Continuationism and proving Van Til right on evidence

Whenever I doubt the truth of presuppositional apologetics, I read discussions where TRs doubt that God’s power gifts continue today.  Now, I have no problem with someone coming up with a logical argument that the Spirit’s power isn’t active today.  Fair enough.  I just think a lot of the conversations are funny.

A note on prophesy:  this is one of the most debated terms in the Bible. The problem is that the NT really doesn’t give a neat usage of the term.  Older Puritan writers often equated it with Preaching, in which case the gift obviously continues today.   Most people, cessationist or otherwise, see that usage won’t stand up to five minutes of Scrutiny.  Even worse, some say it is the Spirit applying the truths (timeless, of course; not messy historical contingencies) to day-to-day situations.  In that case, everyone of God’s children should prophesy.  But that seems inadequate and ignores almost all of the NT texts.

A quick rejoinder:  But prophesy doesn’t always mean telling the future.  Sure.  But that did happen.

But God’s word meant the death penalty if your prophesy didn’t come true.   Okay, I’ll grant that for the moment (though I think you can find examples in the OT where godly men were less than 100% accurate and they didn’t die).  But even with that terrifying injunction, you really don’t see NT believers afraid to prophesy.  That’s just the plain truth of the matter.  In fact–and it’s funny that the most rabid anti-theonomists become theonomists on this point–Paul urges all to prophesy.   I doubt the conversation went like this:

Paul:  Pursue all gifts, especially that you may prophesy, but be careful because if you are less than 100% accurate I am going to kill you.

Anyway, to the conversation.

Cessationist:  Show me one example of a Reformed Christian believing continuation of gifts continue.

Continuationist:  (insert example of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill prophesying/speaking the truth)

Cessationist:  Yeah, well that doesn’t count.

Translation:  you have your facts and I have my theory.  Too bad for your facts.

Why continue the conversation?

The problems facing American Neo-Covenanting

There is much good in the Covenanter tradition, and this post will pain many (myself most of all).  But if they want an intellectual (Or even better, political) future then they need to own up to some challenges.  I honor and admire Richard Cameron and Alexander Peden (hey, they received extra-scriptural prophecy.  Anybody want to take up that one?).  I do not think, however, that the entire Covenanting tradition was able to hold the strings together.  And that’s not just my take on it. I think Moore argues the same thing (Our Covenant Heritage). These challenges are not simply my making up because people started slandering Christ’s elders in his church on Facebook (like Stonewall Jackson).  They point to deeper issues.

While the problems in the Covenanter tradition can easily point back to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (cf Maurice Grant’s biographies of both Cameron and Cargill; excellent reads), I was alerted to some of the tensions by T. Harris.  Again, I am writing this so Covenanters can work out the difficulties now instead of having to make hard and fast choices on the field of battle later.   You can be angry with me, but I am your best friend.

1.  The Hatred of the South

This is myopic and almost unhealthy.   Modern covenanting talks about how evil the South is and never once tries to work through the sticky issues of how best to help freed slaves.   Or slaves who didn’t want to be freed.  As evil as slavery might have been, simply throwing the blacks out on the street only it makes it worse.   The slave-owners (and many slaves) knew this.

And it really comes back to the question:  is the relation between master and slave sinful?  This is a very specific question.  This is why Freshman atheists have a field day with us.  But I know the response:  buying stolen property, especially human property, is sinful.  Perhaps it is, but didn’t Paul know this when he outlined healthy parameters for both masters and slaves?  How do you think the ancient Romans got slaves in the first place?  Democratic vote?  They were often prisoners of war, babies of raped women, and worse.  And does Paul say, in good John Brown fashion, “Rise up slaves and kill your masters” (though to be fair John Brown actually killed white Northerners)?

Northern Covenanters love to boast on how they “deny communion to man-stealers.”    Harris notes in response,

Athenagoras, defending the church against the pagan charge of cannibalism said, “moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us.” (Early Church Fathers, ed. C.C. Richardson, p. 338). But Alexander McLeod says to the slaveholder, “you cannot be in the church,” (p. 25) and this posture was eventually ratified by the entire covenanter church. On this point, their righteousness exceeded even that of our Lord and the apostles. And that is heady stuff.

