A Disappointing Discussion

Posted by David Gadbois

Last year Peter Leithart posted an article, The End of Protestantism, over on the First Things web site and among other things asserted that we Protestants (including, of course, us confessional Presbyterian and Reformed folk) needed to adopt a more “Reformational Catholic” perspective and start to consider those in Roman Catholicism to be part of the same Christian family along with us. That is,

Some Protestants don’t view Roman Catholics as Christians, and won’t acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. A Reformational Catholic regards Catholics as brothers, and regrets the need to modify that brotherhood as “separated.”

Several critical responses followed, including one article from Wesleyan theologian Fred Sanders, one from Reformed theologian R. Scott Clark, as well as assorted others throughout the blogosphere.

leithart_conference

The Torrey Honors Institute at BIOLA University and First Things organized a public discussion of the issues raised in Leithart’s article last month between Leithart, Sanders, and Carl Trueman. I assume Sanders recruited Trueman to represent the traditional (confessional) Reformed position. You can watch the whole discussion here, and you can read Leithart’s follow-up post here.

Unfortunately Trueman offered a timid and inadequate rebuttal to Leithart’s errors. I attended the public discussion on the campus of BIOLA University, and I felt both disappointed and aggravated that my own Reformed tradition was neither accurately nor forcefully represented before an audience of Bible college students who primarily hail from Baptist churches, EV Free churches, and various non-denominational evangelical churches.

Trueman is usually a reliable exponent of reformed and presbyterian theology, so I was surprised that the discussion turned out the way it did. The premise that cannot be granted Leithart is the assumption that Roman Catholics are our brothers and that Rome is a true church of Jesus Christ. If that is granted, then Leithart’s logic and conclusions must follow, and there can be no objection to his central thesis that we are all one family in Christ who need to learn to get along with each other. Trueman essentially granted this premise, and the only difficulty seemed to be some pesky logistical issues and pastoral concerns. All four men on the stage seemed to be on board with this faulty premise. But this represents a failure of basic pastoral discernment.

If my assessment seems harsh, click the video link and watch for yourself. I had a brief opportunity to challenge this point during the Q&A session toward the end of the night. I pointed out that as Reformed Christians we identified true churches according to the 3 Marks of the Church (see, for instance, the Belgic Confession). At least as early as the French Confession (1559) it was explicitly held that Rome failed this test:

In this belief we declare that, properly speaking, there can be no Church where the Word of God is not received, nor profession made of subjection to it, nor use of the sacraments. Therefore we condemn the papal assemblies, as the pure Word of God is banished from them, their sacraments are corrupted, or falsified, or destroyed, and all superstitions and idolatries are in them. We hold, then, that all who take part in those acts, and commune in that Church, separate and cut themselves off from the body of Christ.

It will not do to hold up as a fig leaf the fact that Roman Catholic baptisms were accepted as valid and rebaptism was rejected. It is true that the rite ought to be considered as valid when administered in the name of the Triune God, but even granting this that would only make it a necessary, not sufficient, basis for a credible profession of Christian faith. And, as I pointed out during the Q&A, the Reformed barred Romanists from the Lord’s Table. Shouldn’t that be sufficient indication that this ecumenical attitude is out-of-step with our tradition’s earliest belief and practice? It is true that one can find exceptions to this traditional view (at least in some respects), but I have found most of such anecdotal examples to be quite late (e.g. Machen, Hodge) and certainly never rising to the level of a confessional standard (of which there are a great many).

Turning aside from the historical considerations, you will notice that this ecumenical premise of Leithart’s does not ground the brotherly or ecclesial unity he seeks in the Gospel, but only in baptism and a shared Trinitarian confession. In fact, did anyone even mention the Gospel by name in that entire discussion? I certainly don’t recall. Sure, there was talk of justification by faith and such but nowhere was our unity explicitly grounded in a shared Gospel of Jesus Christ. Leithart is, of course, aware that Rome rejects justification by faith alone, and trots out the old chestnut about it being possible for people to be saved by faith in Christ who don’t realize they are saved by faith in Christ. A critical thinker would observe that that is beside the point. There are many true believers who simply exercise extrospective trust in Christ, and nothing else, for their salvation and are not particularly self-reflective about the nature of their faith nor the precise mechanism God has used to unite them to Himself. The problem is that Rome explicitly denies that we are justified by faith alone and sets up false objects of faith that deny Christ’s completed and sufficient work. It is not a matter of simple ignorance but of essentially setting up false co-redeemers alongside Christ. As Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 30 reads:

Do those also believe in the only Savior Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare from “saints,” themselves, or anywhere else?

No; although they make their boast of Him, yet in their deeds they deny the only Savior Jesus; for either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation.

The Reformers saw in the errors of Rome a direct parallel with the Gospel-denying doctrines of the Judaizers that Paul anathematizes in Galatians, the core of which is the idea that some good work needs to be wrought in addition to the faith-received righteousness of Christ in order for the sinner to receive justification before God. “Faith” in Christ becomes nullified by competitors. In his commentary on Galatians Calvin writes:

[Paul's] greatest severity of language is directed, as we shall see, against the false apostles. He charges them with turning aside, not only from his gospel, but from Christ; for it was impossible for them to retain their attachment to Christ, without acknowledging that he has graciously delivered us from the bondage of the law. But such a belief cannot be reconciled with those notions respecting the obligation of ceremonial observance which the false apostles inculcated. They were removed from Christ; not that they entirely rejected Christianity, but that the corruption of their doctrines was such as to leave them nothing more than an imaginary Christ.

Thus, in our own times, the Papists, choosing to have a divided and mangled Christ, have none, and are therefore “removed from Christ.” They are full of superstitions, which are directly at variance with the nature of Christ. Let it be carefully observed, that we are removed from Christ, when we fall into those views which are inconsistent with his mediatorial office; for light can have no fellowship with darkness.

The book of Galatians, in fact, furnishes for us the reason why rightly distinguishing between wayward brother and false teacher is a critical pastoral task. For the former we offer loving but firm rebuke and call to repentance as Paul has offered the Christians at the church at Galatia along with the Apostle Peter. The sin is temporary and the rebuke is met with repentance. It is like the discipline of a child or family member. But for the false teachers we are to follow the NT and regard them as pseudoadelphoi (false brothers), pseudoapostoloi (false apostles), dogs, serpents, and deceitful workers with whom we should not even eat nor wish godspeed. The attitude and orientation is entirely different for the impenitent apostate. It is our obligation to paint a clear and bright line between those in the covenant community and those outside of the visible church of Christ. And surely we compound our sin of cowardice if we also extend the false hope of eternal life to those who are in the state of impenitent apostacy, by telling them that they are simply misguided but still in Christ. That is simply partaking in a lie that leads to the damnation of souls rather than spurring saving repentance.

Other matters could be discussed at length that I will only mention briefly. The idolatry of the mass was shamefully glossed over in the discussion, even though Heidelberg Q&A 80 calls it “nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.” It is also unfortunate that Trueman did not mention the fact that the errors in Leithart’s essay should come as no surprise, inasmuch as he is a primary leader in the heretical Federal Vision movement within the Reformed and Presbyterian landscape. Many (most?) of both the systemic and particular errors of the FV movement and Leithart in particular are errors shared with Rome. So it naturally follows that he would have a rather ecunemenical spirit toward Rome. It should have been mentioned that this movement has been unanimously condemned by confessional Reformed and Presbyterian denominations. It should have also been mentioned that, while Leithart’s presbytery acquitted him of heresy charges, a good many people in his denomination (the PCA) are outraged by the acquittal and would like to see him out of the denomination. Obviously these matters have been documented and discussed at length on this blog, but I doubt that more than a handful of people in the room at BIOLA that night were aware of this crucial background knowledge.

I do find a bit of irony in the fact that Leithart mentioned the practice of praying the imprecatory psalms against the enemies of the church. In a qualified way I can agree with that practice, but one has to at least be able to identify friend from foe to do so. We are only a few decades away from the 500th anniversary of the Council of Trent, wherein Rome anathematized the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and since has done nothing but dig into her errors while ignoring the calls by Reformational Christians to repent. There ought not be any debate or mystery amongst educated believers over what we are dealing with here.

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65 Comments

  1. Andrew Duggan said,

    May 13, 2014 at 8:20 am

    I think you’re quite right in bringing up the confessional statements indicating that papacy is not a church. Leithart’s response was misleading. Despite what he said about a certain writer’s view of the many/majority of English theologians in the 17th century holding that the Papacy was a church in “some sense”, I think we need to focus on what the confessional statements of the church are. In the 17th century in England, the Westminster Assembly in the Confession was very clear that Rome was not a church.

    The Old School Presbyterian Church in 1845 (prior to the north / south split) voted overwhelmingly that Rome’s “baptisms” not not valid, because the papal hierarchy is not a church. Notice how they avoid the use of church when speaking about it.

    The so-called priests of the Romish communion are not ministers of Christ, for they are commissioned as agents of the papal hierarchy, which is not a church of Christ, but the Man of Sin, apostate from the truth, the enemy of righteousness and of God. She has long lain under the curse of God, who has called his people to come out from her, that they be not partakers of her plagues.

    Members of the Roman communion cannot be considered Christians because as long as they remain subject to it their professions of faith cannot be considered to be credible. Despite any thing they might say that would be overwhelmingly persuasive, it is belied by their lives by remaining subject to the papacy, which is to engage in the the worst form of idolatry. Repentance for them would require repudiation of the papacy and recognition that it is not a church.

