Reflections on GA: Dialogue with David Wallover, part 1...

(David) I received the following email message from my good friend and fellow PCA pastor, David Wallover, after posting my initial reflections on the Presbyterian Church in America's 2010 General Assembly (GA). I've asked David Wallover if I could present both his thoughts and my subsequent response on this forum and he has graciously agreed. David Wallover pastors Harvest Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Medina, Ohio.

Hi, David (Bayly)-

I originally wrote the note below to be a posted reply to your blog today, but on reflection, thought I'd send it to you personally. You can decide if you want to use it on your blog or not.  It's not a contrary opinion, per se, but it is a perspective from a different angle.  Let me know your thoughts.

Your friend,
David (Wallover)
________________________________

My dear brother, David (Bayly)--

What's at stake here?  You, your brother, and I came up through the "bloodbath" of the UPCUSA/PCUSA.  Did you imagine when we each found our way into the PCA, that it or any other manmade denominational institution, could possibly remain focused?  What I said to my wife upon entering the PCA is, "Well, now we trade heresies on the left for heresies on the right"--my point being that fidelity to the truth, which is itself a fixed target, remains elusive because we are constantly shifting around the target. And even if the PCA falls prey to the old heresies on the left (which would be ironic in light of the whole "Federal" controvesy, which is a "heresy" on the right...), it still will be a result of OUR inability to stay fixed on the truth, veering as we do either to the left or the right.

In any case, I departed the PCUSA because my call is not to maintain or control a denomination but to proclaim the gospel as faithfully as I know how--and to do so in the company of as-nearly-like-minded brothers as possible.  The PCA still retains that characteristic.  Beyond that, what's the point of a denomination?

I'm asking the question in light of our doctrine of sin:  Sin is pervasive and the resulting corruption is total--and will only be eliminated in glory. Until then, we seek--seek!--to be faithful.  We trust--trust!--that God is well ahead of us in the patterns and currents of each generation.  We call one another to faith and faithfulness--and leave the providence to God.

To be sure, I am convinced that one day, change will be necessary; one day, the PCA will become, as have all its antecedents, apostate (either that or functionally dead, though perhaps orthodox in form)--and when it is, it will be time to pack up the tents and move again.  We crossed the Rubicon once; and having done so, it will be that much easier to do so again.  In that day, a new  witness will be raised up and we'll join it.

And undoubtedly, men and women then will make the same mistake many made in 1973, i.e., viewing the new manifestation of faithfulness as the final, victorious manifestation of faithfulness.  Won't happen--can't happen, until Christ returns.

Until then, we labor with the wisdom that we have, seeking more in the process.  And as a word of caution/charity, I would remind you that not all of the missional, artsy-fartsy agenda is evil.  It isn't focused where your preferences lie, but are all your emphases or mine equally valid, equally strong?  It would be sheer hubris to imagine that they are.  The desire to proclaim Christ to a post-Christian, post-modern generation is not merely a pragmatic concern; it is rooted in biblical doctrine and practice.  For instance, Jer. 29 lays an important foundation for being missional and culturally attuned.  I agree that there are mines in the field, and we must be vigilant to avoid them; but not to move forward because of potential explosions would be just as unfaithful, IMHO. You know, the whole "burying the talents" issue.

In the end, we can only do what we can do.  I love you, brother!  You make presbytery fun and challenging.  I love that we share the same institution; but more important is the fact that we share the same passion to proclaim Christ.  Let's keep the focus clear:  He's the only reason we have to be in any denominational structure. In that setting there will be unavoidable tug and pull as various points-of-view come to light. Some of those tugs will pull us in directions we like; others will pull us in directions we don't.

Withal, however, the visible church, the church militant (aka "denominations") is a necessary though flawed expression of the invisible church which will one day be exclusively the church purified and triumphant.

Until then, let's not flinch or grow cynical in our efforts.  (And brother--sometimes, I fear you are given to cynicism.  It's unseemly and ultimately counterproductive. You have a better voice.  I would love to hear more of it.  What's your "yes?")

