Part 2 of the interview with one of the prosecutors in Meyers’ Federal Vision Trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. R. Scott Clark has posted Part 2 of his excellent interview of TE M. Jay Bennett on the TE Meyers’ Federal Vision trial. In case you missed Part 1, you can find it here. As you might expect, the two flow together.

Part 2 delves a bit more into the unseemly manoeuvring by TE Meyers and his friends in Missouri Presbytery (MOP) to limit the prosecution’s ability to function in accordance with the PCA Book of Church Order. The actions explained by TE Bennett severely hampered the prosecution, whilst providing easy avenues for the defense to “run out the clock”. The transcripts make the tactics obvious even after the fact. Given the magnitude of the issues at stake, the prosecution should have been given both adequate time to prepare and present its case. It was not.

I commented in this post about my involvement as a prosecution witness in the case. In light of TE Bennett’s comments on his cross-examination of TE Meyers, I need to point out that I was not present for that cross because I had to catch my flight home. So, I want to make it clear that my previous post should take nothing away from TE Bennett’s observations about his cross-examination of TE Meyers.

So, where does all this leave us in the PCA? Certainly, there are presbyteries like Missouri, Pacific Northwest, Siouxlands, and perhaps a few others in which faithful officers cannot recommend churches to inquirers without personally knowing individual pastors who are orthodox and confessional. It also means that transferees from said presbyteries must be carefully examined in detail for their views. We saw that with Lusk when he tried to transfer to Evangel Presbytery a few years ago, and Leithart most recently. Though Leithart has not yet been examined, his work out of bounds teaching Federal Vision doctrine in Evangel’s geographic area has been rejected in accordance with the BCO. Faithful presbyteries must be on the watch and guard their flocks from FV wolves.

Dr. Clark’s excellent post on the parallels between Federal Visionists today and Arminians in the Reformed church centuries ago captures this watchfulness issue well. While the Federal Visionists deny on one hand that they hold aberrant views, they openly teach them outside of the view of the PCA courts. Although Meyers, Leithart, et al, remain “in good standing” in the PCA just as James Arminius did in the Dutch church in his day, they would not and should not be welcome in many if not most pulpits in the PCA or should they be permitted to spread their poison at General Assembly seminars. If confessional elders would not invite Arminius or Pelagius into their pulpits, then how could they in faithfulness to their vows invite a Federal Visionist? They cannot.

Confessional, orthodox Reformed elders in the PCA must stay diligent and informed in these trying times until we can change the BCO to correct these recent travesties. In the meantime, although we cannot at this moment directly treat the cancer in some presbyteries, we can and must contain the disease.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Great interview with one of the prosecutors in Meyers’ Federal Vision Trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. R. Scott Clark, church historian, pastor, and Westminster Seminary California professor, interviewed Rev. M. Jay Bennett for the Heidelcast. Jay was the lead prosecutor for the TE Jeff Meyers’ Federal Vision trial in Missouri Presbytery. The interview comes in two parts, with the second part slated for next week. In the first part that’s posted now, Dr. Clark covers Teaching Elder Bennett’s background, a bit of Federal Vision (FV) background, and the timeline leading up to the Meyers trial. The latter provides some insight into how the discipline process in the PCA proceeds. As usual, Dr. Clark conducts an informative and engaging interview which I highly recommend. Scott and Jay discuss a few anomalies in the case history, but so far haven’t mentioned the big one in my opinion.

In the trial record of case, on page 872, you see that Missouri Presbytery (MOP) was basically pushing TE Bennett out of the presbytery, which would, of course, make him unable to complain against the decision in the Meyers case. In the end, MOP succeeded and the PCA Standing Judicial Commission apparently let MOP get away with this ploy without even reading the record of the case. The bigger story is that MOP had kept men like TE Mark Horne, another Federal Visionist like Meyers, without call for over 3 years. Yet, TE Bennett, who opposes the unreformed FV, was being bounced almost immediately. The politics is pretty clear when looking at the bigger picture.

