NeoCals and “Accountability”

First, some stipulations:

(1) When we speak of Calvinism, it is important to distinguish between two things: Calvinism as a hermeneutical model (good) and Calvinism as a dogmatic set of teachings (not so good). Calvinist hermeneutics–which, in a nutshell, takes the Scriptures at face value and allows the Scriptures to speak for itself–is a solid, intellectually honest methodology for Biblical understanding. When one uses that system to dismiss what is clear, natural tension in the Scriptures regarding key matters dear to Calvinists and Arminians, then it’s eisegesis if not assegesis.

The same is true for Arminian dogmatics.

(2) You cannot have a church without discipline. The Old Testament–in the Law and Prophets–and the New Testament–in the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles–are very clear on this. At the same time, it is important to note the scope of the discipline, and to what sins they apply.

The Church, as presented in the NT, is a Body in which members have substantial liberties. While the Church must never excuse sin, discipline, with little exception, comes in the form of exhortation and admonition. Paul is always exhorting the Church to eschew sexual immorality, to engage one another with love, to select leaders with proven competence and character, to be honest and forgiving, to embrace sound doctrine.

Very hard discipline–calling out people for public rebuke–and the “nuclear option” (excommunication) are reserved for the most egregious sins: slander, false doctrine, sexual immorality. The Bible never commands for such discipline to be used to to keep victims of sexual abuse by members of the Church “in line.”

Never once does Paul or Peter or Jesus command the Church to coddle sex offenders, or to harangue victims of said abuses. In fact, Jesus had very stern warnings regarding those who harm children. If anything, the Church ought to be a Body that provides refuge for those wronged–particularly sexually–and pursues justice for the wrongdoers.

And yet, throughout the last century, we are learning that the Church has done the opposite: they have worked to cover up abuses by their members. The Catholics engaged in this, at all levels of leadership, and the depth and breadth of their damage is breathtaking.

Protestants, as we are learning, are almost as bad. And that includes otherwise conservative sectors.

Enter the NeoCals (NeoCalvinists).

FWIW: I go to a church where most of the Elders would identify with the NeoCals. Much of the music is from Sovereign Grace Ministries, and it is pretty solid. The pastor–who spent many years in some very harmful Baptist churches–tends to err on the side of liberty. The Elders are generally “hands off”: unless you’re engaging in fraud, violence, neglect of your family, or sexual immorality, they’re not going to bother you.

I’m a small group leader, and also a teacher for one of the children’s classes. And the Elders cut me far more slack than I’ve received in every other church at which I’ve been involved. They don’t have a problem with my light drinking, and my occasional in-your-face commentary. They have no problem with me providing counsel to others, either.

If NeoCals all operated that way, we would have no problem.

Sadly, what we have witnessed in other sectors, particularly Sovereign Grace Ministries, 9Marks, and even Southern Baptist and Acts 29 churches, is troubling.

The latest calumny includes the actions of Lakeside Bible Church and Ken Ramey against a family whose teenage boy was sodomized by another teen in the church. You can read about it here.

Like the recent debacle at The Village Church–for which, to his credit, pastor Matt Chandler publicly apologized–this is a case of accountability gone off the rails. Even worse, in the case of LBC, the leadership has maligned the victim’s family while coddling the abuser and his family.

While Ramey is not to blame for the abuser’s actions, he IS responsible for his subsequent handling of the matter. And if you think his response is a Christian one, then I would question either your Christianity or your understanding of Scripture in this matter.

My larger issue here is with the NeoCals. The whole “Covenant Membership” paradigm, while often sold in benevolent terms, has been turned into a green light for micromanagement at a level unseen in Scripture.

Over here, we often debate over matters such as public school versus private school versus homeschooling; or whether women should pursue higher education versus a career as a SAHM; or the dating versus courtship versus online pursuit of marriage. This is not a matter of right versus wrong, as there are substantial liberties in these matters, but rather over which is the most equitable or prudent path. There are good, Christian parents whose kids attend public school; there are good, Christian women who obtain PhDs and law school and medical school; there are good, Christian folks who seek their spouse in varieties of ways.

When a church starts telling a family that they won’t support them unless they put their kids in a public school, that is overreach beyond all recognition. When a church starts telling families that the courtship model is the only way to pursue marriage, that’s overreach (my view: there’s nothing wrong with it, but that’s up to the families to decide.)

Confronting sin is one thing–the Church has to do that. And that includes confronting those who sexually abuse children. Not only is this a criminal matter, this also demands the harshest discipline. Those wronged ought to be recognized as wronged. This is not to promote a victim mentality, but rather to acknowledge that, in the process of healing, there is no small amount of baggage to unpack that the victim and his or her family did not invite.

And woe to anyone who seeks to cover that up or otherwise impede either the justice process or the recognition of the truth.

4 thoughts on “NeoCals and “Accountability”

  1. I wonder how much this has to do with such people managing to infiltrate the power structure and using it for nefarious ends.

    In the same way pedophiles have infiltrated the Catholic church and entrenched themselves in the hierarchy. Making them near impossible to remove without serious repercussions.

    • There may be some of that. But here’s my take, based on observation…

      Children’s ministries are going to be prime landing spots for bad guys. Contrary to many misconceptions, the child predator is not the creepy guy that everyone hates, but rather the likeable guy (sometimes likeable gal) whom everyone trusts.

      Even if a church has a robust vetting system that includes background checks, the child molester is still going to slip through. Why? He or she will pass the background check. His first run-in is likely to be in your church.

      In the case of Lakeside, I think there was something else going on. The teen who sodomized Billy was likely not a pedophile, but rather someone who could very well have been experimenting or engaging in abuses that had been perpetrated on him. We may never know the answer to that, because–more than likely–his record will be sealed due to his juvenile status at the time he committed the crime.

      As for the ministers, I have no doubt that the ranks of the Church leaders include some folks like you are describing, but most of the problem comes down to leaders who are prone to either (a) CYA, (b) a perceived need to act a certain way to “protect the Church from outside assault”, (c) a hubristic mindset that they can keep everything in-house because the Body ought not subject the her members to the secular justice system for matters among believers, or (d) some combination of (a), (b), and (c).

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