    Reformed and Presbyterian churches should not ordain men who lack the discernment regarding the papacy not being a church. Given Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor 11, regarding discerning the Lord’s body, I ask should you even admit any to the Lord’s table that think that Rome is a church, since the church being the body of Christ is beyond what they can discern.

    Finally, I think you are quite right in that a major failure in the “discussion” was failing to point out the error of Leithart’s premise.

  2. Jack Bradley said,

    May 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Lane, as you well know, I have been a staunch defender of Leithart on several fronts. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt in this seminar, The Future of Protestantism, because of his other contributions to this subject, but I am finding it extremely difficult to do so in light of his statements at the seminar:

    (minute marks)

    1:19:50:

    Leithart: “I think we have to say, ‘We acknowledge as churches those bodies that confess the early creeds of the church.’ I’m thinking particularly of Chalcedon and Nicea. . . You get past the first councils and you get into areas where there are disputes among Christians.”

    Trueman: “So, you’re comfortable relativizing the Reformation in a way you’re not comfortable relativizing Nicea and Chalcedon?”

    Leithart: “Yeah, I would think I would say that I am. . . in the particular context of talking about inter-church relations. If you’re talking about the truth of Reformation principles, I’m not relativizing that. But, if I say, who am I acknowledging as a fellow Christian, and a body of believers that is part of the same Church I’m part of, yeah, I’m not going to acknowledge just those who are affirming Reformation. But I want them to affirm Sola Scriptura. I want them to affirm Sola Fide. But that wouldn’t be a standard of brotherhood. . . If Protestants and Catholics are one body, then their errors, and yes, I believe there are errors in the Roman Catholic church, their errors are ours. They are errors of the catholic, of the Church.”

    2:05:50:

    Questioner: “Are Protestant differences with Roman Catholicism not salvific?”

    Leithart: “I wouldn’t say the differences are differences of being saved. . . people can be justified by faith without knowing that they are justified by faith. . . And I would say that the Catholic church teaches that salvation is in Jesus Christ, and that they gather people into unity with the body of Christ, and that those who do that and trust in Jesus are saved. And in doing that they are, at least, following the fundamental teachings of the Catholic church.”

    Well, yes, of course Roman Catholicism “teaches that salvation is in Jesus Christ”. But certainly not in the sense that the Reformation and Protestantism teaches it. Witness the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church in reaction to the Reformation, the Council of Trent (which the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s declared to be “irreformable”):

    If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema. (Canon 9)

    If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema. (Canon 12)

    If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he firmly believes that he is absolved and justified, or that no one is truly justified except him who believes himself justified, and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected, let him be anathema. (Canon 14)

    If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. (Canon 24)

    If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. (Canon 30)

    If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema. (Canon 33)

    The Roman Catholic Church accurately understands the Protestant doctrine of justification by grace ALONE, through faith ALONE, in Christ ALONE— and anathematizes it: damns the article of faith upon which the Reformers said the Protestant church stands as the true church.

    That’s all I have to say for now.

  3. David Gadbois said,

    May 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    My apologies gentlemen. I wrote the post but forgot to append my name. That is fixed now.

  4. Reed Here said,

    May 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Hah. Thought it sounded like you David. ;-)

  5. Sean Gerety said,

    May 13, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Re Andrew Duggan’s comment above, I highly recommend James Thornwell’s arguments that won the day in 1845. Thornwell crushed the opposing arguments made by Charles Hodge. Clearly Truman is no Thornwell. I agree with David and the very least he should have done is expose Leithart as the anti-Christian fraud he is. But what does anyone expect from the WTS prof? Guts and the belief that the Gospel cannot be compromised? Not a chance.

    http://www.trinitylectures.org/sacramental-sorcery-p-161.html

  6. Greg said,

    May 13, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Please direct me to anything of meaningful length Trueman has written on the FV. I’ve not found it. Not to say he supports it or tolerates it, but does he understand it well enough to publicly debate aspects of it with Leithart?

    If not, then did the FV sympathetic/controlled Davenant Trust choose Trueman for that very reason? (Trueman is listed as an “advisor” to the Davenant Trust.)

  7. Mark B said,

    May 13, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I would have to strongly disagree with the assessment offered in this post. I think it’s fairly factually accurate, but it expects things that really weren’t going to happen, given the context. The context is a presentation given at a broadly evangelical university, sponsored by broadly evangelical groups and catholics, before an audience of evangelicals, on the future of Protestantism, in a short timespan. This was not a debate about the FV, nor could it be in a context where Mr Gadbios and a few others were probably the only ones there even aware of what the FV is. Mr Leitharts primary premise was that the church should be visibly unified, when that point is made in that context the question is only whether the “amen” will be said aloud or only thought. Dr. Trueman (who is a church historian and pastor and thus a theologian in that sense) gave the correct response given the context. He emphasized the ministry of the Word against Leithart’s sacramentalism, and got the audience thinking about the 800 lb gorillas in Leithart’s “reformational catholic church” by pointing out things like the fact that Rome couldn’t care less about Leithart’s tiny corner of Protestantism and raising questions about the basis of unity (how can there be unity with opposing doctrines?) If attendees went home thinking that the church probably needs unity around the Word of God rather than ecclesiastical sacramental visible unity, it was a worthwhile conference.

  8. Mark B said,

    May 13, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    “…….. the very least he should have done is expose Leithart as the anti-Christian fraud he is. But what does anyone expect from the WTS prof? Guts and the belief that the Gospel cannot be compromised? Not a chance.”
    Statements like this are usually where I say “what a dum..ss” and my wife tells me to not call people names, and I tell her I’m not, it’s the only obvious explanation for a statement like that; and then let it go as the professor is certainly capable of speaking for himself. However, since I do appreciate brother Sean on occasion, I’ll ask him to explain and demonstrate if there is anything in Dr Trueman’s work/writings as a history professor, a pastor, or during his tenure as academic dean at WTS that he would wish to quote that would provide a statement like that with any factual basis.

  9. Sean Gerety said,

    May 13, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Mark B, since I wouldn’t want to you look like an ass, much less call you one (you really should learn to listen to your wife), the fact that Trueman would even agree to share a stage Leithart certainly points to that conclusion . . . or at the very least should disqualify him as a church historian. Maybe in your mind you can see Paul discussing the virtues of “Reformational Catholicism” with those trampling the Gospel, but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the possibility. Beyond that, the history of WTS is hardly exemplary. While you can start with Palmer Robertson’s history of their failure to properly address the attacks on justification by belief alone within their own institution, you can finish with this recent update on the current state of affairs there:

    http://tinyurl.com/lj29jcg

    But you do provide another great example why men like Leithart have won. For you personalities matter and God forbid anyone criticize some beloved prof like Truman who, by his very presence on that stage, legitimizes “dogs, serpents, and deceitful workers with whom we should not even eat [with] nor wish godspeed.”

  10. Mark B said,

    May 13, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Sean
    I would agree with you that I probably should listen to my wife more, however, 30+ year old history of WTS is hardly relevant to my current point (FWIW I would mostly agree with you on Palmer’s assessment of that controversy). I would also say that, while it’s disgraceful to the church that a heretic was exonerated in an ecclesiastical trial, that doesn’t mean that Leithart has “won”. And, I have no personal affiliation with Trueman and not much affection for “personalities” in general, I simply found your statement generally offensive.
    I strongly disagree with you basing your attack on the fact that Trueman shared a stage with someone you dislike (even though the reasons for the dislike are valid). Is there never any good reason for an orthodox pastor to write a column in a newspaper that is otherwise filled with trash, or to write an article for a journal like “First Things” (or another journal) that also presents very unorthodox material? Would the gospel have been better presented to the students at Biola if only an FVist and a broadly evangelical position had been presented? You can’t see Paul sharing a stage with someone like Leithart, but I don’t understand why. Did he not speak in synagogues where he shared a stage with outright enemies of the Gospel? Was the Areopagus a bastion of Christian orthodoxy or of pagan philosophy? Unless you’ve got more than that, I still view your remark I the same light.

    ps I should apologize, I meant to apply the “what a d……. ” to your comment specifically, not you personally, which upon a reread is not how my comment comes across.

  11. Bob S said,

    May 13, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for the post, David.
    Yet previous to Leithart thinking Rome is a true church, his End of Protestantism was essentially directed at arminian evangelicalism protestantism imo. That the reformers were reformed catholics or catholic reformed, contra the degenerate roman variety, didn’t serve Leithart’s purposes so he ignored it, if he is not ignorant of it. But then he’s not competent to the question- on either count.

    So run that by me once again. Why would I want to waste time listening to him digress further? Beats me.

    But George C. Scott is no longer with us. Nor Guy Owen. So somebody has to play Mordecai Jones in The Flim Flam Man for this generation. Guess who volunteered?

  12. May 14, 2014 at 12:06 am

    […] This article first appeared on Green Baggins blog and is used with permission. […]

  13. Sean Gerety said,

    May 14, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Mark B. The link I provided to the Karlberg piece above was to the point, but I see you didn’t take the time to read it as Karlberg charges Trueman, Gaffin and other WTS profs with denying the “traditional Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis.” So the fact that he would not expose Leithart as a dangerous heretic and sees nothing wrong in participating in a collegial discussion with him makes perfect sense. I stand by my remarks.

