Last week’s Acton Commentary, “Unity or Unanimity at Reformed Council?” was picked up by a number of news outlets, including the Detroit News and the Holland Sentinel. The latter paper published a response to the piece by Jeffrey Japinga, “Intersection of economics and faith is valid subject for church council.”

I think Japinga misreads me, and in doing so (perhaps unintentionally) ends up agreeing with me. He thinks that I oppose the Accra Confession because “what it says disagrees with the conclusions of the Acton Institute.” I do disagree with the Confession on those grounds, to be sure. But that Accra and Acton conflict on economic questions is really the least of my concern in opposing the Accra Confession.

My greatest problem with the Accra Confession is that it proposes to make its own position a matter of confessional integrity. When Japinga compares the confession to the Acton Institute’s core principles, for instance, he’s making a number of category mistakes. The Acton Institute is a nonprofit educational and research organization, a think tank. The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to be a global institutional representation of the Christian church.

Can you see the difference? It is the job of organizations like Acton to engage in debates in the public square about political policy, prudential and particular concerns, in this case economic. This isn’t the primary task of the institutional church, however.

What I really want at the WCRC is the “kind of open, healthy discussion” Japinga celebrates. I don’t really desire to expel what I consider to be the voices of liberation theology and neo-Marxist ideology from the WCRC. That’s not in danger of happening any time soon and my book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, describes some of the reasons why.

My real concern is to see that voices that view globalization as having good aspects as well as bad, as the Accra Confession most certainly does not, are not excluded from the Reformed ecumenical discussion. I believe the adoption of the Accra statement as a confessional standard would do just that and serve to silence dissent and undermine intellectual diversity. It would turn an economic ideology (one that also happens to be false) into an article of the Reformed ecumenical faith.

As Ernest W. Lefever writes, “Taking sides and not taking sides both have moral and political pitfalls. But supporting the wrong side is the worst of all options.”

  • Stan du Plessis

    Jordan, you make an important distinction here which is exactly the one I want to emphasize in this debate, i.e. between open discussion on questions as difficult as the outcomes of modern market economies and those issues which can confidently be included in a confession of faith. I think there are very good reasons for my reading of the modern economy, but it would be silly to regard anyone with a different reading as taking a non-Christian position. Nor do I think the WCRC should stay out of the discussion on economic themes, and I hope all the parties in such a discussion will open-minded and rigorous in their use of evidence.

  • http://blog.acton.org/ Jordan

    Stan, your paper on the Accra Confession is really an important one, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone and circulating it at the WCRC council. Please do let me know when it comes out in a journal.

    I agree with you too, that what we don’t want is the economic view that is opposed to that expressed in the Accra Confession instantiated into a confessional document either.

    I want us to be able to dialogue and really debate economic and social ethical issues. On my reading, the Accra Confession shuts down that kind of debate rather than supporting it.