Wednesday, September 27, 2006

American P.I.E. V

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

This is the fifth and final installment of the American PIE series. Part one was a not too serious introduction and part two focused on the P in the PIE: pietism in general. Part three addressed the rationalistic side of pietism and part four addressed the experiential side of pietism. This part will focus on the E in the PIE: egalitarianism.

Egalitarianism
Individualism runs throughout. For most everything of significance, authority and responsibility center on the individual. Along with this comes the belief that any individual is competent and equipped to do most anything.

Held most strongly by: General and Particular Baptists, Restoration movement churches, Bible churches, non-denominational churches, most holiness movement and Pentecostal churches, most “generic evangelicals”

The great concern of egalitarianism is: subjection to oppressive, authoritarian rulers. This, of course, is a very American concern. Egalitarianism is largely a reaction against this foe.

Core Assumptions:

1. hierarchy: Any significant concept of hierarchy is rejected. A false dichotomy is often set up between localized authority (residing in, e.g., the local congregation or the individual) and oppressive, top-down authoritarianism. The idea that the body of Christ as a whole (e.g., via councils) has judicially binding authority is rejected in favor of “autonomy,” i.e., self-law. The one/unity and the many/diversity are not equally ultimate as one would expect from a Trinitarian theology. Instead, the many/diversity is quite a bit more central and important than the one/unity. Thus, egalitarianism is inherently “polytheistic” in structure even though evangelical Protestants obviously don’t translate this over into theology proper.

2. representation: Any significant concept of representation is rejected. Direct democracy is the ideal. Since representation is a key aspect of the covenants that God has made with His people, egalitarianism is inherently anti-covenantal.

3. individual competency: Any given individual is competent to do almost anything and he is responsible for almost everything. Thus for example, all Christians are qualified and capable exegetes who should be doing most of their own biblical study/exegesis. They are also qualified evangelists who should routinely be engaged in evangelism.

Some Effects:

1. individualistic hermeneutic: “The right of private interpretation” is a common phrase. It is simply a given that everyone is a competent biblical exegete who should be doing such exegesis often and by himself (or in small groups without ordained teaching oversight). The Bible is essentially and fundamentally seen to belong to the individual instead of to the body of Christ, the Church. Because of this, many biblical passages are decontextualized and applied directly to each individual. Thus for example, passages that promise the Spirit’s guidance to specific biblical individuals, ordained ministers, or the Church in general are redirected to apply directly to each modern individual. As another example, it is simply assumed that the Great Commission was given to each individual. In reality, it was given to ordained ministers.

2. congregational form of government: Local congregations are seen as “autonomous.” Authority and responsibility are pushed to the most local level possible, and hierarchy is eliminated (as much as is practically possible without creating rank chaos). Each individual congregation does what is right in its own eyes. Even though democracy is scarcely seen in the Bible (not in the family, Church, or state), a high priority is placed on decisions made via a direct democratic (demos = people, kratos = rule) vote. This leads to...

3. sectarianism: If authority is more or less exclusive to the most local entity possible (e.g., the single congregation or the individual), factionalism is inevitable. With something like 30,000 Protestant denominations in America, “atomism” is American Protestantism’s middle name.

4. “decisionism” / voluntary membership: The Church functions far more like a club than it does a family. Having a voluntary membership is of paramount importance. Each individual must first mature and then make his own decision to accept Jesus and enter the Church. The idea that someone may be adopted into the Church without his mature input is unacceptable. This of course works against the concept of covenantal representation and it doesn’t sit well at all with the concept of Christendom (which is usually seen to be inherently compromised by formalism). This fits together well with…

5. credo-only church w/ credo-only sacraments: Egalitarianism presupposes maturity in thought and capabilities (e.g., small children and the mentally handicapped cannot vote, preach the gospel, privately interpret Scripture). Therefore, the immature are not members of the Church in any significant way (at least not formally) and the sacraments do not belong to them. Moreover, since egalitarianism rejects any concept of representation, the biblical concept of household circumcision/baptism is quite foreign.

