What a Difference Three Decades Make

In 1981 the PCA turned down the OPC’s decision to join the PCA. The context was something called J&R, joining and receiving. The PCA had invited the RPCES (denominational patron of Covenant College and Covenant Seminary) and the OPC to join and be received by the PCA into one denomination. The RPCES cleared the hurdle. The OPC did not mainly because the PCA had reservations about the teaching of Norman Shepherd and his influence within the OPC.

This week the word came that the PCA has upheld a lower court ruling that exonerates Peter Leithart’s teaching. It is an odd ruling because the PCA had approved a study report that argued the Federal Vision theology, of which Leithart is a proponent, was outside the bounds of the communion’s confessional standards.

It is also odd because the affinities between Shepherd’s theology and the Federal Vision are numerous if not always obvious.

This takes the question of how to fix the PCA to an entirely different dimension.


56 thoughts on “What a Difference Three Decades Make

  1. Darryl:

    I thought it was more that the PCA, the Southern types, didn’t like the OPC’s Confessionalism and rigourous penchant of scholarly orthodoxy?

    That was the sense of my (it’s all about me) fallible (with warrant) memory.

    Donald Philip Veitch


  2. Darryl:

    Oddly and anecdotally, the Phila PCA inquirer, in/on/about 1973ish, asked the Reformed Episcopalians to join them. The inquiry was put to Bishop Hoffman, lecturer in church history, at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary. Of course, in 1973ish, the RES Professors to a man were supralapsarian fellows…that’s right, supralapsarians. But, the Bishop decline the PCA inquiry with a response they the REC remained Prayer Bookish and Anglican. Unfortunately, I have no written record/s for this other than anecdotes passed around in the early 1980s.

    This much, in the early 1980s, one could be a WCF-man and BCP-man at the same time. Those days passed by the mid-1990s.




  3. Viking, the and Paul, from Between the Times,

    J&R was a plan to bring the OPC under the oversight of the PCA. Originally, the invitation from the PCA in 1981 went not only to the OPC but also to the RPCES. At the time, the OPC accepted the invitation by a vote of ninety to forty-eight. This vote would have needed ratification from the presbyteries but it never received their consideration because the PCA voted against receiving the OPC.8

    footnote8 A substantial concern on the part of the PCA was the teaching of Norman Shepherd on justification. The PCA’s decision in turn prompted Edmund P. Clowney to devote special attention to Shepherd’s classroom lectures, a process that eventually prompted Westminster’s board to terminate Shepherd’s contract.


  4. What grieves me most as a Teaching Elder in the PCA is that PRESBYTERS are excusing their failure to “take heed to” their fellow presbyters (i.e., TE Leithart) and to all the flock (i.e., the PCA) by incorrectly appealing to PROCEDURAL limitations. Good grief. The BCO enjoins higher courts to abandon the usual deference to lower courts when it comes to the interpretation of our constitution, which includes the Westminster Standards (39-3.4). That was the whole point of the original trial. TE Leithart publicly espouses erroneous FV doctrine which is out of accord with the Westminster Standards at several essential points.

    But let’s set aside the procedurally complex & cumbersome BCO for a moment. Brothers, we are not lawyers, or judges, but PRESBYTERS. If y’all will allow me to go Babtist here and actually quote the Bible (HT: Richard Smith), consider Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian presbyters in Acts 20:26-32:

    26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
    32 So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    The sad fact is the SJC, made up of PRESBYTERS, failed to take heed to an errant presbyter, Peter Leithart, and therefore failed to take heed to the flock under our care – the PCA. And as a result, there is a wolf among us, who continues to have free access to the sheep & lambs, to speak “perverse things,” and to divide the flock.

    Lord, have mercy.


  5. A day to be thankful for the OPC, I suppose.. Not that we in the OPC belong to an infallible church, but having been a part since 2001, and only really hearing about FV stuff last year, it does seem impressive how God has persevered our little band of Machen warriors. We can all include the PCA in our prayers.


  6. Kinnaird: If communion with God is to be restored, righteousness of a real and personal nature must be restored.

    Kinnaird: These good works are a required condition if we would stand in the Day of Judgment and they are supplied by God to all His people…Who are these people who thus benefit—who stand on the Day of Judgment? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

    Kinnaird: On the Day of Judgement I will hear God declare me to be righteous. As to the reason for that, it is not because of the works, even though it will be in accord with the works. The reason will be: first, because it will be true because God will have changed me so that I am really and personally righteous. After all, we will be crowned with righteousness. This is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in my sanctification in this life.

