December 12, 2019

Escaping the Wilderness: Part 4 – My Pastor’s not a Heretic… Phew!

Well it’s official. The Gospel Coalition do not consider my Pastor a heretic.

I don’t think I would have gotten off so lightly.

I haven’t really talked about where I have been attending church the last few years, but what was intended to be a temporary location to place my butt on a Sunday morning has now turned into three plus years with all indications that it could become rather permanent.

I have been attending “The Meeting House”, a church in a denomination with an Anabaptist heritage. Here is the other interesting part. The church has an average Sunday morning attendance of 5000.

I am going to get into both the church’s size and theology over the next two weeks, and why it is a good fit for me In the meantime an item has come up that is getting some interest up here in Canada, and I thought it would be worth talking about here.

Let me give you a bit of background first.

The Meeting House is a member of the “Brethren in Christ” (“Be in Christ” in Canada). From Wikipedia:

The Brethren in Christ trace their denomination back to a group of Mennonites who lived just north of Marietta, Pennsylvania on the east side of the Susquehanna River. As they met to study the Bible and to experience God in the 1770s, the people of this group who became known as the River Brethren developed a conviction that believer’s baptism by trine immersion was the scriptural form of baptism. The River Brethren of the 18th century also held to a firm reliance on the centricity of Scripture. As their Pietist lifestyles and their beliefs regarding baptism continued to develop, they began to distance themselves from other Anabaptist denominations such as the Mennonites and German Baptists, of which groups they had previously been a part.

A Wesleyan emphasis on holiness had a strong influence on the group around the turn of the previous century, and then in 1950, the denomination decided to intentionally become more outward looking, and moved to align themselves more with evangelicals, ditching many of their established “rules and regulations” along the way.

Still, the denomination in North America was pretty small. When evangelicals met to hammer out the “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy”, the Brethren in Christ weren’t even invited to the table. As a result “Inerrancy” isn’t even part of the Meeting House vernacular. Neither is a whole bunch of other stuff which are typically of concern to evangelicals. I will be expanding on this next week as to why this is important to me.

Fast forward forty years.

Enter Bruxy Cavey (pictured above). From the Christian Courier:

The fortunes of this small denomination changed quite suddenly in Canada in 1996 when the celebrated hippie-like preacher Bruxy Cavey was invited to serve as pastor at a small BIC church plant in Oakville. Within a few years the community of 150 grew to over 1,000 and by 2014 what became called The Meeting House had expanded to include 14 different regional sites with 5,000 weekly attendees and probably about 8,000 people who call it their “home church.”

Not only did this one congregation more than double the number of BIC-associated people in Canada, it sent a ripple of change through the denomination’s culture. This marginal Canadian Christian group was suddenly seeing one of its congregations in national newspapers, and one of its pastors on Christian TV, with a bestseller on Amazon and one of the top “religion and spirituality” podcasts in the nation. People were joining The Meeting House from every Christian denomination in Ontario — from Roman Catholics to Reformed and even the United Church. Almost overnight, the BIC moved from the shadows to the limelight.

Some people got concerned. Bruxy, and indeed the whole denomination holds some views that other segments of evangelicalism are uncomfortable with. You can google “Bruxy Cavey Heretic” to get a sampling of these concerns.

Enter The Gospel Coalition.

Providentially, the TGC Executive Council was also beginning to feel the need for some sort of formal inquiry into The Meeting House phenomenon. Many of our churches were wondering how to relate to this new movement. Should they be considered allies? Enemies? Or something in between? We had all seen the video clips and the tweets but in truth, no one on the council was more informed than me so I was volunteered to open a dialogue.

We had three basic goals for the conversation.

First of all, we wanted to understand. Bad things happen in our world when people shoot first and ask questions later. We wanted to do more than react to statements and clips, we wanted to seek context, ask questions, hear testimony and probe motivations.

Secondly, we wanted to provide some kind of summary analysis and recommendation for our people. TGC Canada exists to resource churches in their efforts to reach their communities with the Gospel. It’s our job to do homework on behalf of busy pastors and leaders and then to share and distribute what we’ve learned. This analysis and summary represents my personal effort to provide such a resource; a collaborative statement will be developed and released shortly by the council as a whole.

