Guilty, Anyone?

Does anyone else feel as guilty as I did when I read this piece?

Aren’t There Enough Generally Evangelical Denominations?

I get really tired of people complaining about the Westminster Standards. These people want us to broaden our horizons beyond confessional boundaries so that we can be more ecumenical. I would like to ask these people, aren’t there enough generally evangelical denominations? Why do we need to become one of them, as well? The entire modern ethos is utterly opposed to confessional churches. It is surely not generally evangelical churches that need to be encouraged right now, but rather confessionally Reformed churches. NAPARC is about the only bastion of confessionally Reformed churches in North America, and all of NAPARC put together is pretty tiny. And even within NAPARC churches, there are strong pushes away from confessionalism. So, when you get right down to it, confessionally Reformed churches are rare birds, dare I say, even an endangered species.

This push comes from a misunderstanding of the true nature of the church. Does the true unity of all believers consist in a denomination, or does it consist of all those who have faith in Christ Jesus? I would argue strongly that it is the latter. We do not all have to belong to the same denomination to be truly ecumenical. True ecumenicity is not visible, but invisible. Of course we should not give up talking to brothers and sisters in other denominations. Far from it. However, when it comes to our identity, why are we so often embarrassed to be part of a confessional denomination? I would strongly encourage everyone reading these words to prayerfully consider becoming more confessional, not less. These boundaries are not hurtful things, but helpful things. See here, here, here, and here for some other thoughts related to boundaries.

Press Release for New Westminster Project

The Westminster Assembly Project and Reformation Heritage Books

The Westminster Assembly Project, best known for the edition of Assembly minutes and papers to be published by Oxford University Press, has now entered an extensive publishing agreement with Reformation Heritage Books.

John Bower has joined historian Chad Van Dixhoorn in launching three new series of books by the Westminster Assembly, and one series of new and classic studies on the Assembly, all being published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is hoped that both texts and studies will stimulate further research in the Assembly and the religious dimension of English civil war politics. Certainly future publications on British post-Reformation theology and Puritanism will be enriched by these publications, briefly described here.

Principal Documents of the Westminster Assembly. This series will produce the six chief works authored by the Assembly for covenanted uniformity of religion in England: the Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, Shorter Catechism, Directory for Public Worship, Directory for Church Government, and The Psalter. Each volume will contain a historical introduction, a critical text, and multi-column comparisons of original manuscripts and early editions. The inaugural volume, The Larger Catechism, has been prepared by John Bower and scheduled for a launch in March 2010.

Writings of the Westminster Divines. The aim of this series is to provide scholarly editions of texts by Westminster Assembly members and commissioners. Volumes will include previously unpublished manuscripts as well as republications of rare editions. Carefully determined editorial standards will be used to ensure an authoritative product that is accessible to modern readers, while remaining reliable for students and scholars.

Westminster Assembly Facsimiles. With this new series, Reformation Heritage Books and the Westminster Assembly Project are providing electronic and print access to publications by Assembly members in their original form. Free PDF downloads will be made available through the Westminster Assembly Project website. The same text can be purchased for your collection in paperback and hard cover from Reformation Heritage Books.

Studies of the Westminster Assembly. Complementing the primary source material in the other series, the Assembly studies will provide access to classic studies that have not been reprinted and to new studies, providing some of the best existing research on the Assembly and its members.

For more information on the Westminster Assembly Project, visit Information on Reformation Heritage Books can be found at and

An Answer to TE Rayburn, part 3

The next point at issue here is whether the SJC was wrong in attributing to TE Leithart confusion of justification and sanctification. TE Rayburn argues that TE Leithart is not doing this, but is merely positing a joining of justification and definitive sanctification. Definitive sanctification here is defined by John Murray. TE Rayburn’s point is that TE Leithart was not confusing progressive sanctification and justification, but was merely seeking to combine definitive sanctification and justification under one act. That TE Leithart does the latter can hardly be denied. It is his explicit program in his article “Judge Me, O God” in The Federal Vision. On this article, see my critique of TE Leithart here.  With regard to the SJC’s point, one could definitely wish that the distinction between the two aspects of sanctification had been clarified a bit more in their critique. However, the SJC’s point is still valid, when one digs a little deeper.

The first point to realize here is that John Murray, in his explication of definitive sanctification, did not consider it as completely separated from progressive sanctification. Note that he says, “It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work.” This indicates that under the rubric of sanctification, one can consider two aspects: definitive and progressive. In fact, as WTS professors typically formulate it, the definitive and progressive aspects of sanctification can be analogous to the already/not yet aspects of salvation that one finds elsewhere in the ordo salutis. Definitive is already, progressive is not yet. The point here is that definitive and progressive cannot be so easily severed. And they would have to be severed completely for there to be no confusion on the issue of justification and sanctification. One may simply ask this question: on what biblical basis would TE Leithart and/or TE Rayburn yank definitive sanctification away from its organically connected progressive other half? Presumably, TE’s Rayburn and Leithart both would agree that progressive sanctification cannot be included under the rubric of justification, which is explicitly Rome’s position. But on what basis can one exclude progressive sanctification from justification if one has already included definitive sanctification?

