"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thornwell on Boards in Church Polity

This is only for the Presbyterian polity people. PCA Historical Center director Wayne Sparkman has a great selection today from Thornwell against the idea of Boards (which have similiarities to "Commissions" in PCA polity). For Churchmen, this is a must read!


Thornwell made this conclusion about the rise of Boards in Presbyterian polity: “It is not to be disguised, that our Church is becoming deplorably secular. She has degenerated from a spiritual body into a mere petty corporation. When we meet in our ecclesiastical courts, instead of attending to the spiritual interests of God’s kingdom, we scarcely do anything more than examine and audit accounts, and devise ways and means for raising money. We are for doing God’s work by human wisdom and human policy;"

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Calvinist

What is a Calvinist? A cynic? Frozen Chosen? A Debater?

Although it does focus on the person, I do like this poem by John Piper. What the Calvinist ought to be, or strive to be when observed, the godly man observed (Listen for the voices of D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, Alistair Begg, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, and Sinclair Ferguson.):

Monday, November 25, 2013

Martin Luther versus the "New" Perspective on Paul

Here I submit a passage from Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will, in which to my delight, Luther attacks (if I may be a bit anachronistic) the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP), which apparently when apparently when Dunn and Sanders and Wright discovered it, was really nothing new under the sun. Luther here denies that Paul means “ceremonial laws” by works of the law, or a NPP advocates call it “covenant badges” like dietary laws and circumcision.

Martin Luther. Bondage of the Will pages 302-304. [Library of Christian Classics edition]

“But they are in the habit of trying to get round Paul here, by making out that what he calls works of the law are the ceremonial works, which sine the death of Christ are deadly. I reply that this is the ignorant error of Jerome, which in spite of Augustine's strenuous resistance – God having withdrawn and let Satan prevail – has spread out into the world and persisted to the present day. It has consequently become impossible to understand Paul, and the knowledge of Christ has been inevitably obscured. Even if there had never been any other error in the Church, this one alone was pestilent and potent enough to make havoc of the gospel, and unless a special sort of grace has intervened, Jerome has merited hell rather than heaven or it – so little would I dare to canonize him or call him a saint. It is, then, not true that Paul is speaking only about ceremonial laws: otherwise how can the argument be sustained by which he concludes that all mean are wicked and in need of grace? For someone could say: Granted we are not justified by ceremonial works, yet a person might be justified by the moral works of the Decalogue, so you have not proved by your syllogism that grace is necessary for these. Besides, what is the use of a grace liberates us only from ceremonial works which are the easiest of all, and which can at the lowest be exhorted from us by fear or self-love? It is, of course, also untrue that ceremonial laws are deadly and unlawful since the death of Christ; Paul never said that, but he says they do not justify and are of no advantage to a man in the sight of God as regards setting him free from ungodliness. Once this is accepted, anyone may do them without doing anything unlawful – just as eating and drinking are works that do not justify or commend us to God (1 Cor 8:8), yet a man does nothing unlawful when he eats and drinks.

They are also wrong in that the ceremonial works were as much commanded and required in the old law as was the Decalogue, so that the latter was neither more nor less important than the former. And as Paul is speaking primarily to Jews, as he says in Romans 1:16, no one need doubt that by works of the law he means all the works of the entire law. For it would be meaningless to call them works of the law if the law were abrogated and deadly, since an abrogated law is no longer a law, as Paul very well knew. He is therefore not speaking of an abrogated law when he speaks of the works of the law, bot of the law that is valid and authoritative. Otherwise, how easy it would have been for him to say: “The itself is now abrogated!” -then we should had a clear and unambiguous declaration.

But let us appeal to Paul himself as his own best interpreter, where he says in Galatians 3:!0: “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'” You see here, where Paul is making the same point in the same words as in the epistle to the Romans, that every time he mentions the works of the law he is speaking of all the laws written in the Book of the Law....”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grace in Controversy. John Newton on Controversy

Controversy is nothing new. John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace, wrote a now famous letter to a friend about to engage publicly on a controversy. The whole letter may be read here:

But I thought I would draw out a few of the highlights in this helpful piece:

1-Controversy can wound even the right and triumphant party
“I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded.”  


“And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value.”

2-Before writing against someone, pray for them
“As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.”

3-Calvinists should be the most gentle and moderate in controversy
“Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.”


“I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind.”

4-Speak not merely to the man to convince him, but to the public
“Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.”

5-One can be right and still sin in controversy
“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”

6-Controversies are rarely conducted well
“Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.”

