Blockbuster Book

Not to steal Gary’s thunder, but I really want people to buy this book. It will be coming out in about two weeks. It will be of interest in the continuing Federal Vision debate, since all ties of Van Til to the Federal Vision will be shown to be a mirage. One little tantalizing tidbit: Muether had access to Van Til’s correspondence with Meredith Kline, in which Van Til clearly sided with Kline on the issue of covenant theology over against Murray. May the Trinity Foundation and Federal Vision proponents both take note. Gary Johnson will be doing a chapter by chapter review of this book on my blog. Stay tuned. It should be rather riveting.

Warfield, Part 5

Mea culpa, Barry Waugh! All I can do is apologize for not writing a review of your chapter, and then write one. Please forgive me. Barry’s chapter is the final chapter in this book on Warfield’s life and work. It is a bibliographical chapter dealing with the Briggs trial in relationship to Warfield’s participation in that trial.

First, however, Barry gives a thumbnail sketch of the Briggs trial case, giving all the relevant data in a very succinct form. In fact, if anyone wants just a short, clear explanation of the Briggs case, he could do no better than to read Waugh’s article. But further than that, Barry has provided the scholarly world with an outstanding annotated bibliography of Warfield’s materials on the Briggs case. Every item in the four volume set is described as to its contents. Waugh’s conclusions are surely justified, that this case was of essential importance not only to his generation, but also to future generations (pg. 255). Secondly, that Warfield was keenly interested in matters judicatory, contrary to some claims (pg. 241). Thirdly, that Warfield’s belief in the inerrancy of Scripture was so central to his thought, that, for Warfield, the doctrine really could be described as “the hinge upon which religion turns” (pg. 255).

Important New Book on Scripture

Given the hoopla about Enns’s book, it will be very interesting indeed to see what this book has to say. 

Deaconesses in the PCA?

Posted by Bob Mattes

Seems I’m like the last to know almost anything. I found this overture while checking the latest docket for the upcoming 36th PCA General Assembly. I was a bit taken back. Upon further research, I found this post and thread over at BaylyBlog, to which this one has been added. That the Bayly’s would raise the alarm is no surprise as creeping feminism in the church is their main issue lately. However, some of the comments under the first post seem pretty defensive of the idea of women deacons. Ouch.

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On Vacation

I am currently on vacation in sunny southern California. I jump from -15 to 60-65 is very welcome (especially for my wife!). I won’t be back until Wednesday, and not really back in the office until Thursday. So, I suppose this is an invitation to the other posters to step up and fill some gaps in the posting until then. 

An Exceptionally Clear Post on Merit

Go here.

Leadership Lesson for Those Facing Federal Visionists

Posted by Bob Mattes

The thread on the Context of Sam Duncan’s Comment on the SJC has topped 700 comments! Yesterday I found another great thread, this one over at the PuritanBoard, on the situation inside LAP. The interaction between SemperFideles and HaigLaw there provides more information on the human side of the equation, something often lost in this debate. Well worth the read.

Both HaigLaw’s comments on the PuritanBoard thread and Pastor Davis’ comments starting here highlight the wisdom of my earlier post about not being loyal to the wrong people. I caught more heat for that post from the Federal Vision mini-empire than any other post I’ve written, and it’s clear why. I struck at the heart of the issue. Federal Visionists in the PCA rely on their personal relationships inside their Presbyteries to protect them from the required discipline at the point of original jurisdiction. When that happens, the only place an impartial trial can take place is at the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly, just as it was with Wilkins. Hence the spew of venom against the PCA and its SJC–the latter established by the will of the commissioners of the PCA General Assembly–as the only remaining threat to them.

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A Faith That Is Never Alone, chapter 1, part 2

Going on with page 31ff in Armstrong’s article. (part 1 here).

