Debtors to Ireland

It was a soft landing mainly coming back from Dublin over the weekend. Encountering a Buffalo Wild Wings store — how could you possibly call that a restaurant — was certainly a reminder of how bizarre American culture must look even to other Westerners. Comparing a BWW to O’Neill’s pub in Dublin may not be fair. But I am not sure why one room needs what seemed like 67 television screens. Back in Dublin, not even all the screens were on even if a soccer match was available. And some patrons came to the pub to talk about the choral concert they had heard at the University, others were playing a friendly game of cards, and young men predictably were picking up girls (while also unexpectedly explaining Ireland’s strict divorce laws). Having the Fighting Irish on against U.S.C. did not make up for the difference.

The Mrs. and I spent the night in Illinois (having flown to and from O’Hare) and so worshiped yesterday at an area Orthodox Presbyterian congregation before driving back to Hillsdale. We were greeted by the invocation of a minister whose roots, according to accent, were in Scotland. I know that Ireland and Scotland represent distinct forms of resisting England, with Northern Ireland throwing an odd wrench into such patterns of resistance. But the Scottish accent was a pleasant echo of our previous Sunday’s worship in Belfast among the Evangelical Presbyterians. Helping the transition was singing the eighth-century Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Since only two days before we had seen a round tower at Glendalough, the site of remains from a seventh-century monastery founded by St. Kevin, the line, “Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower,” took on added significance.

One of the arresting aspects of Orthodox Presbyterian life is that we are ethnically a denomination of mongrels. Of course, the dominant ethnicity in the OPC is the one that comes to most immigrants after they have lived in the U.S. for generations. At the same time, since hyphenated Americans like John Murray and Cornelius Van Til were so crucial to the first thirty years of the OPC’s history, the denomination has always made room for European expressions of Reformed Protestantism in ways unusual among other American Presbyterian communions. This was particularly true of the OPC congregation where we worshiped yesterday. In addition to having a minister of recent Scottish origin, the session was composed of men all with Dutch names. Rare would be the mingling of Scottish or Scotch-Irish and Dutch Reformed constituencies in Ireland and Scotland. In the United States, it is at least possible if not common. Not to be missed is what the tensions among the various Reformed groups look like in North America. My sense is that the Dutch compete for dominance in ways unimaginable to the Scots and Ulster Presbyterians. Is that a function of ethnicity? Or is it the result of an intellectual tick in Kuyperianism compared to a tiredness among proponents of covenanting or the establishment principle?

The presence of pastors in American Presbyterian circles from Scotland and Northern Ireland does raise an important question about the United States’ relative hegemony in world affairs, not just politically but also ecclesiastically. Because this nation is one of the most powerful and wealthiest in the world, its congregations, even in sideline denominations like the OPC, can afford to pay pastors more than congregations can in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Carl Trueman sometime ago discussed the significance of a British invasion among Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the U.S. What I worry about is the brain drain from other parts of the world. Of course, American communions should not refuse to call men from other nations — that would be remarkably provincial and prevent Christians in the United States from benefiting from insights from other groups of believers. At the same time, American openness to internationals can be naive to the toll that the transfer of gifted pastors from other nations has on the exporting churches. Americans may benefit from gifted Brits, but what benefit to the British churches receive from losing their leading pastors?

For that reason, I propose that every time a congregation in the United States calls a pastor from another country, that congregation (and possibly presbytery or classis) also send back some form of subsidy to the communion that lost its minister to the United States. Monetary assistance would be one form that this subsidy could take. If denominations in the United States were willing to assist foreign denominations financially, perhaps some gifted ministers would remain in their native lands. But U.S. Reformed and Presbyterians might also consider sending to other Reformed communions (and picking up the tab) young ministers who for a short tenure of two or three years would help to plant other congregations or assist busy ministers in established works.

These are a couple of thoughts off the top of a jet-lagged head that may need more clarity. Whatever these ideas’ merits, Christians in the United States should consider the balance of trade within international Calvinism as much as they worry about their nation’s trade deficit.

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30 thoughts on “Debtors to Ireland

  1. dgh: Is that a function of ethnicity? Or is it the result of an intellectual tick in Kuyperianism compared to a tiredness among proponents of covenanting or the establishment principle?

    mark: I don’t know how an intellectual historian could discover the answer to either of these questions. But I have a question about the second question. Are you saying that Kuyperians are inherently non-establishment folks? Maybe I don’t get what you mean by “establishment”. Do you mean “old school”? Because from where I look, the Kuyperians seem to be pretty well established in about every “Christian College” I know (including some Mennonite ones) Being established means you get to set the agenda even if you are “tired”.

