Al Mohler, the Gospel Coalition, and Me (about whom it always is)

Name-dropper alert: Al Mohler and I have been friends for over two decades. (The Harts used to be on the Mohler’s Christmas card list until the former’s nomadic way of life prompted USPS to stop forwarding those attractive greetings from the president’s house in Louisville.) Al and I met when we were participants in a Lilly Endowment project for young Protestant leaders. Because Lilly has historically been most interested in mainline Protestant communions, the religious leaders in Al’s and my group were mainly from the mainline. But because Lilly was aware of the growing prominence of evangelicalism in the United States, they included so-called conservative Protestants, which left Al and me the beneficiaries of mainline Protestant affirmative action. We held hands (not literally) and commiserated over the social justice orthodoxy that continued to prevail among mainliners, and we expressed mutual surprise at how little the Trinity of race-class-gender had come in for revision among those Protestants ever looking for excuses to revise. When a couple years later I was looking for a co-editor for a book on evangelical theological education, Al who had been recently appointed president of Southern Baptist, the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, was a natural for the book project.

All of this is to say that Al and are friends, we are co-authors, and we also affirm the five points of Calvinism.

But all of this coalition potential would not generate a second look at my candidacy if Southern Seminary had an opening in church history and I applied for the job. As Calvinistic as SBTS may be, it is also an agency of one of the conventions (Southern Baptist polity is so Byzantine) within the SBC. That means that my membership and identity as an Orthodox Presbyterian is a non-starter at Southern Seminary. What may be strike-two against me is my disbelief in evangelicalism. Strike three is a less than winning personality (though the Harts’ felines, Cordelia and Isabelle seem to enjoy my ornery companionship). Even aside from these other drawbacks, not being Southern Baptist is enough of a strike to count me out – like those backyard wiffle ball versions of home run derby which dispense with all three strikes.

So big an obstacle is my ecclesiastical identity that even if I joined the Gospel Coalition Al would still not have enough approving material in my dossier to recommend me to his board for a faculty appointment. Indeed, joining TGC would arguably deconstruct my efforts to deconstruct evangelicalism, and might even send the message that I am a kinder and gentler warrior child of J. Gresham Machen. But Gospel Coalition status still would not be enough for me to clear the hurdle of Southern Seminary’s faculty requirements.

For what it’s worth, when I was academic dean of Westminster California, if we had had an opening in theology and if Al had been interested in a change of scenery, his Calvinism and courageous and commendable stands against various theological and cultural ills would not have been enough to get him to the interview stage. His Southern Baptist credentials would have failed to meet the requirements for Westminster faculty. And in case this is not obvious by now, Al’s identity as a Southern Baptist would also disqualify him from holding office in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

This leaves us with the following set of memberships and identities:

The Southern Baptist Convention rejects D. G. Hart because he is Orthodox Presbyterian.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church rejects Al Mohler because he is Southern Baptist.

The ‘Gospel Coalition accepts Al Mohler and D. G. Hart no matter what their ecclesial identities (if they choose to join).

This picture would seem to make the Gospel Coalition a commendable organization in that it looks aside from seemingly petty ecclesiastical differences in order to unite seemingly conservative Protestants together in promotion of Christ as revealed in the gospel. And set of allegiances would also seem to depict the Southern Baptist Convention and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church as narrower and more divisive than the simple gospel of Jesus Christ and its proclamation.

Beneath this picture’s warm and alluring hues is the downside of the Gospel Coalition, namely, that they run their affairs as if the church does not matter, as if the gospel is independent of every church affiliation and membership (Protestant, that is). That may sound strong but ecclesiastical membership and ordination pose no apparent barrier to working with, attending, or speaking at the Coalition. The reason for setting up an organization free from denominational norms apparently is to get around the difficulty that confronts administrators at denominational seminaries and officers in churches: ecclesiastical standards are divisive and the creators of the Coalition seem to think that the gospel should not nurture such separation. For a confessional Protestant, this logic is a huge problem since confessionalists believe that the gospel not only inevitably produces good works but also is inevitably embodied in a disciplined ecclesiastical body. This is not, by the way, simply the oddity of hard-core Missouri Lutherans or vinegary Orthodox Presbyterians. It is also the outlook of Southern Baptist institutions like Southern Seminary (such as I understand it).

But an even deeper problem for the Gospel Coalition is that its cultivates its appeal through religious stars who have established their reputations not in parachurch ministries but through the churches themselves. In which case, the Gospel Coalition wants the results of the hard work of ordination and pastoral ministry in church settings without the baggage that comes in those ecclesiastical institutions. (And as long as the Gospel Coalition is an exclusively Protestant outfit, it will implicitly rely on differences that divided the Eastern and Western branches of the church, and on the churches that broke with Rome in the sixteenth century. Short of the new heavens and new earth, we can’t have Christianity in this world apart from the visible churches who translated the Bible, interpreted its teaching, established forms of worship, and determined qualifications for membership and office.)

Most if not all of the figures who attract the hearers and viewers of TGC materials and events are ministers. Their credentials come either from denominations or congregations. These communions are responsible for creating the spiritual capital that gives credibility to the Coalition’s speakers and authors. These pastors in turn add value to this capital by conducting successful ministries (leaving aside that thorny question of what constitutes success in the kingdom of God). The Coalition then assembles the most successful pastors, shorn of their denominational or congregational ties, either during the minutes it takes to conduct a Youtube video or over the course of several days at a conference. The Gospel Coalition adds no inherent value to the capital that these pastors and their churches have created and invested. No offense to Justin Taylor or Colin Hansen, but American evangelicals are not signing up to attend the Coalition conference because those young and restless editors and bloggers are speaking.

This leaves the Coalition with a product that is worth only a percentage of the ecclesiastical currency that the ministers (and the communions they represent) have created. To be sure, the gospel is of incomparable value. But Christ did not complete the gospel merely by his death, resurrection, and ascension. The last I checked, he commissioned apostles, inspired authors of sacred writings, ordained means of grace, gave instructions for planting churches, and included rules for those churches’ government and discipline. The reason would apparently be that sheep need shepherds, that believers need to hear the gospel longer than an evangelistic sermon lasts and learn of its implications for a longer time than at a two-day conference. They need to hear the gospel their entire life, and that means they need pastors and overseers who will be faithful, hence all the mechanisms to insure the creation and maintenance of sound pastoral ministry, and the rules governing how those ministers conduct worship and oversight.

Yet, the Gospel Coalition seems to regard all of this ecclesiastical work as incidental to the gospel, as a mere appurtenance. How else can one explain the indifference to the communions from which their speakers and leaders come? How else to explain that those speakers and leaders could not hold jobs or receive calls in the other speakers and leaders’ communions? For the sake of the Gospel Coalition’s gospel, those differences and separations are unimportant compared to the gospe.

But at institutions like Al Mohler’s Southern Baptist Seminary they do. For that reason, I’d rather live in the real world of respectful differences between the SBC and the OPC in their diverse efforts to follow all of Christ’s Great Commission (word, sacrament, and discipline) rather than the la la land of the Gospel Coalition where speakers and audiences act as if such differences don’t matter and where members of different communions are tempted to forget about the ecclesiastical vows and think that what happens in Chicago stays in Chicago.

Postscript on fellowship: Readers may be thinking that the point here about the church and the parachurch here make sense, but is there no room for pastors and members from different churches and denominations to fellowship together? Should the Banner of Truth stop offering conferences?

Part of the answer depends on what we mean by fellowship. If a Southern Baptist pastor cannot minister in the OPC without rejecting his former views on baptism and polity (for starters) and subscribing the OPC’s confession of faith, then it is fair to conclude that the OPC and the SBC are not in fellowship. And if a Southern Baptist transferring his membership into the OPC has to go through the same examination as someone who is a recent convert, then again fellowship is not the word we would use to describe this relationship.

Was it fellowship that I had with my parents when we prayed before meals, even though they were Baptists and I an Orthodox Presbyterian? Probably, but not in an ecclesial sense.

In which case, why do paraecclesial ideas about fellowship trump ecclesial ones? Why is a gathering of ministers at a Banner of Truth Conference more “sweet” than the relations among pastors and elders at a presbytery meeting? Or why is a Gospel Coalition conference (or a Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, for that matter) more moving and invigorating than an ordinary Lord’s Day sandwiched by two preaching services?

It could be that the conferences are subjectively more moving than worship. Or it could be that spiritual standards, like the decline of cultural standards from watching too much television, have declined thanks to the prevalence of revivals, conferences, and retreats – all of those man-made devices for generating devotional excitement.

Of course, it is a free country. We do not have a federal agency regulating spiritual life (I don’t think they have one even in Moscow, Idaho). So parachurch agencies are free to have their conferences and American evangelicals are free to flock to them and feel warm and filled. At the same time, confessional Protestants are free to wonder what good these extra-ecclesial forms of fellowship are doing to the means that we do know God ordained through the clear teaching of his word. If the experiential Protestants are really serious about biblical inerrancy, wouldn’t you think they would want to be faithful to what God has inerrantly revealed about the means he has promised to use to save his people (even when they don’t feel “it”)?

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327 thoughts on “Al Mohler, the Gospel Coalition, and Me (about whom it always is)

  1. You need to do a IX marks interview of Mark Dever where you ask the questions and he gives the answers.

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  2. That’s not just a shot across the bow. That’s a direct hit! And thanks for your stand on this issue. You have made a believer out me.

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  3. It does not make sense to have ACTS of ecclesiastical fellowship, where there IS no ecclesiastical fellowship. This leads naturally to the idea of restricted communion — I don’t care who you fellowship with as individual believers, but churches cannot have official fellowship with churches they do not recognize.

    1. Individuals should not be invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper, unless they are members in good standing of churches with which we have fraternal relations.

    2. Ministers should not be invited to preach or administer the sacraments, unless they are ministers in good standing of churches with which we have fraternal relations.

    3. Our own church members should be discouraged from attending other churches, unless they are churches with which we have fraternal relations.

    Anything else is nothing short of ecclesiastical fornication — that is, acts of communion before a formally recognized union.

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  4. Sean, I think maybe that’s taking it one step too far with number one. Particularly as there are “confessional” churches according to Hart’s usage of the term which are not “confessional” in their membership requirements, i.e. requiring strict adherence to creedal documents. If it’s possible for a Baptist to be a member of a PCA or OPC church–and it is–why should a Baptist not be permitted to partake if, for example, they are visiting family?

    Two and three seem appropriate though. Two actually seems downright obvious, and I think three is right even absent the part after “unless.” If you’re a member of a particular congregation, you should be discouraged from attending other congregations, period, even those within the same denomination, at least as a matter of regular practice.

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  5. Ryan,

    I believe that churches ought to be “confessional” in their membership requirements. The example you provide demonstrates the inconsistency of attempting restricted communion on any other basis that fellowship around a common confession.

    Your thought that my first point is “taking it one step too far” demonstrates the muddled thinking with which too many approach the question of restricted (or close) communion. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrament of the individuals, nor a sacrament of the invisible church, but a sacrament of the visible church. It is expressive, not merely of our fellowship as individuals with Christ, crucified and risen; but also of our fellowship with one another, as a visible body. It does not CREATE ecclesiastical fellowship, but merely RECOGNIZES an ecclesiastical fellowship that already exists. But Presbyterian and Reformed churches do not have ecclesiastical fellowship with churches of other “traditions” (Baptist, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.). As already said, we cannot participate in ACTS of ecclesiastical fellowship (in this case, sacramental fellowship) when such ecclesiastical fellowship does not already exist.

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  6. I believe that churches ought to be “confessional” in their membership requirements.

    I’m not insensitive to that position and concede that it is consistent with the rest of your argument.

    But I’m also sensitive to the idea that one can submit to a particular church’s discipline and instruction while still being conflicted or unclear about all of its theology. Not everything is fair game, but, for example, I’m not going to go to the mattresses over two v. three offices. There are even certain things I’m willing to be agnostic about, i.e. I’m willing to go along, but I can’t say that I’m completely convinced. Which is, to me, something like the definition of submission to authority.

    Given that, the idea that membership needs to be confessional is something I’m just not sold on. By extension, I’m also not completely sold on the concept of closed communion.

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  7. I really like the way you arranged the room, Dr. Hart. If you can keep it like this, I promise not to rearrange it.

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  8. Darryl,

    I’m curious whether any TGC proponents or participants — say your friend Dr. Mohler — are responding to your argument, either publicly or privately? I could see why on the whole it would make more sense just to ignore you. But I know that many of these folks have a love for the church, even if they construe it differently than you do.

    Obviously, private conversation should remain private. But it would be useful to have a public give and take between you and someone from TGC who shares many of your concerns about the church, say a Dever or a Mohler (a la Joel’s comment above), or perhaps someone who is from a more confessional church body. Any chance of that happening?

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  9. Brian,

    I’d be glad to converse/debate/yell with any TGC person on this. But this would be a discussion that threatens the very existence of TGC. Like the argument about deconstructing evangelicalism, if you begin to raise questions you start to unravel — pardon the mixed metaphors — the whole ball of wax.

    I have gone back and forth with some of the readers of TGC blogs, but the bloggers don’t respond. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to think that celebrities, even the promoters of them, have more work to do than respond to comments at a blog (though isn’t the medium designed to facilitate discussion?).

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  10. So whatever happened to the sweet fellowship among those who are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even if there are ecclesiastical divides?

    I agree that being soundly confessional is important and that it is at the local church level where the Lord does most of the work on our hearts through the means of grace (especially preaching of the Word and the Ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Yet we MUST say that we indeed DO have fellowship with our OPC and RPC, etc. brethren despite an ecclesiastical divide over Baptism and Polity (I am Reformed Baptist and the church where I am a member in good standing confesses the LBCF) that must and rightly divides us ecclesiastically.

    There is a place for appropriate parachurch activities, but they must be in support of the local congregations, not trying to compete with them or to place themselves above them or say that they (the parachurch org.) is superior spiritually because it crosses ecclesiastical divides. A parachurch organization which promotes that (or refuses to refute the notion should it arise) is not acting appropriately.

    Yet what about Ligionier or Alpha & Omega Ministries? Both are para-church, yet I would say both act to support the local churches (then again, both are run by devout confessional, protestant churchmen).

    What needs to be refuted primarily is the “celebrity pastor” notion that is so popular. That notion rips apart the local church fellowship and subverts the Biblical authority which the faithful pastor of one’s local church labors under, and by which the Lord primarily works to strengthen His people.

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  11. Darryl, I’m loving the response to James. I’ve been demanding you make arguments for a while now, and you previously brushed it off as a Hegelian or Kantian itch I had. You complained arguments were philosophers’ business, and then reminded me that Shakespeare said to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. Now look at you coming around. Brings a tear to my eye. But now you’ll have to listen to those who are the trained experts in argument—logicians and philosophers. This is only Confessional of you. You know, shrugging off the Neo-Cal and Worldviewer belief that reading the Bible makes one an expert on everything he chooses to discuss. So, just as your Confessionalism demands you step aside and listen and learn when physicists, geologists, and plumbers speak in their field, you’ll now need to step aside for the philosopher and the logician. And that, my friend, has got to sting!

    Anyway, what if James pointed to Jesus’ high priestly prayer, specifically verses 20-23? Or what of Ephesians 4:1-16? How would you understand these verses in light of your views? I know they’re not speaking of “fellowship,” but how do they fit in with your seeming desire for and contentment in compartmentalism?

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  12. Daryl, what I’m trying to say is that we should NOT be tossing out cross-denominational fellowship and that it legitimately exists.

    What you rightly criticized, however, was the celebrity mindset and the usurpation of the local church by the “convention.”

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  13. James (and Paul): So whatever happened to the sweet fellowship among those who are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, even if there are ecclesiastical divides?

    It’s a good point, if what you mean is that the invisible church, the church as God sees it, is of more eternal weight than the visible.

    BUT

    The church visible is not chopped liver. To it has been entrusted the government of God’s people.

    So … what happens in your family if uncle Al is always coming over and saying, “Ya know, Mom and Dad tell you that your baptism is valid. But really, it happened when you weren’t consenting. Baptism is supposed to be an outward sign of an inward change…”

    Wouldn’t it be fair to say that uncle Al would be undermining your authority?

    And that’s precisely why a formal/informal distinction can be helpful. If we keep our non-ecclesial connections informal, then everyone understands that uncle Al is entitled to his own crazy opinions about baptism, without anyone believing that he has a spiritual role of authority, an official sanction for his opinions.

    The fellowship can be just as sweet; the doctrinal conversations can be just as intense. But at the end of the day, everyone understands that they aren’t at the same level as official church teachings (which in turn aren’t at the same level as Scripture). And in that way, the place of the visible church is upheld as something different and other from casual conversation between Christian friends.

    Paul: I hear you on Eph 4.1-16. Of anywhere in Scripture, it seems to make the best case for a church with a postmill-ish future. But wouldn’t it be jumping the gun to say that “because we will someday in the future no longer be tossed about by the waves of human teaching; therefore, now we can ignore doctrinal barriers”?

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  14. Paul, here’s a kleenex. But last I checked, Jesus was not a philosopher (unless you’re George W. Bush).

    I understand NT teaching on the nature of church unity. And what happens when someone “in the church” does or says something that doesn’t fit with what Scripture says elsewhere. Well, they are disciplined. In a state church system that can land you in jail. In a voluntary system, that results in denominations. But either way, the trope of unity can’t trump the demand for fidelity, unless you’re a liberal Protestant. Don’t go wobbly on me Paul.

    Meanwhile, if you’re going to throw around these texts, how do you square them with the rules churches like the OPC has for fellowship, membership, and ecumenical relations. I suspect you’re theorizing in the clouds again, Paul. Maybe the tear in your eye is simply condensation.

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  15. James, I understand what you’re saying. I don’t see any reasons for it beyond your bare assertion. In case you haven’t realized it, some denominations, like the SBC and the OPC, have already crossed the line of not communing with other denominations. Your saying it shouldn’t happen doesn’t make it so.

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  16. Darryl,

    You need to throw in a “just,” as in, Jesus was not “just” a philosopher. If you’re going to take issue with even that, perhaps you could do it in a post and interact with the relevant literature on the subject. If not, let’s move in since I was just ribbing ya. Is the bow tie wound too tight again?

    On the verses, I was not throwing them around because I was not making an argument from them. I was sincerely requesting information and wondering how you understood them within your system, which seems to be happy just where you are and where the baptists are. You seem like you’d like both sides to just shut up and be good church members, following their own traditions, letting the other side to practice its understanding of the Bible.

    So, there was no throwing around, no theorizing, and no arguing. There was a request for information. I want to see how you understand certain texts. If you’ve written on these texts before, giving me the link is fine. If there’s an exegetical scholar who addresses squaring the desire for and contentment in disunity with Jesus’ prayer and Paul’s elucidation, feel free to point me to them too.

    BTW, I’m not sure what you mean by rules for membership the OPC has for fellowship. We’d let baptists join, theistic evolutionists, and even Christian universalists. And we’d fellowship with them all. So, maybe I’m missing something. You’re being too subtle, perhaps.

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  17. Jeff, as I told Darryl, I wasn’t making an argument or showing my hand. I was simply trying to see how Darryl squared them, Just as, “Since we’re supposed to be unified, let’s sweep the differences under the rug” doesn’t work, so does, “Since we have differences, lets sweep the verses under the rug” work.

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  18. Darryl, you forgot strike four: the requirement that you abstain from strong drink (and nicotine too?)

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  19. Paul, I know. I was aiming more at James.

    But I agree with you — the strong ecclesialists have to come to grips at some point with the fact that the invisible church is not chopped liver, either.

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  20. Oh, and Darryl, let’s not pretend you’re all about unity *within* denominations, you have almost just as many differences with those inside your denomination as those outside of it. You don’t really want to fellowship with many inside your own denomination. You’d be happy with the 50 or so living “Confessionalists” all joining a church and starting their own denom, or at least kicking the 99% out of the OPC. That’s my impression, maybe I’m wrong though.

    You wrote: “And what happens when someone “in the church” does or says something that doesn’t fit with what Scripture says elsewhere. Well, they are disciplined.” Not entirely true. Some confessionalists would allow greater freedom in doing things Scripture says not to do, and we already know that people can believe many things contrary to *your take* on Scripture and still be members of the church.

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  21. Paul, I thought you had vacated Old Life. But your last comment is a major reason for not answering your former queries. When you first came here you asked a lot of questions and it turned out you were attempting to bait me. It seems you’re still at it.

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  22. Darryl, is this Bayly Blog? Tell dissenting voices they’re not wanted?

    Anyway, the question was sincere. If the answer was good, I’d not press the issue. But if it then required a follow-up question, or an argument against your position, I would have done so. In order to make an argument that is effective, one must know the other’s position. So I did ask information, and I planned on taking it further depending on the answer. I didn’t just want to argue without knowing your position. I don’t know why that would be so offensive to you. You’re a “Warrior Child,” right?

    Here’s what I’m at:

    * I don’t know Hart’s take on those verses, so I asked him.

    * I don’t *think* Hart’s view is fully consistent with those passages, but I could be wrong, so I asked him.

    * If he answered in a way that did show an inconsistency, *then* I’d have made an argument, but not until I asked him.

    * I also pointed out that Darryl exaggerated a bit about unity “within” denominations, and in his claim that we “discipline” just if someone acts or things differently than Scripture says. I believe I was right in pointing out Darryl’s hyperbolic statement wasn’t entirely true. It wasn’t bating, it was correcting. If I’m wrong, correct me.

    * So I’ve done nothing untoward other than (a) try to get Hart to explain his view on two passages of Scripture, and (b) challenge his broad-brushed claim about where and when the church disciplines.

    * At this point it looks like Darryl is trying to get out of having to answer and so is making accusations of “baiting” (as if that matters to a rough and tough and proud Warrior Child). It looks like he wants *others* to argue but conveniently removes from himself that obligation. (Yes, this last comment was bating. What do I have to do to get a guy to explain his position!)

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  23. Darryl, here’s another question:

    WCF 26.1 defines saints in lowest common denominator terms, i.e. saints are those “that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.”

    So on this definition, a saint can be a baptist, pentecostal, a GCer, a neo-cal, and yes, even a Confessionalist [/snark]

    Then in 26.2 we read:

    “Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God.”

    Hence, it would appear that you’d be bound to say, as a good Confessionalist, that you are to have fellowship with all believers, even GCers, wouldn’t it?

    Now, this isn’t an argument, it’s a question. It would be an argument if I were guaranteed that you held to the Confession and catechisms. But Zrim is supposed to be a confessionalist yet disagrees with its teachings on the 6th commandment. So, I can’t be assured that you agree with the Confession, hence the question. But, it looks to me that it defines a “saint” pretty broadly and then says it is your obligation to have fellowship with them.

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  24. I’m not sure what you mean by rules for membership the OPC has for fellowship. We’d let baptists join…

    Paul, this is the sort of thing that escapes me. Why are those who refuse to confess and practice what we confess and practice as the second mark of the true church (Belgic 29)given the right hand of fellowship? If we really “…detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers” and “…believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children” (Belgic 34) then why do we welcome those who don’t detest that error and don’t believe the same things about our children?

