A Theological Wonder Who Was Wrong about the Church and Sacraments

All Frame and his students all the time this week. Pardon the obsession.

Justin Taylor continues to aggregate with a post about the value of reading Calvin’s Institutes. He includes several quotations from J. I. Packer (though why gospel-co-allies should pay attention to Barth I’m not sure):

The Institutes is one of the wonders of the world.

Karl Barth, the most influential theologian of the 20th century, once wrote: “I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.”

Packer explains that Calvin’s magnum opus is one of the great wonders of the world:

“Calvin’s Institutes (5th edition, 1559) is one of the wonders of the literary world—the world, that is, of writers and writing, of digesting and arranging heaps of diverse materials, of skillful proportioning and gripping presentation; the world . . . of the Idea, the Word, and the Power. . . .

“The Institutio is also one of the wonders of the spiritual world—the world of doxology and devotion, of discipleship and discipline, of Word-through-Spirit illumination and transformation of individuals, of the Christ-centered mind and the Christ-honoring heart. . . .

“Calvin’s Institutio is one of the wonders of the theological world, too—that is, the world of truth, faithfulness, and coherence in the mind regarding God; of combat, regrettable but inescapable, with intellectual insufficiency and error in believers and unbelievers alike; and of vision, valuation, and vindication of God as he presents himself through his Word to our fallen and disordered minds. . . .”

This is the problem of contemporary “Calvinism.” It abstracts Reformed theology from Reformed churches and Reformed ministry.

Ironically, Taylor gives as a reason for reading Calvin that “has relevance for your life and ministry.”

It can be read as simply an exercise in historical theology, but it should also be read to further your understanding of God’s Word, God’s work, and God’s ways. Packer writes:

The 1559 Institutio is great theology, and it is uncanny how often, as we read and re-read it, we come across passages that seem to speak directly across the centuries to our own hearts and our own present-day theological debates. You never seem to get to the book’s bottom; it keeps opening up as a veritable treasure trove of biblical wisdom on all the main themes of the Christian faith.

Does Taylor really mean to suggest that reading Calvin might lead to baptizing infants and joining a presbytery? I doubt it.

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41 thoughts on “A Theological Wonder Who Was Wrong about the Church and Sacraments

  1. John, glad to see that someone at GC is paying attention to oversight. You may have a point. But don’t you thin the Frame-Taylor connection is an arresting twist?

    BTW, GC would be less of an obsession if the allies gave up the Reformed or Calvinist moniker, you know, just became evangelicals. That has its own baggage. But at least then you could be Carl Henry to Joel Osteen instead of good Calvinists to bad Calvinists.

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  2. DG-

    I suppose we use “reformed” both historically and subversively.

    Historically, because we see movements like the Westminster Assembly where presbyterians, CofE’s, independents, and congregationalists we all involved at some level, some more central than others. But all were thought of as “reformed” or “reforming.” This is even more apparent during the framing of the Savoy Declaration. Historically, “reformed” had a more colloquial meaning to it than what strict confessionalists today allow for it seems. So those of us who want to be continually reformed by Scripture, where we depend upon the conclusions of Calvin, the Puritans, and *gasp* particular baptists for how we understand God’s sovereignty, the authority of Scripture, eldership (whether more presbyterian or congregational) and government, and how to understand and continue on with catholic orthodoxy before the Reformation; we call ourselves reformed.

    We also use it subversively. Most of us younger Calvinists have come out of squishy evangelical churches—think squishier than you think of Justin Taylor. We may tend to vocalize the soteriological aspect of Calvinism more because that’s where we get most of our push-back from those churches. Sovereignty and providence has so much to do with a vision of God, and since most evangelical churches have a small vision of God, this is where we tend camp out—for good or for ill. And since most of us have come out of squishy evangelicalism, we usually transition from a very pessimistic view of the greater evangelical church to a more hopeful stance, since that’s where we came from and we are hopeful that the Holy Spirit, resting in regenerate believers can cause a vibrant turning, if not for just a few.

