Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bell's Hell: A review of Love Wins by Dr. Michael Horton (Updated)

Dr. Michael Horton has written a series of posts reviewing Rob Bell's latest book Love Wins as follows:

Ministery in an Asian American context

An interesting interview on the topic of ministry and Asian-Americans can be seen here. My comment is to say that instead of catering to Asian-American context, I think transcending the entire race issue is more preferable, plus the shedding of stereotypes.

As a Chinese Singaporean, and I realize that I am probably in the minority in my opinion, the last thing I want is "contextualization" (which goes both ways). It is ridiculous in my opinion to force assimilation of people from different cultures, which simply breeds resentment and conflict. What is pleaded for is understanding and toleration (originally understood as celebration of non-moral differences), and an understanding of both sides to dialog and engage the other in mutual respect.

I do not respect a minister who contextualized his message that he essentially alters the emphasis of his message to become a Gospel message filtered by culture, regardless of whether it is Chinese, American, Singaporean or other cultures. The Gospel message is meant to transcend cultures not to find its expression through the lens of culture. Will there be difference in messengers preached in different cultures? Sure, but the message is transcendent to the extent that the cultural elements can be easily removed and adapted to another culture if necessary. My two cents worth: If the message can only be understood within the culture and need to be extensively reworked apart from it, thus instead of the culture being mere points of contact for an eternal timeless message it is integral to it, the message is over-contextualized.

Put it this way, I am not interested in hearing pastors speaking "my culture". I am more interested in preachers bringing the transcendent truths of God to bear upon me and my culture.

The Church exists apart from the cultures of this world although present in it. Pastors and elders ought to reflect that in how they run the Church and preach their sermons.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

PCA pastor Jason Stellman raising funds for trial of FV pastor Peter Leithart

PCA pastor Jason Stellman is in the process of raising funds for the prosecution of Federal Visionist Peter Leithart, with the intent to purge at least some of the Federal Vision from the PCA. If anyone desires to contribute to this fund, please make checks payable to:

Exile Presbyterian Church
PMB 132
14241 Woodinville-Duvall Rd.
Woodinville, WA, 98072
Attn: Prosecution Fund

[HT: God's Hammer]

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

OPC report: Critique of Framework Hypothesis in Appendix

The 2004 OPC creation report attempts to stir the denomination through the origin controversies that present within the larger Church body. It puts forth five views (the "Day as ordinary length" view, the "Day as Unspecified length" view, the "Day-Age' view, the "Framework Hypothesis" view and the Analogical View) and refuses to judge between them in the main text.

The appendices contain more technical material in relation to the matter. It is interesting to note that the last appendix, Appendix 6 Critical Observations, functions somewhat like a minority report whereby Leonard J. Coppes critiqued the analogical and the framework hypothesis views.

In this light, I would like to reproduce his last section of the critique of the Framework Hypothesis, which is certainly illuminative, taken from pages 1733-1734 of the Minutes of the 71st OPC GA.


c) Of the Framework view

HERMENEUTICALLY:

A. It employs a hermeneutic (not unlike form criticism) which finds patterns in the text and that yields an interpretative approach that ends up ignoring what the text actually says. For example:

  1. Day four – the lights are said to give light on the earth and to rule over times and seasons (17-18). One must ignore or devalue this explicit ruler-ruled order to affirm that the text teaches us the lights (day four) are rulers over the light (day one).
  2. Day five – the birds were commanded to “fly above the earth,” and to multiply “on the earth” (22). The realm of the birds is the sky and the earth. One must ignore or devalue this in order to affirm that the text teaches us the birds (day five) are rulers over the sky (day two) when the text says nothing about this rulership.
  3. Day six – the land creatures, textually speaking, are not rulers but rulees, with man being their ruler as well as the ruler over the earth (26, 28). The only textually explicit ruler is mankind. One must ignore or devalue this in order to affirm that the text teaches us the land animals (day six) are rulers over the land or earth (day three) when the text says nothing about this rulership, but explicitly teaches that man is the ruler over the earth (dry land 28).
  4. The king-kingdom or ruler-ruled (lord-vassal) duo does not apply to the respective units unless rule, king (lord) and kingdom (vassal) concepts are redefined in each unit (days 1-4, 2-5, and 3-6). This means that neither king-kingdom nor lord-vassal really identifies whatever relationship there might be between the respective units.

B. It affirms the historicity of the creation account while redefining historicity, giving it a meaning different from the commonly accepted definition.