    The irony is that as a Reformed (paedobaptist) believer I find way more in common with credo-baptists who would deny me fellowship in their communion for my baptismal sacramentology. But I find little in common with fellow Reformed paedos who demonstrate such a sacramental latitudinarianism. It’s not too unlike having more common with Trent for anathemtizing me for sola fide than with Vatican II declaring me merely “separated brethern.”

    Are you sympathetic to letting credo-baptists join because they can effectively argue their views? If so, I care little if one can do this. All I care about is whether s/he confesses and practices what we confess and practice.

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  25. Zrim, we’ve already discussed your interpretation of the second mark of the true church. I disagreed with your take, gave my reasons for it, and haven’t seen anything new by you to make me rethink my take on the matter.

    Moreover, I’m not bound by the Beligic.

    Furthermore, the WCF made some interesting points above about fellowship. It said you’re obligated to fellowship with “the saints” and defined “saint” pretty broadly.

    I suggest your remark about what you find in common is simply an autobiographical story, telling us more about you and your foibles than any interesting and substantive theological position borne out by solid exegesis.

    I am sympathetic to letting credo-baptists join for several reasons. I see zero exegetical argument against it, little historical argument against it (NT churches had members with deeper disagreements than credo/paedo), and the OPC simply requires a credible profession of faith for membership. Of course, there are also practical reasons. Suppose there’s no baptist church within 200 miles. Do we tell the reformed credo baptist to move out of town, or stay and lose out on church? Not sure Jesus would be keen on that idea. Moreover, many baptists do confess what you do. They hold to covenant theology and see new, positive revelation removing the children from the proper subjects of baptism. So it’s more an argument about details than a major theological disparity. Mostly, I am sympathetic to letting them join because if they make a credible profession of faith they are united to Christ and the body of Christ, brothers with me and sons with me. Now, they won’t be able to actively undermine the Confession of the church (though they may discuss it and tell others their reaons for holding to it) but if they are fine with that, why should I have a problem with someone Jesus has declared my brother and God’s son being a member of Jesus’ church? It’s not your church, Zrim, it’s Jesus’.

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  26. Also, Zrim, laymen *baptists* are not baptizing people, and since they’re seeking membership at your church, they have no church and are not hence, on your terms, a false church. So, even granting your take on a true and false *church*, that doesn’t translate to *members* of the churches. So you can’t use Belgic 39 to argue against making baptists members of presby churches. You’re committing a composition fallacy, I’d say.

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  27. Paul’s back,

    I like the Reformed, seeking the truth together with other sinners in a somewhat combative and confrontational manner Paul better than the philosopher/logician/condescending Paul who likes to predominate. For what it’s worth. And I have put the past aside so feel free to rock my boat whenever you see the need.

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  28. Zrim: Why are those who refuse to confess and practice what we confess and practice as the second mark of the true church (Belgic 29)given the right hand of fellowship? If we really “…detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers” and “…believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children” (Belgic 34) then why do we welcome those who don’t detest that error and don’t believe the same things about our children?

    Question for ya: Do your membership vows include a complete acceptance of the 3FU? ‘Cause in the PCA, the membership vows do not include a complete acceptance of the WCoF (the ordination vows do).

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  29. Re: explain his view on two passages of Scripture

    That’s the problem – two passages of scripture is akin to insisting on reductionism. Doctrines cannot be reduced to 2 scriptures and it is unreasonable to expect someone to debate on those terms.

    Re: the strong ecclesialists have to come to grips at some point with the fact that the invisible church is not chopped liver, either.

    No one is saying the invisible church is unimportant. But since the dead saints in heaven can’t be seen and we can’t visibly worship with all the living saints scattered across this temporal earth – isn’t that why it’s invisible to us – isn’t that why it’s God’s business? We have to deal with the temporal church, in all it’s messiness, here on earth.

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  30. To the folks who think that Reformed churches should admit people to membership who do not confess the same faith that we confess:

    Would your session/consistory discipline a baptist in your congregation for refusing to present their children for baptism? If so, on what basis? If not, why not?

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  31. Re: It’s not your church, —, it’s Jesus’.

    Sorry, Paul, you are misusing this concept. The church is to set doctrinal boundaries for the good of the church. Demanding that baptismal beliefs be optional in the unity of a specific church body is really stupid – to say the least. It’s a sacrament and how it is viewed is important. If you upset the faith of a child who believes his infant baptism is valid, it’s likely the parents of this child will clean your clock for you. If there is no unity in beliefs, there will be division within the church. If you are credo – go to a credo church and do not demand entrance to a church that does not. Why do you insist on wrecking havoc in churches by demanding pluralistic beliefs in all churches. If that’s what you want, you can find that in any American evangelical church. Bon apetit!

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  32. re: your continued criticism of TGC:

    “…it’s helpful to move out of our parochial rooms from time to time and mingle in the hallway. It’s easy for healthy emphases to sink into unhealthy fetishes; we need the occasional diversion. Movements, with their conferences, blogs, books, and sound-bites can provide occasions for these “hallway” conversations. Yet they are not churches, where we are bathed, clothed, fed, taught, and raised.

    Let’s stop expecting too much of the hallway and let it be what it is: a place for mingling conversation. Movements have no authority to marginalize or excommunicate, but they can provide opportunities for mutual admonition and edification.”
    -Mike Horton

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  33. I’m really trying to understand this thinking… as ‘ornery’ as it is.

    Are there no secondary doctrines? Is there room for disagreement in any area? Is every single form of Christian fellowship outside of a common church membership wrong? Are you saying it isn’t Christian? Should you not listen to Al Mohler (or anyone else) teach unless you can discipline him if he disagrees with your confession… on ANY issue?

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  34. Jeff, it’s a fair point. Yes, the Dutch Reformed churches do understand membership differently than American Presbyterian churches since the 19th century. The latter seem to understand two classes of church members: those who must confess and practice the Reformed faith and those who aren’t so bound. But my understanding is that the original British Presbyterian approach to lay membership was no different than that of the Reformed churches on the continent. You say that “…in the PCA, the membership vows do not include a complete acceptance of the WCoF” like that’s a good thing. My point is that that is lamentable. What’s the point of having a confession if you don’t really have to confess it?

    Paul, if you’re so open to allowing credos for membership then maybe you’re also for revising something like Belgic 29 and 34? Don’t let your own subscription get in the way of the question. Those articles sure seem to suggest clear implications about baptismal sacramentology. Maybe sacramentology doesn’t really matter that much and we should take the confessional language down a few notches match with the sort of theological conclusion and disposition you champion? The Evangelical Free denomination has done this; there children can be baptized or not, depending on one’s individual persuasion.

    And if baptismal sacramentology shouldn’t be divisive then maybe Eucharistic sacramentology isn’t either, which might mean we should tone down HC 80 which says that “…the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.” Then maybe, if we allow credos, we should allow those who hold to transubstantiation?

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  35. Jeff,

    The one thing that chopped liver has over the invisible church is its visible nature, at least for a session charged with discerning the body.

    There are three concerns that I can see wrt the relationship of the invisible church to the bounded, local body. One is “fellowship,” which means damn near anything as long as two or three are gathered in a hallway, coffee shop, or blog comment thread. The church can’t hope to govern that, and formal relationships between churches aren’t in mind, so it’ll happen regardless of the parachurch question. As to whether such fellowship becomes more legitimate with a name and a logo, speakers, and thousands of people, I don’t see how. The success is admirable, but at no point can it transcend the church, bind her such that she must pay it attention, or become a means of grace. It’s just a way to spend time. Maybe a good one; I might prefer a movie.

    The second is open or closed communion. I like baptists, some more than others, but to overlook that it is “a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” at the Lord’s Supper seems antinomian. Baptists may also insist that we be rebaptized to commune there, so it’s not as if the sacramental nitpicking is one-way. And Lutherans offer a tiered model of membership that might be worth consideration. On the other hand, if you’re the only church in the area that Christians can attend in good conscience, it seems cold and contrary to Wendell Berry to tell them that they’ll have to move before partaking again.

    The last concern is church polity, as in the right of members to vote on congregational matters without affirming the confession, or denying it outright. This, afaik, is the unanimous practice in American Presbyterian congregations. I find it bewildering.

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  36. Would your session/consistory discipline a baptist in your congregation for refusing to present their children for baptism? If so, on what basis? If not, why not?

    It’s entirely possible that they would. But here’s the thing: that only becomes an issue when it becomes an issue. What if it’s an older couple whose children are older and/or already baptized? I don’t think anyone is going to suggest that the session somehow retroactively subject them to discipline for not doing something years ago that has already been corrected. As long as they don’t interfere with or object to the baptism of other infants, what’s the harm?

    Similarly, what if the person isn’t married or otherwise doesn’t have kids? Again, as long as they’re not interfering with others’ baptisms, this isn’t a discipline issue until it becomes a discipline issue.

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  37. Paul, you wrote:

    looks like Darryl is trying to get out of having to answer and so is making accusations of “baiting” (as if that matters to a rough and tough and proud Warrior Child). It looks like he wants *others* to argue but conveniently removes from himself that obligation.

    See what I mean?

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  38. Zrim, for the record, membership enforcement is up to OP sessions, and some sessions will not admit Baptists who have children. The reason is that they would be admitting someone and immediately placing them under discipline (for not baptizing their children).

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  39. Ryan,

    I understand hypotheticals are dumb. But the problem is if you don’t require your members to confess the faith as the church understands it then you have no basis to discipline them for not practicing that faith.

    Let’s use a different example. If you admit a pentacostal to membership under the understanding that he doesn’t have to believe or practice the Reformed confession, and he starts practicing pentacostalism in your services, what do you do? He was never obligated to believe and practice Reformed Christianity. The way I see it, you’d be cruel to discipline him at that point. You’ve baited and switched him. You told him, “come on in, you don’t have to believe what we believe or practice what we practice.” But when push came to shove, you act as if he was obligated to believe what you believe and practice what you practice. Which is actually more cruel?

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  40. But Pastor Doug, what happens when the mere hallway has the word “Reformed” stamped over it? Does that description do justice to those in the hallway who don’t baptize infants, who don’t follow the regulative principle of worship, or who don’t subscribe a Reformed confession?

    As for getting out: I get out plenty. The box outside evangelicalism is so much less confining. It’s called civil society and it doesn’t try to fit all non-mainline Protestants into one category where I am the same as a Pentecostal.

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  41. Ok, point taken Dr. Hart. But what obligation do they have to respond to instruction if their membership vows only entail belief in the Gospel?

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  42. Lance,

    I’m not sure I can be helpful, but I would like to try to give it a shot.

    FWIW: I find C.S. Lewis’ description of the hallway and different rooms helpful. Each room has doctrinal distinctives that make it different from the other rooms. There is a door on the room to protect if from the hallway and it protects the unity within that room (eg: confession faith in the same orthodoxy and orthopraxy). In the hallway, we can discuss commonalities and concerns, but hopefully we will respect each others distinctives. To demand the freedom to enter one of the rooms and be credo in a paedo room is akin to demanding to urinate in that room and shows a lack of respect for the residents of that room. Do we always succeed in treating each other the way we should – natch – we don’t. But we can always repent and ask forgiveness.

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  43. Lance, and what would be the basis for a Christian fellowship outside a common church membership? Would you fellowship with a Roman Catholic? Probably not though some evangelicals are these days. But aren’t you relying upon a distinction between Protestants and Roman Catholics that goes back to the ecclesiology of the 16th c. Sorry, but the idea of basing fellowship on non-churchly means is asking for a form of Christianity that is agnostic about history and how the faith has come down to us, which means that is irrespective of the preaching and teaching that shapes believers, or where those preachers and teachers come from.

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  44. Darryl, I see you don’t want to engage the points I raised. No problem.

    Lilly, I didn’t say “doctrines can be reduced to two passages in Scripture.” That’s your straw woman. Try to make a substantive point instead of resorting to rhetorical sophistry.

    On Jesus’ church, I’m not misusing the concept. The OPC and PCA have always maintained that members may differ on points in the confession. You’re going against their considered opinion and slandering them in the process. Neither am I claiming “it’s not important.” Again, that’s your straw woman. I’m also not credo and I have debated credo baptists and am considered by many to produce some of the best arguments against credobaptism out there. The point is, on what basis do you disallow them membership? I’ve seen nothing but emotive rhetoric.

    Zrim,

    Me and all the OPC and PCA churches that exist are for allowing credo membership. You’re an agitator in this, not a faithful churchman. Anyway, I didn’t let anything get in the way of answering the question. In fact, I answered it and moved the argument forward. Your response is to ignore everything I said and re-assert your opinion. And, yes, you can allow one who privately holds to transubstantation. Their false belief changes not the efficacy and propriety of the Reformed take on the Supper. Many people in the first century churches had false beliefs about the supper, yet they were all members of the same body. Your view is Confessionally, exegetically, and historically unsubstantiated. I’ve seen nothing by you arguing on these fronts, even your appeal to Belgic and HC can’t do what you want, since you’re committing a fallacy of composition by appealing to them in this way (i.e., the entire statue weighs 50 lbs, therefore each part must way 50 lbs too).

    Look, I’m with hart here. He wants people to 8argue* for their views, and if he wasn’t just bullying James, he wants the same of you guys too. So, Zrim and Lilly, get to arguing for your position. What you guys personally *dislike* isn’t normative.

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  45. “Zrim, for the record, membership enforcement is up to OP sessions, and some sessions will not admit Baptists who have children. The reason is that they would be admitting someone and immediately placing them under discipline (for not baptizing their children).”

    Again, this is sloppy. What if they have no children? On what basis will they not be admitted?

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  46. Zrim, the reason I asked the question (which you almost maybe kind of answered …) is not because I consider the PCA practice good or bad, but because it is a part of the constitution of my church to allow members to dissent from points of doctrine. And presumably, yours.

    So I find it odd that you reserve the right to dissent from the doctrine of your own church (women elders?), but you would deny membership to other dissenters.

    What’s up with that?!

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  47. Darryl,

    First point taken. I think there is a big awakening (not a Great Awakening or even a Pretty-Good Awakening) ahead for the Calvinistic Baptists when they discover that “Reformed” means more than just soteriology. But…that’s a discussion, right? Can’t we have it? At a conference? It took me a long time to come to this understanding. What always turned me off about Reformed men, when I was researching Reformed Theology, was their acrimony for the rest of us who just haven’t arrived yet.

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  48. So, Paul, what constitutes this “credible profession of faith” that you say is the grounds for membership? So far, you’re allowing those who don’t “detest the error of the Anabaptists” or think that “the Mass is a cursed idolatry.” The language of the forms seems to suggest that these errors might cast serious doubt on a credible profession of faith. Maybe it’s a promise to never ever be on the wrong side of fantastic hypotheticals involving reproductive legislation?

    Jeff, first, marks of the church are soteriological and sacramental. Though questions involving female elders are serious, to fall on them marks a wayward denomination and not a false church (I think there is a difference). Second, the way an elitist deals with his egalitarian denomination is to leave it for a more faithful one. As I am in the process of doing. But even in the URCNA I’d have a lot less problem admitting someone with egalitarian leanings than credo-baptist convictions and practices. But how did I not answer your question?

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  49. Paul says: “What you guys personally *dislike* isn’t normative.”

    Got it- I thought I was being gracious but I guess not; I should have refrained from the caveat of what I like and dislike.

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  50. Zrim,

    Seems to me that a person ought to find a ‘pretty good’ church and stick with it. How much “more faithful” does a denom have to be? Where is the line? The only Gospel-oriented church in my town is a Baptist church. I should have leave them and do…what? When you find your “more faithful” church, ask them to come to my town and plant one here.

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  51. Paul,

    Re: Try to make a substantive point instead of resorting to rhetorical sophistry

    If you didn’t want to play the game of dueling over 2 scriptures, perhaps there wouldn’t be a problem.

    Re: The OPC and PCA have always maintained that members may differ on points in the confession.

    These are not the only 2 traditions in Christ’s Church. If you want to fight over the OPC and PCA differences – that is your business not mine, but I will point out that you have choice of which one you want to seek to belong to and there is no reason to insist they are clones.

    Re: Neither am I claiming “it’s not important.

    If you are not credo, then why stick with the demand for freedom to be credo in a paedo church? The excuse you used of not having the best arguments and thinking people are emotive is not a valid reason to demand indifference on baptism.

    Re: The point is, on what basis do you disallow them membership?

    Simple when it comes to new members. They either agree with what the church believes, teaches, and confesses or they do not.

    Re: Lilly, get to arguing for your position. What you guys personally *dislike* isn’t normative.

    If you think Christianity is based on *likes and dislikes* you have much to learn and understand. My *likes or dislikes* have absolutely nothing to do with my adherence to my church’s confessions. It’s called belief and conviction that our confessions are the best summation and interpretation of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy. If you want to be a cafeteria Christian who lives in the hallway with your likes and dislikes, you are free to make that choice.

    Re: But according to Lilly, Andy Webb is “stupid” for allowing a credo member.

    Please learn to read. There is a difference between calling an idea or action stupid and a person stupid.

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  52. Lily wrote above:

    I find C.S. Lewis’ description of the hallway and different rooms helpful. Each room has doctrinal distinctives that make it different from the other rooms. There is a door on the room to protect if from the hallway and it protects the unity within that room (eg: confession faith in the same orthodoxy and orthopraxy). In the hallway, we can discuss commonalities and concerns….

    I just don’t buy Lewis’s “house” metaphor. With an actual house, the different rooms are connected by a common roof, which is what makes it one house. But in Lewis’s illustration, how are a congregational Baptist congregation and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church connected? Where’s the roof? And how would those two churches be connected with the LCMS (especially if Rosenbladt would refuse Darryl communion)?

    Now, we might say that Lewis’s “house” is meant to illustrate the invisible church, but that doesn’t really help either. What good is an invisible house, and what good is an invisible hallway to meet in if the conversations we’re all supposedly having with believers from differing traditions are visible and audible?

    I think that as Protestants we’re better off saying that we believe in an invisible church, and in visible churches. Thus a house is a bad illustration since it implies a unity that we make no credible claim to. Describing the visible churches as a “neighborhood” might be better, since it provides a measure of connected-ness and autonomy, as well as a community park where conversations can happen.

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  53. I can relate to this from first hand experience. I am a member of a PCA church in the southwest. I joined 5 years ago as a reforfmed Baptist. It took 4 years before I was convinced of our Reormed confessional standards, repented, and baptized my son. Funny thing is I would have done it day one if my church would have sat me down and labored to show me my sin from from scripture and shown me the continuity that exists in the covenants. 4 years and not a word of my errors, 4 years and no discipline. I think the reality is in many Reformed churches our confession bas taken a back seat to evangelical unity.

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  54. It seems that these kind of conferences (which exists under a wide umbrella of “Reformed”) are kind of a new thing. I mean, did Machen have to deal with conferences of this ilk? Just asking. The answer to that question (DGH: help!) may assist the discussion a wee bit.

    Scott

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  55. Uh, Zrim, this is basic stuff. A credible profession of faith is a profession of saving faith. Were you under the impression that all baptists are going to hell?

    Lily,

    I’m not dueling over two scriptures. There’s been no dueling since there’s been no exegesis of the verses offered. You’re being sophomoric. Moreover, often *one* verse is enough to refute positions. The verses I am bringing up are *the* major verses on church unity, and all I have done is ask that Hart gives us his take. Commenters comment on those passages, so I assume they are commentable, and that’s all that is being asked right now.

    I am talking about OPC since *Hart* raised the issue of *OPC* church membership. Next, Zrim raised the issue against the *OPC*. That’s the context of dialogue. Try and pay attention.

    I gave my reasons for allowing credos membership. You haven’t dealt with them. Try reading before writing.

    I don’t think Christianity is based on likes and dislikes, you seem to, though.

    Re: Webb: Notice it was qualified, i.e., stupid *for* holding the belief and doing the action you claimed is stupid.

    Slow down, breathe, quit trying to win a point and try to interact with and engage the arguments given. This isn’t high school debate club. And if it were, you’d still be losing.

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  56. John, I wasn’t speaking about you, in fact, I haven’t read anything you’ve written other than this last comment of yours.

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  57. Nate, their vows in the OPC also involve submitting to the govt. of the church, i.e., session. And a session should, in my view, instruct believes about the necessity o infant baptism.

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  58. Pastor Doug, there’s acrimony and then there’s acrimony. At least we’re not booting you out of the colony the way Puritans did with Roger Williams. We can get along, just not in the same communion. And parachurch organizations that cover over ecclesiastical differences don’t help.

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  59. “Re: The point is, on what basis do you disallow them membership?

    Simple when it comes to new members. They either agree with what the church believes, teaches, and confesses or they do not.”

    Lily, this is radical and stupid. Why don’t we see this in the NT? Why don’t we see it in the history of the Reformed church. Suppose someone just hears the gospel, repents and believes. Do they wait to become members until they have studied each and every single belief the church holds? To do a good job, an intellectually virtuous job, that’d take at least a year of full time study. Moreover, what if it’s the only church inside of 500 miles? Moreover, what if they church practices monthly communion and they believe in weekly? They can’t join unless they believe communion should be monthly? Really? Do you think through your comments, or do they just fly out in an uninterrupted stream of consciousness?

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  60. Jason, well said. So why don’t we deal with reality instead of metaphors. We have denominations and committees on ecumenical relations. I’m all for the OPC and SBC officials sitting down and spelling out such differences as exist, and possibly trying to change each others’ minds. But in a world of restricted budgets, ecumenicity committees have enough trouble getting to know Reformed Protestants in Indonesia.

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  61. The way I see it, you’d be cruel to discipline him at that point. You’ve baited and switched him. You told him, “come on in, you don’t have to believe what we believe or practice what we practice.” But when push came to shove, you act as if he was obligated to believe what you believe and practice what you practice. Which is actually more cruel?

    Darryl is, of course, correct: discipline does not begin with charges. It begins with instruction, which can start even before membership is formalized. And note that I didn’t say that paedobaptism would only become a discipline issue when an infant was in view. Any doctrine with which a member has reservations would become an issue for more formal discipline as soon as it became apparent to the member and the session that the member was never going to be willing to submit to the church’s teaching on that point. So we’ll accept a Baptist into membership if they are in good faith investigating the Reformed faith. But if at some point they cannot accept it, other options must be pursued.

    Discipline is a process.

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  62. So far Darryl has interacted with the verses, or with the Confessional argument for fellowship with all saints. He also hasn’t addressed credos who have no children, and he can’t deal with the fact that his own denomination doesn’t say it is wrong or a sin to allow credos as members. Why are Confessionalists so bent on binding conscience and speaking where the Confession is silent? If I didn’t know any better I’d think they were worldviewer Kuyperians.

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  63. Scott, Machen did and he would speak at William Bell Riley’s World Christian Fundamentals Association but he would not speak if it meant he had to join. Plus, he turned down the trustees of the interdenominational college founded in memory of William Jennings Bryan because he was a Presbyterian, not an interdenominational fundamentalist.

