The Lens of Confessions Revisited

Posted by Bob Mattes

Lane wrote an excellent post Who’s Lens Are You Using? Unfortunately, the comments were hijacked by a Protestant/RCC/Eastern Orthodox debate on authority. OTOH, Federal Visionists took the discussion on their blogs in the direction I would have expected. I thought that I would try to bring the discussion back on point with this post and address the Federal Visionists’ blatant biblicism.

There are two critical points of clarification that I feel need to be made up front, and will address again later in this post. First, in the USA, anyone can believe whatever they want, interpret the Scriptures how ever they wish – and they certainly do. However, you cannot be an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and believe things contrary to the theological standards of that fellowship. That should be self-evident, but seems a difficult concept for some. Second, there is an established process to modify the PCA Standards, and using that process is the honest approach to disagreements with or about the Standards. More on those points later. First on the lens concept.

Lane wrote:

Let’s put it this way: everyone has lenses of some sort when they come to Scripture. No one can interpret Scripture from a completely clean slate.

What could be more obvious? Everything passes through our perceptual, cultural, intellectual, etc., filters. One of the primary things that makes denominations different is the lenses they use for Scriptural interpretation.

Historically, the church has used confessions both as statements of what it believes and as the lens through which Scripture is interpreted, of course illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Christian creeds and confessions originate through particular exegeses of the Scriptures, and are always subordinate thereto. There is no shortage of confessions and statements of faith within the Christian denominational family. The PCA adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith along with the catechisms as its lens.

As Lane pointed out, there’s always a danger that the lens could be elevated to the level of Scripture. This is certainly being alleged by some Federal Visionists. But from its beginning, the PCA made it clear that, although the Westminster Standards “contained the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” they are subordinate to Scripture. The BCO defines the PCA’s Constitution thusly:

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order, comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.

There’s no question about where the PCA stands on this issue, and any attempts to say otherwise constitutes a red herring that ignores the plain fact. Yet, this is exactly the tact routinely taken by Federal Visionists.

One FVer accuses Lane of quasi-Roman Catholic theology, a recurring theme from that quarter. Another declares the use of the Standards as a lens Romanism, Presbyterian Style. I had to chuckle reading those posts, wondering if these individuals slept through Seminary. These FV posts display a remarkable ignorance of how confessions have been used in the Christian Church since Peter’s very first one: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Certainly the early creeds – Apostles’, Nicene, etc. – provided lenses through which Scripture was interpreted, especially to counter the heretics of those days who interpreted Scripture to suit their own tastes. The Westminster Confession serves exactly that purpose today – and perhaps that’s the real issue between Federal Visionists and the Confession.

Let’s take a quick look at how the orthodox Reformed have historically viewed the Standards. Robert Shaw, author of An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, summed the issue of the confession as a lens best in 1845:

The Christian Church, as a divine institution, takes the Word of God alone, and the whole Word of God, as her only rule of faith; but she must also frame and promulgate a statement of what she understands the Word of God to teach. This she does, not as arrogating any authority to suppress, change, or amend anything that God’s Word teaches, but in discharge of the various duties which she owes to God, to the world, and to those of her own communion. Since she has been constituted the depository of God’s truth, it is her duty to him to state, in the most distinct and explicit terms, what she understands that truth to mean. In this manner she not only proclaims what God has said, but also appends her seal that God is true. Thus a Confession of Faith is not the very voice of divine truth, but the echo of that voice from souls that have heard its utterance, felt its power, and are answering to its call.

And, since she has been instituted for the purpose of teaching God’s truth to an erring world, her duty to the world requires that she should leave it in no doubt respecting the manner in which she understands the message which she has to deliver. Without doing so the Church would be no teacher, and the world might remain untaught, so far as she was concerned. For when the message had been stated in God’s own words, every hearer must attempt, according to the constitution of his own mind, to form some conception of what these words mean, and his conceptions may be very vague and obscure, or even very erroneous, unless some attempt be made to define, elucidate, and correct them. Nor, indeed, could either the hearers or the teachers know that they understood the truth alike, without mutual statements and explanations with regard to the meaning which they respectively believe it to convey.

Still further, the Church has duty to discharge to those of its own communion. To them she must produce a form of sound words, in order both to promote and confirm their knowledge, and also to guard them against the hazard of being led into errors; and, as they must be regarded as all agreed, with respect to the main outline of the truths which they believe, they are deeply interested in obtaining some security that those who are to become their teachers in future generations shall continue to teach the same divine and saving truths. The members of any Church must know each other’s sentiments—must combine to hold them forth steadily and consistently to the notice of all around them, as witnesses for the same truths; and must do their utmost to secure that the same truths shall be taught by all its ministers, and to all candidates for admission. For all these purposes the formation of a Creed, or Confession of Faith, is imperatively necessary; and thus it appears that a Church cannot adequately discharge its duty to God, to the world, and to its own members, without a Confession of Faith. [my emphasis]

I’ve not seen the Reformed case stated any better. Shaw directly addresses the Federal Visionist complaint. The FV posts cited also ignore the Scriptural exegesis behind the Standards that was done in great detail by the Westminster Divines and their theological predecessors.

Which brings me to the first point I made above. All PCA teaching elders must answer the following question (amongst others) in the affirmative on their  ordination:

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

So, as I stated earlier, in the USA one can believe as one wishes. One can worship ferrets and sacrifice raisinetes to them. However, one cannot become or remain an elder in the PCA unless one freely affirms that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. The BCO does not say that you can rewrite or reinterpret the Standards to fit the latest theological fad.

Which brings me to point two and my standard challenge to those who use specious arguments to falsely pitting Scripture against the Westminster Standards. The polity of the PCA provides a procedure for making changes the Standards. If, as one prominent Federal Visionist publicly advocated, one wishes to rewrite Chapter 7 of the Confession, then put in an overture to the General Assembly for debate and action. It’s that simple, but it does take a measure of courage.

I’ve made this challenge for the last several years, yet for all the bits expended on Federal Vision blogs, none has stepped forward with a relevant overture. Hmm…

Posted by Bob Mattes

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142 Comments

  1. September 6, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    [...] Lens of Confessions Revisited I posted at Greenbaggins to try to bring the discussion about using the Westminster Confession as a lens through which we [...]

  2. Baus said,

    September 6, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I think Samuel Miller’s Utility and Importance, James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ and (lesser known) John Anderson’s Alexander and Rufus make the same point as Shaw that you highlight here.

    See also here:

    http://www.apuritansmind.com/Creeds/HetheringtonWilliamAreCreedsNecessary.htm

  3. revkev1967 said,

    September 7, 2009 at 12:44 am

    You know, the egalitarians also won’t try to amend the Standards with an overture. Perhaps both groups know it is a hopeless cause to go that route?

  4. September 7, 2009 at 7:41 am

    While I do not believe that Drs. Keller or Ryken are egalitariansist, I do agree that the deaconess folks and the FVers don’t see bright prospects for changing the Standards. FVers in particular know that they are a tiny group. If the 35th GA’s ~95-98% vote for the FV/NPP/AAT study report report is any indication, there isn’t a lot of support in the PCA for rewriting WCF Chapter 7 or any other chapter. It’s much easier to to snipe over sour grapes on the blogs.

  5. Jedidiah said,

    September 7, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Bob Mattes, you wrote:
    “However, you cannot be an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and believe things contrary to the theological standards of that fellowship. ”

    This is not exactly true. Pastors, elders and deacons may take exception to the WCF and catechisms, as you know. Of course, then it’s up to the ordaining body to decide if these exceptional beliefs strike at the vitals of our religion. I know that pointing this out might seem like nit-picking but I think it’s important to represent the way we are confessional very accurately in this discussion. The reason, I think, is that a Presbytery, Session or GA determining whether an exception strikes at the vitals requires a more nuanced view and practice of theological authority than the WCF said, I believe it, that settles it. There is a hermeneutical spiral of sorts that includes first and foremost the ongoing Christian attempt to preach and obey the Scriptures. There are creeds and confessions and councils to keep that attempt from spiraling out of control into heresy.

  6. September 7, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Jedidiah,

    Yes, there is an exceptions clause, but it isn’t open ended. If a commissioner feels that the exception was granted in error, they may appeal first to the Presbytery and then to the GA. Presbyteries are still accountable to the denomination as a whole. We saw this accountability work as intended with Wilkins in LAP, although that challenge initially came from outside the Presbytery.

    No one intends to bind anyone’s conscience with anything other than Scripture. Eldership in the PCA, however, is not anyone’s birthright. If one feels that one’s conscience is being bound by a concept contrary to the Standards, they are free to join any other denomination that will have them. The CREC comes to mind…

  7. Stephen said,

    September 7, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Thank you, Bob for this blog. I appreciate you bringing the original discussion back on track. I was frustrated with it because noone was addressing the topic and some had a different agenda. Thank you for clarifying the purpose of creeds and confessions. I found your explanation to be very helpful.

  8. September 7, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Thanks, Stephen. I find that we’re often better at teaching the catechisms than explaining why we have them.

    There’s a lot of nonsense talk these days about whether it’s good to be confessional or not, and whether the Westminster is still relevant in the 21st century. It seems that the current generations think that history began the day they were born. Some of their professors who should know better spout the same stuff. It’s no wonder that we have the issues that we do in the church.

  9. David Gray said,

    September 7, 2009 at 9:28 am

    >While I do not believe that Drs. Keller or Ryken are egalitariansist

    I think the record shows that you are unduly generous with Pastor Keller. He, at a minimum, is demonstrating egalitarian tendencies.

  10. Frank Davies said,

    September 7, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Could you unpack this a bit more: “The FV posts cited also ignore the Scriptural exegesis behind the Standards that was done in great detail by the Westminster Divines and their theological predecessors.”

    Thanks,

  11. Scott said,

    September 7, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Presbyterian Church in America

    Book of Church Order
    21-4(d)

    While our Constitution does not require the candidate’s affirmation
    of every statement and/or proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith
    and Catechisms, it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to
    determine if the candidate is out of accord with any of the fundamentals of
    these doctrinal standards and, as a consequence, may not be able in good
    faith sincerely to receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms
    of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy
    Scriptures (cf. BCO 21-5, Q.2; 24-6, Q.2).

