New book unlocks Reformed history

Posted by Wes White

The Westminster Standards and the Reformed Confessions in general are the product of what is commonly called “Reformed scholasticism.” Reformed scholasticism is simply the name for the academic theology of the pastors and theologians of the Reformed Church in the 16th–18th centuries. After the Reformers separated from Rome, the “Reformed scholastics” sought to codify the insights of the Reformation and integrate them with the whole classical Christian tradition. In the post-Reformation era, these theologians defended the truths of the Reformation against powerful opponents and applied the insights of the Reformation into all areas of church and social life. Sadly, this area of church history has been woefully neglected, especially in the English language. Reformation Heritage Books has filled the gap with its forthcoming Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism by Willem van Asselt, et al., a translation of a book originally written in Dutch by the same title. This book fills a real gap in our theological literature, as Carl Trueman writes concerning this book, “This work supplies a long-standing need in the field of early modern studies by providing a basic introduction to Reformed Scholasticism.”

To understand how important this book is, recognize that Reformed scholasticism has received a very negative evaluation from much modern scholarship. Those who have rejected inerrancy, for example, have accused the Reformed scholastics of imposing their “mechanical” views of inspiration on the dynamic views of the Reformers. The Federal Vision was in large part born out of a negative evaluation of Reformed scholasticism. They were simply taking a common view of the Reformed scholastics that they coldly imposed their logic on Scripture, cutting off whatever did not agree with their “system,” who presented lengthy philosophical arguments and polemics in their sermons to impoverished congregations. Men like Willem van Asselt, professor of theology in Belgium and the Netherlands, and Richard Muller, professor of theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, have demonstrated that this is a totally false picture. This book will give you the tools you need to counter the common misrepresentations of the 17th century theologians.

More importantly, this book will serve a positive purpose. It will help you understand the classical Christian context of Reformed theology. It will give you a greater appreciation for our heritage and its catholic nature. You will understand much more clearly how our forefathers came to the conclusions that they enshrined in our confessions. Even if you believe the confessions need to be changed, this will give you a greater appreciation for how they came into being and a better context for your own critique. I do not recommend a lot of modern books, but this is one modern book that everyone who is interested in studying Reformed theology should read. As Richard Muller said in the forward, “It is not merely an introductory survey. It is a significant guide for the further study of the era.” Martin Klauber, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School said, “This work is especially recommended for seminary students and for all who have interest in the development of Reformed theology.”

You can pre-order a copy here. If you would like to sample it before you buy a copy, you can download the introduction here.

Posted by Wes White

Approved Meyers investigative committee documents now available

Posted by Wes White

The report is now available here.

I believe that this document will prove to be one of the more important Federal Vision documents to be released in a while. It is a rather complete statement of the issues on baptism, covenant, and justification by a prominent Federal Visionist to a friendly PCA Court.

What I plan to do is to publish these items section by section in separate posts on my blog for comment and discussion. If you wish to download the whole document, you can do so above. The links to the sections available in separate blog posts are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Views on Covenant Theology
  3. Views on Theology of the Imputation of Christ’s Merit
  4. View on Theology of Baptism
  5. Views on Theology of Perseverance
  6. Views on Theology of Justification
  7. Report of the Subcommittee Investigating Process and Injurious Reports
  8. TE Meyers Letter of Apology
  9. Conclusion

Please check back for further updates.

Posted by Wes White

James Jordan on Deaconesses

Posted by Wes White

I thought this post was interesting, and I thought that this would be a good place to open it up for discussion.  James Jordan writes:

As I imagine you’ll point out, deaconnesses (not lady deacons, but a different function) are something the HC/LR have in common with the EPM/UR group. Deaconnesses are all over the Bible, and all over church history. Nowadays they are called nuns, and often have to take special vows; but there’s no need for us to take all of that over. Women served at the Tabernacle, at the Temple, served Jesus, and served in the early church. It is odd to me that there are people in the PCA who freak out over this, but I think you may be right that this is an issue that will finally split the PCA.

You can read the original context here.

Posted by Wes White

MNY Presbytery Officially Accuses Dominic Aquila of Breaking the 9th Commandment; RMP Exonerates Him [Updated, 9:33 p.m. MDT]

Posted by Wes White

This spring, Dr. Dominic Aquila, former moderator of the PCA General Assembly and President of New Geneva Theological Seminary, published an article on The Aquila Report by Rev. John Otis entitled “Discerning Roman Catholic Tendencies Among Professing Reformed Churches.”  In this article, Otis took criticized Dr. Craig Higgins, a teaching elder in Metro New York Presbytery, and pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Rye, NY, for what he alleged were “Roman Catholic tendencies.”