  1. It affirms that the text intends to state that the six days are normal solar days (normal providence pertains), but what it actually means is that they were figurative solar days. The days are not historical days.
  2. It affirms that the picture is that God completed his creative work in a week of days but this is not to be taken as an actual week. Indeed, the logic of this view argues that day one is a purely literary phenomenon. Exodus 20:11 presents the creation days not as a framework but as literal days. In contrast, advocates of the framework call the creation "week" a “lower register metaphor for God's upper register creation-time,” and hold “that the sequence of the ‘days’ is ordered not chronologically but thematically.” Moreover, this view holds that, “The creation ‘week’ is to be understood figuratively, not literally – that is the conclusion demanded by the biblical evidence."
  3. It affirms that the “snapshots” (each day-frame) of divine creative fiat-fulfillments refer to historical events which actually occurred but said events are not in their original order nor do they represent separately occurring creative fiat-fulfillments (events). Indeed, the logic of this view argues that the creation of light was not a separate creative event at all. So, although the things reported as created are affirmed as truly and divinely created the report as to the distinctiveness, sequence and pattern of that creating is not historically accurate.
  4. It claims to see the account as only dischronologized (not in chronological order) while its language and reasoning present important and substantial elements of the account as dehistoricized (non-historical). Advocates of this view state, (a) “….we insist that the total picture of the divine workweek with its days and evening-morning refrain be taken figuratively.” (b) “…the creation "week" is a lower register metaphor for God's upper register creation-time and that the sequence of the "days" is ordered not chronologically but thematically.” (c) “The creation "week" is to be understood figuratively, not literally – that is the conclusion demanded by the biblical evidence.” Thus, (d) there was neither a separate creation of light nor were there six days at all. As one of the advocates says, the framework view is distinguished from all other views in that it sees the relationship between days 1 and 4 more precisely as one of temporal recapitulation, so that day 4 recapitulates day 1, in other words, day 1 is not a day distinct from day 4.

C. It violates the perspicuity of Scripture in that its suggested literary structure(s) does not arise from the text but is used to drive the exegesis. As a result, its definitions of “lord-vassal” or “ruler-ruled,” etc., are imprecise and inconsistent.

D. It violates the sufficiency of Scripture in that it does not allow what the Scripture itself teaches to stand but employs an extra-scriptural structure.

EXEGETICALLY:

It prosecutes an exegesis driven by a literary assumption rather than arising from the text itself.

A. Its exegesis of Genesis 2:5 does not allow the text to stand as it is presented in the Bible, viz., as the introduction to the balance of chapter two and as focusing on the Garden of Eden and the placing of man there rather than speaking about conditions on day three of chapter one.

B. Its exegesis of day one wrongly affirms that assuming the operation of ordinary providence argues that there can be no light without the lights of day four when contemporary natural science offers several (ordinary providence) phenomena whereby light is produced without suns, moons, and stars.

C. It defends a framework structure by ignoring or devaluing the textual phenomena arguing against it.

THEOLOGICALLY

A. It redefines “historical” and, in so doing, denies the historicity of the account. It offers a definition of historical (cf., I.B above) that is unparalleled in biblical narrative.

B. It argues that in the creation account there are two levels or spheres of “history”—“The six evening-morning days then do not mark the passage of time in the lower register sphere. They are not identifiable in terms of solar days, but relate to the history of creation at the upper register. The creation "week" is to be understood figuratively, not literally—that is the conclusion demanded by the biblical evidence.” What is this “upper register?” Does this propose a new ontological reality? How can the creation be accomplished in the lower register (assuming they are saying the six days are the record of an actual historical creation) when it is also said to have been accomplished in the upper register?

Monday, March 07, 2011

James White on Rob Bell's Nooma 15

Dr. James White with a rebuttal of Rob Bell's teaching on Mithra and Attis

Friday, March 04, 2011

Concluding Statement by Daniel (Affirmative)

First of all, I once again thank Frank for this debate which has indeed been very stimulating and revealing to me, as I hope it is likewise true for all our readers.

I read with astonishment Frank’s final statement. The amount of misrepresentations abounds in what he says, with the most audacious being that he has cited Scripture to prove his case, as if mere quantity of Scripture citations equals orthodoxy! If quantity of citations alone equals being right in one’s view, then not only is Rick Warren very orthodox, but likewise the German higher critics, whom I am sure quoted liberally from the Pentateuch as they promote the Documentary Hypothesis, were the most orthodox.

