Saturday, December 14, 2019

Cinedoc: By What Standard?

The Cinedoc produced by Founder Ministries is finally released, and it can be watched here. Although it deals mainly with issues in the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States, the issues will spill over into other churches and denominations in this globalized world.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Errant doctrinal points of the Federal Vision

The Federal Vision started out as a biblicist reformed program. Over time, it began to systematize its thoughts, and the final document (at least that I know of) that showed its main doctrines is the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession. So what exactly does the Federal Vision believe? While there are various elements of Federal Vision, here are some key points of the Federal Vision that are contrary to the Christian faith:

  1. Election is immutable and the elect will always be saved. However, not everyone who is in the Covenant of Grace is elect and will be saved. Some in the Covenant are truly and really in the Covenant of Grace, but they chose to apostatize from the faith and thus are not truly elect.(Decretal/Covenant Dialectic)
  2. Apostasy is a true falling away from a real participation in the Covenant of Grace.
  3. The visible church refers to all professing Christians who may or may not be elect. However, all in the visible church are in the Covenant of Grace (unless they apostatize). The invisible church is currently not present, but will be manifest at the end times (invisible is eschatological), where it will be manifest who in the visible church have shown themselves to be truly elect because they did not apostatize from the faith but are faithful to the Covenant. (True faith is a 'living faith'))
  4. There may be a Covenant of Life with Adam (some FVists deny this). But even if there is a Covenant of Life with Adam, all of God's covenants have essentially the same form. There may be different parties, different conditions, and different rewards. However, all of God's covenants have the form: "Believe in God, be faithful, and you will live" (Monocovenantal Legalism)
  5. There is no Law-Gospel hermeneutic. All of Scripture can be Law to those who do not believe. All of Scripture will be Gospel to those who believe.

You will note that I did not once mention the word "baptism" in those errant points. This it not because baptism is not important in Federal Vision, because they (in common with the orthodox Reformed) see baptism as the rite of covenant initiation, but rather their error lies in their view of the covenant, while the issue with baptism is merely the outworking of their doctrinal errors in practical church life. That is why I have said that Baptists can be Federal Vision, because the Federal Vision is all about their view of the nature of God's covenants, not the nature of baptism.

[See also: For those just turning in: What is the Federal Vision?]

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Why Douglas Wilson remains Federal Vision, and is wrong

It seems the article by Brandon Adams has caught the attention of the biggest name in Federal Vision, Douglas Wilson, who has responded in his article entitled with a slight against R. Scott Clark (RSC). Wilson claims he is orthodox, and denies that he holds to any of the five points of Federal Vision summarized by Dr. Clark.

For me, I have no desire to interact with Wilson on the issue of RSC's five points, which are simplified summaries of Federal Vision. Rather my point is note the following: Wilson remains Federal Vision, and his Federal Vision is biblically wrong.

First, Wilson is and remains Federal Vision. In his supposed "recanting" of Federal Vision, Federal Vision No Mas, Wilson wrote the following:

This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe. It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe. ... I would still want affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement, ...

In other words, Wilson does not want to be called Federal Vision because he does not want to own everything that is under the umbrella of Federal Vision. That for sure is fair enough. Wilson does not want to be lumped in with people like Leithart or Jordan. What he believes is what he believes, and others do not speak for him. However, what did he say he believes? He states that he would still "affirm everything ... in the Federal Vision statement," referring to the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession, which I have shown to be in error here. In other words, Wilson remains Federal Vision, as he has not recanted signing the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession.

Second, Wilson's version of Federal Vision remains heretical. As one reads Wilson's article, note that nothing in the article precludes the Federal Vision understanding of salvation. We must remember to read it using the dialectical pairs of decretal versus covenantal, and invisible/ eschatological versus visible/ present. Wilson claims he is following the WCF when he states that faith is a living faith, but here he misquotes WCF 11.2, whereby the part of the living faith is mentioned only after what faith is has already been described in the first part of WCF 11.2. A living faith is living as a consequence of faith, not because obedience is necessary for faith itself, but because faith necessarily leads to obedience. Thus, Wilson is still a neonomian despite his protests to the contrary.

What is most illuminating in Wilson's article however is where Wilson shows his FV heresy in his comment to Adams, as follows:

Brandon, thanks. Not a contradiction. There is a difference between the condition of the covenant itself and the condition for keeping the covenant. The central aspect of the first covenant was to believe what God said about not eating the fruit. The central aspect of the second covenant is to believe what God said about the resurrection of Jesus. But men, always and everywhere, must believe God. Right?

As it can be seen, for Wilson, the Covenant of Works has the condition of believing God by not eating the fruit. The Covenant of Grace has the condition of believing God by believing in the resurrection of Christ. What is the condition for the first covenant? Faith. What is the condition for the second covenant? Also faith. In Wilson's view, the Covenant of Works is not "Do this and live" (c.f. Lev. 18:5), while the Covenant of Grace is not "believe and you will live." No, rather, both are "believe and do to live." That obedience is necessary for salvation is seen in a subsequent comment, where Wilson said, in reference to God's covenants, "One of the common characteristics on our side is that all of us would have to do what He says. We would have to comply, or be obedient."

One of the reasons why I called Federal Vision monocovenantal legalism is that it is monocovenantal, where the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace have the same form (not necessarily the same content). It is legalism because in both covenants, obedience is necessary to the covenant. Whereas in orthodox Reformed Covenant Theology, obedience is necessary for the Covenant of Works, but our obedience is absolutely unnecessary for the Covenant of Grace. Our evangelical obedience comes AFTER the covenant has been established, AFTER salvation has already been determined. Once someone is in the Covenant of Grace, there is nothing that can cause the person to fall away, and nothing means nothing including disobedience. That is what perseverance of the saints actually teach, that even the person saved cannot "undo" his salvation. Again, this is not to say obedience is not important for the Christian. But it has nothing to do with the basis for salvation, under the Covenant of Grace.