Thirdly, we wanted to model a better way of engaging in dialogue with our theological and ecclesiological neighbours. Social Media is a mixed blessing – at best. It encourages sharing things that we do not really understand and have not personally looked into. It encourages mob mentality and it by-passes prayer and sober process.

The conversations and conclusions are available ere, here, here, and here. I encourage you to read them, they are both informative and interesting.

Honestly, though, it did not feel like a conversation to me, nor to several other friends who have come upon the dialogue. It felt like an inquisition with The Gospel Coalition setting themselves up as judge and jury. A true dialogue would have had more challenges to the Gospel Coalition. For example, something along the lines of “So, don’t you think the Gospel Coalition’s treatment of women is a barrier to the gospel?”

Bruxy Cavey passes muster. The leader of the inquisition pronounced:

Having summarized my observations, I am ready to render my conclusion.

Bruxy Cavey is not a heretic.

He’s an Anabaptist.

Does he have no idea how pretentious that sounds?

Does he have no sense of the history of reformers (TGC is a Reform movement) pronouncing judgement on Anabaptists and then executing them?

But here is paragraph that really caught my eye in his recommendation to churches:

Within your church, state your convictions clearly

Preach, write, blog and publish what you believe. Work very hard to ground all of your terminology and definitions in the text. Go through your Statement of Faith with your Board. Make sure you understand what you believe.

Preach, pray and proclaim your heart out!

Be wonderfully and marvelously precise in your statements! Getting it right MATTERS! See, say and savor every aspect, shade and nuance that is legitimately present in the display of God’s glory in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Don’t pull your punches and do not be afraid to require essential agreement upon Gospel matters within your membership – and particularly within your leadership culture.

You see, if they had been investigating me, and my writings at Internet Monk, I don’t think I would have gotten off so lightly. From the paragraph above, I certainly wouldn’t be welcome within their church. This is a large part of the reason why I have ended up at a church like The Meeting House in the first place. More on that next week.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. The TGC has determined that your pastor’s not a heretic? My condolences. I guess you’ll have to move on now — good luck in your search for a new church home.

  2. The TGC would pronounce Jesus a heretic on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount alone.

    • Pellicano Solitudinis says

      I suspect Calvin himself might not even pass muster.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Like the Taliban are More Islamic than Mohammed, so the TGC are more Calvinist than Calvin. More Calvinist than Calvin’s wildest dreams.

        “I am not a Marxist.” — Karl Marx, near the end of his life
        “I am not a Darwinist.” — Charles Darwin, similar situation
        “I am not a Calvinist.” — John Calvin in the same position?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      True that. TGC: Tedious Grannies Coalition. No disrespect for grannies intended, there are good grannies, but those tedious ones … oopfh.

    • Yeah, like, Jesus saying, “Guys, I rose from the dead… my life/ministry was WAY more than just those hours on the cross…” and like, “Look at Me, get your noses out of the text…I’m so much more than a few words printed on paper!”

      • The problem is (as Andrew) their focus is completely on the cross – it’s all about personal salvation. What Jesus said and did during his life doesn’t matter (except that he perfectly kept the OT Law). It reminds me of what N. T. Wright wrote in the first chapter of his ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ (probably the most important ‘Jesus’ book of the 20th century):

        ‘The reformers had very thorough answers to the question “why did Jesus die?”; they did not have nearly such good answers to the question “why did Jesus live?” Their successors to this day have not often done any better. But the question will not go away. If the only available answer is “to give some shrewd moral teaching, to live an exemplary life, and to prepare for sacrificial death”, we may be forgiven for thinking it a little lame. It also seems, as we shall see, quite untrue to Jesus’ own understanding of his vocation and work.’

  3. “Be wonderfully and marvelously precise in your statements! Getting it right MATTERS! See, say and savor every aspect, shade and nuance that is legitimately present in the display of God’s glory in the cross of Jesus Christ.”

    I once thought that myself. It eventually became clear that in many cases, those of us who were the most precise in our theology were often the least pastoral and Christ-like.