7-Do not return insults in kind
“Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.”

8-Though Dangerous, engagement in a controversy may be necessary and honorable
“I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sabbath Study Guide

About a year ago, I created a Study Guide for members who were asking questions about the Sabbath and the Biblical teaching of it. I put together this study guide to walk people through the Biblical Theological basis for Sabbath by reading text and asking critical questions about what each text is saying. I provide it here for those interested or who want to use it for their own study:

Sabbath Study Guide

This guide is meant to assist one reading through relevant Scriptures dealing with the subject of the Sabbath. Some of the questions are meant to help think through the facts of the passage, other questions the deeper meaning, and finally other questions are meant to think through our practical application of the passage.

Genesis 2:1-3
1) What is significant about the Sabbath starting in Creation?

2) If God did not "need" to rest, why did He?

3) If marriage (2:18-25) and Sabbath are creation ordinances, can either one be abolished before the new creation?

Exodus 16

  1. Why would it be significant to see Sabbath keeping before the law is given at Sinai?

  1. What implications does this passage have about the day before the Sabbath?

  1. APPLICATION: Do we have to work at resting or prepare to rest on the Sabbath like the Israelites?

Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15

  1. One account of the 10 commandments roots Sabbath in Creation, the other in redemption: how is the Sabbath significant to how we understand creation? How does it help us understand Redemption?

  1. In reading though the other 9 commandments, would you see these commands as always morally binding? Are these commandments arbitrary or rooted in something deeper?

  2. APPLICATION: Name the imperative verbs (commands) in the section. Then think through any contemporary applications.

Exodus 31:13-18

  1. How does God fulfill his promise: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.

  1. Read Exodus 31:16 – How long was the Sabbath to remain as a part of the covenant with God’s People?

  1. Read Exodus 31:18 – What is referred to by the phrase “two tablets of stone”? In light of the establishment of a “covenant forever” what implication does this have for the validity of the “two tablets of stone”?

Isaiah 58:13-14

  1. What is included in "your own pleasures"? If “our pleasures” are not necessarily wrong, what does this tell us about our pleasures on the Sabbath?

  1. What is the blessing attached to Sabbath keeping?

  1. APPLICATION: What blessings might we be missing out on by neglecting Sabbath?

  1. APPLICATION: What personal pleasures may be appropriate on other days, that are not on the Sabbath?

Nehemiah 13:15-22

  1. What was the violation that upset Nehemiah?

  1. What was Nehemiah’s reaction (punishment) to Sabbath breaking?

  2. APPLICATION: How, today, do we violate the Sabbath like those in Nehemiah 13?

  1. APPLICATION: Why, today, do we not take the Sabbath as seriously (as worthy of physical beating for breaking!)?

Matthew 12:1-14
  1. Read Deuteronomy 23:25 – Was it “unlawful” for the disciples to pick grain from the field in 12:1-2?

  1. Read 1 Samuel 21:1-6 – The Westminster Confession will talk about works of mercy and necessity on the Sabbath – How do we see that in action in this episode from the life of David?

  1. Jesus declares Himself “Lord of the Sabbath.” Read the lead in to Matthew 12, in Matthew 11:28-30. How is this a demonstration of Him being “Lord of the Sabbath”?

  1. Jesus does a work of healing on the Sabbath. How does Jesus fulfill His role as “Lord of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:9-16?

  1. APPLICATION: How do we come to Jesus like the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath?

  1. APPLICATION: Mark has a parallel account, but includes the observation “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) In what ways does the Sabbath benefit man?

  1. APPLICATION: In no place does Jesus condemn the principle of Sabbath-keeping. Yet, the Pharisees are condemned for the way they “kept” the Sabbath with no regard to doing works of mercy. How should we be mindful of that in our Sabbath-keeping today?

Hebrews 4:1-11

  1. How does “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” align with Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath?

  1. Hebrews 4:8 “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.” In what ways have we still not fully entered into that promised rest?

  1. APPLICATION: Reflect for a while on Hebrew 4:10. What is God’s role on the Sabbath? What is my role on the Sabbath?

  1. APPLICATION: What efforts can we “strive” to do to enter the rest that Sabbath promises?


  1. Do you believe that today in America, we are more like the Pharisees in Matthew 12 or the Israelites in Nehemiah 13 in our problem with the Sabbath?

  1. What spiritual activities do you wish you had time to do? [Are there any spiritual books to read, songs to sing, time set aside for prayer, family worship, Bible Reading, listening to sermons?]

