Thursday, August 21, 2014

Contra Johannem Frameum: RSC's Recovering the Reformed Confession - Reformed vs Evangelical

So the true church is now broken up into thousands of denominations and varying traditions, contrary to our Lord's will. The church is still one in that it has one Lord, one faith, and on baptism. But there are divisions of theology, practice, ethnicity, of which the Reformed tradition is one.

Christians are committed first to Christ, then to the one body of Christ, and only then to a particular form of the church. They must make the third commitment only because history has made it necessary. Because of the tragic division of the church. one may not be a "mere Christian." He must join a congregation that does not have fellowship with all other congregations. So he must be Reformed or non-Reformed, not both. There should be in his heart a purpose to do something, even if he only can do a little bit, to lessen the divisions of the church and to make progress toward the reunion of the church.

If a believer is Reformed he should give due appreciation to the achievements of that tradition in theology,church government, and other ways. But the focus of his life should not be on his denomination or tradition. It should be on Christ and the Scriptures. He should feel deeply the errors of Reformed chauvinism, the attitude that celebrates and seeks to preserve the distinctiveness of Reformed Christianity from the influence of other branches of the church. He should learn from other traditions and recommend what he learns to his Reformed friends. ...

His church home, contrary to Horton's "village green" model, is the whole body of God's elect. His relation to non-Refomed Christians is spiritual oneness with Christ, not "shared interests." (Shared interests! What a trivializing of the unity of Jesus' body!)

A Reformed community that maintains its biblical heritage while seeking to grow in its love for the church as a whole is well worth supporting and recommending to others. This is not [R Scott] Clark's view of the church, and that I take to be the most serous criticism of the book under review [Recovering the Reformed Confession]. But it is one I heartily recommend to my readers. (John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), 117-8)

Chapter 3 of John Frame's book is Frame's attempt to interact with R. Scott Clark's book Recovering the Reformed Confession. Clark is a strict confessionalist of sorts, and not surprisingly, Frame doesn't like him or his ideas one bit.

While Frame disagrees with Dr. Clark on many things, his main contention with Clark's book is that the two of them have competing views of what it means to be "Reformed." Clark defines "Reformed" historically, while Frame defines it, well, as merely a tradition he is sortof stuck in, a tradition that is merely one fragment of Christianity, as we can see from the quote above. One wonders why Frame even want to be called "Reformed," since evidently to him there is not much difference between Reformed and Anabaptist, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy. All are merely a matter of taste, as all are mere fragments of the Church. But if all are a matter of taste, why not just discard the labels entirely and merge in one "sweet" ecumenical syrup and just focus on the "lurrveeeeee" of Christ? Why doesn't Frame just join any of the Stone-Campbell descendent churches, since that was the original intention of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell, who desired to be known merely as "Christians"? And to his claim that one can be either "Reformed" or "non-Reformed," not both, why not just apply the Hegelian dialectic and found your own denomination, a third path if you may?

The problem with Frame and his idea of "evangelical reunion" is that his church history is practically non-existent. What kind of "summary" of church history is it to state that the church began with Christ, and then after the times of the apostles,

... the one true church eventually divided.Groups broke away from the fellowship: west broke from east, Protestant from Catholic, Protestant from Protestant. ... The blame, of course, is not on everyone equally but these divisions always resulted from someone's sin— either the sin of those who illegitimately left the one body, or, in most cases, both. (p. 117)

In the early church councils, the various heretical groups were kicked out of the early Catholic church. At the time of Chalcedon in 451AD, a significant number of groups were excommunicated because they refused to subscribe to the Definition of Chalcedon. The Coptic church were Monophysites, while many Nestorians fled eastwards into the Sassanid Empire, and established a foothold there, creating a vibrant center of an alternate "Christianity" outside the Roman Empire (both East and West). So even in the early Catholic church before the East-West Schism formalized in 1054, there were centers of "Christianity" besides Rome and Constantinople. The trouble is that these churches were deemed heretical by Chalcedon, and their adherents not considered to be in communion with Christ and His Church.

The Reformation of course "split" the Reformers from the Roman Church, but then the Reformers were not trying to create a new church but to reform the Medieval Catholic Church. It was rather the Anabaptists who wanted to overthrow all of Christendom, not just the political order but also the ecclesiastical order. None of the Reformers thought of themselves as a mere "fragment" of Christ's Church, alongside other "denominations" like the Anabaptists and the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, they saw themselves as reforming the Church, and there is only one church. The various denominations were created in order to give form to the one church they conceived themselves to be in. Where there are practical issues that prohibit union, like national and language boundaries, the different church bodies had fraternal relations. In having fraternal relations, they are acknowledging that the other denomination was a legitimate church body. Union would have been considered and taken place if not for practical considerations, an understanding that saw the Reformed churches eager to cooperate and merge with other church bodies of like faith and practice (e.g. the merger of the churches from the Doleantie and the earlier 19th century Afschieding in early 20th century Netherlands).

All of these just go to show Frame's ignorance of church history and the general Reformed understanding of what a denomination is. A denomination is not a "fragment" of the Christian church. A denomination strives to encompass all of Christ's churches, and to establish fraternal relations with those that are practically impossible to achieve union for any kind of legitimate reason. Denominations and churches that have no legitimate reason to remain separate from any other church bodies ought to merge. So if Frame's view of the church is correct, then all of these churches ought to combine. There shouldn't be any "Reformed" or "non-Reformed," but only the title "Christian." This was after all the dream of the 19th century Restoranionists Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell.

So why aren't churches uniting? Evangelical churches generally are not interested in uniting because they have a false doctrine of the church as to its nature being only local. Thus, Evangelicalism only believe in a spiritual unity, the unity of all believers "in Christ." For the Reformed churches, at their best they understand the inability to unite stems from differences in doctrine, serious differences in doctrine that make it impossible for ecumenism to be possible. First, we should acknowledge that there is no unity with heretical churches, which would rule out Frame's beloved example of Joel Osteen. Those with serious error(s) are also excluded, as are all Arminians and Arminian church bodies. And lastly, certain practices like the denial of pedobaptism in Reformed Baptists circles would make it impossible for a united church life to continue, even if we were to agree with the Reformed Baptists on almost everything else (which is not really true, but I digress).

There is the Reformed desire for union, which is to be based upon a shared confession of the same apostolic and Reformed faith. Then, there is the faux "Evangelical union" promoted by Frame, in which orthodoxy does not seem to define the boundaries of the Church. That is why Frame's view of "unity" is wrong. In Frame's counter-analogy to Mike Horton's "village green" model, Frame states that all who claim the name "Christian" should be treated automatically as brothers and sisters in Christ, with a corresponding "spiritual oneness." But such "oneness" advocated by Frame has little if anything to do with truth, in comparison with the Reformed view of unity. (Horton's "village green" model only makes sense when one sees the other houses as those who claim the name of Christ but who might not be actually part of Christ's church, and therefore there are "shared interests" when one interacts with them on a normal basis.)

While I do not necessarily agree with Dr. Clark on everything, he is right in linking "Reformed" to the Reformed Confessions, not because the Confessions have taken the place of Scripture, but because the Confessions confess what the Church believes to be true and biblical. (If the Church decides that certain parts are contrary to Scripture, then she is to amend them accordingly.) Frame's attack on Clark however, betrays his ignorance of church history and his ignorance of Reformed ecclesiology, and should be rejected altogether.

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