  14. Stephen Welch said,

    May 14, 2014 at 10:53 am

    I am a PCA Teaching Elder who has gone on record in two different presbyteries affirming the origianal Westminster Confession of Faith. It is a grave error that American Presbyterians revised the confession particularly in Chapter XXV by deleting the clause, “but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.” This was a compromise, which opened the door for the Federal Visionists to regard Rome as a true church and papists as brothers in Christ. The reformers and our Puritan Fathers all belived that Rome was not a true church. It is a matter of time before Leithart will join his friends like Jeff Steele and Jason Stellman, drinking from the Roman altars. I hope that he will do it quickly. As elders of Christ’s church, we need to be praying that the Lord would reform His church and cast out those from our ranks who deny the faith once delivered to the saints. If we are not willing to stand up for the truth and speak out against error, especially Federal Vision, we are not being faithful to our calling, and are not worthy to be called ministers of the gospel.

  15. Ron said,

    May 14, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    It will not do to hold up as a fig leaf the fact that Roman Catholic baptisms were accepted as valid and rebaptism was rejected. It is true that the rite ought to be considered as valid when administered in the name of the Triune God,

    David,

    I don’t think that will due without further elaboration, lest a baptism conducted by children in the creek that runs behind my house (or by a secret society) could constitute true baptism if administered with a Trinitarian formulation. If we allow for some Trinitarian-formulated baptisms but not others then there must be an ecclesiastical premise at work. That premise must be fleshed out I would think. Can an organization not be a true church yet have true baptism? I think so, but that’s where things get a bit sticky. There’s also the matter of baptism having to be administered by a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained. So, in addition to the ecclesiastical problems, to allow for Roman baptism is to in some sense acknowledge the pastoral office of the Roman Catholic priest, something I’m not prepared to do without enormous qualification.

    I do believe that Rome practices Christian baptism, but I don’t think that can make them a church. This allowance I would give pertains to a distinction between apostate Christianity and no connection with the historic Christian church. Apostate Israel, with their aberrant view of circumcision, still administered true circumcision. And therein lies the precept, I believe, that can allow for a valid sacrament within a non-church.

  16. Mark B said,

    May 14, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Sean

    I had read the link you posted from Karlberg, but didn’t see it as meriting a response. However, since you insist… He does make a lot of accusations, but he mentions Trueman only once, when he accuses him of guilt by association because he works at WTS, a seminary where:

    “For too long, deception and intrigue have ruled the day…….; such has become the seminary’s modus operandi. What we find are false shepherds leading the blind, and an institution bearing a
    similar cast to the Church at Rome in terms of theological and moral corruption”

    (A statement he justifies with a footnote where he says he watched a PBS show about Rome once and it reminded him of Westminster).

    You are obviously free to stand by your statement, but I’d want a whole lot more than that to stand on.

  17. Andrew Duggan said,

    May 14, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Ron,

    On what basis do you think that Rome’s water rites are baptisms?

    Until the coming of Christ, Israel even in apostasy was still lawfully the church and so such circumcisions were lawful sacraments. Rome prior to the protestant reformation was still lawfully a church, even in her degraded and wide spread apostasy, and so those baptisms were lawful sacraments. At least since Trent, the papacy is not lawfully a church, accordingly her rites are not sacraments.

    In the case of infants, the parents cannot be considered to be members of a true church (since you agree that Rome is not a church), the parents don’t themselves have a credible profession of faith because they are unrepentant subjects to the papacy (WCF 28:4 “one or both believing parents”, in the case of Rome the presenting parent is not a believer as considered by the church. The agent performing the rite is not a lawfully ordained minister of the Word. (See WCF 28:2 below) There is no connection to the Word in the administration because the papacy doesn’t preach the gospel. WCF 28:1 “Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world” ties the sacraments to the Church, of which the papacy is not.

    In the case of adults, it’s even worse as they are knowingly becoming subject to a non-church and glorying in the worst form of idolatry by worshiping the host (a creature not the creator) in the abomination of the mass.

    WCF 27:1 says “as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world”.

    WCF 27:4 says about both sacraments ” neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.”

    Rites in a non-church, are not sacraments. Rites performed by persons not lawfully ordained ministers are not sacraments.

    Intent is not a factor per WCF 27:3.

    WCF 28:2 “The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.”

  18. Tim Harris said,

    May 14, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Andrew I’m fine with that if you are also willing to reject the baptism of pseudo-protestant fellowships that also don’t have lawful ordination, such as Wilson and the CREC.

  19. Ron said,

    May 14, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    what basis do you think that Rome’s water rites are baptisms?

    Andrew,

    I base the conclusion on the precept of apostate Israel who were not a people but in another sense were a people. I detect some subtle equivocation…

    Until the coming of Christ, Israel even in apostasy was still lawfully the church and so such circumcisions were lawful sacraments.

    They were an apostate church. Since they were the only game in town, they were also *the* church, albeit an apostate one. But, what made her the church was not a proper understanding of law, gospel and sacrament. Accordingly, she was apostate as is Rome – same “gospel,” therefore, same distinction. Consequently, we have a principle we must do justice to. An apostate church can have the sacraments.

    Rome prior to the protestant reformation was still lawfully a church, even in her degraded and wide spread apostasy, and so those baptisms were lawful sacraments.

    We agree that Rome is an apostate church. I trust you’d also agree that by defining apostate Israel as a church you cannot be doing so based upon her doctrine, which was antithetical to Christ. Accordingly, your terms seem a bit equivocal. What was already true about her was eventually manifested but her status before God as being apostate was already true. Accordingly, you seem to be basing her status of being a true church not upon her doctrine or practice but upon her being the only game in town.

  20. David Gadbois said,

    May 15, 2014 at 5:10 am

    Andrew D said Despite what he said about a certain writer’s view of the many/majority of English theologians in the 17th century holding that the Papacy was a church in “some sense”

    Thanks Andrew. This “some sense” language has always struck me as mealy-mouthed. Scripture everywhere puts an antithesis between those inside the covenant community and those outside. It is a rather binary matter. It is better to say, following the French Confession, that there is a “trace” of the church in that the Christian ordinance of baptism has been left behind in an assembly that has apostatized.

    The Old School Presbyterian Church in 1845 (prior to the north / south split) voted overwhelmingly that Rome’s “baptisms” not not valid, because the papal hierarchy is not a church.

    I think the matter of rebaptism (or, really, defining what is a valid baptism) is a separate one. On balance I would take the historic Reformed view that we should accept even the baptisms of those baptized outside of true churches, but I respect arguments on the other side from those who differ and reject Roman baptisms altogether.

    Reformed and Presbyterian churches should not ordain men who lack the discernment regarding the papacy not being a church.

    Bingo.

    Mark B said Dr. Trueman (who is a church historian and pastor and thus a theologian in that sense) gave the correct response given the context.

    Sorry, but I can’t get on board with this sort of situational ethics. Even if we completely bracket Leithart’s theology and background, there was still plenty of objectionable content in his article taken in isolation. It is one thing to not say everything that could be said (as a tactful person would do in certain situations), it is another thing to simply give a false response. I understand that this forum was perhaps too “polite” to make issue of the various skeletons in Leithart’s closet. Fine. But his article was objectionable on many levels from an orthodox Reformed standpoint, and it should have been blown out of the water.

    Stephen W. said I am a PCA Teaching Elder who has gone on record in two different presbyteries affirming the origianal Westminster Confession of Faith. It is a grave error that American Presbyterians revised the confession particularly in Chapter XXV…

    I am a member of a 3FU church so I am not as quite as fluent with the Westminster Standards. However, I do understand that even the revised Westminster assumes that Roman Catholics cannot be regarded as having a credible profession of faith. From 24.3:

    Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And, therefore, such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, Papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.

    Ron said I don’t think that will due without further elaboration, lest a baptism conducted by children in the creek that runs behind my house (or by a secret society) could constitute true baptism if administered with a Trinitarian formulation

    The policy of generally accepting all Trinitarian baptisms regardless of the orthodoxy of the one administering the sacrament stretches back to the Donatist controversy in the early church. Even within the Reformed tradition we have tended to accept, for instance, “Campus Crusade” type baptisms as valid where there is no lawfully ordained minister involved, although these baptisms are considered “irregular” and not in keeping with what Scripture commands regarding the proper or normal administration of the sacrament (one can make an argument that Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch is an example of this since he was only a deacon).

    Admittedly, it is difficult to pin down an explicit Scriptural principle regarding this issue, so perhaps one would regard this policy as simply pragmatic (wise and orderly). On principle, I would say that it is God and His promises that stand behind the sacrament, not the minister. On the practical matter, is it really fair or even possible to scrutinize the orthodoxy of every minister behind every baptism in order to determine the validity of every professing believer’s baptism?

  21. Ron said,

    May 15, 2014 at 7:22 am

    The policy of generally accepting all Trinitarian baptisms regardless of the orthodoxy of the one administering the sacrament stretches back to the Donatist controversy in the early church.

    David,

    We’re probably not too far apart on this point. I suspect that a policy that generally accepts all Trinitarian baptisms allows for some exceptions, like children in the creek baptizing other children. I’d have to hear the details of the “campus crusade” type baptisms to render an opinion.

    We also agree that it’s a sticky issue to tease out legitimate baptism from true churches, but I think (with you) it can be done. And with you, I’m sympathetic to conscience on this matter and would not be apposed to re-baptism under certain circumstances but not apart from detailed instruction on the traditional Reformed view that allows for Roman Catholic baptism.