To be totally up front, I signed the original letter of concern mentioned in the interview and was a witness for the prosecution in the Meyers case, flying to St. Louis on my own nickle (i.e., at no cost to MOP) for the trial. I worked with Jay on my testimony, and found him a fair, honorable, and confessional teaching elder who deeply loves the Reformed Faith and understood the unconfessional nuances in the Federal Vision. The PCA owes TE Bennett a great debt of gratitude for standing firmly for the gospel in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Don’t miss part 1 of the interview, and check back next week for part 2. And you could benefit greatly by following Dr. Clark’s Heidelblog as many of us do.

I would be remiss without adding that Jeff Meyers, after being acquitted by MOP, now teaches with all the FV heavyweights at an FV school. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Unjust Weights and the 41st PCA General Assembly

By Bob Mattes

You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin:I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. – Lev 19:36

Unequal weights and unequal measures
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. – Pro 20:10

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good. – Pro 20:23

The 41st PCA General Assembly was quite a spectacle. The bulk of the business flowed routinely, and later quickly as we recovered from being over one-half of a day behind at one point. A few issues tied up the commissioners for an inordinate amount of time to cause the schedule digressions. I will only discuss two of these issues in this post. Probably more in a follow-on.

Two particular issues of contention follow from violation of the Scripture quotes above, and I’ll explain how. I’ve written before about the National Partnership, a secret (sorry, confidential) political party started last year in the PCA. I wrote my thoughts on that abomination here, where along with TE Kenneth Pierce I called it sinful. TE Andy Webb’s thoughts can be found here. The pleas of many against this sinful, secret political party went unheeded, and the poison flower bloomed during this GA.

It started in earnest during the PCA Nominations Committee meeting before the GA as documented at the Aquila Report. I also verified the events independently. Part of the plan, which came to the GA floor along with the Nomination Committee report, was to have the moderator change the voting order for some candidates on the fly from that historically used.

The proposed change to the order of voting for candidates for the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) had one purpose – to defeat a candidate that the National Partnership conspired to replace by carefully arranging candidates and changing the voting order on the fly. They did not win the voting change they desired, but we debated it for a long time. The committee never provided any substantial reason for the change, which seems strange, especially given the length of the debate. I argued on the floor against any arbitrary changes in voting procedure which robbed presbyteries of predictable expectations when nominating candidates to the Assembly. That position eventually prevailed.

The fact that the National Partnership’s Chicago-style politics failed to hold sway doesn’t remove the odiousness of their attempt to fix voting outcomes by changing the rules on the fly. Such political maneuvering has no place in the body of Christ.

The second issue arose from the Overtures Committee (OC). Chapter 15 of the Rules of Assembly Order (RAO) clearly state that the OC makes their recommendations to the General Assembly (RAO 15-8 and 15-8a). The plain meaning as used elsewhere in the BCO and RAO holds that the “General Assembly” means the entire collection of commissioners.

On two overtures, one each concerning the Leithart and Meyers Federal Vision trials, the OC violated RAO 15-8 and 15-8a by making what amounted to a point of order directly to the moderator, thereby bypassing the Assembly. The moderator took the point of order well. I challenged the chair over that deviation from the RAO both times, but did not prevail. When challenging the chair, one can only state the underlying rules, not argue the case. My challenge failed on both attempts, largely I believe because a majority of the roughly 1,200 commissioners largely did not understand that their right to debate and even their votes were being stolen by a handful of commissioners in a slick political maneuver for which I cannot find a PCA precedent.

This Chicago-style approach has been the hallmark of liberals/progressives in the PCUS, PCUSA, and now PC(USA) as TE Reed DePace pointed out. It’s how they avoided meaningful debates and votes, thereby bypassed orthodox church officers to bring about women elders, homosexual elders, etc. Eventually, the orthodox officers and members started leaving, providing the liberals a Pyrrhic victory as their formerly God-honoring denomination became more and more apostate.

