Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Post-Brethren (Revised)

This is an edited copy of a post I made in March of 2007. I was somewhat frustrated when I wrote it, and I wanted to re-visit this and tone it down a little. That is, I don't want to sugar-coat anything, but I also don't want to throw any accusations around on the 'Net. So this is a more calm, rational explanation of my new position...

Well, it's official: I am now Post Brethren. I am coming out as someone who no longer drinks the Kool-Aid. I liked the Kool-Aid---I have a bit of a Kool-Aid habit, if the truth were known---but I've had enough.

What do I mean by Post-Brethren? Well, what I don't mean is Ex-Brethren. Believe it or not, I'm not trying to leave the teachings and beliefs of "brethren" behind. I still hold to almost all the "brethrenisms" I've held for the last ten years or more:
- I still believe the Lord Jesus is present wherever "two or three are gathered in [His] Name".
- I still believe denominational titles are essentially wrong.
- I still believe that clergy/laity distinction is a denial of the Headship of Christ.
- I still believe there is only one Body, and membership in anything other than the One Body is sectarianism.
- I still believe the Lord's Supper ought to be observed weekly and unscripted.
- I still believe that the directives about women being silent in the meetings, headcoverings, etc. are for today, and are to be taken literally.
- I'm still a Dispensationalist.
- I still read the Darby Translation as my primary Bible.

See, it's not that I have an issue with what "brethren" teach. But I have come to the conclusion that I can't actually live it out as long as I am still Brethren (note the big 'B'). The problem is, I have become convinced that we have taken some truths we have found in Scripture, and we've built a huge system on top of them. And at some point, that system collapses under its own weight.

So where "walking in separation" used to mean we eschew what evil we see out there---whether in Christendom or in the world---it has come to mean we have an exclusive club, a "members only" arrangement. Where we used to say we didn't have a "statement of faith" because we endeavoured to respect the whole word of God, we now read our "articles of faith" into Scripture.

My declaration of Post-Brethrenism doesn't necessarily imply I'm leaving or anything. I might leave, but I might stay: I don't believe it's really my choice to make. I am in prayer about that very thing; and as I have said before, that is not a decision to be made for any reason other than I am sure the Lord wants me to. But I'm not necessarily moving to sever any current ties. What it does mean is, I am endeavouring to walk according to what I see in Scripture, regardless of how many or how few want to walk with me. So while it doesn't mean I am going to leave, it does mean I'm not afraid to. I hope that distinction makes sense.

I mentioned in the original post that I read F. E. Raven. I still do. And I read the more "accepted" writers too: J. N. Darby, W. Kelly, etc. But I encountered an interesting statement by FER this last weekend: a friend pulled a book off my shelf, opened it, and handed it to me. It was Ministry by F. E. Raven, Volume 17, p. 41. FER said: "I think we ought to contend earnestly in the present day against what we may call brethrenism."

I think he said the same thing I am trying to say, but more succinctly than I. It's not what "brethren" teach that's the problem. And it's not the individuals who are in "brethren" (although there is the flesh in every one of us, of course). The problem is, we've allowed a system to build up, and like all systems, it is a man-made thing. It's imperfect. And it gets in the way.

We did it unknowingly, and we did it with good intentions. But we've become the very thing we started out to escape. We've rebuilt the things we cast down, and we've become transgressors (see Galatians 2).

Let me appeal again to FER. On the same page as the above quote, there is this exchange (the article is actually the notes of a Reading meeting):
R.S.S. We speak of 'our fellowship'.

F.E.R. If you mean christian fellowship I do not mind. If you mean a special fellowship I object very much.

R.S.S. Would you not speak of a person being received into fellowship?

F.E.R. We only admit that that man is fit to walk with christians anywhere.

This really cuts to the heart of the matter. Once we have set up a fellowship where membership is optional, then we have set up a sect. We have set up a system. It may be a very good system, it may be the best of the sects out there. But it is still a sect. It is still man's invention, regardless of how well intentioned the men were who set it up.

So when I describe myself as "Post-Brethren", I don't say that to mean I am leaving "brethren", but that I am no longer interested in Brethrenism.

Whether this will have any affect on my fellowship and assembly situation remains to be seen. There may well be consequences to saying something like this, especially in public. But I honestly believe this is the path we must take, if we are to be honest about where we are, and how we arrived here.