    By analogy we might recognize that one can be converted in Rome through the reading of the Word (even its proclamation) without her being a true church; yet that wouldn’t undermine the efficacy of the Word. So it can be with baptism. We can expect the visible gospel of a baptism administered in a Roman Catholic communion to become efficacious by the Spirit per God’s inscrutable counsel, in His appointed time – just like a legalist within apostate Israel could be quickened to the meaning of his circumcision.

    However, I do understand that even the revised Westminster assumes that Roman Catholics cannot be regarded as having a credible profession of faith.

    I’m afraid I have to differ with this understanding. You referenced 24:3 and papists. There is a political context from which the term was employed, but more importantly it pertains to those who were antagonistic to the Reformed tradition – which is not the case with most who would call themselves Roman Catholics today – especially when confessing Christ alone. Moreover, if we press the Confession too far from in that direction we would end up forbidding 4-point Calvinists from marrying 5-point Calvinists since in today’s context the “true reformed religion” (within which Christians are to marry) would not include the former. I don’t think the Divines had that in mind. At the very least, the Divines must have recognized Christian marriages (marriages in the Lord) in England for the 1000 years beginning when the papacy brought the gospel to England and all Christians were in some sense papists, having some alliance with and fidelity to the popes.

    Don’t get me wrong… it’s a troubling providence when those in the church marry Christians (those with credible professions) while still within Rome, but the Confession does not forbid the practice; just like it distinguishes justification from sanctification. Coming out of Rome can serve to vindicate the spouse’s profession of faith that was made prior to entering into Christian marriage. (As a side note, Sessions should be on top of this sort of thing, like when they see those for whom they will give an account pursing for marriage those within Rome’s pale.)

  22. Ron said,

    May 15, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Regarding the “side note” at the end of my post, let me add a bit more lest I be misunderstood, or even worse mislead. It is incumbent upon the church to minister with such intention and purpose of mind so as to bring people to a crossroad regarding marrying one who would call himself / herself a Roman Catholic. Both parties need to be instructed that to say “no” to coming out of Rome is to say no to Christ. This process can even lead to censure if done purposefully, but it can also lead to great joy and blessing!

    The problem is that too many sessions nod off on this matter. How many times have we seen Roman Catholics with “credible professions” marry those in the church? Too many, that’s how many! When one’s profession is not challenged with the aim of discerning whether it will produce the fruit of faith – departure from a communion that has placed its unambiguous anathema on the gospel, all that’s left to go on is the profession of those who are at best ignorant regarding Rome.Yet in the absence of loving, confrontational shepherding (as uncomfortable as that can be) all we have to go on is a profession of faith that has been removed from any context of life. Contumacy presupposes confrontation after all.

  23. Sean Gerety said,

    May 15, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Mark B. Did you watch the “discussion”? Not once did Trueman even challenge Leithart’s basic premise that Roman Catholics are Christians. Besides his theologically anemic opening remarks, it seemed he slept through the rest. Simply abysmal. If he’s a credible defender of the faith and the Gospel, Protestantism is dead.

  24. coramdude said,

    May 15, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Excellent piece brother Gadbois, and kudos to brother Duggan’s contributions. It’s nice to see some sanity. I was especially intrigued by Andrew’s point about the parent’s not having a credible profession. I have been pushing Pastor Wilson on his blog where he commented on this event on the issue of marriages. I can’t for the life of me understand a perspective that says, “Their baptisms count; they can come to the Lord’s Table; but they can’t marry our daughters.

  25. Andrew Duggan said,

    May 15, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Ron,

    We do not agree that Rome is an apostate church. The papacy is synagogue of Satan, and not a lawful church. It was a church until they confirmed their own excommunication at Trent. Apostate but lawful until then. It’s the papacy’s rejection of Jesus Christ as he reveals Himself in the Scriptures that makes them not a church. The way in which their rejection of Him manifests itself is in the non preaching of the Gospel, the lack of sacraments and the lack of lawful discipline.

    The Jewish church ceased not because of apostasy but because Christ came.

    The Jewish church was a degraded church even through Christ’s earthly ministry, but it was never the less the lawful church. It is on the basis of their being a lawful church.that their sacraments were valid. The priests were lawfully priests and their rites were lawful insofar as they were scriptural. Your assertion is contradictory to Christ’s when he told the 10 lepers in Luke 17:14 to show themselves to the priests, or the one leper in Mark 1:44 to show himself to the priests. For Christ to do this necessarily entails the lawful status of the Jewish Church at the time of his earthly ministry.

    The WCF requires that baptism be done with water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and by a minister of the Gospel lawfully ordained. You take exception to the WCF on Baptism. I don’t.

    To receive papists as Christians is a cruelty to the papists, as you lull them into false security that their adherence to their monstrous idolatrous false religion will earn them a place in the Kingdom of God.

  26. Ron said,

    May 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Coramdude,

    If someone in hypocrisy offers a credible profession of faith in a Protestant church would that invalidate the baptism of his infant? Of course not. Even if the profession was overtly incredible that would not invalidate the baptism. Consequently, you’ve begged the question.

    As for allowing for RC baptism while not allowing for interfaith marriage, the latter is matter of personal adult testimony whereas the former is not.

  27. Ron said,

    May 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    One of Andrew’s quotes wasn’t blocked off so it appeared as a one sentence paragraph of mine. I trust it’s now corrected below.

    We do not agree that Rome is an apostate church. The papacy is synagogue of Satan, and not a lawful church.

    Andrew,

    Then you tag your terms esoterically. I can possibly understand someone thinking that not all apostate churches should be labeled “synagogue of Satan,” but I’ve never known one in the Reformed tradition not to consider Rome apostate even if it is believed that each and every RC congregation is a synagogue of Satan. It’s like saying that once we found out the gender of the baby she was no longer human because it had become evident she was female. As Rome got more corrupt so as to be labeled a synagogue of Satan, she never lost her apostate status. It’s a set, sub-set thing, Andrew.

    It was a church until they confirmed their own excommunication at Trent.

    And what type of church was Rome right before the very final conclusion of the council – while all the time believing those things that were pronounced by the counsel?! She was apostate. So, on your esoteric tagging of terms, what had to ensue for her to slip from no longer being apostate into full-fledged Satanism? Aside from not drawing a reasonable set, sub-set distinction, you’re now confusing “what is the case” with “what is known to be the case.” She became nothing new upon finding out of what she already was. More on that in a moment.

    Apostate but lawful until then. It’s the papacy’s rejection of Jesus Christ as he reveals Himself in the Scriptures that makes them not a church.

    Andrew, are you really wanting to imply that the “papacy’s rejection of Jesus Christ” was no less true one second before the time in which you believe she became no longer apostate but rather full-fledged satanic? It’s hard to believe you’ve given much thought to these matters. You don’t acknowledge Rome is apostate because you feel that by calling her something worse she can no longer also be that lesser thing in your mind; then you constrain yourself to say that she one day became that greater thing – yet she had already been believing and practicing those same damnable heresies prior to it becoming clear by the vehicle of Trent! That which was sufficient to make her whatever you want to call her preceded the finding out of that something. At the very least, wasn’t Trent nearly two decades in deliberation?

    The Jewish church ceased not because of apostasy but because Christ came.

    Christ’s coming only made manifest that which was already the case, a defection from the covenant of promise. Again, what was true became apparent.

    This conversation is going nowhere I’m afraid, and there’s no earthly reason to believe we might ever get to any distinctions between Roman congregations (not that I’ve found any significant differences in my life time), but it is a worthy discussion in light of “some churches have so denigrated….” If we’re not prepared to draw distinctions between congregations and individual professions, laws regarding marriage and precepts regarding baptism there’s little hope for rational interchange.

    At the very least and by analogy, although the PCUSA church down the street might hold to the Westminster standards on their website, I believe them to be apostate by what they teach from the pulpit. In the like manner, I don’t think that most Roman communions are as Tridentine from the pulpit as you might think. I don’t find them to be churches mind you, but a bit of critical analyses that would parse some of these things out would be under good regulation if this discussion is to go anywhere (let alone be in keeping with God’s law).

  28. Andrew Duggan said,

    May 15, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Ron, We do agree that we are at an impasse. You wrote

    It’s a set, sub-set thing

    No it is not. That is exactly what is is not. Its an ontological difference in kind.

    Unlike biological creatures, that are created after their kind, such as human beings (of which male and female are subsets of humans) associations of men can change their kind. What happened at Trent was an ontological change in kind for papacy from a lawful church in apostasy to a synagogue of Satan. It became something else.

    Likewise the PCUSA was a lawful church in apostasy no later than the publication of the Auburn Affirmation until June 1936 when it became a non-church synagogue of Satan. The UPCNA was a less pure church with growing amounts of apostasy from the early 20th century until 1958 when it joined with the synagogue of Satan known as the PCUSA to become the UPCUSA.

    What goes on in a local, what you would call a congregation, but I would call a formal local religious association, since it is not a church, is not relevant so long as that association, remains in communion with the synagogue of Satan. Members of such associations cannot have credible professions of faith because they remain in communion with an anti-christ. Despite anything orthodox christian they may say their action in remaining in communion with a synagogue of Satan belies it.

  29. Andrew Duggan said,

    May 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Ron,

    At Trent the papacy formally concurred with the excommunication of itself from the true church, was up til then was largely de facto by virtue of the existence of the Reformed churches. By its own action the papacy made de jure the excommunication of itself.

