Point of Order: Even for Covenanters 2k Is Confessional

The grenade that Tim Bayly tossed about the infidelity of 2k ministers sent a lot of shrapnel flying over at Greenbaggins where critics of 2k have repeatedly claimed that two-kingdom theology is outside the bounds of Reformed confessionalism. (So far Rabbi Bret has yet to weigh in directly. Since the Baylys treated him the way the Puritans treated Roger Williams, perhaps he has no dog in this fight.)

The argument about the confessional status of 2k can take several forms. One is that 2k is not the position of the original Westminster Confession, or of the other Reformed confessions for that matter. Another is the idea that the Bible calls the magistrate to uphold both tables of the law. And with this duty comes the magistrate’s responsibility to punish blasphemers and idolaters since the first table clearly forbids these sins and since God instructed the Israelites to execute those guilty of such sins.

The problem with this argument is that American Presbyterians revised (see all the revisions here) the original Westminster Confession and churches such as the PCA and the OPC continue to accept the revisions from 1787-1788. For those unfamiliar, here are a few highlights of the original and the revision:

Original ch. 23.3

The civil magistrate hath. . . authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

This is fairly standard language in the Reformed confessions with some invoking Old Testament penal codes and some simply saying the magistrate should enforce both tables of the law.

The American Revision

. . . no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.

Not to be missed is that the revision not only drops entirely the magistrate’s responsibility for suppressing heresy and blasphemy, but it raises the stakes by forbidding laws that would prefer any denomination and insisting that magistrates protect the good names of all people no matter what their religion or their infidelity. It is an amazing change.

But lest some conclude that this was simply the whacky action of liberalizing and Enlightened Presbyterians who were still high on the fumes of revolution, the case of the Covenanters is especially noteworthy. Reformed Presbyterians are the keepers of the torch for the National Covenant, a view of religion far closer to the one that informed the Westminster Confession than any other in Scotland or North America. That is to say, that Covenanters still insist, as their Constitution indicates, “Every nation ought to recognize the Divine institution of civil government, the sovereignty of God exercised by Jesus Christ, and its duty to rule the civil affairs of men in accordance with the will of God.” The RPCNA Constitution adds, the nation “should enter into covenant with Christ and serve to advance His Kingdom on earth.” If a nation fails, it sins, “makes the nation liable to the wrath of God, and threatens the continued existence of the government and nation.”

This is the logic not only of the establishment principle but the reasoning behind the Covenanters refusal throughout most of their U.S. history to participate in elections or serve in the military.

So you would think that the language of suppressing blasphemy and heresy from the original Westminster Confession is just fine with the RPCNA. It turns out that Covenanters, at least confessionally, no longer have the stomach for the language of 1640s London. In their Testimony, which is part of the communion’s Constitution and runs along side the Confession, the RPCNA has this to say about paragraph three of chapter twenty-three: “We reject the portion of paragraph 3 after the colon:” (emphasis theirs). This means, for the confessionally and grammatically challenged, that even the logic of national covenant no longer sustains the idea that the magistrate has authority

. . . and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (Original WCF)

For the literacy challenged, that means that critics of 2k who insist 2k is outside the bounds of the confession would not even find a home in the RPCNA under the very Blue Banner at least on this point.

Now some have tried to say that the revisions still assert the magistrate’s duty to suppress blasphemy and heresy. But given what the American divines said and did not say, and given that the Covenanters no longer insist on magisterial responsibility for punishing idolatry, this argument is even less believable than the one about George Washington being an orthodox Protestant.

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60 thoughts on “Point of Order: Even for Covenanters 2k Is Confessional

  1. Just for the sake of stickliness:

    no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief.

    does leave open the possibility that laws of the commonwealth might interfere with, let, or hinder the due exercise thereof, of non-Christian denominations (without, of course, offering indignity, abuse, violence, or injury to them).

    Given that Unitarians were rife at this time, was the intent of the Confessional revision to leave that loophole for the magistrate, or not?

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  2. Jeff, first a technicality. I’d say that Unitarianism was not rife because William Ellery Channing’s sermon, “Unitarian Christianity,” sort of the Unitarian Declaration of Independence, was not delivered until 1819.

    But why doesn’t this answer your question: “It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever.” That would sure seem to mean protection for Unitarians.

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  3. OK, that seems fair. I was just wondering, historically, whether Presbies took the view that this included non-Christians.

    My understanding of Unitarianism was that it took root at Hahvahd in the mid-1700s. So “rife” is perhaps not the right word, but rather “established in the seminary.” Which, as we know, always precedes rifeness. Or rifedom. Or rifery.

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  4. But the passage you quoted only says that the civil magistrate must protect people from being abused by other people because of their religious beliefs. IOW, it prohibits vigilantism. It does not say that the magistrate may not punish persons for violating just laws related to either table of the Ten Commandments.