    For a good answer to Kinnaird, see Fesko’s excellent book on Justification. As for the politics that keeps Gaffin and throws stones at Shepherd and Leithart, I don’t know. We lonely credobaptists sit in envy outside the walls of orthodoxy….


  7. McMark: For a good answer to Kinnaird, see Fesko’s excellent book on Justification. As for the politics that keeps Gaffin and throws stones at Shepherd and Leithart, I don’t know. We lonely credobaptists sit in envy outside the walls of orthodoxy….

    RS: Would a LOL be appropriate here?


  8. When is the last time an ordained officer in the PCA has been admonished or disciplined for teaching error or confusion? Has this ever happened?

    This is not a criticism, but a question as I am not part of the PCA but have had heard very little of discipline for such a large body.


  9. No, not BM back again! I have read DG’s 4/4 post and comments on PCA, RPCES, OPC, etc. I must confess that though I have been in the OPC since my WTS Seminary days (1950-1954), I couldn’t recall those events real clearly— not even everything in Darryl’s post. My 85 years on the Planet may deserve most of the blame. Like commentators Paul Duggan and D.P. Veitch, I was fuzzy about those events 3 decades ago. (Both seemed a bit fuzzy). Tony Phelps? I couldn’t grasp it all! I didn’t get some of the points DG made. (One was— “Why cant we OPCers talk openly about Norman S.? I do!) . The Mark Mc comment (Kinnaird & Fesko) was ‘way beyond my ken. (Same reason I gave, above). I heartily agree with writer AB’s sayings that our OPC is not an infallible church and that we should include the PCA in our prayers. I would add that our OPC is badly in need of our prayers. In my now and then comments @ OLTS, I have given my OPC pedigree. I wont repeat it here, except in brief— Joined in early 1950s @ Glenside (Across Church RD. from WTS) OPC while a student there. Bob Atwell was my pastor. Drove from my OPC summer church assignment, 1952, in Long Beach, CA to G.Assy in Denver. Met OPC Pastor, John Verhage, (Oostburg, WI) 1946-1962, and family. Daughter, Elaine and I fell in love that week. Now 60 years of bliss behind us. 4 Kids all raised in OPC. 25 grandkids All later joined PCA! I was OPC elder 30+ years. There is more, but I quit here as I recall that DG and some other OLTers heard all this. One sad memory I have of one OLT commentator. Only wrote once, I think. He said that he hoped no seeker or new Christian would ever visit OLTS! He feared that all the bickering over who is the best scholar etc. might turn the new visitor off. I too, have often expressed the wish that LOVE for God and His will for heaven AND EARTH would rise to the top. Love, Bob, unofficial pastor at Alexian Village retirement home for several hundred age-mates.


  10. Bob Morris: I too, have often expressed the wish that LOVE for God and His will for heaven AND EARTH would rise to the top.

    RS: Good thought, Bob.


  11. More OPC ancient history—- In the summer of 1948, as a 20 year old Lafayette College student, I worked at a hotel in Wildwoodm, NJ. There I went to the OPC Boardwalk Chapel each evening. The late Leslie Dunn was pastor of the OPC church and director of the Chapel. His wife, Margy, was daughter of Korean PCUSA missionary, William Hunt, who told me he went to Korea first in 1895. Only son of William was Bruce Hunt, OP missionary for many years and sometimes visitor to our house in Atlanta. when he spoke at our Redeemer OPC. Old Bill was soundly criticized by some OPCers for not leaving USA church in 1936. I agreed with him that he had earned his pension at a time when the church was mostly sound. I often visited with the Bruce Hunt family that summer and helped wife Kathy and 5 kids get to Mobile, AL in their then new 1948 green gift station wagon. They were sailing to Korea to join Bruce. Bruce had been jailed by the Japanese, released, went back to plant OP churches in San Diego area. Right after WWII Bruce sailed alone back to Korea. Family a great spiritual blessing to young Bob!. A bit more—- 5 Hunt kids of Bruce Hunts were then Lois Margaret, 15, Bertha, 12?, Connie, 10? and twins Mary and David, 8. Bertha later married a Kinnaird. Their son, John, was born extremely handicapped from birth, physically, but very sharp of mind. I believe he became an OPC elder. I think I remember John having some differences with some in OPC? Connie later married Chip Stonehouse, son of Ned, long time WTS prof. loved by me. Small world! I believe son David was a bit of a disappointment to the family. Joined PCUSA. I have a great story about Bob Atwell when he was my pastor during my WTS days. Maybe sometime later, If by popular demand. 🙂 Love, Bob Morris


