Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sin and Suffering (Remix)

Is human suffering related to sin? The answer is yes, but the relationship is often perceived incorrectly.

That suffering and sin are related is beyond refute. We need only recall the familiar "curse" passage from Genesis.

It is also true that entire populations, such the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, have suffered as a direct consequence of their sins.

What is wrong, however, is take this truth to an unsupported conclusion, namely that all or most human suffering is in proportion to our sinfulness. We are really fortunate that this is indeed a misconception. However, in spite of a lack of support in scripture, this is a recurring theme: that sickness, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and (as a less common but more pathological example) a lack of prosperity are related to sinfulness. 

There is no biblical support for the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic is punishment for our current sinfulness. To believe so would require one to more or less accept another unbiblical misconception, that we are somehow more sinful than previous generations. We are not. Or, to give it the proper spin, previous generations were not less sinful than we are. There is nothing new under the sun. 

There is biblical support for the notion that the current calamity is part of the punishment for our line's historic sinfulness in the Garden.

The book of Job should be sufficient to put this common falsehood to rest. Job suffers, perhaps as no mere man has ever suffered, and yet he was "blameless and upright." Just in case anyone misses the point, Job's friends make that argument, that Job's sin is behind his suffering, but their theology is found wanting.

Furthermore, in any number of passages (let alone in real life) we see clear evidence that the wicked, far from suffering, often prosper.

Jesus also teaches this truth, that we should not correlate human suffering with the degree of sinfulness of the inflicted. Recall his encounter with a man blind from birth:
1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3)
His disciples were not trying to trick Jesus. But they did demonstrate this same, common misconception about a connection between sin and suffering by phrasing their question in the form of a false dilemma, asking Jesus as if there were but two possible answers: either the sin of this man or the sin of his parents led to his blindness. Jesus avoids the false dilemma by answering: neither.

This may or may not be a comforting truth, that our suffering is not correlated with our sin. Jesus teaches elsewhere on this matter, in a way that is decidedly uncomfortable. In the thirteenth chapter of Luke we read:
1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
Here the teaching is not about sickness or blindness, but about unfathomable crimes and inexplicable accidents that befell innocent people. Representing the former, we have the story of worshippers who were murdered by Pilate's soldiers-not during an act of protest or other civil unrest but while they were at a synagogue. And in the latter case we have eighteen bystanders crushed in the collapse of a tower.

Here Jesus is being asked: "why do bad things happen to good people?" His answer (to both calamities) is fairly astonishing: do you think they are worse sinners than you? Well they were not. And unless you repent, you will likewise perish. This response is, in many ways, brutal. He says, in effect, the right question is not why did bad things happen to the worshipers in Galilee or the pedestrians in Siloam, but why don't bad things happen to you? You deserve it as much if not more that those about whose plight you inquire.

Jesus' answer is a reminder that we all are in rebellion against a Holy God, and that every breath we take is a punishment postponed, and for the impenitent it will be a punishment not delayed indefinitely. For those who do repent, we are saved and spared by God's grace—nothing more, nothing less. In this world we may and will suffer, but in the next there will be no towers of Siloam.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Do not be Calvinistic about Corona

Over the last few days I have read, heard, and been outright told that some church services will continue, with perhaps some modifications, and with the implication (and sometimes the explicit comment) that we "have to trust God."

I know that God is sovereign.

I know that God is in control.

I know that God, in the sense the Westminster divines meant it, ordains all that comes to pass.

I know that "God helps those who help themselves" is neither biblical or theologically sound. It is aphorism/platitude arising from America's making an idol of extreme human individualism.

But I also know that we are told, on high authority: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Furthermore, as local municipalities are asking that there be no gatherings of more than (in our area) 50 people, I'll remind you that we are supposed to be in submission to our authorities.

Time to step on some toes: If you are facing this crisis with a "God is in control of every atom, molecule, [1] and virus, so business as usual" attitude and

  • When in church in normal times a person comes up to you and says: "I'm not going to shake your hand, I have a cold" and you do not respond: "I don't care, come give me a big hug!" then you are a hypocrite. 
  • If you practice birth control, then you are a hypocrite. 