Acts 15 provides significant guidance on how to conduct our Assembly, from which I believe that our BCO and RAO largely take their cues. The apostles and early believers debated openly until everyone was heard. No secret political parties, no bypassing debate, no stolen votes. The just treatment instruction of Lev 19:36 was honored.

There are no Scriptures that directly address voting itself. That just wasn’t a feature of the ancient world. However, the idea of ensuring just treatment is enshrined throughout. The Scriptures at the top of this post show God declaring the use of unjust balances and weights an abomination. The use of unjust weights destroyed trust in the underlying economic system of trade upon which the ancient world depended. These abominations cheated people out of their rightful due. They stole the buyer’s God-granted capital.

Similarly, taking away PCA commissioners’ ability to debate and vote on issues in accordance with our RAO procedures destroys their trust in the underlying ecclesiastical system. Attempting to fix a vote’s outcome by changing voting order on the fly similarly erodes that same trust. Like unjust weights and balances, unjust political maneuvering should not be named amongst God’s people. Supporting and voting within established rules must be accepted and supported by all officers of God’s church. If one feels that the rules should be changed, then honestly and openly submit the appropriate overtures upon which we can all debate and vote. Chicago-style politics robs commissioners of their debate and votes, just like unjust balances and weights robbed buyers in the ancient world – through deceit.

So, I’m encouraging all who participated in the secret schemes of the National Partnership – and anyone else – to defraud GA commissioners of their ability to debate and vote in accordance with RAO practices and procedures to repent of their sin. Repent of cheating your brothers in a way that parallels that which God calls an abomination – an epithet reserved for the most egregious sins in God’s eyes. Mere participants should repent to their brothers, REs their sessions, and TEs to their presbyteries as appropriate. The leaders of these movements – they know who they are and so do we – should have the courage to repent publicly.

The original National Partnership invitation email contained this observation” “One thing that has made the PCA a healthy denomination is the willingness to be ruled by Scripture.” Time, then, to eschew Chicago-style political maneuvering, pony up to what Scripture describes as an abomination and repent, or be named amongst the hypocrites.

By Bob Mattes

Hints of Cessationism in NT?

(Posted by Paige)

A perennial puzzle that arises as we rub shoulders with our neighbors in the wider church is how we are to understand the claims of “continualists,” who attest that signs and wonders and special manifestations of the Spirit are (and ought to be) normative parts of Christian experience today. As this is a live question in my neck of the woods right now, I recently started thinking through the NT’s teaching, both implied and direct, on the temporary nature of these “special effects.” I’ve come to some interesting, tentative conclusions based mainly on a close study of Hebrews; but before I set these out for scrutiny, I thought I’d offer a question for your consideration and see what good thoughts I get back. Here is my basic query:

Can you identify in the NT any evidence of a shift, whether anticipated or inaugurated, from faith supported by words, sacraments, and miraculous signs to faith supported by words and sacraments alone? (Assume inspired words and the illumination of the Holy Spirit in both cases!)

Note please that I am only interested in NT support for this shift, not what the ECFs had to say about it. I’m also already familiar with the basic cessationist arguments, so no need to repeat Warfield or Calvin on this. What do you see in the NT that suggests a transition from an era that included wonders/sight to an era characterized by words/hearing?

Thanks in advance!

Update:My own contribution can be found in this comment.

A Great Listen

I know that this podcast has been around for a while now (since July), but I do not often get to listen to podcasts on a regular basis. There were many important things there to which I want to draw our attention.

First up, and most importantly: theistic evolution. Our denomination already has an in thesi statement against theistic evolution (in the creation days study committee report). We also have judicially disciplined someone in the SJC for teaching theistic evolution. And yet, there are still officers in our denomination teaching theistic evolution. This is a complete travesty of vows to submit to the brothers. This is thumbing their nose at the PCA and saying, “come and get me.” This is also dishonesty, and as Rich Phillips pointed out, extremely divisive.