  30. Ron said,

    May 15, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Members of such associations cannot have credible professions of faith because they remain in communion with an anti-christ.

    Andrew,

    That remark demonstrates rather nicely the lack of precision of your position. By these calculations as a recent convert my profession of faith was not credible while within a PCUSA congregation because the larger denomination of which I knew nothing about included apostate congregations. My profession of Christ alone hasn’t changed in 22 years, but it only became credible when I left the PCUSA. To tease out more absurdity, what if my motive for leaving was to get better teaching as opposed to renouncing an apostate denomination that included let’s say a moderately evangelical congregation like mine? Would my profession become invalidated, or would the good fortune of having a better preaching ministry within driving distance be the reason behind my profession becoming credible? I suppose John Gerstner and John Stott should not be considered Christians too given their life time affiliations.

    Andrew, you’re making this stuff up as you go along, which makes you a magisterium of one.

  31. Andrew Duggan said,

    May 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Ron,

    You wrote:

    Andrew, you’re making this stuff up as you go along, which makes you a magisterium of one.

    Nice ad hominem, but factually incorrect. I’ve been saying these very things for way more than the 22 years in your own religious life.

    Ron. I don’t care about your motives. Motives are not actionable things in church courts. God who can read your heart will judge those. Despite what you could articulate in your profession for the last 22 years, you were openly living in sin by being a member of the synagogue of Satan known as the PCUSA. Its not an unforgivable sin, but it was sinful nevertheless.

    Scandalous religious affiliations remove credibility from professions of faith.

    Now of course that has no bearing on whether or not you were in a state of grace, i.e., saved, Christians continue to sin in thought, word and deed every day.

    It is you that are a magisterium of one. You want to pick and choose that this PCUSA “congregation” or this papist group is really a church. I’m the one advocating that the churches should decide. The OPC decided about the PCUSA, the PCA about the PCUS, Protestant churches collectively decided about the papacy. The reality of the church actions is not dependent on whether or not individuals agree or disagree, or want to maintain the right of private judgment like you do. Gerstner and Stott get judged according to the same measure. They made a decision to remain in synagogues of Satan. Based on what you’ve written I’m guessing your affiliation was borne of ignorance of the judicial standing of the PCUSA.

    The OPC’s formation is a defacto act of church discipline against the PCUSA, excommunicating it entirely. Otherwise it was schismatic, and so is the PCA necessarily. It’s the same regarding the papacy. If any religious associations that are in communion with the pope are churches then all Protestants are necessarily guilty of schism.

    Would you consider a man to be repentant of wife beating if he merely agree to stop, but maintained that it was not sinful to beat her? My point here is that repentance requires admission of guilt People who refuse to repudiate their former scandalous religious affiliations don’t meet the threshold for repentance.

    What you’ve done is tacitly agree with Leithart.

    In some ways though Leithart is right. The reformation is over because so many protestants think that the papacy is still at least in “some sense” a church. How sad.

  32. Ron said,

    May 15, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Bye Andrew.

  33. Reed Here said,

    May 15, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Andrew, I’ve got a hard time applying ontology to this topic. Categories of relationship seem more consistent to describe what/when.

    Maybe the language from WCF 25. 5,6, should suffice and we shouldn’t draw distinctions beyond?

  34. Mark B said,

    May 15, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    @20 David
    You responded:
    “Sorry, but I can’t get on board with this sort of situational ethics. Even if we completely bracket Leithart’s theology and background, there was still plenty of objectionable content in his article taken in isolation. It is one thing to not say everything that could be said (as a tactful person would do in certain situations), it is another thing to simply give a false response. I understand that this forum was perhaps too “polite” to make issue of the various skeletons in Leithart’s closet. Fine. But his article was objectionable on many levels from an orthodox Reform’ed standpoint, and it should have been blown out of the water.”

    I think perhaps most of our disagreement is not on the issues, but rather stems from the fact that we seem to have approached the conference with different prior assumptions about its purpose. (I also suspect we share many of the same strong objections to Leithart’s original article.) However, while that specific article (and Dr. Saunder’s response), may have provided the initial impetus behind the conference, I did not see the conference as billed as a debate on it, but rather as a discussion on the future of Protestantism. One of the chief sponsors was an organization that is a Catholic and Protestant (and whatever) journal that primarily deals with religious issues in current society. The conference was specifically formatted to allow each of the three speakers to give an opening presentation about what they think the future of Protestantism should/ will look like, followed by a discussion time. So, with those things in mind, I wasn’t expecting a lengthy debate on the merits (or lack thereof) of the Catholic Church, and I certainly didn’t expect to hear any direct references to FV. On the other hand it would seem you expected Dr Saunders and Dr Trueman to open with a point by point refutation of Leithart’s original post. (please correct me if I have the wrong impression).
    Obviously, because Leithart’s heretical sacramentalistic views create in him an affinity towards Rome (and Eastern Orthodoxy), that subject was going to come up. I presume that Dr Saunders gave the opening he did because it’s what he sees as the way forward for Protestantism as someone coming from a broadly evangelical perspective, and he offered it as an alternative to Leithart’s vision (for the broadly evangelical church). Similarly, I think Dr Trueman’s opening was structured in the same way (as that is what the conference organizers had called for). His point about Word based ministry versus sacramentalism was, in my view, a direct shot at Leithart’s fundamental underlying error (his erroneous views of the sacraments) which draws him towards Rome, while at the same time offering a positive alternative. His antidote about a trip to Rome was a good way to make the point to the evangelical audience that there is more to Rome than what is reflected in Leithart’s rather naïve view. Emphasizing the pastoral realities of ministry seemed to be an attempt to show that what will equip the church to deal with what society will throw at it in the future is that which is offered in the Word preached, not in sacramental liturgical flimflam. There were more points made, but that was the gist of it. I do agree with you that some clear statements about specific reasons Protestantism and Rome are incompatible should have been made, however, having read a lot (enough to gag) of Leithart’s writings, I think he would agree on some of the errors of Rome, so I’m not sure where that would have led. As an aside, I know that when he runs around in a priest suit and writes provocative articles like the one mentioned, it’s tempting to want to point out Rome’s well documented errors and judge Leithart guilty by association. However, I think that his errors are egregious enough on their own that that isn’t necessary (A review of “The Baptized Body” should sufficiently convict him, in my opinion). To summarize, while I agree with the points about Rome you make, because I had approached the conference with rather different expectations (rightly or wrongly), I guess I wasn’t as disappointed in what actually happened, even though it could have been better on several fronts..

  35. David Gadbois said,

    May 15, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Ron said I’m afraid I have to differ with this understanding. You referenced 24:3 and papists. There is a political context from which the term was employed, but more importantly it pertains to those who were antagonistic to the Reformed tradition – which is not the case with most who would call themselves Roman Catholics today

    This is a strained and bizarre exegesis of the Confession. The common meaning of “papists” was simply any member of the Roman communion.

    Moreover, if we press the Confession too far from in that direction we would end up forbidding 4-point Calvinists from marrying 5-point Calvinists since in today’s context the “true reformed religion” (within which Christians are to marry) would not include the former.

    My understanding has always been that the “true reformed religion” applies to all reformational Christians including Lutherans and Anglicans along with what we term as “Reformed” with a capital R (the continental reformed churches and Scottish presbyterians). We have typically recognized our Lutheran and Anglican friends as brothers and, in fact, have usually extended Table fellowship to them, whereas we have uniformly barred Roman Catholics from the Table.

  36. michael said,

    May 15, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Great to pop in on this interesting conversation. I can sense in every post an authentic love of God and neighbor. May the Lord bless you has you continue this important, spirit-led effort to ensure a narrow Christian purity that exposes almost everyone who confesses Christ as a fraud.

  37. David Gadbois said,

    May 16, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Michael, your response is infantile. You need to take seriously the fact that Jesus Himself said that *many* would call him Lord, yet He would assert that He *never* knew them. Not exactly the warm, fuzzy Jesus you imagine. Is agreement on the Gospel really an unreasonable test of “purity”?

  38. Ron said,

    May 16, 2014 at 6:37 am

    This is a strained and bizarre exegesis of the Confession. The common meaning of “papists” was simply any member of the Roman communion.

    David,

    Strained and bizarre because you have never heard of this interpretation? It makes perfect sense – even in today’s context. Please walk with me…

    If what you say is true then there were no Christian marriages in England from 597 to about 1533. So, at the very least, it wasn’t a term that could mean every Roman Catholic at all times and in all places. The force of that reductio should at least give one reason to pause, especially one who would acknowledge not being as fluid in the Westminster standards. (No jab intended, David.) (And for what it’s worth, I became fully persuaded of this point over time; it was a process.) My only point is that we may not read today’s terms back into such a document as this. Note Letham on reading the Confession in its historical context: “Papists were those in league with France and Spain, plotting to overthrow the Protestant faith and install a king on the throne who would renew allegiance to Rome, contrary to English independence.” He also notes how “vital” it is to appreciate English context in this passage. I think his observation is astute when he further notes that we don’t find such marital directives in the other Reformed confessions – as they were not dealing with the same political state of affairs as England.

    Two options that don’t cause implicit inconsitency:

    1. Not all RC’s were loyal to the pope, so they weren’t papists.

    2. The overwhelming majority of the RC’s of the day were loyal to the pope; so organically we may call them all papists (even though some weren’t).

