking to take their ball and go home. You don’t get 33,000 denominations by humility and compromise. In posting on the newer developments in the Church of England, I have been asking myself and others: When do you walk away and when do you stay and fight?

As Protestants we often think the brave thing to do is to venture off on our own. Yet, we often forget that some of our great heroes: Martin Luther, Martin Bucer and J. Gresham Machen all never left their churches. Rather, they fought for reform and were kicked out.

All churches have sin and even doctrinal error. (Even many PCA people will take exception the Westminster Confession’s stance on strict Sabbatarianism). To leave over any sin in the ministers or leadership merely echoes Donatism. But when does an ecclesiastical church body cross the line? When does a church go from defective to apostate?
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Discussion

21 thoughts on “>Discussion: When to Walk Away

  1. >I still maintain, if it is held that someone can be in unrepentant sin (which can be in secret, like un-repentant pornography) and thus lose their authority as a minister to confer the sacraments,This issue has nothing to do with secret sin patterns. This has to do with the open sanctioning of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. (BTW, That is, among other reasons, why the charge of Donatism is a red herring).

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | August 25, 2008, 11:23 pm
  2. >I’m sorry you see it as a red heering, I honestly believe it is an issue in the communion right now.I’d say Paul was talking about requirements to ordain to the ministry, not about whether they keep their ordination even if they fall into unrepentant sin.To be “re-installed” yes, required them to repent and return to the Church, but they were not “re-ordained”, because even in their unrepentant sin, Augustine argued they still have the power to confer the grace of Baptism. (on baptism 1.2)I still maintain, if it is held that someone can be in unrepentant sin (which can be in secret, like un-repentant pornography) and thus lose their authority as a minister to confer the sacraments, then the Church is in allot of trouble, and no amount of separatism, schism or drive for church purity will ever be enough.We’ll agree to disagree here I suppose then.

    Posted by Wesley | August 25, 2008, 10:55 pm
  3. >the theology that came out of the controversy was that those ministers, repentant or not, conferred valid baptismsAgain, and this is my last word on Donatism because it is such a red herring, repentance was not necessary in order to validate baptisms the ministers might have performed prior to their sin (which the Donatists had invalidated by retrogression), but it was surely required for a minister to be reinstalled.Saying that repentance makes a difference is to take Paul’s list of qualifications for elders in 1 Tim and Titus seriously. What does he mean to be “above reproach”? It can’t mean without sin or Paul would be disqualifying himself, “the chief of sinners.” It means that one must live a life of repentance, recognizing their enduring sinful condition and constantly battling against it by the Spirit. It means that anyone who sanctions sin as an acceptable lifestyle is disqualified.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | August 25, 2008, 10:23 pm
  4. >I think if you look at the origins of the Anglican communion, the miracle is that it’s lasted as long as it has.

    Posted by Gina | August 25, 2008, 8:40 pm
  5. >Initially yes, that was the catalyst, but the theology that came out of the controversy was that those ministers, repentant or not, conferred valid baptisms, and if they repent, there was no need to re-baptize or to re-ordain them. Saying that repentance makes a difference is to go back to the original issue that the holiness of the minister determines the validity of the sacraments, only in that case the holiness would be the holiness of repentance. Augustine argued that it was not the minister giving Baptism, but Christ (letters to petilian Bk 2.2). Should we worry about being re-baptized if we find out latter the person that baptized us was in unrepentant sin? Should we do a background check on those who baptize our kids to make sure that they are clean? How clean would they have to be? There is no objective certainty at all if I need to rely on any level of holiness on the part of the person performing the sacrament. See chapter 8 of the letters to Petilian Book 2, Augustine directly argues even non-believers without the Spirit of God can perform true sacraments. And if they have valid sacraments, then do they not also have valid orders?Schaff says: “The Donatist controversy was a conflict between separatism and catholicism; between ecclesiastical purism and ecclesiastical eclecticism; between the idea of the church as an exclusive community of regenerate saints and the idea of the church as the general Christendom of state and people. It revolved around the doctrine of the essence of the Christian church, and, in particular, of the predicate of holiness.”And“[Augustine] finds the essence of the church, not in the personal character of the several Christians, but in the union of the whole church with Christ. Taking the historical point of view, he goes back to the founding of the church, which may be seen in the New Testament, which has spread over all the world, and which is connected through the unbroken succession of bishops with the apostles and with Christ. This alone can be the true church.”Cf Hist. Christian Church v.3 p365-70, cf Gonzalez v.1 p153 who argues this was also an issue over ordination, and not just baptism. So that even apostate Bishops can ordain true priests/ministers in the Augustinian system. It was the donatists who wanted to tie valid orders to personal subjective holiness. Which is what GAFCON is also doing. The Church will always be a mix of chaff and wheat, but there is no percentage of chaff that can be achieved which suddenly invalidates the True Church in an institutional expression. Which is also why I’m not so sure Athanasius ever saw himself as a different part of the “Catholic Church” from the Arians, as if there were two Churches, but that he was combating the heresy within the Church itself, but it was still the Church. Perhaps this is one of the big differences between Anglican and Reformed ecclesiology. We are still more Catholic and objectively sacramental, even in the 39 articles. So although I would want to avoid Bp. Robinson’s Church, I would take Eucharist there and consider it valid, and also consider all of everyone he has ordained as valid as well.