Otis was concerned about TE Higgins’ advocacy of the practice of Lent and Ash Wednesday; his advocacy of a return to bishops; his suggestion that the Bishop of Rome would be the proper presiding bishop of a worldwide ecumenical council (as long as his authority was not greater than the ecumenical council, including rejecting papal infallibility); asserting that the church could “move beyond” the debate over baptismal regeneration by the renewal of a rich, instrumental baptismal theology; that Higgins was in agreement with the idea that by baptism one is made an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven; and Higgins’ view that baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation, among other things.

Metro New York Presbytery responded to this article at their May 8, 2010 meeting.  They responded by unanimously voting to send a letter to Rocky Mountain Presbytery (the court with jurisdiction over TE Aquila) accusing TE Dominic Aquila of breaking the 9th commandment and a lack of love because he published this article.  “The article The article by Mr. Otis is not merely a critical interaction with Pastor Higgins’ views (which would be appropriate), but is an attack on his character and calls into question the appropriateness of his stature as a pastor in our denomination” (See the full letter below).

At its September Stated Meeting, At its September Stated Meeting, RMP heard a committee report that recommended exoneration.  RMP voted today to accept the committee’s recommendation and thus exonerate Dr. Aquila of the charges raised by Metro New York Presbytery.  [Updated, 9:27 p.m. MDT] RMP voted unanimously to exonerate Dr. Aquila.

Metropolitan New York Presbytery
Presbyterian Church in America
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city. . . Pray to the Lord for it” (Jeremiah 29:7).

May 19, 2010

Rev. Kevin Allen
Stated Clerk,
Rocky Mountain Presbytery
4055 South Nonchalant Circle
Colorado Springs, CO 80917

Dear Rev. Allen,

At our recent Presbytery meeting on May 8, 2010, we approved sending the enclosed letter formed by our Shepherding Team to your Presbytery. Thank you for your consideration on this matter.

Metropolitan New York Presbytery
Presbyterian Church in America
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city. . . Pray to the Lord for it” (Jeremiah 29:7).

May 19,2010

Dear Brothers of the Rocky Mountain Presbytery,

We trust this finds you all well and your churches flourishing in the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus.

We are writing because one of your presbyters, Dominic Aquila, publishes a website entitled “The Aquila Report” (www.theaquilareport.com) in which we believe he allows one of the brothers in our presbytery, Craig Higgins, to be slandered. We believe this is very serious failure to uphold the ordination vows that ask us to strive for the purity and peace of the church. We believe it is a violation of the ninth commandment and also of the call to love one another.

In the article published on TB Aquila’s website, Pastor Higgins, a teaching elder in good standing is called “a very dangerous man” and “theologically incompetent.” Moreover, we believe the paper was not charitable because it misrepresents Mr. Higgins views. The article was written by John M. Otis and TB Aquila posted it on March 16,2010 (http://theaquilareport.cornlindex.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=l 685:discerning-roman-catholic-tendencies-among-professing-reformedchurches&catid=79:commentary&Itemid=l37). We believe it is completely inappropriate of Dominic Aquila to publish this article and that he should be held accountable for doing so.

A number of individuals have written to TE Aquila about this matter and have received the following response from him: Thank you for your comments on John Otis’s commentary. Otis was assessing and critiquing the public views of Craig Higgins, a common practice when any author presents his views in writing for public consumption. While there were challenges to Higgins’s written views, the assessment was not a hit piece or character assassination. When any of us takes a position on an issue we can expect critiques from those who take a contrary position; it is a challenge to ideas the person presented not the person as an individual. I know that I have received both accolades and brickbats from my publicly stated positions; I appreciate the former and squirm with the latter, but if I stick my neck out I have to be willing to stand under scrutiny, both good and bad.

We find this response to be without repentance and completely inadequate. The article by Mr. Otis is not merely a critical interaction with Pastor Higgins’ views (which would be appropriate), but is an attack on his character and calls into question the appropriateness of his stature as a pastor in our denomination. It is our strong conviction that TE Aquila should not only remove the article and print a retraction but also apologize to Craig Higgins and ask for his forgiveness. We believe that the publishing of that article dishonors Christ and violates the unity of the body.

We respectfully implore you to take action. We await your reply.