On the Confessions, there is a reason why I focus on non-Baptists. The Particular Baptists were more interested in being allowed to practice their religion instead of thinking of uniting Christians under one visible Church. Therefore, it is clear that their confession did not have such intent, so why should I belabor the obvious just so that I can give a cursory nod to my Baptist brethren?

It is pointless to show how Frank has virtually misrepresented almost all of my points as they so blatantly contradict what I have written in my statement. I will just focus on two examples. The first one deals with my proposition that local church life is to be practiced between believers. The only reason why Frank does not get it is because he like his hero Douglas Wilson collapses the internal and external aspects of the covenant into one. For Frank, children cannot be baptized because they prior to confession are not in the covenant. There is no category of being in the external aspect of the covenant of grace in Frank’s view. Conversely, the flattening out of the covenantal aspects mean that all who are “externally” in the church are also to be considered “internally” in the church (for there is no external/internal distinction) and therefore sly unbelievers who have not been disciplined as a member in any “church” (however that is defined) are to be considered true Christians. In the former case of infants, Frank’s errant ecclesiology refuses covenant inclusion because he has no category of being in the external aspect of the covenant, while in the latter, Frank’s view refuses covenant exclusion because he has no category for believers being in the internal aspect of the covenant of grace.

In the second example, Frank missed the fact that the OPC, the PCA and the URCNA have approved ecclesiastical statements denouncing the Federal Vision, of which I have given links to the OPC 2006 Justification Report and the URCNA Nine Points of Synod Schereville 2007. Robbins and Gerety’s book is probably the only one targeting Doug Wilson specifically so I gave that as a reference. There are other books denouncing the Federal Vision however like the one by Guy Prentiss Waters entitled The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis[1] and the book edited by R. Scott Clark, Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry.[2]

Frank may continue to stick his head in the sand and ignore the multitude of pastors, professors and denominations denouncing Federal Vision as heresy, but he is in denial. I hereby call upon Frank to repent of his heretical leanings and turn to the truth. I likewise would like to take the opportunity to call upon all and sundry to reject Frank’s semi-heretical ecclesiology and the Federal Vision in toto. Avoid the Federal Vision and men like Douglas Wilson, Steve Wilkins, James Jordon, Peter Leithart, Jeffrey Meyers and all who are in the CREC “denomination”. These people are wolves in sheep clothing and following them would lead in the same direction as Rome, towards perdition.

Amen.


References:

[1] Guy Prentiss Water, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2006)

[2] R. Scott Clark (ed.), Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2007)

3rd and Final Statement from Frank (Negative)

Here is Frank's 3rd and final statement.


Well, sadly, this is my closing statement for this exchange – Daniel, as is the custom here, gets the final word and I am pleased to give it to him. My closing thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The really exciting parts of this exchange were that I am an adherent to the Federal Vision – when in fact all of the confessional documents I have referred to and endorsed were the confessions of the reformation (in spite of the fact that Daniel disqualified the LBCF as truly confessional and reformational – because they are filthy Baptists, of course); that the Reformed position (in spite of the statements in the actual confessions) is that men can see and must discern the invisible church (even though it is invisible, you see); the somehow it’s my view that church body life trumps orthodoxy even though I explicitly said someone anathematized should leave, and that it is a proper mark of the church to exercise church discipline. It’s exciting to see people who have such a damaged view of proper theology that they will read bankrupt defectiveness in anyone who points them to their own confessions and says, “well, it’s clear that this is not what your confession says – maybe you should repent of that and rethink your problem.”
  • Daniel thinks that the reformed placed the full force of their confessions on making the church a place for believers only. The problem, for anyone with one good eye, is that it is the reformed confessions which demand that the sign and seal of Christ’s convenant [sic]with his people – baptism – is for all believers and their children! It is in fact the credobaptist demand that the church be full of only believers. And I assume that Daniel is not one of those – he’s a reformed guy after all.
  • I like it that Daniel is certain he has been arguing for separation from churches which teach false doctrine, but that his one and only example of post-reformation heretical churches to be separated from is Doug Wilson – a man never anathematized and never even tried by any Presbytery session. But because John Robbins has written a book about Doug, well, who are we to argue? That’s as good as the Council of Orange in Daniel’s book.
  • With regard to the confessions, I did explicitly from the documents themselves indicate the explicit intent of the authors who write them. That Daniel rejects these statements in favor of his own opinion again speaks volumes – this time, in reference to whether he is really all about how “churches” use the doctrine of separation and how he think people using their own judgment should use it.
  • I also like that because my list of three uses for the 3 marks of the church didn’t include, for example, disfellowshipping the adulterer or shunning the liar, Daniel thinks that I’m in favor of unity at all costs. Even the most remotely-fair reading on my answer to his question would find that I think the three marks govern almost all of what a church should do or seek to achieve. That he cannot see that ought to inform the reader of his agenda.
  • One of the two participants here strictly cited and referred to the confession and made his points based on them; the other didn’t. The reader can decide for himself which of those two actually holds the confessions in high regard and which is simply a parrot of one view of confessional life.
  • Last, I enjoy it that I actually cited Scripture and pointed to the problems of Daniel’s view from the Scripture, while he has merely declared me false with no textual evidence.