Second point: why is the PCA so divided? Phillips’s answer is that our Reformed heritage is not controlling our methodology. The PCA prides itself on doxological diversity, and almost brags about it as if it were a strength. It is rather a great weakness. Phillips points out that only a disfunctional family talks about unity all the time. A functional family talks about what they’re going to do next (the mission). Our GA talked about unity all the time. Why? Because we are incredibly disunified. And talking about it is not going to solve the problem. Neither is hand-wringing. Bringing our worship into line with the regulative principle would go a long way, however.

Third point: Why would we not want to try to make our worship as biblical as possible? This has great relevance to the intinction issue. People usually bring up red herring issues in this regard like wine versus grape juice, and leavened versus unleavened bread as something you would have to regulate if you were going to regulate intinction. However, are those not separate, distinct issues? The arguments for wine and grape juice are distinct from the arguments for intinction. Some thing for leavened and unleavened bread. The real issue is the regulative principle underlying everything else.

Fourth point: the PCA is a gospel denomination. If the GA can be persuaded that an issue has to do with the central issues of the gospel, then the denomination will vote in a landslide in favor of the gospel. Take the Insider Movement study committee report. Once the issues were clearly on the table, the PCA voted clearly for the gospel and for the Word of God. Same thing with the Federal Vision study committee report. This is both encouraging and discouraging. The encouraging thing is that we stand for the gospel. The discouraging thing is that if we don’t perceive that something is important to the gospel, then it doesn’t matter. This is not Reformed, but general evangelicalism.

Musing on Inerrancy

(Posted by Paige)

Musing on the subject of inerrancy, I came up with a “spectrum-of-thought” model to describe the various ways that people view and respond to the Scriptures. See what you think.

Note that in the scheme below I am not using “FAITH” with salvific significance, but rather as a description of the view that “takes God at his word” about the Word. It is worth debating whether one could maintain a robust, saving faith in Christ while simultaneously believing that the Bible in its original state already contained intertextual or historical contradictions and errors. For my part, while I do not at all recommend this as a healthy path to take, I would personally echo the Chicago Statement’s sentiment at Article XIX:

We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.


We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences both to the individual and to the Church.

Which may turn out to be the most provocative thing that I say here; go ahead and argue with it if you want to.

Here is my spectrum-of-thought model. I observe that people react to the various claims of the Christian faith along a continuum that looks like this:


SKEPTICISM —- FAITH —– CREDULITY

While an individual’s response to any given doctrine, orthodox or heterodox, may be described along this spectrum, I believe that one’s stance regarding the Bible – what it is, what authority it possesses over the reader – is the foundation of one’s reaction to all other claims of the Christian faith or of men.

Ideally we’re to be right in the center of this spectrum, responding to the truth with FAITH; but in reality even believers are often leaning away from faith and towards one of the other options, with regard to one aspect or another of Christian claims. (Again, don’t think of “FAITH” as salvific in this scheme.) Also, sometimes Christians confuse CREDULITY with faith, and sometimes we forget that faith incorporates some healthy SKEPTICISM. Some elaboration, as this relates to approaching the Bible:

On the far end of SKEPTICISM, the Bible is viewed only as another Ancient Near Eastern text. There is NO assent to claims that there is any supernatural involvement in its creation, or that it is “God’s Word.” It is a people-made product. (Slightly closer to center, it is a people-made product that tells about a real God and his works, but the book itself is no more unique than any ancient book. Thus it is no wonder that it’s “messy” and contains many internal contradictions and errors, which were there even before the scribes & the translators got hold of it.)