In my original post, I enumerated some specific incidents that have helped me arrive at this conclusion. I think it's best to remove those: there is no real value in making accusations online, other than to stir up strife.

I still believe what "brethren" claim to believe. I believe the Lord is present whenever a couple (or more) people gather to honour Him, regardless of whether it's in a church building or a Gospel Hall, or a living room. I believe the Lord's wish is to be remembered in Breaking of Bread. Frequently. I believe there is no better teacher than the Holy Spirit, and that there is no better source of wisdom and knowledge than the Word of God. I believe the Church was and should be characterized by spontaneous, unscripted meetings where all the brethren are free to stand up and speak. I believe there is only One Body, and every Christian is a member, and there is no other membership that the Word of God recognizes.

And I'm still a Dispensationalist. Yes, I read Gerstner's book, and I found it thoroughly unconvincing. And I've read plenty of "papers" by second-year students at some Reformed school or another, all thinking they were original in repeating the same tired old saws about Dispensationlism. I'm still not convinced.

The Lord Jesus really is coming back. Soon. And I've decided to finally let the Brethrenism ship set sail without me, so I can concentrate on getting to know Him before He comes to get me.

I've wasted enough time.

Odd's life, I used to joke about brethrenisms, but somewhere along the path, they became real. Perhaps that's the Lord's allowing me to see my own folly in Technicolor. Maybe I goaded Him into it. I've now met the people who really believe what I used to joke about. And I've become one of them. And now I'm seeing the foolishness of it: the foolishness of the arrogances, the foolishness of my own mockeries of them: "Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favour." (Pr. 14:9).

In the end, the Lord calls us to so much more than what we do. I want to experience it.

And I should re-iterate my final note. There are all sorts of mature, godly believers who are "brethren". I am not by any means doubting that. But I have been forced to conclude that I personally cannot go on with the system we have built.

All of the implications of that statement aren't clear to me yet.


KingJaymz said...

Here here! As someone who has never been a "Brethrenite," what you say rings true for those I've known in the sense of the "exclusive club" category. I know it can happen in any denomination, but it is more pronounced with that than I have noticed most others are.

If you have a number of theologians associated with your movement, sooner or later, a movement doctrine will develop, along with a statement of faith, be it written or not. Even before my recent post-evangelical declaration, I still read works from varied sources because I didn't want to follow a denominational line.

I believe in the universal body of Christ, which is why I refuse any "official" or "paper" acknowledgment of my faith. I might be required to gain membership somewhere, but it doesn't mean anything to me, and I avoid it, if at all possible.

You have to do what you know is right. I will not encourage you to stay or leave, but to do what you know to be best for the health of your soul and to honor your commitment as spiritual head of the home.

Martin Luther said the church was like a drunk horseman: prop him up on one side and he'll fall off the other. This is an area that I'm especially trying to be aware of as I move away from where I was. There's little good to learn from extremists in this context. However, all-in-all, it sounds like you are cautiously journeying the proper trail.

clumsy ox said...

Thanks for the words, bro. It's helpful to have input from someone with no real emotional reaction to the word "brethren". I think there are more bitter ex-brethren than any other group. So between proponents and opponents, there's really very few people who've been involved with "brethren" that can discuss it calmly.

"You have to do what you know is right. I will not encourage you to stay or leave, but to do what you know to be best for the health of your soul and to honor your commitment as spiritual head of the home."

I'm glad you understand the difference between rejecting the system and breaking off with the people. I must absolutely reject the system: it's wrong. But then I want to be very careful severing ties with people.

As one very wise steel-cut-oats guru once said, the Body is about relationship. We ought not to damage that lightly.

I may find myself leaving, but even then, I want to be careful to do it gently and kindly. Not creating a spectacle or rocking the boat. That's one reason I revised this post and re-posted it. The first version was too brutal.

At any rate, I've appreciated the encouragement you've been.

Chuck Hicks said...

Cogent and eloquent as always, Ox.

Would that more believers expressed carefully formulated thoughts -- or kept still until they had them.

Great days are ahead for those who love the Lord's appearing. As JND once said, a Christian is one who is waiting for God's Son from heaven.