On the Relationship of Truth and Love

There are many folks out there who believe that unity is the fundamental responsibility of the church today. The basis for this is usually 1 John 4:8, 16, which verses declare that God is love. It is often argued that these verses in particular are some of the very few to make such a close identification of an attribute of God with the very essence of God. Aside from the problematic theology this entails (i.e., that of separating the other attributes of God from the essence of God), it is also misleading.

1 John 1:5 (HCSB) says this: “Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” The very same letter that declares that God is love also declares that God is light. What does John mean by this? He goes on to explain that light equals truth, and darkness equals lying (verse 6). And then comes the capstone, verse 7: “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The unity, fellowship, and love which believers are to have (for we do not deny that God is love, and that Christians must imitate that love in a creaturely, redeemed manner) must be a fellowship in the light, in the truth.

Many folks out there have a truncated view of Christian unity, which is that all must be in uniformity, and that all arguments concerning doctrine are inherently unloving. But if our fellowship and unity must be centered on the truth, this objection loses all force. The Bible says explicitly that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed.

This has particular force in the case of confessional denominations like the PCA. We have agreed to be a confessional denomination. If someone thinks that the PCA should not be a confessional denomination, then they are not agreed with those who think that we should be a confessional denomination. Therefore, they cannot walk together. The disagreement here has to do with how narrow the boundary should be for strict fellowship. Surely we can agree that all true Christians have a basic fellowship regardless of what denomination they inhabit. However, the differences among various Christian groups are of sufficient magnitude that worshiping apart for the sake of unity is necessary to the health of the church.

Those in the PCA who think that the Nicene Creed should be the only creed of the church, or should be a creed within a creed should not belong to the PCA. There are plenty of other denominations to which they can belong and be more than comfortable. The PCA has agreed that the Westminster Standards ARE our confession of faith, and that they DO summarize Scripture accurately. Why people who disagree with this still want to stay within the PCA is beyond my ability to comprehend. Do they seriously think that they are promoting unity within the church at large, by disagreeing with the confession so much, bringing strife to our denomination? No, instead, they hang on, seeking to discredit and attack those who think that the confession is is our confession of faith. I can only say that we haven’t moved from our doctrinal commitments on this. Others have, in which case they should leave.

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23 Comments

  1. David Gray said,

    March 25, 2010 at 10:53 am

    What is your view on the place of the Nicene Creed in the PCA?

  2. Reed Here said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Lane: good post, if a sober one. Folks, it is a matter of vows. How can one take the vows as a TE or an RE and then give any time to avoiding, tweaking, adjusting, ignoring, or seeking to fracture any of our standards is startling to me.

    Such folk need to spend some serious time studying WCF 22, on oaths and vows. Does this or does this not summarize the biblical position? If so, how can you give yourself to any carelessness when it comes to our Standards. God is not mocked, what we sow we reap. If this includes careless words, how much more intentional words from one who stands under the command of double judgment.

  3. David Gray said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

    >How can one take the vows as a TE or an RE and then give any time to avoiding, tweaking, adjusting, ignoring, or seeking to fracture any of our standards is startling to me.

    I think that is an outstanding point. It makes me wonder how so many seem to wish to neglect what the WCF does teach about baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:13 am

    David, I view the Nicene Creed as one to affirm whole-heartedly. I see its doctrines magnified and expanded in the WS. It is an important document of true catholicity, even if it is not as explicit on many things as it would need to be to be a sole confessional document today. It addressed the problems of its time, but it doesn’t address justification, for instance.

  5. Paul Duggan said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I kinda agree, but when you get into the details all kinds of exceptions emerge.

    Confessional PCA churches (Tenth) can have Baptists (Dever) and Anglicans (Packer, IIRC) come preach in the pulpit. How, if they be not agreed?

    You say worshiping apart for the sake of unity is necessary. But nobody practices that. You don’t have to be confessional to be a member of a PCA church and join her in worship.

    Somebody was complaining that prelacy made the real church into the clergy, not the laity: but even now, the confession of the church is something that only is in force for the clergy. The “we” who have agreed to be a confessional denomination are only the clergy, really.

    I also should say that looking at the PCA from my OPC background growing up, it seemed obvious to me that the PCA was “looser” about subscription than the OPC. So it surprises me to see these calls for tightening things up in the PCA. The PCA was looser on sabbath, looser on images of Jesus, looser on deaconesses, looser on having baptists in the pulpit, looser on days of creation, looser on dispensationalism, etc. John Frame wanted to be looser on the regulative principle, and he was happily received into the PCA.

  6. David Gray said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Lane,

    Thanks, I agree completely.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Paul, some good points there, especially about church membership, and I agree with those. I guess I was inherently thinking about those who have to take vows subscribing to the WCF. The problem right now is not that we are tightening things up too much. The problem is that we are about to lose any kind of coherent identity, because there are no standards, for a lot of people in the PCA, who even take vows.