    Therefore, in examining a candidate for ordination, the Presbytery
    shall inquire not only into the candidate’s knowledge and views in the areas
    specified above, but also shall require the candidate to state the specific
    instances in which he may differ with the Confession of Faith and
    Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions. The court may
    grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s
    judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any
    fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither
    hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.

    The PCA system allows a “spiritual jury of peers” to grant exceptions, publically stated and recorded, subject to review and appeal by higher levels of court.

    It requires an officer to have comprehensive knowledge of every “statement or proposition” in the Westminster Standards and allows exception to be granted only if the exception is not:

    1) out of accord with the system of doctrine
    2) strike at the vitals of religion

    That means it doesn’t go against the systematic theology of the standards nor against essential doctrines of Scripture that might not be addressed in the standards.

    It’s a high bar, and from what I’ve seen, exceptions are few and fearfully taken. It’s not a case of anyone just taking the exceptions they want and piecing together their individualist theology. Not at all that way, though some not understanding the system misunderstand it to be that way.

  12. jedidiah said,

    September 7, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Reformedmusings,
    Not sure how your response to my comment counters it at all. I recognize that the exceptions we take are scrutinized by the ordaining bodies and that there is accountability between Sessions, Presbyteries and GAs. That process of discernment is still different than a flat kind of fundamentalistic confessionalism. Not only are there questions about what the standards allow/forbid, there are some parts that our courts have said are not vital to our religion. It’s true that being an elder, deacon or minister is not a birthright. Neither is church membership for that matter. But what Bob Mattes wrote is not true. We don’t have to believe everything in the standards to be ordained in the PCA.

    The fact that we allow this in our communion is central because it may be that a session, presbytery or GA thinks it is vital to our religion to hold to what the confession says about the Sabbath. My Session and Presbytery do not, and GAs up to this point haven’t flagged us down for it. It’s simply not the case that every ordinand subscribes to everything in the WCF/WSC/WLC in the PCA or that they understand them in precisely the same way. If these are a lens (and I think they are a sort of lens, though they may be obscuring the Scriptures in places) they are not providing 20/20 vision, we know that and we are fine with that.

  13. September 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Bob,

    Thanks for this post, really appreciated reading it.

  14. rfwhite said,

    September 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Bob Mattes: if I’m understanding you correctly, it is not so much that the comments of Lane’s post “Whose Lens Are You Using?” were hijacked by a debate about authority; it is rather that the debate took an unexpected turn into the arena of Protestant / RCC / Eastern Orthodox relations rather than staying within the arena of pro-FV / anti-FV relations. I say this because Lane’s question about lenses does appear intended to raise the question of the interpretive authority (or authorities) that an individual recognizes: is that authority merely individual or is it not also corporate and historic? (I take it that the “you” in Lane’s question is individual, not corporate.) His question, then, as I understand it, boils down to if and how one’s individual interpretation reckons with corporate and historic interpretation. Who is the “who” of the “whose” in Lane’s question? More than that, why does it matter how I answer this question? As I see it, unless I’m satisfied to be an interpretive loner, I have to reckon with the lens of the group to which I intend to be related.

  15. September 7, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Frank,

    Sure, thank you for your request for clarification.

    The Divines were learned men specifically chosen for the task. They collectively had extensive exegetical experience as well as the benefit of roughly 150 years of Reformed history, including the writings and commentaries of the Magisterial Reformers. I was pointing out that they didn’t create the Standards out of whole cloth, but through personal exegesis and building on the shoulders of those who had gone before them (including previous confessions), they coalesced the essence of Reformed theology from a solidly Biblical basis. While we should certainly emulate the Bereans and search the Scriptures to ensure that the Divines didn’t make any serious mistakes, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. In over 350 years, no one has found such an error.

    However, if someone does think they’ve found something that Christians have missed for 2,000 years or Reformed Christians have for over 350 years, there is a process in the PCA to suggest corrections to the Standards. And, there’s no line at that table.

    FWIW, I provided exegetical basis on my blog for my thoughts on Federal Vision after much study, backed up by citations of a number of orthodox Reformed scholars in context. In doing so, I’ve shown in a few areas and in a very small way that there’s no disagreement between applicable Scripture and the Standards. No surprise there. Related to the key point of my and Lane’s posts is that I didn’t do so through the lens of Arminianism or NPP, etc.

  16. September 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Dr. White,

    …if I’m understanding you correctly, it is not so much that the comments of Lane’s post “Whose Lens Are You Using?” were hijacked by a debate about authority; it is rather that the debate took an unexpected turn into the arena of Protestant / RCC / Eastern Orthodox relations rather than staying within the arena of pro-FV / anti-FV relations.

    Yes, that’s correct. Although, I may be more disposed to refer to it as the arena of FV vs. orthodox Reformed relations.

    As I see it, unless I’m satisfied to be an interpretive loner, I have to reckon with the lens of the group to which I intend to be related.

    Yep, I believe that’s the point which Lane and I are trying to make.

  17. rfwhite said,

    September 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Bob Mattes: So, are you saying that the group is authoritative in all matters relating to the establishment and amendment of the terms by which its members relate, and that individual members are responsible to yield to the group’s corporate judgment or else to attempt peacefully to guide the group to a new consensus regarding the terms of its relationship?

  18. rfwhite said,

    September 7, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Bob Mattes: Also, would you say that the group’s authority to admit and exclude from fellowship extends as far as but only as far as its consensus, and therefore that each member of the group has liberty of conscience in those matters on which the group has reached no consensus or on which it has explicitly defined the boundaries of liberty?

  19. Paige Britton said,

    September 7, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Jedidiah (#11) — “The fact that we allow this in our communion is central because it may be that a session, presbytery or GA thinks it is vital to our religion to hold to what the confession says about the Sabbath. My Session and Presbytery do not, and GAs up to this point haven’t flagged us down for it.”

    Just to make sure you’re not misrepresenting your presbytery (which I think, unless there are a lot of Jedidiahs, is my presbytery, too) — I imagine that your difference with the WCF’s Sabbath section is probably quite minimal, and is related to the word “recreations,” right? — Meaning that your presbytery would probably have quickly flagged a GREATER disagreement with “what the confession says about the Sabbath”! :)

  20. September 7, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Dr. White,

    I’m only saying what Preliminary Principal #2 says in our BCO:

    In perfect consistency with the above principle, every Christian Church, or union or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion and the qualifications of its ministers and members, as well as the whole system of its internal government which Christ has appointed. In the exercise of this right it may, notwithstanding, err in making
    the terms of communion either too lax or too narrow; yet even in this case, it does not infringe upon the liberty or the rights of others, but only makes an improper use of its own.

    As far as individual members’ responsibilities in the PCA, I quoted ordination question #2 from BCO 21-5 in my main post, but offer three of the next four herein response to your questions:

    3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity?
    4. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
    6. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?

    IMHO, #3 and #4 seem to be lacking on the FV side relative to the PCA as evidenced by their blog posts, as well as maintaining “the purity and peace” of the church.

  21. rfwhite said,

    September 7, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Bob M: I follow you. Thanks.

  22. September 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    jedidiah, RE #11,

    I apologize if it sounded like I was trying to counter your comment. I was merely putting a qualification upon it.

    I didn’t say, nor intend to say, that one had to accept every jot and title in the Standards to be an elder. From BCO 21-4:

    The court may grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.

    That interpretation varies somewhat across presbyteries. Some admit paedocommunionists, which would not happen in our local presbytery. It’s true that they are prohibited from practicing paedocommunion while in the PCA, but I think that’s a dangerous line with which to play. I would hope that presbyteries would appropriate take action against someone who, for example, would like to toss WCF Chapter 7 on covenants.

    My point is that presbyteries are still accountable to each other through the GA. The especially manifests itself through the annual review of presbytery records, but also by other means. We saw this work itself out with Wilkins, and is working now with Leithart in NW.

  23. September 7, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Martin,

    Thank you for taking time to say so.

  24. rfwhite said,

    September 7, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Jedidiah: it looks to me that you are right to point out that an imprecision in the original post. As you say, “we don’t have to believe everything in the standards to be ordained in the PCA.” It is worth pointing out, however, that this latitude is the case by the consensus of the group. That is, it is not strictly true that officers may “take exception to the WCF and catechisms.” Strictly speaking, officer candidates do not “take exception[s]“; rather they specify their differences with the statements and/or propositions of the Standards to the court and the court grants or denies exceptions. Because I agree with you and Bob where I do, the point I’m trying to emphasize, for the sake of the original post, is that it is the group (aka court), not the individual, who decides the boundaries of the consensus to be enforced.

  25. September 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Dr. White,

    …it is the group (aka court), not the individual, who decides the boundaries of the consensus to be enforced.

    Well said.

  26. rfwhite said,

    September 7, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Bob Mattes: it is arguably a truism to say that the group decides where the boundaries of its consensus are. I expect our FV friends would say, fairly, the more basic issue is where the boundary belongs: here or there.

  27. September 7, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Dr. White,

    I’m still waiting to see that FV overture come forth to suggest moving the boundary…

  28. rfwhite said,

    September 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Bob Mattes: but some FVers would say there were no boundaries to be moved. Which is not to say that they were correct. As you point out, the vast majority of the group did not agree.

  29. Paige Britton said,

    September 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Hey, Dr. White & Bob,
    while you are waiting for the FV correspondents to strike at the bait, here is a related question for you, from the grass-roots perspective. You are speaking here of confessional qualifications for elders in the PCA (i.e., “one cannot become or remain an elder in the PCA unless one freely affirms that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture”). In my observation, many new folks are joining PCA churches for other than theological reasons, and so they will take a while to sort out what “PCA” means in the first place, let alone “WCF” — let alone embracing the doctrine described within the Standards (and telling it apart from FV, PC, & NPP teaching!).