    There. I’ve tried to defend a use of “reformed” from history and argued that we should be hopeful about the greater, squishy evangelical church. That should give you another week at least of posts.

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  3. John, thanks for sticking your neck out.

    First, I don’t think your history goes far enough (it may involve cherry picking). For instance, the folks who gathered at the Westminster Assembly were all in national churches (either Scottish or English). It was a church synod. That is hardly comparable to TGC — a parachurch agency. This means that GC is much closer to the original founders of the National Association of Evangelicals, Fuller Seminary, and Christianity Today. The Henrys and Ockegas of the evangelical world thought of themselves as Reformed (as opposed to Arminian). But they were New School. They were not committed to the institutional church. And Reformed has meant historically “church.”

    Second, as much as you may think you’re reaching out to squishy evangelicals, have you considered what your doing to the “firm” Presbyterians in Keller’s communion, or the “firm” Baptists at Bethlehem Baptist or Capital Hill. Could it be that GC turns everything squishy?

    I’d like to see a video at the website about that.

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  4. Hi John,

    Re: how to understand and continue on with catholic orthodoxy before the Reformation..

    If I may be so bold as to speak here. I am appreciative of the fact that you listed a number of other items you are seeking to understand, but I would like to highlight this item, because I think it’s important.

    The point I would like to try to bring out is why it is important to not create a new squishy land and call it “reformed” with a little “r”, and why it is important to contrast this with the “Reformed” capital “R” – are you in danger of merely perpetuating the squishy evangelicalism you seek to help and confusing people on what it means to be Reformed?

    Here is my simple example that I hope will help make my point: Have you considered that baptism was always seen as a means of regeneration from Justin Martyr to Augustine, through the middle ages, and there has never been a major theologian who has regarded baptism as a symbol prior to the reformation? This is pre-reformation catholic orthodoxy.

    What is the “reformed” body of work as compared to the “Reformed” body of work that you rely on to either accept or reject the first 1500 years of church teaching on baptism? Do you see the disparity?

    To be confessional, whether Reformed or Lutheran turns us away from the follies of the squishy American church, turns us away from trying to recreate the wheel, and turns us back towards the ancient path of the church and the importance of the creeds, confessions, dogma, and the sacraments. Confessions are concerned about what is True not what is relevant and/or useful for an eclectic, cafeteria-style Christianity. It is the Truth that sets men free not the pursuit of what one deems relevant, utilitarian, or appealing to the emotions. I hope this makes sense to you?

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  5. Darryl,

    I’m not comparing TGC to Westminster and Savoy. I’m comparing new Calvinists to the phenomenon of mixed Protestants (presbyterians, anglicans, independents—and baptists for the Savoy) who would call each other reformed. I think that’s pretty clear from my paragraph and you dismissed my point without really considering it. The term has historically been used more colloquially than you allow for.

    I don’t think anyone from TGC thinks TGC is greater than any one denomination. If anything, TGC looks to encourage individuals to maintain their denominational and network identities, since—to use Lewis—denominations are where the fires, meals, conversations are (maybe even cigar smoking if you’re not SBC). But we want to encourage churches to make Christ and him crucified the center of all their efforts.

    The problem is that you see new Calvinists playing with a toy that isn’t ours, but we turn it over and find that our name is written on the bottom.

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  6. John, the problem is that you mistake a toy for the church. You completely have fudged the question of the church vs. the parachurch. The toy you’re looking under says, made in revival land. Plus, you completely miss that the 17th c. Protestants you invoke knew nothing of parachurch. For them Reformed always went with Reformed church. They had particular views about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, ordination, church government. GC has none of those — hence the comparisons to New School Presbyterians and neo-evangelicals. Heck, New Schoolers were more church minded than GC.

    You may not think of GC as greater than any one denomination, but by not naming any denominations that need to make Christ and him crucified the center of all their efforts you raise suspicions about all denominations. Meanwhile, I don’t see much self-criticism going on within GC. “Word and Deed” ministry has neo-nomianism written all over it, as does cultural transformation, as does calling racism a “gospel issue.”

