Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Does Presbyterian Church Government Really Provide Superior Accountability?

Removing Tullian Tchividjian's blog was a big win for TGC's credibility regarding the "G" in "TGC." I'm inclined to agree with PCA pastor and Ref21 blogger Rick Phillips when he argued recently that Tchividjian's truncated (at best) understanding of sanctification constitutes "false doctrine."

I'm grateful for Phillips' bold, clear words, as well as several others' at Ref21. But I was intrigued by his concluding frustration with TGC's apparent reluctance to remove Tchividjian's blog.

Obviously, we know that TGC has taken this action, so that that point is now essentially moot.* But what seems to me to be a very live issue is the fact that Tchividjian pastors a PCA church—a church in the same denomination as Phillips, and not merely a denomination, but a Church—a capital-"C" Church. Now, I don't understand everything about PCA polity—not by a long shot. But I understand from a recently-ordained PCA pastor (converted from the Baptist/baptistic world) and Ref21 blogger, Todd Pruitt, that Presbyterian polity has an established process in place to deal with doctrinal error and abuses of authority. Not long ago, in reference to the Steven Furtick fiasco, he asked Southern Baptists, "Is there no mechanism in the Southern Baptist Convention that can provide oversight and correction to such abuses?"

Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the mechanism available to Baptists is the local congregation. Congregations sadly run amok, but local church autonomy is one of the areas in which we allegedly-but-inconsistently "Bible people" have stuck to our story. But on the other hand, no, in the sense that we don't have a governing body sovereign over local churches that's empowered to hold them accountable. Unlike the PCA, we're merely a Convention organized to cooperate in pursuit of our mission, not a capital-"C" Church. Scripture teaches that we need to deal decisively with false doctrine, and it speaks most specifically to false doctrine within a particular church—or Church, as the case may be. Granted, another PCA pastor has proposed a debate with Tchividjian, but wouldn't "false doctrine" require a Church to respond with more than debate? Perhaps that might be a first step.

So having said all that, I'm quite interested to see how a PCA pastor's accusation of "false doctrine" internal to the PCA plays out in PCA polity. I wouldn't have been surprised if an inter-denominational parachurch ministry created to foster evangelical unity had struggled to reach consensus or take decisive action. And I'd expect a Paper Presbyterian denomination to minimize doctrinal error. But that's not what I think the PCA is. And I don't think it's what the Ref21 PCA men think it is either. I pray they find wisdom and success, for the sake of the gospel.

*In fact, it appears from Tchividjian's messianically-titled post ("I've Come to Set the Captives Free") that TGC made the decision no later than Thursday. TGC's post corroborates the timeline. Phillips posted on Friday. Perhaps he, a Council member, already knew the action had been taken. Or perhaps it matters little either way.