Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Carl Trueman writes about a particularly specious variation of "we're all sinners" and the "if only sinless perfection is acceptable no one could minister"--the base line for ministry could be summed up as basic human deceny
...One thing I would like to add though is a comment on a particular version of the ‘we’re all sinners, so it’s really ok’ argument.  In one instance, while debating whether a particular individual was qualified for office, a person read to me the list of qualifications for eldership and declared: ‘If we apply those, then nobody will ever be qualified!’

Really?  Is it so hard to be faithful to one’s wife? To be sober minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach?  Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy for money? A good manager of one’s household, and well-respected in the neighbourhood? The list, as far as it connects to personal qualities, is simply demanding what my father would have called ‘basic decency.’  To use the list as if it demands sinless perfection is perverse.  Ironically, it can then lead to dismissing it as irrelevant in practice.  That actually leads to a lowering of the bar below the level of basic decency, which is clearly an abuse of the text.

The idea that adultery is not disqualifying for office because all are sinners is a silly, self-serving argument.  The options are not ‘sinless perfection’ or ‘nothing really matters.’ Basic biblical decency is the standard.  Not hard to achieve.   And the argument for permanent disqualification for adultery rests upon the peculiarly heinous nature of the violation of the marriage bond.  The unique significance of physical, sexual union, the depth of betrayal of trust involved, and the mockery of the relationship of Christ to the church which such constitutes, all serve to make this particular transgression exceptionally serious.  Not the unforgiveable sin by any means but certainly irreversible when it comes to its significance for office-bearing in the church. 

What can also result that Trueman didn't touch upon in the post is this, there can become a double standard in which my failure to live up to the holy checklist can't disqualify me but your failures to live up to it disqualifies you. One of the most damning self-testimonies from Mark Driscoll in Real Marriage was when he flatly stated that he and Grace saw a number of reputedly good marriage counselors but it turned out those people had marriages no better than the rickety Driscoll marriage--ergo, they were not qualified to instruct Driscolls on marriage, not this stopped Mark Driscoll from being a marriage advisor himself.  Herein is a dangerous precedent--hypocrisy may often be unobserved and unintentional but a double standard may often have to be known. 

The flip side of requiring nothing less than perfection when we want a sympathetic victim or saint is that once that status is granted their real imperfections can be utterly ignored.  Or in a defense of the scarcely defensible we can be tempted to bring up the sinless perfection standards.  "Nobody's perfect" may not be as acceptable when you're the recipient rather than the perpetrator of a wrong.  As Driscoll used to put it so axiomatically, when I sin against you I want mercy but when you sin against me I want justice.  That dynamic played out at least a little bit in 2011-2013.  In later 2011 there was that cease-and-desist incident with Mars Hill over trademark and logo.  At the time the concern was that people had been cribbing stuff from Mars Hill.  Then in 2013 when confronted by Janet Mefferd with the allegation of plagiarism Mark Driscoll's response included "maybe I made a mistake". All of a sudden someone was described as "accusatory and unkind".

People make mistakes but when the mistakes span a man's entire published career in books while he'd intermittently sound off on how bad taking the lazy route was in other dudes, it's not unwarranted to point out, by way of Carl Trueman's discussion of the pastoral qualifications list, we're not talking about sinless perfection here--we're looking at basic human decency and if someone falls short in some glaring way on the basic human decency part maybe they are no longer fit for pastoral office.  They don't stop being believers, they aren't forever barred from Christian fellowship, but they may have broken trust in ways that preclude them from ever being ministers in a church setting.

1 comment:

Mike said...

The attitude CT's rightly calling out is just another variation of the tactics corrupt leaders and credulous followers use in an attempt to silence critics. First, the whole thing is a false dilemma, that either you're Christ Himself or you're no better than anyone else. Certainly no one attains righteousness through their own inertia and none of us deserves Christ, but to spin that into the notion that all sins are perfectly equal is dangerously false. This is typically taught from the pulpit by those who know good and well they have no integrity, so their theology cynically becomes whatever will enable them to keep their leadership positions in spite of being wholly unqualified for them. Multiple times I have seen followers of Driscoll and others angrily deny allegations, then, when they're proven wrong, without even acknowledgement thereof, they immediately shift into "Have you ever sinned? Then who are you to judge? You're no better, all sin's equal." If this tactic fails, they shift into "Why don't you forgive him?" mode, as if unless you're willing to allow an abuser free access to a fresh set of victims, you're somehow in greater sin than the abuser because you can't forgive.

None of it is real, none of it makes any sense, except when viewed from the perspective of pure cynical, manipulations of a sociopathic or his enablers.