It’s amazing what you can find on the internet. Don’t ask me how I stumbled across this the other night, but I found a quotation from yours truly cherry-picked for the consumption of the radical two kingdoms (R2K) crowd, courtesy of one of the White Horse Inn’s own, Kim Riddlebarger.
Riddlebarger commonly hosts a “Who said this?” game on his blog: posting a quotation, inviting guesses from readers, and then at last revealing the surprising source of the quotation.
Sure enough I was chosen (over a year ago it seems) as the focus of this petty exposé. Here is the sound-byte he chose:
Without directing their people to do good works and to fund good works through their tithes, these Two-Kingdoms preachers are no better than thieves—an organized scheme of extortion to line their pockets and build bigger buildings while preaching sermons about why our funds should go to pay preachers and build buildings. This is organized crime—a Pulpit Mafia, Gangsters for Jesus.
Of course, the source for this selective quotation is my article, “The Two-Kingdoms Tyranny,” posted some six months prior to the Riddler’s post. And this is how he chose to reveal that source to his readers:
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This rant is from Joel McDurmon, research editor for American Vision. This is just one outrageous complaint from his essay, “Two Kingdoms Tyranny.”
The Riddler has done three welcome things: 1) he at least spelled my name right, 2) he actually linked to the source, and 3) very surprisingly, he actually quoted my own words. Nevertheless, his selectivity in choosing those words highly compromises the meaning of my statement.
First, the statement is clearly taken out of its immediate context. It’s not even a complete paragraph, and thus can’t really be taken as representative of a complete thought. Here’s the whole paragraph, and note how just this much context adds to the meaning of what was selected:
It [moving to a church-based welfare system] would also mean ignoring the nonsensical Platonic pietism of the Two Kingdoms crowd. Yes, of course, we need the preaching of the gospel, and the administration of the sacraments. Personally, I think we need much more of the Lord’s Supper in our churches. But the church is much more. Preaching and communing must drive us to good works. If the church is only to emphasize preaching and sacraments, then how can it escape the censure of St. James as part of the “be ye warmed and filled” crowd? The devil can do as much. Without directing their people to do good works and to fund good works through their tithes, these Two-Kingdoms preachers are no better than thieves—an organized scheme of extortion to line their pockets and build bigger buildings while preaching sermons about why our funds should go to pay preachers and build buildings. This is organized crime—a Pulpit Mafia, Gangsters for Jesus.
Riddler says the quotation was a “rant” and an “outrageous complaint.” I’m not clear as to what exactly he thinks is outrageous about it. It is grounded squarely in the scripture of James, so he surely can’t have a problem with that. But perhaps it made too much sense. Nevertheless, he cut out the Scriptural context of the paragraph for his readers.
Perhaps he thinks I was saying that no church today uses its funds to help their poor at all. This is the sentiment his excerpting prowess created for one of his commenting readers who responded with sarcasm, “Yikes! Apparently 2Kers don’t believe in a diaconate–or even good works.”
Had Riddlebarger felt compelled to be honest, he would have made just the opposite clear from my own words in the same article. After criticizing the modern church’s reliance on the Welfare State for taking care of its poor and elderly, I added,
Now, this is not absolute. I have personally witnessed charity in many ways and for many causes given out of Church emergency funds.
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Then I made my meaning just as clear:
But this is a far cry from the community of charity, financial counsel, and earthly redemption that the Church is called to be. We focus so much on preachers and buildings, that who can tell me of a denomination that has even considered setting up a denomination-wide health insurance plan for the poor, funded by tithes? I want to be proven wrong on this. Let me hear it. Please. What church, denomination, convention, confederation, or group of churches has set up social security, welfare programs, poor relief programs, financial counseling, debt counseling centers, etc., for its people. Few if any have anything like an old-age pension for anyone except their clergy. If they do, they never speak of them and keep them well hidden.
So I clearly made a distinction between small acts of individual charity (which most churches provide), and the kind of systematic care of its poor and elderly which Paul advocates, for example, in 1 Tim. 5:3ff. Riddlebarger neither noted this in his post, nor corrected the misperception he caused in his reader.
What’s better: I even asked for correction. While Riddlebarger sees fit to misrepresent me in order to make me a centerpiece of his inside jokes, he never has even tried to offer that correction or answer the question.
Either way, my logic still stands: if the Church preaching faith to its poor without meeting their needs is comparable to the faith of devils, as James says (2:14–19), then surely Preachers preaching and collecting tithes for buildings and salaries only to send their poor and elderly to the coercive State welfare system can accurately be described as organized robbery of God’s people (double robbery actually, as the preachers rob them first, and then rely on the State robbing them to meet the needs of others).
And the great irony here is that the only thing Riddlebarger finds “outrageous” in this scenario is my stating it plainly in an article.
Second, the statement is not only taken out of its immediate context, but also from the larger argument of the whole article. I have already stated this argument just previously. Here it is summed up in the first paragraph of my article:
The tyranny of the Welfare States we currently live under (throughout the world, but the West especially) is a direct outfall of “two-kingdoms” style theology. By setting up a false division between heavenly and secular matters, the Church has consistently mismanaged its wealth and abdicated its social responsibilities. Then, when the poor—even the poor within the Church—come into need, they are told, or it is assumed, that their needs shall be met by the civil order (which is presumably not Christian, or quasi-Christian at best). How’s it look for Christian charity when the Christians direct their own to the pagans for charity? And when the pagans got their funds through theft to begin with?
You can see clearly that this is no mere “rant” attacking R2K preachers for the outrageous fun of it (although that may be fun). Rather, it is a coherent argument of how the bifurcation between church and society has led R2K preachers to squander church funds and ignore the biblical social mandate for God’s people. Indeed, they have done more than ignore—they have engaged in open rebellion.
I wrote over 2,000 words demonstrating and backing this argument. Riddlebarger chose 62 of those words out of their context and presented them as outrageous on my part.
You tell me who’s actions are more “outrageous.”
Now, none of this is to say that I am surprised by all of this. I have complained for years now how the natural law, R2K crowd consistently misrepresents the views of Christian reconstructionists, theonomists, and proponents of biblical law (John Murray, for example). In a 2008 article, I wrote,
This kind of treatment of Biblical law advocates has been the only thing consistent among our critics: they don’t actually read the works, they won’t quote us when they respond, they won’t respond to our actual arguments, and yet they continually smear our position in mainstream Reformed publications.
To this I should have added, “And when they do finally quote us, they do it out of context.” For three years now they have done nothing but prove the truth of this criticism.
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Still, it is clear from the number of side-swipe references to us advocates of biblical law that the R2K crowd can’t stand ignoring us completely (I would say it eats at them, but that would assume they have a conscience). But they also can’t risk full-frontal assault. So, they resort once again to a cheap hit-and-run.
It’s just as dishonest, childish, and cowardly now as it was then and will always be.
American Vision has extended multiple offers to Riddlebarger, Michael Horton, and The White Horse Inn boys for a formal debate on these issues. They always find some way or some reason to decline. Last summer we extended an invitation for Horton to debate me at our Prophecy Conference. He was busy. When asked about summer 2012 (before the schedule can get too busy), we were still refused. We offer to pay for the venue, pay stipends and travel expenses—no go.
And yet they still want to keep taking shots at us. What do these guys have to hide? Kim or Mike can name the time and place, I’ll be there. We’ll both show up and debate this squarely once and for all. The offer is open and on the table.
Think this will happen?
I’m not waiting by the phone.