  12. A while back I received sharp criticism for the comments I made about failing to comprehend Old Bob’s blog comments. So, whoever you are, regarding this current thread, WHAT in the world is he talking about??!!


  13. I for one appreciate Old Bob’s first-hand accounts of the early (earlier) days of the OPC. The man is 85. Hart should probably get some of this stuff recorded before it’s too late to capture it. It’s always amazing to me how much detail of long ago events that seniors can often remember.


  14. D. G. Hart: RS, don’t encourage Old BM. We might get another synopsis of his life.

    RS: Dr. Hart, I would think this stuff would be of great interest to a historian. Didn’t you see the links to Stonehouse and Kinnaird? I don’t think that Bob hates OldLife, he just wishes that people would focus on more positive things at times. If you could see deep in his heart (like some way I claim the ability to do), I think you would see some affection for you despite the disagreements.


  15. RS, believe it or not, I don’t find much evidence in the comm box of blogs. And in case you missed it, Bob is fuzzy on the matters I wrote about. What he seems to be relatively clear on is his own life. Sorry, I’m not interested in the bio of Old BM.

    BTW, “hate on” is not hate. Get with it, bra.


  16. God bless you Richard S. and Erik C. for reading, understamding me, taking time to write. I, too, think my many years in the OPC have something helpful to add to discussions of PCA, OPC, RPCES, BPC, WTS, the great OPC missionary Hunt family— on and on. My interest in other folks’ life stories has been a help to me in my short life as pastor, long life as teacher, 6 years as RCA Computer Systems employee and especially in our lives here among the aged. Sorry I bored Darryl. Sorry, too, to talk about myself again. I would love to hear YOUR life story, DG! He keeps asking why I talk about brotherly love. yet am critical of his OLTS constant diet of brotherly criticism. Is he above criticism? Translation of DG’s comment: “Old Bob is a hypocrite!” Not nice! I once heard a fellow moan: “I can NEVER please my Dad!!” I shoulld have told him that that opens up TWO possible doors of response. I am sorry if Curious George doesn’t know WHAT I am talking about. Thanks again fellows! Love, Bob Morris


  17. The case against Leithart presents something of a difficulty for the PCA.

    In my opinion, the real problem with FV theology lies in its implicit advocacy of a type of theonomism. It’s a somewhat more nuanced variant than that propounded by North and Bahnsen in years past. But it’s problematic nonetheless. (Yes, Doug, I understand that you won’t agree.)

    But on the whole, the PCA is pretty comfortable with soft-core theonomism, such as that advocated by John Frame, Marvin Olasky, and the late D. James Kennedy. Not only that, much of the PCA’s growth in the 90s and 00s depended on its ability to appeal to “Culture War” types, who wanted to break free of the SBC’s legalism on things like alcohol. Thus, the PCA can’t take on Leithart’s theonomism too squarely without looking like it’s losing its resolve to fight the Culture War.

    So, the PCA has instead gone after Leithart on issues like baptism, where, in my opinion, his views are more consistent with those of the Reformers, even if they’re out of line with the revivalist/pietist tendencies of much of the PCA.

    I have long criticized the PCA because, in my opinion, it tends to function more like a paedobaptist synod of the SBC. In my experience, the standard PCA church tends to place much more emphasis on the Culture War and on revivalism/pietism. To most such PCA folk, being Reformed doesn’t entail much more than holding to some variant of the doctrine of election. In most cases, PCA folks will reject Reformed theology if it appears to run counter to the Culture War or revivalism/pietism.

    In short, most folks in the PCA are willing to overlook the key theological errors of FV theology because those errors tend to make the Culture War more justifiable. Instead, Leithart was perceived as a danger because he dared to question the merits of revivalism/pietism. So, in that limited sense, I applaud the SJC’s recent decision. It signals that there’s room in the PCA for non-revivalists and non-pietists, at least insofar as they have solid Culture War credentials. And those in Moscow at least have that going for them.