So, in summary:  The denomination is dead.  Long live the denomination! Christ is Lord--and we are His. Growing by His grace into our adoptive Name--That's what matters.  And the PCA is still a place where such growth not only can but does  happen with vitality.

Your loving and at times combative brother in Christ, David (Wallover)

PS--I am sorry that I missed GA this year.  Would love to have been there with you.  Was in Pittsburgh with a youth mission trip, but tried to stay abreast of the issues.  I appreciate your summary and perspective.  Just felt a need to add my own....

Comments

I wonder what the magisterial Reformers would make of such a relatively light hearted view of schism?

It's not light hearted; but it is realistic. do not confuse acceptance of reality with flippancy.

>It's not light hearted; but it is realistic. do not confuse acceptance of reality with flippancy.

I'm glad that's true but schism is evil and I'm not willing to ever accept it, even at a theoretical level, until my hand is absolutely forced. The record of Reformed churches and schism is a grievous one. In one sense I accept that there is sin in my life but I am not at all accepting of sin or at least I ought not be. I don't mean to be unfair and hope I'm not but I don't think I could write what you wrote in that respect.

Pastor Wallover, do you find apostasy of the PCA inevitable? Has any denomination remained faithful since its inception? Are all destined for death prior to the return of Christ? Must it always be that we remove ourselves from an existing structure to another over and over? (Clearly asked by a young Christian who hasn't seen this dynamic in action yet)

If schism is evil, then why was the Reformation OK? The Reformers were clearly in schism, which Augustine condemned in "On Baptism Against the Donatists." If continual schism is a necessary state of Protestantism, in order to maintain doctrinal purity, is it possible that something is missing?

>>The Reformers were clearly in schism...

Throughout salvation history, this has been the defense of the power elite against reformers who are true shepherds of the sheep. "Troubler of Israel." "Schismatic." "Donatist." "Cynic."

Truth is, those who turn the Temple into a den of thieves, who peddle the Word of God for profit, who ask true shepherds "by what authority" they call men back to God and His Word are the true schismatics.

Schism is turning away from God and His Word--not turning away from sodomite bishops who are covering up the buggery of the altar boys by the priests of their diocese.

Love,

I just want to weigh in on the "culturally attuned" stuff, forestalling doctrinal stuff for the moment, although I think it will be in here, somewhere. This is more biographical than anything.

I was a punk-rocker in the 80's. I played drums in many bands. The last of which opened for Nirvana a number of times (before they hit the big-time). We were one big, unhappy, stubborn, unwashed family. I was planning a life of continuous debauchery. But, God had other plans. He, against all expectations, simply saved me- and that through the simple preaching of a friend who had been converted a year before. No effort at being attuned, just plain old Bible. I was the poster child of the people that you are supposedly trying to reach by being attuned. Don't do it.

The Holy Spirit does not care about culture in the way I think ministers are assuming He does. In my mind, the notion of it is rooted in unbelief. Preach the Word as though it is eternal and God will save His people.

That's my two-cents.

God bless His church and His ministers.

Chris

I don't think Wallover is being flippant at all here; he's merely pointing out that when we repent of one sin, we too often turn to another. While I don't view the PCA as guilty of falling off into the "right ditch" of theological error, fundamental Baptists (I am one) have often found that repenting of the worldliness of theological liberals often leads many to a dead legalism.

It's awfully hard to keep a single congregation centered around grace, even given the blessings of great theological minds. How much more difficult, then, to do so with an entire association or denomination!

Mrs. J. comments on this well; whenever we lose our view of the centrality of the Gospel, we will fall into error.

> not all of the missional, artsy-fartsy agenda is evil. ...The desire to proclaim Christ to a post-Christian, post-modern generation is not merely a pragmatic concern; it is rooted in biblical doctrine and practice.

[The following are general thoughts that came to mind when reading the above, and are not aimed at the writer at all.]