    Frankly, it’s not the claim to be Reformed that is as objectionable as GC’s claim to stand for the gospel. What Christian wouldn’t rally around the gospel? Well, what if some Christians don’t join (though you can’t) GC? Does that suggest they are not making Christ and him crucified the center of all their efforts? It does.

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  7. John,

    I am not sure that anyone is denying a colloquial use of Reformed, after all if the colloquialism wasn’t used so prevalently we wouldn’t be having a definitional debate about the meaning of Reformed. The YRR movement and the new-new Calvinism (how many times can it be called new?) has co-opted the term Reformed and inserted a whole mess of American evangelical baggage into the term.

    I realize that in a broad sense there is semantic development of terminology over time, which is why modern translations state that the man must “cling” to his wife as opposed to “cleave” to his wife. But there is also a part of language that is formal and resists semantic development, and these terms are usually ones that represent and define important concepts that remain stable within a culture – Definitions such as mortgage, estoppel, habeas corpus, catholic, et. al. It is even possible for these technical terms to be accompanied with a colloquial meaning, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that certain words have certain meaning.

    The problem with the colloquial use of Reformed from where I sit isn’t that such a concept doesn’t exist, or that those who identify themselves as Reformed in a colloquial fashion somehow are owning the term disingenuously. The problem is that they are using the term mistakenly, in such a way that in many ways stands in stark contradiction to it’s historical referent. So the real issue at hand, and what confessionalists are fighting for is the fact that the colloquial use of Reformed actually serves to obscure the historic meaning of Reformed which we confess and practice.

    I would at the very least appreciate some openness amongst those who are aware of what is at stake in the debate but continue to use the (colloquial) term Reformed to acknowledge that at at least a few, if not many points what they mean by “Reformed” differs from what has historically constituted Reformed and is currently reflected in the Reformed confessions. What is most frustrating is when the argument continues along these lines: “we’re Reformed just like you”; when this clearly isn’t the case. At a surface level I can understand that this seems petty at best and nitpicky and nasty at worst. However, underneath this is a desire among those who confess the historic Reformed faith to see continuity in how Reformed is defined and more importantly how it is practiced. It is not as if churches attached to TGC do not have a right, or even good reason to operate the way that they do, nor is it impossible for them to be God-honoring communions in spite of the fact that we view them to be in error. Some openness amongst the YRR TGC crowd (and others) to the concern of confessionalists instead of off-hand dismissals could actually open up fruitful dialogue and a better sense of how we can co-exist on mission in the most catholic sense.

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  8. I think a lot of us Reformed folk are worried about the same thing happening to “Reformed” that has mostly happened with “Evangelical”–that it becomes so inclusive as to lose virtually all meaning. I’ve run into “3 1/2 pointer”, charismatic, dispensational, Baptists who believe in lay administered sacraments, rock concert worship, and fellowship groups trumping church attendence, and yet call themselves Reformed. Whatever wiggle room the definition of Reformed has had historically, it’s rather clear that we’re well beyond that now.

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  9. All true, Jed. So, don’t you think that making credo-baptists members of P&R churches is a function of neo-Calvinist impulses which undermine historical Reformed faith and practice?

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  10. Jed, well said. I’d only add that confessionalists are biblical maximalists. They hold to all of the Bible’s teaching and won’t fudge. The YRR’s are biblical but not to the point to breaking ranks (which is what those 17th groups that John invokes did).

    Probably the best way of putting the difference is to say the YRR’s are gospel first, “Reformed” second. Confessionalists don’t split the difference because there is not gospel that is abstracted from a communion of saints who profess a common faith under the ministry of regularly appointed pastors and elders. In other words, you can’t have the gospel without the visible church barring extraordinary circumstances. So far, GC has not risen to the level of extraordinary.

