First Baptists, Now Reformed Charismatics?

Not if John MacArthur has anything to say about it. I read at various blogs that the California pastor recently sponsored a conference, Strange Fire, in which he and other speakers took aim at charismatics. MacArthur affirms, so I’m told, cessationism.

For the life of me I don’t understand why Protestants outside churches that confess a Reformed confession want to be known as Reformed or Calvinist. (Actually, I have a hunch but that is a topic for another time). Lutherans do not seem to have this problem. Baptists don’t want to be Lutheran. Baptists, in fact, are often suspicious of Lutherans on sacramental grounds. Charismatics also do not seem to want to be Lutheran. Perhaps Lutheranism doesn’t offer the full-throated version of divine sovereignty that Calvinism does. Either way, one of the attractions of Lutheranism for (all about) me is that you don’t have to share the road with enthusiasts.

Yet as one blogger puts it, MacArthur has a problem not just with Reformed Protestants but charismatics:

John MacArthur may go down in church history as one of the most confused pastors ever to step into a pulpit. His steroidal cognitive dissonance constantly results in insufferable hypocrisy.

For certain I thought he could not outdo himself in this regard, but he has. After writing Charismatic Chaos in 1992, he partnered with Charismatic CJ Mahaney for eight years in the Resolved conferences sponsored by his church, Grace Community in Sun Valley, California. One year after the last Resolved conference, MacArthur is hosting the 2013 Strange Fire conference that is fustigating Charismatic doctrine in no uncertain terms. The hypocrisy of it all is staggering.

MacArthur also seems to have a problem with the mysticism promoted by Charismatic theology, but yet is a close confidant of John Piper who not only has Charismatic leanings himself, but led the 2012 Passion conference in the mystic practice of Lectio Divina.

In other words, the issue of “Reformed” charismatics raises a host of problems not just for mainstream evangelical institutions like the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today which has skirted issues of cessationism, but also for more explicitly Calvinistic sectors like The Gospel Coalition. After all, C. J. Mahaney was a charter member of TGC’s council and TGC council members have had apparently few problems with his charimatic views of the Holy Spirit and Christian devotion.

So far, only Thabiti Anyabwile and Kevin DeYoung have weighed in but both seem to be reluctant to name names. The latter makes the point that the Westminster Confession comes down on the side of cessationism.

That would be a vote for putting charismatics outside the Reformed camp, since belonging to a church that confesses a Reformed confession is what puts you in. But that logic also works for “Reformed” Baptists since they don’t belong to a church that confesses a Reformed confession. As worthwhile as the London Baptist confession of faith may be, it is not — as some allege — basically the Westminster Confession. In fact, Baptists could not affirm the Westminster Confession and admirably enough wrote their own confession, one that follows in outline parts of Westminster, but it is hardly the same.

What we need, then, is a better term for these Protestants who neither baptize babies nor affirm covenant theology. Here is what I propose: for charismatics, let’s call them Divine Right Pentecostals since they want to stress the sovereignty of God. And for Baptists, let’s simply use Baptist since they continue to insist on believers baptism. I don’t know what Reformed has to do with either since these charismatics and Baptists can likely affirm as much of the Augsburg Confession as they can of Westminster.


210 thoughts on “First Baptists, Now Reformed Charismatics?

  1. No, neither the charismatics nor MacArthur are Reformed. Though some are confessional, (like Grace community church is), neither group holds to any of the Reformed confessions.

    Having said that, I don’t see how MacArthur can be accused of hypocrisy simply for joining forces on the gospel with some who hold continuationist views, while at the same time denouncing charismaticism as being a dangerous error. It was to the more sound stripe of continuationist that this conference was largely directed. It makes sense to me that one could affirm things in common with some who hold to continuationism while at other times warning them in love of the danger of an error that they hold.

    In the same way, we Reformed Christians can affirm and support MacArthur’s cessationist views, and praise God for what He is doing through MacArthur’s ministry, while at the same time denouncing dispensationalism as a pernicious error. There is nothing particularly hypocritical about supporting and affirming brothers in Christ in those things that we share in common, while at the same time warning them of some errors that they are susceptible to. In fact, love compels us to carry on this way.


  2. Regarding the London Baptist Confession of Faith: When the Particular Baptists in London wanted to write a new confession of faith, they found the WCF to be their best resource. In many places, the text of the WCF is unchanged. But, the Baptists made a number of changes that reflected Baptist doctrine as well as a response to the views of Quakers and others. The differences between the two confessions was the subject of my Th.M. thesis at WTS.


  3. Oh, and by the way, in the conference, Rev. MacArthur actually recommended that churches adopt a confession, and he named the Westminster Confession of Faith along with a couple others as one that would be good to adopt. Why? It seems that he values those doctrines that he holds in common with us more highly than those on which we differ. What is wrong with that? It should actually be encouraging to us that a brother in Christ who differs with us on many things holds our confession in so high regard.


  4. Riley,

    Do you have a link to a video or transcrpit where MacArthur recommends churches adopt Confessions?

    Thank you,



  5. I am glad to see this blog article. Reading some of the back and forth on the conference last week I couldn’t help but think – this is what your church must do when you do not have any standards or a presbytery and General Assembly to hold you to those standards. Reformed churches addressed the strange fire religions about 400 years before last week…


  6. Well, DG, as I’ve heard you say, Reformed Baptists should (properly) call themselves Calvinistic Baptists. I agree.

    Reformed Charismatics? Sounds like strange fire to me.


  7. If one has grown up in the Baptist church, saved by a sincere decisional prayer, and one wants out and finds that the Reformed faith is more enticing…

    In order to fully convert (say to a NAPARC body) there are a lot of hoops to jump through and eventually one grows weary, calls it a day and refuses to get more “Reformed”, but still insists they are Reformed.

    Trying to logically and intellectually absorb each Reformed statement and ritual on its own merit will probably cause one to pack it in quickly. But they still see themselves as Reformed…


  8. Remember Macarthur is somebody who writes that God loves everybody, but the elect with something extra special. I wonder where johnny mac got that common idea…

    some propositions from The First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1646)–nothing to “reform”

    VI. All the elect being loved of God with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, nor their own works, lest any man should boast, but, only and wholly by God, of His own free grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ, who is made unto us by God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and all in all, that he that rejoices, would rejoice in the Lord.

    XIV. This office to which Christ is called, is threefold; a prophet, priest, and king: This number and order of offices is necessary, for in respect of our ignorance, we stand in need of His prophetical office; in respect of our great alienation from God, we need His priestly office to reconcile us; and in respect of our averseness and utter inability to return to God, we need His kingly office, to convince, subdue, draw, uphold and preserve us to His heavenly kingdom.

    XXI. Jesus Christ by His death did purchase salvation for the elect that God gave unto Him: THESE ONLY have interest in Him, and fellowship with Him, for whom He makes intercession to His Father in their behalf, and to them alone doth God by His Spirit apply this redemption; as also the free gift of eternal life is given to them, and NONE ELSE.

    XXXIII. Jesus Christ hath here on earth a spiritual kingdom, which is His Church, whom He hath purchased and redeemed to Himself as a peculiar inheritance; which Church is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world by the word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of faith of the gospel, being joined to the Lord, and to each other by mutual agreement in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances commanded by Christ their head and king.

    XLI. The person designed by Christ to dispense baptism, the Scripture holds forth to be a disciple; it being no where tied to a particular church officer, or person extraordinarily sent the commission enjoining the administration, being given to them as considered disciples


  9. Not to say that refusing certain Reformed man-made additions (like a banner or a document that trumps the WCF) isn’t a good thing…


  10. Riley, but why do many evangelicals praise charismatics and dispensationalists but reserve no love for Lutherans? (Think Jonathan Edwards and Geogre Whitefield.)


  11. Richard, I find the changes to be much more substantial than many think. No covenant theology. No sacraments but ordinances. A rewrite of repentance. and an entire new chapter on the gospel and the extent of grace. seems strange.


  12. Zrim, I think the RE’s are all short-timers, just a brief way station. Think Horton. All on their way to something else except for the Viking, who is an army of one.


  13. It’s a wonder that Stelly didn’t spend a fortnight or two as a Reformed Episky before dipping his pointy-toed hipster boots in the Tiber.


  14. Very, very odd, Mr. MacArthur collaborating with CEEJ Mahaney for several years after writing “Charismatic Chaos.” 3-4 recent conferences since summer 2013, however, have dumped the CEEJ-ster since over the class action lawsuits involving several issues.

    Also, MacArthur and Piper…what’s up with that? Mr. Piper is vastly over-rated and has always–in my estimation–been a soft-Montanist or soft-charismatic of sorts, “enthusing away.” Mr. Piper is not easy on the ears. He’s just not a Confessional Churchman.

    Also, since the REC-issue has been invoked, as for the neo-REC crowd, they’ve joined the ACNA which has “three constipated, conflicted, and confused streams:” the old-fashioned Tractarians (think Ray Sutton), “Costalists” and the “What-are-We-Now?” crowd. Here’s a no-kidding ACNA “Costalist” service in the Western Diocese of the ACNA. There’s a Bishop and Canon involved. Looks like they’ve opened the back door to the Radical Reformation and the Munsterites.

    While talking about Babbling, Babblers and other distempers and disorders of doctrine and worship, we have a loon in Canterbury who gibberizes.

    The old 1544 Litany of the BCP affords frequent comforts. Sober, grave, Biblical, dignified, thoughtful, and humble service. Spare us, good Lord, from these “things.”


  15. Well said Riley. Considering the (right) criticism of those in groups like TGC for downplaying or flat ignoring their differences we should be commending MacArthur for not willing to just go along with those doctrines held by friends with which he disagrees. Clearly he is not Reformed, but not for the first time he is calling out a danger to the church (I think of his trenchant critique of Driscoll’s blasphemous and pornographic reading of Song of Sololon) when others seem quite content to turn a blind eye.

    It’s hardly surprising he buddies up with Piper: they’re both Baptists who teach Calvinistic soteriology. It seems unfair to, on the one hand, refuse him membership in the Reforned club and on the other criticise him for not being Reformed enough. We should be thankful that he is giving a robust critique of continuationism. The truly Reformed could certainly be doing more to combat it.