I understand we are to be all things to all people, but if preaching Christ in a culture that has never heard of him necessitates an artsy-fartsy agenda, then St. Paul should have been the first King of Pop. He would have organized family-friendly sports in the arena, conducted meaningful plays in the theater, founded orgy rehab clinics, rhetorical schools, offered art appreciation and gardening classes, educational pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and so on. Give those pagans whatever they crave as a foot in the door to ministry! Fight culture with culture.

Isn't there enough shallow, fleeting triviality to modern life without making it part of the church? Must all churches stoop to the level of a disposable consumerism to be effective? Monkey see, monkey do. Don't they get enough elsewhere to satisfy their lust for constant glitz and kitsch? If they want a church like Starbucks, then the church makes itself so relevant it becomes redundant. Must we be trite to be "missional"? If people feed primarily on junk food must we give them junk food instead of something healthier -- tastier? Don't people value quality and durability anymore? A sense of the transcendant? Who wants a church packaged with an expiration date on the label? The church should stand above the culture as a beacon, not sink under the weight of it into insignificance.

On a more 'worldly' note, must the PCA become like all the rest? I thought in a commercialized era, there was some value to brand distinctiveness? For example, if women want to be deacons, there are countless churches with openings immediately available. Why must ours be prodded down that road?

Good word, David W. Hope to see you at presbytery this Saturday. (You too, David B.)

I don't read Pr Wallover's comments as flippant unconcerned about sin. I think a measure of charity to Pr Wallover is due here. It seems he was originally writing a personal letter to Pr Bayly, and as such he is using more familiar/relaxed speech.

Cheers!

Chuck

Dear David,

The impression I get upon reading this is that you are content to sit in your tent with the flaps closed, hoping that all is well, until such a time as you hear the racket of those around you packing up to leave.

And hoping that it will be a long time before you have to pack up, you call outside to the guards raising the alarm, "Keep it quiet out there! Don't you know some of us are trying to sleep!?"

-Joseph

Dear Chuck, et al,

As I said at the outset of the post, David's a good friend. I don't think anyone here is seeking to attack him.

I've already sent my response to David and he's responded to it. I'll be putting those up once people have had a chance to read his original email.

Love in Christ,

David Bayly

I often think we have things backwards. We invariably want to change the "church" to attract unbelievers, as if that were the obvious way to go about evangelism. But the "church" is the assembly of the called-out ones. The location [which isn't the church] is a sanctuary, not a product to be marketed to the widest pagan clientelle. If the church is like the world, why would I want to go there? Rather, it is the members of the body who are supposed to be out "bringing in the sheaves," not a swank storehouse. A barn's a barn. And you can have a great dance in an old barn.

Shallow in --> shallow out. Focus on godliness, not goofiness. Preach the shocking truth and forget the hollow hype. It is the *lives* of the individual and collective members that are supposed to be the attraction to the unbelievers. And if we don't live above the common denominator on practically every level, then what's there to notice? We're lazy. We want to create a setting that gets attention instead of living in a way that brings glory to God from the Gentiles. We are the temple, but our focus is on the temporal structure. It is the members who are supposed to be equipped for the work of the ministry. Minimize the equipment.

To what extent are we neglecting other commanded things, like helping the poor, by focussing so much on expensive facilities and programs? It becomes a vicious cycle: we constantly need to attract more people to pay for the things we implemented to attract more people. And we dare not offend them by any unpopular doctrine, or we're history. In this manner, our "missional" approach can cause our own demise.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Peter 2:12

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Frankly, I'm confused by the email. In fact, I became more confused when I read Jer 29. I saw nothing regarding biblical attempts at being culturally relevant (I'm not opposed to this, per se, I just don't see it there...and my idea of relevant will not fall in line with what is typically called "relevant").

It did seem that Jer 29 flies in the face of being ready to run for cover...perhaps I'm taking it out of context in the application, but the following section seemed to undermine the position Pastor Wallover was taking:

4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:

5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. 7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace. 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD.