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  64. Paul, to say that “a credible profession of faith is a profession of saving faith” sure seems a little redundant. But doesn’t either one involve at least a little more specificity? I mean, I can see that a credible profession comes with doubts and plenty of loose ends, but does it really come with errors? So it seems to me that what the confessions regard as detestable errors you think are doubts and loose ends. Does a credible profession come with fornication?

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  65. Jason Stellman,

    You are more than welcome to not buy Lewis’ metaphor. It does work for some of us, which is why I used it. I’m guessing Lewis used it and I like it because we are all a part of the household of God and part of one invisible church – both of which seem to describe something under one roof.

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  66. Zrim: Why are those who refuse to confess and practice what we confess and practice as the second mark of the true church…

    OK, I can buy that those who differ on matters directly touching the marks of the church might be in a different category. That’s just much narrower than what you said originally, which seemed to hold anyone confessing anything different from what you confess to be outside the true church.

    Zrim and Jason: I’d like to point out that in the Confession, the visible church is universal under the Gospel:

    The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    So there’s your roof.

    Now, this creates obvious tensions and problems. Are Baptists part of the visible church or not? If not, they have no ordinary possibility of salvation (really?!). If so, then what of the marks of the church? But those tensions and problems are an irreducible part of this life, not the result of faulty theology.

    Further from the Confession:

    Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.

    So there it is again. We don’t have the liberty of excluding from Christian fellowship and even communion to those who “call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”

    What I take from that is something close to what the PCA does — that communion is open to all who are members in good standing of a Gospel-preaching church. Even Lutherans.

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  67. Paul,

    Re: I’m not dueling over two scriptures.

    Sure sounded like a challenge to me.

    Re: You’re being sophomoric…. Try and pay attention… Try reading before writing… Do you think through your comments, or do they just fly out in an uninterrupted stream of consciousness?

    If I’m sophomoric, have an attention disorder, have a failure to read, have an uninterrupted stream of consciousness and so forth – it looks like I may have an excuse. What’s your excuse? Kyrie eleison.

    Re: I gave my reasons for allowing credos membership. You haven’t dealt with them.

    I answered your question.

    Re: I don’t think Christianity is based on likes and dislikes, you seem to, though.

    Beliefs and convictions don’t qualify as likes and dislikes – we usually reserve them for chocolate and vanilla issues not church doctrinal issues.

    Re: Webb: Notice it was qualified, i.e., stupid *for* holding the belief and doing the action you claimed is stupid. Slow down, breathe, quit trying to win a point and try to interact with and engage the arguments given. This isn’t high school debate club. And if it were, you’d still be losing.

    Time for you to pull out the mirror and see yourself in the mirror.

    Re: Lily, this is radical and stupid.

    Considering the fact that my church denomination has been doing this for 150+ years in America… perhaps you would like to change your mind.

    Re: Why don’t we see this in the NT? Why don’t we see it in the history of the Reformed church. Suppose someone just hears the gospel, repents and believes. Do they wait to become members until they have studied each and every single belief the church holds? To do a good job, an intellectually virtuous job, that’d take at least a year of full time study. Moreover, what if it’s the only church inside of 500 miles? Moreover, what if they church practices monthly communion and they believe in weekly? They can’t join unless they believe communion should be monthly? Really?

    There are churches in Africa that have prospective members go through 3 years of classes before they are received into the church as members and receive their 1st communion. An American mindset towards church membership is your problem not mine.

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  68. Jason,

    Like all metaphors it has it’s limitations. Until there is a better one and since this is one people are familiar with, I’ll most likely keep using it.

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  69. Fair enough, Lily. But I just can’t get past the false impression that, like rooms in a house connected by outside walls and a roof, there is any meaningful sense in which I am unified with those who would either rebaptize my own children, or refuse me the bread and the wine.

    Sure, we may feel unified with those with whom we do not share the sacraments, but that’s not biblical unity, it’s Gnosticism.

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  70. On one hand, if we grant that someone cannot become a member of a church if they don’t agree with everything 100% that the church believes, then there MUST be a church that they CAN join, right? if it doesn’t exist, where do they go? After all there has GOTTA be a church that believes in “immersion-only of infants”….No such church within 50 miles? Awww shucks, come on in! Really?? I know…..how about, maybe, dropping the ideosyncratic belief and consider that maybe, just maybe, they may be wrong in that belief? Then they can join a stable NT church. It would seem that granting the argument that we shouldn’t bind individuals would imply that there’s gotta be a different place for them…that may not exist. The Americana cult of the individual seems to overlay what our friend Paul is suggesting…that the wider we make the tent, the better. Doesn’t doing so implicitly mean that if baptism doesn’t matter at the end of the day, so ultimately nothing matters, finally concluding “come on in, whoever, the water’s fine” or, for that matter “oneness Pentecostal, welcome aboard”.? Shouldn’t the individual be held accountable for what they believe? Or are we in a religious cafeteria?

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  71. Hey Jeff!

    Re: Even Lutherans.

    Too funny! I would remind you that there are communions like the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox who have close communion and their members are not supposed to commune outside of the churches that they are in fellowship with. I know it all gets complicated, but these communions are close and it doesn’t mean they do not believe the invisible church only includes their communions. If that makes sense?

    P.S. In case you missed it, I left you a comment on the other thread. My RSS didn’t pick it up so…

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  72. Lily, I know that Lutheran, RC, and EO practice close communion. So do some Presbies. But as I read the Confession, the requirement for “communion of the saints” — which, if not entailing communion, certainly suggests it strongly — is belief in the Gospel.

    Which means that you would be welcome at our church, even we would not be welcome at yours.

    And that’s all to do with the visible church, not the invisible.

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  73. Jason: I just can’t get past the false impression that…there is any meaningful sense in which I am unified with those who would either rebaptize my own children, or refuse me the bread and the wine. Sure, we may feel unified with those with whom we do not share the sacraments, but that’s not biblical unity, it’s Gnosticism.

    Jason, wasn’t the profession that Peter made rather minimalist when Jesus responded that “on this rock I will build my Church? Okay, so it wasn’t a roof, but almost as good (maybe better): a foundation. Are you really reducing your connection to those who affirm the Gospel (minimalist as that confession may be) to a mere “felt” connection / Gnosticism. You used to be Calvary Chapel (me too). Now that you’re confessionally Reformed, do you really think that any connection identified between you and Tim Rogers must be reduced to Gnosticism (and therefore be rejected)?

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  74. Jason Stellman,

    Re: But I just can’t get past the false impression that, like rooms in a house connected by outside walls and a roof, there is any meaningful sense in which I am unified with those who would either rebaptize my own children, or refuse me the bread and the wine.

    For better or worse, there are communions that you have to be catechized into. The best way I know how to explain it is that it’s foreign to the American mindset. I don’t see it as a problem, most likely because I see the benefits and beauty of having the unity of one church body being in harmony in what they believe, teach, and confess.

    Re: Sure, we may feel unified with those with whom we do not share the sacraments, but that’s not biblical unity, it’s Gnosticism.

    I would disagree that it’s gnosticism. It’s a matter of the prospective new member being able examine the church and vice versa for the pastor and elders. If everyone is agreed – they will become a member. Church membership is supposed to be a serious decision not unlike a marriage. I think the American mindset and the church growth mentality of a couple of hours lecture on their church programs to prospective members may hinder appreciation of what a serious commitment it is supposed to be to join a confessional church.

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  75. Thanks, Jeff. As always, I need to step away from your Confession and I am sorry I piped up. The ‘even Lutherans’ cracked me up and I couldn’t resist reminding you about all of us old curmudgeons. I cannot speak for the RC and EO, but our understanding of the Lord’s Supper prevents us from giving it to those not in agreement with our understanding and prevents us from receiving communion in churches outside our fellowship. I know it sounds outrageous to non-members but you are always welcome in our church anytime – just not as a participant as a recipient of the Lord’s Supper. I am sorry, but there are serious doctrinal reasons for it.

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  76. Joseph, maybe it’s not gnostic. Maybe it’s papist. I mean, without the work of churches that evaluate professions of faith (be they presbyterian or congregational), who gives an individual Christian the authority to say whether the person with whom he is having “fellowship” is a Christian? I know this may sound overly scrupulous, but again, what kind of diligence do any of us do when we evaluate a friend or acquaintance’s profession of faith? Isn’t a church’s evaluation a big help? I’m all for ecclesiastical passports. It would help when it comes time to administer the supper, and it would grease the wheels of persona fellowship.

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  77. Darryl is, of course, correct: discipline does not begin with charges. It begins with instruction, which can start even before membership is formalized. And note that I didn’t say that paedobaptism would only become a discipline issue when an infant was in view. Any doctrine with which a member has reservations would become an issue for more formal discipline as soon as it became apparent to the member and the session that the member was never going to be willing to submit to the church’s teaching on that point. So we’ll accept a Baptist into membership if they are in good faith investigating the Reformed faith. But if at some point they cannot accept it, other options must be pursued.

    Discipline is a process.

    Ryan and Dr. Hart,

    I understand discipline is a process. I wasn’t arguing for an immediate “off with his head” (or whatever people do these days).

    Is vow number five (not sure if it’s the same in the OPC) the loophole that we use to obligate people to believe what we believe and practice what we practice? If so, why not come out with it in the beginning and catechize them into the Reformed churches before we admit them to the Table? At least at that point we can be reasonably certain that we’re not profaning the Body and Blood of Christ.

    I do think Andrew Webb’s highly qualified approach to this is helpful in extreme circumstances. But isn’t the two-tiered membership approach just an ecclesiastical form of the GC?

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  78. Darryl, but I’m not advocating that Christians engage in such behavior. Jason was referring to those who would require his children to be baptized anew. I should have left Calvary Chapel out of it because it was really not the point (i.e., you’re right, they don’t evaluate professions and issue membership / passports). That is a real problem. However, Jason’s comment would seem to apply equally to, say, a IX Marks church [and put aside for the moment that they lack a Presbyterian form of government] where membership is taken seriously. Since the IX Marks church would require he re-baptize his children, apparently he would regard his connection to that church and their members as only gnostic, notwithstanding their ecclesiastically vetted professions.

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  79. Paul says:
    April 22, 2011 at 11:06 am
    Old Schooler Andy Web has no problem admitting a baptist for membership:

    Whoa there, Paul. Pastor Webb and his Session do have problems with bringing baptists into his PCA membership. He sets forth nuanced guidelines of when such problems are prohibitively problematic (e.g., when there are minor children in the household) vs. when they may not preclude membership. It’s right there at the link you provided.

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  80. Lily said:
    “If I’m sophomoric, have an attention disorder, have a failure to read, have an uninterrupted stream of consciousness and so forth – it looks like I may have an excuse. What’s your excuse?”

    I would just like to take this opportunity to say that henceforth I will stay on Lily’s good side. Or at least try to.

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  81. The OPC Directory for Worship states:

    “..if you are a baptized and professing communicant member in good standing in a church that professes the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ…”

    While I respect the close communion practice, I think the DFW appropriately takes into account the necessity of being a member of some sound church while not going so far as to imply that the particular OP congregation is the only sound church. Plus, as I read it, it gives the Session some discretion in dealing with questionable membership issues, which I think is desirable given the kinds of issues that can and do sit in actual pews in actual churches.

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  82. Plus, does anyone here think that the Confession was written so that Puritans would consider themselves out of fellowship with Presbyterians, or vice-versa? Denominational boundaries per se are not part of the Confession AFAICT; marks of belonging to the visible church are.

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  83. Joseph,

    Are you really reducing your connection to those who affirm the Gospel (minimalist as that confession may be) to a mere “felt” connection / Gnosticism. You used to be Calvary Chapel (me too). Now that you’re confessionally Reformed, do you really think that any connection identified between you and Tim Rogers must be reduced to Gnosticism (and therefore be rejected)?

    Well, since I would serve Tim communion and accept his baptism as valid, no. But Tim would not let me join his church, nor would he accept my kids’ baptisms as valid, so maybe you should be asking him why he is rejecting unity with me.

    Now, a Calvary person would deny they’re doing that, and many Reformed people deny that the unity between Horton and Rosenbladt is minimized by the latter, too (since he won’t commune him). But that’s because their idea of unity has nothing to do with the sacraments, which is why I called it Gnostic.

    In my reading of Paul, we are one because we partake of one loaf and drink of one cup, and because we have all been baptized by one Spirit into one body.

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  84. That third paragraph was a bit confusing. I was referring to the fact that Rosenbladt, as an LCMS minister, would not serve communion to Mike Horton, who is URC. Whatever joviality they share on the WHI falls short of biblical unity, which is rooted in the sacraments.

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  85. Jason, that’s interesting. I’m surprised that you would serve Tim communion since he’s not a member of a Christian church anywhere (Calvary doesn’t have “membership”). If I was a PCA pastor, I would warn individuals like Tim not to take the Supper. Also, I’m surprised that you would not be welcome at the Lord’s table at Calvary (given that they do not fence it in any way beyond asking that only “believers” participate). Isn’t Calvary more like a high school? If you cross them the wrong way, you’re expelled (told not to return? but never excommunicated?) by the pastor’s “number two” or “second” (read: goon) or whatever they call it?

    So, since you’re not using the same cup and same loaf as other PCAs, does that mean Exile’s unity with other PCAs is Gnostic?

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  86. If Tim (or any CC person) were on vacation and visited my church, he would hear me say that to receive communion you must be a member of a church that exhibits the marks. Now if he moved to town and wanted to join, we’d have to have some serious conversations about the many issues on which we disagree. You’re right, though, CC is a bad example since they don’t even have elders or membership or anything like that.

    My main point is that biblical unity is exhibited sacramentally, and so to ignore that and appeal to some other standard is to capitulate to cultural Gnosticism (sort of like saying you don’t need to join a church because you have a personal relationship with Jesus).

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  87. Nate, I’m willing to consider close communion — only allowing those in fellowship with one’s communion to the table. But the argument is that this is not the OPC’s supper. It is the Lord’s. (Same goes for baptism — we don’t rebaptize Roman Catholics.) So as long as someone is baptized and a member in good standing of a “gospel-believing” church, they are welcome. I think that could still be the case in a church that required subscription for membership.

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  88. Nate, I’m willing to consider close communion — only allowing those in fellowship with one’s communion to the table. But the argument is that this is not the OPC’s supper. It is the Lord’s. (Same goes for baptism — we don’t rebaptize Roman Catholics.) So as long as someone is baptized and a member in good standing of a “gospel-believing” church, they are welcome. I think that could still be the case in a church that required subscription for membership.

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  89. This posting is troubling to me. As a Westminster (Phil) grad, my recognition that the Reformed community could not move toward the broader body of Christ except always on its own terms demonstrated to me not that it would remain pure but that it would remain marginalized. To me it was a grieving thing. When even the TGC comes under the gun, I am not surprised. It is of the same fabric. I long for the day when the Pipers, Mohlers and company are received by the broader church as the Gospel giants that they are. But the Reformed community must release them and commission them. When even TGC is suspect, I can almost see the tethers being tied to their legs.

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  90. Ok, thanks Dr. Hart. I appreciate hearing your perspective. My sense is that this whole thing works out a little differently in the OPC than it does in the PCA. Hence my willingness to become a curmudgeonly old close communion Calvinist (no offense to any of the close communion folks on here).

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  91. Don, no worries. I think the broader church does recognize Piper, Mohler and company as gospel giants. Don’t worry, be happy. Heck, even I regard Piper and Al very highly. But does that mean I should overlook differences between Baptists and Presbyterians? I mean, I like George Washington. But it doesn’t mean I have to turn him into an orthodox Protestant.

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  92. This thread proves why being a serious confessional churchman (new term to some, google it) is so difficult and why so many shrink from it.

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  93. Don,

    You might need to consider some continuing ed classes.

    I don’t see Celebrity Preachers as gospel giants, to me the Gospel Giants are the men that faithfully tend and feed their sheep and not busy selling books, and networking with other hawkers, peddlers, and hucksters.

    Joe

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  94. Don, for some reason I was drawn to your entry like a magnet, and reached some conclusions. First, you are totally serious with your talk of Gospel Giants. Second, you used the first person personal pronoun seven times in your short entry. If there’s ever a shortage of such pronouns the feds will confiscate them from your blog.

    I have always been fascinated by the relationship between language and worldview; try omitting “I” and “my” from your writing for 90 days and see if there is a worldview impact, would you?

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  95. Darryl, I refrained from saying it but yes, confessional eqauls mean, baddie, curmudgeonly, unloving, and opposed to all that is warm, fuzzy, and good. It ain’t easy being ecclesiastically non-green.

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  96. If one desires feel-good religion with the warm fuzzies of pluralistic beliefs, the options abound in American evangelicalism. It’s easy to be ecclesiastically indifferent and see love as an ooey-gooey, sentimental, indiscriminate gob of careless doctrine and think men should be effeminate, suffocatingly nice fops. Yep, it is sure is easy to join that crowd and come and go as one pleases.

    If one’s heroes are the faithful confessional pastors who live unglamorous lives doing the day-in, day-out hard work of caring for the flock under his care – faithfully catechizing all ages and teaching the ancient creeds, the dangers of heresy, and so forth – there certainly are fewer options. And blessed is the man who finds one.

    Curmudgeonly, dogma drama lovin’ Lily

    P.S. As my husband liked to put it: “I”d rather be good than nice.”

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  97. “Nate, I’m willing to consider close communion — only allowing those in fellowship with one’s communion to the table. But the argument is that this is not the OPC’s supper. It is the Lord’s.”

    That’s always been a weak argument for open communion. The fact that it is “the LORD’S table” means that He makes the rules for admission/administration; it does NOT mean that we administer it to anyone we think is a “true believer.”

    If someone is professing beliefs or engaging in practices contrary to that taught by Christ, they ought to be disciplined, and suspended from the table if necessary; so that it is the height of inconsistency to admit individuals from other churches to the table when professing or practicing things which would bring them under censure if they were members of your church.

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  98. Then, Sean, your working assumption is that everyone outside of your church membership has committed a sin worthy of excommunication notwithstanding that their churches consider them to be in good standing. A byproduct of the Quest for Communion Certainty, perhaps?

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  99. But, Dr. Hart… of course Lutherans are good! Some of us even fall into the law-abiding category! 😉

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  100. Well… phooey, Dr. Hart. I can be quite slow on the uptake. The “I’d rather be good than nice” was my husband’s answer to evangelicalism’s denigration of confessional Lutheranism and the view of us being cold, unfriendly, lifeless, and other such epithets. Neither of us was convinced that evangelicalism’s “niceness” was a fruit of the spirit – thus the joke: I’d rather be good than nice. Yeah… kinda loses something in translation – ya suppose?

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  101. Ok… I suppose I should explain this further. Why is it that if there are standards or requirements, all of sudden it’s mean, unfair, discriminatory, unloving, or exclusionary? Isn’t that one of the mantras of our age and why our public school standards have been set so low? It shouldn’t be a surprise that the same tactics are used against confessional communions. American evangelicalism seems to demand that all of the churches come down to the lowest common doctrinal denominator and practice a cloying culture of niceness.

    As far as I can tell, the admonitions that we aren’t “nice” and other epithets are inappropriate and manipulative. Anyone can join our communions if they are willing to attend the classes so they can make an informed decision on whether they believe what we do. I honestly can’t think of anything more loving than a church that is willing to put out that kind of time, effort, and church materials to help people make an informed decision on church membership. It is good not nice to do this. There is a difference between good and nice. Goodness can make tough decisions – niceness is incapable of making tough decisions because that wouldn’t be nice – if that makes sense?

    Anywho, that’s probably more information that you ever wanted to know about what is behind, “I’d rather be good than nice.” I hope that cleared up any misunderstanding?

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  102. Dr. Hart,

    You have written “I regard Piper and Al very highly”. Could you elaborate in any detail about what qualities that you see in John Piper and Al Molher that prompted you to write this?

    Also, I read that Machen spoke at a the World Christian Fundamentals Association meeting, which presumably included Christians of various convictions. Could you think of any present day cross denomination conferences or para church meetings which may be similar to this one at which you would speak or debate with others of differing convictions?

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  103. UK Paul, As I wrote, I consider Al a friend and I do admire many of the stands he has taken, particularly in returning Southern Seminary to its conservative roots. I personally would not be as prominent as Al is in some of the public dates on social issues. But I’m not the president of SBTS. And in most of those fronts, Al has spoken courageously and thoughtfully.

    I don’t know pastor Piper well, though we have met. I’ve only read a few of his books. I like that he admires Machen, though I think he misses some of Machen’s significance. And I think Piper tries hard to get things right. I disagree with him on matters of polity and sacraments, and I wish he could back off Edwards. But my sense he is an honorable fellow.

    As for where I’d speak, I’d pretty much go anywhere as long as my presence was not seen as an endorsement of the host organization. I am particular about ecclesiastical fellowships. But beyond the church — which gives me pretty much six days a week minus session and presbytery meetings, and General Assembly — I’ll go anywhere. Why, I’ve even spoken in chapel at Covenant College. Go figure.

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  104. Darryl, I hope your Covenant College experience wasn’t like my typical PCA presbytery experience where you might trip over the bongos or hand drum on the way to the…er, lectern. I feel like I’m involved in cross-cultural, broad evangelical interaction and “conversation” every time I attend a pres meeting.

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  105. Sean, I don’t know how “close” you wish for close communion to be. The close communion debate has come up on this site before: link. In that debate, it was argued (per Anderson) that one ought not be admitted to communion unless one can confess each item of a particular church’s confession. If I may, I’ll take that as the baseline position of “close communion”; but if I’m making a bad assumption, please correct me.

    Also, my argument here is a bit … aggressive? Hard-nosed? Hard-nosed. But my intent is not hard towards you; the desire is to hold the idea of close communion to a standard of strict scrutiny.

    (1) One strains to find any references to “close communion” in the confessions of Reformed churches (indeed, the Heidelberg comes close to teaching open communion). Likewise, the Directory of Public Worship makes no obvious reference to such. Nor does Calvin in the Institutes. Quite the contrary, he seems to believe that communion is for all who hold Christ as Lord:

    For this reason Paul commands a man to examine himself before he eats of that bread, and drinks of that cup, (1 Cor. 11: 28.) By this, as I understand, he means that each individual should descend into himself, and consider, first, whether, with inward confidence of heart, he leans on the salvation obtained by Christ, and, with confession of the mouth, acknowledges it; and, secondly, whether with zeal for purity and holiness he aspires to imitate Christ; whether, after his example, he is prepared to give himself to his brethren, and to hold himself in common with those with whom he has Christ in common; whether, as he himself is regarded by Christ, he in his turn regards all his brethren as members of his body, or, like his members, desires to cherish, defend, and assist them, not that the duties of faith and charity can now be perfected in us, but because it behaves us to contend and seek, with all our heart, daily to increase our faith. — Calv Inst 4.17.40.

    and again:

    Some fault may creep into the administration of either doctrine or sacraments, but this ought not to estrange us from communion with the church. For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the principles of the religion…. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith…. A difference of opinion over these non-fundamental matters should in no wise be the basis of schism among Christians. — Inst 4.1.12.

    If close communion is the biblical position, why the silence from the Reformers?

    (2) Likewise, advocates of close communion should consider their burden of proof.