The second point to realize here is that John Murray never included definitive sanctification under the rubric of justification. The language of “justified from sin” was not speaking at all about justification, according to Murray. He did not argue as TE Leithart does, in other words. As I argued in response to Leithart, and as the WTJ also noted (70.1, Spring 2008, pp. 105-110), you cannot simply add up all the occurrences of the word “justification” and say that the doctrine of justification has to include all the uses of that word. It is odd here, because I feel like I’m arguing like the FV does. It is usually the FV who is claiming that words are used in a broader sense in Scripture than they are in the confessions. Here, TE Leithart is arguing the reverse: according to him, our doctrine of justification has to account for all the uses of the word “justify” in Scripture.

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 »

Volume 2 of the CRT series

Is this fine volume, coming to WTS bookstore soon, translated by Lyle Bierma, and edited by R. Scott Clark. The whole series is one to own, and it is excellent to see this work come into English for the first time.

An Answer to TE Rayburn, part 2

In this post, I will deal with TE Rayburn’s claims concerning a quotation of Leithart that TE Rayburn feels was dealt with unfairly. The quotation is Leithart, “The baptized are implanted into Christ’s body, and in Him share in all that he has to give.” The quotation is from page 78 of The Baptized Body.

A word here on the nature of published materials. One would assume that a Ph.D. of Leithart’s caliber would have his work peer-reviewed, and not just by people who agree with him. If this statement were in a more occasional document, TE Rayburn (and TE Leithart!) would have some occasion to gripe about the quotation. However, the quotation comes from a published work of TE Leithart. If the book doesn’t publish what TE Leithart means, that is TE Leithart’s fault, not the SJC’s. It is the responsibility of the author to prevent any and all misunderstandings of his work when publishing a book. It is his responsibility to ensure that there is no other way to understand his published book than the meaning he intends. What’s more, there are several other quotations that say the same thing as the above quotation in The Baptized Body. For instance, take this statement from page 73:

The historical church, the visible church, is the bride of the Son and one flesh with Him, which Jesus treats as “His own body.” (paragraph break, LK) If this is true, then again we are left with some profound consequences for membership in the visible church. Baptism joins us to the church, and I have argued that the church is the body of Christ, not merely in some “honorific” or secondary sense, but in a real sense. Those who are baptized into the church share in Jesus Christ, and in Him they are introduced into the Triune fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit. If the church is the body of Christ, the humanity of the Son of God, then this conclusion is inevitable. (emphasis mine)

The context of this statement is vital to understanding Leithart’s point. His main point here is that the visible church is the body of Christ in a real sense. In this section, he is not denying that the invisible church is the body of Christ, but he is asserting that the visible church is the body of Christ in a very real sense. In that context he makes the claim that members in this visible body of Christ “share in Jesus Christ,” and are “introduced into the Triune fellowship.” If anything, this is a much stronger statement than the one Leithart retracted. Would he retract this statement as well? Baptism into the visible church introduces a person into Triune fellowship, and gives them a share in Jesus Christ? It should be noted here the equivalency of expression: “share in Jesus Christ” is surely a significant overlap of meaning to “implanted into Christ’s body.” And it is not a huge stretch to conclude that “share in all that He has to give” is very similar in meaning (or at least has a huge overlap, given, for instance, Ralph Smith’s definitions of covenant fellowship with the Trinity) to “introduced into the Triune fellowship.”

Both of these statements in The Baptized Body, in turn, match up quite nicely with the Joint Federal Vision Statement, in the section on baptism:

We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name, and that this baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God, each baptized person repenting of his sins and trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).

One could wonder what the term “formally” means here, but the idea is substantially the same as what Leithart has professed, and his name is attached to the document. I can only conclude at this juncture that, despite TE Leithart’s retraction of a statement in a book, this is in fact what he believes, since it is confirmed elsewhere in the same book, and in the Joint Statement.

New Hardcover Edition

I’ve been waiting for a hardcover edition of this work to come out. It is rather an important work in the history of Scottish theology, maybe the most important. This edition includes the explanatory notes by Thomas Boston, and an introduction by Phil Ryken, who is one of the world’s experts on the marrow controversy, having done his Ph.D. work in Thomas Boston. I would highly recommend this work.

An Answer to TE Rob Rayburn, Part 1

The first claim that TE Rayburn makes concerns the makeup of the panel of the SJC that was appointed to hear the PNW case. I have emailed RE Duncan. I am not at liberty to divulge the details of that email, but I am satisfied that the makeup of the committee was not rigged to ensure a particular result. Notice that TE Rayburn does not come out and say that it was rigged. He more asks the question of whether it was above reproach. Certainly, one can agree with TE Rayburn that the conduct of a juridical body in such a high-profile case ought to be above reproach. One can also wonder whether, in such high-profile cases, it would behove TE Rayburn to ensure that he knew the inner process of the SJC proceedings before making an innuendo public regarding its behavior. Why throw the question out there, if one is not aware of the entire proceedings? TE Rayburn’s comments could be viewed as an attempt to delegitimize the panel entirely. Now, I have been convinced that the ending makeup of the committee was not rigged. But since I am not aware of any members of the SJC who are favorable to the FV error, I really question whether the result would have been any different had there been a completely different makeup to the panel.

Preview of Coming Attractions

I will be responding in a series of blog posts to TE Robert Rayburn’s public reaction to the SJC decision regarding the Leithart case. I hope I will be more charitable to Rob Rayburn than Rob Rayburn was to the SJC. Rob Rayburn is undoubtedly a highly intelligent, highly accomplished theologian. Therefore, I will make it a point to say nothing on this blog that I would not be comfortable saying to him in person. But I do feel that the SJC needs to have someone speak up for it and answer some of the very serious things that TE Rayburn has said in his response to the decision.

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