Still Trying to Figure Out Reformed Protestantism

Bill Evans may or not be responding to the post here about C2k, but he has written a rejoinder to Kevin DeYoung’s mild raising of questions about transformationalism. The gist is this: how can you maintain the spirituality of the church and continue to affirm and practice diaconal ministry (as if the diaconate in Acts 6 was the hinge on which the church’s transformation of society turned — talk about blurring categories). In Evans own words:

Historically, Christians have seen in the Mosaic Law, the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, and in Jesus’ own wholistic ministry both the mandate and model for diaconal ministry and the care of the poor. They have taken the Apostle Paul seriously when he said, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

. . . I can’t help but wonder what is driving these overly spiritualized conceptions of the church’s ministry. Why has this spiritual vs. temporal dichotomy (which as we have seen is open to question) gotten so much traction? I have noticed that those who speak in these terms often evince a laudable concern to protect the church from agendas and distractions that are inconsistent with the church’s fundamental mission. The real question here is the nature of that mission.

Is Evans really trying to imply that the “wholistic” ministry of the diaconate is the basis for founding Christian labor unions, Christian schools, creating Christian sit-coms? His post does seem to resort to that John Framean mental tick of taking certain outward similarities of two things (drama and preaching) and turning overlap into a justification for everything (liturgical drama). However Evans wants to use diaconal ministry for “wholistic” ends, Reformed churches like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (the communion of one of Evans’ favorite theologians, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.) have had no trouble maintaining the spiritual character of the church’s power and ministry while also carrying out deeds of mercy:

The spirituality of the church:

2. Those who join in exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction are the ministers of the Word or teaching elders, and other church governors, commonly called ruling elders. They alone must exercise this authority by delegation from Christ, since according to the New Testament these are the only permanent officers of the church with gifts for such rule. Ruling elders and teaching elders join in congregational, presbyterial, and synodical assemblies, for those who share gifts for rule from Christ must exercise these gifts jointly not only in the fellowship of the saints in one place but also for the edification of all the saints in larger areas so far as they are appointed thereto in an orderly manner, and are acknowledged by the saints as those set over them in the Lord.

Government by presbyters or elders is a New Testament ordinance; their joint exercise of jurisdiction in presbyterial assemblies is set forth in the New Testament; and the organization of subordinate and superior courts is founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God, expressing the unity of the church and the derivation of ministerial authority from Christ the Head of the church.

3. All church power is only ministerial and declarative, for the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may presume to bind the conscience by making laws on the basis of its own authority; all its decisions should be founded upon the Word of God. “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship” (Confession of Faith, Chapter XX, Section 2).

4. All church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security. (BCO, ch. 3)

The diaconate:

1. The Scriptures designate the office of deacon as distinct d perpetual in the church. Deacons are called to show forth the compassion of Christ in a manifold ministry of mercy toward the saints and strangers on behalf of the church. To this end they exercise, in the fellowship of the church, a recognized stewardship of care and of gifts for those in need or distress. This service is distinct from that of rule in the church. (BCO ch. 11)

Of course, if Evans wants to return to the social conditions that made diaconal “wholism” possible, as in state churches that had a monopoly on religious life and excluded dissenters, heretics, and schismatics, it is a free country. But if he is going to hold any contemporary Reformed church to a pre-1789 standard, he will need to make his Erastian leanings clear.

19 thoughts on “Still Trying to Figure Out Reformed Protestantism

  1. Interesting topic of Erastus brought up here. I doubt if everyone knows who Erastus was so a discussion of the confusing and often misunderstood responsibility of who should administer discipline on the sins of the saints, the church or the state, is being introduced here. But perhaps I am wrong and most who tune-in to oldlife do know who Erastus was. I bet Erastus gets misapplied and misinterpreted a lot. Does the discipline only consist of banishment from the sacraments or is there more involved here?


  2. Re: OPC BCO Chapter 11…..”and strangers on behalf of the church. ”

    Dr.Hart, could you elaborate on why the words “and strangers” are included? The rest of the chapter doesn’t seem to reiterate that. When I read through I Timothy 5:3-16, I see a narrowing of the widows group considered worthy of diaconal support with the reason being “Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” ESV. Clearly, those widows outside the church were not in view here.


  3. Of course there can be a vision of Christendom without Erastianism. With dgh, I wonder in what direction Evans wants to take our various cultures. Is Evans saying that those who advocate the spirituality of churches are too upper middle-class to care about the poor, or is he saying that we need more public alliances with the rich and powerful, so that we can help the poor? Are we to welcome back Constantine because Constantine can bring good things to the needy?