  16. DG,

    I’m not sure what precisely you have in mind when you say the Reformed have “no love for Lutherans.” From what I can see, the Reformed hold confessional Lutherans in a much, much higher regard than they do the Reformed. The biggest impediment to informal kinds of fellowship with Lutherans like that which is enjoyed between Reformed and Baptists is the Lutheran attitude of ambivalence or contempt toward the Reformed which goes back to Luther and is found in statements of their Formula of Concord. Where there has been any Reformed polemic against Lutheran doctrines, it has largely been only when such have infiltrated the confessional Reformed Churches and seminaries.


  17. Look, guys . . . there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Reformed charismatic eschatologically dispensational baptistic congregationalist Catholic, and you know it!


  18. Hi Darryl –

    wasn’t Kevin DeYoung making a more interesting point in that piece, that the WCF does not commit confessional presbyterians to the JMac version of “cessationism”; but rather “a cessationism which requires considerable nuance and allows for supernatural surprises so long as they are working with and through the Word of God.”

    Certainly I’ve been observing the recent fight with the increasing conviction that my dog is not in it, thankfully.

    PS I went to Wikipedia to check how many Rs were in your name, and was amused to see your date of birth listed as “circa 1950s”


  19. “Lutherans don’t have to share the road with enthusiasts.”

    Not true. I expect a split within the LCMS in my lifetime. A percentage don’t even put Lutheran on their church signs or websites.


  20. The First London Baptist is not a rewrite of the Erastian WCF document. The Particular Baptist congregations’ goal was not a reform of Rome, but discontinuity.

    I always have mixed feelings about Reformation Sunday. One the one hand, as an adventist who believes that Christians must all wait for Christ’s coming to be conscious together (Hebrews 11:40), I am glad to get away from the over-realized eschatology of “all souls day”.

    On the other hand, as one who identifies with some of the radical reformation, I resent the lack of attention to the protestant persecution of anabaptists. I don’t talk enough about “the covenant” to be reformed (I just talk about God only loving the elect), but I too am Protestant. And I think there is still need to protest any notion that the way to resist “secularism” is to make the family “sacred” or to use the family to define what is church. (see David VanDrunen, p 148, Living in Two Kingdoms)

    Let us remember that the pope is still a greatest cause of disunity and evil. Not only does the pope continue to reject the authority of the Bible and justification by faith not works. The pope also continues to insist that any Christian unity must recognize the authority of papal tradition. The success of Calvin and Luther, limited though it was, was that they refused to be included in the false unity which taught that the grace of justification was given by water baptism and then maintained by our own works, instead of by the death and resurrection of Christ alone, outside of us

    Despite their many failures, at this point we must appreciate the fidelity of Luther and Calvin to the theology of Romans 3:20-21–“For through the law comes the knowledge of sin, but now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed.” While Mohler and other culture evangelicals go off to Mormon and Roman Catholic “natural law” conferences to fight their battle against “secularism”, we must continue to protest the false gospel of Rome.

    The Reformers who collaborated with their local magistrates at least understood that grace through our works is a rebellion against God’s way of grace. To attempt to increase justification through our law-keeping means not more obedience but more sin. Romans 5:20–“But law came in, with the result that sin increased.” Not the knowledge of sin increased. Sin increased! The result of unity around works-salvation is always more sin. To be protestant means saying that we are justified not by our life together or by our works, but only because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    There are some “Reformed” people who tell us that the Reformation is now over. There are some “Reformed” people who say that the Reformation was a mistake in the first place. I could name names, but instead I ask— are those who say these things Reformed? Though they continue to believe that clergy hand out “the means of grace”, does their sacramentalism keep them in good standing as “Reformed”? I ask this question as a Protestant, not as a plea that we who deny God’s effectual doing in “sacraments” be considered “Reformed”


  21. I used to think it was because many Reformed people agree with Hodge instead of Nevin that some sabbatarian baptists want to think they are Reformed. But I know some Reformed Baptists who are more “sacramental” than many of my paedobaptist friends. Of course that just means that my paedo friends are not totally Reformed either. But neither are they Lutheran or pietists.

    Phillip Cary—- That’s just how Christian faith goes, a continual struggle when unbelief is in fact stronger than the faith of our own hearts, and we have no hope at all except the truth of God’s promise in Jesus Christ. The experience of the inadequacy of my efforts to believe is what convinces me that I must put my trust in Christ’s word alone, not in my ability to believe. So Anfechtung is agony of conscience but not a struggle to come to the belief that I truly believe.

    Cary: “We need to see that conversion happens many times in life, I think, if we are to understand exactly what Luther means by justification. As he puts it in the famous 1519 sermon on the two kinds of righteousness, the alien righteousness by which we are justified before God ” and whenever they are truly repentant.” So justification occurs many times, as often as you repent. We are converted whenever the Holy Spirit teaches us to take hold of Christ himself in his Word, rejoicing at the preaching of the Gospel.

    Cary–“But that’s not how the formula of Concord seems to put it: “The chief issue is solely and alone what the unregenerate man’s intellect and will can do in his conversion ….” Here too conversion marks a before and after. Before conversion, I have no free will that can cooperate with God or do anything good by way of faith or obedience; afterwards my will is freed by grace to believe and obey God with gladness. Identifying this turning point, this before and after, is a crucial move in the Formula of Concord’s effort to clarify the sense in which our free will can and cannot co-operate with the grace of God.

    Cary– “The Formula of Concord does not follow Calvin’s lead, however, in making the event of
    conversion irrevocable, as if after conversion there is no going back to what was before. On the contrary, it speaks of the possibility of sinning against conscience in such a way that
    sin reigns again in their hearts, so that they “grieve the Holy Spirit within them and lose him” and therefore must be “converted again.” This passage explicitly draws the striking but necessary conclusion that there may be more than one conversion in a person’s life.

    mark: Lutherans think you can lose your justification. Many Reformed people think you can lose your place in “the covenant”. Arminian baptists think you can get yourself in with your freewill, but once you walk up front to billy graham, your salvation is like a tattoo.

    As Bob Dylan says, it’s dark out there….


  22. Ben, are you surprised how young I am?

    You’re likely right about Kevin and I am with you on not having a dog in this hunt. I am perplexed that folks who don’t subscribe WCF use it as a norm.


  23. dgh: The polemic against Lutherans is coming from many of those union-with-Christ advocates who don’t like a justification-centric understanding of salvation.

    mark: The polemic which says that all baptists are some kind of dispensationalists is coming from many of the mono-covenantalists who are also culture Calvinists.

    The latest book by an “unionist” is One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Crossway, 2013) by Moody Bible Institute professor Marcus Johnson. The book starts with an attack on “the merely forensic” and continually assumes that the forensic is based on the “reality of union.”. The phrase “more than merely” is repeated many many times.

    Marcus Johnson: William Evans argues that Berkhof’s soteriology is the logical conclusion of a federal theological trajectory, epitomized by Charles Hodge, in which union ceases to function as an umbrella category unifying all of salvation.

    mark: Johnson rejects “imputation priority” because he has already rejected the federal imputation of Adam’s guilt (see chapter 2) and also because he has already rejected what he calls a “mechanical transfer” of sins to Christ.

    I would say “the sins of the elect” but Johnson does not consider the doctrine of election in his discussion of imputation and justification. Election for him seems to be only an “apologetic doctrine” which he does not deny but which plays no part in his soteriology. (This is his accusation against those of us with “justification priority”, that the incarnation and the Trinity are no part of our gospel., p 41)

    Marcus Johnson: Both Horton and Fesko subordinate union with Christ to justification, indicating that they see union with Christ as reducible to sanctification.

    mark: Johnson denies the reality of legal imputation, and subordinates imputation as merely one benefit of “union”, and then he defines “union” as the personal presence of Christ in us because of our faith (given to us by the Holy Spirit). So Johnson subordinates the work of Christ to the person of Christ, and then accuses those who disagree with him of dividing person and work.

    Then Marcus Johnson subordinates the imputation of Christ’s work to the work of the Holy Spirit, who he thinks is the one who unites us to Christ’s person by creating faith in us. Johnson does not deny “union with Christ in election” (p 35) but he never ever says that any human is not elect and his doctrine of “union with Christ in the incarnation” (p 36) ignores election and focuses on the human nature of Christ as the human nature of every sinner.

    Having ignored any notion of Christ having died for the elect alone, Johnson announces that “the normal referent of the phrase union with Christ in this book is to subjectively realized EXPERIENTIAL union by the power of the Holy Spirit.” p 39

    If the work of the Spirit is the cause of imputation, instead of imputation of Christ’s work being the cause of the Spirit’s work, can “Reformed charismatics” be far behind? Remind me again, why is that paedobaptist congregationalists like Lloyd-Jones are not Reformed? Is it because they never ever taught particular redemption?

    (MLJ never did, check his books, we just thought he must have….)


  24. And I don’t want hear any trendy common cup BS. I saw a portable communion set with tiny silver cups at the Museum of the Reformation in Geneva from (I think) the 17th century.


  25. Raised With Christ, by Adrian Warnock (Crossway, 2010) takes a very sloppy path toward his argument for the baptism with the Spirit being a second experience for Christians.

    Warnock tells us (p 141) that “we are saved not only by believing the fact that Christ died for our sins, but by UNION with the crucified and risen Savour.” But it is NOT a fact of the gospel tells any particular sinner that Christ died for their sins. The gospel does not tell sinners who the elect are; the gospel tells sinners about the elect. It IS a fact that there was one kind of “union” of the elect in Christ so that already at the cross, long before (or after) they are justified, Christ paid by death for their sins. Faith does not make this union happen.

    Warnock seems to assume that God-given faith make “union” happen. That’s why he thinks of giving Jesus his sins. On p 217, he argues for the giving of the Spirit as a second blessing to be experienced after believing the gospel— “ it would be circular to interpret ‘believe and you will receive a work of the Spirit automatically without you being aware of it’, the main effect of which is to cause you to believe.”

    His unquestioned assumption is that God-given faith is the cause of the first salvation. But the answer to his assumption we read in Galatians 3:13 —“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that they would receive the Spirit through faith.” As Bruce McCormack has so ably pointed out (What’s At Stake in Justification), regeneration does not precede justification in this redemptive-historical text. Since union is by legal imputation, the forensic is the cause of the life of faith connected with justification.