In partnership for the gospel,

Metropolitan New York Presbytery

A Brief Response to Dr. Taylor’s Reply to Dr. Aquila by Mr. White

Posted by Wes White

ByFaith online published today a response by Dr. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the PCA, to Dr. Dominic Aquila, former Moderator of the General Assembly and President of New Geneva Seminary, who has publicly criticized the proposed amendments to BCO 14:1 and 14:2.  I would like to respond to a few of Dr. Taylor’s points, but to begin with I think we need to understand a very important point.  The first draft of the amendments was presented confidentially to the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) back in January 2010.  A version approved by the AC was sent to the commissioners handbook.  However, when the AC permanent committee met the week of the Assembly, they changed the amendment significantly.  You can see the revisions here.  I talked to several members of the Admin Committee of Commissioners and none of them had any idea that they had approved this altered version of the amendment.  The point of this will become apparent in the discussion below.  With that in mind, let me suggest several things in response to Dr. Taylor.

1.  The Personal Statements about Dr. Aquila are not Helpful. The second and third paragraphs indicate that it was Dr. Aquila’s duty to oppose the amendment before now, if he was going to do it at all.  Dr. Taylor says that these things were discussed over a number of years in the CMC.   Instead of speaking against them, Dr. Taylor alleges, he chose a different method of dealing with this, Dr. Aquila posted his objections on his web site.  Now, let’s assume that Dr. Taylor’s accounting of the fact is correct and that Dr. Aquila raised no objections and that this was discussed “thoroughly” over a number of years.  Still, several things can be said.  First, Dr. Aquila may have changed his mind or not seen the implications of the matter before it was actually passed by the GA.  This wouldn’t be the first time that has happened to someone.  Second, the amendment was changed significantly on the day of General Assembly.  The new version makes the cumulative nature of the fees much clearer.  This alone would cause someone to think more carefully about it, as it did me.  Third, this is still a live issue.  It is being debated in presbyteries, and it is perfectly legitimate for someone to offer their opinions privately and publicly.  I think Dr. Taylor could have made some of the same arguments without implying criticism of Dr. Aquila’s methods.

2.  The appeal to authority is overplayed.  For example, Dr. Taylor states that “objections now being raised by Dr. Aquila involve issues that were thoroughly discussed over a number of years in the CMC…”  Having examined the minutes, I simply cannot see it.  Perhaps this was done, but it is not reflected in the minutes.  I did not see any discussion of a funding plan until 2010.  They may have discussed it in passing, but was it really discussed “thoroughly”?  Second, he appeals to the CCB.  He says that this is a “group of men elected by the General Assembly because of their knowledge and understanding of our constitution.”  Maybe they are.  Maybe they aren’t.  The General Assembly has never expressed that.  This seems to be an overstatement.  Third, he calls their evaluation of the constitutional issues a “studied collective opinion.”  Now, remember that they looked at the revisions in one afternoon and gave their opinion.  Another example is the analysis by the legal firm.  They may have done a legal audit, but did the legal firm audit the changes that were made on the Tuesday of General Assembly?

3.  The reasoning of the CCB is flawed.  I have argued this in several places.  You can read my arguments here.  The key point is that this “registration fee” is very different from the current registration fee for General Assembly.  One is voluntary, non-cumulative, and paying for a specific service.  The other is involuntary, non-cumulative, and funding all of a committee’s activities.

In addition, Dr. Taylor appeals to the historical context of BCO 25:8 and 11.  Granted that he is correct, this does not prove his point.  What better way to ensure that a denomination cannot take the property of the local church against its will than to say as the BCO 25:8 does that all property can only be received by free and voluntary action of the latter?  What better way could there be than to exclude the idea of a required payment to the higher courts altogether?

4.  There are some good points in the article.  For example, the plan says nothing about whether non-paying members could serve on the permanent committees and agencies.  I also agree that it does not bring confusion on who can and cannot vote.  I think the plan is clear on who can and cannot vote.

Finally, I think that Dr. Taylor’s response is good in many ways.  I like the idea that he is seeking to argue the merits of the case.  I do not believe that we should just listen to the denominational employees and do what they think is best.  I think they should present their arguments.  Then, we should evaluate them and decide what we want to do.  We as assemblies are the denominational leaders, not elected officials.  Thus, the best way for us to approach this is to recognize that none of us has a right for our agenda to be passed.  Let as many people make their arguments so that we can decide together, by the grace of God, what is the best course of action.

