In case they don’t approve these

To my surprise OB approved one of my comments.  I wonder why they haven’t approved this one.  Maybe they know, apropos my last sentence, that they can’t give a non-circular justification of their traditions.
  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I’m not saying the distinction is perfect, but an answer does hint itself. The concept of equity. Paul even acknowledged this in 1 Corinthians. A circumstance of worship is choosing whether to worship at 3 AM or 11 AM. Both could be pleasing to God, but equity–for most communities, anyway–facilitates the latter.

    And even some Scottish churches–especially during the Killing Times–worshiped standing up (since they were in the fields!). In fact, we can even see hints of a congregation sitting in 1 Corithians. When Paul admonishes their bad Eucharistic practices, he seems to suggest they are to be at something akin to a feast, which most people celebrate in a sitting or reclining position. In fact, if we are to go back to even the Institution of the Supper, all of the disciples–John anyway–were reclining.

    As to your latter two paragraphs, I simply dispute the assertion that your traditions today are the same ones that Paul mentioned in his letters.

Some other five points

The biggest defenders of TULIP today are not Reformed Presbyterians, but young, Reformed and Restless baptists.  The difference is that the former see TULIP, such as it is, within the larger setting of Reformed Worship and the Covenant.  The latter see it as a freer floating system of doctrine.

Today’s Five Points are the Five Points of Perth, an attempted imposition of prelatic worship upon the people of Scotland.  For the most part, they are not immediately logically connected with soteriology.  I highlight them, though, because the Reformation–especially in its Scottish and Reformed manifestations–was a Reformation of worship.  If you do not grant that point you will never understand Reformation Thought.

If we want to reduce theology to serieses of Five Points, why limit it to soteriology?   Why not go the Covenantal Route?  Or the worship route.  Below are the Five Points of Perth that the Reformers rejected.

  1. Kneeling at Communion
  2. Private Communion
  3. Immediacy of Baptism to Infants
  4. Confirmation by Bishops
  5. Recognition of Holy Days

The Reformers rejected (1) because it implied a worship of the host. I agree, but I will take the rejection a step further: it is the Lord’s Supper.  We feast and sit at a supper.  We eat and commune with one another.   Kneeling makes this all but impossible.

In line with the above, we reject (2) because it is a communion of the church with one another.  How can we commune with one another when we are by ourselves?

(3) is different.  Provided health reasons aren’t an obstacle, there isn’t a problem with immediacy of baptism,  The Reformers objected because the article implies extreme baptismal regeneration.  The only way to keep the infant from hell was to get him baptized immediately in case he died.

(4) This can get interesting.  If one is using bishop in the original sense of adminstrator, then this isn’t much different from a Presbyterial ordination.  If on the other hand the bishop is the dispenser of sacramental grace and mediates a higher reality to us lower realities, then it is wrong.  That is neo-Platonism.

(5) I don’t have much to add on this beyond what is normally said.  What is interesting, though, is how this plays out.  I saw a generic evangelical minister argue that “If the church has a mid-week Christmas/Eostre service, then the believer is obligated to attend.”  He meant well, but this is nothing more than binding the conscience beyond what the word of God allows.

Are you using the right incense?

I have one more post in my series on High Southern Culture.  I plan to address the historiography of the so-called “Confederates in the Pulpit.”   A minor detour for the moment.  The closest any high church tradition can get in the bible’s commanding our use of incense is in Malachi 1:11

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be[b] great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.

Granted this isn’t actually a command but it seems that God sees their use of incense in the coming generations.  Several difficulties come to mind:

  1. To be consistent with the text, are you also offering “the pure offering?”   If you spiritualize that part of the text, why is the Protestant wrong in spiritualizing the incense part?
  2. Are you using the proper formula set forth in Exodus 30:9 (You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it)?
  3. If you are not offering the 1:1 formula, you are literally playing with fire, since the “non-judge-non-wrathful-God not-killed” Nadab and Abihu for offering unauthorized incense.
  4. If you are using the 1:1 formula, then one has to ask why we as New Covenant Christians have to go back to the types and shadows which the Book of Hebrews put a stop to?