That Wilson see obedience as necessary for both covenants to be saved proves he is still an unrepentant Federal Vision heretic, and therefore should be avoided as someone who pays lip service to Justification by Faith Alone yet undermines it in the very next breath.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Again: Can Baptists be Federal Visionists?

[Previous posts on this here and here]

In his article, Brandon Adams wrote an analytic overview of the issues concerning the White/Wilson/ Clark kerfuffle. One major issue is whether Baptists can become or be influenced by Federal Vision (FV). Adams argued that Baptists cannot become Federal Visionists, but they can become influence by it to become neonimians.

On the question as to whether Baptists can be Federal Visionists, my response would be, "How do you define Federal Vision?" Does being FV imply full assent to every single proposition in the 2007 Joint FV Statement? Or is it affiliation with CREC (Confederacy of Reformed and Evangelical Churches)? Or something else? Certainly, if Federal Vision is taken in its fullness, then sure, Baptists cannot be Federal Visionists. But are there certain core aspects of Federal Vision that Baptists can assimilate into their beliefs? Most certainly.

The core belief of Federal Vision that should be the most concerning for Christians is the issue of the nature of faith. Look again at the Joint FV Statement on the topic of Justification by Faith Alone:

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

As I had written, the Joint FV Statement redefines fiducia from a passive reception of Christ into an active faithfulness. That is why it is claimed that the parts of faith are "assent, knowledge and living trust." That faithfulness is understood as being of the nature of saving faith is seen in its chapter on apostasy, whereby it is affirmed that apostasy is a real cutting off that is not "merely external." That means that the person who once had faith but was cut off was indeed a true Christian. Yes, he is not "decretally elect," but that is because there is a dialectic at work here between decree and covenant. The "decree" is eschatological, not actually present in real time in full. That is why a person who come to have faith is treated as covenantally of the elect (because covenant is the category in time), whereas whether he truly is "decretally" elect must await final confirmation without apostasy at the last day.

The question then is can Baptists adopt these dialectical pairs (decretal/ covenantal, visible/invisible church) without at the same time adopting the FV view of children. I do not see a reason why not. But if that is the case, can those Baptists be called FVists? Honestly, the label is not that important to me (whether FV or Neonomian). But why I think FV is a better label for that error is that neonomianism itself does not have these dialectical pairs. Neonomianism in itself merely states that obedience to the law is necessary (antecedent) for a Christian's salvation. Whereas these dialectical pairs come about through a more holistic view of biblical and covenantal theology. What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from adopting a dialectic between decree and covenant, or between the visible and invisible church? What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from holding faithfulness as necessary (antecedent) for salvation?

Can Baptists be Federal Visionists? Not if you think Federal Visionists must included inclusion of children in the covenant. But since it is possible to reject that while agreeing with the other parts of the FV theology, Baptists can indeed be "credobaptist FVists."

[P.S.: Yes, while the Joint FV Statement was not written to be "a confessional statement by any ecclesiastical assembly or body," yet it can function as a legitimate expression of FV theology]

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The "Doctrinal Triage"

For his Masters of Divinity degree, Eric Powers has written a thesis entitled "Is there any Biblical Warranty for the Doctrinal Triage," which can be accessed here. In this 2016 thesis, Powers argues that there is no biblical warrant for the doctrinal triage: the view that doctrines can be split into first-order, second-order, and third-order doctrines. Citing Al Mohler, among others, the triage is described as follows: first-order doctrines are those that are non-negotiable; second-order doctrines are those that are "denominational distinctives" and are doctrines that, while serious, Christians can disagree with without calling salvation into question; third-order doctrines are less serious doctrines that Christians can disagree on within a church (pp. 13-14). Powers engages some of the texts used to support this notion of doctrinal triage and shows that they do not in fact promote this teaching. Rather, any claim of order of doctrine is one of the relation of foundation to the building. In this view, the foundational doctrines are required for the other doctrines, yet there is no sense in which we can say that the doctrines built upon that foundation is any 'less important' or 'less essential' than the foundational doctrines required for them. Interestingly enough, Powers appealed to the unity (and simplicity) of God to ground his view that all doctrines are "relevant to the believer and are equally true" (p. 68; pp. 68-73).

Coming from a confessional perspective means that I do not start with a view of doctrinal importance based on some notion of triage. At the same time, the doctrinal triage is practiced in broad Evangelicalism, under various names, and it is clear that it has been used (or abused) to allow for toleration of doctrinal errors within the church. This thesis is indeed a helpful piece of work as it addresses the tendency within Evangelicalism to water down and downplay doctrinal differences among professing Christians and churches.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The sordid state of American Reformed Christianity on Twitter

On October 11, 2019, I had posted a response to Todd Pruit's tweet attacking a paragraph written by Douglas Wilson. In response to this, as I had previously commented on, Dr. Clark decided to block me on Twitter:

So as it can be seen, there are some against the FV who are factionalists. But what about the opposite side? Well, I decided to attempt to engage Richard Pierce of Alpha and Omega Ministries on Twitter, in a thread as follows:

My somewhat sketchy screenshots of the entire thread is as follows:

Despite my attempt at genuine conversation, Pierce decided that he has no wish to engage, slandered me as an "inquisitor" alongside my "inquisitor friends," and blocked me.

I guess I should not be astonished any longer, but I am astonished that Christian leaders on Twitter are now behaving like the world. I assert that one must be truthful even about Douglas Wilson, and I get blocked by one side. I attempted to reason that Federal Vision is a heresy attacking the faith, and I got blocked by the other side. Is there any Christian leader left on American Reformed Twitter that has some semblance of maturity, instead of behaving like children in a schoolyard!? How is all such refusal to actually engage the issue helpful for the truth? Both sides are like two kids screaming at each other from opposite sides of the hallway, refusing to engage. And these are our pastors and theologians?! God help us.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Who can partake of the Lord's Supper?