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  5. Tom, so why would the magistrate protect unbelievers and blasphemers from other citizens but not also from state officers that wanted to punish citizens on the basis of infidelity? Why especially since the revisers removed the language entirely of suppressing blasphemy and infidelity from the description of the magistrate’s responsibilities? What sense does it make that the magistrate still punishes persons for violating the first table but is supposed to protect all persons’ good name? In most Reformed settings before this, a blasphemer and idolater did not have “a good name.”

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  6. DGH asks:

    … why would the magistrate protect unbelievers and blasphemers from other citizens but not also from state officers that wanted to punish citizens on the basis of infidelity?

    So I ask, why would the magistrate protect murders from other citizens but not also from state officers (like a District Attorney) that wanted to punish citizens on the basis that one had committed murder?

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  7. Andrew, exactly. Thanks. Vigilantism, regardless of the sin/crime, is always contrary to a lawful society.

    The fact remains that the revised WCF places no restrictions on the civil magistrate wrt implementing and enforcing laws based on (both tables) of the Ten Commandments. That is the plain reading, and that is the classic 2K position.

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  8. Tom, how can it be the “plain” reading when the very words that were in the original are gone? Following your reading, the magistrate may still call synods and assemblies and preside at them. Is that plain?

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  9. DGH,

    “AD,

    because blasphemy does not harm other citizens.

    Apart from my affirming or denying a position, that clearly begs the question, and also makes use of vague and ambiguous words.

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  10. because blasphemy does not harm other citizens

    Really, are you sure about that? Can you demonstrate that no one has been harmed by blasphemy? However, if we use your seeming definition of “harm”, attempted suicide doesn’t harm other citizens so that should be legal too?

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  11. Andrew, I think it’s fair to say that those who remain sympathetic to the original theocratic nature of WCF 23.3 (and Belgic 36, for that matter) have the burden of showing how blasphemy and idolatry harm society, not how those sympathetic to the 2k revisions need to show how murder harms someone. And I’d even make it easy on you by meeting the demands of common sense instead of the rigors of logic.

    (Paul, just curious, do you ever demand of those who agree with you to meet the rigors of logic before you stretch out the right hand of fellowship?)

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  12. Before the theocracy in Israel was established, was there any call to kill idolaters and blasphemers?
    Within the theocracy in Israel, of course, there was that call. But even then the punishment was for those within the bounds of the theocracy. Outside of Israel there was no command (at least that I can think of) given to Israelites to punish Idolaters and Blasphemers. It seems that Daniel and friends never attempted to punish, they just refused to obey when it came to a direct command to bow to an idol and/or pray to the emperor.
    Fast forward to the New Testament, and Paul says let the state punish those on the outside while the church deals with those on the inside. That sounds like the same principle given to Israel. I don’t find anywhere that the theocracy of Israel is to spread to all nations, but the Gospel is.

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  13. Zrim,

    “(Paul, just curious, do you ever demand of those who agree with you to meet the rigors of logic before you stretch out the right hand of fellowship?)”

    Apart from the fact that question begging is an informal fallacy, and so not in the domain of “the rigors of logic,” many people can attest that I do. I believe in equal treatment. Moreover, many demand it of me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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  14. And to pile on Matt’s 2k point, if Paul, Tom, and Andrew can handle a little doo!alism, remember that the sword of the magistrate only restrains the body, which the sword of the Lord in the church governs the soul/conscience. That distinction between the outward and internal, or between civil compliance and acts of conscience is basic to 2k throughout its history even under the theocratic times of Rome and Geneva.

    So even if we granted Andrew’s attempt at a point (as opposed to a drive-by), if the state were to try to remedy the spiritual and conscience dimensions of blasphemy it couldn’t do it either for the blasphemer or the offended bystander. The state is only dealing with externals.

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  15. “Following your reading, the magistrate may still call synods and assemblies and preside at them. Is that plain?”

    Is it forbidden? Your view is that silence implies a negative. No one is required to take the wording in the way you suggest. Just as no one is forbidden from believing that the pope is antichrist just because some words have been altered. It’s a confession erecting a tent which, in certain areas, can accommodate many views. Both the X and NOT X views can fix comfortably under the tent.

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  16. “have the burden of showing how blasphemy and idolatry harm society,”

    1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 3)

    Sin rarely manifests itself as a singularity. Sins are intertwined, as evidenced by the rather lengthy lists we find in Scripture. According to Timothy’s testimony, blasphemers are given to affecting society in various ways, e.g., “mak[ing] captives of gullible women loaded down with sins.”

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  17. Darryl – Nice catch on pointing out the current contents of the RPCNA Constitution. The only thing left to round this out is to place the 1788/89 confessional revisions into their context. In 1787 the United States were making the change from Articles of Confederation to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights would come 2 years later (1791), with the famous 1st Amendment, prohibiting Congress from establishing a national religion. The Constitution was approved knowing the Bill of Rights was coming soon thereafter.