Churches are considered at high-risk for the spread of corona. This is not surprising considering the intimacy of church services and the fact that not only are there large numbers of people in close confines speaking, they also are singing. [2]

We have to sacrifice the intimacy we love and crave until corona is contained. If you are holding service, you are putting your congregation at risk and, by extension everyone they come in contact with. You are acting irresponsibly. You are part of the problem, not the solution.

[1] Hopefully you are theologically savvy enough to distinguish the true microscopic view of God's Sovereignty: no molecule is outside of God's control (i.e., as Sproul put it: "No Maverick Molecules") with an incorrect, fatalistic (and in this case, dangerous) view that God actively controls the path of every subatomic particle. You must distinguish between what God could do from what, as presented in scripture, he chooses to do.

[2] I once went to a live musical play at the university and had front-row seats. I soon realized my error. You constantly get spat upon by the performers. Singing projects saliva. Enough said.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Second Commandment is often Abused

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, (Ex. 20:4-5)
This is, without question, the most abused commandment. It is clearly a commandment, powerful yet simple, against idolatry, and a corollary of the first commandment. However the pharisees of yesteryear and today claim it also means that you should not, under any circumstances, make any image that depicts God. That may indeed be a bad practice, as it may (or may not) be a struggle to do so in a way that glorifies God, but it is not forbidden by the second commandment, unless you make an idol of the image. 

The commandment, in fact, says nothing whatsoever about God’s image. The commandment applies to anything from any realm, heaven, 1 earth, or the seas. You could have a painting depicting Jesus and Tom Brady poster, and it might very well be the latter, not the former, that is causing you to violate the commandment.

I often wonder whether the pharisees or modern legalists would have considered in a sin if a disciple of Jesus had sketched him in charcoal.

1 The natural interpretation of "heaven above" in the commandment is not as a reference to God's Heaven with a capital H, but the realm of the sky and the stars.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Not everything created on day six was created good

Oh, those first six days, however long (or, according to Augustine, infinitely short) they were.

Everything that God did was good. Right?

Wrong. Blasphemy?

While somewhat accustomed to the charge, in this  case I  think not, for it is God himself who tells us that on that all-important sixth day there was something in his creation that was not good:
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him. (Gen 2:18) 
Divine creation had produced a man. That man was lonely. And that situation, according to God, was not good.

Now of course God did not have an epiphany that, drat, something crucial had been left out of his plan. No, this was an ordained teaching moment. It appears God wanted Adam to recognize his need for a companion. In an efficient, multi-tasking move, accomplishing two tasks for the price of one, God gets Adam to the realization that he is dreadfully alone by having him thoughtfully name the animals. That task, as might well  be imagined, seemed to drive the point home.

After a deep sleep (not a short cat nap, a deep sleep) Eve is created, and we have soulful man’s first soulful love song, as recorded in Gen. 2:23: 

“This at last is bone of my bones 
and flesh of my flesh; 
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

This is the ESV version, which captures the  "at last" sense that Adam had been thinking about this problem  for a while.

A tiny, micro-subset of things I do not know:

1. I don’t know how Augustine reconciled his instantaneous creation with the fact that there are concrete human events (naming the animals and a deep sleep) that could not have been instantaneous, between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve.

2. I don’t know how YECs reconcile the fact that Adam appears to have been created well into the sixth day, and yet in very short order he thoughtfully names all the animals, goes into a deep sleep (and it’s not even Sabbath!) wakes up and expresses, rather impatiently in my opinion since he has only existed for a few hours, that at last he has a companion.

3. As much as I had to admit it, I do not  have a truly gymnastics-free satisfying way to answer critics who say that the Genesis One and Genesis Two creation accounts are inconsistent. I still think there is a problem there, not a big problem but a problem, one that screams for a solution.

Meh. Who cares?