Turretin on post New-Covenant, non-canonical festivals

(These–and others–are some old notes that I had on Turretin which I thought I had published)

First of all, festivals properly so-called must be commanded by the divine word because God has the right of proscribing how he wants to be worshiped.  The question then follows, do we see any such command?  Any appeal to “unwritten tradition” assumes what it is trying to prove and thus commits the fallacy of “asserting the consequence” (It looks like this:  if p, then q.   Q; therefore, p.  A Protestant inquirer could ask of the anchorites, “Where is the biblical warrant for practicing x?   The anchorite could then respond, ‘St Paul told us to ‘hold to the traditions.’” The problem comes in the next question, “How do we know that the traditions that Paul mentioned are the ones you are doing today?”  The anchorite can give one of two answers to this question:  if he says that the the church has remained unbroken in its liturgy; therefore, it is the practices observed today, then he has just affirmed the consequent of his argument and reasoned fallaciously.  On the other hand, he can admit that he doesn’t know if the traditions are the same, in which case the Reformed objection stands).

But what of Paul’s keeping the feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16)?  Several things may be observed:  1) This could be seen as the time-between-times of Old and New Covenant; 2) Paul nowhere intimates that it should be kept necessarily; 3) if it Pentecost is to be kept necessarily, in no way does it follow that saints’ days today are binding on the conscience.

An interesting Puritan take is seen in the following clip, where Generals Cromwell and Rainsborough force the surrender of some Cavaliers.

Review: Recovering Reformed Confession

Whether intended or not, Dr Clark’s book can be focused around three themes: 1) a distinctively Reformed piety flows from a Reformed theology and this piety will be directly counter to the 2) Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) and 3) The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). The latter two are evident when people want to have a type of infallible knowledge beyond that which human beings are capable of (QIRC) and a religious experience that promises more of heaven than is possible in this present age (QIRE).

Dr Clark has an interesting chapter on confessional subscription and thoroughly summarizes the debates within conservative Reformdom. To be honest, I couldn’t follow it, though I suspect it raised an interesting point for Dr Clark: he wants to hold to a thorough and strict confessional subscription, yet he recognizes the he differs from the Confessions on the civil magistrate and creation.

He has a strong chapter on the Regulative Principle and convincingly argues for the singing of only inspired songs (not EP, though).

Analysis and Conclusion

Sometimes God does promise and give heaven

Clark’s larger argument is that we should be suspicious of those who claim that we should have spiritual experiences outside the divinely-established means of grace and preaching of the Word. Admittedly, this is a fair point. Clark’s antagonist is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). MLJ repeatedly urged for a “revival” to come, understanding revival as an experimental outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Clark, 79). Clark rebuts him, noting that MLJ is advocating Calvin’s doctrine without Calvin’s sacramental piety. Clark does admit, though, that MLJ never used “revival” to manipulate his own people (81).

Clark takes issue with Iain Murray’s distinction between “revival” and “revivalism.” In the first category would be Reformed evangelists like Edwards and Whitefield. In the latter category we have the horror of today’s evangelicalism. Clark accuses Murray of using providence to justify revivals he likes but ignoring providence on revivals he doesn’t like (81-82). Clark concludes his critique of Murray by asserting on Murray’s gloss what unites true Christianity is “experience, not doctrine” (82).

Clark does a good job in pointing out some weaknesses in individual Reformed evangelists and in some of the more inane happenings in the First Great Awakening. He also points out what many are now beginning to realize: Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed confession on a number of key philosophical points. Clark also establishes that Harry Stout’s narrative of Whitefield cannot be so easily dismissed.

There are some inconsistencies and factual errors in Clark’s analysis, though. Murray does not simply lump the Arminian and Calvinistic revivals in the same category. He is very critical of the Second Great Awakening towards its end. Further, Murray does not promote experience over doctrine as the basis of unity. Murray is specifically arguing, however, that the communions in North America shared a common, if somewhat broad, doctrinal agreement on soteriological concerns. I would probably side with Clark on this one, since Murray’s account downplays important ecclesial issues, but it is not the case that Murray simply compromised doctrinal agreement. Most importantly, however, is that Clark does not come to grips with Iain Murray’s distinction between revival and revivalism. The latter is not merely hoping for the Spirit of God to be poured out as an alternative to the means of grace. It is more properly seen as “whooping and hollering” until the decisions come. Revival, on the other hand, is when God sovereignly displays his power among his people in an unusual way. Further, Clark seems to grant that distinction with regard to MLJ (Clark, 81) but not with Murray.