    So the Presbyterian Church, knowing there would be no federally established or favored denomination, was bringing the Westminster Stds into conformity with the political realities on this American side of the Atlantic. This is the historic cause and origin for the separate existence of the Reformed Presbyterians in America. If the new nation wasn’t going to establish any denomination as the national denomination, then the Presbyterians weren’t going to have a confessional standard at odds with that social and political reality, otherwise the Presbyterians would be confessionally subversive of the new nation, at least on this one issue.

    The sidebar would point out, the only 2 things left that keep the RPCNA organizationally distinct is that officers must be dry (no beverage alcohol), and they only sing a psalter. I think even ministers may now vote.

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  18. Darryl,

    So pointing out question begging means I’m opposed to you and can’t handle a little “doo!alism”? I would have hated to have been your math teacher:

    “Darryl, you did these matrices wrong.”

    “Aha! So, you are an anti-2K doo!alist!”

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  19. Chris D: So the Presbyterian Church, knowing there would be no federally established or favored denomination, was bringing the Westminster Stds into conformity with the political realities on this American side of the Atlantic.

    But this is by no means the 2K argument here. It would be one thing, of course, for a 2K-er to argue that, given our political reality, we must submit to the government including the 1st Amendment. That’s one argument, and a very respectable one at that.

    The argument here, however, is much broader-reaching. Playing off of the footnote to the Revised Belgic, DGH and Zrim argue that all governments everywhere ought to conform to the 1789 revision, that the 1789 is not merely submissive to the political situation on the ground but making a Biblically correct statement concerning the true doctrine of the magistrate.

    Which makes me think a bit further. On this account, Calvin would therefore be out of accord with the 1789 standards (or the revised Belgic), and would be defrocked as a Presbyterian (or CRC or URCNA) minister.

    It’s an interesting thought experiment, and I don’t feel comfortable with the conclusion.

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  20. Well, if you can knock a straw man over with a drive by, although, it’s more of a “walk-by”, why not?
    There you go again… I’ve not argued for the state to do any remedy in the spiritual and conscience dimensions, just the externals. There is a spiritual/conscience dimension to all 10 commandments, not just 1 through 4 & 10, and the state has never had legitimate jurisdiction over the spiritual/conscience aspects, and it shouldn’t try to. But just like many with abortion, you want “blasphemy safe, legal, and rare” — I think we get that. That would make a great bumper sticker for you.

    Sorry Zrim, but just like so many things in life, what you think is fair, is not necessarily so. If you need to despise others in order to feel righteous in your own beliefs, well that will be it’s own reward. Calling people who disagree with your politics 1k theocrats well, doesn’t help your cause, but then well, if it makes you feel superior, I guess we all have to have something. The revisions to the WCF 23 and Belgic 36, did not introduce 2K theology into either document. They were both always 2K. The revisions didn’t make them any more or less 2K then they were. By those revisions the churches just stopped confessing that the state had a few enumerated powers more than they were willing at the time (of the revisions) to confess. The idea of 2K, the separation of church and state is only present in nations where Christian morals were either dominant or formerly dominant, because 2K is a biblical idea. We call it Two Kingdom theology because it is theology. The very name admits the state has some theology it needs to do.

    If one confesses the Confession of the OPC, which has a chapter on the Civil Magistrate, then one confesses that the state has some duties toward the church, but does not say that the magistrate is forbidden to make or enforce laws pertaining to the 1st table of the Decalogue.

    In 23:4 of the Confession of the OPC, it says with respect to the magistrate, that we are “to honor their persons”. The BC 36, similarly states that we are to “hold its representatives in honor and respect”. Considering his remarks elsewhere we know that Zrim does not hold to that, but feels it folksy to to use contemptuous nicknames for at lease some magistrates, yet he is so righteous as to tell others how they should be disposed toward the magistrate, and that they should listen to him.

    Finally, how sure are you that blasphemy is 100% legal in all 50 states? Even in the states where it legal, how long has it been so? How did the nation survive under such despotism of the church?

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  21. Tom and Andrew, what part of “reject” don’t you understand? The Covenanters, who stand closer than any communion in the U.S. to the original politics of the Westminster Assembly, you know, the Solemn League and COVENANT, subscribed by Parliament in 1643, “reject” the original confession in what it says on the magistrate’s responsibilities toward unbelief. This is not silence. It is rejection. That would be a point for revising the confession in the first place. If they wanted the magistrate to have the powers to suppress unbelief, why revise (and why do so in such an obvious way)?

    Andrew, no one that I know makes lying a matter of conscience. But people do believe that worshiping God is such a matter. And Roman Catholics and Jews also believe in the first table. But their observance of those laws got them booted from Puritan New England and Presbyterian Scotland and Anglican England.

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  22. Jeff, there is an easy answer to your somewhat hysterical hypothetical — eee gads, no Calvin in our church — it is John Murray. I’m pretty sure that he agreed with Calvin and he didn’t have any trouble in the OPC.

