A note from The Executive Council: Several months ago the Executive Council of TGC Canada asked one of our own members to begin a discussion concerning Bruxy Cavey. Bruxy is the most visible representative of the new and surging Anabaptist movement in Canada and we realized collectively that we had very little first hand knowledge of this phenomenon. We had all heard rumours and seen a few clips on YouTube but we lacked the sort of context and interpretation that a longer form conversation could provide. The goal was not to condemn or commend The Meeting House generally or Bruxy Cavey in particular. The goal was to understand. Part of our mandate is to provide counsel and resources to busy pastors. Many pastors in Canada are struggling with the question of how to relate to this new neighbour in our community.
We asked Paul Carter to model a civil and respectful dialogue and to take the lead on our behalf. We understand that TGC Canada does not speak for all reformed people – anymore than Bruxy Cavey speaks for all Anabaptist people – but we do think there is value in sharing this dialogue with our wider worlds. Once these conversations have concluded, we will release a statement on our website defining what we understand the Bible to teach on the authority of Scripture and the atonement of Christ. We hope you are served and equipped by these conversations and our statement to follow – and may God alone be glorified!
John Mahaffey (Chair) and Paul Martin
When I was a kid I lived next door to an old man with a heavy Scottish brogue. Whenever he talked to me (or shouted at me) I knew he was speaking English but I had a very hard time understanding what he was trying to say. He used idioms I didn’t understand and he spoke with an accent I found almost impenetrable.
I feel much the same way when I engage with Bruxy Cavey.
When I listen to him preach or when I hear him on the internet I can tell that he is communicating in some sort of Christian dialect but sometimes his accent and idioms are confusing.
Bruxy Cavey is an Anabaptist. In fact the church he pastors has become by far the largest and most significant flavour of Anabaptist within the Canadian landscape. For most of my life the Anabaptists were a minor footnote in the Canadian religious scene; but then, about 20 years ago, The Meeting House began to explode.
All of the sudden everyone is noticing the Anabaptists.
But noticing is not the same thing as understanding.
I recently became aware that most of what I know about Bruxy and The Meeting House came from anecdotal comments and 3-minute video clips on YouTube. I knew what people said about Bruxy and I knew what the clips said but I wasn’t sure that I knew what Bruxy really believed. I knew that his movement was having a massive impact, but I wasn’t sure that I knew precisely what that impact was.
So I decided to speak personally with Bruxy Cavey.
I wanted to hear it “from the horse’s mouth”, so to speak. I wanted to be able to ask questions and to dig deeper. I wanted to know what he meant when he used the expressions and idioms that he used. I wanted to press through the accent and understand the essence and I wanted to share what I had learned with the rest of my tribe.
Towards that end, I intend to write a series of three articles. This first article will reflect upon our conversations about the doctrine of Scripture. God willing and as the dialogue continues, I will post about our conversations on the topic of the atonement and the particular methodology and missiology of The Meeting House.
My goal in doing all of this is not to commend Bruxy Cavey; neither is it to condemn Bruxy Cavey. My goal is to understand Bruxy Cavey. Whether good, bad or indifferent, The Meeting House is now our largest neighbour within the Evangelical world and I for one am seeking to understand.
On The Doctrine Of Scripture
N.B. The following presentation represents a stylized recollection and summary of our initial conversation and subsequent follow up. In the dialogue sections, M stands for “Me” and B stands for “Bruxy”. This presentation has been reviewed, revised and finally approved by both parties.
M: Bruxy, you have a saying that I feel I could get behind if it came with a bit of a footnote. You love to say “I believe in the authoritative, inerrant, infallible Word of God – and his name is Jesus”.
B: Yes! I feel like that is something Evangelicals should be able to get behind.
M: Me too, but I think in order for that to happen you would need to explain exactly what you mean by that. I think some people in my world hear that as if you are saying that you believe in a Jesus apart from the Bible or opposed to the Bible. We like to talk in terms of the “Christ of Scripture” but sometimes it sounds like you have access to some other Jesus and so we balk a little bit when it comes to this particular saying.