If you have received Christ and are resting upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to you in the gospel, if you are a baptized and professing communicant member in good standing in a church that professes the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ ... ["The Directory for the Public Worship of God," III.C.3. In: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (2011 Edition) (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2011)]

According to confessional Reformed practice and piety, who should be partaking of the Lord's Supper? If we take seriously the commands of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, then we must say that the Lord's Supper is not open to anyone and everyone. Those who partake of it illegitimately eat and drink damnation upon themselves. I shudder when I see parents in certain (non-Reformed) churches break pieces of the consecrated bread and give it to their children. How can they hate their children so much to invite judgment upon them? But I digress.

If the Lord's Supper is not to be open to anyone and everyone, and most certainly it is to be taken in a spirit of reverence (instead of the irreverence of the Corinthians which had gotten them killed in judgment), then the Church ought to guard the Supper. The guarding of the Supper is not to protect the elements, for we do not believe they are transformed into the divine substance in any way. Rather, from the passage in 1 Corinthians, the practice of "guarding the Supper" is meant to protect those who partake of it. Guarding of the Supper is meant to protect the irreverent from eating and drinking further judgment upon themselves. As a sacrament given to the Church, it is the Church that administers it to God's people. Therefore, as a church-instituted ritual, other qualifications soon come to bear to ensure that the Lord's Supper is to be properly administered.

In the conflict that is the Reformation, the Reformers inquired into the nature of the true church. The signs of the true church, according to the Reformed tradition, are: the right preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the Lord's Supper, and the right administration of church discipline. In order for the Lord's Supper to be properly administered, it must be administered in both elements (Bread and wine), by a minister rightly ordained, in a true church that preaches the Gospel, to church members who are not under legitimate church discipline. The phrase in Reformed circles for legitimate partakers of the Lord's Supper therefore can be framed to be for "members of good standing, in a church of like faith." It is of course agreed that only Christians can partake of the Supper. But besides that, the qualifications for someone to partake of the Supper is encapsulated in that phrase, which will be unpacked as follows.

The first qualification for partaking of the Supper is that someone is a church member. Since the Supper is an ecclesial ritual, a rite given to the Church, only those who are members of churches can partake. Since we are saved into the church, it stands to reason that those without membership in a church are not affiliated with the institution of salvation and thus should not partake of the Supper.

The second qualification is that the one partaking is a communicant member. This is obvious since the Supper is to be done "in remembrance of me." Non-communicant covenant children have not yet come to a profession of faith and thus cannot fulfil what is commanded of believers to do.

The third qualification is that the member must be a "member in good standing." This means that the member is not being placed under legitimate church discipline for sins committed in his life. Grievous unrepentant sin is a scourge in the church, and must be dealt with just as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 5:5. The term "legitimate" is stressed since the false church always persecutes the true church, just as Martin Luther and the Reformers were excommunicated by the apostate Late Medieval Catholic Church.

Fourthly, the one who partakes must be in a member in "a church of like faith." What this means is that it is recognized that his church is a true church "of like faith." The Reformers struggled against both the emerging Roman Catholicism and the Anabaptists. If the church is a false church, then someone being a member therein means nothing whatsoever since that is not a church. Progressing further in history, we have the Arminian controversy in early 17th century Dutch Reformed Christianity, where the Classical Arminians were kicked out of the church for false teaching. Some of the expelled ministers in time form their own Arminian churches. Since these ministers are under church discipline themselves, their churches are not biblical and neither can membership in them be considered true church membership in true churches.

With the emergence of Evangelicalism in the late 18th century, the issue of what constitute a true church "of like faith" becomes more difficult to discern. Evangelicalism to a large extent believes in the true Gospel, so it seems that members in their churches can be considered members of churches "of like faith." On the other hand, particularly with New Evangelicalism, heretics of all sorts abound within, extending even to entire churches. So how does one discern whether a membership in a church is a membership of a "church of like faith"?

Concerning this, much discernment and wisdom is required. In some sense, it can be said that Evangelical churches meet the criteria for being "churches of like faith." Yet, in another sense, they do not since many of them tolerate heretics and heresies in their midst. Thus, the "line" if you will is not so clear cut, running somewhere between Evangelicalism broadly and confessional Reformed churches only, narrowly. Generally speaking, members in Reformed churches can be considered "of like faith" while those in Evangelicalism should be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Who are those therefore who can partake of the Lord's Supper? They are to be believers, members in good standing, in a church of like faith. Failing to meet either of these criteria means that one should not partake of the Supper, even if one truly believes in Christ for salvation, so that the Supper is not defiled by the stain of someone taking it improperly, resulting in judgment upon the one partaking.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Rachel Miller and Issues of Ancient History

In the blog Ars Politica, an article was written in response to WHI's review of Rachel Miller's book Beyond Authority and Submission, dealing with the historical facts of ancient Greco-Roman civilization. The article is indeed fascinating, so do read it here.

Factionalism and Argumentum Ad Hitlerum

My response to Todd Pruitt seemed to have hit a sore spot with my former adviser R. Scott Clark, who has decided to block me on Twitter. His actions I dare say has only proven my point. It must be noted that my argument is NOT that Wilson can be trusted. It is NOT arguing that Wilson is not a heretic. It is NOT arguing that Wilson should be listened to on any topic. My argument is simply that one must accurately represent even one's opponents. Unfortunately, from the ESS fiasco to this, factionalism has reigned supreme in the Reformed blogosphere. Despite my rejection of Federal Vision as heresy, evidently I must follow the group in wholesale denunciation of Wilson or I will be given the left boot of disfellowship.

