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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Anyone for a Scottish Revival?

Dr. R. Scott Clark was kind enough to stop by again and lend our blog some credibility by posting some good stuff in the comment box. He alluded to some blog posts from Rick Phillips, which you can read here and here (which includes some info on the PCA side of the controversy). Apparently, a petition is going around, hilariously named "Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together", calling for "charity" in the whole Federal Vision debate. Fair enough, and I'm the first to say that we need to do all we can to prevent a "Scottish Revival" (i.e. church division). But what does "charity" really mean here? Clark observes:

I don't mean to be cynical, but is it mere coincidence that the PPT call for "charity" came out just after the OPC report?

Indeed. The Petition seems to go beyond a mere call for charity and assumes the very thing that is under debate in the church courts right now: that the Federal Vision is consistent with the confessional standards.

In my imaginary dream world, I can hope that the General Assemblies, Synods, and courts will biblically sift the wheat from the tares in the fairly heterogeneous Federal Vision world, laying out carefully and clearly which tenants or elements are outside the confessions and which are not. The involved ministers would then clarify, retract, repent, or turn in their collars accordingly. We would then all join hands and skip into the sunset, the soundtrack orchestra would swell, and the credits would roll. But somehow Reformed controversies seldom turn out that way.

Also: read Ron Gleason's demolition of similar "can't we all just get along" mushy-mindedness from John Armstrong here. He's the first guy I go to when I need theological firepower from an ex-tank commander.

Category: Theoblogia


  • David,

    thanks for this.

    I really don't mean to be cynical. I don't know that there's any connection between the OPC report and the publication of this letter.

    Until we know otherwise, I take them at their word when they say that they are not (according to their website FAQ) trying to circumvent the work of church courts or to cut off discussion of these issues.

    That said, there are significant problems with this document, as others (most recently, Sean Michael Lucas) have pointed out.

    I concede that there have been fruitless controversies in the Reformed world over the last century, but some of them have centered around some pretty important ideas.

    There are arguments, which some consider fruitless, that I consider worth having. The Clark/Van Til argument was worth having (though I admit it was not always well-conducted) because it involved a doctrine central to Biblical and Reformed theology: the Creator/creature distinction.

    This is the difference between the important and the essential. The creation argument is important, but is it essential to being Reformed? I don't think so. The Creator/creature distinction is arguably essential to being Reformed.

    Though PPT touches the FV movement and though it is signed by some FV proponents, this document isn't just about the FV.

    It's about the role and perspicuity of the confessions in defining what it is to be Reformed/Presbyterian.

    It's hard to know how else to interpret a document that lists issues that are less important right along with issues that are essential to the Reformed faith and seems to call for toleration of all of them equally.

    The document says that it embraces the Reformed confessions but then goes on to speak as if the confessions don't or haven't spoken to the more important issues they raise.

    For example, the language regarding the covenant of works begs the question (assumes the conclusion). They describe it as a "pre-lapsarian covenant." Well, it is that alright, but is that all it is? WCF 7.2 says that "The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works...." Now, that's the language of the confession. That's the document that binds Presbyterians together, that defines what it is to be Presbyterian. Why the neutral language when we confess a "covenant of works"? One might not like it, one might take an exception to that language, but that's what confessional Presbyterians confess.

    Are the Reformed confessions really so opaque about the "probation, grace, merit, and reward, and its relationship to and distinction from the covenant of grace"? I don't think so. The divines didn't think so. We're there 17th century British theologians who denied the substance of what the WCF was saying? Yes. Did that keep the Divines from saying it? No. The covenant of works was a legal covenant. The covenant of grace was a gracious covenant. Whatever PPT might wish to suggest (that there is some innumerable diversity of views on the covenant of works?) the WCF actually says "upon condition of perfect and personal obedience." Do we really not understand that language? It's not a matter of whether a private person agrees with it, but just now it is question of whether church as such has confessed something and the answer to that question is unequivocally yes. The confession of the church is not a private opinion to be dissected and embraced eclectically. Ministers are bound to that confession by their ordination vows (#2 specifically).

    The same is true of paedocommunion. Is our confession unclear on the requirement to come to the table of the Lord?

    Heidelberg Catechism Q 81 says:

    Q81: Who are to come to the table of the Lord?

    Those who are displeased with themselves for their sins, yet trust that these are forgiven them, and that their remaining infirmity is covered by the suffering and death of Christ; who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to amend their life. But the impenitent and hypocrites eat and drink judgment to themselves.

    By implication infants are incapable of meeting these tests. The assumption of the answer is that only those who have made profession of faith are to come to the table. We usually speak of a "credible profession of faith."

    WCF 29.8 says in part, "...Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto."

    Infants and very young children are, by definition, ignorant.

    The LC 171 lists these prerequisites for coming to the table:

    ". They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants;[of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer."

    Surely this language as well as the language of QQ 173 and 174 effectively prohibits infants and very young children from the table?

    Are our confessions so unclear on the efficacy of the sacraments?

    Are our confessions unclear about how we are to worship God? We may not like it, and judging from what I see and hear, many of us don't, but do we confess multiple applications of the RPW?

    Perhaps the biggest question is the use of the "C" word: charity. Who gets to say what counts as charitable discourse on these issues? To borrow a question:

    "By What Standard?"

    In our culture "charity" is taken as a synonym for "nice" and that means that we're not to have disagreements or to express displeasure or to criticize another point of view.

    Surely this is not the ethic that PPT intends to invoke is it?

    Somewhere I read something about Machen's Warrior children. Does he pass the "charity" test by the lights of the PPT?

    Just asking.


    By Blogger R. Scott Clark, at 7:47 PM  

  • Greetings gentlemen,

    Hate to intrude on this post - I have nothing blog-worthy to comment here. I do, however, plan on visiting the rest of the site.

    The reason I'm leaving this comment (I couldn't find an email address anywhere)is to ask about your blog template design. I really like it & am considering changing mine up.

    Would either of you three mind emailing me (via my blogger profile) and sharing any info you might have.

    I'd sure appreciate it!

    (BTW, I found this blog via Garet's comments at Pyro)

    By Blogger iamchief, at 4:20 PM  

  • But, indeed, some of the FVers themselves are "warrior children", too.

    Also, Mike Horton has pointed out that the covenant of works/covenant of grace distinction really is not as novel as some want to make it - it is essentially the codification of Luther's law/gospel distinction.

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 5:21 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger David Gadbois, at 5:23 PM  

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