Posted by Wes White

Goods News for the PCA, Bad News for the Strategic Plan: There is no S-Curve

Posted by Wes White

Hard Data and the PCA Strategic Plan

by Martin Hedman, pastor of Mission PCA in Los Angeles California

A foundational aspect of the PCA’s proposed Strategic Plan, to be voted on at this year’s General Assembly in about a week, is the “modified S-curve” presented on the first page of the Plan. The curve drawn in the middle of that first page is part of the section meant to create a perspective for planning. In other words, the perspective we are being asked to bring is one informed by a growth curve showing rapid growth early and slowing – even declining growth – later in an organization’s development. While the Plan does not explicitly say that this curve is precisely representative of the history of growth in the PCA, it certainly does imply it. The curve is presented in the context of noting that the PCA’s early growth occurred at a rate of 5-8% per year, while more recent growth has happened at a rate of 2-3% per year. The first page also argues that “slowed growth at least requires consideration of how we should best represent our Savior” and that we need to anticipate “needed change before a decline in the S-curve becomes precipitous.”

Hedman goes on to demonstrate that there simply is no S-curve, and thus there is a fatal flaw in the Strategic Plan.  See the charts and read the rest of the article here.

Posted by Wes White

Professor Mark Beach Responds to Nampa URC’s Criticism of the URC FV Report

Posted by Wes White

Comments on the Paper of the Consistory of the United Reformed

Church of Nampa, Idaho

“Interaction with the ‘Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal

Vision and Justification’ ”

by J. Mark Beach

PART ONE

Introduction

This paper is a response to a recent study produced by the Consistory of the United Reformed Church of Nampa, Idaho (3 June 2010) interacting with the “Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification.” Inasmuch as I am a minister in the United Reformed Churches, but not a delegate to Synod 2010, this reply, I suppose, is my only opportunity to offer some observations about the Study Committee Report and more particularly about the Nampa Consistory document, which invites the churches to consider the critique of the Study Committee Report “as they prepare to deliberate on these issues at Synod.”

As an official consistorial document, it is not clear to me why the Nampa URC paper was not processed through ecclesiastical channels, which seems to be the protocol for an official reply to a synodical Study Committee. Rather than post this document over the internet, it seems to me that it would have been a brotherly duty to correspond with the Study Committee directly so that this Committee could evaluate and weigh the validity of the concerns enunciated in the Nampa document, or at the very least submit this document to Classis as an overture, and if Classis refused to adopt the overture as its own, then send their report to Synod. As it stands, the procedure the Nampa Consistory has followed in this regard may be construed to show a low view of the church, an uncharitable approach to the Study Committee, and to be setting an unwise, even a kind of politicizing, precedent for ecclesiastical debate and discussion. (The Study Committee Report has been available to the churches since mid-summer 2009.) No doubt, some consistories and interested individuals will study this document while others are free to ignore it since it is not a document properly processed through the assemblies of the church. For this reason, given the public nature of the Nampa document, I feel compelled to offer some analytical comments on the Nampa study, though I wish the whole discussion had been left within official ecclesiastical boundaries.

Continue reading here.

Posted by Wes White

OK, You’re Not Monocovenantal, You’re…Uhhh….Errr….

Posted by Wes White

Well, there’s no one quite like James Jordan. He’s come up with a post rebuking those who have called the FV “monocovenantal.” He does so by accusing most of the men on the committees who’ve looked at FV in the NAPARC denominations of being “evil men”:

How do you answer such evil men? They cannot find that you’ve ever written XYZ, and they cannot find that you’ve ever said XYZ, but they accuse you of it anyway. When you say you don’t believe XYZ, they call you a liar. I wish I were wrong about this, but it seems that these are the kind of men who staff the theological committees of pretty much all the “conservative” “Reformed” denominations these days. There is no charity, no benefit of the doubt, not even a phone call. The attitude is pretty clear; as Luther put it: They proudly say, “Now, where is he That shall our speech forbid us? By right or might we shall prevail; What we determine cannot fail; We own no lord and master!” (Luther, Psalm 12).

He goes on to say that they do believe in bi-covenantal structure. Here’s what he says:

The human race was created in covenant fellowship with God, but in a child form of that relationship. Human beings were under “law” administered by angels until they grew up. When the human race was ready, God entered into a new covenant, an adult covenant with humanity. The first covenant was in Adam and in the human beings that came from him, including Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born into the first covenant, and then through death and resurrection brought the new covenant, the covenant of maturity or glory. So, there are two overall covenants.