    Posted by Wesley | August 25, 2008, 7:30 pm
  6. >The question is: are ministers still true ministers even when they sin? Donatism said no, and orthodoxy said yes.That’s not quite accurate. The question was: if a minister abandoned the faith to save his himself and his congregation from death at the hands of the persecutors, and later repented, should he be readmitted as a minister? which points out, I think the big big BIG difference between that situation and this one. The current situation does not involve repentant ministers but unrepentant, hardened ministers. Again I don’t remember St. Athanasius ever considering himself to have left anything, even when the Emperor kicked him out of his own Church.Neither, I think, did the Protestant Reformers (including Anglicans) consider themselves to have left the true church. They considered themselves to be a remnant of the true faith that God had preserved, while Rome was deemed a false church.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | August 25, 2008, 1:06 am
  7. >Jay the Bennett wrote:”Therefore, the separation was a matter of removing the bitter root.”Discipline of doctrinal error which would/could lead to division is the ideal, but something happens along the way where error (in this case theological liberalism) becomes dominant, numerically speaking at least.What I always wonder in these historic scenarios of decline is, how did it get that bad? Was tolerance of a deviant position permitted for so long that it become the one with authority?Why not nip it in the bud?I hear the question of when to walk away in the SBC from time to time as the group numerically is against many things which I hold dear and the things the denomination holds dear I hold in derision.Yet, the SBC had gone liberal (theologically speaking), was fought for, and wrestled back by those espousing inerrancy, etc.It still needs much reform in my mind, but I wonder if that effort to reclaim had failed? Would the conservatives have left? I think they might have.In Texas the conservatives left the more moderate BGCT, seemingly when they felt they could not “win back” the state convention. So, they started the SBTC.Good question you’ve posed, brother, and not merely a theoretical one for many of us.

    Posted by GUNNY | August 24, 2008, 3:46 am
  8. >Actually some form of neo-donatism may not be far off. Here are two quotes from GAFCON that met in opposition (somewhat) to Lambeth:“…we recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice,…” 4.11“…We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed…” 4.13It certainly sounds like the only “orders” (which can only be taken as ordination) they accept are those who have not fallen into false doctrine or personal sin. It is the “deed” added to 4.13 that makes it even more donatist. Was not the original controversy because some Bishops sacrificed to the emperor or handed over bibles to be burned? How can that be more Gospel denying in deed at least? If they are not true ministers and there orders are to be rejected, it does put into question the sacraments they give as well, and puts into heavy question wither there churches are true churches in any meaningful institutional sense beyond a meting of believers.The question is: are ministers still true ministers even when they sin? Donatism said no, and orthodoxy said yes. Are even the liberal Bishops true bishops legitimate bishops with real orders and legitimate sacraments of they support sin? I’m going to have to say they are, even while thinking many of them should be removed from functional office and disciplined.So I’m also going to have to follow St. Athanasius and say they will have to kick me out….five times…and then I still won’t leave. We should always speak out yes, but that does not always entail schism (even if the schism, like murder in war, can be justified) Schism is as bad as apostasy because it is a form of apostasy that denies the Church. In this case they are not forcing my Bishop to deny either Christian faith or discipline. Jared makes a good point that no one is being excommunicated yet. And as such, in this case, I am under an Orthodox Bishop and have no right at all to leave, but to follow him if he stays and go with him if he leaves. As for Luther, his decision to not recant did not entail by necessity a decision to leave. Again I don’t remember St. Athanasius ever considering himself to have left anything, even when the Emperor kicked him out of his own Church.