    The Galatians 3 text does not start with believing to get justified, and it does not end with believing more to get more of the Spirit. Galatians 3 starts with “before your eyes Christ publicly portrayed as crucified.” The opposition between works of the law and hearing by faith has everything to do with the object of faith legally imputing righteousness to the elect so that they hear and believe.

    There is a promise of the Spirit through faith, but that is because first “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” SO THAT this believing SHALL happen.

    Warnock agrees with the Lloyd-Jones view of the experience of the Spirit. Here are some of the John Piper quotations he strings together. On p 218, “If you assume we believed, why don’t you assume we received the Holy Spirit? You talk as if there is a way to know we have received the Holy Spirit different from believing…. A person who has received the Spirit knows it not just because it’s an inference from his faith in Christ.”

    Piper once more: “for the NT people, the Holy Spirit was a fact of experience. For many Christians today it is fact of doctrine….Don’t expect to notice any difference; just believe that you have experienced the Spirit.”


  26. “Riley, when have Lutherans tried to infiltrate any Reformed seminary or church?”

    Let me repaste what I typed above, “Where there has been any Reformed polemic against Lutheran doctrines, it has largely been only when such have infiltrated the confessional Reformed Churches and seminaries.” I. E. infiltrated by such doctrines. Lutheran doctrines have infiltrated, not Lutheran members.

    “BTW, the polemic against Lutherans is coming from many of those union-with-Christ advocates who don’t like a justification-centric understanding of salvation.”

    Thank you for perfectly illustrating my point. This is one of the areas where Lutheran doctrine has been infiltrating, via the “justification-centric” view of salvation as you term it, which tends to downplay or deny the grace of regeneration in its teleological priority before faith and justifcation in the ordo salutis. And since you asked about seminaries, Westminster Sem CA has a lot to do with it. The polemic from the Reformed is not directed at Lutherans so much as at Lutheran doctrines within Reformed Churches and seminaries.


  27. Riley: which tends to downplay or deny the grace of regeneration in its teleological priority before faith and justifcation in the ordo salutis.

    mark: Nobody at Westminster California is denying the priority of regeneration before faith. The question rather is about a definition of the nature of “the union” which the Gaffin and Torrance schools claim is in priority to God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

    It’s all well and good to agree that “the union” has various aspects, but if at the end of the day, if this “union” is equated with a “regeneration” which comes before God’s imputation in the order of salvation, then it’s nothing but question-begging to say that those who disagree are “Lutherans”.

    Ironically, the latest published “unionist” (One with Christ, Crossway), Marcus Johnson, is a Lutheran! He teaches the sacramental view that “unless you eat my flesh” needs to be taken in a literal fashion.

    Johnson: Many have assumed that justification is a synthetic declaration that takes into account no prior relationship of the believer to the person of Christ. p 92

    mark: The “unionists” assume that justification is a legal fiction (as if) unless it’s an analytic declaration that takes into account an already existing personal relationship to Christ. They don’t talk about justification of the ungodly, but only about a justification of those united to Christ.

    Johnson: It is because of this union that the believer is justified.

    mark: it is because of God’s imputation that the believer is united to Christ. A bride is not legally married because another person is already “really” in her. Rather, a bride becomes really married because she is legally married.

    Johnson: The benefits of Christ’s saving work are received only insofar as Christ Himself is received. p 93

    mark: Christ Himself is received by the ungodly elect only insofar as these ungodly elect are imputed with Christ’s righteousness.

    Johnson: Justification is a legal benefit of a personal reality.

    mark: The personal indwelling of Christ is a benefit of the legal reality of God’s imputation.

    Johnson: God justifies us because we are joined to Christ.

    mark: God joins the ungodly elect to Christ because God imputes to the ungodly the death of Christ.

    Johnson: In Philippians 3, we are only imputed with righteousness because we are found in Christ. p 95

    mark: In Philippians 3, we are only found in Christ because of the righteousness imputed.

    Johnson: Berkhof thinks that justification cannot be the result of any existing condition in the sinner, not even an intimate, vital, spiritual, person union with Christ. This strikes me as enormously confusing. p 97

    mark: Johnson thinks that both the atonement and justification are fiction unless the incarnation means that all sinners are already in some kind of union with Christ before legal imputation. This strikes me as kind of universalism which removes the reality of God’s justice in giving Christ as a propitiation for sins legally imputed.

    Johnson: What exactly is this union which can be REDUCED to either justification or the results of justification? p 98

    mark: What is the reality of God’s imputation of righteousness to the ungodly elect if it’s not real apart from some other previous (and more than merely legal) connection?


  28. from Richard Gaffin’s review of Horton’s Covenant and Salvation, in Ordained Servant: “Having been called effectively involves having been regenerated, but the two are not identical. The exercise of the Spirit’s energies in calling produces an enduring change within sinners distinct from that exercise.
    The result is a new and lasting disposition, what Scripture calls a new “heart.” That is, at the core of my being, I am no longer against God and disposed to rebel against his will but, now and forever, for him and disposed in the deepest recesses of whom I am to delight in doing his will.

    Gaffin: In view of the undeniable reality of their own indwelling sin, believers need to be exhorted not to quench or grieve the Spirit at work in their lives. But his work in the justified ungodly does not merely consist of an ongoing countering activity within those otherwise only disposed to be thoroughly resistant and recalcitrant. The definitive, nothing less than eschatological death-to-life change effected and maintained in believers by the Spirit provides a stable basis within them for his continuing day-by-day activity of renewing and maturing them according to their inner selves (2 Cor. 4:16), for his continuing toward completion the good work begun in them (Phil. 1:6). The Reformed use of “habitual” to describe this irreversible change, this radical dispositional reorientation, in believers seems appropriate.

    Gaffin, in By Faith and not By Sight, p 103—“The law gospel antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin…The gospel is to the purpose of removing the law gospel antithesis in the life of the believer…In Christ, united to Him, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend.”


  29. I agree with the Gaffin quotations. I’d like to read Horton more on the effectual call and regeneration. I’m getting the impression that his definition of regeneration is diminished and deficient.

    Also, union with Christ is by faith, of the regenerated sinner. Faith is the instrumental cause of union. Justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is instantaneous by virtue of the union. United to Christ by faith, he is justified.


  30. Riley, did you define “union”? Do you mean “in Christ” or do you mean “Christ in you”? This is a serious question. So far, the only definition I could infer from what you write is that you deny that “union” is by God’s imputation of righteousness to the elect. Do you have a Bible text that teaches that “imputation is by virtue of union”?

    It seems you are simply repeating by rote what you have learned from “unionists”. What would be wrong with saying that “union with the person of Christ is by virtue of God’s imputation”? Would that be Lutheran?

    The thing that would be wrong is not defining “union”. So back to my question. Is “in Christ” the regeneration or does regeneration come before the “in Christ”? Is regeneration a blessing we receive apart from Christ and His righteousness? Is faith a blessing we receive before we receive Christ and His righteousness by imputation? Or do you mean by “union” Christ “in us”? Is the blessing of indwelling not in virtue of Christ’s righteousness?

    II Peter 1:1 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:

    Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

    Romans 5: 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.


  31. I must go to bed, but a bit more from Gaffin, in Ordained Servant, reviewing Horton’s Covenant Union:

    “Horton voices reservations about the Reformed doctrine of regeneration. He finds problematic the way it has been formulated, in particular the notion that regeneration produces a habitual change and involves the INFUSION of new habits. This he sees as a lingering residue of the medieval ontology that eventually made the Reformation necessary. These concerns, with his own proposal, are articulated especially in Chapter 10 (“Covenantal Ontology and Effectual Calling”). The promising alternative for him lies in adapting the Eastern Orthodox distinction between divine essence and energies, so that the activity of the Spirit in salvation is understood as an exercise of his energies that avoids “a causal scheme of infused habits” (213).

    Gaffin: I share fully Horton’s concerns about the notion sometime present in Reformed treatments… that regeneration is prior to effectual calling and produces an antecedent state addressed in effectual calling. That notion is quite problematic and ought to be rejected.


  32. Could I ask you one more question, Riley? What motivates your concern about union-priority? Is it because you think that those of with imputation-priority are wrong about the atonement, or would you basically agree with us about the atonement? Is it simply a matter of history about what was historically “Lutheran”? Thanks for any time or energy you spend on that question, or on my comments above about the Marcus Johnson book.

    Johnson: Faith justifies only because faith unites us. p 99

    mark: faith is a gift given to the elect because of Christ’s purchase of faith by His work. Therefore, faith is not a condition for God’s imputation but a result of God’s imputation. Therefore, no elect person is ever justified apart from faith in the gospel, but no elect person has this faith before regeneration and no elect person has this regeneration before God’s imputation of Christ’s merits earned by Christ’s work.

    Johnson: Saving faith engrafts us to Christ

    mark: Since faith is a benefit of Christ’s work, how can we have this faith unless we are first engrafted into Christ by God’s legal imputation? II Peter 1:1– “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”

    Johnson: Faith is nearly synonymous with life in Christ. p 100

    mark: Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is not imputed because of the personal presence of Christ mediated by the Holy Spirit. Life in Christ and the Spirit is because of God’s imputation of the righteousness.

    Johnson: Christ died FOR US, in our place, but he also crucified US WITH HIM. There is a convergance of the “for us” with the “with us”. Believers participate in Christ’s death. p 102.

    mark: Although I don’t know anything about Johnson except what I have read in his book, my guess is that his presuppositions about the nature of the atonement are the biggest reasons for the moves he makes in this book about “union”. Without denying the forensic nature of Christ’s death, he wants to continue to use the words “penal substitution” but without that meaning that Christ really bore the specific sins of the elect. He wants a “participation” which is more than (other than) imputation.


  33. “the Reformed hold confessional Lutherans in a much, much higher regard than they do the Reformed. The biggest impediment to informal kinds of fellowship with Lutherans like that which is enjoyed between Reformed and Baptists is the Lutheran attitude of ambivalence or contempt toward the Reformed which goes back to Luther and is found in statements of their Formula of Concord.”

    I think this is mostly right though I would argue a) Luther and Calvin seem to have had reasonable respect for one another, b) arguably Calvin was closer to Luther on the Lord’s Supper than Zwingli, c) the dissonance arose from the period after Luther, particularly with the Gnesio-Lutherans, such as Joachim Westphal.