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  23. Chris D., nice try but in 1729 when the Synod of Philadelphia first adopted the Westminster Standards, the body unanimously raised reservations about the Confession’s teaching on the magistrate. It wasn’t a matter of a 1780s 2.0 version of the Confession.

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  24. The revisions to the WCF 23 and Belgic 36, did not introduce 2K theology into either document. They were both always 2K. The revisions didn’t make them any more or less 2K then they were.

    Andrew, huh? This is exactly what splits the room up: those sympathetic to the theocratic originals and those to the 2k revisions. It seperated Kuyper from Calvin. Or do you think “revision” means “pretty much like the original”? But suggesting that those who sympathize with the originals (not oppose my politics, ahem) are “theocratic” seems miles away from suggesting that those who oppose the Bayly’s are “unfaithful.” But your complaint at being tagged theocratic seems to presume there is something wrong being theocratic, as if it’s a fault. That’s the premise here, so what’s your beef?

    BTW, what is unduly righteous about suggesting that people should obey their magistrates? Is it the same thing that makes it wrong to suggest they also ought not worship him?

    Jeff, why would disagreement mean defrocking? I think you’re thinking of the anti-2kers who are using words like “unfaithful” to describe disagreement.

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  25. Hang on Zrim,

    This is exactly what splits the room up: those sympathetic to the theocratic originals and those to the 2k revisions.

    Let’s grant that the revisions are different from the originals. How different, I’m still wrestling through. But certainly different.

    But the thing is, the originals are 2k and theocratic. The revisions are 2k and non-theocratic.

    What? you say. Yes, it’s pretty clear: Calvin was a 2k-er, as DVD takes effort to point out. He was also a theocrat, in the “executing Servetus” sense of the term.

    So it’s not 2k-v-theocracy.

    It’s non-theocracy-v-theocracy, both of which are 2k in flavor. In the non-theocracy, the magistrate and church are separate, and the magistrate enforces laws that — well, keep people from hurting each other or something. The magistrate’s exact role is a little fuzzy in this theory.

    In the theocracy, the magistrate and church are separate, and the magistrate enforces the general equity of the two tables of the Law.

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  26. Jeff: On this account, Calvin would therefore be out of accord with the 1789 standards (or the revised Belgic), and would be defrocked as a Presbyterian
    Don’t worry. Calvin is already barred from the OPC because of the Sabbath question. I heard that sentiment at OPC GA in Long Beach, CA (1973 I think).

    Every time a big case or report has hit the OPC that sheds light on the denomination’s direction or trajectory, this kind of thing comes forth from those disagreeing. But this defrocking or disqualifying of historical person by contemporaries discussions and conclusions just doesn’t hold water. There’s no knowing what Calvin would have done or said, no knowing how his thoughts may have developed, if he had been present in the 1720s or 1780s in the Delaware Valley

    Darryl: I haven’t got any material available at the moment re 1729 and the Synod with respect to civil magistrate. But reservations are not the same as confessional revision. It could be the case that 1729s reservations had grown to the point where revision was the proper action in 1789.

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  27. Jeff, it’s a fair enough point. But ever since Augustine wrote “The City of God” everyone has believed there are two kingdoms. What their natures are and how they relate to one another is where the divisions start, owing not a little to the influence of one’s time and place, which is why it can be freely admitted that while Calvin can be pressed into the service of non-theocratic 2k he was also a man of his Constaninian times. His practice didn’t always keep up with the implications of his theory.

    So when I say 2k-v-theocracy it could very well be said that it’s shorthand for theocratic 2k-v-non-theocratic 2k. Now to get the Baylyittes of the world to freely admit they think some theocracy is a good thing. I wonder if that will be as hard as admitting some social gospel or a touch of politicizing faith doesn’t hurt?

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  28. Jeff, what you are not accounting for in your theocratic considerations is that Zurich was different from Geneva. Calvin wanted the church to have sole power to excommunication (which generally followed with execution by the state, a la Servetus). Zurich was Erastian, actually Erastus was Zurichian, which meant the state had the power of excommunication. The separation of church and state power may have a secular expression (the USA) or a theocratic expression (Geneva). But once you introduce the idea that the church’s power is distinct and separate from the state’s, you have the basis for a fuller separation. And without that fuller separation you have the inconsistencies that Calvin experienced, such as claiming that Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, but then employing the state to enforce part of Christ’s rule.

    The real problem behind all this is Constantinianism. Where does the Bible ever say that the true faith needs to be upheld by the magistrate OUTSIDE the covenant community?

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  29. Zrim: So when I say 2k-v-theocracy it could very well be said that it’s shorthand for theocratic 2k-v-non-theocratic 2k.

    Is it really shorthand? Seems like there’s a rhetorical advantage to being able to call one’s opponents “anti-2k.”