    Posted by Wesley | August 22, 2008, 3:49 am
  9. >They may never officially be part of anything, but there are clusters that emerge — de facto denominations. Those are actually worse because the “independent” street cred keeps them from putting out their ecclesiastical processes out in the open.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 21, 2008, 12:13 pm
  10. >I had no charge of Donatism in my comment, my question was not rhetorical, but genuine.In that case, I would answer no.Do many independent churches have stipulations like this? What if they don’t exist in the church at all?.Most denoms of the independent church movement have some regulatory policies in place, but none of them, by definition, are bound to follow denominational policy. In that case, it is technically irrelevant whether a church leaves or not. They were never part of anything with which to leave, doctrinally speaking.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | August 21, 2008, 1:32 am
  11. >Schaeffer not only broke away from the PCUSA into the OPC but then broke off again (because they were not pure enough) and ended up in a tiny denomination no one has really heard of: the “Bible Presbyterians.” Their “Biblical doctrinal purity” extended to premillenialism and dispensationalism and prohibitionism on alcohol. Where do we draw the line on “doctrinal purity”?He spoke later of this sort of strict seperation with some regret. His last book “The Great Evangelical Disaster” had this to say:The church is to judge whether a man is a Christian on the basis of his doctrine, the propositional content of his faith, and then his credible profession of faith. When a man comes before the local church that is doing its job, he will be quizzed on the content of what he believes. If, for example, a church is conducting a heresy trial (the New Testament indicates that there are to be heresy trials in the church of Christ), the question of heresy will turn on the content of the man’s doctrine. The church has a right to judge, in fact it is commanded to judge, a man on the content of what he believes and teaches.But we cannot expect the world to judge that way, because the world cares nothing about doctrine. And that is especially true in the second half of the twentieth century when, on the basis of their epistemology, men no longer believe even in the possibility of absolute truth. And if we are surrounded by a world which no longer believes in the concept of truth, certainly we cannot expect people to have any interest in whether a man’s doctrine is correct or not.But Jesus did give the mark that will arrest the attention of the world, even the attention of the modern man who says he is just a machine. Because every man is made in the image of God and has, therefore, aspirations for love, there is something that can be had in every geographical climate — in every point in time — which cannot fail to arrest his attention.What is it? The love that true Christians show for each other and not just for their own party.Of course as Christians we must not minimize the need to give honest answers to honest questions. We should have an intellectual apologetic. The Bible commands it, and Christ and Paul exemplify it. In the synagogue, in the marketplace, in homes, and in almost every conceivable kind of situation, Jesus and Paul discussed Christianity. It is likewise the Christian’s task to be able to give an honest answer to an honest question and then to give it.Yet without Christians loving each other, Christ says the world cannot be expected to listen, even when we give proper answers. Let us be careful, indeed, to spend a lifetime studying to give honest answers. For years the orthodox, evangelical church has done this very poorly. so it is well to be spending our time learning to answer the questions of men who are about us. But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.

    Posted by Darrell | August 20, 2008, 11:31 pm
  12. >I had no charge of Donatism in my comment, my question was not rhetorical, but genuine. I think your distinction between the doctrinal and moral arenas earlier was key to defining Donatism. I think this is a hard issue especially for those in the PCUSA, that has recently been moving towards deleting its requirement for “celebacy out of marriage, and faithfulness in marriage” from its Book of Order section on ordination to allow homosexual ordination as well. That’s a hard issue on if that now constitutes grounds for the last of the conservatives in the PCUSA to pack up for the “split P’s” (OPC, PCA, EPC). Also difficult for those who have churches without a detailed “book of order” or ecclesiastical structure where limits may not even exist for this sort of thing. Do many independent churches have stipulations like this? What if they don’t exist in the church at all?

