Continued from yesterday . . .
In my first post, I commented on the current trendiness of interest in the doctrines of grace, and my fear that we might mistake commitment to the cool with commitment to the truth. I concluded by referring to churchly piety, and now I expand on this idea.
In subsequent columns I will flesh the concept out, but here I lay down the basic foundation: churchly piety is rooted in the church. That would seem to be an obvious point, but it is surprising how many people miss it. The mistake derives from a failure to understand what the church is. Most Christians would certainly agree that the church is made up of all believers, and that is a fine definition. However, it is also more than that.
The church is also an institution with office-bearers (elders and deacons) who have been ordained to specific tasks. These men hold ministerial authority and have responsibility to take care of the well being of the people of God, both spiritually and physically.
The Young, Restless, and. . . Slow
A churchly piety will respect these offices and the men who hold them, and this will have a certain impact on the life of the church. In short, young people will not set the agenda, since the Pauline qualifications for eldership indicate age and maturity as the norms. And if these men are respected, then the young and the restless will be slow to speak and teach and instead be quick to listen and learn.
I fear that is not very hip or cool. We live in a world where the wisdom of youth is generally assumed. It is somehow uncontaminated by the cynicism and corruption of age. One could, of course, argue that youth is also comparatively uncontaminated by knowledge, experience, wisdom and maturity: precisely the qualities that Paul thought were so central to the officers of the church. Thus, a movement that disregards the older generation, or moves it to one side with a pat on the head, will eventually emerge as seriously deficient in its ecclesiology.
Hierarchical, Not Hip
Finally, we might also note that Paul's view of the church is hierarchical. That is what elders are: officers in a hierarchy. That is another rather unhip aspect to the biblical teaching. We are told that the rising generation does not believe in or trust institutions or hierarchies. Despite the hyperbole, this is scarcely a cultural innovation: the 1960's saw more real youthful iconoclasm than we ever see today. But perhaps we can allow the prophets of the rising generation their little conceit.
I suspect youth have never liked institutions for the simple reason that they are run by older people and nobody likes to wait their turn. Such an attitude is problematic when it impacts the church. For all the talk of the need to be countercultural, few ever seem to think of this in terms of attitudes to institutional authority. That is unfortunate because the context of churchly piety is the church, and to reject the Pauline church or to replace it with an inverted version where the young set the agenda reveals a seriously deficient ecclesiology. Such may be hip but, to borrow a phrase, Paul would not be cool with it.
Carl Trueman is Vice President for Academic Affairs at Westminster Theological Seminary. A regular columnist for Reformation 21, he’s also a specialist in the development of theology during the 16th and 17th centuries. Carl is married to Catriona, and they have two sons. He is also the author of Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative and The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
My Postscript . . .
I trust that you've benefited from Trueman's observations. I always appreciate those who have a good eye for current trends in light of the faith of our fathers. God grant us a discerning heart so that we too as Paul urged Timothy, "follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:13).