Wilkins’s exam, part 4

Here we get to the doctrine of the church, which is in some ways the linch-pin to this whole debate. How does one define the church?

Here Wilkins is guilty of nothing less than talking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he says that he “wholeheartedly affirm(s) this distinction as the Westminster Confession defines the invisible church.” He then proceeds to define the invisible church in a manner completely incompatibile with WCF 25.

First of all, he says that “the invisible Church does not yet exist though it is surely foreordained by God and will surely and certainly exist at the last day.” This completely vitiates the doctrine of the invisible church. WCF says explicitly that the the invisible church consists (note the PRESENT tense) of all the elect.

Then he says that “the category of ‘invisible church’ can lead us to all sorts of misunderstandings and misconceptions.” Well, this certainly sounds like “wholeheartedly affirming this distinction.” It’s a bit like saying, “I wholeheartedly believe in God, but there are significant problems with the category of ‘God.’ The qualification does away with the assertion.

The way he prefers to define the invisible church (and he agrees with Doug Wilson here) is as the eschatological church. But this is to erase the distinction as it is in place now. The WCF does not say “the invisible church will be in existence in the future.” It says “the invisible church consists.” By the way, it should be carefully noted that saying “invisible” and “eschatological” are not even remotely the same thing. The doctrine of the invisible church has always meant that there is a distinction within the church in the present between the elect and the non-elect. Saying “eschatological” erases that distinction. Now, Wilkins would probably say that he affirms the distinction within the church now. The problem is that he has no basis left for saying that. I have said before that the reason why the Reformers harped on this distinction is because the Roman Catholic Church kept asking the Reformers “Where was your church for the last 1500 years?” The only answer and defense that the Reformers could give was “we were the invisible church, existing by faith.” If that distinction is not in the present, then there is no justification for the Reformers to be the true church. So, in denying the WCF definition of the invisible church, Wilkins takes the rug out from under the Reformers. Therefore, it is not true at all that his “accusers are simply disagreeing with (his) argument rather than proving that (he) denies the WCF definition of the church.”

Wilkins assumes that which is to be proved when he takes this pot shot at %90 of the Reformed world: “Indeed, it seems to me that they are often the ones who deny the distinction between the ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ Church in that they attribute those things the apostles say to be true of the visible Church exclusively to the invisible Church. The visible Church is denigrated as being nothing more than a pale and imperfect reflection of the ‘true’ church (which is, in their minds, the ‘invisible’ church, the abode of the elect).” I must confess that I lost my cool when I read this absolutely hideous slander. Which Reformed theologian did he have in mind who denigrates the Church? Which Reformed theologians are the ones denying the distinction? Presumably he is referring to the Central Carolina Presbytery. He just accused an entire Presbytery of heresy. Now, if you are a Wilkins supporter reading this, just put yourself for one minute in the place of one of Wilkins’s critics. What does this sentence sound like? I will leave that question hanging in the air for a minute. “Infuriating” is the word that comes to mind, however.

He contradicts himself again in just one sentence when he says, “It is important for us to recognize the fact of the mixed nature of the Church in history, but this does not mean that there is such a thing as an ‘invisible Church’ of which you must become a member.” Hello? And again, he misunderstands the position of those who hold to the distinction, when he accuses them of denying the creeds of the church (one holy catholic, etc. church). So anyone who says that one must become a member of the invisible church by faith denies the creeds of the church. So much for the PPT together document. In a single stroke, he has accused the majority of the Reformed world of heresy.

How in the world do the Calvin quotes support his position? They quite simply don’t. At the most, they support what I have already demonstrated (and am entirely comfortable with, by the way!); namely, that there is a general election (which includes *none* of the benefits given to the elect), and a special election. The quotation from Inst. 3.2.11 is taken grossly out of context. He is missing all sorts of qualifications that Calvin puts on such a statement, as anyone who is unbiased can tell. Time and time again in that section, Calvin distinguishes clearly between the elect and the reprobate within the church: “only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel…almost the same feeling (but obviously not quite) as the elect…his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption…only in the elect does that confidence flourish…as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed…that lower working of the Spirit…the reprobate never receive anything but a confused awareness of grace, so that they grasp a shadow rather than the firm body of it. For the Spirit, strictly speaking, seals forgiveness of sins in the elect alone.” And then, to cap it off, Wilkins doesn’t quote the remainder of the sentence, “Yet the reproabte are justly said to believe that God is merciful toward them, for they receive the gift of reconciliation, although confusedly and not distinctly enough. Not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God, but because they seem, under a cloak of hypocrisy, to have a beginning of faith in common with the latter…they do not attain the full effect and fruition thereof. He does not show himself merciful to them, to the extent of truly snatching them from death and receiving them into his keeping.” These quotes heavily qualify the particular quote that Wilkins yanks out of context. All of what I have quoted comes from the very same section of the Institutes.