    Close communion is a rule for worship. Such a rule requires strict scrutiny per the regulative principle (WCoF 21.1, 20.2): the doctrine of close communion must be shown to be either a direct teaching of Scripture, or a good and necessary consequence of it.

    Now, I think we can all agree that the words “do not admit anyone to communion unless he confesses each detail of your confession” do not appear in Scripture. So there is no direct command for close communion.

    Is there a good and necessary inference?

    It’s hard to see how there could be. Scripture doesn’t even address the issue of “confessions of faith” (beyond “Jesus is Lord”, Rom 10.10 or “Jesus is come in the flesh”, 1 Jhn 4.2; perhaps Paul’s “tradition” of 2 Thess 3.6). Nor does Scripture speak of denominational boundaries.

    Likewise, the requirements laid down for communion make no mention of close communion. Beyond the one-table principle of 10.18-22 and the self-examination of 11.28, I’m not aware of any other passages that teach of requirements for communion.

    So what argument can be made?

    Could we argue, as does Anderson, that those who disbelieve our doctrine are scandalous? We know, says Anderson, that the “scandalous” ought not be admitted to the table.

    But this is pure speculation: Anderson takes the term “scandalous”, which is used as a synonym for the Confessional term “ungodly”, and expands it to include “those who take exception to our confession in some detail or other.” It’s an amazing leap: If you deny our confession, you must be ungodly. This is clearly no good and necessary inference, and its backbone lies utterly outside Scripture.

    The point is that the burden of proof on close communionists is high: to demonstrate that,

    * despite the silence of the Reformed confessions
    * despite the catholicity of the visible Church under the Gospel taught in the Reformed confessions
    * despite the communion that saints by profession have with one another, also taught in the Reformed confessions
    * despite the one-loaf principle (one body, one loaf) taught in 1 Cor 10.17

    that still and all Scripture teaches that we ought to withhold communion from those who cannot subscribe ex animo to our particular confession.

    Proving this is a high burden, indeed.

    Hard-nosed mode off.

    Have a happy Sunday, all!

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  106. Sorry I’m coming so late to the party. I’ve been trying to read through the comments to get the gist of what is being said. I’ve only got about halfway through but so far I’ve been disappointed that no-one has engaged with the Scriptures Paul flagged-up.

    The problem arises because the visible church is in a state of chaos. In the NT life in Christ was the basis of fellowship. Our fellowship in the Spirit (Eph 4:1) is a fellowship of spiritual life (1 Jn 1:1-4). This fellowship is a shared fellowship with the Father and Son. Concretely John describes it as a fellowship in truth, love and obedience. It is a fellowship we are called to ‘maintain’ (Eph 4:1).

    This ‘shared life’ constituted the church invisible. What was invisible was expressed visibly in local churches. The visible church did not ‘create’ the unity it ‘expressed’ it and sought to ‘maintain’ it. In the early church the church invisible and the visible church were effectively the same. The local church in any city (all the believers in that city) was ‘the pillar and ground of truth’. If any lived in a way that clearly contradicted this profession of life in Christ they were disciplined by the church according to the severity of their behaviour and generally with a view to correction.

    This situation did not last. All too soon (by 2 Timothy) it appears the visible church had moved far from the gospel. At the beginning the true church (invisible), those with life in Christ, were in the majority, however, by 2 Timothy they appear to be in the minority. Certainly Paul anticipates an apostate church (visible) 2 Tim 3:1-9.

    What ought we to do when the visible church is largely apostate? I ask this for it seems as if this reality gets lost in the discussion. I find this a really difficult question to answer biblically. On the one hand, Timothy is exhorted to various levels of separation. He is told to keep a distance from false teachers. He is told in a great house there are different kinds of vessels some honourable and some dishonourable. The vessels of honour are to keep away from the vessels of dishonour (2 Tim 2). He is told that who is ultimately the Lord’s and who is not is known to the Lord while the responsibility of the believer is to ‘meet with those who call upon the name of the Lord out of a pure heart’. On the whole it seems as if the vessels to dishonour are acting as non-believers in belief and/or behaviour.

    At the same time there is no express command to leave the visible church and form a new one. In fact Timothy is told to dialogue with those who oppose sound doctrine and oppose them gently. It seems as if this is within the visible church.

    My point? Well perhaps two.

    a) I’d appreciate some reflections on these texts and how we allow Scripture (rather than mere independent human logic) to frame our ecclesial behaviour in an apostate church (by this I mean the whole body of professing Christianity).

    b) I confess a degree of uncertainty. Ironically, I grew up in a denomination which believed that only it was the true church and only its local churches were true local churches. There were/are a great many true and good believers in this denomination, however, it was plagued by elitism, obscurantism, and far too much ‘churchianity’ (getting the distinctives right mattered more than a life of godliness, in fact being faithful to the distinctives and the local chuch was godliness – I caricatiure a little, but the criticism stands). To break bread one must be a member of the denomination and one was strongly discouraged and sometimes forbidden to go to other churches. As I grew up and discovered there were believers in other churches outside my own denomination who believed much as I did give or take a few distinctives that were, in my view, of a secondary nature, I felt it was a sin against the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit to refuse to have fellowship with these believers and to refuse them a place at the Lord’s table (for it is not the table of any denomination but of the Lord). I felt it was more biblical to ‘put up with all their evil than separate from all their good’. I still do.

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  107. John, so how do you answer the question about Roman Catholicism on the basis of Eph. 4? What kind of unity are you asserting? Is it one that overlooks the division that occurred in 1054 or in the sixteenth century? If you are going to appeal to biblical notions of unity, what is your proposal for our current set of churches?

    Also, how can you justify leaving a church on the basis of your appeal to unity? How does leaving a church ever help to create unity? It seems you want others to carry the ball for unity but not yourself.

    And who says the visible church is apostate? That’s a pretty bold claim, maybe bolder than questioning gospel coalitions.

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  108. Hi John Thomson,

    Please reconsider what you are saying. For better or worse, there will always be doctrinal divisions in the visible church. The apostles made decisions about what were false teachings and addressed them in the Bible. The early church addressed false teachings – hence we have the creeds. As Dr. Hart pointed out, the split between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox was over doctrine and the Reformation was divided by doctrine from the very beginning – the Anabaptists, Reformed, Lutherans, etal.

    As far as I know, no one is willing to compromise on their doctrinal beliefs, much less to agree to a lowest common doctrinal denominator that would allow for the kind of unity that seems to be desired by American evangelicalism. It seems to me that the lack of doctrinal boundaries that American evangelicalism wants to promote is the problem. If our churches doctrinal boundaries are reduced to merely a confession of faith in Christ – how can we object to the word/faith teachings or snake handler practices coming into our churches? Have you considered the chaos that would ensue if doctrinal boundaries are torn down? Or that many of the churches have done a good job protecting the flocks under their care by having good doctrinal boundaries?

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  109. I think everyone recognizes (if we hold any kind of proper under-realized eschatology at all) that there will never be a perfectly-doctrinally-sound, visible church here on earth. That does not mean, however, that we are not to strive for that end. Scripture teaches us everywhere that doctrine matters. Although we can affirm on one hand that other believers who differ on certain points of doctrine can be genuine believers, it does not follow logically that we are to find a lowest-common denominator and make that the goal. I think the point is that “Calvinism” or “Gospel-centeredness” or other branding devices cannot be the banner we unite under in an ecclesiastical setting. Lily makes a good point – picture the chaos if we take the LCD approach and follow it up to its logical end. How wide a tent, you ask? Is there such a thing as middle ground? These questions are difficult to answer. But I admire the effort towards a definitiveness in the church. Where does GC fit in? It doesn’t – it’s simply not the church. And its attempts to minimize differences can be contagious to those attendees, I fear.

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  110. The snippet below isn’t perfect, but I think it may have value to the conversation and application to parachurch organizations like TGC for – once again, we led back to focusing on what we doing in our own churches (I did not add the note at the end).

    The Secularisation of the Church

    …a single illness threatens the Lutheran Churches of the world. It is the very secularization of the church itself. If 25 years ago the secularization of culture was recognized as the great illness of the time, then it is soberly to be asserted today that secularism is now the illness of the church. It is gripping to see that, in order to fulfill the missiological goal of calling the peoples of the west back to the Christian faith, the church itself must first be turned back to this faith. “Sweden’s people are God’ people.” That was the solution a generation ago. Today the question is to what extent the Church of Sweden is still the church of God? And so it is in all nations. Great missionary endeavors and evangelization efforts will still be carried out, but it is precisely the most serious evangelists who are coming to the conviction that the gospel preaching church must be the first object of their evangelization. This understanding was already once given as a gift to German evangelical churchdom. The consequence of the theology of Karl Barth in the time of his great influence in the first half of the 1930’s was based upon this recognition. That was the meaning of his struggle against Dibelius and his “Century of the Church.” That was the most profound power of the “Confessing Churches” of all persuasions in Germany, however they may have differed from each other as Lutherans, Reformed, or United [Churches]. That was really the renewal of the Reformation; for Reformation is indeed the repentance of the church.

    From The De-Confessionalization of Lutheranism?
    Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 22, New Year 1952
    Trans. by Rev. Matthew Harrison

    Note – Sasse wrote these words almost half a century ago. What would he say today when almost everywhere the Lutheran Church has lost its inner spiritual power and in some places has imported secular methodologies into its mission and evangelism ‘programs’? The call to repentance is perhaps more relevant and urgent now than when Sasse urged it upon the church of the 1950s.

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  111. Here is a video on YouTube that resonates with the culture and may be a big reason why the doctrine matters folk who are pushing for a more biblical worship service run into problems with the message getting through: It is kind of like the form and function problem- it might be a stretch but the seriousness of wedding vows can be related to a worship service, in my mind anyways:

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  112. Hmm…. Dr. Hart? Am I in doggy doo-doo land for comparing TGC to Dibelius and his “Century of the Church” and the need for us all to repent and be what we are whether Reformed or Lutheran? The only way you may get peace from this amateur history lover is to ban me? 😉

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  113. I am a Reformed Baptist. There are very few reformed churches in our area. My husband and I both financially support our local Reformed University Fellowship missionary (PCA) and Ligionner Ministries. As God works through these organizations to bring salvation to people, I am not obsessed about what reformed denomination that they attend after salvation. I am confident that these men preach the Doctrines of Grace. I will worship with them in heaven and there will be no boundaries there.

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  114. Where did that come from Joseph? I am not sure that is what Sandra was implicating or why you were moved to ask that question. It reminds me of the story that the White Horse Inn guests would talk about when the show was still young and they were trying to convey the extent of the sin the Gospel could forgive and if repentance was needed for specific sins if a believer died before doing so. The story was this: if a teenager or young adult who were believers but were fornicating in the back of their parents car and the car was accidently put in drive by a wildly flalling leg or arm and the car rolled off the cliff and they were killed when the car hit bottom would they still go to heaven? Well, the answer that the White Horse Inn folk stated was a unanimous yes. And all four of them agreed. So, the answer is yes, it is possible that we will be worshipping in heaven with fornicators, murderers, gluttons, etc., etc. Even when that list in Galatians 5 is appealed to for proof that they will be barred and banned. The scriptures can sometimes be confusing when the Law and Gospel are not distinguished properly. And we do it all the time, even when we should know better.

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  115. I will be worshipping with fellow fornicators who have been saved by the grace of God.
    1 Corinthians 6:10-12. My point in posting on this forum is that I have been saved by Grace and I love to share the story of the Gospel. I have brothers and sisters from other Reformed denominations who also take to heart the Great Commission. I will stand with them in prayer and financially for the Glory of God and I look forward to worshipping with my fellow redeemed sinners in heaven.

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  116. Darryl

    In my comment (for once) I was largely asking questions rather than supplying answers (after a brief outline of some biblical contours). When we talk of church unity it seems to me we must first think of body-life rather than denominational structures etc. Unity is firstly organic and only secondly and derivatively organizational. If the unity I am part of is the unity of life in the body of Christ created by the Spirit and I am instructed to be ‘eager to maintain this unity’ (and accept that maintaining this unity means maintaining it ecclesially) then how do I do this? This is the big question for me that I’d appreciate a direct answer to.

    Re some other points.

    >For better or worse, there will always be doctrinal divisions in the visible church. The apostles made decisions about what were false teachings and addressed them in the Bible<

    That is my question Lily – what advice did they give? Initially in a church under apostolic authority those whose initial confession appeared to be unreal because of doctrinal or moral error were disciplined. This took a variety of forms ranging from refuting the teaching to excommunication. When the church came under the control of the false teachers – what then? That is, what then biblically?

    At one time I was sure that the thing to do was simply leave (the church was no longer a church but apostate) and this may be right. I do struggle however with the absence it seems of NT advice to so do. In Revelation, the advice to true believers in disobedient churches, is not to leave but keep themselves in a pure relationship with God. Again, I am not actually so advocating, but asking for guidance.

    I am very clear on this, that where a local church is evidently composed of believers and has the rudimentary marks of a church however imperfectly administered (preaching, ordinances, discipline) then I must recognise it as one and have fellowship with it. It is a 'church' of equal standing to any other.

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  117. Sandra, but wouldn’t you concede that your comments are a tad self-oriented. You mention the gospel but really your point is about you and your friends and the criteria that you think are important for going to heaven. Isn’t your implication that some of us are unworthy?

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  118. John, I don’t know how you do this because your idea of unity is basically mystical. Your conception is all in some world that is impossible to see or evaluate — or even to hear the word, receive the Supper.

    As for your minimal standards for a local church and your recognition of it, does that extend to the Roman Catholic parish down the block?

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  119. Dr. Hart, but isn’t that the beauty of Dibelius? There is much to commend him, yet wasn’t his 2k and ecumenism misguided? Isn’t that true of TGC? Or did I miss the point (again!)?

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  120. John Thomson,

    I”m not sure how to answer your question. It is my understanding that the best of theologians are hard pressed to come us with a definitive governance or polity for the church based on NT scripture – thus the churches have chosen many different ways to do this in their churches. As I understand it, starting with the apostles and throughout church history, the church has been faced with false teaching that has had to be addressed – thus we have doctrinal boundaries of what is true and to be be accepted/believed by the churches, and what not true and to be condemned/rejected by the churches. As the saying goes – it’s complicated and I wish I could give you a clearer answer.

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  121. Lily, I thought we were on the same page until your question about Martin rather than Otto. I’m not sure of the Germans you’re citing. But I am sure about TGC.

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  122. Sandra,

    Aren’t you engaging in a theology of glory (trying to pull heaven down to earth) when you say that it’s all OK because you will worship together with those who differ from you on earth, in heaven? Aren’t you mixing the proverbial apples and oranges? While what you say will be true then, it cannot be true now because of the effects of the fall. So a priori, you are stating that because it will be true in the future, means it is true now? Even if it were, how could we know someone else is a believer anyway? This is one of the main issues I (and many) have with Baptist theology – an over-realized sense of where we are in relation to heaven. It also I believe impacts the practice of baptizing believers only – that we can be 100% sure of who believers are, and using Jer. 31 out of context to back it up.

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  123. Dr. Hart – may I ask what you mean by, “I’m sure of the TGC”?

    As for the Dibelius question – As I understand it: Martin was a buddy in the Bultmann school of thought. I’m not sure I can do synopsis of Otto without mangling the history, but Otto wrote, Century of the Church, which mangled 2k and was highly influential after WWI and the Prussian Union was no longer a state church. There was oodles of mess going on vying with the Nazi for control of the churches and the confessional splits wanting to be faithful to their own confessions (eg: the Reformed and the Lutherans) between WWI and WWII. Otto was part of the remaking the Prussian Union as the EKiD, the World Federation of Churches, and other organizations after WWII that did not respect confessional boundaries. As you well know, it’s a lot more complex than that, but I thought you would give me a hard time for using European history – I tend to see patterns not the nuances – thus my comparison to disagreements over 2k and ecumenism that doesn’t respect confessional boundaries. Does that make sense?

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  124. Dr. Hart, I don’t mean to be dense, but I’m not following you – would it be possible to be more explicit?

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  125. Darryl

    I don’t believe it is impossible to evaluate. Nor do I think I suggested this. I said fellowship is based on life in Christ; the bottom line is when I meet a believer from whatever church I have an affinity with him. We share a common life in Christ (we both share in the fellowship of the Father and Son). Just as being alive as people gives us a commonality so being spiritually alive places us in the same family. I do not see how this can be contradicted.

    For this new life to exist some level of trust in Christ and the gospel has taken place. We can discuss what level but we all will surely agree the level falls far short of what will be stipulated in any confession.

    Any new believer (upon baptism?) has immediate right of access into the fellowship of a local church. This right is his simply by dint of his confession of faith in Christ. There he is placed that he may grow and mature in the faith. If in the process of ‘maturing’ he imbibes serious moral or doctrinal error, of a primary nature (attacking the basis of the gospel) he may if he persists in it eventually be excommunicated. Here please note the unity of the Spirit (mystical if you like) finds itself expressed in concrete terms – belief and behaviour. The point, however, that must be noted is that the unity is based firstly on life in Christ through the Spirit (Eph 4:1; 1 Jn 1:1-6).

    What degree of compromise must be involved before this unity is broken? A pretty serious level it appears in the NT. Serious enough defection from the faith to place the faith of the defector seriously in doubt. My question is are the confessions narrow enough to exclude all heresy that denies the gospel yet broad enough to include all true believers though they may differ in matters of secondary importance? If they exclude major swathes of the body of Christ then it seems to me self-evident that they sin against the unity of the body of Christ; they are in principle schismatic.

    The tension between a pure church and a united church is I admit a hard one to know how best to act. Hard and fast denominations is not the answer. Bodies like TGC are not the answer either though they are an attempt to take unity beyond confessional limitations – for they recognize our unity is much deeper and wider than a confession. It’s not hard to see the weaknesses of such parachurch bodies. Equally it is not hard to see the weaknesses of denominational/confessional unity. Stones and glass houses come to mind.

    In my view, formal denominations are a mistake (they deny body unity). The best approach I can see is autonomous local churches seeking to accept and have fellowship with other autonomous local churches that clearly accept the authority of Christ. These churches may be full of problems (and will be) but each accepts the other for they recognize that despite many weaknesses they are not apostate churches; they are churches of believers seeking to follow the Lord out of a pure heart. This seems to me to best hold the tension of a pure church and a united church.

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  126. So, John, better to have a mess of autonomous non-apostate churches than to have orthodox churches bound by confessions of faith and accountable to one another? That sounds more new life than old life to me.

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  127. Hart: “I don’t know pastor Piper well, though we have met. I’ve only read a few of his books. I like that he admires Machen, though I think he misses some of Machen’s significance. And I think Piper tries hard to get things right. I disagree with him on matters of polity and sacraments, and I wish he could back off Edwards. But my sense he is an honorable fellow.”

    As for me, I don’t know Professor Hart well, though I have glanced at his blog. I’ve only read a few of his books. I like that he admires Piper, though I think he misses some of Piper’s significance. And I think Hart tries hard to get things right. I disagree with him on matters of polity and sacraments, and I wish he could back off Machen. But my sense he is an honorable fellow even is he enamored with being a curmudgeon.

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  128. Brad, better still to recognize different “circles” of unity. At one level, you have doctrinal unity with your denomination. But additionally, you have unity with all those that profess the faith. (At least, that’s what the Confession appears to teach.)

    Hence DGH’s point: We accept Christian baptisms as valid, even from other denominations, *even* from Roman Catholics.

    So we have some kind of formal unity with other Christians that does not extend to, say, JWs or Mormons.

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  129. Jeff, absolutely…which is why the progressives floating last year the idea that the PCA might want to leave NAPARC was so maddening.

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  130. And, Lloyd, that Darryl’s cousin used to work at a convenience store which sold beer and that his own wool jackets reek of tobacco smoke.

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  131. John, I wonder how you think your local autonomous solution gets away from what allegedly ails formal denominational bodies. It is reminiscent of that non-denominational idea that denominationalism is an impious mistake like creedalism. But if one learns anything from that sort of move it must be that as soon as your body-above-the-human-fray starts about its work it becomes exactly what it sought to circumvent. IOW, a non-denominational church is a denomination, just like “No creed but Christ” is a creed.

    So it seems to me that what all these sorts of efforts are really trying to do is the invisible-triumphant church in the visible-militant age. It’s a function of that ubiquitous tick to “immanentize the eschaton.”

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  132. Dr Hart – I’m reading your “With Reverence And Awe” and enjoying it a great deal. Obviously it’s only a primer, so I hope you don’t mind if I ask you this question here, as it is related to the post, and I’ve looked elsewhere on the blog without finding an answer to it.

    Would you be able to regard a 1689 Baptist Confession congregation as evidencing the marks of a true church, particularly with respect to its baptismal policy? And if you could not, would that mean that you could not recognise the baptisms carried out by that congregation as true baptisms, or (consequently) those baptised in that church as Christians (not raising the issue of the regeneration of any particular individual, but instead the issue of whether that individuals bears the mark of the public profession of Christian faith)?

    Sorry if you have addressed this somewhere else – if you have, I’d be very grateful if you could direct me there. Thank-you!

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  133. It does not matter what my criteria for going to heaven is-I do not determine what the Gospel is. What matters is what God says in His word and He says to go into the world and preach the Gospel. I appreciate my reformed brothers and sisters who take this to heart. It makes me sad that some of God’s elect do not seem to want to ever worship with or associate with their brothers and sisters while on Earth (and I wonder if really they think they will be the only ones in heaven)

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  134. Nate,

    May I respectfully ask if something else be considered? Instead of speaking of only in terms of denominations, should we be interested in what the denomination confesses? I’m thinking that it is what we confess as a church that is most revealing about a church. For example: I’ve seen enough church websites to question if a confession in Christ as Savior is really adequate for a church. Why not the full-bodied Nicene Creed that leaves no doubt what is confessed and believed? I know there are some who think this is nit-picky nonsense, but the older I become, the more I think it is crucial to the health and life of the church to have a good handle on these kinds of things in order to pass on the faith to the next generation. Or am I being curmudgeonly – yet again?

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  135. C Gribben, Hey. I would vote to accept a Baptist baptism, if that is what you’re asking. Why, my own baptism was a dunk around the age of 12 and no Presbyterian church required rebaptism.

    As for whether a Baptist church exhibited the marks of a true church, I’d say yes, though the marks are exhibited with defects, such that fraternal relations are not possible.

    Does that make sense?

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  136. Sandra,

    I may be wrong, but I do not believe it’s a matter of fellowship that is what the crux for confessional Christians. I think it is a matter of genuinely caring about others and to (use the WHI phrase) wanting to see people understand what they believe and why they believe it. There are a lot of teachings in American evangelicalism that are a problem and people do get hurt by churches. It takes more courage to speak up than to sit back, go with the flow, or look the other way – if that makes sense?

