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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Where Does This Trajectory Take Us?

First, it is true. We (Jeremy, Garet, and I) owe apologies to the blogosphere for failing to edify, amuse, and delight the God blogosphere and impart our wisdom to others for well over a month now. Seeing as how such wisdom shouldn't be hoarded, here we go.

It is common in some Evangelical and Reformed circles to view the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) as being unnecessary to A. the pure preaching of the Gospel as a mark of the true church and B. saving faith of the individual. The natural corollary to this is, of course, that we accept Roman Catholics, who reject sola fide, as believers and fellow saints and believe Rome to be a true church.

Such views are supported by criticisms of this primacy of sola fide as being too rationalistic, or unhistorical, or a "narrow" view of the Gospel, or by defining saving faith on broader lines, or insisting that sola fide has been overturned by modern biblical studies, or stressing the objective nature of the church and covenant. Most Federal Visionists, for instance, often sustain such criticisms, as do the Ostensibly Reformed (OR) types in various ecumenical, muddle-headed, triangulating corners of the blogosphere (such as the actual as well as functional Anglo-Catholics at, for instance). Some of these folks are thoughtful, honest thinkers and upright men, although wrong, in my estimation. Others, however, are sophists who are jumping on the "respectable" and "sophisticated" bandwagon du jour and see fit to re-draw the lines of orthodoxy arbitrarily.

The OR's claim to carry the mantle of the Reformation in doing so, but there are problems with this. From a confessional standpoint, the Westminster Standards as well as the 3 Forms of Unity contain unambiguous anti-Roman polemics in them which militate against such views. What is more, they see the heart of the issue, the nature of true, saving faith, as being as being necessarily sola fideistic.

I was reminded of this during this week's evening service as Question 30 from the Heidelberg Catechism was exposited to my beloved URC congregation:

Do such then believe in Jesus the only Saviour, who seek their salvation and happiness of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?

Answer. They do not; for though they boast of him in words, yet in deeds they deny Jesus, the only deliverer and Saviour: for one of these two things must be true, that either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or that they, who by a true faith receive this Saviour, must find all things in him necessary to their salvation.

This teaches us that true saving faith in Christ must be trust in Christ alone, apart from works, saints, or themselves. Those who do not deny Jesus. This condemnation is not general or vague in what it is getting at. Zacharius Ursinus, the chief writer of the Catechism, comments on this Question and Answer:

This question is proposed on account of those who glory in the name of Jesus, and yet, at the same time, seek their salvation, either wholly or in part in some other place without him, in the merits of the saints, in the indulgences of the Pope, in their own offerings, works, fastings, prayers, alms, &c., as do the Papists, the Jesuits, and other hypocrites of a similar cast. We must therefore enquire, whether these persons believe in Jesus as the only Saviour, or not. It is answered, that they do not believe in him, but that in very deed they deny him, however much they may boast of him in words. The substance of this answer is included in this syllogism, drawn from the description of an only and perfect Saviour: Whosoever is a perfect, and only Saviour, he does not confer salvation with others, nor in part only. Jesus is a complete and only Saviour, as we have shown in the exposition of the former question. Therefore he does not confer salvation in connection with others, nor in part only; but he alone confers it entire, and in the most perfect manner. Hence we justly conclude that all those who seek their salvation wholly or in part somewhere else, in reality deny him to be an only and perfect Saviour. Or, we may put it in this form: Those who seek salvation elsewhere than in Christ, whether in the saints, or in themselves, &c., do not believe in Jesus as an only Saviour. The Papists and Jesuits, who look upon their works as meritorious, do this. Therefore they do not believe in Jesus as their only Saviour.

Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pgs. 168-169

I conclude that neither church members nor officers who strictly subscribe to the 3 Forms of Unity (which include the Heidelberg Catechism), such as is required in churches of the continental Reformed tradition like the URC, are at liberty to follow this OR "trajectory" that denies that sola fide is necessary to orthodox, saving faith or sees the Roman system as being in accord with such faith.

The proof that this "trajectory" is foreign to a confessionally-Reformed train of thought is that deviant trajectories bring you to a place that is far, far away from travelers who took the other path at the fork in the road. I have found one such example as I was perusing Andrew Sandlin's blog some time back. I found, shining brightly, the implications of this trajectory. Sandlin's blog often has great stuff on it, so I was saddened to see that he had officiated at the wedding of a "devout Roman Catholic" (the groom) and a "devout Protestant" (the bride). Sandlin says:
Does the Bible forbid the marriage of a Roman Catholic and Protestant? It does not. Here the revered Westminster Confession blunders badly (24:3), forbiddingProtestant marriage with “papists, or other idolaters,” offering as “proofs” Scriptures that warn against marriages with those who embrace false gods and allegedly prohibit all “mixed marriages.”

The WCF supposedly "blunders" here - I suggest it is because Sandlin has taken a road foreign to the priorities and logic of the Confession and the Westminster Divines. So they end up in different places. Sandlin's defense, that Rome's espousal of the early ecumenical creeds is sufficient to consider it orthodox, goes contrary to the fundamental value the confessions and Reformers assigned to the doctrine of sola fide to the nature of saving faith (individually) and to orthodoxy (as a visible church). If "being of one mind" on the fundamentals of the faith is vital to unity and purity in the visible church, how much MORE vital is it to the unity and purity of a one-flesh, matrimonial union? Sandlin called this Roman Catholic/Protestant wedding an "intra-faith, inter-sector wedding." I call it an astonishing lack of pastoral discernment.

Category: Theoblogia


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