    Do you think, given this trend, that it is getting more difficult for PCA (& similar) churches to find & train qualified men to lead as elders? Is the learning curve getting longer?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  30. September 7, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Paige,

    That’s an excellent question. I personally do not think that will be a serious issue. As you know, there’s only one theological issue for membership, and that’s a credible profession of faith. Our job as church officers is to ensure that we provide the preaching and education to facilitate members’ growth in faith and spiritual maturity. That should provide the foundation in Reformed theology, and even polity for those so inclined, to prepare men for officership. You don’t have to be a PhD to be an elder, but continue learning throughout life.

    OTOH, I see some greater problems with teaching elders coming out of seminaries. I’m concerned about some of these young potential TEs, as some seem more inculcated with the culture of the world and social agendas rather than a solid Reformed outlook. Most of the FV sympathizers I have met come from this young, inexperienced group. I’ve also seen individuals who only want to obtain MARs rather than MDivs to be TEs. This group simply doesn’t want to do the work to be a TE, and that concerns me. There are even a few who have no seminary degree whatsoever. Collectively, these things disturb me greatly.

    This goes back to an old, unsettled question: Do denominations deteriorate because seminaries go liberal, or do seminaries go liberal because denominations lead them there? I don’t know the answer for sure, but I strongly suspect it all starts with the desire for theological novelty at seminaries. We’ve seen this throughout history, and more recently with Norman Shepherd and his theological successors at Westminster in Philadelphia, as well as other places. While WTS in Philly has recently taken steps to pull back from the brink, only God knows if this will last. Also, a lot of FVers are Covenant grads, which makes me wonder a bit.

    So, I think that the PCA can grow stronger with cultural diversity in Sessions, I fear that the desire for novelty at the seminaries will render such gains moot. Just my $.02.

  31. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    September 7, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    ReformedMusings: “Do denominations deteriorate because seminaries go liberal, or do seminaries go liberal because denominations lead them there?”

    By and large, I think denominations deteriorate because seminaries go liberal. No evidence, just an unsubstantiated gut-feeling hunch.

  32. Paige Britton said,

    September 8, 2009 at 5:36 am

    Thanks for your couple of pennies, there.

    I find it kind of odd, though maybe this is just the way it has to be, that a church with a “confessional lens” really entails a *leadership* with a certain confessional lens, with the congregation at widely various stages of knowledge and acceptance of that lens (and an understanding — however deep — that they are in submission to those leaders). Which situation really puts the burden on the shepherds, to guard the good deposit and communicate it carefully to the sheep; hence your valid concern about the theological stance of the incoming shepherds.

  33. Baus said,

    September 8, 2009 at 5:47 am

    Paige, you raise the point behind the point! You are exactly right that the situation is odd. It is off-balance. What we really need is old school quia “every member” subscription confessional churches. See the book mentioned in the first comment: John Anderson’s ‘Alexander and Rufus’.

    See also here: http://honest2blog.blogspot.com/2008/12/one-among-ten-thousand-extended.html

  34. September 8, 2009 at 7:16 am

    The idea of “every member” subscription sounds appealing and might make life easier for the church officers, but it lays a burden on the flock that our Lord never required. He sets a high hurdle for His elders and deacons, but not for the general flock. I do not think that we should not add to His criteria for the flock, though we must certainly feed them milk first, then meat as they grow in grace.

  35. GLW Johnson said,

    September 8, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Bob
    You alluded to FVers sleeping through class in seminary… huh, a number of the most vocal advocates of the ‘Feral Vision’ didn’t attend any seminary- which is one reason why this wild herd is such a pest.

  36. September 8, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Gary,

    Yep, I agree. However, I was referring to the linked bloggers in particular, hence my comment.

  37. jedidiah said,

    September 8, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Paige,
    Actually my (our?) Presbytery recently licensed a candidate who held to a Continental view of the Lord’s day.

  38. rfwhite said,

    September 8, 2009 at 9:33 am

    28 Paige Britton: you ask about the difficulty that PCA (& similar) churches face in finding & training qualified men to lead as elders, there are several considerations, as I see it. First, as Bob suggests, it is helpful to distinguish between elders who rule and elders who both rule and minister the Word (1 Tim 5.17). There are some differences of qualification between the two, most frequently in education. Second, there are considerations of context. All elders should have a maturity of Christian faith and practice that is worthy of emulation by others, but the level of maturity required to distinguish a man as worthy of emulation in one context may differ from the level required in another context. Third, connectionalism has a leveling effect on the qualifications of eldership, especially in the churches that practice connectionalism. Education is the key leveling instrument, to my mind, especially if we believe in “an educated clergy.”

    Frankly, however, I believe it is a serious failure of analysis to treat seminaries as the locus of the challenge we’re talking about. Based on my firsthand experience, seminaries, as graduate institutions, cannot teach in the breadth and depths of just a generation ago because elementary, secondary, and undergraduate institutions have failed to teach students how to read, write, and think. And no one should overlook their complicity in this decline: too many Christian parents and elders have simply stood by inattentive to the fact that this decline has taken place on their watch, for any number of reasons, some understandable, many due to neglect.

    Seminaries are only one link in the chain of Christian education. That chain has links in the family, the church, the colleges, and the seminaries, and no one link in the chain can makeup for the failures of other links. If any of those links in the education chain breaks, the next generation of the church and its leadership is in jeopardy, even though they make accommodations to ameliorate the consequences. In my opinion, the general state of education among Christians is the moral equivalent of the multilevel failure of government during Hurricane Katrina. Every level of government must see the education problem and deal with its part, whether at the familial, ecclesiastical, undergraduate, or graduate level. If we are to see a reversal of the decline we’re talking about, we need to recognize that the symptoms we see in our churches are not occurring in isolation but are the result of breakage in the chain at any or all of the multiple points of linkage. We also need to reckon with the fact that the remedy for this malady is not instant, but is multi-generational. It took generations to get in this state of decline; it’ll take generations to get of it. Our churches, especially connectional churches, have to recognize this challenge and meet it, or we will only continue to reap the consequences. If we’re covenantal in our theology, we’ll embrace the challenge, confident that God is faithful to us and to our children. (All right, I’ll climb down off my soapbox now.)

  39. jedidiah said,

    September 8, 2009 at 9:47 am

    rfwhite,
    You wrote, “Because I agree with you and Bob where I do, the point I’m trying to emphasize, for the sake of the original post, is that it is the group (aka court), not the individual, who decides the boundaries of the consensus to be enforced.”

    Yes of course. What is germaine, and what has been left out of this discussion of WCF as lens (especially by Mr. DGH in other places) is that ‘the individual’ has the freedom, ability, and possibly even the responsibility to read the cofession ‘critically.’ WCF itself leads us to interact with it in such a way with it’s doctrines of Scripture, authority and the Holy Spirit. To say, as one commenter has, that WCF is our presupposition really is to cross the line (and to show blindness to what the WCF actually teaches on Scripture, authority and the Holy Spirit!). Maybe there is a difficulty here because the word lens is used in different ways than the way Calvin uses it in developing a doctrine of revelation. A true presupposition might be compared better to the eyeballs than lenses which can be corrected or adjusted as needed. The true and only presuppositions of our faith are not the contents of the WCF (if so, which one?) but rather what is revealed to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit about God in Christ. The content of that revelation tends to be a bit briefer. The Apostles’ creed anyone?

    I appreciate it when we are reminded that ‘no creed but the Bible’ is not a tenant of the Reformation and is at any rate incredibly naive. I think we’d be on better grounds biblically, theologically and historically, however, to talk about orthodox christologically driven, trinitarian and catholic creeds as presuppositions and confessions such as WCF as our particular understanding of the implications of those presuppositions. Otherwise we can become very narrow, too narrow I think, in our understanding of who our brothers and sisters are. In avoiding bibliolatry we might easily commit the sin of straight up idolatry, venerating the W. divines and their work.

  40. rfwhite said,

    September 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Jedidiah: Your interest in the liberty of conscience was a part of the previous post, of which the current one has been offered as a continuation. Also, I agree with you that it is important in talking of lenses not to confuse the levels of authority that we are assigning, respectively, to Scripture and our confessionional lenses. At the same time, it is worth noticing that in effect confession is identifiable with Scripture at the point where we enforce boundaries, otherwise we should do nothing. With you I wonder about the limits of the lens metaphor, though I take it that Bob and Lane want us to consider that individuals have lenses and so do groups. How individual and corporate lenses relate to each other seems to be the focus (no pun intended) of their posts.

  41. Todd said,

    September 8, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Jedidiah, # 38

    This is what I was trying to communicate in this discussion a few weeks ago, but you said it better.

    Thanks

  42. rfwhite said,

    September 8, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    38 Jedidiah: for my better understanding of your point, am I right to say that your contention is that we have all we need to identify who our brothers and sisters are by their affirmation of the orthodox christologically driven, trinitarian, and catholic creeds?

  43. Vern Crisler said,

    September 8, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Bob, it seems in your view Lane’s claim that all of our scriptural interpretations are lens-saturated is little more than a claim about PCA membership. But many of us thought he was making a global point about interpretation.

    If all of us come to the Bible with lenses, Lane asked the obvious question — which lens?

    Are we really left with a Sophie’s Choice? On the one hand, if the church lens is the final authority, the question becomes which church? On the other, if the individual lens is the final authority, which individual has the correct lens?

    Perhaps the problem is that the lens metaphor is too ambiguous, especially in light of how Wittgenstein, Kuhn, and others have used similar metaphors (language games, paradigms, etc.). Which lens do we use to find the correct lens? Does it all boil down to a clash of mutually incompatible lenses?

    Vern

  44. greenbaggins said,

    September 8, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Jedidiah, I actually do not think that the possibility of “critical” reading has been left out. Before ordination, it is the person’s responsibility to read the confession critically, noting his differences. After ordination, it is his responsibility to compare his teaching continually to the confessions, so that if he finds he has shifted, he will make that known to the Presbytery. Critical reading of the confessions is assumed all throughout this. If the difference is considered as too great by the Presbytery, then there are two options for the ordinand: leave the Presbytery, or make an overture asking for the standards to be changed. but just because Bob and I think that the confession can legitimately be viewed as a lens doesn’t mean that the confessions are closed to critique or change. I, for one, agree with the changes made in the late 18th century over the matters of consanguinity, the Pope as the Antichrist, and the civil magistrate.