Pastor Wallover:

You said that "In any case, I departed the PCUSA because my call is not to maintain or control a denomination but to proclaim the gospel as faithfully as I know how--and to do so in the company of as-nearly-like-minded brothers as possible. The PCA still retains that characteristic. Beyond that, what's the point of a denomination?"

I would simply ask: do you really think the PCA is a place where Pastor Tim Bayly could stand up--at GA, Presbtery, or in his own pulpit--and proclaim with full support of his fathers and brothers, as he recently did in a blog post, that "churches that hide Scripture's doctrine of sexuality are obscuring the Law and obstructing woman's entry to repentance and faith."

Do you really think the PCA is a place where this gospel message can be proclaimed faithfully?

Respectfully,

Craig - Jeremiah 29 gives us a model for *discipleship* in the post-modern world. A model for *mission* in the postmodern world is Acts 17, St Paul on Mars Hill. Without labouring the obvious, he was prepared to use literary and other examples from their culture in order to communicate Christ. We can use examples from our own culture in order to minister in our culture as well; the point, though, is not to overdo this.

Anyway. In terms of the original post, it had some interesting things to say. All Christian movements show an inevitable element of "half-life" - and go off the boil after a while, sooner or later, in one way or another - and the question is, how to respond when that happens.

Craig and Ross and David W.-

Jeremiah 29 does not "lay a foundation for being missional and culturally attuned" any more than I Samuel 15 (Saul commanded to destroy the Amalekites) lays a foundation for practicing genocidal anihilation against our ememies.

The missional types are using Jeremiah 29:7 to proof-text their urban-centric, go-along-to-get-along ways: "seek the peace of the city... and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace."

Those calling for us to uncritically seek the good of our surrounding culture, never quote v.6 which implies a conscious separation from the surrounding culture and subversive effort to strengthen the numbers Jewish people until God restores them to the land (v.10-14).

Plus, I'm not sure if I think today's United States is truly quite so post-Christian and postmodern that American Christians should take their cues from God's word to those going into Babylonian captivity. As long as American Christians retain the right to participate in our democratic republic, we are amongst the rulers of the land not exiled slaves. Why should we take our cultural cues from God's instructions to cultural exiles?

Keith,
I agree with you. My thoughts on being "culturally relevant" are informed by CTW, and the Bible.

Being biblically relevant to the culture is to turn things back straight. Kind of like how Paul told the wise philosophers how their idols are proof of their own ignorance...you know, seeker-sensitive.

What I was getting at is the notion that planting deep roots, giving in marriage and bearing children while decrying false prophets is what Jer 29 recommends...which seems to contradict pastor Wallover. To seek the good of the PCA is to do the dirty work of calling out those who speak lies as though it was God's Word.

"Schism is turning away from God and His Word--not turning away from sodomite bishops who are covering up the buggery of the altar boys by the priests of their diocese."

Pastor Bayly, you are using "schism" as a synonym for "sin." But "schism" means "separation from" or "leaving." Turning away from God and His Word is sin, not schism. It is the people who leave who are in schism, whether their leaving is justified or not. I was responding to the comment that said that schism was always evil, which was also Augustine's opinion. He said that there was no justification for schism. The Reformers were the ones in schism because they were the ones who left. I always thought their leaving was justified and a necessary evil, but if schism is always evil, as David Gray stated above, then that bothers me. And you have to admit that sin is not confined to the Catholic camp; it is found just as prevalently in Protestant circles. The Reformation didn't solve the problem of sin in the Church.

>>"schism" means "separation from" or "leaving."

Yes. So the schismatic is the one who leaves the truth of God, the Word of God, the doctrine of Scripture, the People of God, and the true Church in order to embrace man's lies, man's words, man's ideologies, the fellowship of worldlings, and the synagogue of Satan.