    Lutherans in my experience keep to themselves though liturgically the direction appears to be increasingly Rome-ward (in Australia at least). I have two friends, both former Lutheran pastors, now received into the Catholic Church


  34. Riley, that’s interesting what you say about Reformed and Lutheran doctrine. Did you know that the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms take a justification-centric view of salvation? The union view that you apparently advocate is a product of the 20th century. You really should be careful in raising suspicions on such faulty views of history.


  35. McMark and Riley, you gotta love Packer’s endorsement of Johnson’s book:

    “Theologian Johnson is a Reformed thinker who restates for us Luther’s and Calvin’s Bible-based insistence that union with Christ is the framing fact within which, and whereby, all the specifics of salvation reach us. His book merits careful study, for he does his job outstandingly well.”
    —J. I. Packer, Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology, Regent College

    So much for all of that anti-Lutheran pro-union Reformed polemic.

    Or, forget Johnson getting a hearing among the anti-Lutheran, pro-union Reformed.


  36. So we’re back to this topic again …

    DGH says of the 1677/1689 baptist confession: “No covenant theology. No sacraments but ordinances. A rewrite of repentance. and an entire new chapter on the gospel and the extent of grace. seems strange.”

    Well, not exactly. There’s a clear covenant theology in there (ch 7 and lots of references elsewhere). There’s also a sacramental view of the Supper, if not the use of the term. And material on the gospel was essentially adopted from the Savoy Declaration (1658). (For the 1689 follows the Savoy more often than the WCF.)

    But let’s talk about some of the other differences between the WCF and the 1689 baptist confession: the 1689 has a clearer statement of the sufficiency of Scripture; a more precise statement on justification; an abandonment of Erastianism; a decisive movement away from expectations that the magistrate will punish sin.

    That’s what I call “always reforming.” And I think that most of the contributors to this blog would approve of each of these changes.

    So then let’s talk about the WCF.

    But which one will we talk about? The WCF as published by the Westminster Divines? Or the WCF as adopted and qualified by the Church of Scotland in 1647? Or the WCF as modified by American Presbyterians in 1788? Or the WCF as substantially rewritten by the PCUSA in 1903? Or … the mish-mash of multiple and contradictory texts of the WCF as adopted by the OPC ( )?

    There are so many competing and contradictory versions of the WCF floating around “truly Reformed” circles that I’ve no idea which one we are talking about. There’s no point in referring the descriptor “Reformed” to any of the various WCFs until we can decide which one is authoritative. And if we refer to one of the modern versions as being authoritative, then we’ve admitted the principle that the “Reformed” legacy is capable of improvement of better.

    At least the baptists had the clarity to give their new confession a new name.

    And as I’ve said before on this blog, Guido de Brès wouldn’t think any of you were Reformed.

    So just relax! I’m not Reformed, you’re not Reformed … Guido de Brès thinks we’re all Anabaptists, and he is probably right.


  37. I’d really like to see a discussion of how the two groups (unionists and justification-centric) understand the following Larger Catechism questions.

    Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
    A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

    Q. 67. What is effectual calling?
    A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds,y renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

    Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
    A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.


  38. PS My friend went to Princeton Seminary as an old-school presbyterian, and came back describing himself as a “Lutheran dispensational Baptist”


  39. Surely someone posted this yesterday. I just read it this morning. Gas-X, Doug Sowers, Philip Larson, Tom Van Dyke, etc. must be an angry, middle-aged white dudes who didn’t get the memo.

    Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars

    Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention says it is time for evangelicals to tone down the rhetoric.

    For years, as the principal public voice for the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s biggest evangelical group, Richard Land warned of a “radical homosexual agenda” and pushed for a federal ban on same-sex marriage.

    His successor, Russell Moore, sounded a different note when the Supreme Court in June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “Love your gay and lesbian neighbors,” Mr. Moore wrote in a flier, “How Should Your Church Respond,” sent to the convention’s estimated 45,000 churches. “They aren’t part of an evil conspiracy.” Marriage, he added, was a bond between a man and a woman, but shouldn’t be seen as a “‘culture war’ political issue.”

    Since the birth of the Christian-conservative political movement in the late 1970s, no evangelical group has delivered more punch in America’s culture wars than the Southern Baptist Convention and its nearly 16 million members. The country’s largest Protestant denomination pushed to end abortion, open up prayer in public schools and boycott Walt Disney Co. over films deemed antifamily. Its ranks included many of the biggest names on the Christian right, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

    Today, after more than three decades of activism, many in the religious right are stepping back from the front lines. Mr. Moore, a 42-year-old political independent and theologian who heads the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says it is time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray, given what he calls a “visceral recoil” among younger evangelicals to the culture wars.

    “We are involved in the political process, but we must always be wary of being co-opted by it,” Mr. Moore said in an interview in his Washington office, a short walk from Congress. “Christianity thrives when it is clearest about what distinguishes it from the outside culture.”

    Along with much of the religious right, Southern Baptists are undergoing a generational shift as Mr. Moore and his allies recalibrate their methods and aims. The moment is significant not only for America’s religious life but for its politics, given the three-decade engagement by evangelical leaders that kept social issues on the front burner and helped Republicans win national elections.

    Self-described evangelicals still vote heavily Republican. Exit polls show that nearly eight in 10 sided with Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, a larger share of that group than either of the previous two Republican nominees received.

    But Republican operatives with ties to the evangelical movement say much is changing. Every year tens of thousands of evangelicals, particularly the young, leave the Southern Baptist and other big denominational churches for more loosely organized assemblies that oppose abortion but are less likely to hew to other Republican causes.

    “Republicans are finding it increasingly hard to collar evangelicals for political purposes, simply because the movement is so fragmented now, so decentralized, and a growing number of evangelicals simply find politics distasteful,” says Mark DeMoss, a former chief of staff to Mr. Falwell and an adviser last year to Mr. Romney’s campaign.

    Mr. Moore is responding to this drift. He warns evangelicals to avoid becoming “mascots for any political faction.” He focuses on how to keep millennials engaged in the church. His advice to church leaders: Be “winsome, kind and empathetic.”

    His advice meshes with those in the Republican Party who want the GOP to back off hot-button cultural issues to stress themes such as job creation and education. Party leaders earlier this year released a manifesto calling for the GOP to become more tolerant, welcoming and inclusive. The shift also comes as Republicans face a growing rift in the party between its activist tea-party flank and its more traditional business wing.

    Mr. Moore and other prominent Christian conservatives are blunt in conceding that their long quest to roll back the sexual revolution has failed. The fight, they say, sowed divisions within the movement and alienated young believers.

    “I would characterize the movement as having experienced a very tough defeat that now requires a shift of tactics,” says Ralph Reed, who ran the once-powerful Christian Coalition through the 1990s. Religious conservatives once promised imminent victories, he says, “but we are now looking at 50- and 75-year horizons.”

    Some evangelical leaders compare the moment today to the retreat that followed the 1925 Scopes “Monkey trial” over Tennessee’s effort to limit the teaching of evolution in public schools. The trial led to a public backlash against evangelicals.

    “Evangelicals felt a sting from the culture after the Scopes trial that they weren’t used to feeling,” says Mark Dever, an ally of Mr. Moore and pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church. “What is happening now with evangelicals is a disabusing of any idea of a simple victory of the right in a fallen world. They realize that is not going to happen.”

    The change in approach, which not all evangelical groups or churches share, isn’t without risk. Albert Mohler, a top voice in the church as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a Moore mentor, says the transition to a less confrontational approach, which he supports, could alienate church members from its leaders.

    “When Richard Land spoke to most issues, he was certain that Southern Baptists were behind him and he was their mouthpiece,” Mr. Mohler says. “Russ will need a deft touch to make sure that Southern Baptists stay behind him.”

    Mr. Moore is in no way a liberal. He equates abortion with the evils of slavery, considers homosexuality a sin, and insists the Southern Baptist Convention will never support gay marriage. At the same time, he emphasizes reconciliation and draws a traditional doctrinal distinction between the sinner and the sin.

    Southern Baptists still make up more than a third of all the country’s Protestant evangelicals, by far the largest single denomination under that umbrella, which itself comprises more than a quarter of the U.S. population. But their primacy is on the wane.

    Baptists are departing from the religious traditions of their childhood faster than any other Protestant group, according to statistics gathered by Pew Research, an independent polling organization. Adult baptisms within Southern Baptist churches, meanwhile, have slid 20% over the past decade, according to LifeWay Research, a polling firm tied to the Southern Baptist Convention. The firm projects the church’s membership will fall by half to 8.5 million by 2050, returning to the level of the mid-1950s.

    Recent polls have found younger evangelicals drifting away from some of the conservative views of their parents and grandparents. A March survey of nearly 1,000 white evangelicals by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan polling organization, found half of those under 35 favored same-sex marriage, compared with just 15% of those over 65. The younger evangelicals were more likely to be independents over Republicans, while the opposite was true of their elders.

    “The religious right was born on the theology of numerical expansion: the belief that conservative churches grow while liberal ones die. That conceit is gone now,” says David Key, director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

    Mr. Moore would like the Southern Baptists to be able to hold on to people such as Sarah Parr. The 31-year-old social worker grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist family in southern Virginia. She graduated from Liberty University, founded in 1971 by the Falwell family. But she says she found herself increasingly less at home in the church, and left it altogether in her 20s.

    She now attends a nondenominational church that meets in an old theater on Washington’s Capitol Hill. Politically, she describes herself “as a moderate at best, if I’m anything. But I don’t find myself in either party.”

    When Mr. Moore took over in June as the Southern Baptists’ top public-policy advocate, he startled some in the church by declaring as dead and gone the entire concept of the Bible Belt as a potent mix of Jesus and American boosterism. “Good riddance,” he told thousands of the faithful at the group’s annual convention in Houston in June. “Let’s not seek to resuscitate it.”

    In an essay for the conservative Christian magazine “First Things,” titled “Why Evangelicals Retreat,” he dinged the movement for “triumphalism and hucksterism” and lampooned a time when its leaders dispatched voter guides for the Christian position on “a line-item veto, the Balanced Budget Amendment, and the proper funding levels for the Department of Education.”