I suspect MLJ overplayed his hand on the importance of revival. Clark is correct on one point: the church’s sanctification is through the means of grace and discipline. That is the established norm. I think I can also argue, though, that MLJ’s views can be modified and accommodate some of Clark’s concerns on this point. MLJ strongly argued “that the New Testament appeal to sanctification is always an appeal to the reason of the believing man” (Murray, The Fight of Faith, 173). Of course, one would need to supplement this statement with a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, but it is a good start.

While Clark is correct that MLJ probably doesn’t represent good Reformed ecclesiology, MLJ’s exegesis is not so easily dismissed. Perhaps MLJ’s understanding of the 1859 revival doesn’t rest on exegesis (with that I agree with Clark), but MLJ’s understanding of the nature of revival and even the continuation of spiritual gifts (and I know this is uncomfortable with many) does rest upon carefully-reasoned exegesis (cf. MLJ, Prove all Things, 32-33; Joy Unspeakable, p. 21, 23; The Sovereign Spirit, p. 26, 120, pp. 31-32). In any case, MLJ does encourage his congregation to delight in the day of small things and to be careful in seeking “phenomena.” That at least must be granted. I agree with Clark that MLJ was perhaps a bit too dismissive of anyone who disagreed with him. That was not helpful on the latter’s part.

I fear that Clark’s model of QIRE, while valuable, can be overused to filter out any contrary evidence. Further, it does not account for a lot of the Puritans’ experiences where they were in fact met with much of the Spirit of God. At this point if Clark dismisses them and uses Calvin’s praxis against them, then it is hard to see how he is not adopting some form of the Calvin vs. Calvinists scheme.

I have had some questions about Clark’s analysis. I think I have demonstrated that it is incomplete. I agree with his overall vision for the Reformed church’s sanctification through Word and Sacrament and that those who constantly seek revival downplay this. Further, I agree with all of his criticisms of Edwards and most of his criticisms of Whitefield. That said, however, Clark’s analysis really can’t account for the fact that God indeed does refresh his church in powerful ways from time to time. Admittedly, we are interpreting facts at this point, but they are still facts. While we shouldn’t sit on our hands waiting for revival to come, that does not mean that when God sovereignly displays his power in our lives we should say to him, “No God, this isn’t how you work.” (Of course, I don’t think Clark is saying that).

An Infallible Assurance?

We are grateful that Clark has shown us how to develop a piety around a specifically Reformed epistemology. A proper use of the ectypal distinction can save one from spiritual death. The ectypal distinction is one of the most useful Reformed tools against some traditionalistic apologetics. If we can only know according and within the human limits of knowledge, then we can rest content with a modest certainty on some important issues (election, the canon, etc). I have to wonder, though, if Clark’s model can accommodate all the evidence. For example, how can a proper limited certainty coexist with the WCF’s affirmation that we can have “an infallible assurance?”

Clark’s model is good and should be employed in the Reformed world. I think, however, it might become a victim to its own successes. As when Vos’ “already-not yet” model proved very helpful in eschatology, it also unwittingly served to stifle further discussion.


Two good cessationist responses to Strange Fire

I cite Doug Wilson with caution.  Few men have done more mischief to the Reformed faith, but this is a good article.  The next one is by a Fundamentalist Baptist.   They are both perceptive.  Exactly on what grounds can 90% of the Conservative Evangelical world criticize these guys for “strange fire” when nobody in this discussion even pretends to have a biblical view of worship (e.g., what God commands)?

Problems with using Temple as liturgical template

Scott Clark hits a home run on this point.   Critics of Reformed worship point out that high church traditions have a rich heritage that draws upon the intricate symbolism of the Mosaic temple.   We Reformed agree, actually.   That is the problem.  Clark notes (244ff):

  1. The temple was instituted under Moses as part of a theological system that was temporary.  It was the center of the cultus that Paul described as “fading” (2 Cor. 3:7-11).
  2. The NT does use temple imagery to describe Christians, but it never draws liturgical inferences from that imagery, only moral and theological.
  3. To use the temple as the center of Christian worship is inherently defective from the writer of Hebrews perspective (Heb. 8:1–10:18).