Thursday, December 27, 2007

Facing up to false teaching in the public square

What should be done about dangerous theological errors that are out in the open and freely available through old and new media?

Here are some suggestions:

1. The truths that are under attack should be articulated, once more, with clarity, on their own terms and without misrepresentation.

2. These truths should be given clear Biblical and theological defense.

3. Matters of history and historical theology, relevant to the specific doctrines under debate (true and false), should be put forward.

4. The errors in question ought to be carefully examined and written documents produced showing their demonstrable falsity.

5. Where necessary, depending on the nature and spread of the errors, new boundaries should be drawn up to exclude these errors from churches and Christian organisations.

6. Appropriate materials, in terms of readership, should be produced that promote the truth and prosecute errors. The promotion of truth will finally be the most important aspect of this work. When the names of heretics are barely discernible on their gravestones, the truth will still be alive and well.

7. Whilst it will be necessary to deal with error if it is a clear and present danger, the whole counsel must still be preached, churches planted, and the saints built up. As Calvin said "ministers have two voices, one for the sheep and one for the wolves." The one must not drown out the other.

8. Depending on the nature of the institution (local church, denomination, seminary, parachurch organisation), its agreed constitution, and its confessional commitments, further steps can and should be taken to deal with error.

John Owen was commissioned by the Council of State to refute Socinianism. The result of this was the publication in 1655 of Vindicae Evangelicae or The Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated and Socinianism Examined (Works of John Owen, Vol. XII).

The "preface to the reader" is addressed to those that labour in the word and doctrine in England, Scotland and Ireland. Owen defends the public manner of his address by stressing the danger posed by Socinianism:
It is about your great interest and concernment, your whole portion and inheritance, your all, that I am to deal with you.
The errors that Owen takes up and refutes concern the denial of the eternal deity of Christ and the nature of his atoning work (satisfaction by substitution). It is interesting to observe his comments on John Biddle the English Socinian:
The man is a person whom, to my knowledge, I never saw, nor have been at all curious to inquire after the place of his habitation or course of his life...It is not with his person that I have any contest; he stands or falls with his own master.
Public errors required public polemics proportionate to the dangers posed by them. It was the right thing to do to call on Owen to examine and refute these errors. It was also a good thing that Owen set out to deal with the theological issues at hand for the benefit of a wide audience.

How often is it the case that critics are censured for failing to pursue private discussions with those alleged to be in error when those very errors have themselves been promoted in the public square? The logic is somewhat disingenuous. If men will publicly attack inerrancy, justification, penal substitution etc. and make their teaching freely available in books and online materials, their views ought to be critiqued in the same way. Then again false teachers want freedom to promote their ideas and muzzles placed on those who oppose them.


Anonymous said...

Hey... Have you ever lived in Cleveland? That's Old Stone Church, in Public Square.

Martin Downes said...

No, but I thought that the picture was great.