  1. Record a schedule of your Sundays.
    1. How much of the time is used in preparation [to go somewhere, to make a meal, cleaning etc]?
    2. How much time is used for recreation and entertainment [watching or participating]?
    3. How much time is used in “holy” activities?
    4. After doing this, would you say that you are using the day as set apart to God?
    5. How might you change your schedule to keep the Sabbath holy? What might you have to start doing? What might you need to stop doing [or start doing on a different day]?

Further Studies in the Biblical Theology of Sabbath

These questions are meant to investigate issues or objections to the Sabbath that arise. These deal with deeper and more difficult subjects to think through regarding the Sabbath.

Abolished Law? Read Matthew 5:17-20
Some may cite Ephesians 2:14-16, saying Christ has abolished the law. [“having abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances”]

  1. What is Christ referring to as the “law” in Matthew 5:17-20? How is that different from Ephesians 2:14-16?
  2. Matthew Henry states: “By his sufferings in the flesh, to took away the binding power of the ceremonial law (so removing that cause of enmity and distance between them), which is here called the law of commandments contained in ordinances, because it enjoined a multitude of external rites and ceremonies, and consisted of many institutions and appointments about the outward parts of divine worship.
    1. If Jesus was not abolishing the moral law (i.e. the 10 Commandments), what significance would that have for the Fourth Commandment? How would the writer of Hebrews 4:9 respond if he was asked if the Sabbath was a part of that which was done away with in the ceremonial law?
    2. Would the Jewish and Christian Sabbath have some differences? Some similarities?

No More Sabbath? (Col 2:16-17; Romans 14:6; Gal 4:10)

When Paul mentions “Sabbaths” in Col 2:16-17, there is more than one “Sabbath” in the Old Testament.

  1. Read Leviticus 25:1-7.
    1. How does land have a Sabbath?
    2. Read Leviticus 26:40-45. What was the punishment for not keeping the Sabbath Year?
    3. Read Jeremiah 25:12, Daniel 9:2 and 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 //How did God fulfill his promised punishment in the exile?

  1. Read Leviticus 23:1-8. What other days other than Saturday are called “sabbaths”?

  1. With the Old Testament context, what then is Paul talking about with “festivals,” “new moons,” and “sabbaths”?
    1. Might we make a distinction between “sabbaths” and THE Sabbath?
    2. APPLICATION: What applications might this teaching have for modern “sabbaths” or Holidays?

Saturday (last day) or Sunday (First Day)?

We only have evidence of the church worshiping as the church on the first day (Sunday) not the seventh day:

  • Scripture records worship on the first day:

Act 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

1Co 16:2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

Also cf. Joh 20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

  • The Universal Witness of the Apostles was to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the First Day of the Week. [Matt 26:17, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1; John 20:1.]

  • The early church testified to worship of the church on the first day, such as Justin Martyr, a Christian in the Second Century AD, in his First Apology, Chapter 67 – “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.”
  1. When the Apostles worshiped on the first day, and the Sabbath was referred by the Lord as “my holy day” and “the holy day of the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13-14), and when John says he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” (Rev 1:10) What good and necessary application do we have as Christians in the Apostolic Church?
  1. If the first day of the week is when creation began, what might the change of the Lord’s Day to the first day have to teach us? [cf. 2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15]

Monday, October 07, 2013

Law? What is it good for?

The Westminster Confession of Faith 19.6 contains a helpful summary of why the law is of use, even to believers under the gospel, and allows us to see obedience as being natural under the gospel, rather than how it is used in American evangelicalism as a sign of "legalism" [improperly understood]. Here, I attempt to give an outline to help demonstrate this:

  1. a. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; [Romans 8:1]
    b. yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that,
      1. as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly;
      2. discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;
      3. so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin,
      4. together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ,
      5. and the perfection of his obedience.
      6. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve;
      7. and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law.
      8. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works.
        [POINT:] So as, a man's doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.

Friday, September 06, 2013

John Paton - Answering Objection to his Missionary Plan

On announcing that John Paton, a Reformed Presbyterian minister in Scotland, was going to go to an island of cannibals, the same group of islands where a team of missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals:
A Mr. Dickson exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” The memory of Williams and Harris on Erromanga was only 19 years old. 
But to this Paton responded:
"Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer"

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This Day in Presbyterian History

Wayne Sparkman, director of the PCA Historical Society, has a daily blog that highlights different men and events in Presbyterian History. All Presbyterians that love history (but I repeat myself) will enjoy the entries:


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

PCA FV Study Report 2007

Looking back at the Presbyterian Church in America's Federal Vision Study report from 2007, I merely wanted to reproduce the 9 declarations that the PCA adopted as the right understanding of our Standards, and under those declarations also the fine recommendations of the Study Committee Report.