No sense in belaboring this: Daniel has an open word count to issue his final statement. I thank the readers of this exchange for their time and patience.

Contra the Joint FV Profession: The Church (part 2)

[contined from here and here]

The Visible and Invisible Church

We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of visible and invisible. We further affirm that the visible Church is the true Church of Christ, and not an "approximate" Church.

We deny that such a distinction excludes other helpful distinctions, such as the historical church and eschatological church. The historical Church generally corresponds to the visible Church—all those who profess the true religion, together with their children—and the eschatological Church should be understood as the full number of God's chosen as they will be seen on the day of resurrection.

We have seen that the FV idea of objective membership results in salvation by faith and works. By collapsing the visible and invisible church distinction, all members in the church are to be considered Christians as they are members in a "visible and objective" covenant community.

Yet the FV advocates insist they believe in the visible/ invisible church distinction. What are we to make of their assertion in this regard?

It is in this light that we come to the very next section in the Joint FV Profession that supposedly deals with the very topic. Putting what is stated in this section together with that in the previous section, we can see how the FV advocates understand the Visible/ Invisible Church distinction.

The FV advocates understand the Visible Church as being co-extensive with the Local and Universal Church, which is fine. Their view of the Invisible Church however is a mere concept which is an acknowledgment that not all in the visible church may be saved. Therefore, for them the invisible church refers to the groups of true believers that will remain faithful to the end, of which we do not yet know who they are.

This distinction is diffracted by the slits of the objectivization of the covenant. Since all church members are truly saved now, therefore the "invisible church" does not really exist as a concrete reality. It is a mere phantom that only becomes actualized at the end of the age when those who are faithful will be seen as the invisible church.

The FV idea of the visible/invisible church distinction therefore should be better termed the historic/eschatological church distinction. That is because a virtual entity at present ("invisible church") should not be considered as a real entity now. The elect in such a scheme are known by the mind of God but they are not presented as being real in God's sight.

Over and against the FV distortion of the visible/ invisible church distinction, the historic Reformed definition is that both the "visible church" and the "invisible church" are concrete realities now. The elect while hidden (invisible) are discernible by God from the unelect even now; the elect have God's Spirit in them while the unelect do not have the Spirit in them.

So does the FV deny the Visible/ Invisible Church distinction? If the distinction is used as redefined by the FVists, then no. However, if we are using terms the way they have been historically used, then yes.

Contra the Joint FV Profession: The Church (part 1)

[continued from here]

The next item we would look at in the Joint FV Profession is their doctrine of the Church.

The Church

We affirm that membership in the one true Christian Church is visible and objective, and is the possession of everyone who has been baptized in the triune name and who has not been excommunicated by a lawful disciplinary action of the Church. We affirm one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, the house and family of God, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. In establishing the Church, God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham and established the Regeneration of all things. God has established this Regeneration through Christ—in Him we have the renewal of life in the fulness [sic] of life in the new age of the kingdom of God.

We deny that membership in the Christian Church in history is an infallible indicator or guarantee of final salvation. Those who are faithless to their baptismal obligations incur a stricter judgment because of it.

We can see from the first statement the main error in FV ecclesiology. According to the FV, "membership in the one true Christian Church is visible and objective." Therefore, within any local church body, a member in that church would be considered a true Christian without any qualifications whatsoever. Since "covenant membership" is objective, when the profession says that "in Him we have the renewal of life in the fullness of life in the new age of the kingdom of God," it logically follows that objectively all church members have the "renewal of life in the fullness of life in the new age of the kingdom of God" in Christ.