    Thus, I suspect that Shepherd would still be perceived as a danger, as he has never been a big cheerleader of the Culture War in the way that the Muscovites have. After all, at the time when the PCA raised its objections about Shepherd, the denomination’s de facto pope was preaching sermons on the Founding Fathers from his pulpit in Fort Lauderdale.


  18. Old BM, it doesn’t make you a hypocrite, it just means you don’t engage the substance of points here. You only want the positive. But Oldlife does not permit emoticons.

    And here I thought you claimed that Oldlife was too much about me. Now you want to hear more of my life story? Why don’t you follow Erik’s recommendations for easy-DG-listening. I bet you find all sorts of references to (all about) me.


  19. Darryl, I haven’t kept up with Shephard and it seems that since leaving the OPC he moved toward a FV position especially in a less than Reformed/Protestant statement of justification, but in the early days in the controversy at WTS and in the PoP it seemed to me he was following Murray and the WCF (XIII, XIV, XVI, XVIII, XIX). That was the report I got from Dick Gaffin, as well, in conversations with him. The PCA’s rejection of the OPC at the time was unfounded–an expression of a doctrine of justification without the fruit of obedience or the third use of the Law which is all part of the Reformed and Presbyterian confession.

    I haven’t sensed that the OPC is afraid to talk about Shepherd. It does seem to me that the OPC is more nuanced in its evaluation of FV because of its (the OPC’s) Confession and its more Calvinist (vs. Zwinglian and perhaps vs. Thornwell) in its view of the Sacraments.


  20. Darryl, just to remind your readers that there was a second attempt at J&R in1986 that the OPC turned down (majority of GA said yes but not the 2/3 needed to send it to the Presbyteries). I was a ruling elder commissioner then. I have distinct memories of the jubilation of the anti-J&R faction and the despondency of the pro-J&R faction. It was also the 50th anniversary celebration. In the mind of some the historical revelry obfuscated the ecumenical mandate. I’m not sure that there was any simple explanation for the OPC rejection J&R at that GA. Certainly, the J&R process was perceived by many, even pro-union, as being irregular as a mode of church union. The OPC had too. Much invested in its history and denomination practice and structure to be engulfed by the larger and less mature PCA. Also, I think that there were some real concerns about some of the differences between Thornwell and Hodge (southern vs. northern church) in views of the church, church order, and covenant.


  21. Thanks for the background, Terry. Before finding OLTS, you were a name in the OPC creation report that I read about (a report I like, by the way). Glad you hang around these parts. Bye for now.


  22. Bobby, seconded. And if with all the culture war the PCA can seem like the paedobaptist synod of the SBC, some days with all the worldviewry the URC can seem like the CRC that doesn’t ordain women.


  23. Bobby,

    Good comment.

    Scott Clark also had some interesting observations about the PCA on the Heidelblog this past week:

    April 4, 2013 @ 8:11 AM

    1. Thanks for the correction. I’ve edited the post to say “complaint” instead of appeal.

    2. We ought to have high respect for ecclesiastical decisions but the tone of your second point verges on fides implicita. The only authority worthy of implicit faith is God and his Holy Word. All others pay cash. By that I mean “Popes and councils do err.” So, submission to ecclesiastical authority is a principle but it is by no means the principle. Sola Scriptura is a considerably higher place in the hierarchy of Reformed values than submission to the visible church. We are Protestants after all. We cannot set up a system whereby the church becomes de facto infallible or incorrigible. Remember, the PCA has not existed for 500, or even 200, or even 100 years. The PCA was formed by separation from another ecclesiastical body, which the founders of the PCA judged to have erred so grievously and fundamentally, that they had to separate and form another body and that only in 1973.