  8. Reed Here said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:26 am

    David: I tend to agree with you, although not sure if you agree with the double-sided nature of this issue (my perspective).

    On the one hand there are those who are mere memorialists. They read too little into what our standards say. On the other hand are those who are ex operatists. They read too much into what our standards say.

    (I know this comes across as a perjorative loaded term. I do not mean it so. My concern with this latter group is that the assign to the sacraments, usually baptism, an efficacy that is mechanical in nature, devoid of anythings but the Spirit’s categorical declarative. I.e., the sacraments can be expected to work – in an of themselves – because the Spirit is merely mechanistically responding. I admit my concern needs nuancing, so no one take offense.)

  9. David Gray said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:37 am

    >On the one hand there are those who are mere memorialists. They read too little into what our standards say. On the other hand are those who are ex operatists. They read too much into what our standards say.

    I agree although I haven’t seen much of the ex oepratists, at least as I understand it. But the number of practical memorialists seems substantially larger.

  10. Reed Here said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:42 am

    David: yes, I expected we might disagree on the latter. That’s o.k. For clarification sake alone, I see at least some FV’ers doing this. More generally I think some of the FV notions on covenantal union via baptism necessarily involve such considerations.

    Again, not looking to blaze a rabbit trail here; just commenting for clarification.

    And yes, I’m concerned with the memorialists, although I tend to see them more among the layity. I see the ex operataist more of the teaching order. and that in my mind makes this more serious a matter. The former is a matter of ordinary discipleship. The latter involves a whole other level.

  11. David Gray said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Reed, I don’t think we’re too far apart. And I would agree that errors among the layity are not as consequential for the church as errors among the eldership.

  12. Paul Duggan said,

    March 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Reed:

    This is off on a tangent, but….

    You have to watch out for when those you think are Operatists (?) are actually more like memorialists.

    Consider: memorialists think that when you perform the memorial, it works on the mind like any other exchange of symbols that communicates. And it works that way by the doing of the deed.

    The Washington monument reminds you of Washington and communicates his greatness ex opere operato (assuming you know what it is)

  13. David Gray said,

    March 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    >Consider: memorialists think that when you perform the memorial, it works on the mind like any other exchange of symbols that communicates. And it works that way by the doing of the deed.

    That is a great point! Memorialists and Mechanists both remove the Holy Spirit from the efficacy of the sacrament.

  14. Reed Here said,

    March 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    David: I like the label “mechanist,” as it sounds more consistent with the intention of those under this error. Thanks.

    Paul: one of my working paradigms for understanding any topic is a modification of the spectrum line. The spectrum line has three main points on it: one position to the far right, the extreme opposite position to the far left, the balance of both positions in the middle. Other positions line up either to the right or to the left of the middle point.

    Such a model works in many things. Yet I find that a modified spectrum line works better for taling into account similarities/dissimilarities, continuities/discontinuities. Take the same three point line and bend it into a horseshoe shape. The biblically consistent position is not actually on the line, but a point at the center of the horseshoe (think of the “sweet spot” on a tennis raquet). Other positions are placed relative to the horseshoe line and the center point. The more biblically consistent, the closer to the center; the more inconsistent, the closer to the line.

    Some positions can be identified as opposite one another (they are closer to the end points of the line). Yet the bent shape of the line pictures that they can also have noticeable similarities (e.g., the ends of the horseshoe are relatively closer to one another).

    All this to say, yep, I get what you’re getting at. Hopefully my illustration offers a modicum of insight as to why this might be so.

  15. Reed Here said,

    March 25, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Oops, while I’m on the agreement tangent, let me echo David’s amen! Yes, the issue seems to me to be errors in terms of understanding the nature of the Spirit’s role in the sacraments. Good insight.

  16. David deJong said,

    March 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Part of the issue is the character of the Westminster Standards, which are more detailed than is required for Reformed unity (compare the TFU, which allow for more exegetical freedom). I think it was Charles Hodge who said that if full subscription, with no exceptions, was insisted upon there would maybe be a dozen ministers who could sign the form!

  17. J.Kru said,

    March 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Lane, given your thoughts as stated above, why would you belong to a denom. whose BCO allows ministers to take exceptions, instead of a denom. which does not? There are plenty of denominations out there that do not allow exceptions.
    Why would you belong to one that does?

  18. Todd Pedlar said,

    March 25, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    J. Kru:

    Where did you get the idea that Lane would argue for “no exceptions allowed”? He’s not talking as though the problem is people who take a few exceptions to the Standards, but people who effectively jettison the standards by effectively ignoring them in their churches. (Lane correct me, please, if this is not among your main points) If any point about exceptions is to be made here, it might be this – exceptions should be well thought out, exegetically defended small differences with the text of the Standards. A candidate ought to be prepared to give good, Scriptural reason for any exception he holds (and not just expect to be ‘passed’ by stating that he subscribes except for a list of Chapters and Sections wherein he has an exception). Exceptions are a serious matter and I fear that not every presbytery treats them with the gravity they ought to.