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47 Comments

  1. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    “He just accused an entire Presbytery of heresy.”

    Lane, not every criticism is an accusation of heresy.

    Or, from another point of view, did the Central Carolina complaint accuse the LA presbytery of heresy?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    No, the Central Carolina complaint accused the LA Presbytery of not handling the case properly.

    And it is heresy to deny the creeds of the church, which is what Wilkins accused the Reformed world of doing.

  3. December 28, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Todd, of the substance of what’s written here, what say you?

  4. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    I have no problem with the visible/invisible distinction as it is expounded in the WCF. In fact, I am enthusiastic about it.

    I believe that Lane is being a bit less than honest about his views, though. He says he believes that the invisible church is something you must join. But, according to the WCF, the invisible church is simply the whole number of the elect, whether they’ve already been gathered or not. Lane wants the WCF to say that the invisible church consists of the whole number of elect *that have been gathered so far,* but it doesn’t say that.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Actually, Todd, it is you who are being a bit less than honest about my views. I said that there are two ways of looking at the invisible church. From God’s perspective, the church does not augment or diminish. From the human perspective, when we come to faith, we join the invisible church. In a way, this two-perspective way of looking at the invisible church is analogous to the way in which we see the compatibilist free will of man in relations to the sovereignty of God. From God’s perspective, we are regenerated by God the Holy Spirit, and therefore salvation is entirely of God. From our perspective it looks as though there is a choice to be made. And it is framed as a choice in the Bible. Of course, the divine has priority here. And I don’t want us to go into a rabbit-trail on this one. Todd, you have not answered my careful exegesis of the wording in the WCF. Instead, you just assume that my views are not what the WCF is teaching. I say that a person is reprobate, condemned, under God’s judicial wrath until god regenerates that person and gives the person faith. If they are under judgment, then, (again, from a human perspective) they cannot be part of the invisible church. Unless, of course, you are willing to say that someone can be part of the invisible church without being part of the visible church. In which case you are drawing not just a distinction, but a separation between the two. I don’t think that’s where you want to go, Todd.

  6. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    “I have said before that the reason why the Reformers harped on this distinction is because the Roman Catholic Church kept asking the Reformers “Where was your church for the last 1500 years?” The only answer and defense that the Reformers could give was “we were the invisible church, existing by faith.” If that distinction is not in the present, then there is no justification for the Reformers to be the true church.”

    What’s the relationship between the above and WLC 63?

    WLC 63: The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Simple. The true church is more or less visible. There are degrees.

    By the way, my understanding of the invisible church is confirmed by the proof-texts of WLC 64. Look especially at John 10:16, which says that the bringing in will be in the future. This is listed as a proof-text for the invisible church.

  8. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    “From the human perspective, when we come to faith, we join the invisible church.”

    This is only meaningful if we can also way, “From the human perspective, when we come to faith, we join the number of the elect.” Is that where you want to go?

    “I say that a person is reprobate, condemned, under God’s judicial wrath until god regenerates that person and gives the person faith.”

    I don’t think you’re using the word reprobate in a Reformed way here. Will God ever regerate an reprobate person?

    “Unless, of course, you are willing to say that someone can be part of the invisible church without being part of the visible church.”

    That’s exactly the implication of the WCF’s teaching, whether you like it or not. An unborn elect person is already a member of the invisible church, according to 25.1.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    Todd, did you look at the proof-texts for WLC 64? By “reprobate,” I mean people who are under the judicial wrath of God. Of course, the word is also used to describe those who will never come to faith.

    You are confusing the two perspectives. That there are two perspectives seems clear from the proof-texts of WLC 64, as well as Isaiah 55, where God’s thoughts are higher than ours.

    An unborn elect person is already a member of the invisible church, according to God’s perspective. But if he doesn’t believe yet, then it is a gross monstrosity to call that person a member of the church from our perspective. Why are you not acknowledging the difference in perspectives here?

  10. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    “The only answer and defense that the Reformers could give was “we were the invisible church, existing by faith.””

    Can you give me an example of the Reformers talking/writing like this?