The argument that Pruitt and Clark and others are engaging in is the ad Hittlerum fallacy. Basically, the ad Hitlerum argument states that something is wrong because the source is evil. So, X is wrong because Hitler said it. Likewise, whatever Wilson (the "devil incarnate") says is wrong, by definition. But what if Wilson says 2 + 2 = 4? Is that wrong, or can we say that Wilson has that one correct? From the past actions of Dr. Clark, I suspect he can manage to give reasons why Wilson is wrong in saying 2 + 2 = 4 as well!

The sad thing about factionalism is its disregard of the truth. Dr. Clark has continued to harp on the dangers of the Federal Vision heresy. But while agreeing with him that the FV is indeed heresy and attacks the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, his call is undermined by his actions. I only agree with Dr. Clark because I have read some FV stuff. But, for anyone peering in, why would they trust anything Dr. Clark has said when they have seen fellow Reformed pastor Todd Pruitt attack Wilson on a paragraph that is not necessarily in error? If I see misrepresentation, can I trust that the next alarm rang by that same person is truly indicative of danger?

"The Boy who cried Wolf" is a children's story of how the boy in charge of the sheep cried wolf so many times that the town-people decided that he was just playing at crying wolf. When the wolf finally did come, his cries warning of the wolf are ignored precisely because he had misled others and cried wolf when there was no wolf one too many times. This tale is very pertinent to radical Reformed confessionalists, the hardcore TR ("Truly Reformed"). Cry wolf one too many times, and soon nobody except for your small cadre of hardcore followers will listen to you. If you want to point out Wilson's error, then actually cite a sentence or paragraph that clearly shows his error! Right now, while Dr. James White is indeed ignorant of the nature of the FV, none of you "confessionalists" have given him any reason to think that you are nothing but "fundies" in Reformed clothes. What is seen even by people like me is personal animus against the person of Douglas Wilson, not just the rejection of his theology and ministry. Is that what you want others to perceive? If not, perhaps it might be helpful not to engage in spurious arguments and actually point out the exact errors in Wilson's theology! And not just concerning Wilson, but anyone and everyone. Start actually representing what others did say, not what you want them to say!

The "TR contingent" in the Reformed blogosphere should seriously do some soul-searching, and stop their heresy-hunting. If you cannot represent others clearly, you are violating the ninth commandment in unrepentance and dragging the lofty truths of God that you hold through the mud of your lies. You need to repent and stop lying, period! There is no "cause" that warrants it, and you dishonor the God of truth while taking His name in vain!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The issue of gender roles as it pertains to ministry within the church

With John MacArthur's two word answer to the question "Beth Moore" being "Go home," the issue of women in the church has risen again to the forefront. The assault against complementarianism it seems continues unabated. One of the defenses excuses concerning Beth Moore in ministry is that she is not preaching to men but merely "sharing," especially on special occasions such as Mothers' Day. But is that defense even valid at all?

Complementarianism, or the biblical teaching concerning the roles of men and women extending to the rejection of the validity of woman pastors and elders (and perhaps deacons), is based upon the whole of Scripture concerning what God has commanded concerning how men and women ought to function in the world and in the church. Since gender is a creation construct, therefore distinction in gender roles are not caused by sin and are to be celebrated. Although the teaching on gender roles permeate all of Scripture, there are particular texts in the Bible that specifically deal with the topic. One major text is that of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and it was for that reason that I had read up and written an exegetical paper on that passage, which is entitled Gender Roles: Ordained order of mankind towards the Creator. This was written when I was in seminary nearly seven years ago, but I continue to stand by what I have written, and I reject the notion of gender egalitarianism in any form it manifests itself.

The question of the place of women in the church of course runs deeper into just whether women can be office bearers. In total's sharply (social) egalitarian society, there is pressure towards bringing that egalitarian mindset into the church. One way of doing that is to simply have women doing the functions of the special office, without the office that comes with those functions. Thus, Beth Moore merely "shares": she doesn't "preaches," even though for all intents and purposes she is preaching. Another way is to blur the line and be involved in radio programs where ordained men discuss theological issues affecting the church (e.g. Mortification of Spin), and say that you are not preaching by being on the program, which is technically correct. That is, unless you are a regular, where you are in effect given a platform with equal status alongside other ordained men. The sheer number of ways the sinful human mind can think of to attempt to circumvent God's prohibition on women preaching is truly astonishing.

Along this same line however is the focus on the issue of the special office itself, which is also under attack as being unfair at best and a "laity control" system or worse when egalitarianism comes knocking. Both gender roles and the special office are similar in the fact that God has ordained them both and limit people under both. But they are not the same thing. Gender roles is a creation ordinance, while the special office of the church is a redemptive ordinance. Yet, there is sufficient similarity that, in the context of the church, it can be said that unordained men are like women, in that just as women cannot partake of the ordained ministry of the church, so likewise unordained men cannot partake of that ministry of the church. The key point in positing this similarity is to show that gender restrictions in the church are not purely arbitrary since the restriction against ministry applies likewise to unordained men.

This analogy is sometimes framed as saying that women can do whatever unordained men can do in the church. But if that is the case, then conversely it can be logically inferred that unordained men cannot do what women cannot do [If p, then q = If ~q, then ~p]. But how does that affect ministry within the church? Well, if unordained men cannot do what women cannot do, then, when you wonder if an unordained man should be doing this ministry in the church, ask yourself, "Would I be comfortable with a woman doing it in the church?" If yes, then go ahead. But if no, then clearly, no unordained man should be doing that ministry in the church.

This applies particularly to preaching in the church, where many church plants have a practice of allowing anyone that the church planter feels is able to preach to bring the Word. But if the church plant rejects egalitarianism, then they should not have any unordained man preaching. They can have licentiates (who have been licensed to preach) or even those under care of the church to preach, but the pulpit should not be open to anyone else! Church plants are not free to violate the commands of God just because they are church plants! Did God give a special dispensation to church planters so that they can violate the commands of God because they have the "good intention" of starting a new church? Where is that taught in Scripture?

