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

Women’s roles/deaconesses in the PCA revisited

Posted by Bob Mattes

Things have been a bit busy since returning from the 37th PCA General Assembly. A lot of the post-assembly talk has centered on the the overtures considering women’s role in the church. You may recall that last year, Philadelphia Presbytery put forward an overture to study the issue of deaconesses in the PCA which was rejected by the Assembly. As I reported in this post, James River and Susquehanna Valley Presbyteries submitted identical overtures calling for a more general study committee to study the role of women in the church. Although this apparently was thought more palatable than an outright call for deaconesses, most commissioners saw through the thin veneer.

The Overtures Committee debated these overtures at some length. I tip my hat to TE Phil Ryken who chaired the committee this year. Although his church, 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia, has deaconesses, you would never have guessed that from his moderation of the debate. TE Ryken did an excellent job of keeping things moving and on track.

Read the rest of this entry »

Election in the New Testament – Part 1

Posted by Bob Mattes

The Federal Vision folks like to say that their view is more Biblical, that they use words in a more Biblical way than classic Reformed formulations. Seven orthodox Reformed denominations have found otherwise, yet the Federal Vision myths persist. Dr. R. F. White wrote a comment on another thread that again struck at the heart of Federal Vision’s defective hermeneutic. In response to Jared, Dr. White wrote:

You [jared] say, “The only manner in which a reprobate can call himself elect is to the extent and duration that he is a member of the visible body.” – I reply, But we would agree that the most important issue is, does God call a reprobate person elect to the extent and duration that he is a member of the visible body, or, for that matter, does God call a reprobate person elect to any extent or duration at all?

This cuts to the heart of Federal Vision’s mythical “objective covenant” and reminded me of a post that I started over a year ago but never finished – until today. Bottom line question: Are there indeed people who are “elect” for a time by virtue of their membership in the visible church but lose that “election” through covenant unfaithfulness? In two letters or less, NO. The New Testament knows no such category of temporary “election,” either inside or outside of the visible church. Allow me to back up that statement.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Being Presbyterian

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, Chief Academic Officer and Associate Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary, wrote the excellent book On Being Presbyterian some time back. He has condensed it down to a set of very nice Powerpoint briefing slides. These provide an excellent summary of the material suitable for new members’ classes or Sunday school. Ideally, of course, members would read the book before class and the briefing slides would be good jumping off points for discussion.

On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories makes a great read for new believers, those who transfer from non-Presbyterian or liberal denominations, as well as for those whom God brought into the Reformed faith many years ago. Dr. Lucas has a talent for condensing the essence of the Reformed faith and Presbyterianism down to its core truths. He covers the Reformed faith, worship, the sacraments, church government, and a brief history of the Presbyterian churches, relying heavily on Scripture and the Westminster Standards – all from the perspective of historical Reformed orthodoxy.

I believe that On Being Presbyterian would be a valuable read for all members, new and old, and officers in Presbyterian churches, especially the PCA. These Powerpoint slides will provide a handy means of teaching through the book.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Podcast on Leithart and NW Presbytery

Posted by Bob Mattes

There’s an excellent discussion of the NW Presbytery action (or lack thereof) on TE Peter Leithart over at Ordinary Means (HT: Heidelblog). Dr. Scott Clark has some great background links at the Heidelblog link as well. You can catch my summary post on the situation here. For convenience, here are links to the presbytery’s majority report and the excellent minority report. The podcast is about an hour long but provides excellent insights from Jason Stellman into the meeting at NW Presbytery that cannot be directly gleaned from the reports.

I spent some time last night going over the two NW Presbytery reports in some detail. I had said in this post that I would be writing a series of critiques of the majority report, but have changed my mind. It has already been done. The minority report thoroughly covers anything that I would have said. Together with the podcast, the minority report captures all of Leithart’s key errors that place him outside the Westminster Standards and strike at the vitals. In addition, Lane has an index of his posts engaging Leithart’s views on justification here. I have engaged Leithart’s position on final justification here, here, and here; and touched on baptismal efficacy here. In those posts, I draw on early Reformed writers to show the historical errors in both Leithart and, as it turns out, Rayburn’s argumentation.

I’m very disappointed in Rob Rayburn’s excuses for Leithart in particular and Federal Vision in general. His argumentation in the majority report comes right off of the Federal Visionist blogs, and is directly contradicted by the PCA’s Study Report on the Federal Vision and the PCA Standing Judicial Commission’s actions concerning Louisiana Presbytery and Steve Wilkins (SJC Cases 2006-7, 2007-8, and 2007-14), as well as the well-constructed minority report. TE Stellman’s coming appeal to the General Assembly looks very good at this point. NW Presbytery would do well to repent at its next meeting to avoid the embarrassment that Louisiana Presbytery drew on itself, as it is making the same arguments that were rejected in those cases.

As I’ve said before, I respect TE Peter Leithart’s openness, although I certainly disagree with his Federal Visionist theology. He took the initiative to provide his views to his presbytery, and then to follow up by asking, together with TE Jason Stellman, for a committee to study those views in light of the Westminster Standards. Short of simply transferring to the CREC (where he currently works anyway), he’s done all that one can ask, short of simply transferring to the CREC where he would obviously be happier.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Denominational Renewal – Theology Part 2

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. Frame graciously agreed to write a sympathetic post to TE Jeremy Jones’ remarks on Renewing Theologly. As I said in this post, the remarks run 40+ minutes. In his response, Dr. Frame asked some interesting questions. I provided my answers to one set of them, and I will copy and perhaps expand on them here. The gist of the Dr. Frame’s post concerned the value of being a confessional body and the relevance and use of the Westminster Standards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Denominational Renewal – Theology Part 1

Posted by Bob Mattes

In this ongoing discussion, PCA TE Jeremy Jones is in the dock this week. His topic is Renewing Theology, and you can download his 40+ minute talk here. I listened to the whole thing, taking some notes because it was so long. I must admit to being disturbed by much of what I heard on two levels. First, the favorable appeal to Reformed Catholicism (in the capitalized sense) as a base for Reformed theology. That blows my mind every time that I think about it. My second issue is that TE Jones sets up a lot of strawmen to knock down, but offers no evidence for their existence in real life. And honestly, with two weeks into this thing I’ve seen a lot of hand-waving and not a lot of specific substance as to their assumptions that the PCA needs renewal in the sense that they’ve presented it. If you don’t believe me, listen to the talks.

I anticipate that this will be a series of two posts: one addressing the bulk of TE Jones’ talk and his use of Reformed Catholicism, and one addressing Dr. Frame’s response. I’ve already posted comments on these two topics under Dr. Frames post, though I will expand them a bit here. The comment system at Typepad isn’t very good and really limits what you can do there.

Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries Newer entries »