A reader of this blog, David Reece, has had it on his mind for a long time to start a church based on Scripturalist principles. In fact, he has taken the first steps by calling believers in the Phoenix area to come join his efforts. To that end he provided his contact information in the combox of this blog. So, if you are in the Phoenix area and this sounds like something you might want to be a part of you can contact David at dcreece (at) gmail (dot) com. Besides, with the PCA imploding before our eyes the time might be ripe for such a project.
Now, admittedly, when David contacted me in the past my own interest in the project has been quite low. As I explained to David, I just don’t have the time or the resources to devote myself to being involved in the founding of a church, much less a new denomination. I don’t know all that it will take, but I think I would just be happy just with more Clark friendly churches. Besides, I don’t see the need for a Scripturalist church any more than I would think there should be Van Tillian churches (which is something the OPC has sought to become even to this day where well placed and influential Van Tillians have even tried to block the admission of Dr. Robert Reymond into their clique).
Besides, the last attempt I saw at a supposedly “Scripturalist” church was Drake Shelton’s white supremacist anti-trinitarian church complete with a phony website with Clark’s picture prominently displayed. Needless to say with friends like these…. Thankfully, the extent of this “church” remains something that exists only in Drake’s racist Christ denying mind and he said he removed all references to Clark on his website. Let’s hope he keeps it that way.
I think my concern is that Scripturalism is a philosophy, not an institution. That’s not to say that Scripturalism shouldn’t inform all institutions and not just churches. But, I think if Clark’s philosophy was simply understood as Clark understood it then its application to the founding of a church or an entire denomination would be immediately appealing to even those with little familiarity with Clark. Every church should be based on Scripturalist principles as Scripture alone, which rightly understood includes every necessary inference we might draw from Scripture, should be the underlying principle that informs how every church is governed and structured. That’s not Scriputralist per se but confessional and specifically the Westminster variety. In fact, and as many here already know, it was John Robbins who coined the term “Scripturalism” to describe the presuppositional and uniquely biblical philosophy of Gordon Clark. On the other hand, Clark was not so much interested in a descriptive name for his system and even referred to it as anything from the unflattering “Dogmatism” to the highly appealing description he gave it during his exchange with George Mavordes calling it “the Westminster principle.”
So what would a church founded on the Westminster principle look like? Interesting, David reminded me of a piece John Robbins wrote back in 1989 simply title, “The Church.” In the piece John fleshes out a number of underlying principles that are frankly arresting when you compare them to most current Protestant denominations. I think the most revolutionary aspect of the biblical picture John paints, and where it is sure to receive the most resistance, is that it takes direct aim at the professional pastor class. John writes:
The next observation that I wish to make is that all the teachers in the church are to be paid: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. Paul did not ordinarily receive compensation from the churches he helped establish, but he was quite clear in asserting the propriety and the duty of paying teachers according to their competence and diligence. Today many churches pay only one teacher, the minister or priest or pastor, and if they are large enough his associate, his secretary, the janitor, the choir director, and maybe the organist. But that is not what Paul commands. All the oxen, all the teachers, especially those who do their job well and eagerly, are to be paid. That does not mean that they must live solely from the fruits of their labor in the church, but it does mean that their work is to be recognized as valuable by the congregation.
If men are to be elected from the congregation as teachers, chances are they will already have another job by which they can support themselves should the congregation fire them. This would have several beneficial side-effects. If teachers are not completely dependent upon the congregation for their livelihood, they might be less apt to suppress truths that the congregation does not want to hear. Second, if the teachers can partially support themselves, the congregation will be able to support all the teachers according to their competence and diligence. Rather than paying one large salary to one man, the congregation will be able to pay smaller salaries to several men.
This division of labor would have several additional benefits: First, it would tend to reduce burnout. No one man would be expected to carry the load for the church. Second, it would ensure that the church would continue its purpose uninterruptedly should one teacher resign, die, or become involved in a scandal. Third, it would reduce the personality cult and conflict that sometimes cause people to attend and to leave the church because they like or do not like the pastor or the way he preaches. There would be no central figure to like or dislike. There are many more additional benefits from having a plurality of teachers, some of which may not become obvious until it is tried. It is difficult to imagine all the ramifications of a system of church organization that has not been tried in modern times.
Of course, while the above is certainly attractive, what then of all those M.Div. degrees? What then becomes of seminaries that feed the denominations with pastors trained in the philosophic leanings and theological tendencies, if not peculiarities, of a specific seminary? John finds a solution for this too:
This plurality of teachers was the common practice of the apostolic church. Acts 14:23 says that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church. Plural, not singular. One kind of leader, not two, three, four or five. There were no bishops, no right reverends, no cardinals, no archbishops-and certainly no popes. Elders, we are told in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus l, are to be teachers. There was no such thing as a ruling elder who did not teach in the apostolic church order. There is only one set of requirements for the office of elder, and an elder is to be able to teach. Paul did not require seminary training of some elders and not for others. Nor, and this is also very important, was there a teacher who was not ordained. This is because the only way of ruling in the church is by teaching.
Notice, there is no such thing as a “ruling elder” and the only way of “ruling in the church is by teaching.” That’s not to say that a seminary education is of no value, it’s just not required. Again, and for anyone familiar with modern ecclesiastic polity and church structure this is earth shattering. There is no need to call this model of church government and structure “Scripturalist,” because it must be so offensive to the pride of men who have worked so hard and have been called to pastor a church that it would be rejected outright no matter what you call it. Calling it “Scripturalist” only makes it that much easier for the professional pastoring class to dismiss it. Besides, if what John is describing is a picture of a biblical church the message to pastors reading it is to get a “real job.” On the other hand, if John is correct, and I think for the most part he is, then the biblical model of the church is far more organic and “ground up” rather than “top down” than anyone could have imagined.