Such an objectivization of the covenant of grace creates a tension within the FV system. It is a fact that not everyone who calls himself a Christian and was a member of the church continues on as a Christian. How can the Federal Visionists account for this undeniable reality? The way they have settled the tension between objective salvific membership and visible apostasy is to redefine faith as faithfulness. Having affirmed that membership is objective, they put forward their statement that membership in the Church is "an infallible indicator or guarantee of final salvation." Instead, members have to persevere in faithfulness as Christians in order to guarantee their final salvation.

Since FV claimed that membership in the church is objective, this therefore means that for members who are faithless, "those who have faithless to their baptismal obligations," at one time were truly saved by Christ. So for such individuals, they were truly saved while they were members in the church, but then when they became "faithless to their baptismal obligations," they do not have their final salvation. One indeed wonders what definition of "truly" we are operating with here.

While the FV advocates strongly deny believing in salvation by faith and works, the essence of their teaching promotes it, except it is not called "works", but "faithfulness". What exactly is the difference is anyone's guess. That faithfulness is non-meritorious? What is "merit"? Is "merit" necessarily defined in relation to boasting or being better than others? Or is it rather defined as positively doing something in order to achieve a certain result?

The FV Profession says that those who are not faithful will in a sense not be saved. This therefore means that one has to be faithful to be saved, and those who are faithless are lost. Such is the very definition of a works-principle whereby one has to do something (be faithful) in order to gain something (final salvation).

In this light, the FV denial of salvation by faith and works is mere semantics. Of course, nobody thinks that the FV advocates believe in salvation by obeying all the Mosaic ceremonial laws! The way they deny salvation by faith and works is through the refusal to label their idea of "faithfulness" as a work despite having all the trappings of a works-principle. In contrast to the FV, it is seen that faithfulness as they have defined it is a work, and therefore FV does indeed teach salvation by faith and works, as defined in its historic Protestant sense.

The Reformed view that Salvation by Faith Alone implies that a person requires faith and nothing else. This means that a person formally does not have to be faithful in order to be saved. Salvation is by faith apart from any work including faithfulness.

This does not mean that a believer once saved can live like the Devil, because sanctification follows Justification as believers are united with Christ (cf Rom. 6). But such works are post-salvation fruits, not salvation conditions.

Consider this analogy: An apple seed is genetically apple-like even though it looks like a seed — round/oval, black and totally unlike a tree or an apple. It will however grow into an apple tree when planted. A mango seed is genetically mango-like. Just as an apple seed is considered to be an APPLE seed because it is genetically "apple", even though there are no apples that can be seen, so believers are considered saved even though no fruits (apples) can be seen.

Using this analogy, according to FV, all seeds are objectively genetically "apple" . These "apple" seed then have to produce apples (faithfulness) in order to continue being an "apple" tree (final salvation). When any "apple" seed produces mangoes (being faithless), they cease to be an "apple" tree (are not finally saved).

In the FV system, faithfulness becomes something to do instead of something that true Christians are. This logically results in legalism which is further worked out in their distortion of the visible/invisible church distinction, which we will look at now.

[to be continued]

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: On God

The Joint Federal Vision (FV) profession is one confessional document written by some Federal Visionists. In light of the currently ongoing Frank Turk debate, I think it is good to look at it.

The framers of the profession claim to be "confessionally bound to the Three Forms of Unity or the Westminster Confession of Faith" (p. 1). Such of course mean nothing if indeed what they teach goes against the Reformed standards.

The first section starts with "Our triune God", as follows:

We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations. All faithful theology and life is conducted in union with and imitation of the way God eternally is, and so we seek to understand all that the Bible teaches—on covenant, on law, on gospel, on predestination, on sacraments, on the Church—in the light of an explicit Trinitarian understanding.

Immediately, we can see one major problem with this statement. Where in Scripture is God stated to be the "archetype of all covenantal relations"? We are only told that all members of the Trinity are involved in activities such as election, redemption etc. But works are different from relations.

One problem with the statement portrayed here is the archetypal/ ectypal distinction. Since God is three persons in one essence, can we even describe God's intra-trinitarian relationship archetypally? Since we cannot do so, what warrant do we have to even think we can describe it in such a way that we can use it as an archetypal template for relations?

A second related problem is the denial of the creator/ creature distinction. Since when can God's relations be analogous to how God (Creator) relates to Man (creature)? Even if we are talking about interpersonal relations between men, how can relations within the infinite transcendent Creator be considered as qualitatively similar to relations between creatures?