    Mr. Moore says there is no doctrinal daylight between him and his church, and he insists he isn’t seeking to return the Southern Baptists to a past in which it shunned politics entirely.

    He travels almost weekly from his home in Nashville to Washington to meet with members of the Obama administration and with congressional leaders. He has allied with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups to make the case that overhauling the U.S. immigration system is a Christian goal. He is pushing the Pentagon to give religious chaplains in the military freer rein to preach, and has helped build a new coalition to fight a federal requirement that insurers provide contraception coverage.

    His approach, however, is strikingly different from that of his predecessor Mr. Land, who for a quarter century served as the leading voice of the Southern Baptists. Like many evangelical leaders of his generation, Mr. Land, a Princeton-educated Texan, openly aligned himself with the Republican Party and popped up frequently in the Oval Office during the George W. Bush years.

    Long before their divergent approaches on the gay-marriage issue, Messrs. Moore and Land split over the huge rally held by conservative talk-radio host Glenn Beck in front of the Lincoln Memorial in August 2010. Mr. Land attended the rally as Mr. Beck’s guest, and later compared Mr. Beck to Billy Graham, calling him “a person in spiritual motion.”

    Mr. Moore, in an essay posted after the rally, said the event illustrated how far astray many conservative Christians had wandered in pursuit of “populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads.”

    In an interview, Mr. Land said the Southern Baptist leadership is divided into those who think the culture war is lost; those who are weary and want it over; and those who think they are losing the war but feel victory is still possible. He declined to say where he puts Mr. Moore, but said he counts himself among the latter. “We are like where Britain was in 1940, under heavy attack but still not defeated,” he said.

    Asked to respond, Mr. Beck in a written statement applauded Mr. Land and said, “In times like these, we need to find common ground.”

    Mr. Moore grew up with a Catholic mother and a Baptist father in a working-class, heavily Democratic neighborhood in Biloxi, Miss. His paternal grandfather was a Baptist pastor. He went every summer on Baptist Bible outings, and gave his first youth sermon when he was 12. (“It was dreadful,” he recalls. “I vomited before and after.”)

    Through college he worked for Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democratic freshman congressman from Mississippi who later gave him a Bible signed by President Bill Clinton, which he now keeps in his home. He calls his vote for Mr. Clinton in 1992 “a great mistake,” and says he “loved” George W. Bush. He remains a registered independent.

    Mr. Moore has pushed to patch up rifts within the Baptist movement between the conservative Southern Baptist Convention and a growing number of more liberal breakaway groups. While still living in Louisville, he met repeatedly for coffee with Rev. Joe Phelps, the liberal pastor of the city’s Highland Baptist Church, which welcomes openly gay and lesbian members. The church broke from the convention in 2002.

    “He respects me and acknowledges that I am living out my Christian convictions,” Rev. Phelps says, “while others in the movement might not even recognize that I am a Christian.”

    Speaking at his inauguration in mid-September, Mr. Moore told the gathering of congressmen, pastors and church leaders to look beyond trying to save American culture. One day, he said, “the monuments to American power” that dot the Washington landscape will be in ruins. While continuing to fight for justice, he said to a rumble of agreement, “we must also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom.”

    Write to Neil King Jr. at


  40. Stuart, that discussion about unionists and the confession has already happened on this blog more than once. Do a little searching.

    CG, we can’t say that any attention to the law/gospel antithesis is either dispensationalist or Lutheran, because many Reformed people still agree with Calvin about faith not being works, and works not being faith. And what do you think of the 1642 Baptist confession, the one which came before WCF, is it not also one variety of a “covenant theology”?

    DGH, would you agree that some of us non-Reformed folks are Protestants? This would not necessarily entail saying that a Reformed person like Packer is no longer a Protestant.

    I will be interested in what you think of the Marcus Johnson book. It’s not only that Packer doesn’t want to talk about particular atonement and election anymore. The “union” debate ultimately is more about the anti-gnostic need to be “sacramental” and talk about creation and the incarnation more (instead of that forensic stuff, not denying it of course). Thus a committed Anglican like Packer is on board.

    If Marcus Johnson had quoted you as favorably as he does Packer, you might have done a blurb for him also. “Theologian Johnson is a Reformed thinker who restates for us Luther’s and Calvin’s Bible-based insistence that union with Christ is the framing fact within which, and whereby, all the specifics of salvation reach us.”—J. I. Packer


  41. CG pointed out what I was going to — that on the subjects of repentance and the gospel and the extent of grace, the wording comes from the Savoy Declaration, so you can blame John Owen and his ilk. What I will add is that I’ve always been more fond of this table.


  42. CG, with all the changes of WCF, why doesn’t that count as always reforming?

    But aside from the semantics, why couldn’t a Baptist suck it up and join a communion that confesses some version of WCF or the Three Forms?


  43. Stuart, we have been there before at OL. But for what it’s worth, I’ve never heard a unionists explain on the basis of these questions why communion is not more important than union. After all, communion receives a chapter from the divines. Union does not. Also, I don’t see how you red letter this section of the WLC, as if this is what really really really drives salvation.


  44. Riley: I agree with the Gaffin quotations. I’d like to read Horton more on the effectual call and regeneration. I’m getting the impression that his definition of regeneration is diminished and deficient.

    Me: Don’t rely for one second on other people to tell you what Horton believes.

    [and he shares 50 to 67% of the dominance of each episode of WHI with a Lutheran.]


  45. CG: What qualifications were made by the Church of Scotland? Can you give details or link to a comparison. As far as I’m aware the WCF my church subscribes (I’m not in the current, so-called C of S) is the WCF: and we’re quite happy with the original chapter on the Civil Magistrate. And btw, the WCF isn’t Erastian. Erastianism is the Church of England. I think it’s quite clear there is a difference between the C of E and the historic C of S.

    The Baptist confession isn’t better on Scripture, unless you count rationalism as better. It’s more wordy on Justification. But again that’s not better. And it’s very flawed on worship and the Sabbath. And it’s, you know, Baptist.


  46. I don’t think you can just use “Baptist” and not “Reformed Baptists”. The vast majority of Baptists are Arminian (and generally in practice semi-Pelagian). Without qualification Baptist does, and based on population should, mean them. I honestly think the distinction you are looking for is covered by the distinction between Presbyterian and Reformed.


  47. I ain’t holding my breath for reformed atheists or reformed catholics. CD host, if you were a church goer, you might enjoy playing “apples to apples” at your church’s game night. Look it up, yo.


  48. Darryl,

    Not sure why the guns are aimed at John MacArthur? He is growing over time and is more repulsed than ever by the errors of Divine Right Pentecostalism (as you call it). Perhaps this is in part because of his recent associations. He deserves to be read in context, even as you want to be.

    But many of us, who are Calvinists in our soteriology and dispensational in how we view the present age, are grateful for your recognition of 2K theology in the Holy Scriptures.


  49. Mark, by non-Reformed do you mean credo-baptistic? But if western Christianity can be conceived in terms of Roman Catholicism, Protestant Reformation, and Radical Reformation, and if PR is essentially paedobaptistic and RR is essentially credobaptistic, then it’s not clear how credobapists can be considered Protestant. And to the extent that many credos also affirm much of Protestant doctrine against Radical doctrine, it’s not clear how they are Radical either. Maybe the term is Modernist, as in mixing and matching from the various Christian expressions.

    IOW, there’s more to being Protestant than not being Catholic, which is to say not so easy peasy.


  50. Mark and DG,

    You may have covered everything there is to know about the unionist/justification-centric divide in the past, but I’m too lazy to look it up. I guess that means I’m more justification-centric since if I was a unionist my union would cause me to want to know more, right?

    Anyways, I’m not trying to “red letter” anything, DG (I prefer purple myself). It seems that section of the LC is the focus of some of the discussion and I just wanted to see what the two sides thought. Your thoughts about communion as distinct from union is something to consider. But doesn’t communion stem from our union?

    If you don’t want to have this discussion I’m good with that. I’ll simply go back to interjecting stupid comments for mild comedic effect.


  51. CD-H, but the churches on the European Continent were not “Presbyterian” by name. Plus, according to your logic, I should abandon Presbyterian because most Presbyterians in the world are liberal — errrr — I mean, ecumenical.


  52. Stuart,

    I’m not sure exactly what the relation between union and communion is. I know when you try to tell the unionists that sanctification stems from justification, they don’t like it.

    The point that I have made repeatedly is that the aim of Protestant debates during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was not union but justification. To try to read union back into that history is historical cherry picking. And to try to gain some traction today by contrasting Calvinism and Lutheranism on union is almost as pointless.

    I have my theories about the union-centric view of things. But I need to be careful.


  53. Stuart: I guess that means I’m more justification-centric since if I was a unionist my union would cause me to want to know more, right?

    For the Union and benefits you have to go and dig it up at roughly 60% of the way through good systematic theologies… and since now you know, hopefully it gnaws at you until you dust off the tomes…


  54. DGH, big of you to rehash that one…

    Stuart, I never thought about Union with Christ until noobie study of the sacrament of Lord’s Supper (under 3FU standards) introduced the catch-phrase “enhancement of the mystical union of the believer with/for/in Jesus Christ”

    Then it was game on, it’s a nice source of comfort…


  55. You’re a better man than I, Darryl. But then I learned to be skeptical about the collar early. Faculty lounge heirarchy and gentleman agreements wouldn’t have survived the scorching.


  56. Sean: Mark, by non-Reformed do you mean credo-baptistic?

    mark: Sure, but it means others things as well. I am also not sacramental. I deny that what we do in the Lord’s Supper is what God is doing.. Btw, I don’t like the word “credobaptism” because it tends to imply or agree that there are two kinds of “baptism”, one of which is paedo. But this is the very thing with which we narrow baptists disagree. You being more “catholic” about it will always say, well, we do credobaptism also, for those children without a Christian parent, for those children with only the gospel promise and not the covenant promise.

    Of course, I am non-Reformed myself in terms of magistrate and the intermediate state. So there was never any desire on my part to want to be known as “Reformed Baptists”.

    sean:But if western Christianity can be conceived in terms of Roman Catholicism, Protestant Reformation, and Radical Reformation, and if PR is essentially paedobaptistic and RR is essentially credobaptistic, then it’s not clear how credobapists can be considered Protestant.

    mark: This seems to question-begging, assuming that radical reformers were not Protestant. For that assumption to work, you would need a definition of Protestant which is not identical with “and also your infants” baptism. Menno Simons also came out of the Roman Catholic church, and was in that sense “protestant”.

