Suppose you’re moving to a new town and you’re looking for a good, solid PCA church. You’ll probably be looking for a church that:
1. Affirms that justification is received by faith alone and is not grounded in any sense upon man’s works.
2. Denies baptismal regeneration.
3. Affirms the teaching on election in the Westminster Standards.
4. Affirms the distinction between the visible and invisible church as mentioned in the Westminster Standards.
5. Does not deny the possibility of infallible assurance as mentioned in the Westminster Standards.
6. Believes that there is a distinction between those who are elect unto eternal salvation and the reprobate who are members of the visible church.
If that’s the kind of place you’re looking for, you may want to check out Auburn Avenue in Monroe. What, you say, am I nuts? No, I’m not. I got this information from Auburn Avenue’s own web site. “But what about all that stuff I’ve heard about them?” Yeah, what about all that?
How many people have heard “that stuff” and passed it along to someone else, or blogged about it, without going to the source? That’s called gossip, and it is a cancer growing on the PCA.
I am very sensitive to this issue, not because I am an adherent to or a proponent of the “Auburn Avenue Theology” (so don’t go blogging about that), but because I’ve been on the receiving end of that special brand of PCA “gossip by committee”, both in my personal life and in the life of the church I currently serve.
On the personal level, there are people back in our former state of residence who “know for a fact” many things about me that simply aren’t true. They have heard, and repeated, stories about things I did or said that I never did or said. Many of these stories were passed along in session committees. Once, when I asked for the privilege of being present if I was going to be discussed, the ruling elder who was the chairman of the committee in question said, “Well, you know how we work in the Presbyterian Church: we go through committees.” In other words, Matthew 18, Schmatthew 18: we’re not going to ask you for your side; we’re just going to talk about you behind your back. And apparently this was OK because it’s “the Presbyterian way.” Hogwash.
On the church level, we’ve had people who moved here from other places whose PCA churches back home told them, “Don’t go to John Knox.” These people “knew for a fact” that we had abandoned the Reformed faith and were “on the road to Rome.” These people also don’t know me from Adam’s housecat, and probably didn’t know my predecessor any better than they do me. Let’s see: the only exception I take to the Westminster Confession is that I don’t have a problem with pictures of Jesus in Sunday School literature (while I do still have issues with images of Jesus in the sanctuary). That puts me slightly to the right of Attila the Hun. Hardly on the road to Rome. Still, they “knew this for a fact.”
We will condemn gossip from the pulpit, but only gossip that is on a personal level. Somehow, many misguided PCA people have come to believe this nonsense that “we work through committees” means that Matthew 18 does not apply to us. Gossip by committee, or by session, or by presbyery, does not take the curse off the gossip. If anything, it intensifies it and magnifies the offence caused by it. Besides, who came up with this “we work through committees” nonsense? Since when is “the committee” a court of the Church? We’re supposed to work through sessions and presbyteries, to be sure, but there is nothing in the Confession or the BCO that requires a session to have some sort of byzantine committee structure, much less a provision that places those committees above scripture.
So the next time someone wants to relate something to you that they “know for a fact” about a minister, a church, or anything else, put your hands over your ears and say, “My ears are not garbage cans. My ears are not garbage cans. My ears are not garbage cans.”