  45. Paige Britton said,

    September 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    #37, Dr. White: “In my opinion, the general state of education among Christians is the moral equivalent of the multilevel failure of government during Hurricane Katrina.”

    Wow, a soapbox after my own heart. I joined my PCA church just two years ago, and the first job I was given was to re-think and restructure the adult SS program (kind of an unusual entry-level job to be given, but the pastors knew me & didn’t know what else to do with me…). So now I look at our congregation and think like an educator. We’ve started entry-level SS classes for those adults who can barely read, or who have never really read the Bible as adults, which is one end of the spectrum. For those who are ready to dig much deeper, I’d love to see some intensive studies in theology & apologetics happening during the week, but that’s still in the dream stage.

    It’s also, I have to say, a tough thing to dream and plan and know just what will work to make up for that educational lack that you see, and to have to hand the ball to others (who may not have the same drive and time and knowledge as I do) because I may not teach general groups. That’s not a complaint — I knew what I was getting into when I joined — but it is the truth of my experience.

  46. Paige Britton said,

    September 8, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    #36, Hey, Jedidiah again,
    “Actually my (our?) Presbytery recently licensed a candidate who held to a Continental view of the Lord’s day.”

    What’s that? I’ve never heard of it!

    The Jedidiah I know of is in the SVP. Is that you?

  47. David Gray said,

    September 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    >You alluded to FVers sleeping through class in seminary… huh, a number of the most vocal advocates of the ‘Feral Vision’ didn’t attend any seminary- which is one reason why this wild herd is such a pest.

    The unaccountable man speaks.

  48. rfwhite said,

    September 8, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Bob Mattes, what counts as an unaccountable man in the context of your post?

  49. GLW Johnson said,

    September 8, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Well, DG, we can always count on you to come to the rescue of all things FV

  50. GLW Johnson said,

    September 8, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    DG
    You never did tells me what church you are accountable to-so fess up.

  51. September 8, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Dr. White,

    To answer generally in the context of my post, someone would be accountable if they were being held at risk against some agree-upon standard by an earthly authority. You, Gary, Lane, et al, are held accountable for your views, teaching, and preaching by your presbyteries. I am accountable to my Session. When I was on active duty, I was accountable for my conduct under the UCMJ to my commander/supervisor.

    In contrast, someone who is not being held at risk against some agreed-upon standard would essentially be unaccountable in the earthly sense. At risk is a key concept in the definition.

    A congregationalist is theoretically accountable to his congregation, but in reality there’s little risk once the individual forms a lasting relationship with them. I don’t think that someone who starts their own church, or even their own denomination, is held at any real risk. They would be unaccountable in a practical sense. That’s just our sinful human nature.

    Unaccountability also creeps into a well-designed polity like the PCA’s at times. Presbyteries can fail to hold TEs accountable because of personal feelings and relationships. We saw that with Wilkins in LAP, where recorded examinations sounded like a backyard BBQ. It was only when LAP itself was called to account that they saw their error and repented. I believe the same is happening in a few other presbyteries today. That’s why we have the GA to hold the presbyteries accountable.

    I hope that addresses your question as you intended it.

  52. September 8, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Vern,

    I centered my post on the PCA in particular, but I believe that it applies generally. When you say that one’s lens determines one’s church, I agree to a point. By the grace of God, though, He is a great lens grinder. I grew up in the RCC. God mercifully took His divine Dremel to my lens and fixed it. I remain eternally grateful for the regrinding. I think that He calls His Dremel ‘sanctification’. As you well know, He can and does change us to more closely conform to the image of His Son, which I posit necessarily reshapes our lens and changes our focus onto Christ.

    Individuals certainly may choose their own lens. As I said in my post, in the USA one can worship ferrets and sacrifice Raisinetes to them. In my view, though, it takes incredible hubris to stand alone with an individual lens, or even a small group lens. In the context of Dr. White’s question, they are the essentially unaccountable individuals. I believe that they border on the autonomous – a law unto themselves. Scripture is inevitably remolded in their image. Marcion comes to mind, but he had and has lots of company.

    In the end, all metaphors break down when examined too closely. I freely admit that the lens motif has its drawbacks. I think that I’ve pretty much wrung it dry. :-)

  53. Vern Crisler said,

    September 8, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Ok, so you sound a little like Gordon Clark. When push comes to shove you appeal to a cause rather than to a reason.

    All very fine, if you are preaching to the choir. But what would you say to the Romanist who, according to his lens, says that your so-called church is autonomous and unaccountable to the true Mother church?

    In their view, God has mercifully shown Romanists the true lens, has overcome the hubris of Protestant individualism, who like Marcion mold the Bible to their own false stand-alone views.

    How would you respond to their my-lens-is-better-than-your-lens position?

    Vern

  54. Todd G said,

    September 8, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    #14, Bob

    I am in near-total agreement with your general sentiment. That is, that the Westminster Standards were formed by learned men who eagerly and wholeheartedly submitted themselves to Holy Scripture to form the exegetical basis for the Standards. I also agree that the Standards have stood the test of time, and that in 350 years, no serious errors have ever been found.

    However, the Standards, as held by the PCA (the denomination in which I am a TE), have been amended twice: once in 1789 (changing the relationship between church and state and the mention of the pope as the Antichrist) and again when adopted by the PCA in 1973 (relaxing restrictions on marrying one’s wife’s kindred and again removing the reference to Pope as Antichrist).

    Like I said, though, these are not “serious errors” (to use your words). I just wanted to point out that while the Standards have stood the test of time, they have been amended.

    I really appreciated the post. Thanks for the reminder that we all use lenses and that, as a minister in the PCA, my lens, by choice as well as by vow, is the Westminster Confession.

  55. September 9, 2009 at 4:28 am

    Todd,

    Thanks!

    Those changes serve to show that it is possible to amend the Standards in accordance with our polity, just as I’ve been challenging the disgruntled to try.

  56. September 9, 2009 at 4:35 am

    Vern,

    I don’t want this thread to go the way of the other one – a Protestant vs. RCC sink hole. I’ll simply say that Scripture doesn’t support their lens. Our Standards are solidly and solely based purely on Scripture as the only rule for faith and practice, their catechism and theology aren’t. I’d say a lot more than that, but don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. Let’s please stick with the Westminster Standards and/or 3FU.

  57. rfwhite said,

    September 9, 2009 at 6:08 am

    50 Bob Mattes: thanks for your thoughts on what counts as accountable and uncountable in the context of your post. What surfaces, I think, is that one’s beliefs about church government do not necessarily make one accountable. Connectionalists are as liable to be monarchs of their own churches as they think congregationalists are. How one behaves when called to account by others, whether within or without a formal connection, often discloses the thoughts and intents of a man’s heart.

  58. September 9, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Dr. White,

    How one behaves when called to account by others, whether within or without a formal connection, often discloses the thoughts and intents of a man’s heart.

    Exactly! David’s example in 2 Sam 12 followed by Ps 51 provides a great model of accepting responsibility and repenting when called to accountability.

  59. David Gray said,

    September 9, 2009 at 8:44 am

    >You never did tells me what church you are accountable to-so fess up.

    I’m OPC…

  60. Vern Crisler said,

    September 9, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Bob said, “Our Standards are solidly and solely based purely on Scripture as the only rule for faith and practice, their catechism and theology aren’t.”

    Yay, Scripture is the real lens then.

    Vern

  61. Tom Albrecht said,

    September 9, 2009 at 11:17 am

    >Exactly! David’s example in 2 Sam 12 followed by Ps 51 provides a great model of accepting responsibility and repenting when called to accountability.

    And yet we Protestant/Reformed folks celebrate Luther every October for his actions “when called to accountability.” We happen to agree with Luther’s lens, but that was hardly a universal position of the day.

    > I’ll simply say that Scripture doesn’t support their lens.

    According to your lens. But does that not beg the question?

  62. September 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Vern,

    Since we’re viewing Scripture, it cannot be the lens with which to view itself, though I can view the world using Scripture as my lens. However, in the case in question, Scripture constrains the lens such that the lens must be consistent with Scripture in every aspect. With the Westminsters, we say that they contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. Thus the lens is doctrinal in character, and those doctrines must derive consistently from, and be validated by, Scripture.

    In physics, if I want to view an infrared source, I don’t use a lens designed for ultraviolet light or gamma radiation. I may see nothing at all! Theologically, that would be like using a lens of Hinduism to read the Bible. The result makes no sense. The lens must be consistent and constrained by the source, yet the lens is not the source.

  63. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    September 9, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    What is the weakness of using lens as a metaphor?

  64. Paige Britton said,

    September 9, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    For one thing, some of us have jumped right into the whole “ultimate presuppositions” conundrum (i.e., you can’t see anything neutrally at all — viz. other thread). We keep having to redefine what we mean by “lens” — it’s not the eyeballs, as Jedidiah put it, but the spectacles that we’re talking about.

  65. Vern Crisler said,

    September 9, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Bob said, “Scripture constrains the lens such that the lens must be consistent with Scripture in every aspect.”

    How do you tell whether the lens is consistent with Scripture if you cannot access Scripture apart from the lens? (Note: a similar question is often raised against philosophical Idealists.)

    Vern

  66. Alan D. Strange said,

    September 9, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    #43, Lane:

    Just a minor historical note–to keep the record straight on this excellent blog– in re: this sentence, ” I, for one, agree with the changes made in the late 18th century over the matters of consanguinity, the Pope as the Antichrist, and the civil magistrate.” The change in re: consanguinity was made in 1887, the pope as Antichrist in 1903 (along with others, some of which the OPC accepted in 1936 and others of which it rejected), and the ones regarding the civil magistrate in 1788 at the first GA. Thanks for all the good work done here. Alan

  67. Richard said,

    September 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Vern, that’s a cracking question in #63!

  68. Paige Britton said,

    September 9, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    #63, Vern,
    “How do you tell whether the lens is consistent with Scripture if you cannot access Scripture apart from the lens? (Note: a similar question is often raised against philosophical Idealists.)”