[ You can find the whole report here: http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/07-fvreport.pdf ]

Nine Declarations of the PCA FV Study Report:

1. The view that rejects the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture as represented in the Westminster Standards (i.e., views which do not merely take issue with the terminology, but the essence of the first/second covenant framework) is contrary to those Standards.

2. The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

3. The view that Christ does not stand as a representative head whose perfect obedience and satisfaction is imputed to individuals who believe in him is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

4. The view that strikes the language of “merit” from our theological vocabulary so that the claim is made that Christ’s merits are not imputed to his people is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

5. The view that “union with Christ” renders imputation redundant because it subsumes all of Christ’s benefits (including justification) under this doctrinal heading is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

6. The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

7. The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

8. The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as
regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

9. The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.


1. That the General Assembly commend to Ruling and Teaching Elders and their congregations this report of the Ad Interim Committee on NPP, AAT and FV for careful consideration and study.

2. That the General Assembly remind the Church, its officers and congregations of the provisions of BCO 29-1 and 39-3 which assert that the Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, while “subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God,” have been adopted by the PCA “as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice.”

3. That the General Assembly recommend the declarations in this report as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards, and further reminds those ruling and teaching elders whose views are out of accord with our Standards of their obligation to make known to their courts any differences in their views.

4. That the General Assembly remind the Sessions and Presbyteries of the PCA that it is their duty “to exercise care over those subject to their authority” and “to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church” (BCO 31-2; 13-9f).

5. That the Ad Interim Study Committee on NPP, AAT and FV be dismissed with thanks.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Book Review: A Neglected Grace

“God is worshipped everywhere, in spirit and in truth, as, in private families daily…” –Westminster Confession 21:6.

The scene is idyllic. A family gathered around the father in the living room or at the dinning table, with Bible open, hymns or psalms being sung, and prayers being offered by all. I say idyllic, because many of us have never seen this Christian Norman Rockwell scene. The practice of family worship has a strong and influential history in Reformed and evangelical homes, but the practice today has become so rare as to expect that such a scene is expected to be found only in a museum.

This does not have to be the case, nor ought it be the case. Jason Helopoulos, Assistant Pastor at University Reformed Church in Michigan, offers readers a challenge and also great helps in recovering this important and necessary practice in the raising of our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. “A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home” is a book I wish existed before it did. Our church made a push for families to begin the practice of family worship, however when looking at the resources available many seemed, although thorough and well grounded, also overwhelming to a layman. Family Worship with complicated orders of worship or long justifications do not keep the attention of the average reader. In this book, Pastor Helopoulos gives an extremely readable and even at points humorous look into simple family worship. I read the book in two or three short sittings and then gave the book to my wife who began to read and enjoy it as well.

The book begins with a helpful look at the different “spheres” of worship. The author identifies corporate, private (or individual), and also family worship. With three spheres of Christian worship, the reader is instructed that “A Christian will find it most beneficial to practice secret worship, corporate worship and family worship.” (27) Such a distinction was helpful for this pastor who typically has collapsed those spheres to two: private and public.

After establishing the legitimacy of the sphere of family worship, the author then quickly moves on to the “why?” - Why should we engage in family worship. Rather than merely emphasizing the duty and command of family worship, or merely the benefits, he combines the two: “It is our joyful responsibility!” Such a response fits the mood and theme of the book, family worship is not a mere burden or another item in the list of responsibilities of a head of household, it is a blessing and a grace that if skipped, we miss out on.

Thankfully, immediately after establishing the joyful duty of Family Worship from Scripture, the book moves on to the important question of “how?” I have several volumes on my shelf that suggests several deep and intricate orders of family worship to resemble a Sunday morning worship service. These have guaranteed that they may look good on paper, but are rarely tried. Pastor Helopoulos suggests something eminently more reasonable: simplicity. Family worship can be simple enough to just contain three simple elements: Scripture, prayer and song. Although additional elements are suggested for later, if it is too complicated, it will distract from intention of the time: the simple worship of God.

Much of the rest of the book is what makes this a unique offering and why I wish it was available to our church sooner. The rest of the book wrestles with the practical overcoming of difficulties, written by a father and husband who has practiced family worship and learned the hard way what to do with energetic small children and disappointing nights when it seems like the entire venture was a waste of time.