    In all of this thinking out loud, I’m not convinced that Calvin is right. Rather, I’m just trying to wrestle through the issue of “God as a person whose rights are to be respected.”

    Not that God needs our help; but we owe him obedience, whether viewed from a moral law or a natural law point of view.

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  30. DGH: And without that fuller separation you have the inconsistencies that Calvin experienced, such as claiming that Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, but then employing the state to enforce part of Christ’s rule.

    I’m not so sure that Calvin was inconsistent. If indeed he was, then Inst 4.20 is simply incoherent.

    But if on the other hand, Calvin was not “employing the state to enforce part of Christ’s rule” (which he does not say) but rather “requiring that the magistrate be a faithful regent of God, who gave him his authority” (which he does say), then there’s no inconsistency. Two kingdoms, or jurisdictions, both of whom are to be faithful.

    DGH: The real problem behind all this is Constantinianism. Where does the Bible ever say that the true faith needs to be upheld by the magistrate OUTSIDE the covenant community?

    Ya know, I wonder at this “Constantinianism is the root of all ills” argument. Didn’t God in His providence allow for Constantinianism to flourish for a millennium? Didn’t He use it to help preserve and advance His church, even in spite of its flaws which ultimately caused the whole to collapse?

    It’s tempting to look at secular democracy as a superior entity. But secular democracies are still in their “bright, new, and shiny” phase. After a millennium of secular democracies, perhaps their dark underbelly may (or may not) make Constantinianism look good.

    My point isn’t pro-Constantine so much as pro-providence. The monarchy in Israel was stunningly flawed, yet it was a part of God’s plan for the preservation of Israel.

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  31. Chris, it’s a fair point, and one that I’ve chewed on. My point was simply that there are different ways to interpret WCoF 23, and if DGH’s interpretation is correct (that the revision is a rejection of Calvin), then the revision represents a radical discontinuity from what came before.

    Is it in fact the case?

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  32. Jeff, re your providence point, the same could be said of the medieval church. And God raised up and preserved Pelagius as much as he did Augustine. The list of antitheticals could go on, but you get the point. Israel’s providential preservation is specially revealed canon, but not Constantine’s. I’m also “pro-providence,” but providence doesn’t solve any of these questions. So Constantinianism may have flourished, but so do plenty of other things that don’t seem to comport with Scripture. I daresay your point is flirting with trying to discern God’s providence, something Belgic 13 and Dt. 29:29 take strong exception to.

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  33. Jeff, as for Calvin’s inconsistency, VanDrunen is good at spotting the tensions between the spirituality of the church in the 2k outlook and the application of a Constantinian model. Plus, Calvin did not support a Huguenot rebellion against the French monarchy, and continued to address the Institutes to an idolatrous king. What does it say if one part of his audience is a Roman Catholic monarch charged with suppressing idolatry and blasphemy?

    As for Constantinianism, the alternative isn’t secular democracy. It could be pagan Empire. But do you seriously think that the establishment of the church was a good thing for Christianity? What Christian establishment worked out well and preserved the faith? Most “Christian” emperors wound up persecuting the church.

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  34. DGH: But do you seriously think that the establishment of the church was a good thing for Christianity? What Christian establishment worked out well and preserved the faith? Most “Christian” emperors wound up persecuting the church.

    Right. And what is meant by “Christian?” In a particular denomination when can at least say what is and is not allowed. But how does this pass in a country? “Christian” would be so watered down as to be virtually meaningless (unless we apply it to George Washington, of course:)

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  35. As I was sitting in the emergency room last night getting my head stitched up after an accident at work I was reading the Shorter Catechism and I noticed in Q. 56 that there is a presumption in the answer that “men” have the responsibility to enforce this commandment.

    Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?

    A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.

    Also noticed in Ch. 19 of the WCF that the revisionists left in this language, “…what afflictions in this life they may expect for them” when referring to the breaking of the Law.

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  36. “Tom and Andrew, what part of “reject” don’t you understand?”

    The RPCNA *may* take that view, but that is not literally what the revised WCF says, now is it? The revised confession does not forbid the civil magistrate from administering just laws based on either table of the Ten Commandments. Certainly neither the OPC nor the PCA officially endorses your interpretation of the revisions.

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  37. Tom, if the Covenanters were closer to the political theology of the Assembly and they “reject” the original, how much more so the Presbyterians who were not committed to upholding the national covenant?

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  38. Zrim: Jeff, re your providence point, the same could be said of the medieval church.

    Yes it could. Which leads one to conclude that there is organic continuity, not radical discontinuity, between the medieval church and the Reformers. Hence “tradition 1.”

    Zrim: And God raised up and preserved Pelagius as much as he did Augustine.

    “preserved”? In which council? Pelagius was decisively rejected, even if his progeny labor on.

    The point is, Constantinianism is not directly repudiated by Scripture (in contrast to Pelagianism). Why then are we so certain that it is “bad” as opposed to “one option among several”?

