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PASTORAL POLEMICS

PASTORAL POLEMICS

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
October 11, 2019

Introduction

Christian polemics are not the exclusive reserve of academic professionals and theological specialists. Every concerned believer is a polemicist to some degree in the arena of daily situations: "Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." [Jude 3]. It is the whole church, every responsible member, that is to exercise the guardianship and preservation of the truth of divine revelation [Article 20]. The people in the pews are to hold the clergy and college professors to the truth of Scripture and to examine their attestations closely.

Many theologians and teachers inevitably enclose themselves within towers of intellectual superiority and communities of arcane conversation. The spirit of pride and rivalry among them may possibly engender the tendency to novelty of thought and sensational opinion. There are some minds that simply must strive for attention and originality. The humble service of the gospel is too drab for their professional ambition. Rather than ground the people of God in their most holy faith they must seek to astound the world with their adventurousness and daring.

These are the folk who could well preface the remnants of their orthodoxy with the terms "neo" or "revisionist" in the sense that their efforts are not confirmatory, or deepening and enlarging of the meaning of word of God, but inventive of notions that blunt the plain and main intent of the text and which obscure clear understanding. A sort of vagueness, pretentious verbiage, clouds the text that causes confusion or uncertainty in the mind of the reader. Contemporary Continental Reformed theology, at least in translation, evinces a marked expertise in this department. These are the DDs to avoid - the Doctors of Deception. Saintly scholarship is a boon and blessing to the church, but scholarship from selfish motives and for personal kudos is a definite danger. Prayer in the scholar's priorities should be as prominent as research and study, and knees bent as much as the mind is exerted.

Preachers too, are to expound in a manner consistent with the writings of the Spirit and to exercise caution in preventing ideas, principles, speculations extraneous to the mind of God as he has disclosed it through his prophets and apostles. The declaration of the gospel is to be purely apostolic.

Given the generalness of the responsibility to maintain the integrity of the word of God, and due to the simplicity of the essential message of salvation, it does not require strict academic credentials to speak on behalf of the veracity of Scripture in its clear outline of the way of salvation and the route to divine favor through trust in the achievement wrought on our behalf through the Lord Jesus Christ. He himself instructs his people in remarkable ways through their close and humble union with him and his nurturing of their minds through increasing knowledge of Scripture - not in some cool, distant and abstract way as in merely a career or expertise focused only on grammar and historical investigation alone, but in a warm, vibrant manner of intimacy with the Savior who speaks to his own in Scripture. It is far preferable to commune with the author of our faith than with authors who write about our faith, and only those scholars who ardently share that personal faith are qualified to participate in unison with the collective voice of the believing historic and living Church.

When believers of any rank espy deviation from the truth, they are to raise the alarm through the best means possible - their own concerns and consultation with others such as fellow believers, reliable persons in pastoral office, or those of informed and sound opinion.

It is imperative that the Gospel is guarded.

The Anglican Ordination Exhortation

Presbyters in the Anglican tradition take on the role of watchmen in the matter of that which is proclaimed and taught in the name of the church of God. Their purpose is representational of the truth of God - ambassadorial enunciation and accuracy. They are not originators, improvers, or adjusters of the divine word but purely couriers delivering the message of God. The Anglican ministry is not, as popular opinion perceives it, a wimpish society of "do-gooders" or "baby-sitters" dedicated to keeping parishioners and local residents amused, cozy and pampered within their preferred comfort zone, reassuring them that, come what may, all will ultimately be well on the basis of universalistic assumptions. The prime objective is the cure of souls through the spiritual healing of the gospel. Every person, as lost soul, is potentially in peril of final and eternal separation from God, and the only corrective is the inspired counsel of the word of God as to the sure way of salvation. There is harm in not sounding the Gospel alarm.

Preaching is not a matter of human invention, learned opinion, or entertaining oratory, but rather the imparting and explanation of the word written, prayerfully considered, and illuminated by the Spirit of the Lord. Proclamation combines exactitude, enthusiasm, and appeal (as both summons and allurement) granted to the speaker by God himself. "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" - and that can only be through the gospel as revealed - "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" ( 2 Corinthians 5 : 20-21).

To ensure that the message of redemption and rescue is safely conveyed Anglican relayers of the word are reminded "You are called to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to warn, to feed and provide for the Lords family;" (An Anglican Prayer Book, page 194). This is the equivalent to the commission that Jesus handed to Peter - "Feed my sheep" in the pasture of the word.