Am I saying we should have slaves today?  Of course not.  But we need to seriously think through these issues instead of giving non-answers like “Christianity provided for civilization to move forward without slavery.”  To which I say, “early Medieval Russia.”

2.  The strange love-affair with Lincoln

This is odd, too.  Lincoln really didn’t care for Christianity and he routinely made darkie jokes.   He was the biggest white supremacist of the 19th century.  He ran on the platform, in essence, that he would not free a single slave.  My Covenanter friends–you are being deceived.

Someone could respond, “You’re just angry that the South lost.”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  That brings up another point

3.  Consistently outmaneuvered politically and militarily

Why is it that the Covenanters who have such a heroic (and rightly earned) reputation for godly resistance during the Killing  Times have routinely been outmaneuvered in the public square?  I’ll give three examples: Bothwell Bridge, Cromwell, and The War Between the States.

Bothwell

The Covenanters had already proved themselves at Drumclog.  Further, Bothwell Bridge forced the Royalists into a chokepoint.   While the ultimate cause for the covenanters defeat was lack of artillery and ammo, the outcome was in the air for a while.   The problem was whether to allow Indulged parties to participate.  Granted, the Indulged sinned and were under God’s judgment.  Cameron and others were right to resist elsewhere, but Bothwell was not an ecclesiastical act.  It was a military one.   Indulged ammunition wasn’t sinful per se.

Cromwell

Covenanters call Cromwell the Usurper.   It is somewhat ironic given that these Covenanters had fought a war of defiance (rightly so) against the very same king.  I have to ask, though, precisely what did you expect when rallying behind the (well-known) debauched papal pervert Charles II?  Granted, he vowed the covenants.  Granted, he should have owned up to them.   Still, anyone could have seen how this was going to end.

How else was Cromwell to interpret this?   He knew the Covenanters were militarily capable, so he is seeing an armed host rallying behind the dynasty against which both had recently fought a war.  But even then, the Covenanters could have held him off and forced a peace.   Their actions at Dunbar as as unbelievable as they are inexplicable.  They had the advantage of both place and time.  Ignoring that, they decided to meet Cromwell on equal footing.  In response, Cromwell executed one of the most perfect maneuvers in military history (that was still studied and practiced in the 20th century by America, England, and Germany) and in effect subdued Scotland.

To make it worse, Grant notes that Cromwell’s subjugation of Scotland allowed the kirk to flourish spiritually.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.

Lincoln (again)

I must quote Harris in detail for full affect.

“Most of its members were enthusiastically for the war and anxious to participate in it as far as they could without violating their principle of dissent from the government.” (p. 58) This despite the fact that Lincoln himself constantly said the war was not about slavery. We now know Lincoln was a pathological liar; the covenanters must have known this in their bones as well, and gave vent to their approval of the “real reason,” concealed by Lincoln. At any rate, it is hard to imagine them getting so excited about a war that was about enforced union. In view of their history, that would be ironic indeed.

However, they exhibited a certain naiveté in two ways which may go part way to explain the madness. At one point, they concocted an oath to propose to the US as a basis for enlisting in the army, an oath that would be consistent with continued resistance to full submission. “I do swear by the living God, that I will be faithful to the United States, and will aid and defend them against the armies of the Confederate States, yielding all due obedience to military orders.” (p. 58) The charming bit here is the notion of defending against the armies of the CSA — armies which were purely defensive, and which would have been glad to disperse and go home, if it weren’t for the invading and marauding union armies. Somehow, they had built up a mythic view of an aggressive South, gobbling up adjacent lands by force of arms.

Covenanting on the Ground

This is open for discussion.  How exactly is National Covenanting going to work today?  Surely it means more than strong-arming congress in rejecting the First Amendment.

Note Bene:  Harris’s quotations are from David M. Carson. Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, n/d).

A brief tribute to Ian Paisley

Granted, he wasn’t the most polished Reformed guy in ecclesiology or the most Confessional.  Still, he had what the Reformed world probably needed most:  courage.  He also had wisdom and insight.  Whereas most Reformed will reject Romanism for its deficient theology, and rightly so, Paisley saw it for the existential threat it is.  He knew the Jesuits have one goal:  the destruction of Protestant nations.  Modern Calvinists won’t touch that topic with a ten foot pole.