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  39. “Tom, if the Covenanters were closer to the political theology of the Assembly and they “reject” the original, how much more so the Presbyterians who were not committed to upholding the national covenant?”

    That is not an argument, but a non sequitur wrt my comment. What do their next paragraphs say?

    19. Both the government of the nation and the government of the visible church are established by God. Though distinct and independent of each other, they both owe supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ. The governments of church and state differ in sphere of authority in that due submission to the government of the visible church is the obligation of members thereof, while due submission to civil government is the obligation of all men. The governments of church and state also have different functions and prerogatives in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. The means of enforcement of the civil government are physical, while those of church government are not. Neither government has the right to invade or assume the authority of the other. They should cooperate to the honor and glory of God, while main- taining their separate jurisdictions. Rom. 13:1; Matt. 22:21; Col. 1:18; Acts 15:10; Ezra 7:10, 25-26; 2 Chron. 26: 18-19; Matt. 5:25; 1 Cor. 5:12-13.

    20. Though responsible for maintaining conditions favorable to the spread of the Gospel, civil government should never attempt to convert men to Christ by the use of force or by persecution. It should guarantee to all its subjects every human right given by God to men. It should, however, restrain and punish its subjects for those sinful actions which fall under its jurisdiction. 1 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rom. 13: 4; Ezra 7:26; Neh. 13:17-21.

    Public blasphemy is not a “human right given by God.” It is sin, and so, confessionally, its civil punishment would be approved by the good men of the RPCNA.

    It appears that what they were in fact rejecting in paragraph 3 was the right of the civil magistrate to wield ecclesiastical power over the gospel officers.

    However, wrt the RPCNA, they also make the following claims in their Constitution:

    5. We reject the view that nations have no corporate responsibility for acknowledging and obeying Christ.

    7. We deny that constitutional recognition of Jesus Christ means union of church and state.

    8. We reject the teaching that Christians should not seek the establishment of Christian civil government.

    Which of those claims would you affirm? Does not neo-2K reject the very notion of “Christian civil government?”

    That facts remain: (1) The revised WCF does not literally deny the right of the civil magistrate to make just laws based on both tables of the Ten Commandments, and (2) neither the OPC nor the PCA officially endorses your interpretation of the revised wording.

    The Confession’s position wrt the civil magistrate, it appears the tent has merely been enlarged not remodeled ala neo-2K.

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  40. Might I weigh in, as a member in the RPCNA?

    First, I disagree with the Testimony at this point. Were I to become an office bearer in our church, I would take exception to the statement Dr. Hart has indicated (as I know others have done).

    Secondly, as others have pointed out, this section of the Confession disowned in our Testimony has nothing to do with civil enforcement of the ten commandments, or the establishment principle; it has to do only and solely with the right of the magistrate to call synods. This doctrine of the Confession has always been received with qualification, beginning with the General Assembly of 1647. Some churches have since then simply cut it out of the Confession; I would almost prefer such a procedure over my church’s absolute rejection of the statement (as I would have preferred the same at other points in the Confession).

    Thirdly, the common Reformed doctrine of “two kingdoms” is not “Confessional” for us. We do not maintain that Christ rules over the nations only as He is Creator, but specifically as He is Mediator.

    Fourthly, we do not as a denomination “stand closer than any communion in the U.S. to the original politics of the Westminster Assembly.” Unfortunately, we have by and large rejected such. Despite your constant claims, the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant are no longer referred to or thought of as binding by American Covenanters; we don’t even speak of our own Covenant of 1871 in that way anymore, since our recent revision of our Directory for Worship. There are other denominations which denominationally profess adherence to the original Westminster Standards; maybe you should try cherry-picking in their subordinate standards.

    Fifthly (in answer to Cris D.), we still maintain a few distinctive principles which keep us from organic unity with other denominations (exclusive psalmody, no musical instruments, Christ’s Mediatorial kingship, rejection of secret societies, and modified forms of political dissent, restricted communion, and covenanting). If the PCA or OPC embrace these positions, I will be the first to push for organic unity with you.

    Sixthly, you’re still cherry-picking, Dr. Hart, still ignoring the substantial responses that have been given to you, still trying to use a smoke screen. You seem almost blinded to any kind of counter-argument that is ever offered to you, no matter how logical, Scriptural, or Confessional it might be; and you seem absolutely incapable of ever admitting wrong. In such a situation, I see it as thoroughly unprofitable to continue this discussion with you. Good day.

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  41. From my reading of church history, there are precious few instances of Christians that don’t hold to some form of 2K theory. The only on that comes to mind as I type was unhappy situation at Munster…. and I don’t even know if they were strictly 1K.

    There are a great many flavors of 2K thought. Thus, the continued talk of “2K” without further clarification is simply not helpful.