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  137. I believe the bible is the inerrant, infalliable, authoritative word of God. I understand what the bible says about the church and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I submit to the authority of God and His earthly leaders in my local church. If you would like a clearer picture of what I believe, you may find it here:
    http://www.gracetn.org/Beliefs/StatementOfFaith.aspx

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  138. Hi Lily,

    I completely agree, in fact I would go for the Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian creeds. I’m all for maximizing our confessional documents rather than dumbing down the faith. Mainly, I was just being snide about the idea that unity is based on trying to figure out which individuals are or are not regenerate. Tongue in cheek, of course.

    No curmudgeonliness detected from here. Remember, I’m the one advocating close communion and laity subscribing the confession from the Reformed side. So if anything I’m the curmudgeon.

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  139. John Yeazel,

    I asked whether Sandra would worship in heaven with fornicators to illustrate that she’ll end up worshiping in heaven with all kinds of people that should pre-eschaton be placed under church discipline. Presumably even a so called “Reformed” Baptist would consider unrepentant fornication sufficient cause for ecclesial sanction. It only requires one more logical step of charity on Sandra’s part, to envision churches that differ with her on the issue of who has a right to baptism, to understand that unrepentant refusal to baptize one’s children is (or may be in their view) sufficient grounds for church discipline. So there’s the rub: she’ll worship in heaven with paedobaptists, but faithful paedobaptists would lovingly seek to bring about her repentance on the issue of baptism through the full gamut of church disciplinary steps (up to and including excommunication). Now, she may want to continue giving financially to those churches if she wants, but that should not change the result. It’s beside the point. Money can’t by me love (from the church). Or at least it shouldn’t be able to.

    I think Zrim (or someone else) has commented on this blog (or somewhere else) how these not-necessarily-intuitive results are due to the time in history in which we live: the already and not-yet of “this present age” as we anticipate the “age to come.”

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  140. Sandra,

    May I point out that your church states that the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are ordinances not sacraments, Do you disagree with your church and believe they are sacrmanets?

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  141. Sorry, Nate – missed the satire and sure shoulda known better! I’m at the point where I’m beginning to think I’m fixated on wanting emphasize the importance, beauty, and necessity of passing on our faith via the confessions, creeds, and all that wonderful jazz – Curmudgeons Unite! 😉

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  142. Sandra,

    If I may ask another question? Is the “The Lord’s Day is a Christian institution (eg: man-made)? Does that jive with what the Bible teaches about Who created the Sabbath and the 4th commandment:

    Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

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  143. Sandra, thanks for this. So would you fellowship with me, even if I err according to your profession of faith, since I don’t approve of credo baptism for children of the church nor do I believe the Supper is merely a commemoration? I’m trying to figure out where your beliefs bar you from fellowship. Or do you simply look past matters like sacraments, church polity, ordination, and possibly worship?

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  144. “Lance, and what would be the basis for a Christian fellowship outside a common church membership? Would you fellowship with a Roman Catholic? Probably not though some evangelicals are these days. But aren’t you relying upon a distinction between Protestants and Roman Catholics that goes back to the ecclesiology of the 16th c. Sorry, but the idea of basing fellowship on non-churchly means is asking for a form of Christianity that is agnostic about history and how the faith has come down to us, which means that is irrespective of the preaching and teaching that shapes believers, or where those preachers and teachers come from.”

    The basis of fellowship with those outside my church membership would be that we are ‘Christian.’ And what would be the basis for you refusing to fellowship with those whom Christ has given you as brothers and sisters?
    I’m trying very hard to understand how your entire argument cannot, by necessity, be built upon the fact that you believe those outside your confessional church (opc, pca, lol, ttyl or whatever other acronym) are not Christians. If this is not the case, all the church history and crankiness in the world cannot explain to me how you justify this from the pages of scripture.

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  145. No worries Lily. That’s not a bad thing to fixate on, if you ask me. After all, God’s gospel promises are for us and our children. Curmudgeonly unity, now that’s something to consider!

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  146. Sandra,
    The curmudgeons here like to slam dunk (no pun intended) anyone, no matter how orthodox, who doesn’t pronounce their shibboleths.
    So calling baptism and the Lord’s Supper “ordinances” is verboten–apparently sacraments is the only appropriate word for them, never mind that it’s not in the Bible. But I’m a Biblicist, a pietist, etc. etc. although I’m Orthodox Presbyterian and my congregation welcomes Baptists, with children, into membership. Oh my…

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  147. Goodness, Eliza!

    Is there no difference between an ordinance and a sacrament? Is there a difference between faith alone in Christ alone, and pietism’s faith + subjective evidence of good works and fruit of the Holy Spirit in Christ + my subjective experiences? Is there a difference between Biblicism’s libertine interpretations and 2000 years of Christianity’s interpretations? ”O my – indeed! Such a careless indifference to the historicity of Christianity! Let’s all sing Frank Sinatra’s favorite song individually, “I did it my way!”

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  148. I’m trying very hard to understand how your entire argument cannot, by necessity, be built upon the fact that you believe those outside your confessional church (opc, pca, lol, ttyl or whatever other acronym) are not Christians.

    I think what helps here is the invisible-triumphant church/visible-militant church distinction. Without that distinction it’s easy to see how someone would think that denominationalists are making a comment on the eternal status of those outside temporal boundaries. But it’s confessionalism that seems to better grasp that there are wolves within and sheep without and that the visible church is always an admixture of hypocrites and faithful. There are Christians in the RCC and Pentecostal churches, as well as unbelievers within orthodox Reformed and Presbyterian communions. It works both ways. But in the militant age there simply has to be a way of marking the lines between orthodoxy and heterodoxy; that’s what it means to live in the militant age.

    So confessionalists aren’t so much interested in saying that those outside the boundaries “aren’t Christians” so much as beckoning true souls outside her to join and cleave to a true and visible church. In point of fact, from my own experience, it tends to be those who eschew the ecclesiastical distinction who tend to be given to the suggestion that those not within their Christian subculture, their substandard way of doing the ecclesiastical (more cult/culture confusion), “aren’t Christians.” But I think that tends to betray how the detractors themselves think in over-realized terms who then project their over-wrought ways onto those quite satisfied to exist within the boundaries, even alongside potential hypocrites.

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  149. I’m a sucker for these videos! On Easter 2011, a group of Lebanon Christians sang, He is Risen, in an east Beirut Mall – ain’t it fun?

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  150. Lance, you dodged the question. What do you do with “true” believers who are members of the Roman Catholic church?

    The aim behind a recovery of confessionalism is not to disfellowship anyone. It is to get believers to take the visible church and her ministry seriously. Some communions actually function this way already. Are the workings of confessional churches chopped liver? Do you presume to think that churches that take their own standards seriously are doing something sinful?

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  151. For anyone interested in the video – I did a little research (yeah… I love this stuff) and this is a collection of what I found:

    The video opens with “This is the Day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And then goes into the Paschal Troparion, sung by Orthodox Christians and Byzantine Catholics almost constantly from Pascha to Pentecost, it goes “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”. It’s all present tense, and all a witness to the ever-present reality of the resurrection.
    At the end, when they hold out “Maseeh qam!” for long periods of time, you can hear tenors and basses taking turns singing “Hakkan qam!” or “Indeed/Truly, He is risen!” And yes, the one gentleman sings the Troparion in Greek.

    (Arabic)
    Al-Masih qam min bain’il-amwat,
    wa wati al mowt bil mowt,
    wa wahab’l hayah lil ladhina fi’l qubur

    (Greek)
    Hristos Anesti ek nekron,
    thanato thanaton patisas,
    ke tis en tis mnimassi zoin harisamenos

    (Arabic)
    Haza hoa al yoom Allazi sanaho al rabe,
    falnafrah w lenatahell behi,

    English translation
    Christ is risen from the dead,
    and by His death, He had trampled upon death,
    and given life to those who are in tombs,
    Christ is risen from the dead,
    and by His death, He had trampled upon death,
    and given life to those who are in tombs,

    This day is the day that God has made,
    lets be happy and celebrate in it,

    Al-MasiH qam! (Arabic: Christ is risen!)
    and the answer:
    HAKAN QAM!!! (HE is risen indeed!!!)

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  152. Dr Hart – many thanks for your response. I’ve just finished reading the book, and it has been extremely helpful. Thank-you for putting it together.

    I’m glad that Presbyterian churches have accepted your “Baptist” baptism. But I’m still a bit confused by the sacramental mark, and when it does and doesn’t obviate a churchly claim. Any reading suggestions would be very welcome! (I’m working steadily through your back catalogue.)

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  153. C, one way to think about it is that the Gospel is the reality and the sacraments are the sign of that reality. A church that preaches a false Gospel (also a squishy term!) is outside the circle; a church that administers sacraments improperly is on the periphery of the circle.

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  154. DGH: The aim behind a recovery of confessionalism is not to disfellowship anyone.

    Let’s take that as a given. Can we agree, though, that the tendency of some confessionalism can be to … disfellowship people?

    For instance, to use the confession as a test for whether one is welcome at communion?

    Or to use exclusive psalmnody as a test for whether one is serious about the Bible’s commands concerning worship?

    What I’m getting at is that *some* confessionalism can tend towards a kind of theological legalism or elitism; and genuine confessionalism needs to guard itself against such a tendency.

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  155. Thanks Jeff. That’s helpful: so the (3) marks of the church are not of equal weight? I’ll follow that up – and thanks.

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  156. Terminological Clarification – Please don’t read too much into certain words. In particular, seizing on “ordinance” as used in some churches. Presbyterians in particular should note that the Westminster Confession of Faith uses “ordinance” two times for each, Baptism (WCF 28.5;28.6) and Lord’s Supper (WCF 29.3; 29.7). The Larger Catechism actually defines a sacrament as an ordinance: “A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation, …”

    It’s quite possible that some who don’t care for the word “sacrament” can have as high and developed a theology of the Supper as those that are happy to use “sacrament” (and interchangeably with “ordinance”).

    I’m merely suggesting a True Curmudgeon knows there’s a time to curmudge, and a time to refrain from curmudgening.

    -=Cris=-
    And his 12-string jingle-jangle

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  157. Hi Jeff,

    Re: For instance, to use the confession as a test for whether one is welcome at communion?

    May I take a stab at answering this? I do not wish to argue about our doctrinal differences in our beliefs about the Lord’s Supper, but it seems some explanation is needed since you seem to think it is elitist or legalistic. Some communions require catechism into their fellowship because of the seriousness with which they take the Lord’s Supper. There needs to be agreement about what is believed about the Lord’s Supper within the communion. It is an act of love to keep close communion because the church wishes to protect those who do not discern the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and the judgement that is warned of in this passage:

    “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:25–29).

    Our beliefs about the Lord’s Supper restrict us to reception of the Lord’s Supper within our own communion or communions we are in fellowship with (called pulpit and altar fellowship) and even though other churches have open communion, we do not partake if we are visiting other churches. We are not the only communion who practice this and it has been going on for 2000 years. (And you thought Dr. Hart was strict?) 😉

    P.S. To Cris – just to clarify – there are communions that are true to their confession by insisting that it is a sacrament and not an ordinance.

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  158. This is not relevant to this post but I know many of you would be as interested in viewing these color photo’s of Russia between the years 1900 and 1910 as I was. They were taken before the Russian Revolution took place and destroyed a lot of the buildings pictured there. Amazing, and the photography was top notch too. Here are the photo’s:

    Russia-photosbyProkudin-Gorskii.pps (5935KB)

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  159. It did not take, I will try something different;

    Sun, April 24, 2011 6:44:50 PMFw: Remarkable Colour Pictures
    From: John Dodge View Contact
    To: Undisclosed-Recipient@yahoo.com

    Russia-photosbyProkudin-Gorskii.pps (5935KB)

    ——————————————————————————–

    (Tough to know if the following is authentic or not, but attached is some very nice photography) …

    Amazing photographs in color before we had color.. fascinating photos.
    When you come to the picture of the Jewish children with their teacher notice the boots on the boy on the right. Obviously hand downs (or borrowed ) from his father.

    Great pictures & an interesting insight into Russian society before the revolution.

    This is fantastic collection of color photos taken by Russian photographer, Sergy Prokidin-Gorsky, who perfected his technique over one hundred years ago. The images and color are truly remarkable. Most of the photos in the slide show were taken in 1909/1910.

    He used a three plate camera with black & white film, with each film exposed

    through either a red green or blue filter He then printed each film on a single piece of special color paper through the complementary fllters of cyan, magenta and yellow, creating a color image on the paper. This was obviously a very tedious process that produced a color image that is truly permanent and the black & white negatives have the same durability.

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  160. Dear Lily,

    It’s hard for me to respond without criticizing your confession. I don’t believe that “eating and drinking judgment” is directed towards those who have communion outside their own denomination, but towards those who disgrace communion with the kind of indecent behavior that Paul is speaking of in 1 Cor 11.

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  161. Jeff,

    You did notice that Paul started off that section (vrs. 17-19) of scripture commenting on the doctrinal divisions that were becoming more prevalent and easily recognized there didn’t you? And then it seemed that those who had plenty were not mindful of those going through difficult times. That seemed to be Paul’s greatest concern here. He mentions drunkeness once but from the context the drunk was the guy who had plenty. I don’t mean to sound anti-capitalistic and leaning towards socialism here either. I do not see lots of examples of “indecent behavior” in this passage of scripture either. Paul seems to be most concerned about doctrine and not “humiliating those who have nothing.”

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  162. John, I don’t see the “divisions” of 11.17 as doctrinal, but as cliques centered around individual personalities, a reference back to the divisions of 1.10 – 17. There’s no point of doctrine mentioned here that is the occasion for division.

    But suppose the divisions are doctrinal. Then wouldn’t Paul then be criticizing them for having these divisions in the first place?

    John: I do not see lots of examples of “indecent behavior” in this passage of scripture either. Paul seems to be most concerned about doctrine and not “humiliating those who have nothing.”

    Well, here’s what I see: (1) having divisions; (2) eating at different times instead of together; and (3) getting drunk. These are the things that make their feasts “not the Lord’s Supper” (1.20). These issues lead off and finish up his criticism, a strong indicator that it is these issues that he is concerned about.

    What doctrinal concerns are you thinking of?

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  163. Jeff, that may be, but I also wonder if a kind of theological or spiritual egalitarianism or “charity” sees confessionalism as elitist or legalistic. Obviously, the execution is key. But these days to make arguments of the kind that used to inform Reformed churches — in some cases, only fifty years ago — is ipso facto to be elitist or legalistic.

    The point of confessionalism as I see it is what doe the Bible teach about the church, worship and ministry. One tendency is to go for a minimal understanding of biblical teaching. You can see this in the brief doctrinal statements of Wheaton College or the National Association of Evangelicals. Another tendency is to go for a biblical maximalism. You see this in the Protestant creeds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For the minimalists to charge the maximalists with elitism seems to miss much of what Scripture teaches.

    Of course, no one wants to think they are not doing justice to Scripture. One way to respond is to question motives.

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  164. Dear Lily,

    Perhaps you will rejoice with me as I tell you of our practice here in the fly-over region. First, if someone happens to unsuspectingly walk into our church we query them as to their conversion. Usually we discover that they were converted by the so-called ‘ministry’ of some nasty parachurch, or worse, baptist church. So we have our work cut out for us.

    First we have to catechise them and remove the stains of the baptist or parachurch influence. Then we have to re-baptize them and their children or not depending on the situation and then allow them at the Table or not, depending on whether or not they agree with our confession and provided that they have broken ties with those parachurch people.

    Our confession is what animates us. It is our glory. We can’t stop referring to it. We love to find blogs where we can argue at great length about it. And we love to find labels for those benighted souls who disagree with it. We call them ‘pietists’ if all else fails because they don’t subscribe to our form of word and sacrament ministry and we accuse them of not appreciating 2000 years of church history or something like that.

    Some people accuse us of “dead orthodoxy” but we see it as protecting the Table or the Word or something else, even though our church’s confession didn’t exist when St. Paul warned us about not eating and drinking judgment on ourselves. We don’t let that stop us at all. Convinced of our own rightness we soldier on tilting at the windmills of disbelief all around us and criticizing not only the confessions of other so-called believers, but most fulfillingly criticizing the ‘gospel celebrities’ who somehow manage to preach the Holy Gospel without belonging to our Holy Church. All this while the local Baptist preacher is down at the jail preaching to the inmates without the aid or protection of any of the three forms of unity!

    Did I mention that we love to argue?

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  165. DGH: …but I also wonder if a kind of theological or spiritual egalitarianism or “charity” sees confessionalism as elitist or legalistic.

    Sure, egalitarians accuse confessionalists of being legalists. And of course they would, since they see the world that way.

    Does that prove anything? Are confessionalists off the hook just because egalitarians are making the accusation?

    Keep in mind: I’m not anti-confessionalist per se. That should be obvious from the way I’ve argued here. I *am* committed to a “Bible-first” kind of confessionalism, and I think the Westminster Confession requires that. But I’m not opposed to confessionalism.

    What I do oppose are behaviors (not motives) that cross the line into creating rules for worship that aren’t grounded in Scripture.

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  166. Dear Jeff,

    Re: It’s hard for me to respond without criticizing your confession.

    That is why I try to stay away from our distinctives. I was trying to offer you a simple explanation of why some communions practice close communion and hoping to make 2 points to give you a different perspective to view it from = it is seen as an act of love and it has a history of being practiced in churches for 2000 years. As John pointed out, there is another way to look at the subject and it is also why our communions do not have fellowship with one another – I’m guessing you know the history. I do try to respect our differences and remain silent on some things, but I will try to offer an explanation if I think it may be helpful in keeping the lines of respect between our churches. That the WCF uses the terms ordinances and sacrament interchangeably was new to me or I would not have made the earlier comments! I do try to stay on common ground here and out of distinctives, but I’m not always successful. I would offer one last thought to consider – I’m not sure how much this plays a role in your situation, but I do think that part of the problem with church communions is that many people see limits and boundaries as un-American. I would also add that since we catechize both our children and new adult members prior to their 1st communion – there is not a double standard in our practice. I hope that makes sense and that it is understood that I’m not expecting you to agree with what we believe, but hoping to shed light on the situation so we can maintain respect for our boundaries. At this point, I’m wishing I’d duct-taped my keyboard. 😉

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  167. Jeff,

    Most of Paul’s letters were meant to be read together as a Church in one or a few gatherings, depending on their length. At least that is what I have been taught to believe from various commentators I have come to respect who wrote from a reformational perspective. If you go back to chapter 1 verse 10 Paul states the following which can be seen to be his main concern in his writing of the letter: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same judgment.” He then goes on throughout the letter explaining his doctrinal concerns (of the same mind) and judgments (the form of piety that was the appropriate response to the doctrine). Same mind and same judgments being the goal of Paul’s writing.

    Paul, throughout the letter, is addressing the issues that were dividing the Church. Paul seems to have been very conscious that he was writing the norms and confession of what a Church should be believing and what type of judgments they were to make together. But it is obviously the followers who make things more complicated then they should be by following others and not believing that Paul was producing the normative in his writings. So, this is never going to be easy among beleivers who are still infected with the old Adam. We tend to misinterpret and misbehave. All the differing posts and responses at oldlife are a prime example. However, we always have to keep in mind that there is a norm that we all should be seeking to conform ouselves too.

    I am not going to go into all the doctrinal and piety (behavoiral) concerns Paul addresses in the letter (anyone can read those for themselves). There seems to have been a lot of domineering personalities (who were full of themselves, pride- 1:18-31, and knew better than Paul and the doctrine he was proclaiming) who were leading the believers away from Paul (and most importantly Christ and the Gospel that Paul was preaching and teaching) and the norms he was teaching and trying to instill in some church leaders he was raising up. Being “puffed up” was a theme Paul turns to over and over again in the letter. So, the conclusion I come to is that the “indecent behaviour” is the pride and self-righteousness which did not need the Word and Sacrament which Paul so aggressively was preaching and teaching about. To make this long post a bit shorter than I could go on for, Paul was concerned they were losing the Gospel (Word and Sacrament) and drifting back into the Law and those personalities who were teaching things contrary to the Gospel Paul was proclaiming and teaching about. This is what I think the scriptures mean when someone eats and drinks the Lord’s body in an unworthy manner. It is always the Gospel that has to be proclaimed before we partake of the Lord’s Supper. When the Gospel is not proclaimed we partake of the Supper in an “unworthy manner” because we are not partaking in faith. The Gospel produces faith, which makes up worthy to partake. When false doctrine infects the Church and the Gospel is not proclaimed accurately none of are worthy to partake.

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  168. “The Gospel produces faith, which makes up worthy to partake. When false doctrine infects the Church and the Gospel is not proclaimed accurately none of are worthy to partake.”

    I meant to say, The Gospel produces faith, which makes us worthy to partake. When false doctrine infects the Church and the Gospel is not proclaimed accurately, none of us are worthy to partake. It is the Word (Law and Gospel) which prepares us and makes us worthy to partake.

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  169. Lily, Stop making a lot of nonsensical accusations of me.
    Cris D, Of course that’s what the WCF says about sacraments. I agree it’s pointless to quibble over semantics.
    DGH: What do you think of OPCs that welcome into membership Baptists with infants (unbaptized, of course)?

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  170. Lily,

    I’m not trying to offend. The “you don’t understand what you’re talking about” response isn’t very helpful.

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  171. Lily: I was trying to offer you a simple explanation of why some communions practice close communion and hoping to make 2 points to give you a different perspective to view it from = it is seen as an act of love and it has a history of being practiced in churches for 2000 years.

    Ah, I understand a bit better now.

    Let me just say this: Sometimes, discerning the loving thing can be difficult.

    It is more loving for me to be hard-nosed with my child (thus, hopefully, teaching her obedience), or to be soft-hearted (thus, hopefully, modeling tender-heartedness towards others)?

    And at times, we just don’t know.

    But here, I think, there is an area where Scripture gives more concrete guidance. Think of the meaning of communion: It is the sacrament of our union with Christ and our communion with each other. This is attested directly in Scripture (John 6.53-58 and 1 Cor 10.17, respectively).

    So is it more loving to exclude from communion if the unity is imperfect, or to include into communion even though unity is imperfect?

    Well — with whom are we united *by virtue of being united with Christ*? The answer to that question determines those with whom we should have communion.

    The theological principle of unity that stands behind communion is the principle of being united with Christ; that’s what the sacrament means. So, if we exclude from communion, we are saying that either (a) you cannot self-examine properly, which we do in the case of children; or (b) we do not formally recognize that you are united with Christ, which we do in the case of excommunicants.

    Think of Luther at Marburg, refusing Zwingli’s hand and declaring, “You have a different Spirit!” He wasn’t just saying, “Ya know big Z, I love you but your doctrine is off; we just can’t have fellowship.” He was referring to 1 John 4.1-3 and telling Zwingli, “You aren’t really a Christian.”

    Luther: Whoever will take a warning, let him beware of Zwingli and shun his books as the prince of hell’s poison. For the man is completely perverted and has entirely lost Christ. Other sacramentarians settle on one error, but this man never publishes a book without spewing out new errors, more and more all the time. (Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528).

    That’s the implication of refusing communion. It might be intended as a loving rebuke, but it goes too far. It confuses the sign of the Gospel with the Gospel itself.