    Either way (though I prefer 1 over 2) we don’t violate the thousand years of Christian marriage that followed the mission to England under Pope Gregory the Great. The Divines could not have thought that there were no Christian marriages even though all RC’s were papists. Indeed, any RC today who wants to overthrow Protestantism is a papist.

    I wrote earlier:

    Moreover, if we press the Confession too far from in that direction we would end up forbidding 4-point Calvinists from marrying 5-point Calvinists since in today’s context the “true reformed religion” (within which Christians are to marry) would not include the former.

    You responded:

    My understanding has always been that the “true reformed religion” applies to all reformational Christians including Lutherans and Anglicans along with what we term as “Reformed” with a capital R (the continental reformed churches and Scottish presbyterians). We have typically recognized our Lutheran and Anglican friends as brothers and, in fact, have usually extended Table fellowship to them, whereas we have uniformly barred Roman Catholics from the Table.

    You make my point. We can’t read back TR into the text either.

  39. Ron said,

    May 16, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Oops, I meant to write I prefer option 2 over 1 due to the organic language alone, but again either does justice to the internal consistency of their theology.

  40. greenbaggins said,

    May 16, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Ron, most of the time arguments like David’s depend on the interpretation of history that the RCC was the true church before Trent, and was not the true church after Trent. So bringing up the marriages that occurred before Trent is not actually pertinent to David’s arguments.

  41. Ron said,

    May 16, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Lane,

    Quickly…If memory serves, I didn’t bring up marriages; I merely responded to those who had (including DG’s reference to the standards). In any case, I find this line of reasoning inadequate on several levels. At the very least, if “papist” (one with allegiance to the pope) cannot be used, even in an anachronistic sense, to define Roman Catholics just prior to Trent, then how can you expect the term to describe adequately the predominant number of modern Roman Catholics who have no interest in or understanding of what the popes affirm? To suggest that the Confession is referring to all “Roman Catholics” at all times, places and from all ages forward without any view to confessing the doctrine of the popes makes “papist” a vacuous term. For instance, although not an evangelical, would you consider Hans Kung a papist? Things are a bit more nuanced and less tidy than you’d like to believe. In any case, this line of reasoning begs too many distinctions already put forth and not worth repeating.

  42. Tim Harris said,

    May 16, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I’m comfy with speeches arguing that the RC is not a church, it’s just that they are only that, until a General Assembly “adopts the motion.”

    It can be done. The PCUS did so in respect to the Plymouth Brethren once.

  43. Ron said,

    May 16, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Tim,

    That view certainly has its merits and one that I think should have occurred to most, but given that there are so many GA’s, how catholic would that be for one GA to make such a claim and expect all to abide by it?

  44. Michael said,

    May 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    David G –

    So sorry, but I’m a bit confused. I did not refer to a “warm, fuzzy Jesus.” I said that I sensed love for God and neighbor in these posts. Are you suggesting that such love is not reflected here and, if so, what does this say about the conversation? As for gospel purity, did I not applaud the careful way in which you’ve defined the gospel so that many who claim it will be exposed as frauds?

    Jesus reserved his strongest criticisms for those who claimed to be the vanguards of orthodoxy but lived out that orthodoxy without love for God and neighbor. Presumably, in our context, his words word naturally be directed towards the frauds and not at us … his true, reformed believers. Thank God.

  45. Ron said,

    May 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Michael,

    If I am to believe your second post, then please take responsibility for implying something quite different in your first. Yet something tells me that your second post is no less cutting and sarcastic than your first one appears. My guess is David pegged you right the first time.

  46. michael said,

    May 17, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Hi Ron

    I’ve consistently made two claims … that you guys exude a love of God and neighbor (i.e., the heart and soul of the gospel), and that you’re protecting the true gospel from all of the fakes who claim to be followers of Jesus. If you’ve mistaken my posts as sarcasm, this would suggest that you think that I’m wrong on one or both counts. How else would you notice the sarcasm?

    I’d suggest that you take my words at face value unless something in your heart is revealing that they simply can’t be true.

  47. greenbaggins said,

    May 17, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Michael, thanks for explaining your true intent to us. I confess that when I read, “a narrow Christian purity that exposes almost everyone who confesses Christ as a fraud,” I read something of a dig. It seemed to be a slam against DG that said he was being too narrow, and that he was trying to expose the vast majority of Christians as not being Christians. I would be surprised if I was the only person who read the comment that way. I’m not sure that if your intent was otherwise, that you expressed yourself in a clear manner.

  48. Ron said,

    May 17, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Michael,

    I appreciate Lane hoping all things (I really do), but there’s another principle at work here for me that trumps that other gospel principle: not to be taken for a fool.

    I can sense in every post an authentic love of God and neighbor.

    Love does not jump off the pages in every post, which is apparent to everyone (which would include you) as most posts are point-counter-point and need not be qualified with affirmation of one’s love for the other person. Since it’s obvious that love is not being exuded in every post (which doesn’t mean that non-love is being displayed, though I’m sure it has been), your point should be interpreted as disingenuous rather than sincere. (This will be corroborated in a moment.) By interpreting the rest of what you wrote as sarcastic one can make sense of your statements that do not work well with a literal rendering that is according to factual truth. Read on…

    May the Lord bless you has you continue this important, spirit-led effort to ensure a narrow Christian purity that exposes almost everyone who confesses Christ as a fraud.

    Michael, to make a point I’ll treat you here as being nothing but sincere. Thank you, Michael, for desiring the Lord’s blessing on this Spirit-led effort to ensure a “narrow” gospel. As my brother referenced in another portion of the same passage of Scripture – narrow is the way that leads unto life.

    …I sensed love for God and neighbor in these posts. Are you suggesting that such love is not reflected here and, if so, what does this say about the conversation?

    Hmmm, that seems like a rather abrupt turn in sentiment. Why the snare of “what does this say about the conversation” if the conversation is so loving in your estimation?

    As for gospel purity, did I not applaud the careful way in which you’ve defined the gospel so that many who claim it will be exposed as frauds?

    Ah, but you applauded us not according to the truth, if not also with sleight of hand since nobody defined the gospel so narrowly as to exclude all non-Reformed Christians; yet that is what you intimated when you wrote: “Presumably, in our context, his words word naturally be directed towards the frauds and not at us … his true, reformed believers. Thank God.”

    Your posts drip with sarcasm and indicate a confusion between (i) a puffed-up pharisaic approach that would elevate tradition above the gospel and (ii) sinners saved by this gospel they would defend (though not perfectly and at times with sinful rhetoric).

  49. Mark B said,

    May 17, 2014 at 11:25 am

    @Ron, (My two cents, FWIW)
    How often has Michael commented here in the past? Read through his previous comments (and observe how he sometimes words things). In that context, it would seem that #36 was just really bad wording (I would have taken it the same way you did if not for that). You are reading maliciousness into what is (very) poor grammatical choice.

  50. Ron said,

    May 17, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Hey Mark B,

    No, I don’t know how often he’s posted here. He could be anyone as far as I know. Or maybe he just “pop[ped] in on this interesting conversation” without ever having posted here in the past. In any case, I don’t find that terribly relevant to what you would call bad wording in #36 since it was was defended as intentional wording in #s 44 and 46. But quite aside from that, I’m a bit mystified that you would write: “I would have taken it the same way you did if not for that.” You mean to say that you would have taken these posts according to their prima facie import had they not been worded in the manner in which he stands by? That’s madness, man. This gentleman crafts his posts quite thinly and purposefully, Mr. B. He’s got all the skill of a Federal Visionist sophist.

    In any case, I really don’t have time for this nonsense anymore. If you don’t want to trust your own gut on this, even in the face of follow-up posts that collaborate the face value of things, there’s not much more I can say other than it would be downright wicked (and cowardly) to deny having made a sarcastic point about the exclusive nature of the gospel of salvation while turning things toward a premise regarding the unloving fruit of those who would defend that exclusivity. In that context, let me exegete this gem for you.

    “I’d suggest that you take my words at face value unless something in your heart is revealing that they simply can’t be true.

    “Believe me when I tell you that I believe you are loving, unless you can’t believe in your heart of hearts that you are.” In one respect I admire this guy’s cleverness. Unfortunately he’s on the wrong side of things.

  51. Tim Harris said,

    May 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Getting back to the actual discussion…. Ron @43. My own view is that every denomination should act “as if” it were the (sole) holy catholic church. That might seem bigoted at first, but it is actually the opposite: it means she should not make pronouncements EXCEPT as she would qua holy catholic church, i.e. avoid pronouncements that are manifestly idiosyncratic and “denominational.”

    As far as whether other denominations in fact would accept the pronouncement, that would have to be sorted out just like everything else. At least the pronouncers would know whether to receive baptisms and ordinations from the defrocked body. Something would finally be settled.

  52. Ron said,

    May 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    TIm,

    I’ll call you. Interesting thesis.

  53. May 17, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    […] I would say that I agree, by and large, with David’s assessment of the weaknesses of Trueman’s presentation, but that I would want to offer a qualification of it. This qualification is based on what Trueman used to tell me in conversation, and I believe he said it in class as well. He said that we need to have a principled reason for not belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, and that it has to be doctrinal. If we do not have that, then we are living in sinful schism. Schism is a terrible sin. This is why Leithart’s position is, to my mind, completely incoherent. If the differences between Protestantism and Rome are not salvific in nature, then Leithart is living in sin by not being a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Leithart is, in effect, saying that Trent did not anathematize the gospel, a point that Jack Bradley brought up quite ably. […]

  54. Ron said,

    May 17, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    Food for thought…

    1. I’ve never understood why Rome should be granted the de facto position. I would think that the communion with the succession of apostolic doctrine accompanied by the laying of hands should have that status.