    I certainly don’t deny that the elect must be gathered, or that the WCF teaches that they must. I simply deny that their membership in the invisible church awaits the gathering. The syntax just doesn’t allow your view.

  11. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    “By “reprobate,” I mean people who are under the judicial wrath of God.”

    Is this how the word is used in the WS?

    “But if he doesn’t believe yet, then it is a gross monstrosity to call that person a member of the church from our perspective. Why are you not acknowledging the difference in perspectives here?”

    Because the whole point of the Westminster definition of the invisible church is to state things from the single perspective of eternal election. You’ve brought in the idea of different perspectives to try to justify your view, or your slip of the keyboard. The definition of invisible church is written from only one perspective.

  12. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    The question about the Reformers is not simply asking for examples of them using the term invisible church. I’m eager for examples of them using this category specifically in answer to Romans Catholic challenges: “Where was your church for the last 1500 years?”

  13. December 28, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    Todd, this is not as complicated as it might seem, or as your making it. From God’s all-seeing, all knowing persepctive, nothing ever changes, time does not move chronologically. So, the elect (the invisible church) has no delay in being gathered in. It is a unchangeable number of souls. And from His perspective, by His decree, it must needs come to pass. The invisible church does not have a “gathering in”, in the mind of God.

    From our perspective, the finite human perspective, people join the church all the time. We have to wait, as contrasted with God who doesn’t, to know who is being “gathered in” as we see it transpire. This is the distinction Lane is drawing out. So as people come to faith, they are, from this perspective being added to the invisible church. At the consummation of all things, what God has known and decreed from all eternity will be that which we have viwed taking place through-out history.

  14. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    You really are nitpicking here, Todd. Furthermore, you are using this little bitty criticism (seemingly) to be your entire response to what I’ve said about Wilkins. Do you change the visible/invisible church distinction into wht Doug Wilson does (the militant/eschatological)? If what I’ve said in the above article is true, then Wilkins is outside the bounds of the WCF.

    With regard to the Reformers writing like this, I am banking on an article written by a colleague of mine (Rev. Wes White). He has given me permission to publish it on my blog. But before I do that, there are some HTML things I have to work out.

    You still haven’t answered the proof-text argument. That they need to be gathered is really all I’m saying. In one sense they always were and always will be part of the invisible church (that satisfies the so-called “syntax” argument you’re leveling against me). In another sense, they are not part of it yet until they have faith. Is this not the point of John 3:3,5?

  15. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    “From our perspective, the finite human perspective, people join the church all the time.”

    Right, but that’s not the perspective from which 25.1 is written.

    “We have to wait, as contrasted with God who doesn’t, to know who is being “gathered in” as we see it transpire.”

    But the whole point of calling it invisible is to deny that it’s something we “see.”

  16. December 28, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    Lane’s right, your grasping at straws now.

  17. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    “You still haven’t answered the proof-text argument. That they need to be gathered is really all I’m saying.”

    As I’ve said, I don’t deny this. I do deny that they are not members of the invisible church until they are gathered. How’s that for a double negative? If they are already among the “whole number of the elect,” they are already among the invisible church.

  18. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    I’ll be eager to see Wes White’s paper.

  19. Chris said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    Lane,
    “The way he prefers to define the invisible church (and he agrees with Doug Wilson here) is as the eschatological church. But this is to erase the distinction as it is in place now”
    –No it doesn’t. They have explained this over and over.

    “By the way, it should be carefully noted that saying “invisible” and “eschatological” are not even remotely the same thing”
    –Overstatement, not accrurate especially with their nuances explained.

    “Wilkins assumes that which is to be proved when he takes this pot shot at %90 of the Reformed world”
    –False accusation, overstatement. Come on Lane!!!!

    “Presumably he is referring to the Central Carolina Presbytery. He just accused an entire Presbytery of heresy”
    —No. This is an assumption. This is slander.

    “So anyone who says that one must become a member of the invisible church by faith denies the creeds of the church. So much for the PPT together document. In a single stroke, he has accused the majority of the Reformed world of heresy.”
    –You didn’t sign it. Neither did he. Quit acting like this was offensive to you. Give me a break! He didn’t accuse anybody. Lane, quit slandering and accusing.

    I don’t mind your disagreement with him. I appreciate your Calvin quotes. But the hyperbole, overstatements, and slander is hardly appreciated. Try to understand and show some attempt to respect him on his own terms and realize the qualifications that form the background of these statements. What a disappointing post.
    Peace,
    Chris

  20. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    “Do you change the visible/invisible church distinction into wht Doug Wilson does (the militant/eschatological)?”