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  42. Tom and Sean, I agree that much in the RPCNA’s testimony is not 2k as I view it. But my point is that even the Covenanters reject a portion of the Standards that many of pc2k critics use against pc2k. So my point is that pc2k is not as objectionable as so many allege. It is bad form to keep singling it out as some great aberration, as if its proponents are faithless, cowardly, and unReformed. If the RPCNA was uncomfortable with language that pc2k critics like, then what does that say? BTW, Tom, your argument seems to be that just because the U.S. constitution lost the 18th amendment in 1933, that does not mean that the government cannot still prohibit the sale and distribution of alcohol. To say that we reject the 18th amendment is to reject. But to take it out is also to reject it.

    And while we’re at this business of how objectionable the American revisions may or may not be, the RP’s have never made this a matter of fellowship. They have enjoyed fraternal relations with the American revisers. If the matter of the magistrate on religion were so crucial to biblical witness and Christian faithfulness, why would the RPCNA have anything to do with the those who revised Westminster and became champions of the American Constitution which does not even mention God, let alone the magistrate’s religious responsibilities.

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  43. Sean, I appreciate your clarifications about the RPCNA. I’m not wild about your characterization of me. You may not like my answers, but I do not think it is fair to say that I am dodgy and hide behind smoke screens. I don’t turn off comments the way some bloggers do.

    I will admit that I turn questions around on the questioner, but that’s only because I believe certain questions are unfair in the sense that the interrogator is unprepared to affirm what his question affirms. So for instance on the matter of whether I think the magistrate should be guided by biblical teaching, I wonder if those who ask are prepared to deport Roman Catholics and Mormons. That may seem like a dodge. It may seem to avoid the point that a minister “must” “must” “must” be out there picketing at abortion clinics. But the 3rd commandment is every bit as much a part of God’s law as the sixth, and so for all of those opponents of pc2k if they are going to bang me for indifference to the unborn (which bangs out of ignorance), then why is it unfair to bang them on their concern for true worship (which sure seems to annoyed God a lot in the OT).

    And since you apparently hang out at Turretin Fan under an alias, you may think that his arguments are somehow effective. Fine. Find support wherever you like. But don’t characterize my arguments which are open to inspection under my own name as a smokescreen. If you want to offer your major objection to the view I advocate, you have my attention. In fact, I am very curious to know why you think a view I learned from J. Gresham Machen is so darned pernicious. Please be sure to direct your concerns against Jesus and the apostles who did not advocate the political theology that you seem to favor.

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  44. “preserved”? In which council? Pelagius was decisively rejected, even if his progeny labor on. The point is, Constantinianism is not directly repudiated by Scripture (in contrast to Pelagianism). Why then are we so certain that it is “bad” as opposed to “one option among several”?

    Jeff, first, I take a Protestant view and say that councils are not infallible. I do believe that Pelagianism is contrary to Scripture and the decisive rejection was sound. Second, by “preserved” I simply mean that his teaching continues; it has adherents today, just like almost every other heresy.

    Turning to the present discusssion, the revisions made to Belgic 36 and WCF 23 are similar. Much as I’d like to think so, those revisions are not infallible. It may be that they are out of accord with Scripture, but I think the rejection of a theocratic ecclesiology is just as in line with it as the rejection of a Pelagian soteriology is in line with it. Interesting (or shall I say providential?) how we come back to a comparison of ecclesiological concerns with soteriological ones. So, in light of the rejections the revisions seem to suggest, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that “Constantinianism is not directly repudiated by Scripture.”

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  45. “Tom, your argument seems to be that just because the U.S. constitution lost the 18th amendment in 1933, that does not mean that the government cannot still prohibit the sale and distribution of alcohol. To say that we reject the 18th amendment is to reject. But to take it out is also to reject it.”

    Dr. Hart, you do see that this is a fallacious argument? The 18th amendment was a prohibition against certain activity. It said “thou shalt not”. The 22nd amendment was an explicit repeal of this “thou shalt not” prohibition. Chapter 23 was not stated as negative wrt the activity of the civil magistrate. Some wording was omitted or revised, but nowhere is there are statement in the revised Confession to the magistrate saying “thou shalt not” make and enforce just laws based on both tables of the Ten Commandments. It is just your interpretation as a neo-2Ker.

    But I’m still trying to get you to agree to some key concepts:

    (1) The revised WCF chapter 23 does not literally deny the right of the civil magistrate to make just laws based on both tables of the Ten Commandments.
    (2) Neither the OPC nor the PCA officially endorses your interpretation of the revised wording of WCF 23.

    Are not both of these claims demonstrably true? (WRT point (2), if you can name some other Reformed denomination that claims Westminster and holds to your interpretation of revised Chapter 23, please share that with us all. It would be most enlightening, I’m sure.)

    Can I get an answer?

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  46. Tom,
    So is your position that my view of the magistrate is impermissible in the OPC or PCA? That sure seems to be the nature of the reactions.