Biblically, the major problem is that the concept is not derived from Scripture but instead contradicts it. We are not left in the dark how God has related to Adam, Noah, Abraham and humanity in general, and these scenarios in the Bible bear no resemblance to the intra-trinitarian relations that God has revealed to us ectypally. God punished Adam for his original sin with death because Adam violated the creation covenant. Is anyone willing to suggest any analogue God's relation to Adam has with God's intra-trinitarian relationship? The thought of it is blasphemous!

We can thus see that the Joint FV Profession at its beginning is already unbiblical. Of course, it can be argued that this particular statement "does not contradict the Reformed standards", for which Reformer could have imagined such blasphemous nonsense? Who could have thought that humans are to try to emulate God in his essence, in who He is?

3rd Statement by Daniel Chew (Affirmative)

This is my third statement.


I must say that the answers by Frank in the cross-examination have been very informative and revealing. First of all, I need to briefly correct some misrepresentations of my position.

It is simply wrong that I necessarily advocate cutting off from anyone who has sufficient theological flaws. It is also wrong that I would necessarily deem any church a false church by merely taking part in one 40 Days of Purpose campaign. Such errors on Frank’s part suggest that Frank not only did not truly bother to understand my position, but he simply reads his stereotype of what the doctrine of separation looks like into this debate. More specifically, he reads the Fundamentalist idea of separation into the debate, whereas my view is the Reformed view not the Fundamentalist one. Seeing that I made that clear early in the debate, Frank is without excuse in bashing a straw man.

We must remember that the debate thesis is the necessity of separation from false churches. The debate is not about all the nuances of how the doctrine of separation is to be applied to individuals qua persons, and I thus only address individuals in their ecclesiastical positions.

To digress briefly, Frank totally misunderstands infant baptism in his answer to my second question, and since I wasn’t asking about infant baptism in that question, his attack there was a cheap shot! We baptize infants not upon some “Gospel offer” but because infants are in the external aspect of the covenant of grace (i.e. the visible church). Seeing however that Frank does not get the visible/ invisible church distinction, I guess I should not expect Frank to understand this, but interested parties may want to check out Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith[1] and John Fesko’s recent book Word, Water, and Spirit[2].

As I see it, the main difference between us is ecclesiology. Frank Turk holds to the Federal Vision ecclesiology, while I hold to Reformed ecclesiology. Let me unpack this so we can see the difference between the two.

First of all, we can see that Frank has no real use for the visible/ invisible church distinction. Instead, when pressed, Frank mocks the concept of the invisible church as requiring men to “discern the invisible inside the visible church.”

The Reformed understanding of the Visible/ Invisible Church distinction is succinctly described in Pastor Wes White’s blog article on the Federal Vision:[3]

Classic Protestant theology defined the Church as true believers in Christ. … However, these theologians also recognized that God had commanded that believers come together for joint profession, worship, and discipline. The problem is that in this external communion many gather who are not actual believers and do not possess forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, new life, and adoption. As a result, they [these theologians] followed the Bible in distinguishing the Church as it appears from the Church as it really is (see Mt. 13). This is often called the visible/invisible Church distinction.

The importance of the visible/invisible church distinction in the Church is in informing us that not everyone who is in the church is saved, and we should not presume their salvation. Rather, we judge according to their confession. With regards to churches, we are not to presume any entity that calls itself a church to be a true church, but rather to check for the biblical marks of the true church and evaluate accordingly.

The Federal Vision objectivized salvation within the church and collapsed the visible/invisible church distinction such that almost everyone in the church and every church must be taken as a church of Christ, to which all the commands for fellowshipping and giving believers the benefit of the doubt are to be applied. We can see the Federal Vision error in Frank’s position as he applies all the biblical imperatives on Christian interaction to everyone and every church where possible. The traditional Reformed position is that all these are to be applied within believers. In other words, in the Reformed position, orthodoxy precedes church body life. The problem with Frank and the Federal Vision is that church body life trumps everything including orthodoxy.

Frank’s identification with Federal Vision can be even more clearly seen when he thinks there are no problems with Douglas Wilson. This is serious as Reformed and Presbyterian denominations have denounced Federal Vision as heresy,[4] although it is admitted they focused more on the implications its ecclesiology has on the doctrine of justification. A good book specifically on Federal Vision proponent Doug Wilson is the one by John Robbins and Sean Gerety entitled Not Reformed At All.[5]

The doctrine of separation according to Frank can only be applied when one is kicked out of the church, as in Roman Catholicism. Other than that, the marks of the church are merely characteristics that churches have to work towards and to work from. Such positions taken by Frank are more evidences for his Federal Vision objectivization of the covenant whereby churches and all who are in churches are to be considered Christian not because of their true confession but because they are churches and people in the churches, a position which we can being tirelessly promoted throughout this debate.