    This is what I meant in #62. If we think of the “lens” in terms of presuppositions, rather than in terms of texts that can be compared with one another, we get all tied up in philosophical and epistemological knots. But comparing texts (WCF, Bible, etc.) is a normal intellectual activity. This is the level of “lens” that is being “constrained by Scripture.”

  69. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for the correction, Dr. Strange. I didn’t know they occurred at different times. I thought they all happened at once.

  70. September 9, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Paige,

    I like your answer. God indeed made us rational beings. Our rational gifts do not substitute for faith, yet we don’t check our brains at the church door. Comparing the WCF against the totality of, and details in, Scripture, and rubbing Scripture against Scripture in the analogy of faith, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, we can make these discernments.

    Yet…imperfectly because of our sinful nature. So, as Presbyterians, we form sessions and presbyteries and general assemblies to minimize the chances of individual or subgroup errors and to hold each other accountable. We share responsibilities across ruling and teaching elders, bringing a variety of God-given gifts to the table – and all to His glory.

  71. September 9, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Tom,

    We happen to agree with Luther’s lens, but that was hardly a universal position of the day.

    But then Luther and the early Reformers were willing to die for the gospel, and did by the tens of thousands. The Reformation has stood the test of time and been mightily blessed by God. OTOH, FVers in the PCA won’t even clearly state their beliefs in presbyteries and at GA, preferring to waffle, duck, weave, and obfuscate – until they finally leave the PCA rather than face impending defrocking. Then they are open and clear about what they believed all along. Big difference, Tom.

    According to your lens.

    According to any Scripture-based lens.

  72. David Gray said,

    September 9, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    >FVers in the PCA won’t even clearly state their beliefs in presbyteries and at GA, preferring to waffle, duck, weave, and obfuscate

    Pastor Leithart puts the lie to that.

  73. September 9, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    I’m glad that you have one hero. Everybody needs one.

  74. Tom Albrecht said,

    September 9, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    >But then Luther and the early Reformers were willing to die for the gospel,

    Some did and some didn’t. Calvin and Luther did not die for the gospel.

    Besides, is it your contention that those who share you lens are the only ones willing to die to their beliefs? Joseph Smith was willing to die for what he believed, as wrong as it was.

    >The Reformation has stood the test of time and been mightily blessed by God.

    Cannot the Romanist make the same claim via their lens?

    >OTOH, FVers in the PCA …

    My comments were directed at the concept of the lens, not at any individuals group’s lens per se.

    >According to any Scripture-based lens.

    You’re still begging the question. Only now you need a Scripture lens to examine the Confession lens that you use to examine Scripture.

  75. September 10, 2009 at 4:17 am

    Tom,

    Please read #61 on lens vs. source. Also, we’re not going down the Protestant vs. Romanist sink hole. Feel free to join the other thread on that.

  76. johnbugay said,

    September 10, 2009 at 4:20 am

    Wow, there’s a real Dr. Strange.

  77. Scott said,

    September 10, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Tom Albrecht said,

    “>But then Luther and the early Reformers were willing to die for the gospel,

    Some did and some didn’t. Calvin and Luther did not die for the gospel. ”

    I’m not sure of your point in this, so please forgive me if I’m not understanding.

    The impression this leaves me is a very incorrect one, both on the specifics and the context.

    Mr. Luther fled for his life, disguised himself and hid in a castle while being chased by church and state authorities. His refusal to recant salvation by grace alone before the council was under threat of excommunication, banishment or death in those days.

    Mr. Calvin escaped under disguise and traveled as a gardener under threat of great harm or death. He so singularly devoted his life to systematizing the doctrine of Scripture, letting the whole of Scripture interpret the whole of Scripture, his health failed.

    He worked day and night with an extraordinary focus, to the detriment of his health- suffered health maladies and did not live a long life because He was so devoted to give us the greatest theology study ever.

    I don’t think your comments are meant to dismiss that, but many do not understand what the Reformers had to go through to bring the church back to the Apostolic Christianity of the first century.

  78. GLW Johnson said,

    September 10, 2009 at 7:50 am

    DG
    You are a minister in the OPC?

  79. Richard said,

    September 10, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Pastor Johnson–off subject here: do you have a book or work you can recommend for a new member of our church who is caught up in Bahnsen-type theonomy and Vision Forum matters? I’ve looked at the book Westminster put out years ago–and I’m not sure it answers the mail for him.
    Thanks.

  80. Stephanie said,

    September 10, 2009 at 8:47 am

    So the individual uses his/her rationality that God gave them to locate the lense (church, confession) that they believe is most biblical and then submits to it.

    How does that avoid biblicism?

    Reformed Sinner. You said that God’s drimmel is ‘sanctification.’ Are those that submit to different lenses therefore not sanctified?

  81. rfwhite said,

    September 10, 2009 at 9:28 am

    60 Tom and 57 Bob: both the David example and the Luther example are relevant to the point I was hoping to raise. Both took pains to maintain a clear conscience toward both God and man and both lived with the consequences.

  82. David Gray said,

    September 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    >I’m glad that you have one hero. Everybody needs one.

    With all due respect that was not a particularly wise statement. Why not admit you were wrong? The fact of it is clear enough and being honest in admitting it would only work to your benefit…

  83. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    September 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    David Gray,

    Is Doug Wilson another one of your heroes?

  84. David Gray said,

    September 10, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    >Is Doug Wilson another one of your heroes?

    This is an increasingly odd discussion. Despite the bizarre statement by Mr. Mattes I didn’t at any point say Pastor Leithart was my hero, singular or otherwise. I did point out that the existence of Pastor Leithart showed Mr. Mattes’ statements to be baseless and untrue. If he makes that statement in the future it would not be unreasonable to conclude that he is acting with conscious error.

  85. September 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    David,

    Swing and a miss. Leithart, if he is/was being plain, he is the only one of which I’m aware across the entire breed in the PCA. My statement was far from baseless and untrue. Read carefully what I said as you quoted me:

    FVers in the PCA won’t even clearly state their beliefs in presbyteries and at GA, preferring to waffle, duck, weave, and obfuscate.

    Did I say *all* FVers? No, I didn’t – that’s just the way you took it. The term “FVers” as used without a modifier could also mean some of a group. That’s just common English. If the Bible says “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman…” in John 8:3, does it mean that *all* the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman? That would have been quite a crowd, eh? Commuting would have been a bear back then. But we know that’s not what the Bible meant. Or perhaps John was acting with conscious error?

    So, Mr. Mattes did not make the error of which you accused him. Where does that leave us, Mr. Gray?

  86. jared said,

    September 10, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Doctrine is only half the picture (actually, it’s sort of underneath the picture) and that’s part of the problem with using the WCF as a lens. It makes perfect sense that FV advocates appear to “waffle, duck, weave, and obfuscate”; it’s the necessary consequence of emphasizing story and narrative while constructing a theology. It doesn’t necessarily make them wrong it just makes them difficult to interact with if you aren’t using a similar theological paradigm. Both paradigms (the FV and the WCF) get at the truth and each looks odd to the other because of the apparent conflict between the seemingly disparate emphases.

  87. September 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    jared,

    FV and the WCF are not both true because they are incompatible. Only one can be true, and that’s the WCF which has stood 350 years of scrutiny. That’s not just my opinion after considerable study, but also the finding of seven orthodox Reformed denominations after they extensively studied the issues.

  88. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    September 10, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    David Gray,

    No intent to turn this into an odd discussion. I was just picking up on another commenter’s remarks. And since Leithart is an FV’er, then I thought you might be a fan or admirer of Doug Wilson’s as well.

    Jared, #87,

    I thought your comment was very astute.

    ———–

    I’m wondering if the Lens Metaphor has a flaw in it. Eg., people don’t always use the lens that they profess. Or they use it with varying degrees of consistency or intensity. Or they substitute different lens on an ad hoc basis or as is convenient.

    I have several pairs of glasses and I also wear disposable contacts.

    The Lens Metaphor is fine to a certain extent, but pushed too far, it probably loses explanatory power.

  89. David Gray said,

    September 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    >The term “FVers” as used without a modifier could also mean some of a group. That’s just common English.

    If you actually wanted to communicate what you wanted to you’d have been far better served to say “some FV-ers” or even “most FV-ers”. But at least you don’t use child speak like “Feral Vision”.

  90. September 10, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Mr. Gray,

    Thanks for the accusation anyway. Oh well, I’ve been on the pointy end of enough FV accusations to grow numb to them. Maybe your personal implementation of the serrated edge?

  91. jared said,

    September 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Bob,

    Re. #88,

    Thanks for proving my point.

  92. rfwhite said,

    September 10, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Bob Mattes: when you say, “The Reformers loved the church and highly respected her opinions. They respected her opinions above their own, in fact. And this is really the point. In submitting to the confessions, we acknowledge that the church is our mother,” do you in fact mean to take for granted that for the individual submission to the church and her opinions/confessions is not the same as submission to Scripture?

  93. David Gray said,

    September 10, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    >Thanks for the accusation anyway.

    Odd given that I accepted your statement of intent in the previous post rather than doubting your motives.

    >Maybe your personal implementation of the serrated edge?

    Hardly although perhaps the serrated edge is preferable to the blunt object preferred by so many anti-FV zealots.

  94. September 10, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Dr. White,

    I cannot take credit for saying that. Lane said it in his post, so I’ll let him answer.

  95. September 10, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    David,

    OK, you can have the last word in that vein. This thread is supposed to be about lenses, not hammers or knives. Let’s please all get back on topic.

  96. Paige Britton said,

    September 11, 2009 at 5:04 am

    Truth Unites, #89 — “I’m wondering if the Lens Metaphor has a flaw in it. Eg., people don’t always use the lens that they profess. Or they use it with varying degrees of consistency or intensity. Or they substitute different lens on an ad hoc basis or as is convenient.”

    Yes, and I like this follow-up question: “What lens do you THINK you are using, and how would you know when you stopped using it?”