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  172. Since Dr. Hart is shy about self-promotion (you can shoot me later) – he has an article that looks really interesting in the upcoming May/June issue of Modern Reformation? Here’s the blurb:

    Missions and the Work of the Church: In 1932, Harvard professor Ernest Hocking published Re-Thinking Missions, a stunning rejection of Protestant missions as it had been conducted for almost two centuries. What was the church’s reaction then and what does it mean for us today? The author looks at various responses, notably by Pearl Buck and J. Gresham Machen.
    By D. G. Hart

    And for those of you who cannot get enough of the curmudgeonly LCMS Lutherans – here’s another article:

    From the Hallway: Perspectives on Evangelical Theology
    Defending Nothing, Evangelizing No One: “Oh Apologetics, Where Art Thou?” By Craig A. Parton

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  173. Jeff, my guess is that you’re not opposed to (but also not convinced of) confessionalism the same way you’re not opposed to (but also not convinced of) 2k.

    For my part, I am not bothered by confessionalism being identified with a form of religious elitism, because I think confessionalism means to convey that there are indeed superior and inferior expressions of Christianity. I wonder what you mean when you say that you are for a “Bible-first” kind of confessionalism. You say that as if you might be contrasting that with the sort of confessionalism championed around here which I think is of a pretty robust sola scriptura variety. You say, “What I do oppose are behaviors that cross the line into creating rules for worship that aren’t grounded in Scripture.” I think what confessionalism is opposed to is creating rules for life that aren’t grounded in Scripture, which is why it tends to recoil from all-of-lifery which seems to give rise to just that. I think confessionalism does see a place for creating rules, namely worship. Like you, it doesn’t want those rules ungrounded in Scripture. I think what it is after is liberty in life but rules in worship. Evangelicalism is after the reverse, rules in life but liberty in worship.

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  174. Zrim: Jeff, my guess is that you’re not opposed to (but also not convinced of) confessionalism the same way you’re not opposed to (but also not convinced of) 2k.

    None of the above. I’ve gone pretty public with my 2k views. They don’t happen to be the same species of 2k as yours, but 2k they are.

    I would say that I’ve migrated from “not convinced of” to “definitely opposed to” the view that “the Bible is for the sacred sphere, general revelation is for the common.”

    We just disagree on that point.

    Zrim: I think what confessionalism is opposed to is creating rules for life that aren’t grounded in Scripture…

    Then why the lack of opposition to close communion? Do you find any commands or good-and-necessary inference that gets us to “disagree with any article of our confession and we can’t have communion with you”? (a la Anderson). If not, then where have you been? If so, then what are they?

    Zrim: I wonder what you mean when you say that you are for a “Bible-first” kind of confessionalism. You say that as if you might be contrasting that with the sort of confessionalism championed around here…

    Not exactly, no. There’s a larger post that’s been gathering steam for about a year, and it’ll have to ripen before I want to get into it.

    Zrim: I think what it is after is liberty in life but rules in worship. Evangelicalism is after the reverse, rules in life but liberty in worship.

    So which do you see in me: trying to nail down precise rules for faith and worship, or trying to nail down precise rules for the rest of life?

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  175. Thanks, Jeff, I’m glad that it was a bit better. You are always a tough cookie to crack! And I am teasing here – I want to be clear that I don’t expect you to change your beliefs about the Lord’s Supper, but only want to help shed light on our confession? Ok..

    Re: It is more loving for me to be hard-nosed with my child (thus, hopefully, teaching her obedience), or to be soft-hearted (thus, hopefully, modeling tender-heartedness towards others)?

    It’s not about teaching obedience. It’s more like putting a fence around your swimming pool so the child next door doesn’t fall in and suffer harm. The neighboring children may think it’s mean, but it’s for their safety.

    Re: But here, I think, there is an area where Scripture gives more concrete guidance. Think of the meaning of communion: It is the sacrament of our union with Christ and our communion with each other. This is attested directly in Scripture (John 6.53-58 and 1 Cor 10.17, respectively).

    Here I hope we can work out a few things? It is my understanding that close communion began in the early church. All were welcome to the service, but the non-catechized were asked to leave prior to the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Here is something to ponder:

    Justin Martyr (100-165)
    First Apology(155 A.D), chapter 66
    Christian Classics Ethereal Library
    “And this food is called among us the Eucharist of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone.”

    So… what is a communion? It is those who are in agreement/unity that the things believed, taught, and confessed. For better or worse, our commitment is to our confessional understanding of what the Bible teaches. With oodles of different beliefs among the Baptists, Pentecostals, Reformed, EO, RC, etal – where is the unity? It’s certainly is not in our beliefs about the Lord’s Supper!

    Re: The theological principle of unity that stands behind communion is the principle of being united with Christ; that’s what the sacrament means. So, if we exclude from communion, we are saying that either (a) you cannot self-examine properly, which we do in the case of children; or (b) we do not formally recognize that you are united with Christ, which we do in the case of excommunicants.

    This kind of thinking is foreign to what we believe about the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Our unity is in what we believe, teach, and confess about Christ. Did you see Zrim’s comment a way back where he made the distinction between the church triumphant (in heaven) and the church militant (on earth)? Please ponder on what that means too. We are not going to see the visible unity you want here on earth.

    Re: Think of Luther at Marburg, refusing Zwingli’s hand and declaring, “You have a different Spirit!” He wasn’t just saying, “Ya know big Z, I love you but your doctrine is off; we just can’t have fellowship.” He was referring to 1 John 4.1-3 and telling Zwingli, “You aren’t really a Christian.”

    Yes, that’s Luther! If I remember correctly, Calvin didn’t agree with Zwingli either and Zwingli had an empty view of the Lord’s Supper. I like this quote better (lifted from an OPC link by Dr. Hart earlier):

    “In an earlier time, Machen reminded us of the stakes involved here. In commenting upon the calamitous split between Luther and Zwingli over the meaning of the other sacrament, he wrote:

    It was a great calamity indeed. But the calamity was due to the fact Luther (as we believe) was wrong about the Lord’s Supper; and it would have been a far greater calamity if being wrong about the Supper he had represented the whole question as a trifling affair…. A Luther who would have compromised with regard to the Lord’s Supper never would have said at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.” Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.”

    Re: That’s the implication of refusing communion. It might be intended as a loving rebuke, but it goes too far. It confuses the sign of the Gospel with the Gospel itself.

    It is never a rebuke and I hope you will stop seeing it that way for our highest desire is that all receive the Lord’s Supper – we hold it in that high of regard. It’s a matter of unity in what is believed, taught, and confessed about the Lord’s Supper. I am not offended by close communion in other communions. I respect their fences and I know why they do it. I do not receive the Lord’s Supper in open communion churches because I am not in agreement with what is believed, taught, and confessed about it. In this earthly world our full unity is within our communions not outside of them. In heaven, well… I really looking forward to that day. 😉

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  176. Jeff, It might be one thing to make a Bible-first argument regarding Jure divino Presbyterianism. But I am fully convinced of the Reformed tradition’s understanding of the regulative principle and what follows from that. In fact, the dissenters from the RPW are usually arguing for extra-biblical (though well-intentioned) reasons.

    Plus, it would be preferable for non-confessionalists at to acknowledge that Reformed churches used to do things a certain way. They may not like that. They may be more comfortable with generic Baptists. But I grew up a generic Baptist. I know generic Baptism. It is not Reformed.

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  177. Jeff, I can sympathize with what close communion seems to want to do. But ultimately I am not convinced of it. Sorry if that’s not sufficient opposition for you.

    I see you camping out somewhere between confessionalism and evangelicalism, much the way you camp out between paleo-2k and neo-Calvinism. I know you think it’s a poor analogy, but it seems like camping out between Calvinism and Arminianism.

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  178. (Re the OLTS tweet: they say the best form of flattery is imitation. 10,000 points for no graven images, but subtract 9,000 for Bible thumping, 500 for pious sloganeering, 250 for screaming and 250 for screaming into a mic…

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  179. -500 for hurting my ear drums
    -750 for mind numbing background noise
    -1000 for name dropping with no context
    -5000 for being as annoying as Jimmy Swaggert

    Looks like the numbers are in the hole at -7250?

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  180. Zrim, funny about Driscoll. Black preachers do it better, and wear better suits (sheesh, it looked like something he wore to a high school friend’s funeral).

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  181. Lily: Glad you made no accusations. Now on to your questions, rhetorical though they be.

    The difference between sacraments and ordinances is this: according to the WCF there are two sacraments, which are themselves ordinances. Ordinances is a broader term, meaning, that which is ordained or set up. We speak of creation ordinances, like marriage and work and Sabbath. Yet Sandra’s church is right to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances.

    Your second question apparently refers to justification, though you do not say so (faith alone in Christ alone vs. faith plus subjective evidence of good works). Obviously works enters not into justification at all.

    Your last question (faith of the Holy Spirit in Christ vs. my subjective experience) needs clarification to be answered.

    Your comment concerning “Biblicism’s libertine interpretations vs. 2,000 years of Christian interpretation” needs expansion as well as clarification. First, define Biblicism and enumerate its libertine interpretations. This would help. Also, what Christian interpretations of the last 2,000 years are you referring to? There were/are quite a lot vying for the title “Christian” and unfortunately a lot were/are contradictory. For example, I don’t agree with the Lutheran doctrine on the Lord’s Supper, nor do I agree with the Anglican view of church/state known as Erastianism, nor with the Roman view of the Immaculate Conception. To name a few. Yet all are considered “Christian” at least by their adherents.

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  182. Actually it looked like MD was wearing a suit left over from high school (a size too small), which may be what you meant. And what’s with the yellow-robed choir? Hipster irony? Regression? Confusion?

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  183. Hi Eliza,

    Re: WCF

    As you know, this is not the only confession among the churches. As I commented earlier, I was unaware that the WCF used the terms ordinances and sacraments interchangeably. If I had, I would not have made any comments about it since I try to stay on common ground here and do not wish to argue about the distinctives among the different communions.

    Re: Justification

    Yes, the point is that we are justified apart from works. The problem with pietism is that it adds to the formula of grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone. It adds subjective evidence and subjective experiences to the formula and ends up walking by sight rather than faith. Christ + experiences is a loose way of explaining how pietism relies on personal “emotional” experiences to verify the presence of Christ. Consider that fact that New-Agers and other spiritual but not religious people have spiritual experiences (emotional, behavioral, revelatory, etc.) as their evidence and proof of their Jesus. Another thing to consider is what happens if a Christian goes through a series of crises, tragedies, or hardship where the typical American’s sense of well-being (eg: where they relied upon their senses) is ripped out from under them. Pietism does not produce a faith that can withstand the severe trials/tribulations of the adversary. If one doesn’t have a handle on walking by faith and not sight it can be devastating to a person’s faith. It might possibly be worth considering if reliance upon feelings, experiences, good works might be a form of idolatry (eg: trusting in them alongside or instead of Christ alone). Remove the props of subjective experiences, affections, good works and will their faith totter and fall – too often it does. The point is to help people trust in Christ alone no matter what they experience.

    Re: Biblicism’s libertine interpretations vs. 2,000 years of Christian interpretation

    A simple example would be Rob Bell’s hell.

    Re: what Christian interpretations of the last 2,000 years are you referring to?

    A simple example is the ecumenical Creeds such as Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

    Re: I don’t agree with the Lutheran doctrine on the Lord’s Supper, nor do I agree with the Anglican view of church/state known as Erastianism, nor with the Roman view of the Immaculate Conception. To name a few. Yet all are considered “Christian” at least by their adherents.

    It is good that you have awareness of the different distinctives among the different communions. With this awareness, I would guess that you understand why American evangelicalism’s indifference to doctrine and seeking the lowest common denominator in doctrine is not good?

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  184. Zrim: I know you think it’s a poor analogy, but it seems like camping out between Calvinism and Arminianism.

    Well, yes, I do. And here’s why: You don’t have confessional backing for your hard categories.

    See, our Confession actually draws boundaries that distinguish between right and wrong views of free will and predestination. Your Confession (Dordt) does so in spades.

    So drawing lines and saying, “There’s no middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism” is simply saying, “Dordt is right, and is the operative standard for predestinarian theologies.” It excludes 3-point Calvinism, Amyraldianism, 4-1/2-point Calvinism, etc.

    But it does not exclude, interestingly, the free offer of the gospel as taught by Murray and many, many others. And the ultimate reason that Hermann Hoeksema was wrong to deny the free offer of the gospel is that he was trying to draw a “confessional” line where the church has not spoken.

    Likewise here. The church has never drawn lines concerning neo-Calvinism and 2k-ism. No hard categories have been drawn, *other than* what WCoF 23 says (or Belgic 36).

    Shouldn’t a genuine Confessionalist respect that silence?

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  185. DGH: Plus, it would be preferable for non-confessionalists at to acknowledge that Reformed churches used to do things a certain way. They may not like that.

    Agreed. Even though I’m pro-hymn and pro-instrument, I do so in dissent from the historic Reformed tradition.

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  186. Lily: It is my understanding that close communion began in the early church. All were welcome to the service, but the non-catechized were asked to leave prior to the reception of the Lord’s Supper.

    Very true. But notice a couple of differences:

    (1) The confession of the early church (and J. Martyr was quite early) was essentially the apostle’s creed, which circulated in unofficial form prior to Nicea. And that creed is pretty much a gospel-defining creed: there’s no article that can be denied without also denying the gospel. And in fact, that was the purpose of the creed.

    So it makes sense to refuse communion to those who refuse the apostle’s creed: They deny the gospel.

    That’s really not the case anymore with the item that keeps Calvinists from communion with Lutherans: consubstantiation.

    Think about it:

    Luther: We feed on Christ in communion because His body is locally present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine.

    Calvin: We feed on Christ in communion because the Spirit takes us to the the right hand of the Father whence we feed on Christ.

    Really? That’s a salvific difference that ought to cause us to exclude each other?

    So the first problem with the early church analogy is that it equates big, salvific differences in doctrine with more narrow (NOT unimportant) and non-salvific differences in doctrine.

    (2) With some historical perspective, we see some of the problems with the early church’s practice. As time went on, the church found it harder and harder to discern the true faith of their catechumens. Entry into the Church might take a couple of years.

    That’s a real problem if we believe (as our confession teaches) that “outside of the visible church, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” We are essentially saying to people who believe in Christ, We don’t recognize your believe until you can prove it in exhausting detail.

    As time continued to go on, this problem was solved in the medieval church by creating a new kind of “faith” — so called “implicit faith”, in which the catechumen agreed to agree in principle with all that the church teaches.

    The Confession rejects implicit faith … explicitly.

    So the second problem with “close communion”, besides excluding people based on non-salvific differences in doctrine, is that it distorts the meaning of the visible church. The visible church is supposed to be a visible-but-imperfect marker for salvation.

    Close communion distorts this by keeping faithful people out of the visible church unless they can toe the line. This means that we can no longer affirm what the confession teaches: “Outside of the visible church, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

    What I’m trying to get across, Lily, is that we agree on taking communion seriously; but in addition, I want to appeal for us to take visible church membership seriously. Close communion seems to me to undermine the visible church by saying, “Well, we can’t have communion with you; but we recognize that you are Christians anyway” OR ELSE by saying, “We don’t recognize that you are Christians, because you don’t believe consubstantiation.”

    Both of those options are really sub-optimal, in my view, for upholding the proper theology of the visible church.

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  187. Jeff, my point in the analogy wasn’t to solve all the wrinkles. It was simply to suggest that all the systems involved are inherently consistent and consistently opposed to their counterparts, which makes camping out in between sort of an odd state to be in, at least to my narrow mind.

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  188. Hi Jeff,

    I thought I made it as plain as I could that I have no desire to argue about our distinctives. I did have hopes to offer two simple reasons that are not all inclusive of the reasons behind close communion in hopes of assisting you to better understand and respect our differences. I have zero desire to war over the Lord’s Supper, but I will ask that you respect the fact that the LCMS rejects consubstantiation.

    Jeff, our communions are in solid disagreement about both our practices and beliefs regarding the Lord’s Supper. These differences will not be resolved by doctrinal indifference or moving to the lowest common doctrinal denominator. Perhaps, it would be a good to remember that there are seven churches mentioned in Revelation not one and the issue of unity is not simple. I will not engage in why Lutherans see your beliefs and practices as “sub-optimal” (which is not a word that we would use) and will seek a position of respecting our distinctive doctrinal boundaries.

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  189. Lily: These differences will not be resolved by doctrinal indifference or moving to the lowest common doctrinal denominator.

    Although I’ve challenged your denom’s practices, my overall intent is not to bash it.

    Rather, just as you wanted to make the case that close communion can be a loving thing to do, I would like to make the case that open communion can be a high-doctrine stance to take.

    That is, in my view, the doctrine of the visible church requires open communion. So the point is the *opposite* of either doctrinal indifference or lowest common denominator-ism.

    Does that make sense?

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  190. Lily: What you call pietism is what I call Arminianism or simply “works righteousness” Of course it’s wrong. It’s another gospel. No question. Fortunately many Arminians know don’t live according to their Arminian doctrine.

    Trusting in experience is foolish. I might as well trust in Jeane Dixon.

    As for the place of good works as an assurance, the WCF specially refers to the usefulness of them as “evidences and fruits” of salvation. It caveats that one not trust in them, and that even the best of them are worthless for justification, etc. etc.

    Rob Bell’s a biblicist? Hmm…obviously I have a bad definition of biblicism. I guess adding an “ism” to something good makes it bad. [Note to self.]

    Bell’s not biblical, not because he doesn’t agree with the creeds (which he doesn’t), but because he doesn’t agree with the Bible. The creeds and confessions are just a shorthand (or rather longhand, in some cases) way of expressing what one believes the Bible says. Creeds & confessions & church councils can be wrong. The WCF, itself a confession, expresses that very idea. Thus they are not to be relied upon as a rule of faith and life. That’s what it says (not me, the WCF).

    The “problem” with the 3 creeds you mention is that none of them affirm the substitutionary death of Christ for His people. The Athanasian says “He suffered for our salvation” but doesn’t express the vicarious nature of it, and none (that I recall) ever mention a primary tenet of Christianity, justification by faith alone in Christ alone. I don’t put them on the trash heap of church history (don’t get me wrong)– the WCF even appends the Apostle’s (so-called) Creed to the Confession– but I prefer something less succinct and more expressive, namely the WCF. But even the WCF as much as I think it Biblical could be wrong. But I am undoubtedly a confessionalist of the strictest sort.

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  191. Jeff,

    I do not want to be disrespectful towards doctrinal distinctives and I especially do not want to challenge your denominational distinctives. You are asking me to engage in debating about distinctives – which I will not do. I do regret attempting to help you understand/respect the distinctive doctrinal boundaries of other communions. If you wish to debate with others within your own communion over open/close communion, please do, but I would like to stay out of your distinctives and ask that you not ask that I defend mine.

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  192. I accept that there are some churches that are superior to others though I doubt if our criteria are necessarily those that Christ applies. Ephesus in Revelation was formally correct in doctrine but had abandoned its first love. Philidelphia was self-evidently weak but had kept God’s word and was marked by love. It is the only church that has an unqualified recommendation.

    I note too that it is individual churches that are commended or not commended. Denominations are not commended – there were none.

    On the issue of fellowship I take it that the only conceivable biblical reason for failing to formally recognize either an individual or a church (and so give full rights of fellowship to) is if the individual or church has turned away from the gospel in its beliefs and behaviour. To fail to recognize a church is really to say it is apostate.

    I take it that confessional churches who exclude churches from their denomination into their circle of fellowship view those excluded churches as apostate. Any other exclusion seems clearly not only elitist but schismatic in principle.

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  193. Zrim: Jeff, aren’t warnings against logical rigidity better for Reformed logicians than Reformed confessionalists?

    I think you missed the self-referential irony emoticon there.

    But the answer is “no, the confessionalists have to beware, too.”

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  194. Lily: You are asking me to engage in debating about distinctives – which I will not do.

    I agree — let’s leave the distinctives at the door.

    All I’m asking is that you recognize that my argument for open communion is coming from a high-doctrine point of view, not an egalitarian one.

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  195. John T., you write that to fail to recognize a church is really to say it is apostate. So you don’t recognize denominations. Does that mean you think denominations are apostate?

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  196. Eliza,

    I hope this will help clear up a few things: 1) There are differences between Arminianism and pietism – one does not have to be an Arminian to be a pietist. 2) I don’t have an “ism” hang-up thus the term Lutheranism. 3) Your clarity on WCF is yours to determine – not mine. 4) I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that biblicism can be used in a variety of ways: a) a lack of appreciation or denial of the value of natural law b) a lack of appreciation or denial of the value of the confessions, creeds, church history, past theologians especially in order to develop a dogma from scratch c) use of proof texting or subjective interpretation without regard to context, genre, and so forth. b) using the Bible as a manual for philosophy, politics, economics, and other such misuses.

    Re: Creeds & confessions & church councils can be wrong… But I am undoubtedly a confessionalist of the strictest sort.

    While I appreciate the point that no one’s confession/doctrine/creed is perfect, I would be hard pressed to see you as “a confessionalist of the strictest sort.” If I remember correctly, you believe it is fine for Baptists to join your church and not baptize their children. As for the ecumenical creeds, they are time-tested expressions of some of the most central teachings of the Christian faith and if I understand it correctly, address truths that the WCF does not address. I would defer that question to Dr. Hart and point to him as one of the safest guides I know of within the confessional Reformed faith. I’m merely a peon here and not of the Reformed persuasion.

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  197. Jeff,

    You’re still asking me to engage – both points are not unrelated to those who would oppose your position.

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  198. Darryl

    You’re evading the question? I never said I did not recognize denominations, I simply said they were not biblical and not in the spirit of unity either. But that is quite another question. What biblical reason do you have for failing to grant a church of believers the recognition and dignity of being a church of God? And what possible biblical reason could there be for excluding it from the full rights that any other church has? There are none, and for that reason the whole denominational/confessional exercise is seriously flawed. Surely!

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  199. Lily — so … you can criticize me, incorrectly, as “doctrinally indifferent or moving to the lowest common denominator”, but I can’t ask you to correct your understanding?

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  200. Lily,

    As for OPC’s having Baptist members, I don’t think the WCF specifies that visible church membership is limited to those who follow the WCF. Certainly the OPC does not demand that. So it is unlike the URC which does require adherence by all members to its confessional forms.

    The children of at least one believing Baptist parent are members of the covenant whether the parents realize it or believe it or not.

    However, I believe the WCF and hold to it. Whether my denomination or elders do is another matter. In fact, on a few matters, I don’t think either of them do. But that is not my responsibility–it is theirs.

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  201. No, Jeff – you will not be able to correct my understanding of the Lord’s Supper – the distinctives are off limits and I was wrong to put a toe over the line thinking I could shed some light on the situation. You many not understand the problems raised by the pursuit of the issue, but I do. Please accept no as the answer.

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  202. Eliza,

    Does that mean paedobaptism is optional in the WCF? I would also ask if the WCF makes the ecumenical creeds optional?

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  203. Eliza,

    Re: The children of at least one believing Baptist parent are members of the covenant whether the parents realize it or believe it or not.

