Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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How Not to Critique a Book

I cover a lot of topics here, primarily women’s issues. That topic is part of the larger issue of what the “church” is and how it should function. Another is prophecy, which has been the center of my attention lately (whether I write about it or not). But in my reading today I came across a prophecy teacher critiquing an “out of church” teacher: Don Koenig against Jon Zens. In either private email or blog comments, I’ve had issues with both of them, and feel that when they are off their specialty they exhibit not only faulty logic/hermeneutics but also a bad attitude toward those who disagree with them. I disagree with Zens on eschatology and with Koenig on the church, so this isn’t either a slam or an endorsement of either teacher but a study in bad argumentation and inconsistency in interpretation of scripture.

I don’t have the book being critiqued but have read others Zens and Viola have authored, so I am familiar with the arguments against “the pastorate” and am fairly confident that the points Koenig brings up have all been discussed elsewhere (which makes me wonder why this book was needed, but that’s not important right now). But when the critique starts off with a judgment of Zens’ motives (“seems to me to be deliberately padded to add more pages so that it would be more acceptable as a book”), it’s already on shaky ground, aiming at the person instead of the argument.

Koenig agrees with Zens that the early church was gift-based, but questions the claim that the “head pastor” is necessarily incompatible with the Body model in scripture. I’ve written much in detailing exactly why it is incompatible and even opposed to it, so I won’t repeat that here. But Koenig quickly moves on to another point, that being the Zens argument that “head pastors” are conspicuous by their absence, yet before he actually responds to it he has to snicker to “church pastors” about “turning blue” over Zens’ point. I’m pretty sure that if Zens used the same condescending tone about Koenig, he’d not find it so entertaining.

Then Koenig states that while he agrees in principle, he thinks Zens “takes it too far”. But instead of arguing from what scripture says, Koenig appeals to popularity and claims that the lip service most “church pastors” give to the equality of all believers is proof against Zens’ argument. This is, for the umpteenth time, an example from Orwell’s Animal Farm: some believers are more equal than others. We’re equal but you must do as I say. We’re equal but you must follow my lead. We’re equal but you must submit to my vision. The point still remains that if we’re all equal then the very concept of one above others in whatever capacity is a contradiction of equality.

Koenig goes on to argue that since we live in a different time from the early church (an argument not allowed on women’s topics because it “bows to culture”), then we can do whatever we want and call it being faithful to the Body model seen clearly in the NT. There is little consistency in how and when people decide that the NT examples are meant to be normative and when they’re optional. The same people who say the practices of the early church are cultural/optional when the topic is church hierarchy will quickly and forcefully impose those practices when the topic is the subservient “role” of women.

He adds the excuse that the early church had only the teachings of prophets and traveling evangelists to go by, so they could go without hierarchy until the rules were put on paper. But there is no “you have done this before, but now...” in regards to the alleged hierarchy of members of the Body of Christ; in fact, that very model, put to paper as it is, defies any sort of hierarchy. Rather than supply the missing hierarchy Koenig admits is absent in the early church practices, the later writings would cement that lack of hierarchy and make it “official”. His argument from silence is not redeemed by Paul or anyone else.

Then Koenig wishes that instead of merely stating his case Zens would have chosen to take issue with popular teachers and authors, apparently from the presumption that these teachers would put Zens in his place. But many have challenged those people and shown their teachings to be as faulty and inconsistent as any others’. Yet such citations would be irrelevant to the strength of Zens’ arguments anyway; if Koenig can’t muster his own arguments against Zens, then why is he writing a critique? Why call in “air support” if you’re already convinced you know the enemy’s weakness and have overcome it?

It’s commendable that Koenig wants to hear both sides of an argument, but there are very few people on any topic who can actually achieve true balance. Whether Zens did an adequate job of this is of course a matter of opinion, and one I cannot examine without reading this particular book. But the purpose of debate is to get two very biased extremes to point out each other’s faults for the benefit of the observers; the debaters are the most motivated to expose each other’s poor logic. So by reading the biased and unbalanced views of both sides, we can make a much more informed decision than we would if writers and teachers try to argue both sides themselves. And is the criterion for hearing the other side a matter of whether Koenig has heard of them? Doesn’t everybody use “self-selected excerpts” and “stack the deck”? It seems to me that Koenig is not exempt from such practices, but here again, this is an attack on Zens’ motives rather than his arguments from scripture.