As in many important things, the BCP 1662, (The Ordering of Priests), is more direct and explicit, and in its encouragements to candidates for the ministry of the word poses the question: "Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all Doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined, out of the said Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach nothing, as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you be shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture?" A distinct and strongly resolute urge to faithfulness to God's truth is present here. No vacillation is permitted.

Then follows the solemn exhortation "Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well as to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?"

Prospective pastors are then advised principally to derive their convictions and counsel from the word of God and sound instruction in line with it. "Will you be diligent in Prayers, and in reading of the holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh?"

Summing up these enquiries and obligations we gain a sense of the onus placed upon expositors of the Bible. All attempts at teaching are vital for eternal salvation - the necessity for its firm grasp and ongoing possession (perseverance). Doctrine that obscures the understanding of the way of salvation or distracts from it is to be banished and driven away (strong terms) by clear, uncompromising, and energetic refutation. So essential is compliance with the revealed word, so dangerous is defection from it, that sick and whole, folk of every condition, delicate or robust, young or old, are to be aptly protected and preserved from false teaching with pastoral concern and sensitivity. Eternal salvation is to be the greatest human concern to foster universally. Notions additional to Scriptural wisdom as to deliverance from sin and the attainment of everlasting life, and certainly ideas and theories alien to it, are to be very definitely eschewed and avoided with all the might of the soul.

The corruption of Scripture through deceit, mishandling and misinterpretation of the text (flesh), and the contradiction of Scripture (worldly skepticism and denigration of its content) exert a deleterious effect upon the minds of the godly, and serve to hinder respect for and confidence in the sacred writings (Holy Writ). Heresy "mild or monstrous" indicates a preference for one's own ideas and constitutes a defiance of the mind of the Lord, a pride that will not bow before him. The errant thinker is not the only casualty of his aberrant thought. His influence upon others could well be spiritually injurious. The twisted teacher is unmasked for the wellbeing of others who may be damaged by his smuggled fatuity.

The gravity of the responsibility to adhere to Scripture cannot be exaggerated. Ministry is not a fun occupation, nor an opportunity to self-consciously display the quality of anyone's acumen and mental ability. It is the denial of public approbation in pure devotion of the self, in all its sanctified capacities, to the honor of God and what he wills the world to know. The preacher's mind and mouth need to be cleansed of all vain ambition lest it smear the gospel with an ugly blemish. The Lord will hold all heralds and hearers of the gospel accountable for their attitude to his word, a medium of his Presence on earth. Our estimate of his truth divulges our estimate of him. Do we ridicule it, play with it, ignore it, rearrange it, or oppose it? Sadly, many clergy do so with grammar of human wisdom and the glamor of clever gimmickry. They are not shepherds but savage, snarling, sneering, grinning wolves. And they successfully recruit supportive, subtle Judas sheep to achieve their vile designs. Communities, colleges, churches are invaded by enemies of Jesus Christ and his followers. The fold needs to be fortified and wary. We need to be able to detect the theological trickery that is abroad so widely in our time.

We should, as Bible translator J.B. Phillips warns us, listen carefully for the Ring of Truth (his book on New Testament reliability). Study and knowledge of Scripture is necessary to a disciplined degree rare in our day. But God does gift his people with a sense of suspicion when falsehood is perpetrated (1 John 2: 26-7). Counterfeit teaching is clever and plausible. It marshals many arguments and myriad details of evidence, but it is also, when examined, ridden with confusion, contradiction, and large areas of vagueness that facilitate it with evasion of pointed scrutiny and searching interrogation.

"The scriptures sprang out of God, and flow unto Christ, and were given to lead us to Christ. Thou must therefore go along by the Scripture as by a line, until thou come are Christ, which is the way's end and resting place" William Tyndale, Works Vol 1, p317.

"O Gracious God and most merciful Father, who has vouchsafed us the rich and precious jewel of they holy Word: Assist us with thy Spirit that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to thine own image, to build us up into the perfect building of thy Christ, and to increase us in all heavenly virtues. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the same Jesus Christ's sake. --- Geneva Bible (Shakepeare's version), Parish Prayers, Compiled and edited by Frank Colquhoun

To Follow in the coming weeks - The New Perspective on Paul

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

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