To our brothers and sisters at Good Shepherd Presbyterian:
This letter is to explain why we will be leaving Good Shepherd. We want to make sure our reasons are understood as much as possible, so you will not wonder why we left, and will not think it was for a trite reason. I do not expect you to agree with our decision, but my hope is that this decision will not be misunderstood.
Over the years at Good Shepherd, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of unity in the Reformed community. After a family recently left our church for Eastern Orthodoxy, I felt a deep sense that something was very wrong with the state of unity among Christians. And at first, I thought they left for similar reasons as the dozens of other families have done over the past 9 years.
Since my family has been at Good Shepherd, our church has not been able to have children fast enough to replace all the people that have left for this or that picky reason! People left in a mass exodus during Pastor Hewitson's time with us because of Federal Vision fever. Since then more have left us to form a new congregation of a 11 year old denomination called the CREC for reasons that I would say are anything but central to the Reformed faith. Others have left with the particular desire to not be under any church authority at all! No pretense even. In my opinion, these people have not submitted to the authority of the church, which we Reformed believe is the arbiter of Scriptural Truth and interpretation,but rather they have become their own authority. They are rogues who have arrogated the authority of the Holy Spirit to themselves, placing their conscience and private judgment over the authority of sessions that they have sworn to be faithful to. This got me thinking...
What makes me submit to the session at Good Shepherd? I have always seen it as a Divinely instituted body put there to guide my family on the Christian path, but what if I disagree with them on some matter of doctrine? EVERY Reformed person I have ever talked to about this situation has said there is nothing wrong with leaving a church and placing my family under another session that agrees with my convictions. When I have mentioned points of disagreement with the PCA everyone has said I could and should leave if it is a big deal to me. What this means is that the authority of Scripture, which is supposed to be exercised through the church, is instead exercised through my personal interpretations by ME!
According to Sola Scriptura, as defined by Keith Mathison,
Scripture is 'the sole source of revelation; [the] the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it [is] to be interpreted according to the regula fidei.'.
The problem with this doctrine is that when a believer disagrees with the leaders he is supposed to submit to, he then finds other leaders that agree with his interpretation to submit to. This is not submitting to church authority, it is submitting to self. Submitting to yourself is just another way of saying you don't submit at all! There is a helpful way to remember this concept:
“If I only submit when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me.”
Anyone who has raised children can recognize the obvious truth of this. Or any wife that has tried to submit to a husband. Or submitting to an employer, etc... True submission is shown in conforming our mind to that mind to which we submit. If we are submitting to someone based on a shared set of beliefs, or because we agree with them, that is not true submission! It is actually a dangerous opposite of submission, because it can appear to be submission. If a disagreement never comes between a husband and wife in the entire time of their life together (bear with me I know it is far fetched) we could look at the relationship and see submission. But if inside her heart she is ready to split at the first sign of disagreement, she in no way is submitting to him. Apply this wife/husband scenario to church/Christ, and you can see where my mind is on this issue.
We Protestants submit to our elders based on our agreement with them, and this is a faux submission. This is no longer an option for my family. I do not trust myself to interpret the Scripture when generations of brilliant Protestants (like Dr. Joshua Moon!) can not agree on what it says. If I listen to Josh, then I must ignore Mike Horton. If I listen to Mike Horton, I must ignore Doug Wilson, If I listen to Doug Wilson, I should ignore RC Sproul, and on and on it goes. If I come up with a synthesis of all these mens interpretations, then I have Professor David Meyer's interpretation, and he is an electronics technician, not a theologian. I am not inclined, (and nor should you be) to trust his interpretation.
So after coming to the above conclusions, what then? Should I just continue to form opinions and interpretations with lots of prayer and reflection? Should I just do my best to be part of the group I feel conforms most closely with Scripture? No, I can't because any options within this paradigm of Sola Scriptura lead to the same fateful conclusion that I am my own authority. The only options left for me are:
A. Remain with Reformed Christianity and continue the cycle of “self submission”, knowing in my heart it is wrong.
B. Some form of non-theism,
C.“Choose-your-own-adventure” Christianity that I self consciously make up for myself and do not worry about submitting to church authority.
D. Submit to a form of Christianity that does not subscribe to Sola Scriptura and which has a interpretive authority which can plausibly claim to be led by the Holy Spirit, so as to remove myself as the authority.
Option A: I cannot in good conscience stay with option A I because within Sola Scriptura, I have no way of knowing if I am in schism from Christ's church. Whether I am in schism or not, the situation will look exactly the same from my perspective. I will consider myself to be following the Scripture whether I was in schism or not! If I was in grave error, my circumstances would look no different from being in the fullness of truth. Either way I would be surrounded by a session of my own choosing that would be quick to reassure me I was on the right path.
Option B: For the regenerate Christian that has tasted the beuty of Christ, this is not a real option.
Option C: This is a tempting option. Perhaps Christ is OK with us just making this stuff up as we go? Perhaps that is part of the plan? Pray, read the Scripture, come up with an interpretation, stick with it, and look around at the rest of Christianity totally disagreeing with you. Then pray everyone comes to see the “truth” of what you believe. Unfortunately the church in scripture was not like this. There was authority given and maintained by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth. (Jn. 16:13) So even though this is perhaps a more consistent position than Sola Scriptura, it is not an option for someone who desires to be “lead” into all truth by the Spirit.
Option D: This makes the most sense. Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology takes into account the fact that people will disagree about the content of Divine revelation. Not that disagreement implies errancy or falibility, but without a magisterium that is supernaturally protected from error, there is no way for me to be sure I am getting the interpretation that is the right one. If I am able to toss out the 7th ecumenical council (as nearly all Protestants do) because it doesn't match my interpretation, where will the tossing out stop? If church councils themselves are to be judged by a 21st century layman, theologically untrained, and unordained Christian like me, what is the point then of church councils other than to provide some really good advise from some really great men from the history of our faith? If they were not being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit in these councils, with the expectation that all believers should submit to their decisions, then what use are they other than to help me form my own interpretation to submit to? The ecclesiologies that claim to have living, breathing successors of the apostles which are Divinely gifted with the ability to define doctrine in certain situations are the only ecclesiologies that make sense.
That leaves two possibilities. Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy has stopped having church councils, would not be able to convene one if they wanted, and it can not claim the universality needed in the fourfold definition of the creed. (One, holy, catholic, Apostolic) because it is still largely a regional church and not world wide. Also there is no unifying head to resolve differences.
The Catholic Church is the only option left. In many ways it is a bitter pill to swallow for me. I have been very critical of Catholic doctrine as a Protestant. Much that they believe I am not inclined to believe. But I will have to submit to the mind of what I must believe is the church Christ founded.
To all of you I say that we have loved being at Good Shepherd. If left to my own opinions and interpretations, I would be right there with you guys. Josh Moon is going to turn that church into a shining gem in the PCA, I know it. The little changes he has made here and there are definitely heading Good Shepherd in a great direction. I wish we could speak to each member personally but that is just not possible. We have many friends that we will miss, but please know that we harbor no ill will, and on the contrary, see Reformed Christianity, and Good Shepherd in particular as bright spots in the Protestant world. We all wish for a unified church. And while I don't expect you to agree with my decision, I hope you will see it as something I am doing out of a great love for Christ's Church and its unity. Peace to all of you, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
David Meyer and Family.