    If a pastor and Session wish to lead their church to be an “evangelical” church, effectively going no further than the Nicene Creed, and otherwise just wanting to “teach the Bible”, then they may as well be a run-of-the-mill evangelical church and drop the association with the PCA. Again, the problem is not with folks who take an exception to this or that phrase in the Westminster Standards, but with those who have little or no use for or reference to the standards in their day-to-day practice of their office.

    And before someone rips me apart for saying that mere wanting to “teach the Bible” is a bad thing – I’m not. My point is, if you want to stick to “common denominator Christianity”, then continued presence in the PCA is really unhelpful to either the congregation or the presbytery.

  19. greenbaggins said,

    March 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Todd has me pegged correctly here. The issue is not people who might take one or two exceptions, but people who seem to want to jettison whole sections of the standards, or take exceptions to the most central things.

  20. J.Kru said,

    March 26, 2010 at 9:47 am

    I don’t know if my post got deleted or just didn’t make it through, but I had written to Todd that I got the “no exceptions” idea here:
    “he PCA has agreed that the Westminster Standards ARE our confession of faith, and that they DO summarize Scripture accurately. Why people who disagree with this still want to stay within the PCA is beyond my ability to comprehend.”

    Lane, why would you allow one or two exceptions? That doesn’t make sense, since the ENTIRE confession is our constitutional standard, not just “most” of it. If you’re OK with 1 or 2 exceptions, what about 3? If not 3, why not 4 . . . ? Or, how do you decide which is “most central” to the confession? The confession doesn’t say, so you have to impose your own standards of what is “most central.” How do you do this, and how do you condemn other people for doing the same thing, only without your particular standard of “most central?”

    Haven’t you just created a canon (your “most central”) within a canon (WCF) within a canon (Scripture)?

  21. David said,

    March 29, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Who exactly in the PCA is arguing that the Nicene Creed should be the only confession of the Church, or the one to which PCA officers take their vows of submission? Sorry, but I’m having a hard time seeing from what context this argument/discussion arises. We do affirm the Nicene Creed, and count ourselves (moreover) to be fully Chalcedonian. Would anyone be ordained in the PCA who *denied* any aspect of Chalcedonian Christology or a single line of the Nicene Creed? I don’t think any ‘exceptions’ would be allowed there (an interesting comparison by the way in terms of the way in which one views the Standards). Maybe I’ve missed some dark sinister plot being hatched but I just haven’t come across anyone suggesting that we ditch the Standards in favor of another when it comes to the subscription vows of our ministers.

  22. Randy in Tulsa said,

    August 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    He was a good king, but he did not remove the high places. How many times do we read something like that in the Old Testament? Exceptions, exceptions. For all the talk in the PCA about impacting culture, it would be nice if someone with clout would recognize that widespread obedience to the 4th commandment would produce a simple and profound impact on the culture. Is it not time for inception of obedience instead of exception to it.

  23. Tim Black said,

    August 8, 2011 at 11:21 am

    > Would anyone be ordained in the PCA who *denied* any aspect of Chalcedonian Christology or a single line of the Nicene Creed? I don’t think any ‘exceptions’ would be allowed there

    David, I know this is a minor point in this context, but from Dr. Robert Reymond’s published New Systematic Theology, it would appear he disagrees with the Nicene Creed’s doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, but then, to a significant extent, so did Calvin and Van Til. Did Dr. Reymond formally take an exception? Interestingly, Calvin argues his own view (that Christ is self-existent; autotheos) is in line with the Nicene fathers’ essential concern (the Son’s ontological eternal divine being, and economic subordination of role, to the Father), but not with their full doctrine (the Son’s ontological subordination of being to the Father). Because of the prominence of these three men, I have little doubt there are other PCA ministers who share their view of eternal generation, and some may have formally taken, and been granted, exceptions.

    Dr. Reymond’s denial that God is eternal (saying instead that God is everlasting, also in his New Systematic Theology) may not bear very directly on the words of the Nicene Creed, but provides an example of a similarly fundamental disagreement.

    In the interest of preserving Dr. Reymond’s good name, I mostly agree with Reymond’s view of eternal generation, and so am willing to put my head on the same chopping-block on that point if need be, but assuming the Westminster Divines (and in retrospect in heaven, Hilary of Poitiers, whom Calvin discusses explicitly on this point) agreed with Calvin, I believe this point need not be stated as a formal exception. I take no formal exceptions to the doctrinal standards of the OPC, in which I am ordained. However, in the interest of preserving the truth, I do not agree with Dr. Reymond’s denial of God’s eternality, and think it would qualify as an exception in the PCA.

    Lane and Randy, I agree that the spiritual health of the PCA, as well as all Reformed churches, would be improved by a revival of ministers subscribing not out of compulsion, but out of heartfelt conviction, to the doctrine of the Westminster Standards, without exception.


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