On the far end of CREDULITY, the Bible basically fell from the sky into the church; there is little interest in the “how” of its writing, the people-made part of it, or the history of translation or document studies; there is much literalism, “magic,” ignorance about genres, and misplaced loyalties (like to the KJV only). The Holy Spirit is basically assumed to have dictated the whole thing to its writers, if not guided their penmanship while they were in a trance. This stance is assumed by many to be the same as FAITH, but if so it is only blind faith, not reasonable faith. (Slightly closer to center we find more interest in the different authors and their time periods, but also the too-ready acceptance of the interpretive choices of preachers, teachers, and translators.)

Finally, a stance of FAITH means hearing God’s words and believing them. Because of our heart-change by the Spirit, we are enabled to accept the Scriptures as God’s very words, which is the Bible’s claim about itself. Scripture is, uniquely, the written voice of God, speaking through human writers. This is not blind faith — it’s reasonable faith, the only reasonable response to the claims of the God of the Universe, validated to us by the risen Christ. And this is the basis for our confession of the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

I would suggest too that at its best (and most informed), this stance of FAITH also involves a sort of “critical realism” that is missed by the credulous, including reasonable views of the various authors’ involvement (it wasn’t all dictated!), the history of canonization & translation, and sound contextual approaches to interpretation. This faithful stance also evaluates the claims of teachers according to the content of the Bible, keeping the wheat and throwing out the chaff, rather than accepting everything it hears. It’s smart, but believing — and it believes, but is smart about it. (Obviously, every believer will not be able to investigate all these aspects. But speaking ideally, if they could, they would; and speaking realistically, if we can, we should.)

Frankly, I am persuaded that if the church neglects instruction in the believing-but-appropriately-critical approach to the Scriptures that I’ve touched on here, it risks abandoning the flock EITHER to a drift towards credulity or a slide towards skepticism. And either option has “grave consequences,” to quote the CSBI. Perhaps this danger is easier to recognize in the academy’s rejection of the supernatural nature of Scripture; but I believe it is a comparably grave thing to be credulous, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Of which I can think of a few; can’t you?

Thoughts on Siouxlands Presbytery vs. TE Lawrence

Posted by Bob Mattes

Let me start by stating clearly that I’m sure that the men who tried TE Lawrence in Siouxlands Presbytery are godly, Reformed men trying to do a good job. My comments should never be taken as critical of these men’s honor or theology, although I think that they widely missed the mark in the trial outcome. Surely a complaint is inevitable, and rightly so.

That said, I’ve read the public documents available on the Siouxlands case against TE Greg Lawrence, such as the Case Against TE Lawrence, TE Lawrence’s Plea, Defense Brief, Report of the Investigative Committee, and Report of the Committee to Instruct TE Lawrence. Many thanks to Steve Carr for making those available. While I cannot cover them all in any detail in this post, I found some interesting trends.

First of all,the judicial commission felt that TE Lawrence had clarified or corrected his views through the successive investigative committee interactions and the trial. However, I see no evidence anywhere that TE Lawrence had recanted any view nor repented of any error. As far as I can tell, he never renounced his paper on covenants, any sermon, or any statement that he made. Some of them have been really disturbing errors, such as (from the prosecution’s brief):

Q: So, does that happen [that is, the receiving of certain saving benefits] to everyone who’s baptized with water?

GL: At least in some measure, those benefits are granted to those who are baptized….

So TE Lawrence says that some measure of saving benefits are granted to baptized reprobates -  a rare moment of clarity. And this:

Q: So you would be happy saying that someone who eventually falls away can be united to Christ’s death and resurrection?

GL: Yes.

Wow! And this one:

The fundamental difference between the decretally elect and the non-decretally elect is that the non-decretally elect are not decretally elect.

Taking God’s word at face value, it is possible for a person chosen for temporary membership in the covenant to have their sins forgiven and yet to fall away from the grace of God (Galatians 5.4). We are to view and treat members of the covenant as justified. But this forgiveness and other blessings are not identical for the regenerate (unto life eternal) and those who are not regenerate and do not persevere in God’s covenant.