At the end of the book, I must warn you, you will be out of excuses. You will have a clear picture of family worship, and it will become a possible reality rather than a wistful fantasy. You will flip through the appendixes and find sample simple worship orders you can follow without handing out trifold bulletins to your 4 year old. And what's more, it will get you excited to reclaim the grace most Christian families have neglected unnecessarily.

I’d recommend this book to most all Christian families, as well as to churches as a resource. The price makes it easy to grab a dozen copies for a church book table or to have it available to give during pre-marital counseling, to aid couple in understanding the importance of family worship early on.

Buy at wtsbooks.com
Buy at amazon.com

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Justification in Westminster Confession 11.1

I have yet to find a more succinct or accurate exposition of justification, especially in WCF 11.1:

"Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God." -Westminster Confession of Faith 11.1

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

For those Just Tuning in: What is the Federal Vision?

In 2007, R. Scott Clark, history professor at Westminster Seminary California pens a piece on the origins and character of what has come to be known as "Federal Vision" or "Auburn Avenue" Theology. This is an excellent primer on one of the most serious threats to the Gospel in the Reformed community:

For Those Just Tuning In: What is the Federal Vision?

In talk radio the host is supposed to “re-set” the show at regular intervals. He is to remind listeners to which show they are listening and on what network or station. One reason why the host does this is because some listeners are just tuning in. Some people are “just tuning in,” as it were, to the Federal Vision (FV) controversy and this might be a good time to re-set the show.

The FV is 33-year old movement that originated, at least in this episode, with the Rev Mr Norman Shepherd who was then teaching systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia). In 1974 he defined faith, in the act of justification, to be “faith and works.” It was not that, in justification, faith is “receiving and resting” and works are evidence and thus a sort of vindicatory justification of the claim that one believes. Nothing so nuanced or Reformed. Rather, he flatly claimed that there are two parts to faith in justification. When that created a predictable uproar, he modified his language to “faithfulness.” At the same time he, and others, was about revising covenant theology. In baptism, he wrote, we are all united to Christ and receive the benefits of Christ temporarily and conditionally. What is the condition of retaining them? Faithfulness!


Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Vows of a PCA Minister

1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New
Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of
God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

2. 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?

3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of
the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the
general principles of Biblical polity?

4. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?

5. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart,
to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a
sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?

6. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the
truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of
the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise
unto you on that account?

7. Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all
your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether
personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the
grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your
manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the
flock of which God shall make you overseer?

8. Are you now willing to take the charge of this church,
agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call?
And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to
discharge to it the duties of a pastor?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A website of Psalms sung a cappella from the Psalter.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Of Baptismal Regeneration, Paedocommunion, and Intinction.

Last night, while reading "Children at the Lord's Table: Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion" by Cornelis P. Venema, a connection between three issues aligned for me for the first time. Venema's book lays out a case against allowing children to partake of the Supper before they have professed faith. Within the PCA [Presbyterian Church in America], three controversies have been raising their head lately, all from the same group of people: agitating for intinction (dipping the bread in the wine to partake, rather than separate actions), paedocommunion (allowing children from birth up to partake of the Supper before making a credible profession of faith), and a variation of baptismal regeneration (saying all baptized children are regenerate/believers by virtue of their baptism). These three items are all foreign to historical Reformed and Biblical Theology, so I wondered why do "Federal Vision" types seem to hold all three?

Venema traces the emergance of the idea of "baptismal regeneration" in the late 300s, and then observed about the emergance of the practice of infant communion this:

"[In ancient eastern churches] the baptized member is immediately given the body and blood of Christ by 'intinction' (dipping of the bread into the wine). Unlike the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern church teaches that the mystery of the Eucharist must be communicated in both elements, is administered by intinction, and is given to infants upon their baptism and chrismation." [pg 19]

It then all made sense. If one believes a baby is always regenerated by baptism, they then are undoubtably a believer. If they are a believer, they take the Lord's Supper, and if they take the Lord's Supper and cannot yet drink from the cup, you need to dip it for them.