Find his sermons here.   If anything, they are fun. Find his sermon on Richard Cameron.  Two moments in it will give you chills: one when he is quoting Psalm 46 and the other when he is quoting Cameron’s sermon and says, “And the gates of Rome will burn!

How the mighty have fallen!

Tell it not in Gath; publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice

And the gates of Rome will burn

I am not a Postmillennialist, but historicists come close to making me one. In any case, I’ve always wondered about constructing a historic premil eschatology around the basis of historicism. Here is a stirring quote from Richard Cameron,

“LET CHRIST REIGN.” Let us study to have it set up amongst us. It is hard to tell where it shall be first erected, but our Lord is to set up a standard; and oh, that it may be carried to Scotland? When it is set up it shall be carried through the nations, and it shall go to Rome, and the gates of Rome shall be burned with fire. It is a standard that shall overthrow the throne of Britain, and all the thrones in Europe, that will not “kiss the Son lest he be angry; and in his anger they perish from the way.” “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth.”

Richard Cameron, ‘Sermon on Psalm 46:10′ in Sermons in times of persecution in Scotland, by sufferers for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, ed. James Kerr (Edinburgh, 1880), pp 457-8.

Reblogging some worship posts

My friend Daniel R. has some excellent sources on worship.  (Go to his site and read the rest of them.  I couldn’t quote all for space reasons) Particularly important is the idea that only God has the right to decide how he wants to be worshiped.  Remember Nadab and Abihu and fear.

Richard Cameron on instrumental music and the ceremonial law

Richard CameronThe Jewish way under the law of praising the Lord was upon the timbrel, the harp, psaltery, and ten-stringed instruments, and other instruments of music that belonged to the ceremonial worship that is now abolished.  Christ, who is the end of the law, has torn or taken away the ceremonies of the law, and there is no warrant now to make use of the organs, as they do in the Popish Church, and the Prelatic Church of England, and even among them that are more reformed, those over in Holland.  Oh, but we have a great advantage in being free of these!

Richard Cameron, ‘Sermon on Psalm 92 (undated)’ in Sermons in times of persecution in Scotland, by sufferers for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, ed. James Kerr (Edinburgh, 1880), p. 421.

John Calvin: is worship a secondary issue?

April 28, 2013

John CalvinJohn Calvin answers the above question in the negative when he says, “[F]or nothing is more wicked than to contrive various modes of worship without the authority of the word of God.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the gospel according to John, trans. William Pringle (Geneva, 1553) in Calvin’s commentaries (22 vols, Grand Rapids, 1993), xvii, 154.

John Brown of Haddington on the imprecatory psalms

April 14, 2013

RevJohnBrownAs for those psalms which contain DENUNCIATIONS of divine vengeance upon the enemies of God and his church, we are to consider, that these expressions were dictated by the infallible Spirit of God; that the objects of them were foreseen to be irreconcilable enemies of Christ and his church; that those who sing them, only applaud the equity of the doom which God hath justly pronounced upon such offenders; and that they are to be sung with a full persuasion of the event, as a certain, awful and just display of the glory and tremendous justice of JEHOVAH.  Though we ought, therefore, never to apply them to particular parties or persons who have injured us, yet to decline using them, out of a pretence of charity, is to suppose ourselves wiser than him whose understanding is infinite, and more merciful than the Father of mercies, who is full of compassion, and delighteth in mercy.  Moreover, as these external enemies, devoted to destruction, were in some sense emblematic of our spiritual enemies, within or without the passages may be sung with application to ourselves, as directed against these principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness, in high places, with whom we have to wrestle, while on earth, Eph. vi. 10-19. I Pet. v. 8, 9, Rom. viii. 13, Gal. v. 17-24.

John Brown of Haddington, The Psalms of David, in metre: allowed by the authority of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and of the Presbyterian Churches in America.  With notes exhibiting the connexion, explaining the sense, and for directing and animating devotion (Pittsburgh, 1812), v-vi.