I’ve blogged on the error of temporary forgiveness in this post. So,how do these “other blessings” differ qualitatively from those given to the elect? I didn’t see the answer to those critical questions.

Looking at the defense document, I found that it mainly offered red herrings, misdirection, and obfuscation. For example, on the 5th and 6th pages, the defense tries to appeal to supposed minority or lesser views at the Westminster Assembly to support their case. News flash – law is decided by what the majority actually passes. We see this in our public laws passed by Congress as well as appellate and Supreme Court decisions. While the minority dissents or opinions may be interesting at times, they are NEVER binding. The Standards are part of the PCA constitution as written, period. To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld – you go to court with the Standards that you have, not the Standards that you wish you had. That should have been a major defense FAIL.

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

Another disturbing trend apparently missed by Siouxlands is that many if not most of TE Lawrence’s formal written and some verbal responses either didn’t directly address the question asked, or his answers included key qualification that he didn’t explain. I’m surprised that Siouxlands didn’t press until they received direct answers to their direct questions. This wasn’t a freshman seminary exercise, but a serious examination of an experienced teaching elder. I’m surprised that the judicial commission seemed to miss this entirely.

The fact that the Siouxlands instructional committee limited the discussion to terms as used in the Standards left a planet-sized hole open for TE Lawrence to duck through. FV’s specialty is redefining Confessional terms to fit their aberrant theology. With that burden lifted, even Wilkins could have passed the questioning with a straight face. It looks to me like the instructional committee’s sole result was to show TE Lawrence how to get through the trial, though I’m sure that was unintentional. I didn’t see anything recanted in there.

As the PCA’s Ad Interim Study Committee on FV, NPP, and AAT correctly stated, FV is a parallel soteriology. So it occurred to me that the mythical benefits offered to baptized reprobates in FV are parallel benefits – same names, less filling, like the beer commercial. I think that may be where TE Lawrence is going with his “social benefits of the Spirit.” It’s just another obfuscation using different words. But here’s what TE Lawrence had to say about benefits to both the elect and reprobates in the visible church, again misapplying the Scriptural term “new life”:

Baptism itself is an entrance into new life….This new life that is wrought through me, Jesus is saying, through My life, death, and resurrection will be poured out – this new life, which on a grand scale is the fulfillment in the midst of history of the promises of God is applied individually in baptism to you.  One must be born again by water and Spirit, born into the kingdom of God.

So apparently reprobates are born again into the kingdom of God? How did that get by the judicial commission? Again, these statements have never been retracted by TE Lawrence.

The instructional committee dealt with this gem from TE Lawrence’s sermon on Romans 6:

In baptism we are united to Christ and as such the benefits that He has wrought have been applied to us…. Paul says in baptism you have been united to Christ, the new Adam, in such a way that you identify with him in his death and you identify with him in his new life and resurrection, so that you, people of God, have new life. You have been united to Christ and His benefits, therefore, are for you. And this is wrought in baptism, Paul says. It is a matter of status that we walk in newness of life.

The instructional committee understood that TE Lawrence applied this to all who are baptized into the visible church. The committee found it problematic. Why did the judicial commission give it a pass?

It’s sad that another of these cases will drag a Presbytery through inevitable complaints, wasting time and resources that could go towards the Great Commission. Maybe the real goal of FV is to bankrupt and wear out orthodox, Reformed denominations. I believe that I warned about that back in 2007. My, how far we’ve come.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Does God practice temporary forgiveness?

Posted by Bob Mattes

I read Dr. Rob Rayburn’s letter to the PCA Standing Judicial Committee with some interest. I was curious to see how a church officer defends someone who holds virtually identical views to a man who was a hair’s breath from indictment a short time ago before fleeing the denomination. I found the read, though, greatly disappointing and even disturbing. I found the theological arguments to be more like blind assertions, and support was entirely lacking when Rayburn seemed to be making assertions about particular Scriptural texts.