    Or does “establishment” for you mean “Constantinian”? The new Protestant Reformed Journal has a very interesting essay about the Dutch political career of Bavinck—-in Parliament for those last ten years, he seemed to have lost his interest in theology. Sold his books.

    http://www.prca.org/prtj/Nov2012Issue.pdf

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  2. The problem of pastors moving to greener pastures isn’t limited to men from the U.K. coming to the U.S. We could just as easily fit your argument to pastors who leave New England and head South, to rural pastors who move to affluent suburban or urban churches, or to small church pastors who move to larger congregations. As I’ve heard Doug Stuart say: “It is amazing that the Lord always seems to lead pastors to move to churches which pay better rather than in the other direction.”

    I have discussed this problem with a large number of Ruling Elders in NAPARC congregations. Many consider it bad when a pastor leaves for a church that will pay more money but not one Elder was willing to work toward flattening out salaries (which would necessarily involve subsidies).

    The result is that we are paying to create incentives for outcomes that we say we don’t want.

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  3. “The new Protestant Reformed Journal has a very interesting essay about the Dutch political career of Bavinck—-in Parliament for those last ten years, he seemed to have lost his interest in theology. Sold his books.”

    Interesting. Bad sign for a theologian.

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  4. Erik, thanks for the tip. The review of the book defending Shepherd was also interesting. Another perspective on the influence of Dutch Calvinism in North America with a couple references to Kloosterman. Odd business.

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  5. I believe it was pretty common among downtown southern Presbyterian churches in the 20th century to have ministers with charming Scottish accents. Most were more “conservative” and “evangelical” than average but most of those churches ended up in the liberal denomination anyway. You have to think they did more harm by leaving Scotland than any good they did by coming here.

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  6. mark mcculley: The new Protestant Reformed Journal has a very interesting essay about the Dutch political career of Bavinck—-in Parliament for those last ten years, he seemed to have lost his interest in theology. Sold his books.

    http://www.prca.org/prtj/Nov2012Issue.pdf

    RS: Mark, thanks for this link. It is truly a fascinating and profound read. I would think that Dr. Hart would be very interested in it, not to mention those who believe in common grace and how that is a hidden root of neo-calvinism.

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  7. Nothing worse than hearing somebody with a Scottish accent teaching a conditional covenant which has nothing to do with election (because all the infants are elect until they aren’t). It makes you wish they would tell more stories about their salaries allow them to play golf in historic places….I know some Reformed Baptist clergy who spent two years over there and came back with an accent they now maintain for profit.

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  8. @McMark: The covenant of grace has always been appropriated by faith, both in the time of the law, and now in the kingdom of God. So the covenant has always been conditioned of faith, (which is a gift of God, lest anyone should boast)

    Faith and obedience are just two sides of the same coin.

    Yet you seem to imply that the Mosaic Covenant was conditional, but not the new. If you’re right, how do you square these new covenant verses?

    Revelation 2:22

    “Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works”.

    Revelation 3:2

    I know your works. You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your *works* complete in the sight of my God”.

    Question McMark: How is that NOT conditional? Remember Christ is talking to his “new covenant churches, in Asia Minor.

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  9. Doug, does that mean you couldn’t come up with any verses that you think you teach conditional justification for individuals in the new covenant? Is that why you now want to talk about churches?

    Faith is given because of imputed righteousness, not as a condition to obtain imputed righteousness.

    Look back to the very first verse in II Peter — Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

    the great Bill Broonzy

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  10. Calvin (Battles, Institutes 3:2:2)

    “Faith properly begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it. For in God faith seeks life: a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy, and ONLY in a freely given promise. For a conditional promise that sends us back to our own works does not promise life unless we discern its presence in ourselves.”

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  11. David —

    This wasn’t a Presbyterian church but I want to several churches that subsidized other churches. While in theory they were quite independent, in practice the leadership of our church had rights which were probably greater than the membership (session) of their’s. Their churches were much less effectual than they would have been without the subsidy because they had to appeal to the leanings of people who never would consider becoming members. The dependent churches attracted people however who wanted the better resources and facilities that the subsidies bought and had little interest in self governance. In other words people were fine with unaccountable leadership because they had no interest in stepping into a position of leadership. Pastor’s didn’t move between these churches but board members did. A person with a junior role on our church would move to a senior role on their board before getting a senior role on our board, as “training”.

    In other words it was a colonial relationship and both sides knew it, even though lots of lip service was being paid to everyone being equal. Everyone in the PCA / OPC debates believes that the various pastors are voting their conscience. That’s a lot to give up.

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  12. mark mcculley: Faith is given because of imputed righteousness, not as a condition to obtain imputed righteousness.