    Posted by Jared Nelson | August 20, 2008, 9:44 pm
  13. >The question is when to leave of your own will, rather than that of the other’s will – not about recanting doctrine.Yes, but Luther did leave of his own will. When offered a chance to recant he chose not to. That choice was in effect a choice to leave. He could have just accepted the doctrine of papal authority and stayed. Luther could have easily remained silent. He could have capitulated his conscience. But he chose to speak out, knowing prior to Worms that it could mean separation from Rome. Either the pope was going to have to admit his error, or Luther was out.In Luther’s case we could rephrase the question “When to Walk Away?” with “When to Speak Out?” Given what Luther had to say, they were essentially the same question.I think we should be careful not to totally separate moral and doctrinal failure. Fundamentally, I believe doctrinal failure is the only grounds for separation. However, doctrine and morality are overlapping concepts. The degree to which they correlate (assuming the doctrine is pure) is the degree to which one might be considered sincere, above reproach, or a man of good character. They are, in fact, perfectly correlative in the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. And, among fallen human beings, they should come closest to being perfectly correlative among the church leadership, hence the qualifications Paul gives in 1 Tim and Titus.When the leadership of a denomination is officially sanctioning a clearly sinful lifestyle as an acceptable alternative, there has been a failure of doctrine at a fundamental level. This is beyond question I think. As such it also, I think, warrants separation from that denomination. Does it mandate separation? I think it mandates doing everything in one’s power to bring the issue to a head so that the powers that be must make a decision one way or the other (That’s what Luther did). Apathy is unacceptable. It is equivalent to condoning the doctrinal/moral failure.With regard to the charge of Donatism, I think your stretching a bit. I haven’t heard anyone among the conservatives deny the validity of anyone’s baptism, communion, or church membership in this controversy.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | August 20, 2008, 8:59 pm
  14. >What I meant was that with Luther and Machen, they stood their ground until the other side kicked them out. I don’t know that they are good examples since The conservatives in the Anglican Church are not being excommunicated. The question is when to leave of your own will, rather than that of the other’s will – not about recanting doctrine. The conservatives can stay in the church without recanting anything. True, Machen could have recanted his support of an independent missionary board, but did not and was kicked out, and defended himself in the church’s courts. Only after the church kicked him out did Machen found the OPC. So can you stay as long as your poisition is tolerated? Do you leave when another position that is “beyond the bounds” is tolerated? What are the bounds? Does your presence in the denomination condone the activity? If indeed it is a moral and not a doctrinal issue, how is it different from Donatism?

    Posted by Jared Nelson | August 20, 2008, 7:23 pm
  15. >Interesting. . . . I think that separatism feels mostly like family feuding. The second or third generation can’t remember why grandpa was so angry in the first place, and they just shrug it all off.That dynamic is certainly at play in my own tradition. The Baby Boomers who were fresh out of college when the Independent Christian Churches split off from the Disciples of Christ are about the only ones still militant about maintaining a strong “movement identity” over against a more generic evangelicalism. The funny thing is that, among GenXer ministers and those younger, about the only people still articulating the “Restoration Plea” are folks from colleges that, in my day, were the “liberal” (i.e. not sectarian) schools.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 20, 2008, 5:51 pm
  16. >Schaeffer not only broke away from the PCUSA into the OPC but then broke off again (because they were not pure enough) and ended up in a tiny denomination no one has really heard of: the “Bible Presbyterians.”Hm. Really? I didn’t realize that. I know at the time, Bob Jones Sr. thought Carl MacIntire was too strict for his taste. So I wonder *when* Schaeffer made this statement. I think the 40s-60s were irritating times for conservative American Protestants — lots of splintering.Interesting. . . . I think that separatism feels mostly like family feuding. The second or third generation can’t remember why grandpa was so angry in the first place, and they just shrug it all off.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 20, 2008, 11:12 am
  17. >Where do we draw the line on “doctrinal purity”?This is the million dollar question, And everyone has an answer to it.On whether Luther was kicked out of the Roman church, that is difficult to say. Of course according to Rome, he was. However, he was given a chance to recant of his heresy (i.e. doctrinal impurity). If Luther wanted to stay he could have. But doctrine meant to much to him.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | August 20, 2008, 8:00 am
  18. >I find Schaeffer to be bright and helpful on many subjects, and I might be in the minority here, but his stance here seems to be too strict here. Schaeffer not only broke away from the PCUSA into the OPC but then broke off again (because they were not pure enough) and ended up in a tiny denomination no one has really heard of: the “Bible Presbyterians.” Their “Biblical doctrinal purity” extended to premillenialism and dispensationalism and prohibitionism on alcohol. Where do we draw the line on “doctrinal purity”? Do you break fellowship over amillenial vs postmillenial vs premeillenial? Do you break fellowship over women deaconship? eldership? When do you end up in a church of one, because you are the only one who understands the bible correctly? Are we all Donatists now?Also Schaeffer gives a bad example: Luther, who was kicked out, he didn’t leave – same with Zwingli. It seems Schaeffer’s solution offers no fight, just taking our ball and going home.

