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!