In Galatians, both the Apostle Paul and the Judaizers were calling for division from the other. But in their calls for division, the Judaizers were schismatic and the Apostle Paul ("I say it again, let them be cursed!") was a peacemaker seeking the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Love,

"So the schismatic is the one who leaves the truth of God, the Word of God, the doctrine of Scripture, the People of God, and the true Church in order to embrace man's lies, man's words, man's ideologies, the fellowship of worldlings, and the synagogue of Satan."

That is not the way Augustine defined schism in his argument against the Donatists. Schism to him was leaving the visible Catholic church. And the problem is, how do we know what the truth of God is, what the true doctrines of Scripture are, etc.? Relying on scripture alone doesn't really solve the problem because there are so many disagreements about some of those doctrines, all by people who use scripture.

In Galatians, Paul did not tell the Galatians to leave their church. And John identified the false teachers by the fact that they "went out from us...When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us." If you define the schismatic as the "one who leaves the truth of God," you are still left with the problem of how to figure out what the true and correct doctrine is and where it is to be found. The ancient church seemed to identify the true church, with the correct doctrine, by the church that had apostolic succession, and it wasn't the kind of spiritual apostolic succession that Calvin talked about.

>>That is not the way Augustine defined schism in his argument against the Donatists.

The Donatist controversy centered on the validity of Sacraments administered by men who had denied the Faith and repented. This is not the discussion, here.

>>how do we know what the truth of God is, what the true doctrines of Scripture are...

The Holy Spirit guards His Word from the perversion it's suffered for many centuries, now, at the hands of those claiming Apostolic succession. We read, pray, submit ourselves to the true fathers of the Church who have gone before us, and obey. And we don't allow Roman Catholic councils and cardinals to browbeat us into rebellion, claiming the traditions of man as their justification for doing violence to the Word of God.

>>In Galatians, Paul did not tell the Galatians to leave their church.

From the perspective of the monolithic authority of the Judaizers, certainly he did. They had and were seeking the institutional authority, and the Apostle Paul demanded the true believers come out from among them.

>>John identified the false teachers by the fact that they "went out from us...When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us."

Yes, of course; the false church left the true church; false professors left the true professors; rebels against God and His Word went out from slaves of Christ and His Word. As to which side held the keys to the building and the firmest grasp on the crozier, it may well have been those a part of "they" rather than those a part of "us."

>>...you are still left with the problem of how to figure out what the true and correct doctrine is and where it is to be found.

Away from the croziers and idols and works of supererogation and infusion of the Roman Catholic church. Rather, within the true people of God who demonstrate the marks of the church: the right preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the two Sacraments, and the right exercise of church discipline.

>>The ancient church seemed to identify the true church, with the correct doctrine, by the church that had apostolic succession, and it wasn't the kind of spiritual apostolic succession that Calvin talked about.

This is what the heretics of the Roman Catholic church claim, but it's wrong. The true church has always been where the marks of the church are present. Not perfect, but present.

You see we are at an impasse. I'm very sorry, but you believe I am lost and there's an end to it.

Yet I call you to flee Rome and all her corrupt priests and monsignors and bishops and archbishops and cardinals and Pope for the true Church where we worship, not according to the heresies of the Council of Trent, but the true doctrine of the Word of God--an excellent summary of which is contained in the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, alone, for your salvation.

Run for your eternal life.

Love,

Keith, you wrote:

Why should we take our cultural cues from God's instructions to cultural exiles?

Read 1 Peter 1:1. The Jews in Babylon were not persecuted, merely ignored; in time, though, some did very well for themselves.

I write from the United Kingdom, where the issue of being an exile as a Christian in our culture is alive and well (cf. Abraham, "I have been a stranger in a strange land"). My own reading of things is that American Christianity is not far behind in some parts of your country (NYC, the Left Coast) and will get there in time for the rest.

I don't read the Jeremiah passage as being about mission, but I do see it as being about discipleship, and I suspect we more or less agree about that.