Oh that’s right, if I don’t accept this (YEC) view, I am, according to many, on a slippery slope toward denying the gospel, and along the way I’m likely to drive people out of the church if not out of the faith. I keep forgetting that.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Forgive me when I can't forgive

34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:34-35)
This saying, which quite frankly I’d rather not ponder, comes in a passage where Jesus is teaching of the importance of forgiveness. Verse 34 is the last verse of the parable of the unforgiving servant. Now with parables, when the lesson is uncomfortable I can always muster up a tiny bit of “but it’s just a parable” wiggle room, even when no such escape clause is actually present. But verse 35, well that’s a different matter. That is Jesus, after the parable concluded, directly  promising severe punishment to those who cannot forgive. Forgiveness is so important to Jesus that he builds it into his model prayer in which he, just like in the parable, entwined God’s forgiveness of our debts with our forgiveness of our debtors.


I think I am a generally forgiving person, perhaps fair to middling on the scorecard. But I have a forgiveness blindspot when it comes to church leaders.

I still hold a grudge against an elder who once told my wife and me: “Oh, I have to apologize. I didn’t know your son was autistic, I just thought you were bad parents.”

It was one thing to assume we were bad parents, but quite another to be our shepherding elder for a couple years and not know our non-secret that our son had autism.

If a brother or sister breaks a promise or a trust with me, I believe I can sincerely forgive, as I have been (as far as I can tell) forgiven for doing likewise on any number occasions where I screwed up. But if a leader's yes doesn't mean yes, and no doesn't mean no--this creates a malignancy in my soul.

More recently I had an elder respond (verbally) to an email in which I requested a meeting (that he obviously didn’t want to be bothered with) by telling me, in a tone that clearly expressed that he was being unduly and unreasonably put upon, that he was “on a spiritual high from the previous day’s sermon, until reading my email completely brought him crashing down.” My mind still reels from the thought that an elder would say such a thing to a member of his congregation, one in good standing who was serving well and not causing any turbulence in the church, although that shouldn't really matter.

It is this type of affront, from church leaders, that I find nearly impossible to forget and forgive.

Which makes Matthew 18:35 perhaps the hardest of Jesus' hard sayings. It doesn't give you a get-out-of-jail-free card for those times when you are betrayed by church leaders.

And what makes the command to forgive a truly heavy burden is the description, in verse 35, that it is from the heart. That suggests an emotional component to the forgiveness. Sure, I can behave civilly with those I must forgive. I can bump into one of the elders mentioned above and pretend that nothing ever happened and carry on as before, showing no outward sign of the anger within. That, in fact, is what I do. But that resentment is still in my heart.

How to get rid of it? If I had the answer, I’d practice it. If the answer is the usual one, prayer, then I’m doing something wrong.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Event of a Generation

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)
There are three events that have been (sensibly)  proposed as the target of this  prophesy of  Jesus. They are:

  1. The Transfiguration
  2. Pentecost
  3. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple

The first one, the Transfiguration, certainly fits the bill in terms of its magnitude. Those who witnessed the Transfiguration beheld an image of Christ in his glory and power, and heard the voice of the Father. The problem, and it's a big one, is a question of  timing: The Transfiguration would  occur less than a week after this prophecy was uttered. It is hard to imagine why our Lord would say, in effect, "some of you will still be alive six days from now."

Pentecost is also of more than sufficient supernatural Holy Spirit amazement to qualify. However the timeline there, while better, is still a little iffy. If my New Testament chronology is accurate, there were about nine months between the prophecy and Pentecost. Life was tough in first century Palestine, but nevertheless it is reasonable that anyone listening to Jesus' words, if they were not on their deathbed, would  have the expectation to live another nine months.

The last event, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (and the death and enslavement of about a million Jews), came some 40 years later. That certainly fits the  timeline. Only a minority of those listening were likely still around. But does it fit the details and the magnitude of the prophesy? Well I would argue that it fits the magnitude. The Jewish war of rebellion, the horrific siege of  Jerusalem, and the subsequent raid following the breaking of the siege resulted in a million or so Jewish casualties. And it marked the end of Temple worship. It could be argued, reasonably I think, that Temple Judaism was preserved until the nascent Christian movement reached a critical mass. Before that, at least in the eyes of the Romans, Christianity was viewed as a Jewish sect, and so providential protection of Jerusalem also provided safety for the early Christians. But that was temporary; AD 70, some would say, marks the formal end of the Jewish age and the formal onset of the kingdom. However, even if the event itself was of sufficient magnitude, it is not quite satisfactory to tie it directly  to the kingdom coming with power as it was the Romans, not  fire from heaven, that provided the immediate source of destruction.