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  11. I think we give the GC folks too much credit if we concede that they at least teach the same “gospel” taught by the Reformed Confessions. Many of them are so “minimalist” when it comes to gospel that they have agreed that they believe the same thing about the atonement as the Arminians do (along with some extra stuff!).

    I suppose one response to my observation is that Arminians are “Reformed” also. Another even more common response is to lament the co-option of Calvinism by the five points of soteriology. Even though I am not Reformed when it comes to church and sacrament, and therefore I am not Reformed, it still amazes me that folks can be Reformed even while denying some of those five points, just as long as they have a “worldview” and say “the covenant” a lot.

    Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition , Kenneth J. Stewart, IVP, 2011 Mr. Stewart’s book is at least as ideological as he is historical. He aims to promote conformity to his own notion of tolerance. In the process, he seeks to exclude those he refers to as “thoroughly reformed” (p15) as extremists. Even though they don’t call ourselves that, he will label them that and then condemn their “primitivism”.

    For example, on p93, Stewart concludes that “TULIP cannot be allowed to function as a creed”. This dogmatism about what cannot be allowed follows a caricature of those who use the acronym “tulip” for Dordt’s response to the five points of Arminius. Stewart writes as if “conservative Calvinists” were more concerned about the acronym than about the specific doctrines. He does this, even though on pages 94-95, he lists various five-point books which use different acronyms.

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  12. DGH,

    I completely agree. I would be interested to see if GC churches and their leaders were to develop a clearer ecclesiology and actually undertake the hard work of becoming a communion. TGC as a denomination would find themselves in the same predicament that every denomination, which is defining themselves in such a way that demarcates who is “in” and who is “out”.

    Maybe, in the end they would find that the current denominational affiliations, however imperfect we may be are actually sufficient for the church to carry out her mission. While we might find them to be errant, there’s nothing better than a baptist with Calvinistic sympathies simply to identify themselves as baptists and to carry on about their business faithfully. Same goes for Presbyterians. At the end of the day I am not sure if TGC would ever work as a denomination or a formal communion, which only buttresses our claims that they aren’t very churchly at all.

    BTW, enjoying the new book.

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  13. Zrim,

    I am probably 60% for the current system, and 40% for a confessional subscription. Like I said before, I’d like to see more discussion from both sides, since it represents a change to the PCA’s (and the OPC’s?) BCO. But your question is certainly a valid one. I am just not sure I can add much without seeing some good exegesis, confessional, and historical analysis. It’d be great if someone like RSC could expand on the subject of membership, maybe we’ll get a second ed. of RRC. Here’s to hoping.

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  14. Kenneth Stewart warns old school folks who want to put being Reformed in priority over being “evangelical” (p89). If they do not go along with the “sufficient for everybody” formula, Reformed folks will end up in a marginalized “self-imposed ghetto”. Thus Stewart exhorts us to learn to teach a gospel of which the Arminians can approve.

    Stewart does not seem to notice that the “gospel” held in common by evangelicals is an Arminian antithesis, opposite to that which is confessed by the Westminster Confession. To him, Calvinism has nothing to do with God’s effectual call, but only a good thing if learned incrementally and with moderation. As an educated person with “breadth” and “diversity”, he thinks some of us “have too much of a good thing.” (p13)

    Some folks ( dgh?) are “more Reformed” than others. But if you are going to have coalitions that matter, relativism (more or less) is MORE basic than any Calvinist antithesis.

    Instead of historically explaining that the Reformed tradition was not as clear about grace as it could have been, and that it is now better because of more antithesis, Stewart simply assumes that what’s more recent has to be worse.

    Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, don’t you know DGH? Why can’t you be more “moderate” with your “Reformed” sectarianism?

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  15. dgh: “There is not gospel that is abstracted from a communion of saints who profess a common faith under the ministry of regularly appointed pastors and elders. ”

    Be careful. You are starting to sound like Stanley Hauerwas. Of course I have always wondered if Stan has any gospel other than “church”. “Church” is his gospel and “sacrament” his hope. He gets prickly if you even ask him about the historical truth of the rest of it.