    Posted by Jared Nelson | August 20, 2008, 5:13 am
  19. >I like Schaeffer’s answer. I think separation is only ever warranted over doctrinal issues. This seems to be the breaking point for Paul, John, Jude, and Peter. Although in each of their cases the false-teachers, while within the church and in some cases gaining popularity, were apparently not yet in key leadership positions. Therefore, the separation was a matter of removing the bitter root. We also have the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians addressing sinful behavior that was disrupting church unity. In that case he doesn’t call for separation but rather discipline, repentance, and healing.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | August 20, 2008, 4:58 am
  20. >Hmm. . . . I grew up in second- and third- and nth-degree separation. It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t right. My scholarship has centered around trying to recover separation in some way for these who insist upon it. We all know how that turned out, right? We’ve had to leave our ecclesiastical and ministerial hearth and home, but because we were pushed out. Whaddya gonna do?So I’m especially intrigued by Schaeffer’s advice. I think it’s sound. As I read up on my religious heritage, I am discovering that all the separation hinged NOT on doctrine, but on personalities. I’ve even caught wind — and I’m still looking for hard-core, journalistic proof on this one — that BJU separated from Billy Graham because Graham integrated his campaign.So I’m skeptical about the 20th-century separatist rhetoric. At least in the South, I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t code for racism.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 19, 2008, 11:52 pm
  21. >Francis Schaeffer addressed this question in an article called “Modernism, Barthianism, and the Ecumenical Movement.” in which he said the following:When we have tried to bring the modernists to trial as heretics and have failed, or when we realize thatsuch a procedure has become impossible, then Bible-believing Christians have only one recourse:practice separation in reverse. Found new denominations and new councils that can be used to preachthe Gospel unfettered and that will draw the line clearly on insisting that modernism is a false religion.This is what we have in our separated denominations and in the American Council, and God willing wewill have an international council of Bible-believing churches. This is the separatist movement.Abraham Kuyper, Spurgeon, the leaders of the Free Church of Scotland, as well as Luther, Zwingli,Calvin, and Knox, have walked this road before us.Professor Jerram Barrs, teaching on the life of Schaffer hastens to addSchaeffer was completely committed to the purity of the visiblechurch. He would never have been a minister in a church that was mixed with liberals and evangelicals together.Schaeffer believed biblically and passionately that one ought to be a pastor in a pure church, one that reallymakes an effort to be faithful to Scripture and to discipline pastors who are not. But at the same time, he wishedto respect the views of those who stayed in and not judge them harshly, which second-degree separationbasically does. Second-degree separation says, “We can have nothing to do with you because you arecontaminated by staying in.” He certainly took a position against that. But that was expressed much later. Atthis time he is beginning to speak about the importance of really living the truth, of standing faithfully for thetruth, of being consistent in your life, and of not only being negative but also positive. But at this time we do nothave a clear expression from him of what he later came to call “speaking the truth with love.”Quoted From Francis Schaeffer: The Early Years Lesson 14 — Modernism and Unity

    Posted by Darrell | August 19, 2008, 10:43 pm

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