  97. Paige Britton said,

    September 11, 2009 at 5:23 am

    #80: “So the individual uses his/her rationality that God gave them to locate the lens (church, confession) that they believe is most biblical and then submits to it. How does that avoid biblicism?
    Reformed Sinner. You said that God’s drimmel is ’sanctification.’ Are those that submit to different lenses therefore not sanctified?”

    I’m recovering Stephanie’s good questions here. I don’t know if I can answer adequately, but here are some thoughts anyway:

    First, in our discussion at least, we are assuming that something comes before the exercise of rationality in comparing texts (“locating the most biblical lens”), which is conversion. All of us who are true believers, regardless of the theological / confessional lens we adopt, begin with this new sight. (Maybe these are the “eyeballs” that Jedidiah wrote about.)

    As new believers, we are ushered into God’s work of sanctification, which will last the rest of our lives. Just as we grow into Christlikeness, so we grow into the knowledge of the Scriptures, and perhaps even into an informed knowledge of the various lenses that people use. Just because people use different [Christian] lenses doesn’t mean they are without Christ, or “not sanctified.” But we would like to claim that some of these “lenses” are more biblical, and therefore better to use, than others (and that knowing about lenses is better than puttering along being ignorant of their existence!).

    “Biblicism” is being tossed around as a pejorative term; I am assuming it implies a wooden or rigid misuse of the biblical text to justify one’s position. We would like to claim in contrast that doing our homework – i.e., careful reading, prayer, and seeking the counsel of others – allows us to select a theological lens that sufficiently reflects the words and themes of Scripture, that is truly “biblical.” Perhaps the contrast between “Biblicism” and “biblical” is hard work and humility.

  98. GLW Johnson said,

    September 11, 2009 at 5:34 am

    DG
    You are not an ordained minister in the OPC -but you certainly sound like a good lap dog to the bishop of Moscow.

  99. David Gray said,

    September 11, 2009 at 6:45 am

    >but you certainly sound like a good lap dog to the bishop of Moscow

    And you sound like a badly educated boot boy.

  100. GLW Johnson said,

    September 11, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Ah, shucks DG and I thought you the potential to fetch sticks.

  101. rfwhite said,

    September 11, 2009 at 7:26 am

    95 Bob Mattes: My bad. (It was attributed to you elsewhere.)

  102. September 11, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Dr. White,

    No problem. I’m sure that Lane will answer when he gets a chance.

  103. rfwhite said,

    September 11, 2009 at 7:33 am

    95/93 Bob and Lane: knowing now that that quote came from Lane, I see an answer to my question is discernible in Lane’s blog post. As they say, “never mind.”

  104. Teri said,

    September 11, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I will be most surprised if my comment is allowed on this blog and in this discussion.

    However, after being directed here to read the the post “Which Lens..” and the over 1000 comments, I feel I must leave a short comment.

    I am finishing in the Inquiry process at the Catholic Church in my parish. It is for Protestants to ask any questions before continuing into the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA). You gentlemen have sufficiently answered every last bit of even the smallest question here.

    I am so blessed and thankful for the grace of Our Lord that He opened my eyes to the truth of the faith – that which was handed down once for all the saints. I have heard that scripture quoted so many times in my life.

    If the early Christians didn’t know what it was that was handed down and they made up the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or the structure of how the faithful should live and how the Church should be run according to what Christ through His apostles handed down – then it’s all a lie.

    They couldn’t have the correct canon because they don’t even know how to live correctly. For all I know, if this is the case, the Da Vinci Code could be true! Constantine- an unbaptized pagan- could have made them decide, not the Holy Spirit. Christ did not leave a Church that the gates of hell couldn’t prevail against. They were a mess – all of those people you call the Early Church Fathers – they couldn’t make one decision right according to all of you!

    Thanks be to God, Our Almighty Father that Our Lord instituted a church and it had the authority that He gave to it because it was His to give and no one else’s to take.

    John Calvin took the sacrament of confession away and instead had the people killed, exiled, tortured or imprisoned for sins committed.
    Was that the faith handed down? With the Early Church under threat of death from the Roman Empire almost constantly, Our Lord would have to miraculously raise up stones to worship HIM if Calvin’s idea were true.

    If you weren’t killed and tortured by the pagan Romans, then you were killed and tortured by the Church for bad conduct? How many people would be left?

    Your constant fighting and bickering over WCF, long and short, whether “Reformed” Baptist are truly reformed, John Piper is “heretical for allowing Doug Wilson” who preaches another gospel to speak at his conference, Tim Keller is not complimentarian, etc..etc.. ad nauseum.

    Calvin is the man that systematically introduced a “new gospel” which wasn’t good news at all. Miserable people making other people miserable, but at least we are elect and the “club is exclusive”. Only a limited number are permitted in – those who make the confession of a alternative “church”.

    I can honestly say to those in my parish, “I want to belong to the Body of Christ”…I want to go back to the faith handed down Once For All the Saints.
    My Conversion story should read, “John Calvin and His Disciples Made Me Catholic”.

    I pray for the peace of Christ to enter your hearts, along with love for others.
    Teri

  105. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    September 11, 2009 at 8:38 am

    David Gray: “Hardly although perhaps the serrated edge is preferable to the blunt object preferred by so many anti-FV zealots.”

    Do you consider Green Baggins considered an anti-FV zealot? Do you consider this post that he wrote titled “Why is the Federal Vision Heresy” to be a blunt object?

  106. Reformed Sinner said,

    September 11, 2009 at 9:47 am

    #98

    Reformed Sinner… did I make a comment in this thread? I seriously don’t remember and when I scroll up I couldn’t find any either….

    Reformed Musing perhaps?

  107. rfwhite said,

    September 11, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Bob Mattes: In your post you place the Church’s confessional duties alongside the vows for the teaching office and the process for amending the Church’s confession. Agreeable as far as it goes. It appears to me, however, that there is a special challenge raised by the differences between the vows of the teaching officer and the ordination exams of the candidate for the teaching office.

    There is a difference in the agent who evaluates the individual. The vows place the burden of evaluating one’s accord with the Church’s confession on the teaching officer himself: it is you who find yourself out of accord with the fundamentals of the Church’s system of doctrine and you who will on your own initiative make known the change that has taken place in your views since you assumed the vows. During the candidate’s ordination exams, however, the burden of evaluating one’s accord with the Church’s confession is placed on the presbytery: it is the presbytery who judges whether the candidate’s declared differences are out of accord with any fundamental of the Church’s system of doctrine.

    But there is another important difference. Not only are the agents who evaluate the individual different; the object of evaluation is different: the vows focus on “the fundamentals of the Church’s system of doctrine”; the ordination exams focus on “the specific instances in which [the candidate] may differ with [the Church’s standards] in any of their statements and/or propositions.” The difference between the two objects of evaluation is fairly pronounced.

    Am I wrong or don’t the differences between these two sets of requirements become a combustible combination under the right circumstances?

  108. Tom Albrecht said,

    September 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

    #77

    >I don’t think your comments are meant to dismiss that, but many do not understand what the Reformers had to go through to bring the church back to the Apostolic Christianity of the first century.

    No, they were meant to point out that many others have given their lives for their faith. E.g., Joseph Smith. If you take the pragmatics arguments that were given back in #71 – “Reformers were willing to die for the gospel, and did by the tens of thousands” and “The Reformation has stood the test of time and been mightily blessed by God. “ – you could easily replace “Reformers” with “Roman Catholics” have an equally true statement based on the lens of the reader. They do not prove the truth of the underlying position.

    Therefore, it appears to be begging the question to respond by saying, “Scripture doesn’t support their lens.”

  109. Paige Britton said,

    September 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    #106 — Hi, Reformed Sinner — I was quoting (in #98) Stephanie’s post back in #80, but I think she meant the other guy (about the drimmel). :)

  110. Paige Britton said,

    September 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    RS — you keep being mistaken for other people, don’t you!

  111. Paige Britton said,

    September 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    #107, Dr. White:
    You wrote, “But there is another important difference. Not only are the agents who evaluate the individual different; the object of evaluation is different: the vows focus on “the fundamentals of the Church’s system of doctrine”; the ordination exams focus on “the specific instances in which [the candidate] may differ with [the Church’s standards] in any of their statements and/or propositions.” The difference between the two objects of evaluation is fairly pronounced.”

    I want to make sure I understand this difference. Is it like this:

    Prior to his vow, when he is being examined, a TE candidate will be checked by the presbytery to make sure his beliefs are in accord with the confessional standards of the church. At this time presbytery will note any discrepancies (which may come up in examination Q&A, or which may come from the candidate’s self-reporting when asked directly). They will rank any discrepancies according to importance — low (semantic), medium (e.g., those sabbath clauses), or high (strikes at the vitals of religion) — and make their recommendation re. ordination accordingly.

    Later, when the ordained TE vows to report on himself, it seems he is only vowing to report on those things that “strike at the vitals” of the doctrine. Does this mean that TE’s regularly excuse themselves from reporting differences that seem (to them) “less important”?

  112. rfwhite said,

    September 11, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    111 Paige Britton: you have understood the gist of the consequence, which is presumably unintended. When it comes to the discovery and disclosure of one’s accord with the Church’s confession, the intent is the same but the procedure is different. There is one procedure before a man takes his ordination vows; there is another procedure after he takes his vows. A conscientious man could be in accord by one procedure and out of accord by the other.

  113. Scott said,

    September 11, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Teri said,
    “Calvin is the man that systematically introduced a “new gospel” which wasn’t good news at all. Miserable people making other people miserable, but at least we are elect and the “club is exclusive”. Only a limited number are permitted in – those who make the confession of a alternative “church”.”

    Mr. Calvin re-introduced the gospel of the Scripture interpreting all of Scripture, something that had been lost.

    Not sure what you mean by miserable.

    God is the one who makes people His. He alone can do that- certainly not certain “works” or sacraments controlled through an institution.

    God’s true people are not at all characterized as being miserable but rather, joyful in the midst of terrible circumstances (such as Mr. Calvin in the face of threat and persecution from Rome).

  114. September 11, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Dr. White,

    I never considered that dichotomy before. However I respectfully disagree with your final observation:

    A conscientious man could be in accord by one procedure and out of accord by the other.