Hywel Jones argues that the good news of the Gospel lies at the point where justification and sanctification are distinguished (CJPM, pg. 285). Armstrong’s comment is as follows:

Let’s be clear about this- we who are critiqued do not question that there is a distinction between these two doctrines but we differ about the ways this distinction has been made and how the Scripture has bee used by some to make this distinction (pg. 31. emphasis original).

He argues (pg. 32) that the distinction as made by CJPM authors leads us to “cheap grace” (as defined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer). With regard to the relationship of James 2 to Paul, for instance, Armstrong takes issue with Jones’s critique of Moo (who argues that “justify” means the same thing in Paul and James, contrary to most Reformed interpretations). Armstrong’s critique is based on charging Jones with adhering to the reified categories of Protestant responses to Catholic interpretation in the time of the Reformation (pg. 34). This leads Armstrong to some very questionable conclusions. First, he says “The danger of a faith rooted in historic confessions, without doing fresh and charitable exegesis and biblical theology, is a real danger for all of those who wrote for this present volume of essays” (pg. 34, emphasis original: he is referring to CJPM, not A Faith That Is Never Alone). Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is quite a bit of fresh and charitable exegesis in CJPM. I think especially of Duguid’s essay, which is an exegetical tour de force. However, I notice that the word “charitable” just had to be there. Disagreement (and especially sharp disagreement) seems to be an anathema to Armstrong, unless you agree with Armstrong against the reifying WSC authors. Then you can be as uncharitable as you want. Of course, I actually agree with Armstrong that there should be charitable exegesis. The problem is that Armstrong has probably defined “charitable” so narrowly as not to include sharp disagreement. Is it charitable for orthodox scholars not to challenge heresy?

This next statement is equally problematic: “It is also a danger for those of us who respond to their volume. We are not denying a place for confessional subscription but we think that place must always self-consciously remain under the Bible’s authority” (ibid.). This seems to carry the implicit claim that the WSC authors have not forced the Westminster Standards to be in submission to Scriptures, but have elevated the confessions above Scripture. This is a common claim for those folk who do not agree that we can view Scripture through the eyes of the confession as our own free choice (after all, we could easily be in a different denomination that did not choose to do so, like the RCA, for instance). Oh no, it is absolutely impossible for anyone to say that he views the confessions to contain the system of doctrine that is in Scripture, and yet still believe that the confession is the normed norm, while Scripture is the norming norm. That is a contradiction in terms, if you ask many people today.

Armstrong proves Jones’s point on pg. 36, where I will quote Armstrong in full, so that the full problem may be seen:

I have argued, for some years now, that the gospel calls us to a living and vital faith in Christ alone. I have frurther argued that we are justified by trusting in Christ alone. We are made right with God, thus declared not guilty in the present time and completely forgiven of all sin, through the instrumentality of this God-given faith. Our faith does not save, Christ alone saves! What I have also argued is that saving faith is, by its very nature, obediential. Here is the rub for me: What is saving faith? Inherent in real faith, properly defined, is a something that does more than passively trust in Christ to save me. Saving faith has in it an active principle that trusts and obeys, thus I see no real conflicts between James and Paul. I do not think we need to make various special appeals to two kinds of faith. Indeed, I believe that the right way to read these two great teachers of the gospel will make them harmonize in such a way that the non-technical reader can see the arguments I make very clearly. Emphases original.

Armstrong has conflated the discussion of justification and the discussion of sanctification here. Several points are necessary. First of all, justifying faith does not justify because it is alive, even though justifying faith is most certainly alive. To say that CJPM says anything different is a complete caricature. This is Hywel Jones’s point on pg. 292 with regard to Shepherd: “By using ‘living and obedient faith’ (or being faithful) as a working definition of faith, Shepherd prevents any distinction between (sic) made between faith and works in relation to justification, and that failure impacts justification adversely.” Jones says further, in direct contradiction to Armstrong’s understanding of him, “The whole of the Christian life is indeed one of ‘trusting and obeying,’ but that does not mean that the term faith means both whenever it is used” (pg. 293, italics original). Jones is explicitly not talking about two kinds of faith, as Armstrong says he is. He is talking about two aspects of saving faith that must be distinguished very carefully. Jones would say that the passive, receptive character is what applies to justification, and the active aspect applies to sanctification. The problem here is that whenever such language is used, we are immediately charged with believing that a dead faith justifies. I have yet to see any critic of the FV or the NPP say this. And yet, it is thrown our way regularly, simply because we do not believe that faith’s aliveness applies to justification. The two aspects of faith are distinguished, yet never separable, just as justification and sanctification are distinct, yet never separable. More to come.