Next Koenig takes issue with the use of 1 Cor. 14:26 as evidence to support what Koenig terms the “Christ-Centered Ekklesia model”, a curious choice of words for a view he believes is in error. But while I would agree that Paul is teaching against the chaotic free-for-all of the Corinthians, he is not thereby instituting hierarchy! This is a false dilemma, the familiar slippery slope that fears equality as a gateway to the complete breakdown of the Body. All Paul is saying there is that the people should take turns rather than everyone talking at once. He never hints at one person taking charge of the meetings or even a group of elders dictating some modern “order of worship”. The point Zens was making is that everyone participated, but Koenig ignores this. And what that has to do with cessationism, I don’t know. Yet Koenig still appeals to popularity and authority in citing two of his personal favorite teachers who both (not surprisingly) believe in “head pastors”.

But this statement is particularly telling and serves as evidence of something I’ve said for a long time about false humility:

Most pastors are not going to give up their leadership position when they believe they were called by God into the pastoral ministry. So are we to believe that they are wrong? Try telling your pastor that and see how it flies.
I can almost see him, and these pastors, beating their chests and grunting: “Me pastor, you not! Hands off my office!” And would this statement work for women who have been called by God to pastoral ministry? They truly and sincerely “believe they were called” just as much as men, so who are men to tell them they weren’t? Yet as I’ve said, the problem is not allowing women to be “head pastors”, but getting men out of that authoritative mindset. And of course, God never called anyone to what tradition and popular culture has turned the humble spiritual gift of pastoring into. Nobody is called to “lord over”; no part of the Body is “more equal” than another part. Such “pastors” are the last people to ask about whether their contrived “office” is Biblical.

Now we see spiritual gifts mentioned again, and apparently Zens pointed out that these gifts are hindered by overbearing “pastoral authority”. Yet like many others, Koenig believes this is merely a problem of degree rather than kind; he sees no contradiction in principle between the priesthood of all believers and the “more equal” priesthood of a few. Yet it cannot be denied that if one part of the Body takes authority over others, it is usurping the place of the Body’s one and only Head. The eye does not ask permission of the foot to talk to the brain. It is the human body which Paul chose to illustrate the structure of the ekklesia, not a chain, an army, a club, or a business. Whether “most Church leaders would disagree” or not is, again, irrelevant, and is like asking the wolves whether they should guard the hen house. God would not give such contradictory instructions or inspire the apostles to write them.

Then comes the offering of crumbs to appease the restless: let the laity be happy in their proper place and let off steam in small groups. Koenig acknowledges the benefit and even necessity of such groups, but completely misses the fact that since the church is quite capable of functioning without formal services and hierarchies, this shoots his whole argument in the foot. He recognizes the movement and power of the Holy Spirit in these small groups, yet still believes that there is some magical essence provided only by an over-arching authority structure. He even agrees that if the old mainline churches don’t do something they will continue to lose members. But his solution is to merely reduce its size, much the way Luther actually only wanted to reduce the excesses of Rome.

Ironically, Koenig accuses Zens of being the one who would limit the power of the Holy Spirit by eliminating hierarchical church structure. But in view of what Koenig just said about small groups, how is Zens’ view at all limiting? Koenig is arguing against his own observations here; if the Spirit moves in small groups, then how is the Spirit constrained by the lack of large organizations? Of course Koenig is trying to argue that it must be limiting to disallow those traditional models, since God can work through them. But they do limit the Spirit by imposing human control over who exercises what gifts in which places. God can, as I’ve said, turn a toy wagon into a dragster, but He shouldn’t have to; we make Him work around us more than through us when we erect our own models.

Koenig then appeals to time as his ally: look at how long tradition has held sway, how can it be wrong? But time, like popularity, is still not an argument but merely an excuse. It’s as absurd as the embezzler saying that since he’d been at it for decades, then he should be allowed to continue. Similarly, to argue that so many people can’t be wrong is like saying there was no reason for the Reformation; look at the millions of Roman Catholics, or people of any other religion; can they all be wrong for so long? Clearly the answer is a resounding “yes”; lots of people can be very wrong for a very long time.