    3. Folk in the PCA need to be realistically critical (i.e., aware and able to analyze dispassionately) about what has happened in their communion since 2007. As I’ve been saying here for years (see today’s post), it’s one thing to raise one’s hand or voice at GA in 2007. It’s another thing to sit at presbytery and say, “This teaching by this TE is out of bounds.” Has there not been a pattern in now three presbyteries, of, shall we say, a certain unwillingness to convict federal visionists? There are reasons why this has happened. One of them is sociological (see pt 4) but another is a lack of understanding of the issues. Most PCA TEs don’t go to GA. Most probably didn’t pay attention to the FV controversy when it arose and there is still probably a significant percentage of TEs and certainly REs who have no idea what the FV is or why it is an issue. This is partly due to the fact that they were never educated about the issues or have never educated themselves. Let’s apply Marsden’s (?) “pies, docs, and kuyps” analysis of the CRC (pietists, doctrinalists, and Kuyperians) to the PCA. There are probably more pietists in the PCA than docs and kuyps in the PCA and they are resistant to (or even inoculated against) doctrinal controversy from the start. It’s not that they don’t believe in Reformed doctrine but it’s more theoretical than practical. They tend to prioritize religious experience over objective truth.

    4. The sociological reality in the PCA is that relationship are very important, perhaps more important in some cases, than confession and doctrine. The PCA is what one of my old profs called a “syndical” organization. It’s composed of a web of relationships or syndicates. Those webs are very powerful. That sociology is grounded in the PCA’s southern roots and in factors related to its separation from the mainline. The URCs have some similar characteristics though not to the same degree. The syndical character of the PCA makes it more difficult for it to address these sorts of issues at presbytery because the court has moved from the abstract (“federal vision”) to “this alleged federal visionist.” To make that decision is to prioritize confession over relationships and that’s not why many people are in the PCA.

    The good news is that a syndical-relational denomination is great for receiving new members and reaching populations that more doctrinalist, uptight denominations probably won’t reach, at least not to the same degree but the bad news is that it’s not well positioned to face and eliminate doctrinal error, even one that manifestly “strikes at the vitals of religion,” which is the acid test in the PCA.


  24. Terry – Zrim, isn’t that exactly what the URC is?

    Erik – Not from where I’m sitting. My URC pastor is a Westminster grad with a solid gounding in 2k and the spirituality of the church. We have two services and one of them is catechetical. We catechize our children. We are not into liberal political activism. Our local CRC has way more in common with evangelicals and/or mainliners than they do with us. Who/what are you guys thinking of?


  25. Terry, I know. I covered those matters with Muether in Fighting the Good Fight and by my lonesome in Between the Times. The point was Shepherd, who was not a factor in 1986 or in 1975 when the OPC voted to join the RPCES.


  26. Erik, No doubt the CRC lost a disproportionate number of docs to the URC, but both denominations still have pies, docs, and Kuyps. I honestly doubt that the URC is predominantly 2K any more so than the OPC. There are plenty of CRC types who come close to 2K (as I think I do) via sphere sovereignty and common grace, both planks of Kuyperianism. There are even CRC classes and churches that don’t ordain women and there continues to be attempts to form affinity classes based on theology or practice rather than regional. Zrim’s experience is probably more typical of the URC (with its west Michigan center of mass.


  27. DGH:

    I agree. TKNY survives because he does not directly take on the underlying pietist/revivalist assumptions of the PCA. Nor does he directly question the merits of the Culture War, even if it’s apparent that he has little enthusiasm for it.

    Also, Keller understands how to get by in a Southern denomination. He understands that Southerners are unlikely to find fault with someone, as long as that person says what people want to hear and doesn’t cause ripples in the pond. The same can’t be said of the Muscovites…or of their affiliates in parts of southern Indiana.


  28. Terry, I wouldn’t say exactly. While Erik’s more or less mirrors our own local situation, in SW Michigan the URC is rural homeschool, the CRC is urbane Xn school (PRC is rabid denominational school). I might complain but it’s fun watching worldviewers fight about the best way to inculcate worldview.


  29. dgh: The point was Shepherd, who was not a factor in 1986 or in 1975 when the OPC voted to join the RPCES.

    mark: Now I am confused again. I thought I had learned something, that it was the PCA which turned down the OPC because of Shepherd. (And then there was a second attempt, with the OPC voting no that time.). But now I am confused, because you are saying that Shepherd was not a factor either time.

    I certainly agree with Bobby that the “theonomy” part of the federal vision has an appeal to those nostalgic about culture—they want the conclusions if not the novel view of the Mosaic law. But because I think theonomists (in New England and now) are only being consistent with the presuppositions of a “conditional covenant”, I agree with David Engelsma that the PCA (and the OPC) will not get at the root of the “federal vision” heresy until they examine their own ideas about conditionality, and in particular the conditionality of infants in “the covenant”.