This goes for all aspects of the church's ministry, especially including the liturgical elements of the reading of the Law and the declaration of pardon. It should be abundantly clear that unordained men do not have the authority of the church to declare God's forgiveness of sins (Te Absolvo) upon the people, so upon what basis should they be asked to conduct that section of the liturgy? Neither do they possess Christ's authority to call the people of God to worship Him (Call to Worship), or take the authority of Christ to represent the church in public prayer to God in the service (Remember that this is public prayer not private prayer). If unordained men cannot do what women cannot do, then there is no difference between asking unordained men to do the Call to Worship, do the Reading of the Law and the Gospel and the Declaration of Pardon, doing the public corporate Prayers of the church, and asking any woman to do the same. Any church or church plant that does this is no different from a church having a woman pastor who regularly conducts the services of the church! It is sin, it is treason against the most holy God, and must be repented of! No two ways about it!

The problem with us living in a society of radical individualism and autonomy, with an unholy entitlement complex, is that we subconsciously bring this mindset into the church. We think that ministry is an entitlement that we can grasp, and see God's good commands as limitations upon our ambitions of "service." We resent the fact that God has only called SOME to serve, not all, and we are constantly thinking of new ways to circumvent God's holy ordering of the world and the church. This is something that we all have to repent of constantly, and submit to Christ in all things in our lives, both men and women, ordianed men and unordained men. Amen.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A defense of an ordained ministry against anti-institutionalists

In church history, there has always been those who are against the Institutional Church. During Augustine's time, it was the Donatists. During the Reformation, it was (most of) the Anabaptists, then the Quakers. Among the more orthodox Protestants, most of the Restorationist groups did not attack the church as an institution, but attacked the established churches and created new denominations or associations in their place. The late-modern quest for autonomy and radical distrust of authority has however spawned movements such as the western "House church" movement, or "organic church movement," founded by George Barna and Frank Viola, who may not be currently associated with the movement but they were its original founders, and to which I have written a paper against it here. This anti-intellectual anti-institutional impetus however remains at the fringes of visible Christianity. Recently however, someone posted this particular poster attacking the institutional church as being "Nicolaitan," citing Revelations 2:15 to that effect. It is to this that I would like to give a brief response.

The first thing to note is the attack on institutional churches as "Nicolaitan." First of all, although the picture attached to the top part of the photo is of a megachurch concert, to contrast that with a small group setting is more than just a criticism of megachurch "Big Eva" market-driven evangelicalism. The attack, while superficially against the unbiblical excesses of a megachurch, is against any form of the church as an institution. Otherwise, why would the contrast not be given between a megachurch and a traditional church setting? No, rather, the author of the poster clearly sees no difference at all between all forms of the institutional church. The problem, according to the author, is that the church is institutional whereas it should be organic. The problem, according to the author of the poster, is that the institution itself is a "laity control grid." Any form of "hierarchy" of "clergy" in the church is part of the "laity control grid" which is the sin of the Nicolaitans

Second, it is clear that the author thinks that he and his group alone have the sin of the Nicolaitans figured out. It is astonishing how the sin of the Nicolaitans is stated as the "laity control grid" because the name Nicolas can mean "victory over the people." So are all who call themselves Nicholas (not an uncommon name at that time and definitely not now) all tyrants over the people? Is the "Nicolas" of Acts 6:5 also a tyrant? Are the churches that have a "Nicholas" in their leadership all tyrannies in the making, purely because of the name "Nicolas"?

This kind of "interpretation" of Scripture is what I will call the "Bible code" way of interpreting Scripture. Instead of treating Scripture as communication in a language that is spoken and read normally during the first century AD (i.e. koine Greek), the words are treated as if they are a treasure chest of meaning that needs to be deciphered for its hidden content. In this case, even though no Bible scholar that I know of can say definitively what the sin of the Nicolaitans actually is, the author of the poster can confidently declare that the sin of the Nicolaitans *must* be a "laity control grid." Essentially, this is linguistic gnosticism! And yes, I have heard other so-called pastors do it, but it is still wrong. Koine Greek is a language, extinct today, but still a proper human language with syntax and the need to be interpreted in context. It is a language, not a code!

Thirdly, the object of contrast is that of a small group setting, where the verse used makes it abundantly clear that what the author of the poster sees as biblical is a fully egalitarian context where nobody is the leader, in contrast to the supposed "laity control grid." In other words, it is clear that the small group photo with the attached verse is meant to convey that the "biblical practice" is radical egalitarianism along the lines of that promoted by Barna and Viola in the 1990s to 2000s.

Over and against such an unbiblical rejection of the institutional church is Ephesians 4:11, whereby we are told that God gave (direct object; accusative case) apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In other words, it is God who gives these officers, these men, to His church. To receive church officers is to receive the gift of God to His church. To reject them is to reject God's gift and ultimately God Himself. But if Ephesians 4:11 is correct, then God give men to serve the church as church officers. God did not just give gifts to people in the church, although He does do that also as seen in 1 Corinthians 12. But more than just gifts to individuals is the gift of men set apart to serve God in a special capacity, as office bearers in the church.

It is thus very clear that, if Ephesians 4:11 is to be taken as Scripture, the rejection of the institutional church is unbiblical. There is no point in pointing to passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 because it is never denied that God does indeed give spiritual gifts to people in the church; it is never disputed that this happens. But unless one wants to pit Scripture against Scripture, then one has to deal with what Ephesians 4:11 expressively teaches, not obfuscate with spurious screeching about 1 Corinthians 12. The way anti-institutionalists argue is in fact an assault on the authority of Scripture, because one cannot use one part of Scripture to "override" the other part of Scripture. If one uses one part of Scripture to override what is plainly taught in the second portion of Scripture, then what one is doing is to set up a canon within a canon. "All Scripture is authoritative, but some portions of Scripture are more authoritative than others, and I get to decide which parts are more authoritative and which parts less." Such an attitude should not be accepted by Christians, and it is sad that some behave in this manner.