    Of course I am not saying you learned to say it this way from Stan. (Although I doubt you learned it from Ed Clowney either.) And of course I have no doubts about your believing the other historical stuff, for example, the forgiveness of sins by means of legal propitiation at the cross.

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  16. Darryl wrote: In other words, you can’t have the gospel without the visible church barring extraordinary circumstances.

    First, let me say that I’m very appreciative of the discussions that go on here at OL. Second, I am a late-comer to the Reformed tradition. Yet one thing that I embraced early on in my Christian life was something in Ephesians 1 that echoes what Darryl wrote above:

    “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

    All the benefits, graces, and goodness of our Savior’s death and resurrection are administered and most fully received in the church. There is the divine intersection, for God’s people, between heaven and earth… or where the rubber meets the road, i.e. the gathering of the redeemed on the Lord’s day. And coming to understand what “Reformed” meant, I realized I was coming home. I hope that makes sense.

    So to dabble in TGC or any other para-church as a concept or place of coming together falls short. Like being content playing in puddles of water rather than jumping into the waters of the ocean. Thanks all.

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  17. Mark, I’m enjoying your reactions to Stewart. Why can’t the categories instead of extreme or broad be orthodox or liberal? And why can’t Stewart understand that an ecumenism based on ignoring differences is really liberal?

    But when it comes to being sectarian, I’m not sure that Covenant College, the OPC, or the PCA are on the cutting edge of mainstream (pardon the mixed metaphors). Now, if Stewart lands a job at NYU or Oberlin on the basis of his book, I’ll rethink my sarcasm.

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  18. Jed, all fair enough. But I just can’t see how anyone can maintain on the one hand that the neo-Calvinists, mainly anti-paedobaptist, have co-opted the term Reformed, yet on the other admit for membership those who have co-opted essential Reformed sacramental theology. It’s one of those second hand taking away what the first gave kind of things.

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  19. Orthodox or liberal? Are you still a “warrior child”? Jamie Smith’s “Letters to Young Calvinists” is quite filled with such liberal cliches Just possibly Stewart is so fixated on being an “evangelical” that he has a truncated, myopic, arcane, and inordinate rejection of the “narrow” Reformed antithesis. Why talk about the “tulip” when you can say “sacrament” and “mutual indwelling” and those ideas can mean so many different things to so many different folks?

    Stewart seems to think that folks like you need to smooth out and mature, and learn to pick your battles. If you can do that, perhaps you will be permitted to speak one day as a representative for coalitions which have more influence on “the culture”. Don’t be so myopic and inordinate!

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  20. The greatest joke of all parachurch organisations is probably the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Besides the other tinier NAPARC ”churches” who on earth would teach seriously a group that produces about as much fruit (fruit being narrowly defined as converts from non-Christian groups without including having children) as a plastic Christmas tree? It is best to leave ”church” defined in local terms and let the notion of that stand to define the visible church. The invisible church is much more important.

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  21. Mark, Mark Noll had left the OPC for the EPC, where he worshiped before moving to Notre Dame. Now he worships (and teaches Sunday school) at the CRC in South Bend. I suppose he has transferred his membership. I do not know about his officer status. According to the church’s website, Mark’s wife, Maggie, is an elder.

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  22. Cats make you less “sectarian”? All my sarcasms aside, if we are going to continue to be orthodox, we are going to need to be thought of as more “sectarian” and not less. Thanks for the info about Mark Noll. Another example of addition by subtraction.

    Even if we can’t all just join the visible Roman Catholic church yet, Noll and Leithart suggest, we must all agree now that justification by faith alone is mere Gnosticism. Justification is by obedience to God’s law, and for that we need both character and community. We need to work with that which comes about with the passing of time, and if we resist the moderate gradualism of the conservative coalitions, we will end up with no “real church” at all, and then what would happen to “the culture”?
    In other words, we have to get along with what history brings us.