    • Pellicano Solitudinis says

      When I read that, my first thought was a quotation from *The Crucible*: “The Devil is precise.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      “shade and nuance that is legitimately present in the display of God’s glory”

      Emphasis: legitimately

      So now lets nit-pick glory.

      • “So now lets nit-pick glory.”

        So you’ve been on reformed theology discussion lists too eh? 😉

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I live in West Michigan – the Reformed are unavoidable.

          Exactly any topic what-so-ever can devolve into tedious Theology served with a whipped topping of cultural myopia, class bias, and ahistorisism. Those later three things are kinda “whatever” pervasive anywhere, but served on a foundation of Theology, its just “Ugh!”. From the the affluent Reformed the “glory” of God is like being handed a Popsicle on a hot day and then realizing the Popsicle is make of lead.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And while they parse Theology letter-by-letter, pastors’ widows still have to eat out of dumpsters.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Emphasis: legitimately

        Translation: MINE, NOT THINE!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Be wonderfully and marvelously precise in your statements! Getting it right MATTERS!”

      “For in the Devil’s theology, the most important thing is to Be Absolutely Right and to prove everyone else to Be Absolutely Wrong.”
      — Thomas Merton, “Moral Theology of the Devil”

    • “Be wonderfully and marvelously precise in your statements! Getting it right MATTERS! See, say and savor every aspect, shade and nuance that is legitimately present in the display of God’s glory in the cross of Jesus Christ.”

      well, howz ’bout THIS for hitting the nail on the head???

      ” SI COMPRENDIS, NON EST DEUS ”

      (‘if you understand him, he is not God.’)

  4. Mike, that is so interesting! I live a few minutes away from Marietta Pa… and btw, the River Brethren (ultra conservative Anabaptists) still exist and I believe are growing; more through family growth than building megachurches 🙂 You might be interested in these talks by a River Brethren speaker giving an overview of their history and the reasons why, in his view. victorymusicservices.org/anabaptist-identity-conference/ (add www/https) and then sessions 04 and 05, Quest for Piety and Obedience… Personal disclaimer, I do not back all the positions/ideas found in these AIC talks, but I enjoyed these River Brethren history ones; having known of the River Brethren all my life, but not knowing the why.
    And thanks for sharing your story so far.

    • Michael Bell says

      Also from Wikipedia:

      “As of 2010 there are four bodies of River Brethren in about 300 congregations:

      Brethren in Christ Church
      Calvary Holiness Church
      Old Order River Brethren (also called Yorker Brethren)
      United Zion Church”

      The initial split between the Brethren in Christ and what you now know as the River Brethren (probably the Old Order River Brethren) occurred in 1856.

      As an interesting side note. My great-grandfather was a Brethren in Christ missionary to Africa in 1907. My Grandmother left the movement when she married my Grandfather, though she maintained some ties.

      So in some senses I have come full circle.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says

    Bruxly: “””Again, part of the problem is that as an Anabaptist I don’t feel compelled to defend reformed terminology. Anabaptists in our tradition … do not use the word “inerrancy” in our theology statements. An emphasis on the concept and word “inerrancy” comes from your struggles and battles, not ours. “””

    I will say, I like how this Mr. Bruxly rolls.

    “””Bruxly: Yes. Even though I tend to use the “authority” word group for Jesus, I’m right with you here.
    TGC: That’s good to hear because I think some folks within the wider evangelical world are concerned that you are laying the groundwork for a more significant departure from Pauline teachings. They are worried that you are trying to wedge open the door in order to drive something bigger through it.”””

    Oh, TGC, TGC….

    “””Buxly: I would say this is an example of Divine judgement. And I would probably, at this point, ask you out of curiosity, what made you think I might answer otherwise?
    TGC: Sound bites, anecdotes and assumptions likely. I think most reformed folks would assume that because you are committed to pacifism you are going to have trouble making sense of the Old Testament. We further assume that if you won’t see judgment in the Old Testament then you likely won’t see it in the New Testament and that leads us to wonder whether or not you believe in some form of universalism.”””

    Cultural myopia much?

    This reminds we of watching a reporter try to gotcha a Supreme Court Justice in an interview – the intellectual deftness of the exchange being akin to a battle between some dude’s yacht and a Mississippi class battleship.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      The linked “Seeking Clarity With Bruxy Cavey” interviews are definitely worth the read.