Thus, in conclusion, this poster is unbiblical. It teaches contrary to what the Scriptures actually teach, and engages in serious mishandling of the Word of God. As such, it and the ideology it is promoting ought to be rejected by all Christians, at least all who are willing to live their lives in love and submission to the God of Scripture and of Christ.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

On being Reformed: An appreciative but critical response to Dr R. Scott Clark

What we have come largely to differ from our forefathers is on a particular ethical inference. This revision of Reformed ethics is not of the substance of the faith. We still hold and confess the same view of the moral law and its application of the Christian life. [R. Scott Clark, "A House of Cards? A Response to Bingham, Gribben, and Caughey," in Bingham et al., On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), p. 80)

The book On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity puts together three British and two American scholars in a debate over the identity label "Reformed." What does it truly mean to use the label "Reformed" as a theological identity of oneself or one's theological tradition? The three British men by and large locate "Reformed" as a historic identifier of a group of traditions linked to each other via a "theological family tree" (Chris Caughey and Crawford Gribben, "History, Identity Politics, and the 'Recovery of the Reformed Confessions,'" in ibid., p. 20), with Matthew C. Bingham as a baptist claiming the title "Reformed" due to the "Reformed Baptist" utilizing of a covenantal framework to understand all of Scripture (Matthew C. Bingham, "'Reformed Baptist': Anachronistic Oxymoron or useful Signpost?," in ibid., p. 48).

In contrast, D.G. Hart and R. Scott Clark demur, claiming that the identifier "Reformed" is an ecclesial definition not a historical definition. Hart further points out the seeming inconsistency in Baptists wanting the name "Reformed" while not at the same time desiring the label "Lutheran" (D.G. Hart, "Baptists are different," in ibid., p. 65). Clark states that the Particular Baptists have a different covenant theology than those in the Reformed tradition as they reject "the Reformed view that the covenant of grace is substantially one administered variously in redemptive history" (Clark, in ibid., p. 79). Lastly, against the claim that modern-day Reformed churches are substantially different from those in the Reformational era, he asserts that the difference is one of ethics, not of the substance of the faith.

Having read both sides, I would say historically, the British writers do have a point. If one looks purely historically, one can sortof discern a type of family tree between various Evangelical traditions that have some relation to or derivation from the Reformed tradition. The question however is whether such genealogical relationship is sufficient to merit the label "Reformed." And here I appreciate the point made by Hart and Clark that the term "Reformed" should be an ecclesial label. If the church is the bride of Christ, it seems more logical that the label should be decided by the church more than the academy.

At the same time, I do not believe Dr. Clark has made a good case in his assertion that any changes through the centuries is merely one of applied ethics. First of all, in church history, there has been a huge diversity of churches and denominations (excluding Baptists) that were part of the Reformed tradition and still claim to be of the Reformed tradition. Yet, Dr. Clark will likely not regard them as being Reformed. I am thinking of church bodies like the PRCA with their monocovenantalism. I would ask Dr. Clark, "Is the PRCA Reformed?" Or how about many mainline Presbyterian churches around the world that revere Karl Barth, and think that to be Barthian is to be Reformed. Are these church bodies Reformed? Now, if it is admitted that these church bodies are Reformed, then can it be truly be said that to be Reformed is to have only a "revision of Reformed ethics" which does not touch "the substance of the faith"? But if Dr. Clark denies that these church bodies are Reformed, then does it not seem that "to be Reformed" = "being in NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) and having a similar understanding of Reformed theology like Dr. Clark (and Dr. Hart and WSCAL and so on)"?

Secondly, is it really true that the revisions like 2-Kingdom theology is merely a matter of application and not of the substance of the faith? I am here not saying that the changes are truly of the substance of the faith. But what I am questioning is the somewhat implicit assumption that everyone in the Reformed tradition will agree that 2-Kingdom theology is merely a "revision of Reformed ethics." Would the 17th century Scottish Covenanters see 2-Kingdom theology in its modern form (as advocated by Drs. Clark, Horton and VanDrunen) as a mere "revision of Reformed ethics"? I doubt so. So how does one go about determining whether any theory promoted by any Reformed theologian does not strike the substance of the faith? I have heard that Misty Irons (Lee Irons' wife) had used 2-Kingdom theology to condone homosexuality in society, and I have found a video of her as a "straight ally" in the apostate Revoice conference. Notwithstanding her particular case, is it true that 2-Kingdoms theology has nothing whatsoever to say about the obligation of society and the State to the Law of God?

The reason for me raising this question is not to assert that theories such as 2-Kingdom theology is or is not indeed a mere revision of Reformed ethics. The reason for raising this question is to show how it seems that the assertion that this is a mere revision of Reformed ethics is a self-serving reason that anyone in history who claims the label "Reformed" can use for his own unique brand of ethics. Coupled with the first question, Dr. Clark's statement seems to be a self-serving statement. Now, that does not imply he is wrong. But let us not have the illusion that it is some dispassionate statement of fact that Dr. Clark is putting forth in defence of his view of what constitutes the "Reformed" identity label. It is not!