I lean toward the  third possibility, the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of Temple worship. I think it is  the best fit of the three. But I don't find it a perfect fit.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Harsh Jesus? Never!

Here is, for me, a troublesome passage:
Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:26-29)  [1]
Superficially this, at least to me, makes Jesus sound downright un-Jesus-like. Jesus is saying, if I may paraphrase, “I’m here for the Jews and not for you, the Gentiles.” Even worse, he is using the ultimate no-no of near eastern insults: you dogs. Calling someone a dog in that part of the world is like, in medieval Britain, saying: "Your mother is a hamster, and your father smells of elderberries!" Okay, actually it's much worse.

There is a common explanation for this: That Jesus’ ministry really was just for the Jews, and he had to be convinced, on a case by case basis, to extend his grace to the Gentiles. There are other examples: the Samaritan woman at the well, the Centurion’s servant, etc.  It seems the exception becomes the rule.

I do not buy this explanation. Nor do I buy that the woman’s response was just so clever (and it was indeed clever) that Jesus, highly appreciative of  her intelligence, relented.

No, I think Jesus is using a rhetorical device, and in fact I think that every time Jesus appears harsh it’s only because we can’t see his body language, his expressions, and the tone of his voice to discern that he is using the language richly. I’m speculating, but I think Jesus was being sarcastic, and I think the woman knew it; she picked up on it. I think Jesus was in effect saying:

“Why should I help you, a Gentile? Don’t you know what the Jewish officials think of you? They think you are dogs!”

I don't  think Jesus winked at this point, but I  think his tone and expression sent a virtual wink. Again, just speculating, because I am trying to make this conversation compatible with what we know of the normally gentle character of Jesus, in evidence whenever he had no reason for a display of righteous anger.

She didn’t surprise Jesus with her admirable wit (or maybe she did, with the impressive extent thereof), causing him to relent. He basically was her straight man—he set her up and her reply did not devastate Jesus’ reluctance to help a Gentile, it devastated those who expected Jesus to restrict his healing to the Jews. He used her for a  teachable moment.

At least that’s how I see it. Because I don’t believe Jesus was ever truly harsh.

[1]As a minor point, Matthew describes the woman not as a Phoenician but as a Canaanite. Those are different. Maybe the difference is where she was born compared to where she currently lived. I don’t know. I don’t much care, either.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The gospel summarized in but part of one verse? You betcha!

If I had to choose a single verse that best represents the gospel, it would not be John 3:16. John 3:16 is, no doubt, a beautiful promise of eternity. But to me, stand-alone, it does not  capture the hopelessness of those who are beneficiaries  of the gospel, nor the requisite amazing grace. Standing alone, it could be (and often is) incorrectly understood as salvation by mustering up from within a sufficient, self-created intellectual assent to the simple fact of the existence of Jesus as the son of  God.

I much prefer, for the arbitrary and ad hoc requirement of encapsulating the essence of the gospel as succinctly as possible, 1 Tim 1:15:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners
The rest of the verse is Paul, incredulously to many of us, accepting the title of the chief of the sinners.

Look at this (partial)  verse. Salvation is there. Moral failing is there. And grace abounds there. The gospel is there. All crammed in to that single (first part) of a single verse.

We love to hold our Lord in high esteem because of this: he was a friend of sinners. We view “friend of sinners” as one of the most positive character traits of Jesus. But we should remember that when the description was first applied to Jesus, it was used as an insult. We read what the Pharisees and scribes had to say, as related by Jesus:
34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34)
It is quite possible that what truly incensed the Pharisees was not that Jesus tolerated sinners. To tolerate them, and to console them, and to give them hope in salvation was probably acceptable. No, it wasn’t that Jesus tolerated sinners that made him an object of  derision in the eyes of the Pharisees. In calling Jesus a "friend of sinners," they were complaining that Jesus seemed to prefer the company of such people over the company of the “righteous.” 