John Cleese’s Letter to America

Pretty funny, even if I don’t agree with everything.

Is the Papist My Brother?

There are at least two main considerations that lead FV to, on the whole, accept Romanists as brothers in Christ and the Roman Church as a true Christian church. The first is a general ecumenical spirit, that wants to affirm the general orthodoxy of those outside the Reformed tradition who affirm the Apostle’s Creed and the ecumenical creeds (thereby arbitrarily setting those standards as not only necessary, but sufficient measures of orthodoxy). The second impulse is FV’s concept of “covenant objectivity”, where the bounds of Christianity and the New Covenant are defined by Trinitarian baptism. The logic goes: baptism is the sacrament of the New Covenant, so those who are baptized are in the New Covenant. But, as we will discuss, this leaves behind the doctrine of the 3 Marks of the (true, visible) Church (as we see defined in the Belgic Confession) on the corporate level, as well as the necessity of a credible profession of faith (“those who profess the true religion” in WCF) on the individual level.

In supporting this contention the FV will first point to the fact that the Reformed have, historically, accepted Roman Catholic baptism and not rebaptized those who had been baptized in the Roman church. While this is true, it is a non sequitur to conclude from this that Rome is a true church or that Romanists are Christians and are in the New Covenant. This is, indeed, supposedly the big “trump” card that FV parades about in order to support its idiosyncratic ecclesiology. As we will see, this position must ignore a huge amount of historical data on the subject, besides the logical problem. Indeed, this fallacy looms large through a great deal of FV argumentation. It ignores the fact that Romanists were not welcomed to the Table in Reformed churches, and that converts to Romanism were considered apostates and routinely excommunicated.

A tertiary argument the FV often appeal to, in order to support the genuine Christianity of Rome and her members, is the idea that one need not believe in justification by faith alone in order to have a genuine Gospel that is believed unto salvation. They want to say that “it is faith itself in Christ himself that brings salvation, not any theory about faith in Christ, justification, or the church.” This position is usually parroted in order to support the idea that one can be saved with a theology that mixes faith and works in justification. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point (it is, perhaps, worthy of a separate post). I will only say, for now, that aside from the logical and scriptural problems, this view cannot comport with the historical and confessional witness (see especially the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 30, especially Ursinus’ commentary).

But back to the point: I can think of fewer areas where the Reformed have had more consensus than that Rome is a false church and that those individuals in her communion lack a credible profession of faith. Notice that this former statement says something about the nature of the corporate and visible church, and the latter deals with the Christian standing of the individual (in the New Covenant). The matters are related, but distinguished. Let us consider the following.

The French (Gallic) Confession (1559)

28 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 these acts, and commune in that Church, separate and cut themselves off from the body of Christ. Nevertheless, as some trace of the Church is left in the papacy, and the virtue and substance of baptism remain, and as the efficacy of baptism does not depend upon the person who administers it, we confess that those baptized in it do not need a second baptism. But, on account of its corruptions, we can not present children to be baptized in it without incurring pollution.