In conclusion, it is appreciated that the "Reformed" identity label is to be an ecclesial label. Yet, it seems to me that it is also a label for a particular type of theological tradition, namely NAPAC as the representative of the Reformed tradition. The way I see it, this is where Dr. Clark's definition would lead us, and I do not personally have a problem with it, as long as it is explicitly stated.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

In defense of mental properties against Daniel Dennett

Human consciousness is itself a huge complex of memes (or more exactly, meme-effects in brains) that can best be understood as the operation of a “von Neumannesque” virtual machine implemented in the parallel architecture of a brain that was not designed for any such activities. The powers of this virtual machine vastly enhance the underlying powers of the organic hardware on which it runs, but at the same time many of its most curious features, and especially its limitations, can be explained as the byproducts of the kludges that make possible this curious but effective reuse of an existing organ for novel purposes. [Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (New York, NY: Black Ray Books, 1991), p. 21]

There is no single, definitive “stream of consciousness,” because there is no central Headquarters, no Cartesian Theater where “it all comes together” for the perusal of a Central Meaner. Instead of such a single stream (however wide), there are multiple channels in which specialist circuits try, in parallel pandemoniums, [/253] to do their various things, creating Multiple Drafts as they go. Most of these fragmentary drafts of “narrative” play short-lived roles in the modulation of current activity but some get promoted to further functional roles, in swift succession, by the activity off a virtual machine in the brain. The seriality of this machine (its “von Neumannesque” character) is not a “hard-wired” design feature, but rather the upshot of a succession of coalitions of these specialists.

The basic specialists are part of our animal heritage. They were not developed to perform peculiarly human actions, such as reading and writing, but ducking, predator-avoiding, face-recognizing, grasping, throwing, berry-picking, and other essential tasks. They are often opportunistically enlisted in new roles, for which their nature talents more or less suit them. The result is not bedlam only because the trends that are imposed on all this activity are themselves the product of design. Some of this design is innate, and is shared with other animals. But it is augmented, and sometimes even overwhelmed in importance, by microhabits of thought that are developed in the individual, partly idiosyncratic results of self-exploration and partly the predesigned gifts of culture. Thousands of memes, mostly borne by language, but also by wordless “images” and other data structures, take up residence in an individual brain, shaping its tendencies and thereby turning it into a mind. (pp. 253-254)

Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don’t spin them; they spin us. Our human consciousness, and our narrative selfhood, is their product, not their source. (p. 418)

… the directives from mind to brain. These, ex hypothesi, are not physical; they are not light waves or sound waves or cosmic rays or streams of subatomical particles. No physical energy or mass is associated with them. How, then, do they get to make a difference to what happens in the brain cells they must affect, if the mind is to have any influence over the body? A fundamental principle of physics is that any change in the trajectory of any physical entity is an acceleration requiring the expenditure of energy, and where is this energy to come from? It is this principle of the conservation of energy that accounts for the physical impossibility of “perpetual motion machines,” and the same principle is apparently violated by dualism. This confrontation between quite standard physics and dualism has been endlessly discussed since Descartes’s own day, and is widely regarded as the inescapable and fatal flaw of dualism. (pp. 34-35)

Daniel Dennett is a prominent British philosopher who happens to be a vocal proponent of physicalism in the philosophy of mind. According to Dennett, the mind, the soul, does not strictly speaking exists. Rather, consciousness is a product of multiple biological processes in the brain that work together and give the illusion of a self, an individual. Consciousness is a "virtual machine" that comes into being by the interaction of the self with the cultural products known as "memes." In Dennett's words, the "thousands of memes... take up residence in an individual brain... turning it into a mind" (p. 254). Thus, there is no soul, no spirit, and consciousness itself is not a property (against property dualism) but a product of brain states and culture memes.

In his book Consciousness Explained, the main bulk of Dennett's writing is to argue against what he calls "Cartesian materialism," defined as a position that holds to both Dualism and Materialism. Substance dualism itself is rejected in a single paragraph in pages 34 and 35, as reproduced above, and not touched on again in the rest of the book. But what exactly is the argument against substance dualism? It turns out that the argument against substance dualism is an argument that makes sense only if we assume materialism. According to Dennett, if there are mental properties, then how can it be said that these mental properties interact with physical properties, if they have no energy, mass or wave function? In other words, if mental properties are not physical, they cannot interact with physical properties. Or, if there are mental properties, they cannot affect the physical neurons in the brain, and therefore there are no mental properties at all.

The problem with such an argument is that materialism is assumed to be true. If materialism is false, then the argument is in error as well. Even if we agree that the firing of the neurons must come about through physical causes, a rejection of materialism would result in a parallel process understanding of mental and physical processes. But we do not have to go there for the simple reason that there is no violation of any law of nature to say that a mental process calls for certain neurons to send electrical impulses across the brain. After all, what decides whether any particular neuron in a brain sends an electrical signal? Why does one neuron send an electrical signal and another nearby does not? Is there a physical explanation for that?

In conclusion, Dennett's dismissive argument against substance dualism is in error. It assumes materialism, which is not and cannot ever be proven true. Even the atheist Thomas Nagel was forced to reject materialism in his book Mind and Cosmos as he realized that materialism is not tenable. And just because mental properties cannot be empirically described does not make it false. We may not know exactly what mental properties are, but by virtue of us having a mind, we can give an approximate description for them.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Factionalism within the Reformed blogosphere

Rachel Miller, of anti-ESS screed fame, has published a book entitled Beyond Authority and Submission, which has at least a chapter against ESS in it. One of the main targets of her book is the supposed "patriarchy" promoters, specifically Douglas Wilson and company. The link is drawn from ESS to "patriarchy" (whatever that means) and then to Federal Vision and the denial of Justification by faith alone. In social media, the link is drawn almost as if to draw a line in the sand. To be confessionally Reformed is to be against Federal Vision and thus against Doug Wilson and against patriarchy and against ESS. To be for ESS is to be for "patriarchy" and to be for Doug Wilson and for Federal Vision and against Justification by faith alone, and thus against the Gospel. One has to be situated in either camp it seems. Before she deleted her Twitter account, Miller basically labeled all her critics misogynists and promoters of "patriarchy" (which unfortunately I did not take a snapshot of it before it was deleted, but I did see it).