      “””Bruxly: No. We hold to a traditional understanding of what the Bible teaches about marriage. No surprises there. What makes us different and strange to some Christians is that we believe it is possible for good and godly Christians to disagree on this issue. True, some Christians embrace a progressive agenda out of a desire to be culturally relevant or because they see same sex marriage as a social justice issue first and a biblical issue second. They are following their heart, and if the Bible doesn’t support their conclusions, their heart wins. But there are other Christians who care deeply for being biblically aligned and genuinely believe that Scripture points toward same sex marriage being an accommodation that God might allow for such a time as this. I can disagree with them, but don’t have to conclude that they are not Christians because of our disagreement.
      TGC: I’d love to follow up on that if I could; ; you appeared in an online video apologizing to the gay community on behalf of the Christian community; did some people assume from that a change in your position on same sex marriage?
      Bruxly: Yes, but I think that’s on them. . . . “””

      Impressive.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        TGC: “””Providentially, the TGC Executive Council was also beginning to feel the need for some sort of formal inquiry into The Meeting House phenomenon. Many of our churches were wondering how to relate to this new movement. Should they be considered allies? Enemies? Or something in between?”””

        The last one reads as if the TGC views themselves as some kind of Nation State, or the anointed United Nations of Christianity. The need for a formal inquiry into someone else’s church?

        TGC: “””Of course, granting people the right to their own language does not imply “”” – – – ***Granting*** people “the right to . . .”. Holy crap dude. Please, come use that language in a community meeting. I will be in the front row with popcorn.

  6. Years ago here in Boston, I was involved with a Southern Baptist church plant (helping with their homeless ministry, not attending their Sunday services). At some point I found out that their pastor had gone through the websites of every church in Boston and rated them as either “Bible-believing” or not based on their statements of faith. They’d then come up with a rotation of “approved” churches that their church would pray for on Sundays. The whole thing struck me as extremely distasteful.

    At the time, my own church had no chance of meeting their approval, because we didn’t even have a statement of faith – instead we had a Rule of Life, which focused on how we wanted to live and what sort of people we wanted to be instead of on what we thought people ought to believe.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      At some point I found out that their pastor had gone through the websites of every church in Boston and rated them as either “Bible-believing” or not based on their statements of faith.

      Purity of Ideology, Comrades.
      Purity of Ideology.

      All I can say is the majority of spiritual abuse I’ve experienced in my life came from the Born-Again Bible-Believers(TM).

  7. My first thought was, “And just who does TGC think it is?” I probably don’t want to know their answer.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      TGC: the True Guardians of Christianity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        God is So Lucky to Have Them.
        Whatever would God do on J-Day without TGC whispering in His Ear (like Grima Wormtongue to King Théoden) as to Who’s REALLY Saved and Who’s NOT?
        “ME SHEEP! HIM GOAT! HIM GOAT! HIM GOAT! HIM GOAT! …”

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    1) Is the Brethren in Christ related to the United Brethren? (Another Anabaptist church in the Pennsylvania area.)

    2) During the Reformation Wars, the only thing the Pope, Luther, and Calvin could agree on was a Final Solution to the Anabaptist Problem.

    • Michael Bell says

      1) From Wikipedia “While they were associated with the United Brethren during the early decades, they never joined when the movement [United Brethren] formalized into a denomination.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        So they’re closely-related, but a separate branch.

        One of my writing partners is Anabaptist, and describes it this way:
        “You have Anabaptists. Mennonites are one step beyond Anabaptists; Old Order Mennonites are one step beyond Mennonites; Amish are one step beyond Old Order Mennonites, and Old Order Amish are one step beyond Amish.” He did not think it was possible to get one step beyond Old Order Amish.

        (Incidentally, we have Amish in SoCal, at least passing through. I see them once or twice a week on the station platforms at Fullerton.)

        • I don’t know what your partner means by his classification, but all the varieties of Mennonites (the Mennonites that I know think it’s funny that the only form of Christianity with more branches than Mennonites, at approximately 105 different kinds, are the Baptists with a 110) and all the varieties of Amish are all equally Anabaptist, however strict or lax there peculiar observances.