That stuck in their craws.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Reliability of New Testament Scripture and the Mauratorian Fragment

The authenticity and reliability of scripture is not necessarily a popular go-to subject. Sometimes we might feel that it is better not to peek behind the curtain, fearful of what we might find. And sometimes the whole debate is trivialized with the circular-argument (begging the question) fallacy. People might use 2 Tim. 3:16 and Ps. 12:6-7 to "prove" that God supernaturally wrote and preserved his word, but the argument is not valid. [1] We can hope that their conclusion is correct, even if their argument is faulty.

In a real sense, the authenticity of all scripture depends on the authenticity of the New Testament. That's because the New Testament has so many references to the old, so many that the New Testament boldly confirms the old. The OT will stand or fall with the NT. So what confirms the new, apart from circular reasoning?

To understand the non-trivial nature of the problem, consider that the first five books of the New Testament, the four gospels and Acts, are all written anonymously. Unlike Paul in his epistles, the writers of these books never self-identify. That presents the problem in stark relief. The biographies of our Lord are written by anonymous writers. We attribute them (correctly in my opinion) to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--but those men, unlike Paul, did not attach their names to the text.

I am not a canon scholar. So take this for what it's worth. For me, there are three reasons to feel confident about the authenticity of scripture, two rational and one irrational (I don't mean that pejoratively) reason.

The irrational reason is the most important. It is (what we take to be) the supernatural internal conviction of the Holy Spirit that what we read is true. This is, to me, a very compelling reason, although non-believers will attribute our credulity to weakness, gullibility, stupidity, indoctrination, etc. But I don't feel weak, gullible, (particularly) stupid, or indoctrinated. So I feel confident that the bible is the word of God because of, rather than in spite of, the fact that I have no compelling reason to do so. I feel the same way as I do about my certainty that the doctrine of election must be the reason behind my belief and conversion: I'm either right about this or I'm insane--for there is no other explanation.

What about the two rational reasons? They are, truth be told, not so much reasons as plausibility arguments.

The first is the self-consistency of scripture. I find the New testament to be entirely self-consistent. The greatest potential inconsistency is when we encounter James writing about the importance of works. But that is dealt with easily and satisfactorily. To this day when I read scripture I am almost alway running a self-consistency test in my head. For the programmers out there, it's constantly running unit tests.

The second rational reason is ancient tradition. [2] This involves going back as far as possible and asking: what did the church believe was scripture? Our earliest answer to this question probably comes from a fragment of ancient text, the Mautaorian fragment. [3] It is a 7th or 8th century Latin fragment discovered in the 18th century. The fragment is believed by many experts to be a translation of a document from the 2nd century. In so much as it lists a canon, it is telling us, assuming it was representative, what the Roman church accepted as canonical.

The fragment is cut off at the top, and starts by referring to Luke as the third book. It follows it with John--so it is a reasonable assumption that the Missing two books are Matthew and Mark. Furthermore, though as mentioned the gospels are written anonymously, this shows (assuming it is a 2nd century list) that very early at at least the 3rd and 4th gospels were attributed to eponymously.

Taken from the wiki article, here is the canon as found in the fragment:

I have to tell myself not to dwell too much on the absence of Hebrews in the list. To me, Hebrews contains a treasure trove of comforting and beloved theology. Of the books not on the Mauratorian list, it is that one that would break my heart if were not really canonical, which of course can never be demonstrated. But I can perform the thought experiment, and all I can tell myself is that Hebrews, as much as I love it, does not establish the gospel, the rest of scripture does, and it does so clearly and unambiguously So the accuracy of the gospel is not at risk in this thought experiment, just some awesome (but not salvation-necessary) doctrine on the priesthood of Christ.

[1] In a doubly fallacious argument, I have heard some argue that the KJV version of Ps. 12:7, which seems to refer to the "words of the Lord" from v. 6, while the later translations do not (e.g., the ESV has it referring to us (God's people) rather than them (possibly the words)) as "proof" that the KJV is the most faithful translation--essentially because it claims to be the best.

