Coalition is not Communion

Coalition is not Communion May 2, 2018

I just learned that I could list my congregation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at The Gospel Coalition’s Church Directory. If I knew how to take a screenshot or if my machine would let me, I could show you the page where all I would need to do is enter the church name, address, pastor’s name, website and social media links, congregational mission statement, and then click on the box “We Affirm The Gospel Coalition Foundation Documents.” That’s it, at least for signing up. Maybe once you do (I didn’t and wouldn’t), Tim Keller and D. A. Carson come to the church to pay a visit and see how the congregation worships and what the pastor preaches. Actually, the first page of the Church Directory at TGC’s website includes this fine print:

The Gospel Coalition is not able to review all the churches within this directory. If you see a church that does not appear to align with our foundation documents please report it.

This is the evangelical equivalent of citizen’s arrest.

But it is not the way churches (or member institutions, for that matter operate). Churches require pastors to be ordained, elders to pass scrutiny, and new congregations to meet with church officials. At The Gospel Coalition, all you need to do is open an account and enter the information. If you cross your fingers while filling out the forms and checking the box, you have to hope no one visits your church. Otherwise, the demands of belonging are meager.

The reason for bringing this up is Paul Carter’s recent warning about the “Greatest Threats” facing the Young Restless and Reformed movement; The Gospel Coalition is to the Young Restless and Reformed what the Republican Party is to the Tea Party. Among the threats that Carter mentions is factionalism:

The YRR movement has attempted to be centre bound. It has tended to gather around agreed upon doctrines – such as the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrines of grace and the traditional teaching on human gender and sexuality. On these positions they continue to enjoy widespread unity and agreement.

But the devil is in the details.

Fault lines have begun to emerge – and not in the place where many people predicted. Many people predicted that the movement would fracture along ecclesiological lines but thus far, those differences appear to have been treated as adiaphora.

The factions that are emerging have nothing to do with the volume of water used in baptism or the precise form of congregational government. Instead they revolve around the on-going work of the Spirit and issues of race and politics.

Given that the issues are complex and overlapping several large clusters of people have simply gathered around a recognizable pole.

I follow John Piper.

I follow John MacArthur.

I follow R.C. Sproul.

But is Christ divided? Was Piper crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of R.C. Sproul? When we say these things are we not behaving merely in a human way?

Factionalism is, as Carter fails to notice, baked into a movement and organization that thrives on celebrity pastors, has no membership requirements (except possibly for the Coalition’s leadership council — which also requires celebrity, otherwise they don’t include you), and feeds on social media and a daily diet of articles and blogs to generate hits. What could possibly go wrong with this model of Christian “fellowship”? How would you possibly avoid Piper’s fans opposing Keller’s fans if the former learned that the latter hung out in wine bars and watched foreign movies?

In a denomination, where officers subscribe the same confessional documents, pastors pass ordination exams, elders meet to oversee church activities and ministry, not only are factions little threat, but celebrity pastors are reduced to one among the many of commissioners or delegates who have only one vote on any particular item of ecclesiastical life. Sure a speech by a well regarded or famous pastor could sway some church officers and undoubtedly has. But such speeches do not run the church or set the direction of denominational activity. They are simply one set of words during one piece of what is either a two-hour meeting (session), a day long gathering (presbytery), or a week-long marathon (General Assembly). At such deliberative bodies, where Roberts Rules shape discussion and a confession of faith informs vision, celebrity pastors (and their factions) have little room to maneuver.

So, the cure for the threatens New Calvinism is Old Calvinism. The young need to grow up and become not an coalition but a church. It is one lesson that church history teaches.

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