    I guess I’ve never seen the need to choose between these two perspectives.

  21. December 28, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    Todd, we see people coming into the church. We realize the visible church approximates the invisible. Therefore we know, God my ordinary means, is gathering in the invisible church. We can’t and therefore don’t check hearts at the door. We govern the church by the means which Christ etsablished for doing so.

  22. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    “Therefore we know, God my ordinary means, is gathering in the invisible church.”

    Amen. God is gathering the invisible church. God is gathering the elect. No disagreement.

  23. December 28, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    Right, from our perspective.

  24. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    And, from the perspective of the WCF, it’s no more meaningful to say that people are joining the invisible church than it is to say that people are becoming elect.

  25. December 28, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    The language of the Confession is present tense, indicating that is it a present reality. But being a present reality is true both for God and for man. For though it isn’t complete it does now exist humanly speaking, so that we along with God can address it as being here now. God views it as gathered, we view it as gathered and gathering.

  26. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    “The language of the Confession is present tense, indicating that is it a present reality.”

    I agree with this.

    “God views it as gathered, we view it as gathered and gathering.”

    This doesn’t seem meaningful to me, David.

  27. December 28, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    Well, lemme splain. Say the elect church has say…1,000,000 folks in it.

    Presently as of Dec. 28,2006 say…456,125 people are already gathered in. Dead and joined eternally with Christ. They’re there and it is a present reality. Yet that still leaves, umm let’s see carry the 2…543,875 souls remaining to be “gathered” in. From God’s persepctive the number never changes and those left are already elect. But to us, those some are gathered, the church is still being gathered. Kindof of an “already/not yet” scenerio.

  28. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    But today, God doesn’t think of all of them as gathered any more than we do. Elect but not gathered, from any perspective.

  29. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Chris, I’m not going to answer one-liner non-arguments.

  30. December 28, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Aren’t we know simply dealing with semantics? The elect, from God’s perspective have no gathering to do. God’s elect are as surely elect today as they’ll ever be. They are in this sense, “gathered” in any meaningful sense of the term when looking at it from this angle. God certainly does view the church complete, perfect, etc.

    Have you studied the “already/not yet” concept?

  31. Chris said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    What? That is ridiculous. You just misrepresented and slandered him and that is what you have to say about? You have lost my respect.

  32. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    “Have you studied the “already/not yet” concept?”

    Sounds vaguely familiar. I may have come across it once or twice.

  33. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    No, Chris, that is what I’m saying about your “response.” I don’t think I ever had your respect, Chris. So losing it seems to be a misnomer.

  34. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    David, Todd graduated from WTS. He’s being sardonic here (just in case you didn’t know).

  35. December 28, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    I graduated from the Mississippi public school sysyem. I think I’m out of my pay grade here!

  36. December 28, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    …see I cant even spell *system*.

  37. December 28, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    [...] It has come to my attention in the debates surrounding various posts of mine here that a methodological question needs to be raised. Various people have hinted at it, but Chris’s comments brought it rather starkly to light. [...]

  38. December 28, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    “David, Todd graduated from WTS”

    It is then a sad testimony that an uneducated redneck from Mississippi is having to explain these Theology 101 concepts to a seminary grad. What exactly are they teaching at WTS nowadays?

  39. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    WTS is a mixed bag right now. There are solid guys and not-so-solid guys. Fortunately, the president (Lillback) is very solid.

  40. markhorne said,

    December 28, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    “So anyone who says that one must become a member of the invisible church by faith denies the creeds of the church.”

    Well, they are certainly using the term “invisible church” differently from the Westminster Confesion. According to the WCF one all those predestined to salvation are members of the invisible church. You can’t become a member unless you can go back in time and change God’s decrees.

  41. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Mark, I really hope that you are not going to rehash all the argumentation that has already gone on about this issue. Todd, David, and I have already hashed this out and beaten the poor, dead, horse to a pulp.

  42. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    “It is then a sad testimony that an uneducated redneck from Mississippi is having to explain these Theology 101 concepts to a seminary grad.”

    Thanks for all your help, David.

  43. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    “Fortunately, the president (Lillback) is very solid.”

    Do you like *The Binding of God*, Lane?

  44. December 28, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Todd: It’s the Southren, gentlemenly thing to do! When did you grad. WTS?

  45. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Haven’t read it, Todd.

  46. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    1995.

  47. March 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    [...] exam, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11, part [...]


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