    2. I’ve never been satisfied that evangelical church’s should be considered schismatic ipso facto by virtue of their breaking away from other evangelical church’s for distinctives that although not at the core of the gospel still flow out of the gospel. Had the Reformers rediscovered substitutionary atonement but fallen short of unconditional election, would it have been schismatic for Calvinistic churches to have united over the doctrines of grace? Not that Arminian pastors aren’t ultimately ordained by God, but would Saint Paul had laid hands on such as these given his strong rebuke in Romans nine?

    Just thinking out loud.

  55. May 17, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    I wonder if there is a failure to distinguish the papacy from the church.
    Calvin writes: “When [the churches of] those countries were oppressed by the tyranny of Antichrist, the Lord used two measures to keep his covenant inviolable. First, he maintained baptism there, a witness to his covenant; consecrated by his own mouth, it retains its force despite the impiety of men. Secondly, by his own providence he caused other vestiges to remain, that the church might not utterly die. And just as often happens when buildings are pulled down the foundations and ruins remain, so he did not allow his church either to be destroyed to the very foundations by Antichrist or to be levelled to the ground, even though to punish the ungratefulness of men who had despised his word he let it undergo frightful shaking and shattering, but even after this very destruction willed that a half-demolished building remain.” (Institutes 4: ii, 11, Battles’ edition)

    Similarly: “However, when we categorically deny to the papists the title of the church, we do not for this reason impugn the existence of churches among them. Rather, we are only contending about the true and lawful constitution of the church, required in the communion not only of the sacraments (which are the signs of profession) but also especially of doctrine. Daniel [Dan 9:27] and Paul [2 Thess 2:4] foretold that Antichrist would sit in the Temple of God. With us, it is the Roman pontiff we make the leader and standard bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom. The fact that his seat is placed in the Temple of God signifies that his reign was not to be such as to wipe out either the name of Christ or of the church. From this it is evident that we by no means deny that the churches under his tyranny remain churches. But these he has profaned by his sacrilegious impiety, afflicted by his inhuman domination, corrupted and well-nigh killed by his evil and deadly doctrines, which are like poisoned drinks. In them Christ lies hidden, half buried, the gospel overthrown, piety scattered, the worship of God nearly wiped out. In them, briefly, everything is so confused that there we see the face of Babylon rather than that of the Holy City of God. To sum up, I call them churches to the extent that the Lord wonderfully preserves in them a remnant of his people, however woefully dispersed and scattered, and to the extent that some marks of the church remain – especially those marks whose effectiveness neither the devil’s wiles nor human depravity can destroy. But on the other hand, because in them those marks have been erased to which we should pay particular regard in this discourse, I say that every one of their congregations and their whole body lack the lawful form of the church.” (Institutes, 4: ii, 12)

  56. Tim Harris said,

    May 17, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Last sentence seems to nullify what precedes. Could someone explain?

  57. Ron said,

    May 17, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Seems to me, Tim, that what is being described is a remnant of the invisible church within a non-institutional “church,” but that’s just a guess at a very late hour.

  58. David Gadbois said,

    May 18, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Michael, along with others here I took your original post to be sarcastic. Usually when people accuse others of “narrow purity” it is not a compliment.

    In #38 Ron said My only point is that we may not read today’s terms back into such a document as this.

    That’s not “reading back” today’s terms. On the contrary the term “papist” long pre-dated the Westminster assembly and indeed was used across several languages from the earliest days of the Reformation.

    Note Letham on reading the Confession in its historical context: “Papists were those in league with France and Spain, plotting to overthrow the Protestant faith and install a king on the throne who would renew allegiance to Rome, contrary to English independence.”

    What is the actual evidence that the assembly was using the term in this narrow, parochial manner, given the common and much broader usage that existed up until that time? Unless there is direct evidence from the minutes of the assembly I doubt this interpretation very much, given that the Scottish preserved this language.

    Either way (though I prefer 1 over 2) we don’t violate the thousand years of Christian marriage that followed the mission to England under Pope Gregory the Great

    The first problem is that the issue is not what constitutes a valid marriage but what constitutes an ethical compatibility between two people for marriage. The second is the fact that, as Lane alluded, the professions of faith of those in papal assemblies before the Reformation is not equivalent to those after the Reformation, and for good reason. The R&P traditions have never de-churched everyone prior to the Reformation.

    At the very least, if “papist” (one with allegiance to the pope) cannot be used, even in an anachronistic sense, to define Roman Catholics just prior to Trent, then how can you expect the term to describe adequately the predominant number of modern Roman Catholics who have no interest in or understanding of what the popes affirm?

    Even nominal papists are still members of a papal assembly that, at minimum, affirms the pope as the head of the church. I’m sure the Westminster divines were quite aware that there was such a thing as nominal Romanists who disregarded Rome’s official teachings in those assemblies – of course that is hardly an improvement on a dogmatic, dyed-in-the-wool Romanist as far as a credible profession is concerned! And all of this is hardly worth mentioning when drafting a succinct confession. You are imposing very cumbersome, academic distinctions on a passage of the Confession that uses a single word to refer in passing to Romanists. You might as well ask the divines “how can you expect this term to adequately describe them?”

  59. Ron said,

    May 18, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Even nominal papists are still members of a papal assembly that, at minimum, affirms the pope as the head of the church. I’m sure the Westminster divines were quite aware that there was such a thing as nominal Romanists who disregarded Rome’s official teachings in those assemblies – of course that is hardly an improvement on a dogmatic, dyed-in-the-wool Romanist as far as a credible profession is concerned! And all of this is hardly worth mentioning when drafting a succinct confession. You are imposing very cumbersome, academic distinctions on a passage of the Confession that uses a single word to refer in passing to Romanists. You might as well ask the divines “how can you expect this term to adequately describe them?”

    David,

    When I detect question begging such as this, I do well to take my cue to extend thanks for the exchange. If you don’t find the reductios persuasive, then by all means continue to call those who confess Christ alone yet born into RC families and know nothing of Trent “papists.” In fact, go on calling those who have not renounced the communion yet reject the pope papists too. :)

  60. Jack Miller said,

    May 19, 2014 at 1:26 am

    Back to Trueman/Leithart/Sanders. I watched this live with much anticipation. I came away disappointed. At one point it Tweeted “Where’s the gospel?!” Trueman later in a First Things post wrote:

    Anyone who claims to want to end world poverty or child abuse has seized the rhetorical high ground in a manner which makes any response beyond ‘Amen, so may it be!’ seem somewhat curmudgeonly. Thus, when Peter Leithart opened last week’s discussion on the future of Protestantism by lamenting ecclesiastical disunity and expressing a desire for a visibly united church, there was an audible murmur of support and appreciation from the audience. I knew immediately I would emerge over the course of the evening as the nay-sayer.

    Which tells me he may have given up the fight from the git-go. Didn’t want to be the nay-sayer? This explains, in my mind, his rather polite responses. Why in the world, given this opportunity, would a Reformed pastor/WTS prof bail on highlighting the sharp differences between Rome – FV and that of the orthodox reformed faith? He could have said whatever he wanted. But it seems to me (maybe I wrong) that from his First Things article, that after Leithart’s intro, Trueman’s inward response was, “Game over, man. Game over!” (Aliens movie reference)

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/05/more-questions-than-answers

  61. Jack Miller said,

    May 19, 2014 at 1:36 am

    By the way, I found this an interesting twist to that evening:

    I’m not so sure the FV folk haven’t maintained unity between Moscow and Birmingham. The connections are still there…..

    So who is the Davenant Trust? Of the five board members two (Rick and Bradford (M.A., New Saint Andrews College) Littlejohn, father and son, if I recall correctly) are Muscovites; one is (Steven Wedgeworth) a CREC pastor and a fourth, Peter Escalante, co-founded The Calvinist International with Wedgeworth.
    From The Calvinist International website: “Originally the brainchild of Dr. Bradford Littlejohn, the Davenant Trust came together after the completion of 2013 Convivium Calvinisticum. While the Davenant Trust is independent from TCI, it exists in an obvious partnership with TCI, and most of its board members are regular TCI contributors. Most importantly, the goals and vision of the Davenant Trust are wholly complementary with those of TCI….”
    Is Carl Trueman aware of these connections? (He’s an “advisor” to the Davenant Trust.)
    …if you read the list of Davenant’s contributors (not $), the Trinity House “fellows” are all absent. Seems the plan was to set up a more moderate, “kumbaya” public face for the FV, in order to create a popular but controlled platform for marketing their (re)vision of sound Christian doctrine. It seems what Davenant would have the public believe is they are not associated in any way with Leithart & Co. For me that is not credible. But then I cheated and looked behind the curtain.

    —Greg’s comments on D. G. Hart, “Should Federal Visionaries Model the Protestant the Protestant Future?”

  62. May 23, 2014 at 11:43 am

    […] arose as a result of his participation in the Biola conference which David Gadbois commented on here, and I commented on as […]

  63. Brian Carpenter said,

    May 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    I was very flummoxed by Trueman’s tmid defense of the Reformation and his ducking of the issues of ecclesiology and justification by faith ALONE (we’ve gotta stop leaving that word of the end! There’s a world of difference between justification by faith and justification by faith alone!).

