A Black Cat in the Eyes

Wilson has responded to my post here. Of course, there are plenty of people on his blog who do not interact in a polite fashion, but will punch the cat in the eyes. But, like he says, you can’t have everything.

First, he says that I am continuing to be plagued by misunderstanding. This is not a felicitous way of expressing what he is getting at. When I counsel young people who are about to get married, I make sure I tell them about how to reconcile. To avoid utterly words like “you always” and “you never” is a good thing. The minute you say “you always,” (unless it is a good thing that they are doing!) you are putting the other person on the defensive. Plus, the generalization is usually false, and so the focus of discussion becomes all about debating the generalization, and nothing about the actual incident that needs reconciliation. Wilson has before said how fair and accurate I have been able to be about his position. So a comment about this particular incident should not include a generalization that he elsewhere has explicitly denied. I am not continually plagued by misunderstanding. I may have misunderstood in this one place (I don’t believe I have). That is what he could have said. I want us to compare two statements. The first is Wilson:

We affirm the reality of the decrees as decrees. The “reality of the decrees” means that we hold them to be immutable, untouchable, settled, predestined, foreordained, unthwartable, eternal, infinite, and unchangeable.

When we say that the reality of the decrees should not be allowed to trump the covenant, we are saying that it is right and appropriate and proper and good for a minister to warn a congregation against falling from grace, or trampling underfoot the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, or failing to bear fruit as a branch in the vine. We are talking about how we function, how we warn, how we admonish. The covenant is given to us. The decrees are made concerning us. It is not our job to parse the decrees. It is our job to live in terms of the covenant. We affirm that the decrees are there. We deny that we should preach or admonish someone in particular based on a presumed knowledge of the content of the decrees with regard to that person. This is a distinction that the Bible gives us expressly.

“The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Dt. 29:29).It is revealed to us that Christians can fall away from the covenant. It is not revealed to us who was predestined to do so, and who was predestined to remain — although everyone in the covenant is in one or the other category. The latter is therefore not to be the basis of our pastoral warnings. The former is.

The second is the FV document:

We deny that the unchangeable nature of these decrees prevents us from using the same language in covenantal ways as we describe our salvation from within that covenant. We further deny this covenantal usage is “pretend” language, even where the language and terminology sometimes overlaps with the language of the decrees. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may keep the words of this law. We affirm the reality of the decrees, but deny that the decrees “trump” the covenant. We do not set them against each other, but expect them to harmonize perfectly as God works out all things in accordance with His will.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am having a hard time getting what Wilson said out of the FV document, except for the Deuteronomy quotation. How is denying that the decrees trump the covenant equal to saying that we should warn the people? I say let’s warn the people but say that the decrees trump everything. What God has sovereignly decreed to come to pass cannot happen otherwise. Why does warning the people somehow call that into question? Why do we have to say that the decrees do not trump the covenant? If I say that the warnings are there in Scripture precisely so that the elect will never fall away (the elect always heed the warnings, and so never fall away), have I not explained their presence in Scripture while still holding fast to the complete sovereignty of God’s decree? This explanation has the added benefit of giving the warnings their full power. Warnings are not in Scripture either to make us doubt our salvation, or to imply that the elect can fall from salvation, although they certainly give no comfort to the hypocrite. They are rather like the signs that say “trespassers will be prosecuted.” The sign is put there precisely so that there will be no trespassers, not because the owner of the place wants nothing else to do with his time than actually to prosecute trespassers. I don’t see how he gets to the trumping statement via the warning. The one does not follow from the other. I sometimes wonder if the FV thinks they are the only people to take the warnings in Scripture seriously.

It may not be our job to parse the decrees with regard to other people. But the Bible itself tells us to make our calling (effectual calling!!!) and election (eternal election) sure. Surely this is a call for us to have assurance. We can know that we are elected decretally. We just cannot know if someone else is elected decretally.

One word for Tim Prussic. I have dealt in my own way with the Hebrews 10 passage here. And, there is a further, different interpretation of that passage that Fowler White has put forth in the Auburn Avenue Pros and Cons book, pp. 210-211. I believe that either one of these interpretations will quite adequately answer his queries.

The Church

The FV’s doctrine of church is next set out. I will consider both paragraphs concerning the church proper. There is certainly less objectionable material here than in the previous paragraphs. One is primarily concerned with what is left out, rather than with what is there (although I still have some questions).

Positively, it is good to see the FV’ers affirm the visible/invisible church distinction, at least in name. However, given some FV’ers discomfort with the doctrine, it would have been nice had they been willing to admit that, in terms of the invisible church, non-elect members of the visible church are not members of the church at all. They are in the church (visibly) but not of the church (invisibly). I see more stress on the reality of the visible church, and such a desire to avoid a supposedly Platonic “the true church is the invisible church,” that the invisible aspect seems a bit downplayed. Of course, the visible church is the true church, provided the marks of the church are present. Word, Sacrament, and discipline (yes, I realize that discipline is a disputed mark) have to be there in at least relative purity for there to be a true visible church. This qualification is missing from the FV document. Of course, it is impossible to say everything. But is the Roman Catholic Church a true visible church? Of course, this is debated, especially with regard to the validity of their baptisms (I hold that it is a valid baptism if the formula is correct). But will any FV’er come right out and say that the Roman Catholic Church preaches the Word truly and administers the Sacraments purely? This is, of course, a separate question from whether or not there are true believers in the Roman Catholic Church. I would appreciated even a brief statement on the marks of the church. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the FV document that would guard against saying that there is really nothing wrong with the Roman Catholic church. The Reformers were a bit concerned about this aspect of the definition of the church.

I would hope that no one would deny the historical/eschatological description of the church as being helpful. Of course, it is not the same distinction as visible/invisible. The former is a chronological distinction, whereas the latter is not. They seem to acknowledge that, but only somewhat. They use the terms “generally corresponds to.” The problem is that it really doesn’t correspond. The eschatological church will be the most visible church there ever has been. Furthermore, there are plenty of Christians who are not part of the visible church, but are yet part of the invisible church. Quite simply, the v/i distinction is a synchronic distinction, whereas the h/e distinction is diachronic.