On the Reformed confessions, Frank did not answer the question put to him. The confessions were composed for many purposes, and listing down some of them does not mean that they were not meant to exclude unbelievers. It must be remembered that the confessions were written to show that the Reformers were not part of the radical Anabaptist movement, and therefore one of the purpose was to exclude these unbelievers. The ecclesiastical canon which is most explicit in being used to exclude unbelievers is of course the Canons of Dordt, which rejected the heretical opinions of the Classical Arminians and was the basis for excommunicating them from the churches.

While not all doctrines are major, the whole faith is essential, as Dr. Mike Horton puts it.[6] The Confessional Maximalist view therefore regards the Confession as regulating the faith, and thus impacting the way the marks are evaluated. It is in this light that Frank’s trivializing of the Canon of Scripture is disturbing. While materially true, such a cavalier approach to the canon of Scripture (the formal principle of the Reformation) is a formal attack on the authority of Scripture. It is one thing to be honestly struggling with which books are in the Canon; it is another thing to think that changing the Canon by itself (even if no doctrines are changed) is of little importance. Such is the difference between honest enquiry and disregard for God’s Word and its authority.

Going back to the biblical data on the Galatian and Corinthian churches, we can clearly see from the beginning of the epistle that Paul wrote Galatians harshly because the essential doctrine of the Gospel was at stake, whereas in Corinth the believers were misbehaving but the church was not in danger of losing the Gospel. Frank’s argument on this fails to properly interpret the epistles. Corinth was not in any danger of degenerating into a false church whereas the ones at Galatia were. What this means for us is that doctrine is more important than practice for Paul as it should be for us. The terrible state of the Corinthian church is therefore not an apologetic for not emphasizing the importance of having a true church. Separation after all is for a true church, not a pure church.

Putting all this together, we can see the main contention arise because of Frank’s Federal Vision ecclesiology. This colors his understanding of the text and results in bizarre understanding of Galatians and Corinthians.

The position I am advocating rejects Frank’s Federal Vision ecclesiology. Rather, we are to apply the marks of a true church to discern true from false churches and separate from false churches. The Reformed Confessions aid us in this aspect as one of their intentions was to exclude unbelievers like the Arminians, the Soccinians, the Arians and others like them.


References:

[1] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd Ed. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1998),935-950

[2] John V. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage, 2010)

[3] Wes White, "Reply to the Joint FV Profession, Part 5 — The Denial of the Visible/Invisible Church Distinction", Johannes Weslianus. Accessed online at http://www.weswhite.net/2010/03/reply-to-joint-fv-profession-part-5/ (Mar 01, 2011).

[4] See for example the 2006 OPC report on Justification (accessible at http://www.opc.org/GA/justification.pdf) and The Nine Points of URCNA Synod Schereville 2007 (accessible at http://clark.wscal.edu/9points.php).

[5] John W. Robbins and Sean Gerety, Not Reformed At All: Medievalism in “Reformed” Churches (Unicoi, Tennessee: Trinity Foundation), 101-128

[6] Michael S. Horton, “The Whole Faith is Essential: Part 1”, Valiant for Truth blog (http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/the-whole-faith-is-essential-part-1). Michael S. Horton, “The Whole Faith is Essential: Part 2”, Valiant for Truth blog (http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/the-whole-faith-is-essential-part-2)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cross-Examination of Frank: Q9

Q9: Indeed. Frank, do you personally see any use for the teaching of the marks of the true church?


A9: I think it's somewhat amusing that in a debate about separation — that is, the demand that an individual must cut himself off from anyone with sufficient theological flaws -- Daniel is making much of ecclesiastical uses of doctrine. He can't really decide what he's demanding or when the demand became evident in the practice of the church, so he treads back to one set of doctrines which, he hopes, look enough like his demand to make some case for cutting off pastors with a lifetime of valuable and faithful ministry because of their associations with questionable characters.

That said, here are three uses of the 3 marks:

1. Didactic: that is, to systematize the teaching of Scripture for the sake of teaching the faithful about the purpose of the church. It creates catechories [sic] for what Scripture teaches in a more-organic way.

2. Ecclesiological: that is, it defines what a church is and therefore what it is not. It sets the boundaries for mission and practice.