> A model for *mission* in the postmodern world is Acts 17, St Paul on Mars Hill. Without labouring the obvious, he was prepared to use literary and other examples from their culture in order to communicate Christ. We can use examples from our own culture in order to minister in our culture as well

Hi Ross,

Great example of personal evangelism using illustrations from the local culture. We should definitely do that. But Paul didn't go from there to restructuring the synagogue/church to be like Mars Hill, so the normal Athenian would be comfortable.

Craig made the excellent point that the use of such cultural illustrations wasn't something that made the hearers more relaxed with Christian-stuff. Paul was confronting them for their spiritual ignorance, and he was doing so on their turf. That is quite different than reinventing the church to suit them.

Ross-

Of course there is a sense in which we have no lasting city here (Heb. 13:14), but some situations allow for Christians to exert greater political influence than others. I would assert that Phoenix, Arizona, where I live, is one context where I should draw more instruction for my exertion of cultural influence from the nation-state of Israel or Calvin's Geneva than would a Christian brother in Saudi Arabia. My Saudi brother would certainly take much more instruction from the Babylonian captivity.

You are right that your UK context is more challenging than that of the US. But this is what concerns me:

>>My own reading of things is that American Christianity is not far behind in some parts of your country (NYC, the Left Coast) and will get there in time for the rest.

Why would one glibbly confess such a depressing outcome for "the rest" of the US? I don't mean to single you out, it seems as if most of the missional-types are only too eager for every square inch of the United States to slouch so far towards Gomorrah that Jeremiah 29 actually does apply.

You don't think that it would be better for Christianity to have less influence on the wider culture, do you?

"The Donatist controversy centered on the validity of Sacraments administered by men who had denied the Faith and repented."

The Donatist controversy centered on the validity of sacraments administered by men who had left the Catholic church, men who were in schism, according to Augustine. That's why I mentioned it.

>>In Galatians, Paul did not tell the Galatians to leave their church.

"From the perspective of the monolithic authority of the Judaizers, certainly he did."

No, he didn't. He warned them against false teaching, but he did not tell them to leave their church.

"Yes of course; the false church left the true church; false professors left the true professors; rebels against God and His Word went out from slaves of Christ and His Word."

We're still left with the problem of identifying which is the false church and which is the true church, etc. You can't assume that the true doctrine is whatever you believe, or whatever you believe the Bible teaches; neither can I.

"Rather within the true people of God who demonstrate the marks of the church: the right preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the two Sacraments, and the right exercise of church discipline."

I don't understand why the 4 marks of the church which the Council of Nicea decided upon (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) should be abandoned for the marks which Calvin decided on. It seems circular to me to say, for example, where "the right preaching of the Word of God is," because somehow, we have to know what that is to know who has it.

"The true church has always been where the marks of the church are present. Not perfect, but present."

This is a question which I have, and on which the two sides don't agree - what is the true church? As I said, Calvin redefined the marks of the church.

"You see we are at an impasse. I'm very sorry but you believe I am lost and there's an end to it."

I don't believe you're lost. Why would I believe that?

"

Yet I call you to flee Rome and all her corrupt priests and monsignors and bishops and archbishops and cardinals and Pope for the true Church where we worship, not according to the heresies of the Council of Trent, but the true doctrine of the Word of God--an excellent summary of which is contained in the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism"

But there are so many assumptions here, that Rome is corrupt because she doesn't believe in imputation only, or doesn't agree with Reformed theology. And again, where is the true Church? Is it only in Presbyterian churches that adhere to the Westminster standards? Is the Reformed faith the only true faith? When I started asking questions, Rome seemed to be the only place that had answers, although I'm not actually in Rome yet. But it doesn't make sense to say that Rome is heretical because they don't agree with my theology, for example, or with Reformed theology. You're assuming that Reformed theology is correct. What if you're wrong? What if the Catholic interpretation of scripture is correct? You can't accuse them of heresy because of the existence of sin; otherwise, every Protestant group is also heretical.

I expect you're tired of this discussion.

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