    In order to “de-sacrifice the empire”, Christians did do two things, according to Leithart. First, they supported the sacrifice the enemies of Rome. Second, in time they moved the rituals of unity into “the church” (which will of course will always support “the empire”).

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  23. It was pat 1am in the morning and I was tired. Even in typing sometimes my mind thinks one thing but writes another. I suppose that is a lesson: don’t write something unless you are in a good frame of mind. My ecclesiology is Reformed Congregationalist. A denomination is not a Church. It may be wise, but a church is defined by a group of individuals (not individuals not families) gathering together regularly to worship in Word and Sacrament and to hear the true Gospel preached. A degree of mixture of truth and error is always present, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is a true church by Westminster Standards. A presbytery, synod, General Assembly, etc… by definition does not do these things. They gather together to govern and are limited to men, while the church is opened to all. If you want to make a distinction between the proper governance of the church v. the church that is fair, but it is not correct to call a governing organisation a church.

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  24. JG wrote >> church is defined by a group of individuals (not individuals not families) gathering together regularly to worship in Word and Sacrament and to hear the true Gospel preached. … A presbytery, synod, General Assembly, etc… by definition does not do these things. <<

    So by definition, nothing can be called "church" unless it is an individual and specific "congregation?" Governing or administrative bodies that in some fashion relate to multiple congregations are just that, administrative bodies, but not the church or a church. Is that a fair restatement of your position jg? In your opinion, then, a presbytery or a general assembly is by definition "parachurch."

    Now, if that's what you're trying to say, it opens up some room for discussion.

    As an OP, even though not agreeing with this polity, I can sort of acknowledge the idea behind the very snide portion of your initial post: We probably can't credit to presbyteries any conversions of unbelivers. Might even say that of the GA. But in fact, the GA is the officer-admin body representing the whole of the OPC, representing all the churches or congregations of the OPC and all the communicant and non-communicant members thereof. As such, it is the GA's committee on World Wide Outreach that puts missionaries on the field to do Christ's chuurch-gathering work. This is done for and on behalf of all those congregations and all those members. Same is basically true of home or domestic missions, but some presbyteries do have a fair bit of interplay with the denominational (i.e. common) Home Missions committee. I am in complete agreement with the OPC policy that does not force each missionary to go out as individuals (acting like independents) and raise their own funds.

    While OPC "conversion" statistics are nothing to brag about, that's a different issue than simply dissing/dismissing our church polity as "parachurch" because you are a congregationalist.

    -=Cris=-

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  25. Probably the best way of putting the difference is to say the YRR’s are gospel first, “Reformed” second. Confessionalists don’t split the difference because there is not gospel that is abstracted from a communion of saints who profess a common faith under the ministry of regularly appointed pastors and elders. In other words, you can’t have the gospel without the visible church barring extraordinary circumstances.

    Now, this is great stuff. This is the Confession’s view, but are there any good resources on how the divines arrived at their doctrine of the church? For instance, I can read something like, “Redemption: Accomplished and Applied” to better understand the Reformed view of justification, but is there an equivalent for the doctrine of the church?

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  26. Chris D.,

    You wrote: ” So by definition, nothing can be called “church” unless it is an individual and specific “congregation?” Governing or administrative bodies that in some fashion relate to multiple congregations are just that, administrative bodies, but not the church or a church. Is that a fair restatement of your position jg? In your opinion, then, a presbytery or a general assembly is by definition “parachurch.” ”

    Yes that is a fair summary.

    For the record as a Congregationalist I would argue for the existence of an official standing organisation that would ensure that missionaries would be fully funded. I would consider it to be a means of redistributing money according to need of missions. Ideally, I would like this hypothetical organisation to be responsible to NAPARC, so certain denominations which shall remain nameless will be held bound to their agreement in not planting churches within a certain radius of other Reformed Churches.

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  27. JG,

    Ideally, I would like this hypothetical organisation to be responsible to NAPARC, so certain denominations which shall remain nameless will be held bound to their agreement in not planting churches within a certain radius of other Reformed Churches.