    A truly conscientious man wouldn’t excuse themselves if they find themselves out of accord based on their examination. I can’t speak for every presbytery, but in ours, the theology and sacraments especially help to filter out FV, NPP, and other undesirable elements using the WCF and catechisms as the basis for our questions. I’ve seen a few interesting ones during my time on the committee. I would expect that if someone later moves out of accord with anything in the examination, they would also be out of accord with the Standards.

    The difference between self-declaring and being found out in an examination provides a greater challenge. Calvin observed that the human heart was an idol factory, in consonance with Jer 17:9. Humans are great rationalizers, excusing our own sins. Yet, the BCO makes allowances for this. Charges can be brought which result in an examination. The problem that I’ve seen in the PCA is what I mentioned above – it’s hard for presbyteries to convict their friends. On that course, presbyteries become accessories to an individual’s rationalizations.

    Providentially, God blessed our forefathers with the wisdom to create the General Assembly, a non-local body that could impartially evaluate local issues in these situations. This process worked as designed with Wilkins, and will with others.

  115. September 11, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Teri,

    Your history is way off. It wasn’t the Protestants who murdered hundreds of thousands of Protestants, Jews, et al, in an inquisition. It wasn’t Protestants that forbade the laity from reading the Scriptures for themselves. It wasn’t Protestants who made up human rules, just as the Pharisees did, with which to rule and dominate their serfs. It isn’t Protestants who thumb their noses at Jer 17:9 and similar verses by declaring an ordinary human being, or group of human beings, infallible – usurping glory from God who shares His glory with no one (Isa 42:8).

    The letters to the Hebrews and Galatians both condemn the RCC system of human-based rules. When the RCC can make up their own extra-Scriptural doctrines and claim they are part of some secret tradition that the common folk can’t know until the church “shares” them, they can answer any questions that may arise. It’s a carte blanche.

    But, you’re posting on the wrong thread. Please take the RCC dicussion over to the original thread. This thread is dedicated to an internal Protestant discussion. Thank you.

  116. Sean said,

    September 12, 2009 at 6:06 am

    Reformed Musings:

    It wasn’t the Protestants who….

    Maybe just scan the bit about torture and death for Catholics (and Anabaptists) in Reformation era Europe.

    It is disingenuous to try to say that it wasn’t the Protestants who murdered etc.

    This does not make ‘ok’ what some Catholics did but lets not be ignorant of history.

  117. Paige Britton said,

    September 12, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Bob,
    thanks for keeping this part of the discussion from spinning off into the vortex of RCC / EOC / Protestant iron-sharpening-iron with tire irons & etc. (Though this will probably mean that this one does not top 900 posts.)

    Here is another related thing that I am curious about, re. lenses and TE’s and being in and out of accord with the Standards:

    Really, the lenses we are talking about, such as the WCF, are limited in scope. They are a general outline, but are not intended to provide detailed exegesis of every passage of Scripture. The examinations that you referenced, which are based on the Standards, screen out theological inclinations that are at variance with the core of Reformed teaching; but presumably TE’s might differ in their interpretations of passages in other respects.

    Without venturing into the Keller/Duncan sorts of differences that we saw this summer, how do PCA (and similar) TE’s “police” themselves when they are “out of accord” with, say, Calvin on a passage? If a TE holds a minority view on the interpretation of, say, the “stoichaeia” in 2 Peter 3:10 or the “wretched man” in Romans 7, is he bound by anything in particular to exposit the passage in keeping with the majority of Reformed commentators?

  118. rfwhite said,

    September 12, 2009 at 7:39 am

    114 Bob Mattes: We’re talking passed each other because we are talking about two different phases in a church’s history on a given controversy. At this point in the history of the PCA, individuals and presbyteries have a record of church consensus on many controversies, ancient and recent. I concede that conscientious men are not ordinarily going to find themselves in jeopardy on the issues treated in those controversies on which the church has reached a consensus. I submit, however, that the problem comes precisely where the church has not reached (discerned) a consensus. The NPP/FV issue is a case in point. There once was a phase of latitude toward NPP/FV views; now is a phase of consensus against those views. In that light, arguably, my own statement conflated the two phases. Even so, it remains a problem, as far as I can see, that there are differences between the discovery and disclosure of one’s accord with the church’s standards before and after taking ordination vows.

  119. September 12, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Paige,

    Good questions. I cannot speak for other presbyteries with specificity. I believe that in general, there is liberty on issues not touching on the Standards. As you say, the Standards are not all-encompassing of every detail in Scripture, but contain “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” There are a few Reformed teachers in the PCA who believe that Paul in Romans 7 is referring to himself before and after conversion. Dr. Robert Reymond takes this view in an appendix of his excellent systematic. Most, I would guess, believe that Paul refers to the believers’ daily struggle with their sinful nature. There is grace for both positions.

    The PCA has published some number of study committees and position papers over the years concerning controversial issues like paedocommunion, cessation of charismatic gifts, theonomy, days of creation, etc. In some cases, they have provided a measure of grace for positions and in others they reject views as being incompatible. Generally, it is up to presbyteries how to handle views not directly addressed in the Standards. For example, I learned that at least one presbytery will ordain/accept paedocommunionists with the proviso that they don’t teach or practice it. I believe that’s a dangerous mistake that can only lead to trouble in the long term.

    To address your last point, we do not use Reformed commentators as a litmus test. Though we often quote them for support, no one is required to agree with them on points not covered or touching the Standards.

    In the main, I think that this liberty makes the PCA a strong denomination. I have some dear brothers who hold different views on the days of creation. As long as elders fall within the acceptable range of views, I would not want to lose them over this issue.

  120. September 12, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Dr. White,

    Even so, it remains a problem, as far as I can see, that there are differences between the discovery and disclosure of one’s accord with the church’s standards before and after taking ordination vows.

    I certainly agree with that statement. That’s one reason that I have said a number of times that at the core of current problem with FV in the PCA is integrity. FVers redefine key terms to appear in conformance. They also depend on their local friendships to keep them “safe” in their presbyteries. For David Gray’s sake, I’ll point out that Dr. Leithart appears to be the only exception to clearly stating his views, but his friends in NW still keep him safe. Only a courageous few are willing to stand for the Standards.

  121. rfwhite said,

    September 12, 2009 at 7:58 am

    To Paige Britton’s point in 117: The church does not police the minority or majority status of a man’s views on a given text. It is concerned with whether those views put his doctrine not out of accord with the church’s standards. I am reminded of the Remonstrant controversy, which began with minority questions and views of individual texts and grew into a doctrinal challenge to the majority consensus of the Reformed churches.

  122. rfwhite said,

    September 12, 2009 at 8:22 am

    120 Bob Mattes: allow me latitude to say that, as a participant in a colloquium with several of the FV leaders, I did not find that they redefined terms “to appear in [conformity].” The men at that colloquium conducted themselves with integrity. For those who subscribed to the PCA standards, they honestly believed that they were in conformity; they were not hiding behind redefinition. But that is just the point I am trying to make: the result of their self-examination is not what matters, but their vows lead us and them to believe that it is what matters. What actually matters is the examination of their fellow presbyters.

    121 Sorry for the typo: I should have written: “It is concerned with whether those views put his doctrine out of accord with the church’s standards.”

  123. September 12, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Dr. White,

    I appreciate you sharing of your experience on the colloquium, and am very grateful for your service on that body. My experience on the blogs differs somewhat, but then it encompasses a mostly different group of individuals.

    How would you propose to resolve the issue that you have raised? Would you change the vows? If so, how would you suggest that they read?

  124. rfwhite said,

    September 12, 2009 at 10:44 am

    123 Bob: on the difference between your experience and mine with FV advocates and supporters, I agree that what I observed during the colloquium would not necessarily apply after the colloquium. Allow me to push this a little farther because I don’t want to be misunderstood: the FV men at the colloquium did acknowledge that they were redefining traditional terms in non-traditional ways, and, as you suggested, the FV group continues in this redefinition project today. For the colloquium participants, however, this activity of redefinition did not put them in jeopardy for at least two reasons: 1) they were still affirming traditional doctrines alongside their redefinitions of terms; and 2) they found no incompatibility between their redefinitions and the traditional definitions, particularly the fundamentals of the Church’s system of doctrine. Under their vows, because they found themselves in accord with the fundamentals, they had no obligation to make known the change in their views to their presbyteries. When — but only when — others came to disagree with the FVers’ self-assessment and did find their views incompatible and out of accord with the Church’s standards did the conflicting (largely individual) assessments require a process of collective assessment by their fellow presbyters.

    As to how to resolve the issue, grant me some room to think through this with input from others, since it is new to me as well. Here’s a thought. Reword the vow to say the following:

    Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time after the assumption of this ordination vow you come to differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions, you will on your own initiative, make those specific instances of difference known to your Presbytery?

    This, at least, has the merit of bringing greater consistency between the ordination exam and the ordination vow.

  125. Paige Britton said,

    September 12, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Thanks, Bob & Dr. White, for your thoughts!

  126. September 12, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Dr. White,

    Copy all. I will carefully consider what you have said. As to the vows, I would be interested to hear your proposal after you have gather inputs and think it through. I have been greatly blessed by our conversation here and have some new things to consider.

  127. September 12, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Paige,

    Thanks for your insights and questions – iron sharpening iron.

  128. Paige Britton said,

    September 12, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Dr. White,
    I think your proposal is interesting, too — but I kind of wonder at the practicability of it. It would mean, I think, that a conscientious TE would feel obligated to report on all matters of difference, whether small, medium or large (as the differences are variously judged at a candidate’s examination). As people’s knowledge and opinions do change over time, and as people even fluctuate between positions over time, reporting anything other than a “large” or significant change might end up seeming like overkill.

    As things stand now, what is the procedure for a TE’s self-reporting on change? Is there a standard course of events (written notice, presbytery votes to form a committee, etc.)?

  129. Paige Britton said,

    September 12, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Bob,
    You’re welcome! It’s a delight to be able to ask things (tire irons aside)!