    Isn’t it deceptive to not be upfront and let people know these things when they become the members of a church? What if they do not agree and do not want this?

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  204. Lily, I accept no as your answer.

    I also accept that it would not be right for me to ask you to go against your conscience by criticizing your confession, so please accept my apology if you’ve felt pressed in that way.

    My only request is that you accept the fact that my argument for open communion is based on a high, not low, view of our own confession.

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  205. John T., why is it that you get to decide that denominations are unbiblical but I can’t say that some churches are unbiblical and so my own communion cannot have fraternal relations with them? We are doing the same thing — you disfellowship my communion as sinful. I belong to a church that won’t enter fraternal relation with churches (see we do recognize other churches) that are not Reformed according to the word. With a Reformed church, a long with any other creedal church, you know the reasons for not being in fellowship. In your scheme it is simply up to you. No offense John, but you seem to have acquired the authority and infallibility of the pope.

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  206. Jeff,

    I don’t think I’ll be able to clarify this any further. I do not have any problems with my conscience and I do not think your argument has any merit. I am simply trying to not get into debating our distinctives – in this case, the Lord’s Supper. Close communion is part of what we believe regarding the Lord’s Supper. It is my desire to respect the doctrinal boundaries and stay on common ground.

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  207. Lily: The WCF teaches infant baptism, but much of what is written in it refers to adult baptism, which is why some of it sounds odd when applied to infants.( For that you’d need to read William Cunningham.) The Westminster divines came together by consensus to form a Confession. They presented what they viewed as biblical. They present infant baptism as well as adult baptism (for previously unbaptized believers). So to answer your question–it is not optional but in fact not to be neglected. However, few churches require prospective members to subscribe to the church’s confessions (the URC appears to be an exception). The WCF also has a very strict view of Sabbath-keeping, but I have not heard of prospective members being informed of the church’s view on that, or on many other issues. So a person coming from an evangelical background might find a number of new things not previously mentioned. A good congregation will teach the WCF. Ours does.

    Our congregation’s session would of course familiarize the prospective members of the church’s position and would seek to persuade them of the biblical case for infant baptism, but would come short of excommunication for the parents’ failing to do so.

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  208. But Darryl

    I am not dis-fellowshipping denominations. In saying denominationalism is unbiblical, I am not cutting off the churches in them. I am not unwilling to enter fraternal relations with these churches. I see the differences as significant but not a fellowship-breaker. Indeed, as soon as I recognize a church as a church (not nominally so but really so) I cannot see how I can possibly refuse it full rights of fellowship.

    In a sense, I do think we must all act as popes – we all finally decide what we believe. Presumably you have handed over these rights to your denomination because you have already judged it and decided you believe what it teaches.

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  209. John T., while you have your funny pope’s hat on, do you recognize parishes in the Roman Catholic Church as part of your church? I ask not to turn up the heat but to see how far you are allowed to go in fellowshiping with unbiblical churches. But if you tolerate unblibcal practices in congregations, why not unblibical practices of denominations? This seems awfully arbitrary.

    But the difference here might indicate to you why sometimes a choice between pietism and confessionalism is necessary. These ‘isms really do represent different conceptions of the church.

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  210. Eliza,

    If I am understanding this correctly, other than the URC, there is no unity in what is believed, taught, and confessed in the Reformed churches. The Reformed confessions may be taught by a church, but they are still optional for the pastors, elders, and members (eg: a cafeteria style approach to the confessions is accepted and the ecumenical creeds are not taught as the catholic faith shared by all Christians). If I understand this correctly, other than the URC, the lack of unity in adherence to the Reformed confessions would make discipline of pastors, elders, or members impossible because there is no agreement in doctrinal standards or boundaries. In theory, members should be free to hold credo-Baptist, Arminian, Pentecostal Oneness, or other such beliefs without fear of risking their membership in the church because there was no agreement or unity sought via the Reformed confessions or ecumenical creeds to become a member of a Reformed church.

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  211. Lily: Sorry, I meant that OPC members–other than ruling and teaching elders and deacons–do not need to agree with the WCF and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.The officers of the church are supposed to, though I’ve known a Baptist deacon in an OPC. Some things are kept sub rosa.

    The OPC membership vows require one to submit to the elders as they teach you “the Bible”, at least how it’s worded for younger members who join. But I think your last sentence above is true: “members should be free to hold credo-Baptist…without fear of risking their membership in the church…” I think that’s how it works out in practice.But elders would teach against error. Spreading error in the church would no doubt be considered subject to discipline,

    There must be an OPC elder out there who knows more of the in’s and out’s of the denomination (DGH comes to mind). May he enlighten us both.

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  212. Eliza,

    Re: OPC members–other than ruling and teaching elders and deacons–do not need to agree with the WCF and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

    Are the OPC pastors required to unreservedly subscribe to the WCF and faithfully teach it? It seems that it would be so much easier for everyone involved to catechize prospective members and have both the church and prospective member to be in agreement in the basics of the distinctives of the confessional Reformed faith prior to acceptance in membership.

    Re: The OPC membership vows require one to submit to the elders as they teach you “the Bible” – Spreading error in the church would no doubt be considered subject to discipline.

    It looks like the OPC is the only Reformed denomination that has a safeguard against the spread of error? If I remember correctly, the PCA does not require their pastors to unreservedly subscribe to their confession and their pastors are allowed to disagree/drop things in the confession. And if there is no agreement or unity needed to join a church and there are arbitrary adherences to the confessions and creeds, I see no grounds for the discipline of members for holding erroneous doctrines or practices – or much of any difference from American evangelicalism. Isn’t a lack of confessional standards why people are so comfortable with American evangelicalism – why they criticize confessional communions and want the confessional churches to drop their doctrinal boundaries to the lowest common denominator?

    Dr. Hart – would you mind correcting or clarifying this conversation where we need it? May I ask where the ecumenical creeds play a role in your confession?

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  213. Darryl

    I would find it highly unlikely that an RC church would fit a definition of a believers’ church simply because the Catholic Catechism makes such a church unlikely. I do not think you can make an absolute distinction between faith and experience. All faith will be experiential and any valid experience will be truth-based.

    But once again Darryl you are pushing me while failing to address the elephant in your present room – you think it is valid to belong to a church that unchurches/dis-fellowships/will not fraternise with other churches that are clearly churches of believers. It is poor argument to look to the extremes – what about the churches that are glaringly believers’ churches that your position audaciously dismisses as in some sense substandard and not worthy of your acceptance. We are back to elitism and schism however you arrange it.

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  214. Lily,

    I’m not an officer in the PCA, but I know that officers are allowed to take exceptions to the confession. Dr. R. Scott Clark explains the situation on confessional subscription in the Reformed churches well in Recovering the Reformed Confession. Basically, the Reformed churches used to subscribe their confessions quia (as Lutherans do, I think), but now most subscribe their confessions quatenus.

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  215. John T., what I’m trying to get you to see is that the elephant in the room may be you. You say it is wrong to disfellowship churches but you do it. That’s not a point about consistency. It is a point that you can’t help but draw lines in the church business. So why don’t you admit it? If you did, then you’d have to develop an ecclesiology, forms of government, criteria for fellowship and ordination — all the things that denominations are. It seems to me you want all the benefits of a denomination while somehow saying you don’t need denominations — even alleging that they are unbiblical. And confessionalsts are mean? And confessionalists and pietists need to get along?

    BTW, we do not disfellowship other churches. The ecumenical policy of Reformed churches is to seek fellowship with communions of like faith and practice (which sounds like your own position, minus the Reformed criteria). We admit folks from other churches into membership if they transfer, and accept them at the Lord’s Supper. So please don’t portray this Reformed particularism as saying that all other churches are false or that other believers aren’t believers. We are simply trying to take the church and terms of communion seriously — as the Bible teaches.

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  216. Lily and Eliza, there is no one policy that fits all Presbyterian churches. Sessions at the congregational level have freedom to apply rules for membership in a variety of ways. Presbyteries are responsible for ordination and while the Westminster Standards are the norm for theological exams each presbytery will likely require different kinds of compliance. It may sound chaotic, and sometimes it does result in a diversity that can lead to controversy. It also has the advantage of not centralizing power in a denominational bureaucracy or hierarchy.

    In the OPC, subscription is likely stricter than in the PCA. But again, you need to account for the standards that each presbytery uses informally in the way they use the formal Westminster Standards. The OPC has tried to avoid the categories of “loose” or “strict” subscription. John Muether calls the OPC’s approach “confidence in the brethren.”

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  217. Many thanks, Nate and Dr. Hart, I appreciate the clarification – trying to understand some things can be quite confusing for me and it does look quite chaotic. Sigh.. but, we look like Roman Catholic, antinomian, catechism-crazy, communion meanies to many in your branch of the family. No way to win is there? 😉

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  218. John T.,

    You do realize that Darryl has spent a good amount of time deconstructing evagelicalism don’t you? You cannot take an ecclectic approach to ecclessiogy. And ecclessiogy follows soteriology (when you start trying to stay consistent). I took the plunge from evangelicalism/reconstructionism to confessionalism after many years of trying to fuse the best from each school of thought and it was those who leaned towards a strict confession who finally persuaded me that it cannot be done. This fusion has an appeal (like what Kevin DeYoung is trying to do) but it is a waste of time. Evangelicalism’s soteriology produces the type of churches it has. The reformation churches (reformed, lutheran and anglican) lost a lot of its confession by compromising and allowing revivalistic elements (along with the pull toward contemporary theology) to enter its churches. And it is not easy seeking to persuade others because of the miraculous which took place in the book of Acts during the birth of the New Testament Church. That is why historical theology is important, to see how the Church dealt with issues that it faced during its growth to what we have now. That is why biblicism is a problem- it does not consider historical theology very indepthly.

    I have a couple of questions of why you left the Church you grew up in. First of all, was it a Reformed or Anglican Church? Would you consider it a healthy confessional church (as revealed in it possessing the 3 marks in a somewhat consistent manner) when you left it? Probably not, or you would not have left it. I guess I am probing for a more detailed explanation- who were those who influenced you? Whose books did you read?, etc., etc. I have found a lot of the people leave the churches where they grew up in for a variety of reasons.

    Also, are you an ordained Pastor in the evangelical church you go to? I could not tell from scanning your web site.

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  219. …you think it is valid to belong to a church that unchurches/dis-fellowships/will not fraternise with other churches that are clearly churches of believers. It is poor argument to look to the extremes – what about the churches that are glaringly believers’ churches…

    John Y., I wonder what your criteria is beyond what appears to be your own self that makes it so easy and obvious to diagnose churches. What makes a church a “glaringly believers’ church”? I sometimes pass by one called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Is that one? Sounds pretty Christian-y. What about the one right next to it called “The United Methodist Church”? Is that an obvious church? If so, why? If not, why not?

    You also say: “I would find it highly unlikely that an RC church would fit a definition of a believers’ church simply because the Catholic Catechism makes such a church unlikely.” I don’t know, that sure sounds like saying doctrine defines things. It almost sounds like you may have a doctrinal idea in mind that doesn’t square with the RCC’s doctrine. Which brings us back to why it is that you get to use doctrine and confessionalists don’t without being “unbiblical.” Is it that because it resides in your head but doesn’t have the audacity to be written down it’s ok? Is that it? We can hold certain doctrines in our heads but when they see the light of day and are used to actually mean something and have implications then it’s schismatic, unbiblical, etc.?

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  220. John, check out the newest Dr. Hart post. You are in for a beautiful Loy hymn there and more in the comments.

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  221. JY, sorry, that was to JT. (But if you can discern someone else’s answers the way JT can divine glaringly believers’ churches, feel free to to hazzard a response.)

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  222. Zrim,

    Like most evangelical/charismatics they think they partake and imbibe of the gifts of the spirt on a regular basis and are more lively and more led by the spirit. That replaces the sacraments in their thinking and it becomes almost addiction like. That is what I have found to be the core issue with most evangelicals/charismatics and why they have a hard time with confessional churches. Confessionalists then take on the snarly and elitiist caricature. It allows them to stay stuck in their addiction. It sometimes feels pretty good to break through to the heavenlies- you keep chasing that high until you find it again. But I should let John T. speak for himself. I am not sure he is convinced that confessionists may be interpreting the scriptures better than he and his cronnies at this time.

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  223. Darryl

    I may be obtuse, but I cannot see how my position is analogous to yours. You seem to be placing the bar of faith and practice much higher than I. Of course we must draw lines the issue is where we draw them. If we exclude churches and believers we clearly know to be churches and/of believers then we are being schismatic.

    I did not say you do not regard other churches as churches or other believers as believers. It is precisely because you do know they are such that I see you as especially culpable. I have sympathy if we are considering whether to recognizer a church/believer whose genuineness is in doubt. When we are debarring churches/individuals we know to be genuine it is a different matter. It is, I say again, elitist and schismatic, and brazenly so.

    By the way, surely you do not think denominations are biblical? Surely you don’t think they represent God’s will for his church – a people he wants to be visibly one? By definition, denominations forbid this for they consciously/knowingly exclude other believers. It is this that is the grave weakness of denominations and confessions; they are by definition narrower than the Church of Christ and the Word of God.

    John Y

    John, my church associations are Christian Brethren/Open Brethren. I’m not sure what they are called in the States. Brethren don’t consider themselves a denomination and don’t have a confession of faith nor do they have ordained clergy (rather like the NT churches). They tend to be on a spectrum of Strict to Open (a bit like Baptists though more related to ecclesiology than soteriology). I grew up in a strict church. Later, when married, and living in Glasgow I became a member of a more open Brethren church. I still regard the strict churches as churches and will happily have fellowship with them. Just as I regard Baptists/Presbyterian/ etc local churches as true churches if they are clearly believing churches. I was a preacher and elder for many years though ill health has meant I do neither these days – hence, too much time to discuss online 🙂

    Zrim

    In practice, I suspect all of us know pretty quickly whether a church is a ‘believers church’ or not. Labels can be fairly meaningless, especially in Protestant circles at defining whether a church is a believers’ church or not. The Church of Scotland for example is Presbyterian but is largely apostate. There are many believers churches in it but they are by far the minority.

    I have never said doctrine does not matter. When one believes the gospel it is doctrine that is being believed. I have also said that as an individual grows in faith this means growing in belief and behaviour. Serious defection from biblical belief and behaviour places an individual and a church outside of the fellowship of believers and believers’ churches. My simple point is that a confession is far too detailed and so too narrow a basis for defining fellowship – it disfellowships large segments of the patent body of Christ. Surely this is a problem – a reality – that must be ‘confessed’.

    We do not live in NT days. Nor can we recover them. Yet we must do all we can to maintain biblical unity. We must seek to welcome all who we know to be believers sound in faith and practice and not refuse to do so because of secondary issues which although important are not of the essence of the faith.

    regards all

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  224. John T.,

    Maybe part of the problem in communicating effectively is a cultural lost in translation. From things you said in other posts I thought you were brought up in a confessional Church (from either a reformed or anglican confession). That does not seem to be the case though. The Christian Brethren/Open Brethren probably have Wesleyan and Anabaptist roots from what I can gather in things you’ve said. And what do you consider as strict? So, you moved from a strict (read: dead and not very lively) Christan Brethren Church to one that empasized the Holy Spirit and the gifts thereof? Perhaps you are associating confessional churches with the one you grew up in.

    I am also not sure if you understand the distinctions and differences between Anabaptist (Arminian) soteriology and the soteriology that came out of the Reformation of the Church. From the soteriological reformation a reformation of the Church sprung. The Anabaptists and the Catholics did not agree with the Reformers so the Church split into the many denominations we have today.

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  225. John T. but it is precisely because your bar is low that you are more culpable than I. You have what you believe to be a generous criteria for fellowship and yet you disbar all churches that take their denominational commitments seriously. I am in a communion that does not have fraternal relations with non-Reformed churches. My standard is Reformed. Yours is independent and minimalist. And yet you still disbar other churches.

    As for visible unity, denominations show more visible unity than the various congregations that Pope John T. (sorry) recognizes. I can go to the website of any denomination and see some measure of VISIBLE unity. I can’t see any unity in what you propose, unless I am John T.

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  226. JT, have you noticed how you blithely declare denominations as “largely apostate” on the one hand then on the other impugn denominations for “disfellowshiping large segments of the patent body of Christ”? I’m still puzzled as to why you get to wield so much spiritual power against denominations (does the actual Pope speak this way?) but when denominations take seriously their own confession they’re schismatic’s.

    You say that “we must do all we can to maintain biblical unity.” I know you think the very opposite, but that is actually what confessional Christianity is trying to do. That’s the point of being maximalist. The irony of minimalism is how it breeds little popes who somehow intuitively know “pretty quickly whether a church is a ‘believers church’ or not” (you still haven’t told me how you know that). What I might suggest you reflect on is the fact that there are different kinds of confessionally Protestant denominations who not only differ doctrinally but also don’t think each is trying to disfellowship the other.

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  227. Zrim

    It would appear that confessions and denominations are unable to create or sustain a proper biblical unity. Nor does nominal adherence to the confession reflect a true identity. The Church of Scotland is based on the WCF yet most of its churches are apostate. The Free Church of Scotland (also based on the WCF) is the result of division within the CofS in the 1800s. It has recently divided again into two bodies both evangelical and both still adhering to the WCF. The WCF did not keep out unbelievers and did not keep together true believers.

    There is no apostolic church that demands our allegiance. We are all forced to be our own popes. We must and do decide which church to join. We discern between true and false and are in fact commanded to do so. We discern, if we are wise and biblically directed, not on the basis of a confession but the apostolic word (we are from God and whoever knows God listens to us) married to the Holy Spirit (no need that any teach you… his anointing teaches you all things).

    Whatever the merits of a confession, to base fellowship on it is a mistake. It is too wooden and clunky a mechanism. We must trust the Apostolic Word and the Holy Spirit.

    Darryl, of course I don’t disbar denominational churches. I recognize many denominational churches as true churches not because of their denominational status but despite it. If you come to my home church with a letter from your home church commending you or personally confess your faith in Christ you will be welcome to the Lord’s Supper (so important an ordinance that we observe it weekly). I accept you but would you accept me?

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  228. But, JT, when you say “we are all forced to be our own popes” you’re helping make Catholicism’s case against Protestantism that there must be as many formulas as there are formulaters. I guess you only help show that descendants of the Radical Reformation have as much against Protestantism as Rome. It is curious how you guys mistake confessional Protestants for crypto-Catholics (with all the jazz about infallible confessions, paper popes, etc.)and Catholics lump us in with Anabaptist evangelicals. I guess you both agree that there is the RCC and then there is everybody else. But there really is a third category in western Christianity beyond Rome and Muenster: confessional Protestantism.

    By the way, I wonder if you can fathom a difference between a wayward denomination and a false church? You speak about the CoS, but I spent most of my Reformed time in the CRCNA. That distinction between a wayward denom and a false church seems to be one that always escapes the evangies in the CRCNA, who look at all the waywardness within and spit out something about apostasy. I don’t know much about the CoS, but the CRCNA isn’t apostate yet. She’s wayward, a borderline denom on her way to a mainline denom. It is very frustrating and maddening, but I don’t think it helps anything to strike out with all the apostate rhetoric. Why do I get the feeling you also may not understand a distinction between bad judgment and sin?

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  229. Zrim

    ‘Why do I get the feeling you also may not understand a distinction between bad judgment and sin?’

    Because you lack charity and judgement?

    A denomination that has many who do not believe the gospel,who promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, and that is beginning to insist it is not sufficient to be silent on egalitarianism one must support it – is apostate in the 2 Tim 2 sense.

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  230. That’s one explanation, John. But I prefer to think that when someone has exercised poor judgment one might have enough charity not to overstate matters in a mad rush and deem it sin. Sure, all sin is bad judgment but is all bad judgment really sin?

    And, sorry, but the bar for apostasy for Reformed denominationalists consists in the three marks of Word, sacrament and discipline, in the Belgic 29 sense which reads:

    The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

    Much as we have no soft spots for homosexuality and egalitarianism, we’re actually concerned for those matters biblicists tend to mark down as secondary, like baptism. You have something about the gospel in your three marks, but note that the difference between a biblicist and confessionalist concern. You talk about “a denomination that has many who do not believe the gospel” and say that where that is true the denomination is apostate. But we talk about “a church that engages in the pure preaching of the gospel.” There may well be those within a true church who don’t believe the gospel, but Belgic 29 also says, “We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves ‘the church.'” IOW, we know our true churches have hypocrites. But so what? If our church holds to the pure gospel how can it be apostate?

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  231. Zrim

    I don’t really think there is much mileage in continuing this line of discussion, do you? I certainly wasn’t saying your denomination was apostate – I know nothing about it. Evangelicals in the CofS would agree that they are beleaguered in a church where many who preach deny the gospel. They stay because the confession is biblical and they see a biblical confession as sufficient grounds to see the church as true even though they are in formal union with many opposed to the gospel. Others think more pragmatically and simply see themselves as part of an evangelical rump within a liberal denomination.

    I simply was pointing out that confessions and prebyterianism do not prevent apostasy. But yet again I see you you turn ultimately to a confession for your belief rather than Scripture. For me this is always disturbing.

    My complaint remains simple and constant: confessions have a habit of cutting off many true believers but seem incapable of preventing the invasion of the false.

    Zrim, you are right, for me, baptism, important though it is, is not of the essence of the faith. I can and do have happy fellowship with paedobaptists whom I believe to be wrong.

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  232. John T.,

    I think it is more we refuse to take the delusional plunge that we can really tell what is in someone’s inner being. We concentrate on creeds, confessions, historical theology, biblical theology and dogmatics (or systematic theology as the reformed like to call it). We also are aware that we fail in our piety on a daily basis but are not above repentance on a regular basis.

    A bit off subject but perhaps you know something of a tasty and lively CD I picked up the other day. I guess I would classify it as English or Scotish pub like folk music. The Bands name is Mumford and Sons. Are they popular in your neck of the woods? The CD is called Sigh No More and there is not a bad track on the whole CD (12 songs in all). Do you know anything about the band?

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  233. John T., the problems you note — homosexuality and apostasy — do you really think that only denominations have them? We have tons of Baptist churches that struggle with this and Baptists by definition cannot be a denomination. Is your point that any kind of centralizing agency or bureaucracy is unbiblical. So far it seems you keep moving the bar.

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  234. Darryl

    Apostasy is not only a problem of confessional churches but every other visible church. Indeed it happened in the original NT church. My point was confessionalism along with all others has little to glory in.

    My main point I thought was pretty clear and consistent: ‘confessions have a habit of cutting off many true believers but seem incapable of preventing the invasion of the false’. My main concern is the cutting-off of many true believers.

    Glad to read that you receive those not explicitly reformed or confessional to the table.

    I am not keen on a centralizing agency. If it has executive powers a denomination is created that necessarily places other churches outside.

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  235. John Y

    I’ve heard of the group but am not familiar with it. I’m in my fifties now and my music tastes kind of got stuck in the seventies. But I will ask a few culturally more alert friends. Thanks for a comment that is friendly in the course of a more intense discussion.

