Phil said this last week, off-blog:
By the way, (and here's one of those concessions I promised to my critics) I want to say that I do recognize that there are certain dangers—grave dangers—in being too independent. We all need mutual accountability, and the kind of independency I am advocating accepts and embraces that kind of accountability. I'm not suggesting that we should be free from all accountability, of course. But I would say that my primary accountability should be to my own church and my own conscience as it is subject to the Word of God—and not to the godfather of some parachurch movement in Pensacola, Florida, or Murphreesboro, Tennessee, or Longview, Texas, whose credibility rests in an honorary doctorate from a fundamentalist university.Fair enough, right? Well, of course, the blogosphere replies with this bit of genteel reasoning:
I am enough of a Baptist to be absolutely convinced of the priesthood of the believer. And one of the ramifications of that doctrine is the truth that my individual conscience matters more before God than my loyalty to any man or movement. There is real virtue in conscientiously exercising careful, thoughtful biblical discernment and accepting personal responsibility for what I do—as opposed to mindlessly allowing the leaders of any movement to dictate the boundaries of my fellowship by standards that (I fear) are too often arbitrary, inconsistent, or even politically motivated.
I generally get what Phil is saying here, but unless I'm not parsing his words carefully enough, or if I'm just letting my bias against TRs get in the way, it seems that he's saying that he values accountability, but he doesn't value accountability. It's well and good to live true to your conscience before God according to the Scripture as you believe the Holy Spirit has helped you understand it, but if you refuse to be continually challenged in those beliefs by men who may have a better [earthy adjective meaning "discernment" omitted] than you, then you run the risk of going off the ranch in one direction or another. I'm not looking to pick a fight with him here, and if I'm missing it, I'll gladly accept correction.The real laugh from that rejoiner is that it comes from a place in the blogosphere that itself has a real need for someone with a [earthy adjective modifying a synonym for 'discernment' omitted] about twice an hour, but to avoid the smaller controversy of who is actually conducting an exhibition of Christian dialog and who has his head stuck in his [earthy adjective modifying a synonym for 'discernment' omitted], let me disabuse the writer of his concerns over Phil's thinking.
In the first paragraph, above, Phil is saying that the believer's accountability stems from a local entity ordained by Christ to administer teaching and encouragement, not from a global corporation under any name which is seeking to centralize authority far away from the place where the rubber meets the road. The Church may be a universal object of God's affections, but it is not a universal hierarchy which requires a home office to make its corporate decisions.
In the second paragraph, Phil is simply underscoring this categorical statement defining the church as something local and human. He is not saying, "I don't haff ta listen ta no body." He's saying that the conscience of the believer is in a state of being reformed, while an organization frankly has no conscience because it is not human. A movement – fundamentalism, emergent, whatever – is inherently not the local church. The local church is lead by men who are both tested by experience and accountable to one another, while a "movement" cannot sustain such a thing. When we start following something which is not, in the first place, defined by the Bible and, in the second place, naturally seeks the place of the Bible in the life of the church and the believer, we're going to flop.
It's not about whether one has a [earthy adjective modifying a synonym for 'discernment' omitted] or needs an upgrade to one's [earthy adjective modifying a synonym for 'discernment' omitted]. It is about living our lives in harmony with the Gospel, which means living our life in harmony with the church which the Gospel requires – not more, and not less. The Gospel wasn't given to us to form an institution: it was given to save men from their sinful institutions.
Like their blogs, which cause them to say cantankerous things like [earthy adjective modifying a synonym for 'discernment' omitted].