Answering My Conscience; or How I Find Myself Acting Like a Radical Reformer (Even Though I Don’t Know Much About Them) in the Way I Approach Understanding of Scripture

How about that title? I figure since I’m talking about historical orthodox positions, I’d take a historic approach to making titles like Christians of the past were known for doing. 🙂

But seriously, I’ve written in the past about how I believe complementarianism is the biblically faithful way to describe how God has created men and women to relate to one another. Now that’s not really the point of this post, but the fact that I hold that position and actually sat through two systematic theology courses with Bruce Ware help explain why I was rather interesting by the firestorm that erupted over Ware’s (along with Wayne Grudem’s) views on how Jesus relates the Father in the Trinity. I really have very little desire to rehash the whole mess (and it was a mess), but you can go here or here if you really want to read more.

Let me boil down the two basic positions in case you’re normal and don’t care to read the posts I linked to. One side (the “historic” side) is arguing that the councils of the fourth century laid some groundwork on how the persons of the Trinity relate to one another that the other side (Ware/Grudem, a.k.a. the “new” side) are contradicting. (Seriously, I can give you the nuances of the disagreement in the theological minutiae of academia, but it’s not really my point here.) The historic side is calling the new side “heterodox”, which I think is somewhere between orthodoxy and outright heresy (though I’m at a loss to really understand what that means).

Here’s where I care: The historic side is basically saying, “Such and such position was decided on at the council of way-back-when, and so no one can contradict or refine that position.” And now Ware/Grudem have come along, arguing for a position that we all admit somewhat varies from the older position. The shame!

So, what’s the big deal and why am I bothering to write about it? Well, to be honest, I just can’t get myself to side with the historic position dudes because their argument boils down to “it’s older, so it’s better.” And not only that, when they’ve written about it, there’s this condescending tone of “I’d try to explain the nuances of their position, but it’s really complicated and I couldn’t dumb it down enough for you.” So, what they’re defending is a very old position that’s so complicated that only PhDs in historical theology can even understand it.

(Stick with me, I’m really getting there–I promise!)

Well, I’m not one of those PhDs, but I read enough to understand that the historic position is more fundamentally a philosophical position, not a strictly Scriptural position. What I mean is that the position codified at way-back-then council isn’t something that you can point to verses in the actual Bible that defend it, so much as the philosophical and logical necessity of the position in order to make sense of our Trinitarian God.

And now these guys are coming up with a “new” position and–gasp!–it’s based on what they believe the Bible itself actually says. And while they understand that it doesn’t jive well with the historic position, they hold to it because they earnestly believe it’s what the Scriptures teach.

Now, of course, I don’t think either side is claiming that the other side doesn’t care about the actual Bible or logic/philosophy–as the case may be–but in my mind, there’s a fundamental difference in approach. And I fall squarely into the camp of holding the view I can defend from the Bible, even if historical theologians get hives hearing me talk about (though to be fair, I don’t think that’s ever actually happened to me).

As I read the whole thing, I was on the “new” side both in particular and in principle, because I want to base what I believe on what the Word itself says. And while I have great respect for the generations of Christians before me, it doesn’t necessarily hold that just because they lived longer ago than me that they’re right-er than me.

Upon some research, I find myself lining up with a group from the Reformation called the radical reformers. These were the ones who took to heart “Sola Scriptura”, even if what they found contradicted the hallowed councils of the past. And I love them for it. Of course, sometimes they went off into crazy-land. But I so deeply appreciate the desire to follow the Word as faithfully as possible, even if it flew in the face of centuries of church tradition or teaching.

I mean, seriously, look at the 95 Theses and the entire Reformation itself.

At the end of the day, I have to stand or fall on what my conscience and the Holy Spirit in me are convinced is the truth, based on the very Word of God. And it’s simply not good enough for me to find one thing in Scripture and read another thing from some historical council, and let that council trump my heart convictions.

Do I want to be a heretic? No way! Do I want to be informed about and by history? Very much so. But at the end of the day, any historic council was full of people just as sinful and just as redeemed as me. And just as much as I may be wrong,  so may they have been. And I can’t find any part of my heart that can cave my Bible-based convictions because of a council of bishops from centuries past. I’m probably talking in circles at this point. I’m sitting in the room with my family while they watch Pixar Cars, so I’m a tad distracted. I think I feel the weight of the whole conversation, because my church meets in homes, we believe in the full sovereignty of God over salvation, and believe that there is no such thing as a clergy/laity distinction. I hold all of these views from Scripture, but I don’t have much of history on my side.

And the truth is, while it bothers me sometimes, I’m actually fine with that. Because I can defend what I believe from the Bible. And my soul is at peace with it. And the Spirit testifies to my soul that I have to be faithful to what I see, regardless of how much I buck against historical precedent. In that way, I’m very much a descendant of those radical reformers. And this whole controversy I mentioned at the beginning of the post helped me to see this more clearly than I’ve really seen it before.

I’m not ashamed of the heritage I find myself a part of, even if it wasn’t on purpose.