Several things worth noting: first, that after listing the Word of God and sacraments as the Marks of the Church (the Belgic Confession adds discipline as the 3rd Mark), the French Confession states that the Roman church fails these marks. So, on the corporate/institutional level, Rome is not held to be a true church. Next, the Confession says that individuals in the Roman communion have “cut themselves off from the body of Christ.” So it grounds the non-Christian status of the individual in the non-Christian status of the corporate Roman communion. Third, the Confession sees no tension with these two facts and the denial of rebaptism to those who were baptized in the Roman church. The validity of baptism is not tied to the legitimacy of Rome as a church.

The Westminster Confession of Faith

24.3 It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry who are able with judgment to give their consent. 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.

Given that this Confession sees the individual profession of faith (those “that profess the true religion” – 25.2) as defining members of the visible church, it is no surprise that it views Papists in the same way as infidels – as idolaters. Their trinitarian baptism is not sufficient to consider them as being within the true visible church (and therefore in the New Covenant).

Reformed theologians have reflected this opinion as well. Throughout Question 14 of the 18th Topic of his Institutes, Turretin provides a defense of why “the church of Rome of today [cannot] be called a true church of Christ.” This is after his exposition of the pure preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments as Marks of the Church (Question 12). He reasons that the church of Rome is not a true church “because it impinges upon the foundation [of the church]”, “because she is heretical,” “because she is idolatrous,” “because her doctrine is doubtful and opposed to the certainty of salvation and peace of conscience”, “because she is opposed to piety and good morals,” “because she is opposed to freedom by her tyranny,” “because Antichrist sits in her,” and “because she is Babylon.” He remarks:

Now in order to demonstrate this, even this one thing would be sufficient (which we have before proved)- that the proper and essential mark of the true church is no other than the doctrine of conformity with the word of God (which is retained in any assembly). It is clearer than the meridian light from a comparison instituted between both that the doctrine of the Roman church in many most important articles is diametrically opposed to the Scriptures. With whatever pigments and colors it may be covered in order to conceal its foulness and so smooth over its harshness, by that very thing it is evident that neither is she the true church, nor can she be so called except falsely.

Again, he sees no conflict between this truth and the validity of Roman baptism:

The verity of baptism proves indeed that truth of a church with regard to Christianity in general, in opposition to assemblies of unbelievers; but not with regard to Christianity pure and purged from the errors of heretics. For true baptism can be found among heretics who are not the true church; as true circumcision and sacrifices to the one God were consecrated in the church of the ten tribes, which was not on that account a true church. Nor can our opponents deny this. They acknowledge our baptism to be true, yet deny us the name of a true church.

Ursinus (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pg. 448) also addresses the matter of Papist apostates:

Hence, before excommunication can be inflicted upon any one, there must necessarily be a knowledge of some error or sin, which is accompanied with obstinacy and determined wickedness on the part of the offender; so that if any one becomes a Papist, or an Arian, or a Davidian, or any other apostate, he must not be held and recognized as a member of the church, even though he may declare himself to be such, and may desire to remain in the church, unless he renounce and detest his error, and live according to the gospel. The reason is, because God will have his church separate and distinct from all the various sects and adherents of the devil.

Also worth noting, to similar effect, is the opinion of Bullinger, which is documented here. Notice, especially, these remarks from Bullinger’s Decades:

  • Since Rome is an upstart church and not the true church, then for leaving the church of Rome, the Reformers cannot be considered schismatics.
  • The church will have evil and wicked men in the visible church, but the Romanists are the very worst of the enemies of God and therefore have neither the outward nor inward marks of the church.
  • As far as I have read in the Reformed tradition, it is utterly novel to consider Romanists or any others who do not “profess the true religion” to be Christian, either as an institutional, true church, or as an individual New Covenant believer. None of the sources I cited above saw their rejection of Rome and Romanists as Christian as being in conflict with their rejection of rebaptism. I can only believe that FV has blown their view of covenantal objectivism and baptismal efficacy to ludicrous proportions if their system leads them to these sorts of conclusions. And I do not know how this is any improvement on good, old-timey formalism that has plagued the church for so many hundreds of years.

    Posted by David Gadbois

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