  9. Burro (Mule) says

    How can we tell the difference between someone who is twisting Scripture to support their rebellion (or because their neuroses require it) and someone who genuinely believes they are being biblical? Well, we can’t… from a distance.

    Ding, ding, ding

    Is Rev, Cavey’s church poaching believers from TGC-style churches? It seems like this is the sole reason for the inquiry. TBH though, if I were a thoughtful unbeliever with a bent towards trying to understand Christianity, I would be more likely to be attracted to Rev. Cavey than to anyone in the YRR crowd.

    Maybe not. I have a problem with hyperrationalism and intellectual pride; a constellation of pathologies custom fit for succumbing to Reformed Christianity. Maybe normal emtionally-healthy nonbelievers would be attracted to Cavey. He seems like a congenial guy.

    I loved what he said about the Reformed being too liberal for him.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Maybe not. I have a problem with hyperrationalism and intellectual pride; a constellation of pathologies custom fit for succumbing to Reformed Christianity.

      In my college days in the Seventies, that constellation of pathologies more often fit Soviet Communism. The KGB of the period actually had a native agent recruiting profile targeting it called “Disaffected Intellectual”.

      I loved what he said about the Reformed being too liberal for him.

      He sounds well on his way to the theoretical end state of Reformed Protestantism, The One Truly Reformed Church Of Only One with the One True Perfectly-Parsed Theology, denouncing everyone else as Heretics and Apostates. A.W.Pink is the type example of a theologian who reached that end state, and my writing partner knew a guy who came close.

  10. It’s interesting how often “heretics” are despised much more than non-believers. And how often the “heresy” turns out to be one largely of style and approach. Pastor Cavey reminds me of Nadia Bolz-Weber. Once you get past the look of things she turns out to be perfectly orthodox. How often one fails to get past the look of things!

    I have to confess to be slightly disappointed however. What the Church needs now is a good heresy. Might shake things up!

    • –> “It’s interesting how often ‘heretics’ are despised much more than non-believers.”

      I think that’s because people view heretics as more likely to lead believers off the “true” path and onto a path that has nothing to do with “truth” than non-believers are. Take universalism. That’s viewed by many believers as a heretical (and TGC pretty much states it as such). Now, a non-believer is unlikely to get a believer to believe in universalism, but a Christian who has drifted toward that belief might get others to see it that way. (I speak this of personal experience. When a good friend of mine told me ages ago that he’d begun to see God’s saving grace as more universal, I thought of him as a heretic. Well, now I view it that way, too…LOL.)

    • “It’s interesting how often “heretics” are despised much more than non-believers.”

      Non-believers are just the enemy. “Heretics” are *traitors*.

  11. The problem with TGC and their ilk is that implicit in their thinking, writing and way of being is the assumption that only they can determine what is right and whether someone is toeing the line or not.

    Jesus had some pointed words for religious leaders like that.

    It’s also very telling that they don’t say anything about loving God and your neighbors and enemies.
    Jesus thought that was pretty important. Top of the list pretty much.

    • Yep. Me-thinks TGC folks should read their Bible more, especially the Jesus parts.

      • The problem is, they do read those parts – but they read them backwards, via the lens of the OT covenants. They do not contextualize the old covenants into Jesus – they contextualize Jesus into the covenants.

  12. The Anabaptists of old had a gravitas earned by their witness to their beliefs in the face of persecution;
    and their descendants benefit from that credibility even today.

    The TGC does not appear to have a proper Christian humility at this time, no.

  13. The pacifism of Anabaptist communities provides something that Reformed spirituality usually does not: a means — the serious pursuit and practice of pacifism — by which the community, and the individual in it, may be conformed to the image of Christ by imitating his life and death. I’m not saying that all Anabaptists, or even most, are conscientious in this pursuit and practice; I know they are not. But the communally supported option of engaging in a practice that is not all notional, and that actually puts one’s body and physical being into play as part of following Christ, makes a tremendous difference between a religion of only the head, and one involving the whole human being.

  14. Goddammit–Carter and Cavey both looked over the transcripts of their dialogue, and I guess neither of them knew the difference between “tenet” and “tenant.