B: Yes, I’ve noticed that. Listen, a lot of this comes down to emphasis and terminology. I like to talk about Jesus. I want to get people excited about Jesus so that tends to be where my conversation goes. But to be clear, I am talking about the Jesus we encounter in the Bible. I am not talking about the Jesus of my imagination. I tried to make that point in my recent three part blog series called “Radical Christians & the Word of God” – I’m talking about how we focus on Jesus in the Bible, not doing an end run around the Bible to know a different Jesus. I’m not a particularly mystical person. All I have for knowing Jesus is Scripture.
M: I think a lot of your reformed neighbours would be shocked – and glad – to hear that. What you are saying here sounds similar to what we like to say. We like to say, using language from Ephesians 2:20, that the church is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ as cornerstone. We believe that the church is built on the Christ of Scripture! We believe that the foundation of our faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ! The Jesus anticipated by the Old Testament prophets and explicated by the New Testament apostles.
B: Yes, I believe that too. I appreciate a lot about the “Red Letter Christian” movement, but I am not a Red Letter Christian, if by that you mean that we can only learn from Jesus through the “red letters” of the Bible. All Scripture points to Jesus and is useful in Christian discipleship.
M: So you believe that the words of the Apostle Paul are authoritative and inspired?
B: I tend to speak about the authority of Jesus more than the authority of the Bible. Jesus is the ultimate authority, and Scripture is his delegated, or penultimate authority. But I know what you’re getting at and, yes, I see Paul’s writings as authoritative in that normative Protestant sense. Paul might not be perfect – only Jesus is! – but God has inspired Scripture to perfectly communicate what God wants it to say. For instance, I believe women can be in church leadership, but I’ve never taken the approach of saying “I know Paul teaches women can’t lead the church, but we can’t really trust Paul. He had issues with women.” No. My approach has always been to do my best to faithfully understand what God is saying through Scripture, including through the apostle Paul.
M: Maybe part of the confusion comes down to some of the video clips that have been making the rounds. In some of them it appears like you are undermining the authority of the Apostle Paul. There is one clip where you appear to suggest that Paul was in error when he said in 1 Corinthians 1:14 that he was glad that he had only baptized two people in Corinth because his main goal was to preach the Gospel. Then of course he immediately said, actually I also remember baptizing the household of Stephanas and maybe a few others, but the point is that I came to preach the Gospel not baptize. In the video clip you seem to present that as an error and as a challenge to the doctrine of inerrancy.
B: Again, part of the problem is that as an Anabaptist I don’t feel compelled to defend reformed terminology. Anabaptists in our tradition – the Brethren In Christ (or “Be In Christ” in Canada) – do not use the word “inerrancy” in our theology statements. An emphasis on the concept and word “inerrancy” comes from your struggles and battles, not ours. So as an Anabaptist it doesn’t bother me to call that a mistake or an error. I think Paul was talking and he made a mistake. He then corrected that mistake and made his point – a point that I receive as inspired by the Holy Spirit and authoritative, as you would use that word.
M: But is that a mistake? Is that an error? I would just call that an example of human discourse. Paul’s letters were dictated and people talk different than they write. We tend to talk in round about ways; taking a few side turns – sometimes wrong turns – before arriving at the point. I’m not aware of any evangelical scholar who classifies this type of meandering discourse as an example of error.
B: But that’s because you feel compelled to defend the term – I don’t. You would say “that was meandering discourse”, I would say: “Paul made a very human mistake, but then by the Spirit corrected the mistake and moved on. Praise God!”
M: But to be clear, you believe that what Paul said – however he got there – is inspired and authoritative?
B: Yes. Even though I tend to use the “authority” word group for Jesus, I’m right with you here.
M: That’s good to hear because I think some folks within the wider evangelical world are concerned that you are laying the groundwork for a more significant departure from Pauline teachings. They are worried that you are trying to wedge open the door in order to drive something bigger through it. If Paul made “an error” in 1 Corinthians 1 then maybe he made an error in 1 Corinthians 6 when he was talking about human sexuality.