But, then, he goes on to say that there are eight covenants. He writes:

Beyond this, each of these eight covenants has an initial and then a full form. The Adamic covenant is “not good” until Adam has gone through a kind of death-sleep and then been glorified with a bride; then the covenant is “very good.” Similarly, the Sinaitic covenant has a first phase, in which the Ten Words are written on stone and in which the bride is merely part of the husband’s house in the Tenth Word; and then after the death and resurrection of Israel in the wilderness comes the full phase of the Sinaitic covenant, in which the Ten Words are now put in flesh through the voice of Moses and in which the bride is elevated in the Tenth Word to co-rule with her husband over the house. The same kind of move from initial to full form can be seen in each of the covenant administrations, once it is recognized that the “bride” is the community. Hence, again, the Prophetic covenant starts with Elijah as soloist, but after his departure, Elisha is seen always in community.

You can read the full post here.

Posted by Wes White

An Alternative Proposal Toward a New PCA Strategic Plan

Posted by Wes White

The Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is pastor of Grace PCA in the Atlanta metro and author of John Owen on the Lord’s Supper and In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship. He is also deeply committed to the Reformation2Germany project. . He offered a a stimulating comment on yesterday’s post on the proposed strategic plan and he has offered an explanation of his comment. I re-post it here for those who don’t read the comments.

Dr. Payne’s Post:

My thoughts on a positive, strategic plan for the PCA:
Friends, the “PCA Strategic Vision” is, in large part, a strategy to reverse the downward trend of the denomination in terms of numerical growth, unity, financial support and cooperation. The framers of the vision, I believe, have the best intentions of making the PCA a stronger, healthier denomination. This effort should be commended. However, after reading the document, one cannot help but wonder if the remedy for the downward trend in the PCA is off target. Perhaps our downward trend and disunity is less due to cultural irrelevancy, missional narrowness, ethnic insensitivity and safe places for women and young people, and more a consequence of our unwillingness to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what God has promised to bless in the lives of His elect.

From my perspective, our greatest need as a denomination is to renew our commitments to the 17 points listed above, commitments which Reformed and Confessional Presbyterians have held for centuries precisely because they believed that they were biblical and would effectually cultivate growth, unity, mission, sacrificial giving and cooperation. I understand that some will say, “Yes, I agree with the 17 points, but we need to do more than this to bring renewal to the PCA.” Do we? If these 17 points (not an exhaustive list, but a start) were fleshed out and made available to every presbytery/session in the PCA to implement into their philosophy of ministry, would we not enjoy the kinds of renewal that we all earnestly desire? What we need more than anything in the PCA is a warm, winsome, consistent, serious, joyful, positive expression of Reformed and confessional Presbyterianism that unashamedly and courageously applies the theology of our Confession to the way we worship, preach, teach, write, shepherd, discipline, serve, evangelize and plant-churches (Domestic and International).
From our experience at GPC, applying the Reformed Confession in this manner cultivates unity, inspires evangelism and mission, stimulates prayer and Bible reading, fosters sacrificial giving, encourages biblical piety and warmly welcomes women, minorities and youth to worship God according to Scripture and employ their God-given gifts in service of their neighbor. This vision, I believe, would unify our beloved denomination in what God Himself has clearly promised to bless.

1. A renewed commitment to exegetical, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Holy Spirit-filled, lectio-continua preaching.

2. A renewed commitment to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the spiritual nourishment, health and comfort of the elect.

3. A renewed commitment to private, family and corporate prayer.

4. A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day.

5. A renewed commitment to worship God according to Scripture.

6. A renewed commitment to sing the Psalms in private, family, and public worship.

7. A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to our Reformed ecclesiology.

8. A renewed commitment to Spirit-dependent, prayerful, loving, courageous evangelism.

9. A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline.

10. A renewed commitment to family worship.

11. A renewed commitment to biblical hospitality.

12. A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children.

13. A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity.

14. A renewed commitment to shepherd the flock of God.

15. A renewed commitment to promote and defend the Reformed Confession.

16.A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness.

17. A renewed commitment to rest by faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience.

You can read Dr. Payne’s book on Reformed worship by ordering it here.

Posted by Wes White

Covenant Theological Seminary & Conspiracy

I have responded on my site to some of the negative reactions to posts on Green Baggins and Johannes Weslianus critical of members of the faculty of Covenant Theological Seminary.

Posted by Wes White

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