[2] There is also a supernatural aspect to the tradition argument, namely the belief that God would supernaturally preserve his word. That is, the conclusions of the fallacious arguments, say those based on 2 Tim. 3:16, are nevertheless correct. I believe that--to me it is the Protestant version of the Roman Catholic argument from Sacred Tradition. In this argument, God supernaturally intervened in the construction of the canon. If you believe the 66 books of the bible all belong in the canon, and not others do, then you have a sacred tradition. What does that mean? Among other things it means your are violating one of the solas, namely Sola Scripture, because the bible's table of contents do not appear in any of the scriptural books, and yet you accept is as infallible. I love Sola Scripture, but I accept this solitary exception.

[3] It is not vitally important, but Wikipedia states that the fragment is a Latin translation of Greek. That is not a certainty. Some scholars argue a number of reasons that it does not read as "translated Greek", and that the original may have also been in Latin.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

What do Trotsky and ARBCA have in common?

Out-of-favor Stalin-era communists like  Trotsky  were “disappeared" from official Soviet photographs, as if they never existed. Similarly the name Association of Reformed Baptists Churches of America (ARBCA) has been discarded by many former proponents and champions, as if it were a coronavirus carrier. This is in light of the scandal in which an ARBCA pastor and highly respected ARBCA theologian and author, with friends and family in ARBCA high places, was accused of bare-bottom spanking boys as a gateway to further abuse. The pastor was the beneficiary of an ARBCA “internal investigation”  rather than, as was required, a notification of police authorities. After surviving the ARBCA investigation, the pastor was later foisted (as pastor) upon an unknowing church seeking entrance to ARBCA. 

The pastor is now serving prison time for child abuse and molestation.   

One judge involved in the proceedings stated that if ARBCA had been on trial, they would likely have been found guilty. Guilty that is, of a cover-up

That (scandal) is the formal cause for the self-destruction of ARBCA, which has gone from more than 80 churches to 17, and which has seen the biggest names in ARBCA resign their positions and withdraw their churches from the association and wipe clean any ARBCA references in their biographies.  Peruse the website of IRBS, the seminary once boastful of its ties to ARBCA, and you’ll no find no extant mention of a connection. Erased. Quarantined.

By the way, the seminary itself, according to this post which I find credible, has not always been forthcoming.

Improperly handled scandal is the formal cause of ARBCA’s inglorious fall, but arrogance is the material cause.  ARBCA is a textbook example of why parachurch organizations are profoundly dangerous. The leadership becomes so certain of their positions that they become tin-pot dictators. And, inevitably, the ends of their holy mission justify, in their eyes, the means. Their rise and fall was more or less right out of central casting:

  • Let’s start with a good idea. Let’s get back to the true reformed theology. 
  • As our doctrinal statement, let’s take a lengthy confession.
  • Let's be sure to say the confession is not scripture, but don’t allow  for  dissent, which makes it effectively infallible, i.e. effectively scripture.
  • A pastor is misbehaving! Let’s deal with this quietly. That is justified, because what we are doing is too important for the kingdom.
  • We are going strong! Let’s demand adherence to more doctrine, doctrine that is not even discussed in our confession. Let’s require all ARBCA churches affirm our version of the Divine Impassibility. If we lose a couple of churches for the sake of doctrinal purity—no big deal, we are growing! (At this point ARBCA became, in my opinion, a denomination, with the ARBCA leadership as its episcopate.)
  • Uh-oh, that scandal we failed to deal with (legally or biblically) is coming back to haunt us, with trials and bad publicity. We apologize—but only after the conviction of one of our own.
  • You know the rest of the story—sinking ship, rats, etc.

As another sign of their arrogance and/or ineptitude, a few years back I searched their website in vain to see whether they allowed women deacons for their member churches. They didn't (don't) but they felt the need not to advertise that position, for reasons I can only speculate were related to public relations, not doctrine. I confirmed their position only through talking to former ARBCA pastors.

The problem that is rarely mentioned is the collateral damage caused by a rogue denomination like ARBCA. A lot of people and churches, even if they didn’t (for whatever logistical reason) join ARBCA, drank freely of the ARBCA Kool-Aid. 

And that, in many cases, was truly unfortunate.