3. Missiological: that is, it creates priorities for the practical work of the church. Items not inside the three marks are secondary at best and therefore are not priorities for those who are seeking to do what the church ought to do.

Thanks for asking.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Cross-Examination of Frank: Q8

Q8: In the course of your cross-examination, you seem to indicate that only justification by faith alone defines true Christianity. Is your position therefore that believers should not separate from other professing believers who hold to an open canon, the Roman Catholic canon, and/or the doctrine of “partial inerrancy”? What about if churches and entire denominations hold to these views?


A8: I think it's funny that you think holding to the Roman Canon is some sort of self-contained error. Doesn't holding to the Roman Canon lead one to believe in Purgatory? I would suggest that the problem is not so much what one would hold to as additional books in the canon as what one does with those books.

It's a serious thing to say something is Scripture. But, for example, if one holds to a canon which includes Bel and the Dragon, and reads it as a metaphor for the final triumph of Christ without any contradiction of John's Revelation, in the worst case he has taken devotional literature too far and used it to reiterate what other Scripture actually says. He's calling Bel "scripture", but he's not really changing the message of Scripture.

The problem, of course, is that no one ever does this: those who add to or take away from Scripture always do it for the sake of doctrines either in the 66 books which they want to contest or which are not in the 66 books which they must add — usually to the detriment of the Gospel. So I would say that if someone wants to hold even to an open canon, the proof of their faith is not in what books they would add but in what doctrines they would add or undo.

Cross-Examination of Frank: Q7

Q7: You said that “Separation cannot be a matter of private judgment but a matter of ecclesiastical practice for the sake of pastoral ends.” May I know how do you reconcile this statement with your advice in your first answer: that a Christian ought to separate from Roman Catholicism? Isn’t that a matter of private judgment?


A7: You have misquoted me, and excluded my actual opinion from the statement.

I said:

Unequivocally, this person you describe in your Q#1 is under the anathema of Rome. He should leave that church and seek one which does not make the mistakes Rome has made confessionally, ecclesiastically, and ecumenically.

That is: because he has been anathematized by people who are abusing their ecclesiastical power, he ought to leave. They have told him everything he needs to know, and have giuven [sic] him their verdict on his faith. Because they admit they do not share his, he is free to go.

Cross-Examination of Frank: Q6

Q6: Frank, I must thank you for giving revealing answer to the questions. Let’s clarify a few things here.

What would be your advice to a member of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, if he confides in you that he thinks that the church and Pastor Douglas Wilson is not teaching the Gospel?


A6: If someone told me, "As a member o [sic] Christ Church in Moscow, ID, I think Doug Wilson does not preach the Gospel," after I stopped laughing I would ask him if he had spoken to Doug about it.

That is the consistent model of the NT: talk to someone whom you think is going the wrong way.

Cross-Examination of Frank: Q5

Q5: You accused me that I “equate [my] views with the work of the councils.” In your view, are the Confessions (by the non-Baptist magisterial Reformers and their descendants, i.e Baptist Confessions are not to be considered) intended to function to exclude unbelievers?


A5: The Augsburg Confession says that it was written “that in this matter of religion the opinions and judgments of the parties might be heard in each other's presence; and considered and weighed among ourselves in mutual charity, leniency, and kindness, in order that, after the removal and correction of such things as have been treated and understood in a different manner in the writings on either side, these matters may be settled and brought back to one simple truth and Christian concord.”

Luther said of the Smallcald [sic] articles that they were written “to compile and collect the articles of our doctrine [in order that it might be plain] in case of deliberation as to what and how far we would be both willing and able to yield to the Papists, and in what points we intended to persevere and abide to the end.”

Reformed.org says that Guido de Bras [sic] wrote the belgic [sic] confession “to protest against [Roman Catholic] oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures.”

The additional documents for the WCF say that the primary concern of the document is to have our eyes opened, and to turn us away from ignorance and error; the specific application noted to that end is for parents and heads of household so that they may “labor in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” as they lead their families.

I trust the authors of these documents to have said what they mean — which clearly, is not what you mean. The confessions plainly say that they are intended for use among belivers [sic] for the sake of eliminated misunderstandings, offer an open hand in order to find the palces [sic] where agreement can still be made, and to teach the leaders of households how to be wise and mature in the faith. They are not issued to exclude anyone but to give exposition to the necessary truths of the faith for the sake of edifying believers and growing unity in the midst of disagreements.