I found the assertion that God forgives temporarily particularly disturbing, and that will be the subject of this post. Rayburn:

Justification – whatever else it is – is the forgiveness of sins. It is perfectly obvious that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness because the Bible says there is (cf. Num. 14:20 with 1 Cor. 10:5; Ezekiel 16:1-14; Matthew 18:32-34; etc.). Whether we are entirely satisfied with Dr. Leithart’s effort to incorporate this biblical material into the larger picture of the way of divine grace, the fact is, temporary forgiveness is a biblical datum.

I’ll deal with his view of justification in another post. The assertion above, made without support, is that temporary forgiveness is perfectly obvious in the Bible – a given. Really? I’ve never seen it, and neither did Calvin, the Westminster Divines, or any other orthodox Reformed scholar I can find.

Let’s look at the Scriptures cited, starting with the most challenging. Matthew 18:32-34 (ESV) says: Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Keller’s Response to the YouTube Video

Posted by Bob Mattes

I once participated in a discussion in which someone cast aspersions on a historic Reformed father over some things he supposedly said. I don’t know if the figure ever said those things or not. I simply replied that even if the individual had said those things, I hoped that someone didn’t write about my favorite sins 400 years from now. Worse yet, that someone would put them on YouTube for the world to see!

Having commanded several large units, I know all too well that a leader can’t possibly know everything that everyone does in his/her organization. A good leader sets their expectations, trusts their people to perform accordingly, and holds them accountable for their actions and performance. One key to good leadership is to correct mistakes in a just and appropriate manner when they happen and mentor those involved to do better in the future. I suspected that this might be the case with the ceremony in the video which sparked the discussion here. I wrote to TE Keller last night respectfully asking for clarification. I received his reply today and post it unedited and in its entirety here:

Dear Bob,

Thanks for your note about the video of our May, 2009, service in which a deaconess was being commissioned.  Having watched it myself, I can understand your concern! But I can also assure you that this is not our practice, and that it was only one of our newer ministers making a mistake.

We do not ordain our deaconesses nor do we ask our congregation to obey and submit to them. The minister in the video is newer on our staff and he accidentally read the deacons’ questions from the BCO and did not use the different questions we commonly use for deaconesses.  Others who go to Redeemer can attest that this is not our practice, and it will not be in the future. The minister in the video apologized when he realized what he had done.

The best way to understand what happened is to consider the case of another of our ministers who recently inadvertently baptized a number of infants without asking their parents any of the questions. In charity onlookers assumed this was a mistake, and no one assumed that either the minister or Redeemer was in violation of the Book of Church Order. I spoke to this minister yesterday and he was grateful that no one had put his mistake on You Tube!

I must say I was surprised that the person who filmed the service and the person who posted and re-posted the video clip did not first do the courteous and charitable thing, namely, to ask simply, “Is this what it looks like on the surface, or is there a good explanation?” If they had done so, as texts like Proverbs 17:9; 18:17; 25:8-10 urge, they would have saved you (and others) both time and concern.

I hope this response helps. By the way-you can share this letter with anyone else that expresses concern.

Tim Keller

I have had a number of interactions with TE Keller, sometimes holding opposing positions, and have always been impressed with Tim’s grace and integrity. The conduct of the ceremony in the video was a serious mistake which was taken seriously and corrected appropriately. The young TE involved could probably benefit from our prayers.

As most folks here know, I strongly disagree with the commissioning of women as deaconesses. I’ve actively and vigorously opposed it in the blogosphere and on the floor of the PCA General Assembly for the last several years. However, the appropriate place to make a stand is in the courts of the church – sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly – debating applicable overtures, not on YouTube.

Posted by Bob Mattes

The Lens of Confessions Revisited

Posted by Bob Mattes

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

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

Lane wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Bob Mattes

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