    This is why I cannot agree completely with Terry or Zrim about Leithart being on the same page as Calvin when it comes to sacrament and infant baptism. It’s not simple. Lillback’s reading of Calvin (the binding of God) is wrong. Or to use Terry’s word, his reading is “nuanced” in a way which leaves out all the tensions and inconsistencies in Calvin when it comes to water and presumptive regeneration and UNCONDITIONAL election.

    Hodge and Nevin on the one side, Thornwell and Dabney on the other, both sides tend to “nuance” Calvin so that what doesn’t fit their reading doesn’t show up. And of course this is true of David Engelsma’s book on the federal vision as well. But I do think Engelsma is correct that people like Palmer Robertson and Scott Clark (and many of you who comment on this page), despite opposing the gospel of Norman Shepherd, cannot consistently do it until you think more clearly through your distinction between election and covenant.

    If not all covenants are one and the same covenant, and if some covenants are conditional, then on what basis do your view your infants as Christians and yet condition their future on covenantal obedience?


  30. Mark, there were 3 union votes. In 1975 it was a traditional union between the OPC and the RPES. It is my understanding that Francis Schaeffer of the RPES side-tracked that effort out of a fear that there would be a witch hunt from the OPC for any remnants of Bible Presbyterian “fundamentalism”. The 1981 and 1986 were J&R efforts originally as an attempt to get OPC, RPES, and RPCNA (I think) to join the PCA and simply dissolve their previous existence. In 1981 the Shepherd issue clouded the matter, but the invitation was re-issued and turned down by the OPC in 1986.


  31. MMcC: then on what basis do your view your infants as Christians and yet condition their future on covenantal obedience?

    I don’t. I view my infants (now children) as

    * Presumptively elect: I should assume elect and act accordingly
    * Attached to the administration of the covenant: they have the right to the worship of God and membership in the visible church.

    Their future is not therefore grounded in covenant obedience, but in God’s election. If God has not elected them, their covenant disobedience will show it.


  32. Terry – Some trivia: According to Wikipedia, “Schaeffer was the first student to graduate and the first to be ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church.”

    Jeff – Almost as if the Bible declares them to be holy as the children of believing parents…


  33. quote: Their future is not therefore grounded in covenant obedience, but in God’s election. If God has not elected them, their covenant disobedience will show it.

    I cannot read a comment like that and fail to start wincing.


  34. Bobby, well we could say that Keller has his own culture war (the urban thing) and the rest of the PCA credits him with being a transformationalist.


  35. McMark, I am only saying that the OPC voted three times on joining another denomination, 1975, 1981, and 1986. Each time a majority of commissioners voted the OPC out of existence. Only in 1981 was Shepherd a factor on the other side.


  36. Erik:

    I view Reformed Theology as an attempt by man to put a containing grid on Scripture and the Ways of the Holy Trinity. There are very large leaps that RT takes on a matter such as election. We are cautioned in the 3FU to not be cavalier about them or use them to hurt people.

    I expect to find many issues that RT takes for granted to be proven wrong on Judgment Day, I pray and search that they won’t be matters that are essential to guilt, grace, and gratitude.

    Having sat through way too many child funerals, I have yet to see a grieving parent shrug and say “oh well, fiddle dee deeee, they may not have been elect, I’ll rely on my theologians views to pretend this isn’t a concern to me…”

    Just sayin…


  37. Darryl: I will have to send you a copy of the Presbyterian Journal which covered Shepherd’s strenuous objection to the 1975 merger, mostly because of millennial views in the RPCES (if my poor brain remembers correctly).


  38. A sacramentalist tells me that “Baptism is not a sign that points to the person being baptized.”

    There are two separate questions here. One is about the claim that the sign is from God to us, rather than from us to God. Of course for those of us believe in sovereign grace, that sounds good. Take it in the direction of saying we don’t do anything. But of course SOME of the same folks who talk about the objectivity of the “sacraments” are the people who are most concerned to stress the conditionality even of final justification.