Johannes Wollebius on the regulative principle

February 3, 2013

True Religion is, whereby God is worshipped by Rites and Ceremonies prescribed by himself; and his Name truly sanctified both through the whole course of our life, and chiefly at the times by himself appointed.

Johannes Wollebius, The abridgment of Christian divinity, trans. Alexander Ross (3rd edn, London, 1660), pp 329-30.

George Gillespie on the regulative principle of worship and the kingship of Christ

June 27, 2012

But how much more will the King of kings condemn me if I practice the ceremonies which I judge in my conscience to be contrary to the will of God, and to rob him of his royal prerogative?

George Gillespie, A dispute against the English Popish ceremonies obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 12.

George Gillespie on Christian liberty in worship

May 11, 2012

Either, then, let it be shown out of God’s word that non-conformity, and the refusing of the English popish ceremonies, is a fault, or else let us not be thought bound by men’s laws where God’s law hath left us free.

George Gillespie, A dispute against the English Popish ceremonies obtruded on the Church of Scotland (1637; Edinburgh, 1844), p. 90.

 

Donald Cargill: No King But Christ

Grant, Maurice, No King but Christ

The best way to describe Donald Cargill’s life is “Richard Cameron minus the muskets.”  He stood for the same principles as Cameron but ultimately did not actively confront the government.  Cargill’s life is not that different from other Covenanter field preachers, but he is set apart in that he excommunicated the king and thought out a coherent (if too cautious) theory of resistance.

No King But Christ, The Story of Donald Cargill  -     
        By: Maurice Grant

Like Cameron and other field preachers, Cargill rejected compromises like the Indulgence (an interesting study would be to compare the Indulgences of the post-1660 Indulgences to today’s 501(c)(3) exemptions; warning: you will lose your job as an academician if you do so). They saw this as a concession of Christ’s royal prerogatives, not only to the state, but to a debauched and degenerate monarch.  Who ruled the Church?  Jesus or the State?   It is important to point out that both sides saw their claims as absolute (shades of Rushdoony!).  If the Erastian position is true, then any resistance to his ecclesiastical claims is in fact a resistance to his civil claims.   A conservative theorist can no longer simply say, “We will resist you in the ecclesiastical realm by spiritual weapons, but we won’t resist in the civil realm.”  The Erastian (quite consistently) sees no such distinction.

Resistance

If such was the opposition between church and state, then it is hard to avoid the outcome.  This is where I think Cargill was inconsistent.  He saw the issues as clearly as Cameron did (or even more clearly), but he refused to follow the applications like Cameron did.   At his trial, his Erastian accusers asserted that Cargill’s Melvillian 2-Kingdom view led to civil disobedience (and granting their premises, they were correct):  since the Crown was metaphysically one (cf. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies), any rejection of one aspect of its sovereignty, pace Head of the Church, is in fact a rejection of the Crown entire.   As Grant notes, it is civil, not ecclesiastical disobedience.

Second issue:  Charles II had sworn to abide by the sanctions of the Solemn League & Covenant–he based his legitimacy on them (which covenants, the Word of God calls binding, Galatians 3:15).  He broke the covenants; therefore, he forfeited his legitimacy over Presbyterian Scotland.  It was on these grounds that Cameron took up arms (and on other legitimate grounds; lawful self-defense and defense of the helpless, which natural law says we can do [it’s so fun to appeal to natural law when it comes to resistance; critics of theonomy don’t know what to do with that! LOL]).  And since Charles’ troops were raping and murdering their way across Presbyterian Scotland, Cameron’s struggle was a limited, defensive war which had already been justified by Samuel Rutherford.

Cargill refused to follow Cameron on these principles, but I think Cameron was right.  Given the Crown’s metaphysical assumptions, it made no sense to plead for a partial resistance.  Given that the oaths that Charles II swore to implicitly called for his removal if he broke them, resistance was justified since the law implied that.

Notwithstanding, Cargill died well.  The book is well-written and the endnotes provide a gold mine of interesting information.   Interestingly, in this book Grant is quite critical of Cameron’s actions, but in Grant’s biography of Cameron written over a decade later, he tries to justify Cameron’s actions.