    I do not think I have all the answers. I especially don’t think so in matters of what is the proper way forward in church relations. All have their difficulties. Part of my interacting here is to sharpen and reshape my own views by having you guys probe.

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  236. John T., if people like yourself choose not to go to a confessional church — we do live at a time when we no longer have religious duties as part of citizenship — who is the one cutting themselves off? Are you implying that at the curb of the parking lots of confessional churches we have people with signs saying “please go away”?

    Sorry, but the more you try to explain your main point the more implausible it seems.

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  237. JT, my point in bringing up my denomination was to point out parallels. Your calling the CoS apostate sounds an awful lot like when some call the CRCNA apostate. I have found that those who call the CRCNA apostate tend to be also those who lean much more toward Biblicism than confessionalism.

    Yes, I know confessions don’t prevent apostasy. I think I’ve already made that point. But neither does the Bible prevent it. You’re sounding a lot like those who would that the Bible rules the civil sphere for the same reason, all of which betrays a less than serious understanding of abiding sin. And I turn to the confession because it is how the church has already done the hard work of turning to the Bible and concluding what it says. That doesn’t rule out turning to the Bible. It’s a way of not having to reinvent the wheel. If my own brief stint as a Biblicist is like yours, I know, that seems lazy to you, but I suppose one man’s laze is another’s rest. The church isn’t infallible, but she is gifted in ways that make this impulse to be one’s own little pope silly.

    Your point has been clear that confessional Christianity unnecessarily disfellowships. But the counter point still stands: confessionalism exists to bolster biblical unity (that thing you also seem to esteem).

    I’m glad for the right hand of fellowship despite any sacramental disagreement. But I wonder if you mistake religious fellowship for civil relations. I enjoy very good civil relations with my credo-baptists (and my Catholics), but I don’t consider that fellowship. I think your use of the term “fellowship” is probably a good example of how our age uses that term to mean “glorified socializing.”

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  238. Oh Zrim

    I learn from comments you make – especially on the 2K issue – but here you are being unnecessarily mean again. Not apparently knowing how I define fellowship you choose to believe the worst, ‘I think your use of the term “fellowship” is probably a good example of how our age uses that term to mean “glorified socializing’.

    I’ll tell you wahat I mean by it lest you be distressed. Then you can criticize me for what I do believe rather than what you imagine I believe. Fellowship is a common sharing. It is firstly a sharing in the common life through the Spirit. In the NT life and ecclesial fellowship were one. Fellowship of course admits of degrees. To take a human example I have more fellowship with my son now that he is an adult than when he was a baby. Ideally we all wish to grow in faith and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus and as we do so too does our depth of fellowship.

    However, just because there are deeper levels of fellowship does not mean that the lesser levels should be despised or discounted. Far from it. I enjoyed human ‘fellowship’ with my son when he was a baby. We both learned and matured together.

    The church grows as ALL its members contribute to the common life. Where the body is dissected or parts are deliberately amputated proper growth in the faith is impaired. No Christian fellowship is not socializing unless as we socialise we are discussing our faith together and encouraging each other in it. Our present discussion falls short of proper fellowship for we are not so much sharing in common as testing the strength of fellowship – especially when we unjustly accuse the other. Fellowship is realized in our mutual sharing in the life of the church when we meet ‘in church’ and when believers meet informally and share in Christ (discussion of the Scripture, prayer, helping other believers, etc). Whatever we share together in the cause of Christ is fellowship.

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  239. John T.,

    You have a broader definition of fellowship and unity then those who adhere to confessions do. The fellowship and unity of a local congregation is more like that of a man and his wife. We are only allowed access to God through the means of grace, and grace is the person and work of Christ as taught and communicated to us in Word (Law and Gospel) and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament only. And the Holy Spirit always communicates grace (Christ) to us and mysteriously in us. It is this “in us” part which gets controversial. Both communicate to us grace (the person of Christ and His work for us). The Word imparts faith to us and the sacraments sanctify us through our faith when we partake of them in faith. The sacraments always follow the Word which imparts faith to us. The Word also sanctifies us. Our faith grows, is strengthened and maintained through our continual use of the means of grace (Christ) each Sunday. That is how unity and fellowship with other members in our congregation grows and is maintained. The Law and Gospel preached produces the Church. And the Church always has Christ and the means of grace (Christ) as its center. This is what produces unity and fellowship.

    We do not think that our spiritual disciplines, daily devotions or any efforts of our will or worship can break us through to the heavenlies where God resides. We are fed and nourished by God only through Word and Sacrament. This is where the reformers separated from the Anabaptists and the Catholics. Both had different ideas of how grace is communicated to us. The Catholics believed that the sacraments infused grace (not Christ) and habits into us. The Anabaptists believed that the Holy Spirit worked outside the Word and Sacraments. This is where the idea of revival sprung from. A special work of the Holy Spirit outside the means of grace.

    If anybody sees that what I said needs to be corrected in any way please feel free to interject. All of what we need for our redemption in Christ is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament)l Grace is always Christ in Reformation theology. Grace is never habits or virtues infused into us over time by our partaking of the sacraments or through our works of obedience and spiritual disciplines. We cannot gain God’s favor, maintain our faith or breakthrough to God by any efforts of our will. We can only receive Christ through Word and Sacrament which strengthens and maintains our faith. The only thing left for us to do is respond in gratitude by serving others and performing our duties of obedience to God’s will. We are set free by the Gospel to become who we were created to be. We find our talents and gifts that God has given us to serve others with. The greater the freedom we exhibit in Christ the greater our flesh, the world and the devil works against us. It seems to me that the more free we become the more conflict we experience in our lives. That just drives us back to Word and Sacrament.

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  240. JT, JY is right, you simply have a much broader definition of fellowship and far less ecclesiastical.

    You say, “Fellowship is realized in our mutual sharing in the life of the church when we meet ‘in church’ and when believers meet informally and share in Christ (discussion of the Scripture, prayer, helping other believers, etc). Whatever we share together in the cause of Christ is fellowship.”

    I wonder if you would consider it fellowship if you were to meet informally with those believers who have egalitarian views to discuss the Scripture, pray and help other believers? Something tells me you wouldn’t because you declare this a form of apostasy. The Pope, as you know, isn’t an egalitarian. But his formulation of justification, which is to say his doctrine of the gospel, is unorthodox. Thus we cannot share in the cause of Christ with him, formally or informally. I wonder if you realize that with egalitarianism as an indicator of orthodoxy you take one giant leap toward Rome, which is one of the most non-egalitarian communions going? For my part, I’ll stick with the Belgic’s three marks, the first of which keeps me from the right hand of fellowship with the Bishop of Rome, and hold my nose whilst praying and discussing the Bible with egalitarians still orthodox on the gospel. You know, that thing the church is actually built on.

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  241. Zrim

    Once again you misread me and twist my words. I have never said those with egalitarian views are apostate. I did say that the CofS attempting to enforce egalitarianism on the conscience is so and the more so when when considered in the light of its attempts to insist on the legitimacy of homosexual relationships and its widescale abandonment of the gospel. Such a denomination is hardly ‘orthodox’.

    Since I see belief in the gospel and its concomitants of belief and behaviour as necessary signs of life I wonder how you can consider me likely to have fellowship with the Pope (the other one).

    Zrim, you really must learn to discuss fairly and not simply seek to score points.

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  242. JT, what you said was, “A denomination that has many who do not believe the gospel, who promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, and that is beginning to insist it is not sufficient to be silent on egalitarianism one must support it – is apostate in the 2 Tim 2 sense.” That sounds like drawing a straight line from egalistarianism to apostasy. So how am I twisting your words? As you have suggested (as a bad thing), I have elitist views, but I don’t confess that elitism is a mark of the true church such that egalitarianism marks a false one–it marks a wayward denomination. By the way, if elitism is a bad thing I wonder what you use to push back against egalitarianism?

    If the gospel is what causes you to either have fellowship with the Pope or not that seems to suggest you have a definition of the gospel. Careful, you’re sounding creedal, John. I wonder why you can and I can’t?

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  243. John T., at this point are you beginning to see the difference between pietism and confessionalism? Are you willing to concede that pietists disagree with confessionalists as much as the other way around?

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  244. John Y

    Mumford and Sons are very popular in Britain. Sigh No More is fantastic. They hail, I believe, from London. As far as I’ve been told, the lead singer is a son to leading lights in the Vineyard Church here in the UK, although he seems to have wandered from his heritage somewhat (you get a taste of that in the lyrics).

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  245. John T,

    Mark Galli, senior editor of Christianity Today, wrote an honest article that may be of interest to you. It’s points are a delight for confessionals and a horror for pietists – please see what you think – excerpts posted below:

    …after conversion, our holiness heritage kicks in. We preach, teach, and live “discipleship,” “obedience,” and “following” Jesus. We’re deathly afraid of cheap grace. We assume that with sufficient exhortation and moral effort, our sins will become smaller than a widow’s mite and our righteousness larger than life.
    This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian. A look. An attitude. A lifestyle. Something noticeable, something that causes the unbeliever to pause and wonder, “What does that person have?” Because it is such an integral part of our evangelistic method, we spend enormous amounts of psychic energy trying exude that. But we find, more days than not, that there’s not much to that something. We drop our coffee and blurt out a four-letter word, or we drink too much at the office party, or we fail to enquire about the welfare of a neighbor who just discovered she has cancer. Most days, we seem to be no different from the rest of humanity.

    I sometimes wonder if becoming “sanctified” in this life is mostly about becoming increasingly aware of just how much we are, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, “miserable sinners,” and that, really, “there is no health in us.”

    Sanctification certainly means this much: having the courage to face that reality and not flinch. That courage comes from knowing the merciful judgment and the humbling grace of God, knowing that God has judged the ugly reality of our lives, condemning it to its rightful death. And, at the same time, knowing that he has accepted us in all our sordidness, welcoming us as if we were as righteous as we sometimes imagine ourselves to be!

    …moral exhortations are no doubt needed, but we must never believe that “then and only then” will we Christians have something “to offer the world.” What we offer the world is not ourselves or our moral example or our spiritual integrity. What we offer the world is our broken lives, saying, “We are sinners saved by grace.” What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

    It is God’s utter acceptance of us that allows us to look at our miserable sinfulness and not flinch. If that’s not the final step in sanctification, it is certainly a prerequisite to any other step. And it’s about all most of us will experience in this life.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/julyweb-only/126-42.0.html

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  246. P.S. I goobered – it’s supposed to be “it’s honesty is a delight” not “it’s points are a delight” – que sera.

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  247. Nick,

    Yes, the lyrics are full of biblical imagery without being explicitly so. The Dustbowl Dance is particularly powerful. Many of the songs sound like the writer was deeply wounded in love. You also get the impression that he has wandered from his childhood roots in the church but is intrigued by the Gospel of grace.

    That does make sense that his roots are in the Vineyard Church. It’s probably a good thing that he has wandered away. He seems to be full of remorse yet having a good time in his lapsed state. They will probably end up making a lot of money and self-destructing. They are extremely talented and passionate souls. The music and melodies are stirring.

    Thanks for the input Nick- you are Scottish aren’t you? I have listened to some interviews of the band with some English pop critiques. Probably the equivalent of the Rolling Stone here in the states. They seem to be getting some very favorable reviews by the critiques. I guess they are really into Steinbeck novels too. You can see that influence in their songs. A lot of land imagery.

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  248. Lily

    I find myself both sympathetic and unsympathetic to Gali’s point. Christians can and do fail and sometimes spectacularly. We are indeed sinners saved by grace. Again and again I thank God that ‘the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin’. On my deathbed I will find assurance nowhere else. Yet I remember too that Paul is shocked by gross sin in Christians. He is clear that those who persist in such sin have no place in the Kingdom of God. John is clear that those whose lives are not marked by truth, love and obedience have no life in them. James insists that faith without works is dead.

    Gali writes,

    ‘This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian’.

    I don’t think the idea that Christians should be different is a myth. It is the plain teaching of Scripture. Men ought to see our good works and so glorify our father in heaven. Our light ought to shine before men. Paul reminds the Philippians,

    Phil 2:14-15 (ESV)
    Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

    Peter writes

    1Pet 2:12 (ESV)
    Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

    1Pet 4:3-5 (ESV)
    For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

    Verses that expect Christians to be different can be multiplied.

    On a different note – what has happened to heidelblog?

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  249. J Y

    Mny thanks for the summary of confessional thinking. It is helpful to have stated clearly confessional thinking.

    ‘Our faith grows, is strengthened and maintained through our continual use of the means of grace (Christ) each Sunday’

    I agree with this but cannot limit growth to church Word and sacrament extremely important though they are. What of the missionary who has little contact with a church? How does his faith grow? I agree that our faith grows through the Word (the sacraments are but a visual Word). But I find my daily reading of the Word is part of this process. The Psalmist meditated on God’s Law (Word) day and night. However, faith grows too (in measure) by looking at the example of others (Hebs 11,12). The life and Word of God active in others is an incentive to faith. Faith grows as we put to death what is fleshly within us and put on the Lord Jesus. Equally faith can stumble by the poor example of others (Roms 14). Faith grows as saints talk holily to each other.

    Eph 4:29 (ESV)
    Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

    We are edified too through Christian love.

    1Cor 8:1 (ESV)
    Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.

    Indeed the body of Christ is built up when the preaching of God’s Word about Christ leads to all the members of the body fulfilling their God givien ministry and so the body is edified.

    Eph 4:11-13 (ESV)
    And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

    Re, ‘We cannot gain God’s favor, maintain our faith or breakthrough to God by any efforts of our will’.

    Well, yes and no. We are not saved by works but the works of a righteous man are pleasing to God and bring blessing. Jesus is such an example.

    Luke 2:52 (ESV)
    And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

    John 10:17 (ESV)
    For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

    Christ was God’s son with whom he was well pleased.

    But so too are others. Paul looked for a ‘well done good and faithful servant’.

    The Hebrews are reminded

    Heb 13:16 (ESV)
    Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

    Note that Peter sees our efforts as believers to grow in grace as the reason for a rich welcome into the heavenly kingdom.

    2Pet 1:3-11 (ESV)
    His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Again texts could be multiplied. No, there are a variety of ways that God ministers Christ to us. God’s Word and life comes to us not only through preaching and sacrament but through his people. Equally, we do it seems grow in grace and godliness through effort of the renewed will.

    regards

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  250. Hi John T,

    Re: We are indeed sinners saved by grace. Again and again I thank God that ‘the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin’.

    Amen!

    Re: John is clear that those whose lives are not marked by truth, love and obedience have no life in them.

    John makes it very clear that none of us is without sin and that it is the life of daily repentance before God and faith in Christ that is our daily fare for it the blood of Christ that continuously cleanses us from all sin. Our lives are marked by faith in Christ, his righteousness imputed to us, and the power of the gospel not the law for the law can save no man. Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, have you not read the law? (Galatians).

    1 John 1:7-10 But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

    Re: James insists that faith without works is dead…. Phil 2:14-15…. 1Pet 2:12…. 1Pet 4:3-5…. Verses that expect Christians to be different can be multiplied.

    The problem here is that the law is being isolated from the rest of the Bible and pitted against the gospel. The gospel always has the last Word in a Christian’s life. Yes the law is good, right, and holy – it shows us what is holy. Truly, there is none holy but God and his holiness beyond all we can understand. God is holy in his being. We may be able to show some signs of external righteousness in obedience to the law’s moral imperatives, but so can non-believers. This is a far cry from the holiness we called to and an honest Christian will admit that they cannot tell the difference between themselves and good non-believers. The only difference is faith in Christ and being clothed in his righteousness.

    The Tale of Two Pieties:

    There is a cross-centered piety and a sanctification-centered piety.

    Cross-centered piety takes sin seriously for it sees that me, myself, and I am the problem. It sees that I am sinful in my being and my sin in thought, word, and deed flows from my sinful being. No amount of sin management or attempts to eradicate sin will keep the sewer line clean for I cannot remove the source of the sewage. There is the recognition that I am deeply and consistently flawed and I can’t be fixed by merely behaving, thinking, or feeling like a Christian. No the problem will not be solved until that great day when God exchanges my corruption for the incorruptible. So this piety lives by faith and daily finds forgiveness for being a sinner and daily finds strength for each day only by looking away from itself to our crucified and risen Savior. This piety rests in the finished work of Christ for me and trusts God to sanctify us as he sees fit in this temporal life. This piety’s life is faced outward towards God and the needs of it’s neighbors.

    Sanctification-centered piety treats the law as doable. It pays lip-service that we are saved by grace and not works. It seems to think that if it can get rid of it’s sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that it can be rid of sin. It thinks that it can transform itself if it just tries harder. It is saturated with a self-orientation, a relentless focus on moralism, and an addiction to actively pursing progressive sanctification. It forgets that God doesn’t grade on a curve. It’s 100% daily perfection or you flunk. Its fails to recognize that holiness is more than good morals and being a good deed doer but it means a 100% sinless being in thought, word, and deed. This piety is turned inward towards itself and away from God and it’s neighbor.

    It is not the vocation of any Christian to purse transformation. We pursue growing in grace and knowledge of Christ. All of the blessings/gifts we enjoy in the Christian life flow from him.

    There countless books and preachers who will give you a formula to work your way out of the predicament of being a sinner. Books and seminars on prayer, bible studies, rigorous attention to daily devotions. None of it works. There will eventually be a Y in the road. To the left go the hypocrites who think they can pull off the Christian life and to the right go the honest despairing ones who know they cannot pull off the Christian life. For the despairing Christian, confessional Christianity’s cross-centered piety offers an oasis in the wilderness of American evangelical pietism. Here they can find that we are both sinner and saint at the same time, and that our two natures are in conflict. Here they can find why Luther said that when the Scriptures command us to repent it means that we are to lead lives of repentance, agreeing with the Lord that His word is true concerning us, in both the Law and the Gospel.

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  251. I repeat the words of Darryl: “John T., at this point are you beginning to see the difference between pietism and confessionalism? Are you willing to concede that pietists disagree with confessionalists as much as the other way around?”

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  252. John T.,

    Lutherans do allow for God communicating Christ outside the means of grace because God cannot be limited. But we do claim that the promise of God is most assuredly found in
    Word and Sacrament. It is here where we find our assurance most assuredly, so to speak. We also realize that things can be counterfeited outside the means of grace and therefore are more skeptical of those who emphasize the communicating of Christ outside the ordinary means.

    I am not sure of the Presbyterian or Reformed take on that but I have heard Lutherans say what I did in the previous paragraph.

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  253. Lily,
    If I may say so, great stuff on “The Tale of Two Pieties.” Very encouraging.

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  254. Lily,

    I’ve been a Christian for fifty years, and Gali’s sanctification is how I’ve begun to think about it. Thanks for posting that. Thanks, too, for contrasting the two pieties. That’s how I’ve found myself in confessional protestantism so late in the game. Strangely, I began in and until age 30 was in John T’s Brethren denom!

    Stay at it. Love the interaction of all you folks.

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  255. Lily, dittos on the two-pieties comments. I’m not sure why Reformed people would have a problem with this — except for theonomic/Corinthian impulses.

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  256. Barbara, I am thankful you found confessional Protestantism and rest in Christ – such a great blessing it is!

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  257. Dr. Hart, I do hope people will start to better understand the differences in pieties. As you well know, nothing I wrote was original. I have wondered if problems understanding the law come from not majoring in Galatians or trying to understand the Christian life apart from Galatians? The idea to contrast the two pieties was inspired by Paul’s contrast of Sarah and Haggar (Galatians 4:21-31).

    P.S. If you ever decide to accept the mission, here is the 2007 journal article that got me wondering if Calvin got some of his mistaken ideas from Luther:

    The Challenge of History: Luther’s Two Kingdoms Theology as a Test Case

    Click to access mackenziechallengeofhistory.pdf

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  258. Lily,
    By “transformation” (not the Christian’s vocation, you say), what do you mean?

    The term “cheap grace” originated in a black church in Harlem, and was popularized by Bonhoeffer. It was all about the theology of the cross. Cheap grace is opposed to the cost of discipleship. What think ye?

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  259. Lily

    I had decided it was time to bow out but given my sinful nature eloquently described by you I thought I would ask a further question.

    I agree that in my flesh dwells no good thing. I consider ‘the flesh’, humanity in Adam, as inveterately opposed to God. But I believe too in the new birth. I believe in regeneration I have a new life and nature within me – the life of God in Christ. This new life/nature empowered by the Spirit produces godliness (and can do no other). Thus my duty (by the Spirit) is to put to death the flesh/old self and live as a new person yielding myself to the life of righteousness.

    I agree that ‘So this piety lives by faith and daily finds forgiveness for being a sinner and daily finds strength for each day only by looking away from itself to our crucified and risen Savior’

    But I disagree with your description of sanctification centred piety. None-one I know believes they can achieve sinlessness in this life. No-one I know thinks that holy living contributes to their justification or acceptance with God though they do believe the pursuit of holiness of life pleases God (as a text or two above indicates). Why do we pursue holiness because we are called to do so; we are called to be holy as God is holy and to perfect sanctification in the fear of God.

    You speak of two natures but you seem to see only one as having power – the sinful nature. The Christian should not see his life as one destined to constant defeat but as a life that can and should glorify God.

    Rom 6:12-14 (ESV)
    Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

    Rom 6:19-23 (ESV)
    I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Those who belong to God overcome the world (1 Jn 5)… and the flesh and the devil. Of course we are in constant conflict and we sin… we are not already perfect but we strain towards it. And we do so not to earn salvation but to fulfil God’s purpose in our lives as by his Spirit he conforms us to the image of his Son.

    1Thess 4:1-8 (ESV)
    Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

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  260. John T.
    Well said. I agree with you. However, I believe your kind of thinking might be termed (on this blog) the “theology of glory” or “victorious living.”

    Subtly sin can creep in and make us think that we earn brownie points with God for our obedience. This is bad. But we still ought to strive for holiness. “Be ye holy as I am holy’ is addressed to justified believers.

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  261. Well… phooey. Eliza and John T. I accidentally posted answers to you on another thread – Would you like for me to repost them here?

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  262. Daryl, this is towering brilliance on another level sir. I assure you I mean that sincerely.

    This is bar none, the best analysis of TGC I have ever read. While some rather good individual pieces can indeed be found over there, I really believe that it’s hastened demise as an entity would actually help the American Church as a whole. You have here organized and masterfully articulated thoughts that have been rumbling around in my mind for a long time.
    A few points:
    Mohler says something dopey here and there, but I do hold him in generally high regard.

    Mohler also wishes for confessional churches. (As I’m sure you know).

    Despite the protestant proclamation, Keller and TGC honchos are quite ecumenical in practice. (as I’m also sure you know)

    “The Gospel Coalition adds no inherent value to the capital that these pastors and their churches have created and invested.”
    Exactly right. All it does is foster a virtual environment of perceived prestige and increased name recognition, neither of which are conducive to usefulness in the kingdom by biblical standards.

    “appurtenance”
    I had to look this word up. This is an entirely unacceptable state of affairs. Please submit any future writings to me in advance so we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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  263. Right on. Does it get any less self-aware than a Protestant (a co-ally nonetheless) and a Catholic discussing the need for churches to be independent of the culture?

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