    RS: Faith is given because of election. God sent Christ to purchase all spiritual blessings for His people but all of those spiritual blessings are only obtained in Christ Eph 1:3ff. Christ purchased the Holy Spirit for His people (Gal 3:13-14) and it is the Spirit who regenerates the sinner which is the effectual calling of God and regeneration is part of that effectual calling. The Scriptures speak of justification in the same context of imputed righteousness, and indeed that must be so because sinners cannot be declared just apart from the perfect righteousness of Christ. But the Scripture also speaks of sinners being declared just through faith alone. So faith is not what sinners come up with to obtain the righteousness of Christ, but faith is what God grants to His elect in effectual calling in order to unite them to Christ and so they can be declared righteous in His sight because of Christ and His imputed righteousness to them.

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  13. Heidelberg Catechism:

    Question 21. What is true faith?

    Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, (a) but also an assured confidence, (b) which the Holy Ghost (c) works by the gospel in my heart; (d) that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, (e) are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits. (f)

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  14. Indeed, I have now diagnosed myself with ADD after going to Buffalo Wild Wings.

    Here I am a few years ago trying to watch the Giants beat the Phillies in the playoffs, and all but one of the TVs is dedicated to the “kill bill” brutality that is UFC. Whenever I think American culture has hit rock bottom someone invents a shovel to dig us deeper.

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  15. Which covenant? Doug, you don’t yet seem to know that there is more than one covenant in the Bible.

    I have no question that the non-elect were in the Abrahamic covenant in some sense. Nor do I deny that the new covenant is in some sense a fulfillment of the various promises to Abraham.

    But it’s Christ who kept all the conditions for all the elect.

    Doug, have you still not come up with any verses that you think you teach conditional justification for individuals in the new covenant?

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  16. Doug, when you argue for the conditionality of the new covenant (ie, law is grace), does this mean that you think the new covenant can be “broken”? You might want to check with your pastors on this, because at first you told us yes and then you told us no. Maybe you mean that the new covenant will still be standing there at the end, even if none of us individuals meets the conditions to stay in it.

    What you have you done to meet the conditions today? Can you meet the conditions for your children, or are you one of those atomistic lone rangers who think that each individual has to meet the conditions for herself?

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  17. David Engelsma, “If I have faith, no matter how weak, if I believe the gospel of grace from the heart, I am sure of my final salvation. The reason is not that I am sure that I will perform conditions upon which this final salvation depends. Of this I am not sure at all. But I am sure that God will perfect what he has begun in me. I am sure that God is faithful. The Reformed faith is a gospel of
    fearlessness. The federal vision is a religion of terror. (The Federal Vision Heresy, p 170).

    Engelsma: “Their affirmation of the salvation of every baptized child is meaningless, deceiving, heretical and false. Their trumpetings are merely loud noise. For according to the theology of conditionality, every child can lose his salvation and perish (p 167).

    mark: Even though Engelsma is paedobaptist, he does not teach a conditional new covenant.

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  18. @McMark says: Doug, when you argue for the conditionality of the new covenant (ie, law is grace), does this mean that you think the new covenant can be “broken”?

    First, let me lay this aside: I do not say the law is grace. I would say the Mosaic Law contained the gospel in shadows, i.e. the ceremonial law. These figures prefigured Christ. So it would be accurate to say the law *contained* the gospel.

    The Bible teaches us that there are covenant breakers in the new covenant; see Hebrews 3, 4, 6, and 10 and 1 Corinthians 10 1-8

    But the new covenant will not be broken, *corporately* like Israel. That is what you’re missing. Let’s face it, not each and every person broke the Mosaic covenant. Many were counted as the faithful starting with Abraham, and ending with John the Baptists parents in Luke 1:5. As well as a host of witnesses including Moses, David, Joseph, Joshua, Daniel, and more names than I am able to write down.

    So in what sense was the old covenant broken? Individually? LOL! That goes without saying! However when the Bible says the old covenant was broken in Hebrews, the author (Paul?) clearly means corporately, as in the majority! Israel was corporately apostate! (Save for the few) And in that sense the old covenant was broken!!!!!

    In the new covenant, Christ has poured out his Spirit on all flesh and in that sense it will not be corporately be broken. However, churches will be judged, as well as individuals (see Judas) to deny this, is to deny the Bible.

    So in the corporate sense, will the new covenant be broken? No it will not.

    I know it’s hard to *not* think of salvation, selfishly, individually, but McMark, you need to think corporately as well. You need balance, bro. Otherwise your forced dismiss to many clear Scriptures that say the opposite.

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  19. McMark says; What you have you done to meet the conditions today?

    Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. Its called walking by faith.

    See how easy that is? I rest in his completed work, and press on to the hgher calling found in Christ Jesus!

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  20. McMark says: Doug, have you still not come up with any verses that you think you teach conditional justification for individuals in the new covenant?

