Sunday, August 15, 2004

Scapegoating in the Reformed Community 

You know, I was feeling quite upbeat until half an hour ago, and then I read through this. The level to which such discussions on internet fora can degenerate never ceases to amaze me. Besides the ridiculous charges against Mark Horne, we are treated to some quite ridicuolous claims. Fred Greco claims of paedocommunion that it 'is not only outside the Westminster Standards, it is contrary to the teaching of every branch of professing Western Christendom.' Concerning those who hold to paedocommunion he writes:—
...the Church must use its authority and discipline those who teach such heresy. The Church must not make the same mistake Machen made in "debating" a fundamental issue in journals or on the internet. Men need to be denied ordination, denied licensure, denied transfer and charged.
Regarding the denial of paedocommunion he writes:—
Somehow I think a doctrine that has been unanimous among the Reformed, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and even Romanists qualifies as an essential of the faith. The only thing that probably has greater uniform witness in the church is the Trinity and the Second Coming (Oh, I forgot, that is under attack today also by hyper-preterists).
Quite apart from the fact that this statement is quite demonstrably counter-factual and ignores the Eastern Orthodox churches and the testimony of Church Fathers such as Cyprian and Augustine, the idea that unanimity alone qualifies something as an 'essential of the faith' seems ridiculous to me. The other thing that interests me is the length to which many modern Reformed Christians will go to conform such men as Luther and Augustine to their own image. I mean, if Mark Horne is a heretic, then Augustine is doubly so: he had justification wrong, paedocommunion wrong and he actually believed that Baptism did something! Of course, condemning Augustinianism will not go down well in Reformed circles and so they seek to rehabilitate Augustine by emasculating his ecclesiology, confident of the fact that most people have little desire to understand Augustine on his own terms. Luther suffers the same gruesome fate at the hands of the Reformed revisionists. They proclaim Luther's doctrine of sola fide with all their might and denounce as heretics any who might undermine it by speaking of an efficacious Baptism. They suggest that Luther didn't really go to the grave believing in such superstitions as the Real Presence. I am increasingly disgusted by the shocking misrepresentations and lies that go on in Reformed circles. As I have been studying N.T. Wright over the last couple of years, for example, I have also tried to read as many of his critics as I can. I have been appalled by the sheer number of claims that Wright holds to a position that he repeatedly and strenuously denies. It is not hard to produce evidence that demonstrates that some well-respected names in Reformed circles have borne false witness against Wright. Even if Wright were the blackest heretic ever to walk this earth, we should not misrepresent his position. So much of the Reformed 'scholarship' that I have come across in online articles, e-mail discussions, audio lectures and books of late has consisted of unsubstantiated and libelous claims about ministers of the gospel. Sometimes I wonder whether this is all hardwired into people's ways of thinking. People believe that the unity of the denomination can only be preserved by uniting against something else. Whilst they try to maintain a semblance of high principle in the process, in reality the standard by which such victims are chosen are not very high. Reformed churches reinvent themselves as a reactionary movement. Calvinism is reinvented as anti-Arminianism; Protestantism is reduced to anti-Romanism. Denominational integrity is preserved by demonizing other movements within the Church of Jesus Christ. Deep down, people realize that the preservation of the unity of the denomination necessitates painting those who don't entirely agree with their position in the blackest terms possible. Such churches will regularly wheel out the old strawmen of Roman Catholicism and burn the Papacy in effigy once again. Such an action enables them to preserve their identity. The fact that the Roman Catholicism that they speak of is in most cases a gross caricature does not bother them. They are not aiming for truth, only unity. The unity they seek to maintain can be maintained by the ritual attack upon the caricature; it will be threatened by any attempt to shed light upon the demonization that has taken place. The revelation that the papal churches aren't as black as they have historically been painted will undermine the unifying effect of the act of burning the strawman and render the whole process impotent. As soon as people begin to realize that Roman Catholics — although clearly wrong — are not half as bad as many people paint them, something else must be found to preserve denominational unity. In such situations, or in any situation when the denomination finds itself unsettled, it is not surprising to see people turn upon particular movements within the denomination. The demonization of these movements takes place when some leading persons within the denomination with little understanding of, or little concern to understand, what the movements actually teach start to produce hostile reviews or attacks; these are then mindlessly echoed by others within the denomination. The unity, which was earlier threatened, is now regained as all begin to converge on the chosen scapegoat. The act of scapegoating, whether the scapegoat is Norman Shepherd, Mark Horne or anyone else, is the means whereby unity can be achieved. No one should be surprised that gross misrepresentations characterize all of this; misrepresentation is generally essential to the whole scapegoating process. The scapegoating process is laid bare by the truth and is rendered inoperative. It is important that people are not exposed to the truth. Of course, those involved do not believe that they are scapegoating at all — scapegoaters never do. However, I believe that it is possible to see all of the chief hallmarks of the scapegoating mechanism in the manner in which supporters of Norman Shepherd, N.T. Wright and Auburn Avenue have been treated in many Reformed circles. Of course, a society that is truly founded on the truth of justification by faith alone does not have to resort to such an approach to retain unity. Unity for such a church is achieved in a manner that resists the scapegoating impulse. ...and yes, I have been enjoying reading Girard lately.

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