    As for your point 1, yes the Standards does not literally teach that the magistrate may not make laws. Then what would be the reason for revising it?

    On point 2, I think I know what one of the major players in the founding of the OPC — Machen — thought about this. I also believe there is a strand of Old School Presbyterianism that informed both the founding of the OPC and the PCA which would keep the church out of politics and the state out of the church. So I’m feeling pretty comfortable in those circles, despite the flack.

    The question for you is why so many in the PCA and OPC are apparently so uncomfortable with Machen and the Old School doctrine of the spirituality of the church. Why I’d go so far as to say that without the Old School influence, the PCA and OPC would not exist.

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  47. “So is your position that my view of the magistrate is impermissible in the OPC or PCA?”

    Not at all. Even though it is wrong, your view fits comfortably within the “big tent” created by the revised WCF. You, on the other hand, would confessionally exclude anyone, like myself, who believes the civil magistrate is permitted to make and enforce just laws based on both tables of the Ten Commandments. Your view has never been ratified by any Reformed denomination, now has it?

    “Then what would be the reason for revising it?”

    I note how very good you are at avoiding straight forward questions. Does the revised Chapter 23 (and hence Scripture) literally forbid the civil magistrate from making and enforcing just laws based on both tables of the Ten Commandments? Yes or no?

    And I take it by your second part of your response that, yes, officially neither the OPC nor the PCA (or any other Reformed denomination) has interpreted revised Chapter 23 as you do.

    I think we are done.

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  48. Tom,

    Just to stick my nose in. The question you accused him of ignoring, Hart answered directly. You asked,

    “(1) The revised WCF chapter 23 does not literally deny the right of the civil magistrate to make just laws based on both tables of the Ten Commandments.”

    He answered above,

    “As for your point 1, yes the Standards does not literally teach that the magistrate may not make laws. Then what would be the reason for revising it?”

    He also posed a question which you seem to not be interested in answering: Why would the Synod of New York and New Jersey remove that language from the WCF if that’s what they believed the Bible taught? Why would they stop confessing something they–supposedly–believed to be biblical?

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  49. Wrong answer.

    The RP Church does not promote 2k theology, but maintains the mediatorial kingship of Christ over both realms- civil and ecclesiastical. Even the Westminster Divines would see that the role of the state and the role of the church are different and distinct (except for Erastians). Just because they have different roles does not mean that there are two kingdoms. The only 2k theology that the Scriptures promote is the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Christ. I am for the one kingdom- Jesus Christ’s kingdom. Messiah the Prince is ruler over all realms of heaven and earth.

    Reformed Presbyterian Testimony:
    23.4: “Every nation ought to recognize the divine institution of civil government, the sovereignty of God exercised by Jesus Christ and its duty to rule the civil affairs of men in accordance with the will of God. It should enter into covenant with Christ and serve to advance his kingdom on earth.

    23.5 “We reject the view that nations have no corporate responsibility for acknowledging and obeying Christ.”

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  50. Nathan, right, and the Covenanters also reject the description of the magistrate’s responsibilities in the original WCF. Which means it is possible to uphold the Lordship of Christ and not require the magistrate to suppress heresy and blasphemy. That’s the point.

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  51. Nathan is correct. Even the RP Testimony, which ‘rejects’ several clauses in the original WCF, still affirms numerous doctrinal statements which fly in the face of 2k theology. Hence, I think the title of your post is very misleading. There may be some disagreement among Covenanters regarding HOW the magistrate is to apply the decalogue and/or HOW he is to apply Christ’s kingship, but THAT he has an essential duty to do so is unequivocally affirmed.

    In any case, not all opponents of 2k theology must agree on every point in order for them to remain fellow opponents of 2k. Just as infra- and supra- lapsarians differ with respect to the decrees, and yet agree in their rejection of Arminianism, so the RP Testimony differs from the WCF on several points, yet agrees with it in its rejection of 2k theology. [Of course, as Nathan said, we’re dealing with your definition of 2k… not the notion of two kingdoms as historically understood in Reformed thought.]

    Hope that helps to clarify some things, Dr. Hart. Thanks for your interest in our denomination and its official doctrinal statements.

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  52. Adam, so you are 2k. Then isn’t it incorrect to say that the RP’s are anti-2k? Doesn’t that make them 1k? And isn’t that theonomic?

    Anyway, my point in the post was that Covenanters are the only American Presbyterians who come closest to the political theology of the Westminster Assembly — and EVEN THEY reject the original confession’s understanding of the magistrate. That doesn’t mean that I agree with the RPs. But it does shed light on those who would argue that to disagree with the original confession is a betrayal of the Reformed faith. That argument won’t even find support from the Covenanters.

    Which then means that the so-called modern 2k is not as outside the mainstream as its critics allege, because by their standards the RPCNA would be outside the mainstream for rejecting the original confession. And that would be stupid because the Covenanters are the closest to the original of any Presbyterian bunch.

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