    Stan Hauerwas– “Cuddihy points out that civility is that part of the modernization process that requires the separation of private affect from public demeanor. It is the great bourgeois project to adapt the individual’s inner life to the socially appropriate. Civility, as the very medium of Western
    social interaction, presupposes the differentiated structures of a modernizing “civil society.” Civility is an order of “appearance” constitutive of social behavior. This medium is itself the message of the front-runners….

    mark: In what way does the “public” behavior of private churches involves some pragmatic “assimilation” in order to get some “necessary” things done? Do churches need to first be chaplains to the capitalist order before they have anything prophetic to say to that order?

    Terry Eagleton, After Theory–“Big Bang conservatives tend to believe that everything has gone to the dogs since a golden age, whereas for Steady State conservatives even the golden age wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”


  4. The conclusion I came to after reading that long paper on the Erastian controversy, which intuitively I had held already, is that focusing on Gospel issues is the way to go. Social thought issues become way too complex and even the best of Reformers during the Reformation era got discombobulated and confused about how to handle some highly charged social issues involving discipline, i.e. by whom and how it should administered. I guess someone has to tackle the issues though. And, I suppose, discussing “a vision of Christendom without Erastianism” may be out of bounds at oldlife.


  5. Warren, do good to all, especially the household of believers. Crumbs that fall to the floor while serving the widows go to outsiders, metaphorically and proportionally speaking.


  6. John, I don’t want no Christendom. No kind. Not even the Anglican versions of Stanley Hauerwas and Oliver O Donovan.

    We don’t need to do it differently than the brothers Niebuhr. We don’t need to do Christendom.

    Check out the new book Revisiting Constantine, a Mennonite response to Leithart/ MIlbank


  7. Wendell Berry on being a good neighbor:

    “If you’re really going to neighbor, you go to them when they need you, and when you need help you call. Two brothers who live up the creek and another friend and I have known each other pretty near always, and we exchange work all the time. We don’t keep books. I do all I can for them, They do all they can for me. And it’s a good thing. Who knows what the record is? I helped one of them put in his crop of tobacco last year. He said, ‘What do I owe you?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ That’s ceremony. He wouldn’t want me to think I hadn’t worked well enough to deserve to be paid, or that he wouldn’t be willing enough to pay me if I wanted him to. But when hog-killing time came I had two hogs to kill and he said, ‘I’ve fattened you a hog, you need three.’ He knew I hadn’t had enough bacon the year before. I don’t know whether he’s overpaid me or I overpaid him or where it stands. And that’s the way I prefer to live. That means our work has escaped from economics and has value in an altogether different sense. Our work for each other is valuable beyond its practical worth because there’s a deep strong bond of freindship and respect among us. It gives us pleasure to work together.”

    From a 1973 interview in “Mother Earth News”


  8. Paul, this is not the first Evans essay from dgh.

    Erik, that there Wendell from Kentucky guy sounds like a godless socialist to me. He doesn’t believing in using money? Why would anybody give a gift if they didn’t know they would get paid for it some day?

    Only God can avoid being “repaid”.

    Luke 14:12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection

    Romans 11:35 “Or who has given a gift to God so that God is repaid?”


  9. Many, including Dr. Evans might do well to get their hands on Nick Willborn’s papers on the diaconate. It might help demonstrate how the spirituality of the church is not hurt, but only helped by diaconal work.


  10. By the way…I am not Nick Willborn self-aggrandizing my own papers…it is mere coincidence that my name is Nick. (Mine is my first name, Nick is his middle name.)


  11. Darryl wrote, “But if he [Bill Evans] is going to hold any contemporary Reformed church to a pre-1789 standard, he will need to make his Erastian leanings clear.”

    Whatever the complexities, it wouldn’t be difficult to show that the establishmentarian Reformed views before 1789 were not necessarily Erastian. You might ask what the English Presbyterians thought about the demise of Charles I, for instance.

    Some American Reformed types can’t tell the difference between establishment and Erastian leanings. Not sure why this is difficult.


  12. II Cor 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

    Jonathan Gibson, “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of Christ”, From Heaven He Came
    p 352—”Some conclude that the efficacy of Christ’s work occurs only at the point of faith, and not before. This ignores the fact that union with Christ precedes any reception of Christ’s work by faith. It is union with Christ that leads to the efficacy of Christ’s work to those who belong to Him.”


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