    NAPARC has such comity agreement amongst it’s member churches, but unfortunately it doesn’t stop church plants from infringing on existing congregations. It’s more of a problem with PCA churches (my denom) than most of the other NAPARC churches. Your contention is absolutely a fair one.

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  28. The new Modern Reformation has an interview of C. Hansen by Horton on YRR. Dr. Horton, as much as I love his work, continues to throw the YRR some complimentary mirrors so they can be sure that soul patch they’re sporting is still looking as hip as ever. There is also an article entitled “A Potentially Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Why Evangelicals Need the Young, Restless, and Reformed” by a Christianity Today editor. Add all this to the trendy new resizing, layout, and artwork (all of which would be VERY appealing to the YRR) and you’re left with a “?” between your ears and a furrowed brow.

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  29. jg, you are parasitically inconsistent (good morning!).

    You say you are a Reformed Congregationalist. So what makes your congregation Reformed? It must be that it subscribes a creed, something like Savoy. But did the commissioners or delegates who gathered to draft Savoy constitute a church? Did they worship, evangelize, etc.? Or how about now NAPARC? Your willing to work with something that is not a church to do the work of the church? NAPARC is not in your words “a group of individuals (not individuals not families) gathering together regularly to worship in Word and Sacrament and to hear the true Gospel preached.”

    But it gets more problematic for you. When your congregation meets for a business meeting — to approve a budget, call a pastor, etc. — is is meeting for word and sacrament or for worship? Your definition would seem to disallow all form of oversight — not just presbyteries or synods, but even congregations. You may say that your congregational business meeting is just one side of a congregation that regularly gathers for worship. But the same applies to presbyteries and synods.

    I appreciate your Congregational particularism. But even you can’t abide by it. No one can. Once a church committee meets that isn’t worshiping or receiving word and sacrament, you don’t have church. Why even a pastoral visit to a family cannot be church — no sacraments allowed in private, remember?

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  30. Walt S., No good historical works on ecclessiology exist, at least modern ones. But 19th c. Old Schoolers wrote a lot of ecclessiology. I suppose that they may provide some direction on the history even though it would not be a historical treatment per se.

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  31. Another interesting post with thoughtful discussion in the comments. When I was at one of the six rehabs I have been through I met a young restless reformed type who was weaned and nurtured at John Piper’s church in Minneapolis (this was at David Wilkerson’s rehab in the westside of Chicago-lots of interesting characters from the inner city of Chicago attended-most were of the new school persuasion with much talk about total surrender, the charismatic giftings of the Holy Spirt, alter call repentance, etc. etc) He rather unashamedly referred to himself as a Christian hedonist (which might have explained his problem with the addictive substance he abused; I blame my addictive personality on a absent functional alcoholic father, hypercritical mother, too much playing sports without much other interests in my youth and too much evangelical theology in my young adulthood- a recipe for disaster; of course, you eventually learn you have to place most of the blame on yourself and quite blaming others-that takes awhile to come to terms with in us addicts who will find any type of excuse to continue their addictive behavior and idolatry-it becomes your “life” source).

    He was a very bright and talented young adult (I believe he was 24 or 25) who had deeply worried and dissapointed his parents by his falling prey to his addiction (his father was an ER doctor at a big hospital in Minneapolis and also a member of Piper’s church). I became fairly good friends with him because I could talk reformation theology with him at this dispensational, arminian and charismatic state funded institution. After about 3 months of indoctrination into the “spiritual” program there we began challenging some of the teaching that was taking place and it caused a lot of problems and factions within the group of people there at the time. This eventually led to my leaving and him wanting to leave too but his father would not let him (he ended up leaving a couple weeks after me to go to another place).