    I don’t believe the Bible teaches conditional justification; so please don’t put words in my mouth. Justification is once, for all. The Bible does teach that children of believers are holy and clean. Clean in what sense? I would say covenantally clean, what else could it possibly mean? Being washed by God’s word.

    See 1 Corinthians 7:14

    Therefore all children of believers share in *some* of the corporate benefits of Christ, according to the Scriptures, otherwise how could they be clean?

    All church members (new covenant) partake of the Holy Spirit in some sense as well, see Hebrews 6.

    But only those (“Born of God”) are justified, and only those who are (“Born of God”), will persevere to the end. Scripture proof is 1 John 5:18

    I hope that helps,

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  21. doug: when the Bible says the old covenant was broken in Hebrews, the author clearly means corporately, as in the majority! Israel was corporately apostate! (Save for the few) And in that sense the old covenant was broken!!!!!

    mark: So you can say “old covenant” and “new covenant”. Good. You should try to remember that they are not the same, because sometimes you want to say that, except when you don’t. So both are conditional, but only the old can be broken? Is that it?

    And what makes the “breaking” corporate? Is it when a majority in “the covenant” fails to meet the conditions? Does this mean you need to be careful about saying who was at one point “in the new covenant? Are you going to talk out of the other side of your mouth about some who were “never really in”? When you say that the “majority” will stay in, are you thinking of some time off in the future, when the new covenant will finally be fulfilled? Or are you saying that the “majority” now in the new covenant will “stay in”? Or do you put the new covenant off into the future like the classic dispensationalists did?

    Feel free to answer these questions, Doug. But of course I still like my old questions. Can a parent meet the conditions for their children, so that the children don’t have to, since their parents were faithful? If you deny that, have you “lost your balance” and become one of those lone ranger types? First, you say it’s corporate, then you say of course it’s individual conditionality, and then now you say it’s the “majority”. Maybe you think the corporate majority can keep the conditions for the minority, so that the minority gets to stay in also. Or do you think it’s every girl for her-self at some point?

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  22. Pingback: Debtors to Ireland
  23. McMark, God is the judge. He would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah if there were ten righteous men in the whole city, yet the Bible doesn’t give us a percentage. What percentage of Israel was apostate? What percentage of the 7 Nations were totally evil? What percentage of the people in the church of Ephesus had abandoned there first love? What percentage of the church of Pergamum were teaching of Balaam? God said if they didn’t repent he would take their lamp stand away! Was repentance conditional to their very survival? Yes! Those warnings serve to illustrate that God judges both Nations, and local churches, corporately. I really can’t see how you can argue the point, since it’s all through the Bible. As to when God’s judgmental hand falls? God is the judge, bro.

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  24. McMark says: And what makes the “breaking” corporate?

    Judges 21:25

    “.In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”.

    Me: That would be an example of a corporate failure in Israel, notice *everyone* did what was right in his own eyes? Everyone?! Each and every?! No, the majority, it was a corporate failure. McMark, I would encourage you to read the Old Testament, and you will get hundreds of more examples where God judges cities, nations, and empires corporately, it’s all through the Bible.

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  25. McMark Do you have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches?

    Revelation 3:

    “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent, if you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you”.

    If that’s not warning the new covenant church about a looming corporate judgment, then what is it? But was everyone guilty? No! Please read:

    “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”.

    Okay McMark, aren’t these conditional warnings and promises similar to the ones, God gave Israel? Aren’t there promises for obedience and warnings for disobedience? Aren’t their corporate warnings with threats of judgment as well? Talk to me bro!

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  26. Can the New Covenant be broken? Yes and no, depending on whether the human party is regenerate or not. The notion of a covenant presupposes the exercise of free agency on the part of both parties. Since unregenerate persons possess free agency, they are able to accept the terms of a covenant, even the New Covenant, embrace those terms and enter in. The fact that they are not sincere is another matter, but it doesn’t mitigate against their agreeing to the terms and “shaking hands,” as it were. There is a distinction between someone who professes faith and someone who doesn’t, or won’t. But one distinction between regenerate and unregenerate persons is that the regenerate person cannot and will not (irrevocably) break the covenant.

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  27. Dear CD Host,

    You describe a terrible arrangement. I have not experienced the same thing in the OPC where, for example, pastors of Church Plants (which receive financial subsidies from the denomination and the Presbytery) get treated just like everyone else.

    On the other hand, if flattening out the salaries that pastors earn is a bad idea let’s stop complaining about pastors leaving churches to go to other churches which pay higher salaries. To the point of Dr. Hart’s post, if we think this is a bad idea within denominations we certainly aren’t going to start sending money to denominations in Ireland and England when their pastors move across the pond.

    David

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