Wow… what a week. I was humbled and amazed at the response to my posts regarding the Tullian controversy that swirled up after it was made public that he was back on staff at a church. While there is a time for heat, there is also a time for light.
What perhaps amazes me most, is that I am receiving as much (if not more) negative feedback because of my retractions and redactions. People seem genuinely upset that I backtracked a little bit, but it seems as though some of the readers think I’ve backtracked on some things that I have not. Let me provide some clarifying thoughts.
- I have not backtracked on the fact that I think this was an unwise decision. – Ultimately, I think this was a poor decision on the part of everyone involved. From the chair of the discipline committee in the South Florida Presbytery approving it, to Kevin Labby and the Elders of Willow Creek offering it, to Tullian accepting it. I think this will ultimately do spiritual harm to everyone involved, most especially to Tullian.
- I have not backtracked on the fact that I think that there are inconsistencies in Chris Rosebrough’s approach. – I think that were this any other celebrity pastor, that Chris would be all over it. Furthermore, and the point has been made by others, if Chris were interviewing someone for a position of Director of Ministry Development (which is actually probably a position he would go after as an unbiblical office in other circumstances), I don’t think that he would hire someone who had been deposed of his office and filed for divorce less than a month ago. The fact that “vision casting” type language was all over Labby’s description of Tullian’s new position, and that this hasn’t garnered a peep from Chris is also concerning, since he often devotes whole shows to debunking this kind of ecclesiology.
- I have not backtracked that, although this is not a technical violation of the discipline process, it does not properly observe the intention behind church discipline. – The intention behind church discipline as defined by Matthew 18 is the restoration of a brother to fellowship in the body of Christ. While the Bible doesn’t give a strict timeline of how long this ought to take, nor does it explicitly say that a deposed pastor can never return to office, the intention is clearly to give a fallen Christian time and space to repent and heal properly as he is nourished in a local congregation by Word and Sacrament. I believe that this ought to happen under the elders that discipline was initially administered, and the idea that someone would return to any kind of active service (whether diaconal or pastoral) ignores the various calls that those in leadership in the Church need to be tested an shown to be blameless/beyond reproach (1 Tim 3:10 for deacons, 1 Tim 3:2 for elders/pastors). I believe Tullian’s repentance to be genuine, but I don’t see how after two months he could be understood to have been tested and shown to be blameless or beyond reproach.
Now, I also want to offer some further explanation of why I did retract the things I did.
In my initial post, I stated that Tullian had disregarded the discipline process by moving to another congregation and taking a staff position. This simply was not true, and thus it was incumbent upon me to correct my statement. Regardless of if I think that Tullian should not have done this (which I stated above, he should not have), he did so with permission from his discipline committee, and as far as I can tell… in accordance with the policies of the Book of Church Order that the PCA uses.
I also called for an investigation into the leadership of Willow Creek. While this investigation did not happen, I was engaged with leadership in the Central Florida Presbytery, and they told me that they did not believe that a violation was intended, nor did they believe that a violation had occurred. That was sufficient for me. Furthermore, Kevin indicated that he did not believe that any of his actions were circumventing the wishes of the discipline committee in the South Florida Presbytery, and since there has not been any kind of statement from that discipline committee correcting that belief, I have to assume that it was a genuine assessment.
Finally, I think that my redaction is an ecclesiological issue. While I am not formally affiliated with a presbyterian body (PCA or otherwise), I do believe that the presbyterian model of government is a biblical model. I cannot very well say that I affirm the authority of local presbyterys, while in the same breath disregarding their authority. To do so would simply be inconsistent. Were I affiliated with a PCA congregation (as Rick Phillips, Todd Pruitt, John Barber, and others are), or even an OPC congregation (as Carl Trueman and others are) there would be channels to formally call for action and investigation according to the policies of those bodies. However, once the local presbytery has said “we don’t think this was a violation”, I think it is inconsistent for me to maintain that it is or act as though it is. (It would also be pretty arrogant, since I have not studied the BCO in depth, while they are expected to be conversant with it as part of their ordination and vocation). I can disagree with their decision, I can say I think they made the wrong one, but I cannot say that they did not have the authority to do so.
I hope this clarifies things a bit. Only time will reveal how this will turn out. Let us all pray that God will be glorified, sinners will be contrite, and the Gospel will be preached.
For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation. By linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.