6. para-Church focused: In American Protestantism, a significant amount of teaching comes from para-Church organizations and/or itinerant preachers that have little or no accountability to a Church hierarchy. Significant teaching also comes from small group Bible studies that do not have ministerial oversight. Compare this to how teaching is normally conducted in the Bible.

7. imprimatur process: This is nonexistent in the American Protestant world.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Lance Roberts said...

Wow, I'm pretty shocked that any evangelical would think that the Great Commission and studying the Bible only apply to ordained ministers.

9/27/2006 7:09 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Yes, this might deserve a bit more explanation. Especially in view of the fact that the Great Commission is read to the congregation at the end of every service where Derrick and I go to church.

10/23/2006 3:50 PM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

For the record (i.e., all three people who see this), it’s been quite a while since I’ve considered myself an evangelical and I don’t think the bare idea of Bible study is problematic. But I do think the way it is often conducted in America is a good and consistent application of the PIE (maybe that should read “slice of the PIE”).

As far as our weekly service commission goes, I’d guess that since this practice started, not one of us in the pews has either baptized someone or even made any effort to baptize someone. I would also be surprised if more than a couple of us have presented any significant amount of teaching to newly baptized converts, and I doubt any of us has made any inroads into “teaching all that I have commanded” (a command I would identify with the teaching office).

So does this mean that we are in high rebellion against this command? I don’t think so, because I don’t think individual laymen have a moral responsibility to administer the Sacraments or to take on offices (e.g., evangelist, teacher) to which they haven’t been installed. God gave some (not all) to be evangelists, teachers, etc. I think there are clear divisions of labor/gifts/authority/responsibility in the Bible that show up in the family, Church, and state. It is of the essence of egalitarianism to significantly downplay or eliminate these divisions/distinctions. The every-man-an-evangelist view is one consistent application of that. And as a result, there are probably more than a few evangelical laymen out there carrying around unnecessary guilt because they don’t think they have witnessed to enough people. I confess that I don’t understand our current commission practice. It seems to me that things like the dominion mandate would be much more applicable.

10/25/2006 11:51 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Well, I do teach quite a bit to two newly baptised members of our church. I'm talking about my children of course. I don't teach them exclusively of course but I do feel responsible for teaching and training them all the things that Jesus commanded.

10/25/2006 12:10 PM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

I agree that in the general sense of the term, many people "teach" many things. And there are some more specific applications such as parents teaching their children. But this is clearly not the context of the GC where Jesus tells Church ministers to "make disciples of all nations" by baptizing and teaching "all things." This isn't a command for parents to instruct their children (something that can be found elsewhere). This is the "job description" of evangelists and we laymen really don't do this. But I don't think that is a problem.

10/26/2006 7:56 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

So in order to meet this requirment, an evangalist must in some sense teach all nations? In what sense? Travel to another country and teach the bible? How many countries will qualify them to meet this requirement?

Don't mean to be sarcastic here but I suppose I need to look into this a bit more.

10/26/2006 10:12 AM  
Blogger Derrick Olliff said...

These questions are moving in a direction I'm not. I’m not making any claims about quantity of nations per evangelist. I’m simply pointing out that the audience of the GC is not Christian parents qua parents, Christians in general, laymen, etc. and that the actions of the GC are not things that we do. The whole context of the passage from the audience to the content is one of evangelists being commissioned to evangelize and bring people into the Church. This is very different from, e.g., Eph. 6:4 where a minister exhorts fathers in general to train their children. All laymen fathers have a duty to train their children. I don’t think they also have a duty to be evangelists, deacons, teachers, etc.

The GC is not talking about some very generic sense of ‘teach’ or ‘evangelize’ that would include any kind of teaching from anyone or any good deeds performed before unbelievers that then get them interested in Christianity. It is a commission to ordained ministers to fulfill their office.

10/27/2006 7:21 AM  

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