The sad part about this is that we see factionalism come into play here. The question is no more about what is true, but about which faction you belong to. If you are of the "confessionally Reformed" camp, you must hold to all these beliefs (FV bad, ESS bad, Doug Wilson bad, R. Miller good). There is no middle where anyone can say, "Wait a second, on THIS issue that position looks more biblical."

This is the main problem with Pruitt's tweet here. While Wilson's quote CAN be problematic, the paragraph here is not necessarily false. Absent of context, there is no way of determining whether what is said is biblical or not. The citation of Wilson here is merely another guilt by association whereby since we *know* Wilson is a heretic on FV, so anything that he says on the family and gender roles must be likewise suspect. (For the record, I have little knowledge and thus no opinion on Wilson's view of the family except that I no not like what I am hearing about the Sitler case). And I will also say for the record that I have no problems with women working outside or even running for political office, so that should place me beyond the pale of any supposed "patriarchy" group.

The sad thing about Reformed social media is that it has descended into the same rancor as secular twitter. Factionalism reigns supreme, as the issue about whether something is objectively true or not has lost its importance. What is important it seems is to attack the other faction for any infraction, real or perceived, and the labeling of any detractors as those of the opposing (and thus heretical) camp. It is perverse and ungodly, no matter whether the person doing it is a pastor or a "member in good standing." Is the truth important? Or do we just want "our group" to win "at all costs"? That I think is the question here, and I hope Reformed Christians in America regain their vision of what is truly honoring to the Lord of truth, instead of their over-inflated egos.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The irreality of the persons in classical theism, defined according to Dolezal

Yet the three persons are really distinct. How so? Classical Christian theists generally locate this distinction in personal relations or, in slightly more imprecise language, "several perculiar relative properties." (James E. Dolezal, All That is in God, 119)

What, then, are we saying about God when we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? First, it should be observed that we are not speaking of things that are distinct from the Godhead itself. Whenever we speak of the three, we are in fact speaking of the one, but under different aspects or modes of being. We alternatively speak of the one God Father-wise, Son-wise, and Spirit-wise—in sum, relation-wise. These relations are not something really distinct from the divine substance. (Dolezal, 122)

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In a tweet, I had asked what, according to classical theism, is the exact difference between the persons of the Godhead, and how such difference is substantially different from modalism. Of course I know that classical theisms affirms that the persons have different relations to each other, whereas modalism denies that. But if the persons are merely relations, then apart from semantics, what exactly is the difference between classical theism and modalism?

In response, I was directed to chapter 6 of Dolezal's book, which I had read some time back, and to which I return. After I looked through the chapter, I knew there was a reason why I was hesitant to post about this particular section at that time, and I remain mindful that this is not an easy section to write about even as I write this blog post.

You will note that Dolezal wrote that the Trinity is speaking of the persons as "under different aspects and modes of being." That sounds exactly like modalism. But in the interest of charity, the best possible spin I can put on this is that Dolezal had a slip in his language, but that slip actually reveals the real problem for this form of classical theism. For if the relations are just relations, then the person are not truly persons. The Father cannot be distinctly speaking to the Son, and thus the best approximation in human language is a modalistic approximation, and thus Dolezal unintentionally slips into modalistic speech at that particular area. In other words, the persons of classical theisms are like mathematical operations in an equation, distinct from each other yet without any form of ontological existence. Note that we are talking about ontological existence, not ontological uniqueness. We are not and cannot ever say that there are three gods, or three parts of God. But classical theism according to Dolezal cannot even say that the Father is a real person distinct from the Son, and thus the Father can actually have a social interaction with the Son. Note also that I am not proposing Social Trinitarianism. I am saying that what the Bible explicitly say about the persons of the Trinity interacting with each other in dialogue (an "I-Thou" relation), which seems so clear in Scripture, is prohibited by classical theism. That is why these new classical theists reduce all interactions between the persons to one of "relations." The Father does not actually speak to the Son, but rather the Godhead in the person of the Father talks to the Son in his hypostatic union. The Son says that it is not his human will be done but rather the divine will of the Godhead. If you will note so far, all of these are not taught in Scripture, but are the logical imposition of a certain view of the nature of God that informs their reading of Scripture.

The idea of the persons being autotheos (God-in-himself) is that each person can be interacted with as God. One does not need to interact with the entire Godhead (although they are ultimately involved) when one talks to Jesus or to the Father. We see that to be necessarily true in order to make sense of passages that speak of Jesus' intercession for us before the Father. When we pray "in Jesus' name," we are calling upon Jesus' intercession to purify our prayers so that they can be presented pure and holy by him before the Father. We always address God the Father, but through Jesus. When we pray in Jesus' name, we are not speaking to the Father directly, for we cannot, as He dwells in unapproachable light. Only after our prayers have been washed with the blood of Christ are they presented to the Father. Thus, when we Christians pray, we pray to God the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. All three persons of the Godhead are involved, all three will hear the prayer, yet also it is the Father that specifically hears it, the Son purifying and offering it to the Father, and the Spirit working in us to pray. The "I-Thou" relationship between the persons is necessary for the intercession of Christ to work, for otherwise how can Jesus address the Father and offer up our prayers to Him?

The point of the matter is that, if we actually follow Sola Scriptura, then this idea that the persons of the Godhead are mere relations sounds like a philosophical imposition on Scripture rather than the other way around. Reacting to Social Trinitarianism and other foolish modern projects is one thing, veering into waters that smack of philosophical sophistry and modalism is another. As it stands, Dolezal's interpretation of the persons of the Godhead sounds more like a semantic difference with modalism rather than a substantial difference from it. Postulating all manner of words of the difference between the persons mean nothing if there is nothing signified by those words at all.