    He is very much into the GC teachers and YRR movement. I have stayed in contact with him a bit but in our last correspondance he exhorted me to stay away from Old life and quit arguing about the doctrine of justification so much. My point being is that Old life is almost looked upon as an enemy to the people involved in the new reformed movements. I guess because the posts here have the gall to question some of their theology and practice. However, it is theology and practice which forms the type of spirituality that becomes a part of persons whole being. And the type of spirituality that each group manifests is at odds with each other.

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  32. John Y., that’s too bad to hear that Old Life is regarded so negatively. I wonder if the YRR’s would really have my back if I threw in with them. Would they really defend keeping the Lord’s Day holy, decent, simple and sober worship, pastors who are not celebrities but colleagues, Christ’s spiritual presence in the Supper, or even justification by faith alone? Perhaps I misjudge. But unless they can defend those things as important, why should I support them? Could it be because Old Schoolers are wrong and they are right? If that’s the case, then the YRR’s are enemies of Reformed Protestantism. I wonder if they’ve ever considered their relationship to believers in Reformed churches and whether they should be the ones to set the standards for friendship or fraternity. And there they go, continuing to think they are Reformed. It’s as if my putting on a Boston Celtics jersey and drinking green beer on March 17 makes me Irish.

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  33. First, Happy New Year DGH.

    Second, you wrote: (my responses in parentheses)
    ”jg, you are parasitically inconsistent (good morning!). (thank you)

    You say you are a Reformed Congregationalist. So what makes your congregation Reformed? It must be that it subscribes a creed, something like Savoy. (My Church subscribes to the Westminster Confession and the Heidleberg Catechism and our Book of Church order makes it clear that the congregation has the final authority to approve budgets, call pastors, and own the building) But did the commissioners or delegates who gathered to draft Savoy constitute a church? (no) Did they worship, evangelize, etc.? (not sure, but I would consider the work of the Westminster Assembly and Salvoy to be parachurch that churches had the right to participate in or not. The fact that 3 forms of government were represented there should prove that the assemblies were not churches)Or how about now NAPARC? (parachurch again)Your willing to work with something that is not a church to do the work of the church? (I would define the work of the church very narrowly to preaching, sacraments, and discipline) NAPARC is not in your words “a group of individuals (not individuals not families) gathering together regularly to worship in Word and Sacrament and to hear the true Gospel preached.” (true not a Church-never said it was, but it can be the foundation to one day making a new presbyterian/reformed denomination. I’m not naive enough to think Biblical congregationalism will make a come back. The vast majority of congregationalists-baptists excluded- are heretics. See my former church the UCC for proof. But if I’m stuck in the unbiblical system that is known as presbyterian/refomed polity, might as well hope and work for Unity within those who believe it.)

    But it gets more problematic for you. When your congregation meets for a business meeting — to approve a budget, call a pastor, etc. — is is meeting for word and sacrament or for worship? (I suppose I can criticize your spelling now 😉 ) Your definition would seem to disallow all form of oversight — not just presbyteries or synods, but even congregations. (There may be oversight but (the congregation has the final authority. I expect for the congregation to approve a plurality of elders given that is mandated in scripture and to associate with other local churches in the region for doctrinal accountability, but they remain autonomous fundamentally.) You may say that your congregational business meeting is just one side of a congregation that regularly gathers for worship. But the same applies to presbyteries and synods. (Disagree there. The buisness aspect of the Church while important, is not of the essence of the church. Also I presume the elders do most of the look and the congregation just gives feedback and the final stamp of approval or disapproval ideally).

    I appreciate your Congregational particularism. But even you can’t abide by it. No one can. (Congregationalists have been the oldest confession in the US, and they still are around. Apparently they can abide, while the orthodox presbyies number less than 500k. OK, the congregationalists are almost all heretics but if you include southern baptists, clearly congregationalism clearly is the most stable form of church government)Once a church committee meets that isn’t worshiping or receiving word and sacrament, you don’t have church. (correct) Why even a pastoral visit to a family cannot be church — no sacraments allowed in private, remember?” (I would agree that pastoral visitation is not a church. It is a means of discipleship to help live out the Christian life. The sacraments would be out of place there)

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