    But I don’t much care about the label, just so I get to keep on telling the truth on the pope. Some baptists like to brag about not being protestants either. I think this has to do with denying any continuity to Rome. But as I said, not a big issue one way or the other for me.

    Sean: And to the extent that many credos also affirm much of Protestant doctrine against Radical doctrine, it’s not clear how they are Radical either.

    mark: Sure, most baptists are not pacifists, not radical anabaptists. I have done enough study of the WCF that I can tell you which parts that I really like and which parts with which I disagree. I am not saying that if I get to a certain percentage of parts that I get to be “Protestant”. But I am asking if Mark Noll and Packer and others who think the Reformation is over get to still be “protestant” just because they are still paedo. Yes, the anabaptists were Arminian and Roman Catholic in their soteriology, but how many paedos also are coming close to Rome in their soteriology?

    sean: there’s more to being Protestant than not being Catholic, which is to say not so easy peasy.

    mark: I sure would like to see you and dgh disagree more about that. Certainly there is more to being baptist than being against Roman Catholicism, because if so, what would the difference between those who wrote Confessions for the sake of the nation-state and those who did not?


  57. McMark, Zrim tends to steal my best stuff and leave beer stains and food scraps on my couch. But you’re talking to him not me.


  58. I’m not sure exactly what the relation between union and communion is. I know when you try to tell the unionists that sanctification stems from justification, they don’t like it.

    Showing my ignorance here (what else is new?), but where do the Westminster Standards address sanctification stemming from justification?


  59. Mark, so when you ask whether it would be agreed that some of you non-Reformed folks are Protestants, are you hoping for an unequivocal yes? Or would you settle for a sorta?


  60. Only fair to warn that Clark and Horton are coming from the same place, represent the “minority view” and cause those with little self-control to go ballistic when their teaching is invoked…

    Reasonable acceptances of differences on these matters are the tenor of this forum, a few show up that demonstrate this lack of self-control once in awhile….


  61. Kent, I may be one of those who lack self-control. I have no patience for a re-working of the ordo based on an apparent lack of ‘union’ centricity reflected in the current understanding.


  62. Sean, you’ll have a long way to go to make the top 10 list of bozos who invade here on occasion…

    I can’t get angry with people who disagree on these matters, I lean mostly towards WSCali due to my initial readings during my “conversion.”

    And I enjoy and respect intelligent thinking on the other side of the volleyball net on this issues.

    These aren’t hills to die on for me…


  63. Alexander asks “What qualifications were made by the Church of Scotland? Can you give details or link to a comparison.”

    I reply: many modern editions of the WCF preface the confession with the act approving the confession, passed in Edinburgh on 27 August 1647, in which the following statement qualifies the acceptance of the text as approved by the English House of Commons – and sorry for the extended quote:

    “But, lest our intention and meaning be in some particulars misunderstood, it is hereby expressly declared and provided, That the not mentioning in this Confession the several sorts of ecclesiastical officers and assemblies, shall be no prejudice to the truth of Christ in these particulars, to be expressed fully in the Directory of Government. It is further declared, That the Assembly understandeth some parts of the second article of the thirtyone chapter only of kirks not settled, or constituted in point of government: And that although, in such kirks, a synod of Ministers, and other fit persons, may be called by the Magistrate’s authority and nomination, without any other call, to consult and advise with about matters of religion; and although, likewise, the Ministers of Christ, without delegation from their churches, may of themselves, and by virtue of their office, meet together synodically in such kirks not yet constituted, yet neither of these ought to be done in kirks constituted and settled; it being always free to the Magistrate to advise with synods of Ministers and Ruling Elders, meeting upon delegation from their churches, either ordinarily, or, being indicted by his authority, occasionally, and pro re nata; it being also free to assemble together synodically, as well pro re nata as at the ordinary times, upon delegation from the churches, by the intrinsical power received from Christ, as often as it is necessary for the good of the Church so to assemble, in case the Magistrate, to the detriment of the Church, withhold or deny his consent; the necessity of occasional assemblies being first remonstrate unto him by humble supplication.”

    That’s how the Church of Scotland adopted the confession in 1647, to modify the Erastian intent of WCF 31:2 as approved by the English House of Commons.

    But the Kirk adopted the confession again in 1689, though in a basically Erastian settlement associated with the “Glorious Revolution,” in which the reign of James II was supplanted by that of William and Mary. And the issue of patronage, which extended through the c18th and well into the c19th, feeding into the Disruption in 1843, illustrates that position of the “historic” Church of Scotland for most of his history post-1647 has not been the pure form of Presbyterianism as illustrated in the “Form of Church Govt.” So I stand by my claim that the WCF is Erastian (though again this illustrates the problem of discussion a text which exists in multiple and competing editions).

    Alexander also says: “The Baptist confession isn’t better on Scripture, unless you count rationalism as better. It’s more wordy on Justification. But again that’s not better. And it’s very flawed on worship and the Sabbath. And it’s, you know, Baptist.”

    I reply: it’s not clear to me what you mean by “rationalism” in relation to the chapter on Scripture, as the 1689 confession only adds a clause to the beginning of WCF 1:1 (“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience …”) and a clause to the end of WCF 1:10 (“… Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved”), both additions serving to strengthen the argument for the sufficiency of Scripture. And if you want to know why some puritans might have been alarmed by the looseness of the WCF on the sufficiency of Scripture, then you should read Garnet Milne’s book, “The Westminster Confession Of Faith And The Cessation Of Special Revelation.”

    It’s also not clear to me why you think the statement on justification is “more wordy”: the 1689 replaces “imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them” (11:1) with “by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness,” which adds more words, certainly, but only to confess what the Westminster divines could not because of substantial opposition to the doctrine among their number.

    I’m not sure why you claim the 1689 confession is “flawed on worship and the Sabbath,” for WCF 21 and 1689 22 are identical on the sabbath, except that the 1689 adds a denial of Saturday sabbatarianism to its para 7. (Wait a minute – are you a Seventh-day Reformed Presbyterian?)

    So there are lots of differences between the WCF and the 1689, though not necessarily in the areas you mention, but at least we agree that it’s baptist.


  64. Mark: hello!

    The 1644 confession has a different take on covenant theology than the 1689 – much closer to what we might identify as a “new covenant” perspective I think. But you know more about this text than I do, so don’t be modest.

    Of course, there is a school of thought which argues that baptists lost their nerve as they faced first intransigent persecution by Presbyterians and then some more intransigent persecution by Anglicans, that they finally found it easier to go with the Westminster-Savoy flow during the Restoration as dissenters attempted to forge a common front, and that this explains the later slippage from the rather advanced thinking of the 1644 confession.

    The irony is that this in some ways parallels the collusion of “Reformed” baptists with Presbyterians in the aftermath of the formation of the Banner of Truth in the late 1950s.

    Maybe it’s time for baptists to regain their nerve, perhaps, and stop tugging on Presbyterian coat-tails?


  65. Dr Hart: absolutely, it’s all progress! You’re moving in the right direction – don’t stop now!

    You ask why a baptist couldn’t join a WCF/3Forms subscribing church. Well, many do – I did, and very much appreciated their kindness. I married a Presbyterian and was even married by a Presbyterian (but I’m not a man to hold a grudge). Still, maybe I shouldn’t have joined them, and maybe they shouldn’t have accepted me.

    The question is, what is a church? And if the 3Forms are right, and we have 3 marks to look for, then we can’t in all honesty have Presbyterians regarding baptist congregations as churches, nor vice versa.

    That’s ok. Good fences make good neighbours. And Guido de Brès thinks we’re all Anabaptists anyway.


  66. Sean,


    I’ll read Scott Clark’s article later on.

    As for the sections of the Confession you offered, I’m beginning to think I’m dense (ok, more dense than I originally thought). I’m failing to see the concept of sanctification stemming from justification when looking at those sections of the Confession. I do see justification as being absolutely necessary and sanctification needing justification. If that’s what is meant by “stems” then I’m in agreement.

    Maybe Clark’s article will help. But for now put a dunce cap on my head and stick me in the corner.


  67. Doesn’t the language-politics debate about the term “Reformed Baptist” simply boil down to a discussion about origin myths?

    To go back to Dr Hart’s early point on this thread, the reason baptists don’t (generally) invoke the Lutheran identity is because they have historically had nothing to do with Lutherans. But baptists emerged out of the English puritan movement, and confessed their faith in the earliest days in a confession that offered the slightest (albeit significant) differences from the WCF. It’s natural that they should want to remember that point of origin, isn’t it?

    Doesn’t “Reformed Baptist” work in pretty much the same way as “African-American”?


  68. and btw . . . I’m not trying to argue a point here about union vs. justification centered thinking. I’m really trying to understand what is held and why by the different parties. I’m totally persuadable at this point. So if anyone wants to persuade . . .


  69. Stuart, from my perspective, it’s a matter of having ‘union’ doing the soteriological lifting that ‘faith’ has traditionally done. This is a move away from forensic toward ontological grounding per renovation. IOW, God justifies not the ungodly but those he’s ontologically transforming. In that way it’s a move toward a roman soteriology.


  70. DGH,

    Re: “CG, with all the changes of WCF, why doesn’t that count as always reforming?” – I think that is a fair point.

    However, perhaps another way to make CG’s point is to ask why the Westminster Assembly didn’t just make a few changes to the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Or, to frame it differently: Why do the “Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation” currently fill 3 volumes?



  71. Sean,

    That helps. In any discussion of the place of union with Christ, I wouldn’t want to belittle the place of faith, nor would I want to lessen the absolute necessity and centrality of justification in our salvation.

    Maybe terminology is a factor for me scratching my head with some confusion. Union with Christ is tricky enough to understand. Is it decretal? Is it federal? Is it mystical? All of the above? Add to that language of “stems” and “flows” and then top it all off with stuff like progressive vs. definitive sanctification and we’re floating in a sea of terminology that needs careful definition and consideration.

    I think I’ll go back to making an occasional silly comment with no real point behind it. Better to be the stupid jester than the stupid theologian.