Thus is one example of how one error in theology (baptismal regeneration) can distort many other areas, and this without mentioning how it distorts the idea of union with Christ and justification, which then become benefits bestowed without faith - an idea at enmity to the gospel. The more you know, the more clear it is that "Federal Vision" is another system entirely and not merely a variation of Reformed Theology. It is a hop skip and a jump away from Rome, and has no place in evangelical churches, let alone Reformed Churches.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Parting of the Ways

Below is a selection from J. Gresham Machen, a founding member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, "The Parting of the Ways." in The Shorter Writings, 217-227. In it, Machen lays out the case for the renewal of Presbyterian Reformed witness in the midst of the PCUSA's tolerance for heresy in its pulpits. If you are interested in Machen's writings you can read Christianity and Liberalism (his best book for today’s audience) or SelectedShorter Writings, from which this is selected.

"If [The Presbyterian Church] stands for Christ, it will do the work which he has put it into the world to do. And that work is the work of witness-bearing. "Ye shall be my witnesses," said the risen Christ, according to the book of Acts; and these words are really a correct summary of New Testament Christianity from beginning to end. New Testament Christianity is not a life as distinguished from a doctrine, or a life which has doctrine as its flower and fruit, but - just the other way around - it is a life founded upon a doctrine. It is a life produced not merely by exhortation, mot merely by personal contacts, but primarily by an account of something that happened, by a piece of good news, or a gospel. The apostles set forth the great event after it had occured - they said "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." The Savior himself in the days of his flesh proclaimed the same great event by way of prophecy: "Repent ye," he said, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." But whether the event was in the past or in the future, both apostles and Jesus proclaimed an event; Jesus gave to his disciples a message in which he was to be offered as the Savior of the world.
            But if so, it is important above all else to get the message straight. When a witness takes his seat on the witness stand, it does not make much difference what the cut of his coat is or whether his sentences are nicely turned. The important thing is that he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So it is with that witness stand which is called the pulpit. It does not make so much difference about the manner in which the message is delivered; there can even be charity for imperfections in the spirit and motives of the messenger; but what is important above all things is that the content of the message should be true."  [217-218]
Many persons seem to regard the duty of witness-bearing as a merely personal or individual thing…It is really quite impossible to be a member of a body and evade the responsibilities involved in membership…It is not merely this one preacher who is saying these things so diametrically opposed to the gospel of Christ, but it is the whole Presbyterian church. The constitution of the church plainly regards the preacher as a representative of the whole body, as a man who sets forth the system of doctrine taught in the Word of God, and it plainly gives the courts of the church power to remove any preacher who is preaching what is contrary to that. But with power always goes responsibility. The whole church is saying to many a little one, especially now that the issue has once been raised: “This that you hear in the First Presbyterian Church of New York is the way of salvation; heed the exhortation, and you will be saved.” And the responsibility of the whole church is also the responsibility of every individual member; the government of our church is democratic, and democracy involves responsibility for the individual. Every individual member of the church – to say nothing of ministers who are members of church courts – has a vital responsibility for what is done in the pulpits and still more plainly in the agencies and boards. Individuals must witness for Christ, but the church must also witness in its corporate capacity, and no individual is walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel if he acquiesces in a corporate witness that is false.” [220-221]
“If a man may “Interpret” a perfectly plain confession of faith to mean its exact opposite, what is the use of having any confession at all?” [225]
The public testimony of this preacher, and of the many preachers like him, is diametrically opposed to the gospel of Christ and is leading men away from the true Savior of their souls; it is producing a confidence in human goodness, in human ability to obey the commands of Christ, which it is the first business of the Christian preacher to break down. For our part, we feel compelled to relinquish all confidence in such goodness and to trust in the crucified Savior alone.
We certainly do not wish to “split” the church; on the contrary, we are working for the unity of the church with all our might. But in order that there should be unity within the church, it is necessary above all that there should be sharp separation of the church from the world. The carrying out of that separation is a prime duty of the hour. Those who try to save men by the ethical principles of a Jesus whom they have reconstructed through rejection of the New Testament witness should form one body; those who glory in nothing save the cross of Christ should form another body. And that latter body is the Christian church. What our Savior demands of us above all else is faithfulness. He has placed us in the world as witnesses, and the supreme duty of his witnesses is that they should testify faithfully to him.
The Presbyterian church, we are convinced, is still predominantly Christian; it would stand for Christ if it knew the real meaning of the hostile propaganda which is now attacking the center of its life. At such a time clearness is demanded of every Christian man; the hour for merely pleasant words is over; love demands the plain speaking of the truth. We are witnesses; and if we are faithful to our sacred trust we must witness truly, whether men hear or whether they forbear.
What shall our decision be? Shall we transfer our allegiance to another gospel? Or shall we, by the help of God’s Spirit, be faithful to the Lord and Savior who bought us with his precious blood? [226-227]