And again Koenig admits that “the Holy Spirit has been working in the true Church in spite of the clergy and church buildings”, but he still wants to keep them! Why? What purpose do they serve? What necessary thing do they provide that the small groups or house churches lack? Such clergy and buildings certainly do get in the way of the Spirit, and burden people with needless expenses and guilt, so no one can say they do no harm; the hierarchy is far from benign. And if we appeal to the good that can be done by large organizations, does this excuse work for such entities as breweries that give to charity?

Koenig then asks rhetorically, “Who says that there is only one model for the Church anyway?” But the answer is “God” through the NT. Where is another model to be found besides the Body of many equal parts? Are we allowed to make up our own models and call them Biblical? How about if we model churches after ant colonies (Prov. 6:6-8 and note that they have no commander) or locust swarms? The letters to the seven churches in Revelation, which Koenig appeals to as support for a variety of models, support no such thing; they are about spiritual problems and warnings, not church hierarchy. His false analogies are multiplying.

He continues to drop crumbs for the laity to be content with, essentially telling them to “ignore the man behind the curtain” as we say in reference to the movie The Wizard of Oz. He admits again that structured, formal services do stifle the free exchange of spiritual gifts, yet continues to fight for their perpetuation. Then he adds the appeal to paid clergy, which I and others have thoroughly refuted by pointing out that Paul refused to “be robbed of this boast” of discharging his duties voluntarily. He also appeals to the military model or that of ancient Israel, but ignores the “new creation” we Christians are. As I always respond to any sort of legalism, has nothing changed at all since Jesus came? Can we ignore His teachings about new wine in old wineskins?

Next the illustrations of sheep and shepherds are turned into chains of command, a very common ploy. Shepherds are guides, not owners (see this article), and as the Greek text of the last chapter of Hebrews shows, leaders are not bosses but examples. Then angels and their ranks are appealed to as more support for hierarchy in the “new creation” that he keeps ignoring.

Finally, Koenig relegates Zen’s and Viola’s books to minor hiccups in the history of the churches. But as we know, history is written by the victors, who will always preserve their version of events. The Anabaptists and others were largely forgotten by both the Roman Catholics and Protestants, but God remembers their names and their faithfulness. And that is the crux of this whole debate: not who has the upper hand, but who is faithful. Perhaps the house church movement will be forgotten by “the churches”, but never by God. Koenig can hope for the former and seems confident his view will remain on top. But so what, Mr. Koenig? You even say this:

No doubt that Zens is correct that the clergy laity concept does not come from the Bible. We are all a nation of priests and everyone in Christ should have a ministry. We definitely need to get away from the concept of churches being a spectator sport and I definitely think more town hall type meetings in the Church should be highly encouraged rather than having everything head pastor focused for local church direction.
So how can he still justify everything that stands in such stark contrast? How can it not be obvious that the only difference between the “old mainline denomination” and the less massive one is only size and nothing else? He says that the concept is wrong but then somehow only applies this concept on the basis of size. Once again, principle clashes with practice; kind crosses swords with degree. Either the problem is merely of excess or it is a matter of the “office” itself.

I found nothing in Koenig’s article to show from scripture that Zens is wrong, or that there is nothing wrong with the chain of command model. Many people do love to be under authority or to wield it over others, and this is nothing new (Jer. 5:31). But unless one wishes to argue that murder is okay because it’s been with us since Cain and Abel, one cannot appeal to time, culture, popularity, inertia, fear of chaos (i.e. loss of control), or anything else besides our being a “new creation” for how this Body should function. Any model that contradicts this Biblical one is thus against the will of God and hindering the work of the Holy Spirit. Either the power is in us and our institutions or it is solely in God; we cannot have it both ways. I long for the day when all people stand on that “level ground at the foot of the cross” and stop trying to form a pecking order of their own choosing.

I am highly critical of Zens on eschatology and so-called Christian Mysticism, but Koenig’s article is the one I read today so that’s the one that got picked on. I so wish they’d all be consistent in their hermeneutics and learn to argue logically instead of resorting to fallacies, and to be especially careful when they step outside their areas of focus.

Posted 2011-10-04 under community, worship, community, control, hierarchy