    I notice that Trueman has written a few things for First Things, which comes from a conservative Catholic perspective. I wonder if that had anything to do with his timidity.

  64. Stuart said,

    June 9, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    <–Anglican, here. It's pretty silly to see you guys denying the label of 'Christian' to Catholics because they don't hold to a 16th century doctrinal novelty (and we have to realize that). If we owned up to the fact that there isn't a whole of certainty to be found in the Reformation's bedrock principles, we'd all be better off.

  65. Dr. Mark W. Karlberg said,

    July 31, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Posted on the website of the Old Life Theological Society, July 30, 2014

    Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication
    by Andrew M. Elam, Robert C. Van Kooten, and Randall A. Bergquist
    [from the website of Wipf and Stock]

    Book Description. What did writers in the Reformed tradition mean by suggesting that the Covenant of Works with Adam has been republished in the Mosaic Covenant? Not all forms of this doctrine of “republication” are the same. Merit and Moses is a critical evaluation of a particular version of the republication doctrine—one formulated by Meredith G. Kline and espoused in The Law Is Not of Faith (2009). At the heart of this discussion is the attribute of God’s justice and the Reformed view of merit. Has classic Augustinian theology been turned on its head? Does—or can—God make a covenant at Sinai with fallen people by which Israel may merit temporal blessings on the basis of works? Have “merit” and “justice” been redefined in the service of Kline’s works-merit paradigm? The authors of Merit and Moses examine the positions of John Murray and Norman Shepherd with respect to the reactionary development of the Klinean republication doctrine. Klinean teachings are shown to swing wide of the Reformed tradition when held up to the plumb line of the Westminster Standards, which embody the Reformed consensus on covenant theology and provide a faithful summary of Scripture.

    Endorsements for Merit and Moses
    “The doctrine of Republication has a Reformed pedigree. But in what sense? Recent understandings of Republication sometimes depart significantly from what one finds among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation periods. It is to the merit of these authors for dealing with this thorny issue by offering some important insights into the precise nature of the debate, such as discussions on merit and justice and the nature of typology. I hope all involved in the debate will give this book a careful and sympathetic reading—at least more careful and sympathetic than those who have publicly opposed Professor John Murray on this issue.”
    —Mark Jones, Senior Minister, Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, BC

    “I strongly recommend that everyone interested in the notion of Republication read the important book, Merit and Moses. By focusing on the guilt of every child of Adam and the only merit recognized by a holy God, the authors cut to the heart of Republication’s error. They show that to be the case by an insightful study of the Scriptures, of our most revered theologians—for example, John Murray, too often misunderstood and maligned by Republicationists—and of the Reformed confessions, showing that the doctrine of Republication cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.”
    —Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus and Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA

    “In recent years, a number of Reformed writers have advanced the claim that the Mosaic covenant or economy was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works. According to these writers, the Republication doctrine was a common emphasis in the history of Reformed theology, and even forms an important part of the basis for the biblical doctrine of justification. The authors of this volume present a clear and compelling case against this claim. Rather than a reaffirmation of a forgotten, integral feature of Reformed theology, the authors argue that the modern republication doctrine seems inconsistent with the historic Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A helpful contribution.”
    —Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, IN

    “This volume addresses a relatively recent appearance of the view that the Mosaic covenant embodies a republication of the covenant of works, a view that in its distinctive emphasis is arguably without precedent in the history of Reformed theology—namely, that during the Mosaic era of the covenant of grace, in pointed antithesis to grace and saving faith in the promised Messiah, the law given to Israel at Sinai was to function pedagogically as a typological overlay of the covenant of works made with Adam, by which Israel’s retention of the land and temporal blessings were made dependent on maintaining a level of meritorious obedience (works), reduced in its demand to accommodate their sinfulness. A particular strength in my judgment is their showing that the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.”
    —Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA

    The Foreword is by William Shishko.

    Regarding the OPC Denominational Study of the Mosaic Covenant and Republication
    By Mark W. Karlberg, Th.D.

    As the five-man study committee begins its work articulating biblical teaching concerning the “republication of the covenant of works” in the Mosaic Covenant, itself an expression of the single, ongoing administration of the Covenant of Grace (extending from the Fall to the Consummation), we take note of events leading up to the present state of upheaval within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and beyond. Three former students of Westminster Seminary California – now members of the OPC’s Presbytery of the Northwest – submitted a paper, entitled “A Booklet on Merit in the Doctrine of Republication presented to the Presbytery of the Northwest,” for its Stated Meeting in April of 2013. This was done in conjunction with its request to overture the OPC’s General Assembly asking for a denominational study for the purpose of guiding and instructing the churches on what has become highly contentious doctrine within the Reformed communion at large. That paper has been revised for publication as Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock), released on July 10, 2014. Book endorsements include those of Richard Gaffin and Robert Strimple, timed for the start of the study committee’s work. Let no one be confused today where Gaffin and Kline stand! To be sure, differences between John Murray and Meredith Kline extend well into past history of Westminster Seminary. We have simply moved on to a new phase of the dispute, one bearing radically different implications and ramifications derived from Westminster’s current thinking on the subject of the covenants.

    According to the view of Gaffin and Strimple, there is no works-principle functioning in the covenant God made with Israel through Moses, mediator of the old covenant. This means that the sole principle underlying the old covenant is the principle of (saving) grace, identical to what is the case in the new covenant. The blessings and curses of the covenant of law – fully and explicitly laid out in “the Treaty of the Great King” (the Book of Deuteronomy), as elsewhere throughout the Old Testament – are administered on the basis of Israel’s obedience or disobedience. If the position of Israel were secure in the earthly land of promise (Canaan) – which is the case for recipients of God’s saving grace with regard to reception of the heavenly, antitypical reward (life in the eternal kingdom yet to come) – there is then no place for curse and exile from the land. Such judgment upon Israel of old is, in the final analysis, inexplicable. What the Murray school of interpretation must conclude, to be theologically consistent (what is the aim of the systematician), is to say that believers under the new covenant are likewise subject to both the blessings and the curses of redemptive covenant in accordance with (non-meritorious) good works. This point is crucial: in this school of thought there is no genuine difference between the two economies of redemption, wherein reward is bestowed “on the basis of” or “in accordance with” the believer’s works of obedience. This is precisely the doctrine Shepherd and Gaffin have been eagerly advancing; and they have taken the argument one step further by eviscerating the law/grace antithesis entirely in their doctrine of the covenants (pre- and post-Fall).

    Fundamental to the position of Shepherd and Gaffin is aversion to the works-inheritance principle, that which is antithetical to the faith-inheritance principle. With respect to the idea of the principle of works operating on the symbolico-typological level of temporal life in Canaan, Gaffin asserts: “the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.” Now the real question is whether perfect, meritorious obedience was required of the First Adam in accordance with the probationary test given him in the original Covenant of Works at creation. This Gaffin and Shepherd vehemently deny. Had Adam kept covenant with God, not yielding to the temptation of Satan in assuming equality with God (specifically in regards to the knowledge of good and evil), he would not have “earned” or “merited” divine blessing, so Gaffin and Shepherd contend. Only the Second Adam, we are told, can merit the reward of the covenant made with his Father on behalf of God’s elect by his own obedience. Hence, Gaffin and Shepherd’s renunciation of the Reformed-Protestant law/grace antithesis, what is essential to teaching concerning the Gospel of justifying grace. The Gaffin-Shepherd contention is nothing other than the dogma of Neo-orthodoxy, now one of the doctrinal planks in New School Westminster. From this theological point of view, Westminster has moved well beyond Murray’s “recasting” of covenant theology. Yet, at the same time, Murray remains the sacred cow.

    Clearly there is nothing but disdain for “public” opposition to the teaching of Murray on the covenants, Westminster’s most revered systematician. There is unity of mind within the Murray-Gaffin school today regarding “the reactionary development of the Klinean republication doctrine,” including what is seen as an over-reaching assault on Murray’s reformulation of covenant theology and an unwarranted, wholesale repudiation of Shepherd’s theology of the covenants, including Shepherd’s take on the doctrines of election, baptism, and union with Christ. On the matter of the history and development of Reformed teaching, the Shepherd-Gaffin school is flatly wrong. Setting aside questions pertaining to what individual Reformed expositors did or did not teach, past and present, both sides agree that the final arbiter is the Spirit of God speaking through the Scriptures. How then is Scripture to be interpreted in light of today’s contentious debate? The answer remains, as always, faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture as self-interpreting (free of human speculation and opinion).

    A final word of caution: Do not be misled or misinformed. Read carefully and thoroughly, including writers on both sides of the controversy. If properly and faithfully conducted, the work of the OPC study committee should lead to trials in the courts of the denomination regarding the teachings of those holding heterodox opinions, notably as regards the doctrine of eschatological justification/judgment in accordance with faith and (good) works.

    Footnote:
    For a full account of developments at Westminster Seminary regarding the doctrine of the covenants and justification by faith (among other cardinal doctrines), see Mark W. Karlberg, Gospel Grace: The Modern-Day Controversy (2003), Federalism and the Westminster Tradition (2006), and Engaging Westminster Calvinism (2013). Foundational to these studies is my prior work Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (2000). All are published by Wipf and Stock. For a summary update on these matters see also my essay published as the Special May 2014 Issue of The Trinity Review (posted at http://www.trinityfoundation.org).


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