  72. I wouldn’t call that adopting act as doing anything particularly major to the confession itself. The confession doesn’t go into huge detail on church government. It seems to me the assembly was stating how the confession was to be understood in a Presbyterian situation. Now, if you want to call that qualifying the confession fine. But it’s clearly not a qualification/amendment in the way the American Presbyterians adopted it. The C of S adopted the confession with some added commentary, which seems fine considering it wasn’t written exclusively for Presbyterians.


  73. It’s also to be rembered that the Confession was not adopted in isolation but with a host of documents which expand on the teaching of the Confession and deal with areas not explicitly dealt with in the Confession itself. For example, the Presbyterian Form of Church Goverment and Ordination of Ministers, also a Westminster document.


  74. cg, ding ding on fences and neighbors. And it may have seemed kind to give you membership, but it’s hardly clear how it was helpful to anybody to affirm by way of membership what is confessed as a great sin (WCF 28.5) and error (Belgic 34).

    Still, I do wonder if your father-in-law had as much issue with his daughter’s choice as Rev. Maclean did with his son’s to marry a Methodist: “They were Methodists, a denomination my father referred to as Baptists who could read.”


  75. Zrim, absolutely. The 1689 confession had an appendix which made the following statement:

    “And although we do differ from our brethren who are Paedobaptists; in the subject and administration of Baptisme, and such other circumstances as have a necessary dependence on our observance of that Ordinance, and do frequent our own assemblies for our mutual edification, and discharge of those duties, and services which we owe unto God, and in his fear to each other: yet we would not be from hence misconstrued, as if the discharge of our own consciences herein, did any wayes disoblige or alienate our affections, or conversation from any others that fear the Lord; but that we may and do as we have opportunity participate of the labors of those, whom God hath indued with abilities above our selves, and qualified, and called to the Ministry of the Word, earnestly desiring to approve our selves to be such, as follow after peace with holyness, and therefore we alwaies keep that blessed Irenicum, or healing Word of the Apostle before our eyes; if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you; nevertheless whereto we have already attained; let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing, Phil 3. v. 15, 16.

    “Let it not therefore be judged of us (because much hath been written on this subject, and yet we continue this our practise different from others) that it is out of obstinacy, but rather as the truth is, that we do herein according to the best of our understandings worship God, out of a pure mind yielding obedience to his precept, in that method which we take to be most agreeable to the Scriptures of truth, and primitive practise.”

    That’s pretty much why I keep reading this blog and buying books by D.G. Hart. You don’t need to believe that he’s right to be convinced that he’s brilliant. :>


  76. I have no patience for a re-working of the ordo based on an apparent lack of ‘union’ centricity reflected in the current understanding.

    it’s a matter of having ‘union’ doing the soteriological lifting that ‘faith’ has traditionally done. This is a move away from forensic toward ontological grounding per renovation. IOW, God justifies not the ungodly but those he’s ontologically transforming. In that way it’s a move toward a roman soteriology.

    mark: Amen, to that, Sean (unless I have mistaken identity again) . I tend to be more suspect of motives, and that say that it’s an effort to confuse the atonement with the application of the atonement. Not only is imputation denied as that by which the righteousness is passively received, but the regeneration which precedes the “faith-union” becomes the gospel instead of Christ crucified for the elect alone. Not of course that election or the forensic nature of Christ’s death are denied.

    When we could assume a law-grace antithesis, to say ‘by faith” meant not by works. But in the new “union” reading, faith means works, and the atonement becomes what God the Holy Spirit does in the sinner.

    Marcus Johnson: A truncated reading of John 14-17 where the sending of the Holy Spirit is interpreted as something other than Christ’s presence by the Spirit. This is reinforced by notions of Spirit baptism that fail to stress that the Spirit baptizes believers into Christ,” p 44

    Marcus McCulley:: give me one Bible text that says that the Spirit is the baptizer. Romans 6 does not teach that. I Cor 12:13 does not teach that. Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Christ is the baptizer (not with water but with the Spirit). In Romans 6, there is no Holy Spirit, and the one who baptizes the elect into Christ’s death is God (not the Holy Spirit apart from the Father or the Son).

    johnson: Many have assumed that justification is a synthetic declaration that takes into account no prior relationship of the believer to the person of Christ. p 92

    mcculley: The “unionists” assume that justification is a legal fiction (as if) unless it’s an analytic declaration that takes into account an already existing personal relationship to Christ. They don’t talk about justification of the ungodly, but only about a justification of those united to Christ.

    Johnson: It is because of this union that the believer is justified.

    mcculley: it is because of God’s imputation that the believer is united to Christ. A bride is not legally married because another person is already “really” in her. Rather, legal marriage unites a bride to her husband.


  77. Being “reformed” means “sharing the road” with Barth and the Torrances and also… Jonathan Edwards and Tim Keller (preaching for “effects”). But you seem more “enthusiastic” about the prospect of “sharing the road with” Lutherans who don’t have to, and don’t want to.

    I don’t trust those who say that, they more they know, the less denominational they become. I think it’s the opposite. The boundary between Lutheran Christology and Reformed Christology should and will keep some of us apart from the :Lutherans


  78. Stuart, Eclessiastes 3 and the accompanying 60’s tune tell us there’s a time for all things, even jestering (new word?)?

    Maybe my exegesis is more of that other stuff, but over a month ago, I was thinking deep about the writing of comboxers here at old life. Here’s what I posted, their discussion is before it. Maybe helpful, maybe not, but here’s my shot at being a theologian for today. The blogs have taught me “everyone is a theologian” or at least we posting things think we are (insert emoticon here). Take care.


  79. I just found a good justification quote:

    Let us take heed in ourselves of any inclination to novel opinions, especially in, or about, or against such points of faith as those wherein they who are gone before us and are fallen asleep found life, comfort, and power. Who would have thought that we should have come to an indifferency as to the doctrine of justification, and quarrel and dispute about the interest of works in justification, about general redemption, which takes off the efficacy of the redeeming work of Christ; and about the perseverance of the saints; when these were the soul and life of them who are gone before us, who found the power and comfort of them? We shall not maintain these truths, unless we find the same comfort in them as they did…. But now it is grown an indifferent thing; and the horrible corruptions we suffer to be introduced in the doctrine of justification have weakened all the vitals of religion. Let us, for the remainder of our days, “buy the truth, and sell it not;” and let us be zealous and watchful over any thing that should arise in our congregations.


  80. CG, but Reformed Baptists are not ambivalent about Calvinism the way African-Americans are (for understandable reasons) about America.

    You’re right though, it is all about origins. Why Reformed Protestants are hostile to Lutheranism since all Protestants are descendants to some degree of Luther is a mystery.


  81. Chris, the reason for so many confessions is admirable. We believe in local rule, not that ultramontanist business. And that would be a reason for adding to the confessions and the contemporary Reformed churches butching up and writing their own.


  82. Though I am not Reformed, I know why I am both attracted to and hostile to Lutheranism. I am attracted to Lutherans who know the antithesis between law and gospel (instead of assimilating all covenants into one conditional covenant), and who preach the forgiveness of Christians who are sinners (instead of claiming that regeneration keeps us from being sinners by pattern anymore).

    On the other hand, I am hostile to any idea of an universal objective atonement which in fact does not in the end atone for our sins. And also I am hostile to the idea that God uses water as a means of regeneration. When Lutheran assure me that sacerdotalism has been compatible with justification by faith alone for many years, I disagree that it has ever been so.

    Baptists don’t “re-baptise”. To say they do begs the question by assuming that putting water on those who don’t profess to be effectually called by God is baptism. Calvin was never baptized, and he took the idea of discipline as a mark of the church from those he loved to slander.

    The next to last clause of Acts 2;39 is about the Gentiles, but the last clause limits the promise to as many children and gentiles as are called and who receive the Word by faith.

    Acts 2: 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand persons..


  83. Mark, some Baptists may not, but good Baptists do in fact re-baptize. If a Presbie who was baptized as an infant comes later comes to credo convictions and seeks to join a Baptist church, the good Baptists overseeing that church will demand he as a professing Christian submit to a valid baptism, which is to say be re-baptized. That is the whole point of being Baptist. Bad Baptists will be latitudinarian and let it go, just like bad Presbies overlook credo convictions and give those holding them church membership.


  84. @Zrim While that is true of the SBC, it is not true of other baptistic denominations such as the Evangelical Free Church according to Wayne Grudem. He advocates a “truce” on baptism by not requiring rebaptism, but also not performing paedobaptisms.

    As far as baptists not rebaptizing, it is not enough for the SBC that a person be baptized by immersion as a believer. One’s baptism must meet all the following qualifications:

    Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer.

    A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches.

    This would mean that if one were baptized by immersion as a believer in an evangelical church that did not accept the doctrine of the security of the believer (say a free will baptist church), then one would need to be rebaptized.


  85. sdb, bingo. The Ev Free embodies that for which all latitudinarians pine. And don’t forget Grudem’s Reformed charismata. Divine Right Pentecostal Baptist?

    ps I still wonder where all the (paedo) Communionists are. Some say Moscow, but I mean something less provincial and as ubiquitous as the SBC.

    pps I guess the SBC doesn’t think the trinitarian formula is sufficient. Is this the baptismal version of closed communion?


  86. DGH,

    So you’re in favor of contemporary Reformed churches writing new confessions? I am. I agree with CG that the original authors of any of the Reformed confessions would not recognize as Reformed either the contemporary document (WCF) or the subscribers (Belgic).


  87. “When Lutheran assure me that sacerdotalism has been compatible with justification by faith alone for many years, I disagree that it has ever been so.”

    Which Lutherans assure you of that? I don’t know any Lutherans who confess or defend sacerdotalism. Baptism can be administered by a layperson, although this is not the usual way, and a pastor is not mediating when he speaks God’s Word and pours water (or dunks the catechumen–the method I prefer since it better reflects what’s actually happening 😉

    Our catechism doesn’t even mention the pastor’s role in in baptism. It’s all the Word of God.

    I can respect and appreciate the differences between Lutherans and Baptists, but please understand what we teach and what our confessions say.


  88. PS
    “I don’t trust those who say that, they more they know, the less denominational they become. I think it’s the opposite. The boundary between Lutheran Christology and Reformed Christology should and will keep some of us apart from the :Lutherans”

    Amen. And I recognize differences in doctrines regarding the office of the holy ministry and the office of the keys (and even the nature of the Church) between Lutherans and baptists (and Reformed, too), I just think the charge of sacerdotalist should be used more carefully (by those within my confession, too).