  130. rfwhite said,

    September 12, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    128 PB: The obligation that it places on a conscientious TE is no different than it places on a conscientious candidate for ordination. The requirement is no more onerous for the one than the other. Of the ordination exams in which I have participated, the vast majority of differences are two: recreation on the sabbath and the nature of the days of creation. For those unfamiliar with the process and practice, it is remarkable how rarely men differ with the statements and propositions of the standards during their exam. That rarity is very unlikely to be the case after the vows are taken. Frequent or rapid change often exposes immaturity.

  131. rfwhite said,

    September 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    130 Sorry again for the typo: That rarity is very likely to be the case after the vows are taken. (Rapid change of thought exposes immature typing.)

  132. rfwhite said,

    September 12, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    128 PB: on the procedure for a TE’s self-reporting, I am not aware of a standardized, formalized process other than that the TE notifies the presbytery through the clerk and the report is then referred to the proper committee, probably credentials. Perhaps a commission would be appointed.

  133. Paige Britton said,

    September 13, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks, Dr. White!
    It makes sense to say that changes would be rare, and usually limited to those areas that you noted (recreation, days of creation, and maybe the 2nd commandment re. inner images — I have heard that one recently). I guess I was thinking of the burden it would put on a presbytery to field the various less-than-significant differences that might arise along the road for an ordained TE, if the vows read as you suggested. Of course, if it were already the presbytery’s practice to grant an exception in certain areas, it would hardly be more than a matter of communication to note if one had changed his mind about one of the common differences.

    But I guess that you and Bob would also like to see more open communication lines among elders so as to lower the risk of having FV or PC sentiments grow and bear fruit within the denomination, right?

  134. Paige Britton said,

    September 13, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Bob & Dr. White & all,

    Here is a fine point of theology that I have just bumped into, which intersects a bit with the idea of being in / out of accord. Maybe one of you could give me a quick general sketch as an answer, and direct me to something helpful to read:

    I’m reading Andrew McGowan on Barth, and he writes: “Barth was right to insist that there is no inter-trinitarian covenant. This is a weakness in covenant theology that demonstrates a failure to integrate properly its understanding of the covenant with its doctrine of the Trinity.”

    Now, McGowan is Reformed, though I realize he is not PCA. But I have never heard any Reformed writer directly reject the covenant of redemption before. For whom is he speaking, here, do you think? (He mentions Thomas Boston, for one.) Is this a common conclusion among contemporary Reformed theologians? (Not about Barth, but about the covenant of redemption.)

    Is the covenant of redemption (“pactum salutis”) even mentioned in the WCF? I couldn’t find it.

    Did this one ever come up in the PCA? Do you think it would merit wrangling if it did, or would a TE’s disagreement with this doctrine be considered a minor thing?

    Can you think of any helpful historical surveys of the development of covenant theology that I might read? I’m more interested here in the development of the idea of the covenant of redemption, rather than in an expression of it, which I have handy in other resources.

    Thanks!!

  135. rfwhite said,

    September 13, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    133 PB: yes, as long as the vows are written as they are, they cannot accomplish what they were meant to accomplish, for the reasons that Bob and I have cited.

  136. Roger Mann said,

    September 13, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    134. PB wrote,

    But I have never heard any Reformed writer directly reject the covenant of redemption before.

    I’m not sure if this is what you’re referring to or not, but a number of Reformed theologians reject the Covenant of Redemption as being a distinct covenant from the Covenant of Grace. For example:

    In entering upon the exposition of this section, it is proper to remark, that, at the period when our Confession was framed, it was generally held by the most eminent divines, that there are two covenants connected with the salvation of men, which they called the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace; the former made with Christ from everlasting, the latter made with sinners in time; the righteousness of Christ being the condition of the former, and faith the condition of the latter covenant. This distinction, we conceive, has no foundation in the Sacred Scriptures, and it has long since been abandoned by all evangelical divines. The first Adam is said to have been a figure of Christ, who is called the second Adam. Now, there was not one covenant made with Adam, the condition of which he was to perform, and another made with his posterity, the condition of which they were to fulfil; but one covenant included both him and them. It was made with him as their representative, and with them as represented in and by him. In like manner, one covenant includes Christ and his spiritual seed. The Scriptures, accordingly, everywhere speak of it as one covenant, and the blood of Christ is repeatedly called “the blood of the covenant,” not of the covenants, as we may presume it would have been called, if it had been the condition of a covenant of redemption and the foundation of a covenant of grace.—Heb. x. 29, xiii. 20. By the blood of the same covenant Christ made satisfaction, and we obtain deliverance.—Zech. ix. 11. We hold, therefore, that there is only one covenant for the salvation of fallen men, and that this covenant was made with Christ before the foundation of the world. The Scriptures, indeed, frequently speak of God making a covenant with believers, but this language admits of an easy explication, in consistency with the unity of the covenant. “The covenant of grace,” says a judicious writer, “was made with Christ in a strict and proper sense, as he was the party-contractor in it, and undertook to fulfil the condition of it. It is made with believers in an improper sense, when they are taken into the bond of it, and come actually to enjoy the benefit of it. How it is made with them may be learned from the words of the apostle,—Acts xiii. 34: “I will give you the sure mercies of David,’ which is a kind of paraphrase upon that passage,—Is. lv. 3: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.’ God makes the covenant with them, not by requiring anything of them in order to entitle them or lay a foundation for their claim to the blessings of it, but by making these over to them as a free gift, and putting them in possession of them, as far as their present state will admit, by a faith of his own operation.”

    The supposition of two covenants for the salvation of mankind sinners, is encumbered with various difficulties. One is obvious. In every proper covenant, there are two essential parts—a conditionary and a promissory. If, therefore, there be a covenant made with sinners, different from the covenant made with Christ, it must have a condition which they themselves must perform. But though our old divines called faith the condition of the covenant made with sinners, they did not assign any merit to faith, but simply precedence. “The truth is,” as Dr Dick has remarked, “that what these divines call the covenant of grace, is merely the administration of what they call the covenant of redemption, for the purpose of communicating its blessings to those for whom they were intended; and cannot be properly considered as a covenant, because it is not suspended upon a proper condition.” The Westminster Assembly, in this section, appear to describe what was then usually designated the covenant of grace, as distinguished from the covenant of redemption. But, though they viewed the covenant under a twofold consideration, as made with the Surety from everlasting, and as made with sinners in time, they certainly regarded it as one and the same covenant. “The covenant of grace,” say they, “was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” (Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the WCF, 7.3)

    And the following:

    The Calvinist view, therefore, is, that God having determined to save the elect out of the mass of the race fallen in Adam, appointed his Son to become incarnate in our nature; and as the Christ, or God-man Mediator, he appointed him to be the second Adam and representative head of redeemed humanity; and as such entered into a covenant with him and with his seed in him. In this covenant the Mediator assumes in behalf of his elect seed the broken conditions of the old covenant of works precisely as Adam left them. Adam had failed to obey, and therefore forfeited life; he had sinned, and therefore incurred the endless penalty of death. Christ therefore suffered the penalty, and extinguished in behalf of all whom he represented the claims of the old covenant; and at the same time he rendered a perfect vicarious obedience, which was the very condition upon which eternal life had been originally offered. All this Christ does as a principal party with God to the covenant, in acting as the representative of his own people…

    Our Standards say nothing of two covenants. They do not mention the covenant of redemption as distinct from the covenant of grace. But evidently the several passages which treat of this subject (Conf. Faith, ch. 7., s. 3; L. Cat., q. 31; S. Cat., q. 20) assume that there is but one covenant, contracted by Christ in behalf of the elect with God in eternity, and administered by him to the elect in the offers and ordinances of the gospel and in the gracious influences of his Spirit. The Larger Catechism in the place referred to teaches how the covenant of grace was contracted with Christ for his people. The Confession of Faith in these sections teaches how that same covenant is administered by Christ to his people. (A.A. Hodge, Commentary on the WCF, 7.3)

    I hope that’s helpful.

  137. Paige Britton said,

    September 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Wow, thank you Roger, for those selections. What Shaw & A.A. Hodge point out is that what used to be known as “the covenant of redemption,” made by Christ with God in eternity, ought properly to be telescoped into what is called “the covenant of grace,” so that the pre-temporal, inter-Trinitarian agreement is included in our thinking of the covenant of grace.

    But it sounds as if McGowan, agreeing with Barth, rejects the idea of an inter-Trinitarian agreement at all! This is what I am wondering about.

    (I am puzzling here more about a specific application of our “lens,” the WCF, rather than the value of lenses per se, so this is just a bunny trail off Bob’s original ideas. But I’d still love any other input on the questions in #134, if you guys have any thoughts.)

  138. September 14, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Paige,

    The Covenant of Redemption is one of those areas that have orthodox, learned, Reformed men on both sides of the discussion. In favor of it are/were men like a Brakel, Marck, Bavinck, Berkouwer, Loonstra, et al.

    I personally don’t know of any books wholly on the subject. Section 15 of Concise Reformed Dogmatics has an excellent discussion of the CoR and Scriptural evidences for it. Turretin describes it in some detail as a covenant between the Father and the Son on pages 177-178 in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, but seems to subsume and/or combine it under/with the Covenant of Grace.

    Sorry, I just ran out of time. I have to run to a session meeting. I’ll try to pick this up tomorrow or Wednesday.

  139. jedidiah said,

    September 15, 2009 at 9:22 am

    RE: 46

    Paige, see this essay for a short description of the traditional ‘Continental’ Sabbath: http://www.thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/99707.qna/category/th/page/questions/site/iiim

  140. Paige Britton said,

    September 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Hey, thanks, Jedidiah, for that little tutorial!

  141. October 6, 2011 at 8:14 am

    [...] Typical for Federal Vision, the defense takes Scripture targeted for the elect and tries to apply them to the reprobate in the visible church. This is especially disturbing with TE Lawrence’s use of the term “new life” in relation to the reprobates in the visible church. In Scripture (e.g., Rom 6:4 and 7:6), this terminology is only used relative to the elect. FV always claims to be “more Scriptural”, but again we see the hypocrisy of FV. You can read about the fallacy of that argument in previous discussions on this site about the lens of the Confession here and here. [...]


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