This notice is by no means limited to the two named in the title, but is for all who have misappropriated the biblical theme of “exile” in order to describe the status of the Christian church in this age. The denial of God’s Law for social ethics entails the denial of it in total, including for personal ethics. It’s only a matter of time, then, before it becomes of question of how far we sell out in denying it. And now we have a case in point:
A PCA—not, as you might hope to be the case, a PCUSA, but a PCA—church has posted a blog that is not only favorable to the recent SCOTUS opinion on Obergefell, but lauds the half of its congregation that broke out their rainbow colors, calls the pro-traditional marriage half weaker brethren (per Romans 14), and asserts that the two can worship together because such moral issues become “relativized” in our union with Christ.
But the part that stands out most to me is the theological justification given for these abominations. Here’s what the blog argues:
Secondly, we should remember that it’s possible hold views about what the Bible teaches without necessarily advocating for the government to hold those views. If we lived in a theocracy, when the government strayed outside of what the Bible commends and condemns then there would be a need, if not a moral mandate to remind the government of it’s [sic] foundational commitment to God’s word. But, our government operates as a pluralistic democracy. And like God’s people who were exiled to Assyria, Babylon, and Persia in the 8th–6th centuries [B.C.], to expect our government to reflect our religious principles could be short-sighted. As Christians in Portland, we don’t live in Jerusalem but in Babylon.
There you have it: radical two kingdoms and “exile” theology directly applied. This is the mistaken view that the church’s place in this world is like that of the ancient Israelites when under God’s judgement in Babylon. The problem is that the more you cede to the State, and the more it takes, the more you will be forced to rationalize ethics in general in order to keep butts in the pew.
Such rationalizing and pandering to unbelief has been apparent for decades in the use of the term “theocracy” as a scarecrow. These exile theologians have already been doing this for years. What they never tell anyone is that this unfortunate talk legitimizes the unbelieving world’s use of it. It is, of course, a tradeoff. The conservatives who speak leftist in turn get a seat at the leftist tables for the meantime. They get social respectability. For a while. Then the progressives, as progressives do, progress a bit further. One day, the compromised conservative will be forced to admit what bed they’ve been waking up in for so long, and why. The “we hate theocracy too!” crowd is now becoming the “we love ‘rainbows’ too!” crowd.
I have previously spent quite some time dealing with this “exile” error, particularly when Westminster Seminary professor Carl Trueman asserted it in his article “A Church for Exiles.” Likewise, in regard to Michael Horton’s treatment of the Great Commission, which somehow inverted even that uncompromising and universal charge into a theology of the church’s exile. The relevant section of that critique, “Are Christians Pilgrims in Exile?,” is worth the reader revisiting.
In the essay on Trueman’s view, I noted the true nature of this error, and the challenge it poses for faithfulness:
When Christians begin allowing cultural shifts and historical circumstances to define their faith and their interpretation of the Word, it is a weakness analogous to apostasy, only a step removed.
The challenge to us today is that the theology of exile is as powerful as the illusions of defeat. That is one reason why cultural irrelevance seems so relevant.
What these men have done is to lay the intellectual foundations for apostasy. And what we see here in this Portland PCA post, founded squarely upon the “exile” theology of the exile theologians like Trueman and Horton, building on those foundations. What we see is that very apostasy—only now it is not a step away. Now the ethical-judicial view of Christian life is not only removed from the Great Commission. Now not only is the Law removed from applicability to civil government or the world outside the church in general. Now it is being pushed to the back of the bus inside the Church as well. Now, those who uphold this view are called weaker brethren and the pro-homosexual crowd is being asked to tolerate them.
You know what this is called? This is not called “exile.” This is called having your lampstand removed.
And I predict that if anything serious comes of this, it will be that at most this particular church will not be allowed to remain in the PCA. We won’t see any admission of the theological foundations of this error, but only a sanction for building upon them.
If this church is allowed to remain PCA, it will be an indication of that denomination’s haste to catch up to their progressive counterparts in the PCUSA. But I suspect some pressure will be put on them either to post a “clarification,” or eventually to leave the denomination (or some version of a church split).
Whatever happens, this move still shows the logical fruit of the “exile” theology upon which it is built. Denying God’s Law in social ethics logically entails denying it in personal ethics as well. There goes the neighborhood. And there goes the family, too. And then you will see allegedly conservative churches speaking of “relativizing” Christian ethics in our union with Christ.
I repeat my conclusion to the Trueman piece:
If, however, we dare to follow a Winthrop or a Warfield, or even a Calvin or a Knox, and champion worldwide influence, social change, and victory in it, then let us look past the mere circumstances that bend the knees and wills of lesser men, and stand fast. For we are no longer strangers, pilgrims, or exiles. We have come to mount Zion. We are here. The law shall flow from Zion and all nations shall come to it. It may not look like it right now, but by all accounts that is what the eye of faith is for: believing the promise of the One who calls things that are not as though they were.
Choose ye this day: the eyes of faith, or the blind and their ditch. Choose ye this day: the promises of the God who brought us out of exile, or the theologians who work so hard to keep us in it.