B: No, I am definitely not doing that. I believe that what Paul said about sexuality is inspired and meant to be instructive for us today. Our job is always to understand the author’s intent (e.g., Paul), and the Author’s intent (e.g., God) and apply that to our lives, but we don’t have the freedom to override what Scripture affirms. I think a lot of this comes down to the language of groups. The majority group (in this case, Protestantism) has a set of terms they are comfortable with and, because they are the majority, they rarely have to engage with or work hard to understand the minority group (in this case, the Anabaptists). It’s “Protestant Privilege.” Anabaptists – historically a small and misunderstood minority – have a different set of terms for our theology of Scripture. As I explain in my recent blog posts, I feel no obligation to use or defend the word “inerrancy” but I suspect that you and I mean basically the same thing when it comes to the authority and inspiration of the Bible.
M: Bruxy, let’s talk for a moment about the Old Testament. Again, most Protestants, following Luther, believe that the Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid. We worship the Christ of Scripture – the Jesus anticipated by the Old Testament and explicated in the New Testament. We’ve talked a fair bit about Paul – representative of the New Testament Apostles – but what about Moses? What about Isaiah? To what extent do you believe that they are authoritative?
B: All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for training in discipleship so we can live loving lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus said it is all about him and unless we allow Scripture to lead us to him, we’re using it wrong and, like the Pharisees, we’re missing “the Word of God” (John 5:37-40). I hold that every book of the Bible, Old Testament and New, is the Word of God in print, given to lead us to the Word of God in Person.
M: Now as an Anabaptist you are a committed pacifist in a way that probably most other Protestants are not. I like to say that I can be a pacifist because God isn’t (Romans 12:19), but you believe that God is a pacifist and therefore you tend to read some of the stories in the Old Testament in a way that seems foreign to some of your evangelical neighbours. How do you handle a story like the conquest in Joshua or the siege of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Conquest?
B: First of all, I hope you’re happy to hear that you are mistaken. I don’t believe God is a pacifist, but rather I agree with your stance – I am a pacifist because God is not. Yes, enemy love is important to me, because it is a reflection of the Gospel. We are called to love our enemies because through Jesus, God has loved his. I don’t participate in vengeance because I am called to love like God, but I’m not called to judge like God. In Christ we see a God who is willing to die for his enemies rather than kill them. That is central to the Gospel and a beautiful picture of ultimate love that Christians are called to reflect in how we live. But that does not mean that God cannot and will not judge sinners, either in Old Testament times (e.g., the flood or Sodom and Gomorrah, etc) or New Testament times (e.g., Ananias and Sapphira) or at the final judgement (e.g., the book of Revelation or Matthew 7:21-23).
M: How would you respond to a verse like Joshua 11:20 which says: “For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11:20 ESV)
B: I would say this is an example of Divine judgement. And I would probably, at this point, ask you out of curiosity, what made you think I might answer otherwise?
M: Sound bites, anecdotes and assumptions likely. I think most reformed folks would assume that because you are committed to pacifism you are going to have trouble making sense of the Old Testament. We further assume that if you won’t see judgment in the Old Testament then you likely won’t see it in the New Testament and that leads us to wonder whether or not you believe in some form of universalism.
B: If you don’t mind then, let me address that assumption. I’ve heard people write off Anabaptist hermeneutics by saying something like “Anabaptists are so committed to pacifism that they interpret everything in the Bible through that lens.” This is wrong. Anabaptists are committed to Jesus, the Jesus of Scripture, who is both judge and savior, and it is Jesus who teaches us the way of peace. These two approaches may sound similar, but they are worlds apart. We are not a peace movement, or a social justice movement, or a care for the poor movement, who happen to believe in Jesus. We are a Jesus movement, and everything else flows out from there.
* * * * * *
My purpose in writing these blogs is to pursue clarity through direct and civil dialogue. I have organized these conversations around what I perceive to be the three main areas of concern within the wider evangelical world: doctrine of Scripture, understanding of the atonement and practical methodology.
The next post in this series will deal with the atonement.
In his very helpful book The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson offers Robert Traill as a helpful guide. He says:
Let us not receive reports suddenly of one another. In times of contention, many false reports are raised, and rashly believed. This is both the fruit and fuel of contention.
Certainly it is the responsibility of Protestants to inquire into one another’s beliefs, teaching and language but let us do so in a spirit of humility, meekness and sobriety. Towards that end, I plan to listen carefully and to inquire diligently throughout the course of these conversations and to reserve my analysis until the end.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.