The previous article considered two areas where the Protestant Church is failing the people by making imperial that which is important; in numbers and in organization. While both these are important and essential, they are never to be dominant. Let us consider now a further two areas where the church has offended people; by making central that which is peripheral. Keeping in mind the analogy of the frame and the picture together we ask, are we keeping them in their proper place?
Are we making central that which is peripheral? Keep in mind the importance of picture and frame together, both are essential but only one is central and the other peripheral. Let us consider some of the criticisms that have been leveled against Reformed and Calvinistic churches. Covenant theology is the clearest and most logical presentation of biblical truth. Ironically, because of the beauty of its logic it appeals to the intellectual and tends to a dry orthodoxy as opposed to experiential religion.
Many have rightly referred to Covenant Theology as the framework for Biblical interpretation. The key word here is “framework,” as that through which the work of Christ is presented in Scripture. When we bring the peripheral (the frame) into the center and present the truth of Scripture as dry logic, in lecture-style sermons without or power, passion or urgency we fail the people. Covenant theology is more than a hermeneutic; it is the clearest presentation of the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
Worse still is that strain of Reformed Christian who is more interested in debating Reformed Theology than living it, the one who can talk systematic theology and dispute about apologetics but fall silent when the conversation turns to an experienced Christ or an up-to-date encounter and engagement with the Word of God. This is what the frame points to and what it seeks to enhance. The biblical doctrine that instructs the head must also engage the heart and move the hands. This is what people in the pews of churches need and what, I believe, many of them want.
Another area where the Church is failing the people is in the Fundamentalist defence of truth. Truth is being defended at the expense of those for whom it is thought to be preserved. In other words, branches of Fundamentalism, rightly set out to defend truth against liberal denials but often in their zeal to do this they pushed people aside, by “noisy anger, bold assertions, harsh censures, and bitter persecuting zeal” (John Newton saw this in the church in his day; Works, 3:237). This was the complaint also of Francis Schaeffer in America in the 1930’s and in the 1960’s Martyn Lloyd Jones presented the same complaint to T. T. Shields in Canada; (“contendings and tirades” Biography, 2:530). While perhaps not as loud or noticed the same attitude still exists today in many at the expense of the individual Christian. The frame is being squeezed into the center at the expense of the picture.
Are there people today who could say concerning the ministry of the church (local or denominational) “I was hurt, I was injured…” (Schaeffer; The Christian View of the Church, 4:161)?
Coming soon: What is the picture we need to preserve and keep central? What is the purpose of the Church of Christ, its raison d’être?