    But the second and more important question concerns what the sign says. If the sign is from God to us, is the sign saying that those being water-baptized are promised something that that those not water-baptized are not promised? ( Given the idea that infants are water-baptized not to enter “the covenant” but because they are already “in the covenant”, does that mean that infants born to credobaptists who are not water-baptized are nevertheless in “the covenant”?)

    If the sign is from us to God, is the sign saying that we have assurance of justification already (before water) or is it saying that we receive water in order to find (more) assurance? Or both?

    To extend the question, if the sign (from God) is simply about an objective promise by God, why not give the sign to everybody? How will we find out if folks are “covenant-breakers” or not, unless we in charity find them all in the covenant to begin with? Why restrict the sign only to those born to a parent who is a church member? Why not water everybody, as the responsible Constantinian thing to do, now that the situation has changed and the sacrifices of Rome have been sacrificed? It doesn’t matter if you call the necessary future obedience “evidence” or “condition”….


  39. Jeff, I promise this will be shorter.

    Unless they confuse works and faith, works and grace, as much as the federal visionists do, other Reformed folks need to be a lot more clear about the nature of the grace found “in the covenant” for the non-elect. If they don’t want to say that Christians stop being Christians, if they don’t want to say that the regenerate stop being regenerate, the non-FV folks need to interact more (not ignore) with Engelsma and “non-conditional covenant” folks.

    Calvin on I Peter 3—What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in (water) baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honor, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign.

    What is Calvin saying, and what difference did it ever make in the PCA?


  40. Certainly I don’t mind some friendly conversation about water. But my real concern here is that paedobaptists keep teaching what their confessions say about the love of God for the elect in Christ’s atonement. No alliance with “evangelicals” or (Lutherans) should keep you silent
    about Jesus dying for the sheep and not the goats. Why then do many Reformed clergy talk about the “indicative done” in the context of “you” and never in WCF terms: “for all those whom the Father has given the Son” ?

    The problem cannot be a “sectarian” sociology which thinks of the church as only those who profess to be justified and regenerate. Reformed Confessions teach that the covenant community must by nature (and should) include some of the non-elect for whom Jesus did not die and who will not believe the gospel. We also know that not necessarily every baptized member even of a “sectarian” community is one for whom Christ died. Only those for whom Jesus died have a righteousness which answers the demands of God’s law.

    Being “pastoral” gives no preacher the right to assure all his hearers that Christ loves them and will save them (We can talk “offer” some other time, but that’s not love). Only the bloody death of Jesus Christ for the elect will silence the accusations of God’s law. Just because Norman Shepherd tells you to talk about covenant (and not election) doesn’t mean you need to do what he says.

    The antithesis (not by works in us) will do no good if we “flinch at this one point”. If we do not confess effectual atonement, then the people who hear will not look outside themselves for the righteous difference which pleases God. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but only “enabled God” to save those who meet further conditions, then people will certainly look to themselves (what they think God is doing in them) for the difference.

    The only way you can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved EXCLUDES this believing as the “condition” of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect. Sure, it might be ok to talk about “instrumental conditions” and explain a logical difference between conditions. But unless your pastors proclaim that Christ died only for the elect, they encourage people to make their faith (not a work, not a work, not a work, but still the Arminian difference) into that “little something” which makes the difference between life and death.


  41. Kent: I view Reformed Theology as an attempt by man to put a containing grid on Scripture and the Ways of the Holy Trinity. There are very large leaps that RT takes on a matter such as election. We are cautioned in the 3FU to not be cavalier about them or use them to hurt people.

    Mark Mcculley: But unless your pastors proclaim that Christ died only for the elect, they encourage people to make their faith (not a work, not a work, not a work, but still the Arminian difference) into that “little something” which makes the difference between life and death.

    RS: Yes, this is to be done with care, but according to Canon 14 this must be done for the glory of God and the lively comfort of His people. Apart from the clear teaching of election and the total inability of man, there is no real teaching of grace alone.

    Canons of Dordt:
    Article 14: Teaching Election Properly

    Just as, by God’s wise plan, this teaching concerning divine election has been proclaimed through the prophets, Christ himself, and the apostles, in Old and New Testament times, and has subsequently been committed to writing in the Holy Scriptures, so also today in God’s church, for which it was specifically intended, this teaching must be set forth–with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner, at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching into the ways of the Most High. This must be done for the glory of God’s most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.

    Article 15: Reprobation

    Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election– those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice. And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s