It’s Impossible to “Reform” a Church from “Below”


In a sermon on the well-known but controversial passage in Hebrews 6:4-6, I said

Verse 4 tells us that there is an impossibility of repentance under certain circumstances. “Impossible” is decisive and definite… So there is finality in the warning of the “impossibility” of restoration of those who have “fallen away.” This likely refers to persons who have apparently “fallen away” in a permanent and irrevocable manner…

In the case of a church in which the leaders and many pastors preach and teach heresies, why remain there and expose yourself to danger and even more, starve yourself of sound doctrine? Most people who remain in these heretical churches say they can change or “reform” their church “from within” or “from the bottom.”

Eric Liddell winning 400-m run at 1924 Olympics (click picture to enlarge)
Eric Liddell wins 1924 Olympics 400-m race (click picture to enlarge)

The Preacher calls this “chasing after wind,”—wishful thinking—for if the people at the top are heretics, how can the church be reformed unless they’re booted out of the church? But will they throw themselves out of the church? (Reminds me of computerese “boot up,” a computer “pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.” Will these heretic church leaders “boot themselves out” of the church?)

Carl Trueman’s Whither Anglican Evangelicalsim? is very helpful:

… I wonder what it means to say that the [39] Articles remain the standards of the church’s belief if they cannot be enforced in practice on all clergy? Paper orthodoxy needs to be backed up not just with a few faithful vicars and vibrant congregations. It needs to be backed up by judicial action to ensure that what is taught in all Anglican pulpits is consistent with what is stated on paper.

We now know that the strategy of ‘Stay in as long as they let you preach the gospel in your own pulpit’ is a catastrophic failure. Witness the collapse of the conservative cause in the Church of Scotland. It salves consciences and it excuses flight from the battlefield in the wider church. Unless the orthodox in mixed denominations are actively working to exert influence at those points where denominational power is concentrated and exerted—the committees, the synods/assemblies, the seminaries etc.—their influence will not rise beyond the local church and whatever informal networks they develop within the broader church…

We might also say that the New Testament does not seem to think that such liberty to preach in one’s own congregation is all that is required of churchmen. Paul seems to expect church officers to silence heretics and teachers of error in an active and purposeful way… as if the fractious nature of confessional Presbyterianism was to be more feared than bishops who deny the essentials of the faith…

So to those who remain faithful to their unfaithful churches, think again. And think hard.


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