    Also, my pastor likes to avoid using the word “denomination,” since it suggests a part of the whole, as if each confession offers a different strength to the whole Church of Christ.


  89. DGH,

    So do you disagree with the claim that the position that many of us in the U.S. hold (including you and I) – that the civil magistrate does not have any cultic duties – would have been regarded by 16th and 17th century confessional assemblies as Anabaptist?


  90. DGH, I wasn’t expecting to read a comment about Presbyterians preferring to bully pacifists from the one who once described U.S. cops has having their thuggish moments.


  91. D. G. Hart
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
    Sean and Kent, too many compliments. TVD may be reading.

    Heh. Always in your head. But geez, I’m a cupcake compared to the Calvinist Inquisition.

    Man, and they say Rome’s a tough town. These days it has nothing on Willow Grove.


  92. D. G. Hart
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
    Tom, don’t you wish you could blog about it at Lonely Conservative? Go ahead. I dare you.

    Now he’s stalking me across the internet. I’m flattered.

    Hey D, your name came up at RIAH the other day as someone with opinions about evangelicals. Mark Edwards had access to the JG Machen papers several years back, so I imagine you’re acquainted on some level. My thoughts can be found in the comments section. Marks a righteous dude.

    As I’m drawn to apologetics more than polemics, as is my custom here re the papists, I stand up for the fundies in those places. [They’re such easy pickins.] My disagreement with you has always been that your 2k theology lends aid and comfort to the enemy [the Enemy?] by inspiring good men to do nothing.

    As it turns out, “presuppositionalism” may be key. I have never resorted to it, and although “natural law” was argued by Suarez and Grotius to be a reality even if God did not exist–in our Western Civilization, natural law and “objective” truth resides pretty much exclusively under what’s left of the “Christian” umbrella.

    Everything else is subjective if not relative. But even though “Protestantism” rejects a central theological authority–arbiter of reality!–it does not deny that there is an objective, perfect truth. It is only that man’s apprehension of it is imperfect, including popes, cardinals, bishops, whathaveyou.

    There is truth, God’s truth. So in this respect, even you 2kers are allies against the “dictatorship of relativism”–and the papists and fundies are yours. Which I find delightful, esp in light of all your efforts and protestations. Pope Francis and Tim Bayly are your best friends in the world.

    Oh yeah. And me.


  93. DGH: ” If I can recognize 16th century churches as Reformed, can it be that hard working the other way?”

    Here are just a couple of the many statements in Reformed confessions which condemn all those (often called “Anabaptists” in other contexts) who deny the spiritual responsibilities of the godly magistrate:

    2 Helvetian Confession (1566) sets out the obligations of a godly magistrate, including waging war “in the name of God,” and adds: “We condemn, therefore, all contemners of magistrates … as do either openly or closely refuse to perform those duties which they owe.”

    Scots Confession (1560) states that the duty of a godly magistrate is “chiefly and most principally the conservation and purgation of religion … suppressing idolatry and superstition,” and then adds that “such as resist the supreme power doing that thing which appertaineth to his charge, do resist God’s ordinance, and therefore cannot be guiltless.”

    Some Reformed confessions seem to teach that the entire enterprise of separating church and state should be condemned out of hand.


  94. mark mcculley
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink
    Though I am not Reformed, I know why I am both attracted to and hostile to Lutheranism. I am attracted to Lutherans who know the antithesis between law and gospel (instead of assimilating all covenants into one conditional covenant), and who preach the forgiveness of Christians who are sinners (instead of claiming that regeneration keeps us from being sinners by pattern anymore).

    On the other hand, I am hostile to any idea of an universal objective atonement which in fact does not in the end atone for our sins. And also I am hostile to the idea that God uses water as a means of regeneration. When Lutheran assure me that sacerdotalism has been compatible with justification by faith alone for many years, I disagree that it has ever been so.

    Baptists don’t “re-baptise”. To say they do begs the question by assuming that putting water on those who don’t profess to be effectually called by God is baptism.

    Brother McMark, we don’t know each other, but using “hostile” 3 times in a Christian theology discussion seems a bit I don’t know what. Just sayin’.

    Calvin was never baptized

    ¿Huh? Man, I really did come in late.

    and he took the idea of discipline as a mark of the church from those he loved to slander.

    Well, I love hearing charges of “slander” to find out who’s zooming who. You definitely have my attention. Roll it, bro. Things are finally getting interesting around here.


  95. I’ve been wondering . . .

    How much Luther-love does it take to be a legit gold-star member of Old Life? One day I may want to quit my day job, put down my jester’s cap, and be a real boy. But until then I guess I still havent shaken all my “Luther’s good until he gets all Lutherany” roots. I mean Lutherans have that anti-hip hipness going for them, but Calvin’s still my home boy, yo.


  96. Chris, I’m not sure what you’re asking. You’re not disputing Reformed treatment of Anabaptists, are you? Nor are you suggesting that theonomists and neo-Cals’ continue to try to intimidate by domination?


  97. CG, surely you’re not saying that a church’s teaching on the magistrate is of the essence of being Reformed. When it comes to worship, I’m convinced Guido would have no trouble in many of our congregations.


  98. DGH: Is the teaching on the magistrate part of the essence of being Reformed?

    Well, it certainly seems that the framers of those confessions thought that the duty of the godly magistrate and the Christian’s necessary submission to him was important enough to be included in a confession outlining the Reformed faith, as originally conceived. I don’t see those confessions implying that some of their content is negotiable (not that the framers would necessarily have said all content was equally important, certainly not in terms of salvation). The confessions present a package which Christians can take or leave.

    I’m sure you’re right – that Guido would likely have no trouble worshipping in Hillsdale OPC. But if he brought along his copy of the Belgic, he’d be confessing something quite different from you, in certain respects.

    Would he view you as “Reformed”? He’d certainly notice how similar your confession would be to the one he developed. But he’d also notice that it contained elements which confessions parallel to his own, and possibly even his own, regarded as being “contemned,” or bypassed other elements which he confessed.

    Surely, if you asked Guido to define being “Reformed,” he would only point you to the confession he wrote? The fact that the OPC’s position reflects a changing political theology, developed in conversation with democratic theories of civil govt, doesn’t take away from the fact that it would be something that Guido could only identify with Anabaptists.

    I’m only making this point (sorry – repeatedly!) because I think that your concern to define “Reformed” in connection with a WCF confessional tradition which now represents substantial departure from the faith once confessed actually undermines your parallel attempt to deny others, who have also substantially departed from the faith once confessed, the same title.

    Neither “Reformed” baptists nor OPC/PCA Presbyterians are “Reformed” in any kind of early modern sense, because both parties (though more obviously baptists) deny elements of the Christian faith which the framers of the early confessions thought so important that they included them in the faith they formally confessed.


  99. cg, but a true church isn’t located based on its teaching on the magistrate. So for the ecclesiastically minded, how can it be of the essence the way the three marks are (gospel, sacraments, and discipline)? I’m all for finding a way to make 2k essential (and theonomy of whatever variation an essential error), but if we’re adding a fourth mark then worship would seem more fitting for the one tradition with something like the RPW. Until then, that means at least this 2ker can live with theonmists before Baptists, though not with much ease. Are you reading, Doug?


  100. DGH, my question was in response to your comment that Presbyterians still prefer to bully pacifists. I’m not completely sure I’m a pacifist, but if I’m only given two choices – warmongering or pacifism – and I’m forced to choose one, I’m the latter and not the former. Which means that the Church with which I most closely identify wants to bully me.


  101. Zrim, the question of the marks of the true church and the question of what constitutes the Reformed confession are two distinct (if related) questions. I think CG and I are simply asking – if the 16th and 17th century Reformed seemed to unanimously treat cultic duties of the civil magistrate as part of the Reformed confession, why do contemporary Reformed get to write it off as non-essential? As one Truly Reformed apologist has put it: the Reformed have not been in the habit of confessing esoteric doctrines.


  102. Chris, isn’t it what Reformed do, always testing ourselves against holy writ, as in Reformed and always reforming? We revise, not develop doctrine. And so far, nobody has revised the three marks, while teaching on the magistrate has undergone ecclesiastical revision in a 2k direction whereas others retain the theocratic versions. So all told, it looks like the three marks remain unanimously essential, while 2k is not. But here’s to theos becoming more biblical and affirming the revisions.


  103. Zrim, I think that is what Reformed *did*. That is why the 16th and 17th century Reformed confessions fill at least three volumes so far. And each time they chose to address the topic of the civil magistrate in those many confessions, the magistrate had cultic duties. It was the unanimous Reformed confession. So are you saying that if enough contemporary Reformed began to change their minds about the 3 marks, they would no longer be essential?

    I’m thinking that the implication of your point is more Roman Catholic than Reformed. If the authority to decide which doctrines in a confession must or need not be believed vests in the Church, then Rome may be right. But if the confession is authoritative *because* it accurately summarizes the Word of God, then none of it ought to be optional.

    Don’t get me wrong. It will be difficult to find someone more opposed than me to all forms of the confusion of cult and culture. But this just brings us full circle to whether what the Reformed wet-inked in the 16th and 17th centuries gets to define what is Reformed or not.


  104. Chris, isn’t the issue, at least in the american context, that we DON’T confess the original drafting of the WCF but it’s american revision? So, we have, in fact, revised/reformed and now confess the american revision, which, in fact, no longer confesses the erastian role of the magistrate. It would seem an unwillingness or inability to revise a secondary/subordinate document because of it’s inherent ‘conciliar authority’ would itself be the more roman catholic distinctive.


  105. Sean, the issue (as I see it) is that it was the unanimous consensus of the Reformed churches in the 16th and 17th century that the civil magistrate had cultic duties, AND that that doctrine rated highly enough that it needed to be confessed by church members as a condition of church membership (at least on the continent). They had the integrity to write a whole new confession if something changed. Thus, they could always point to their confession and say, “We believe this” (and by that, they meant ALL of “this”).

    We can no longer do that. We have taken documents which were originally drafted the way they were (because members of Reformed churches were expected to believe everything that was important enough to include in a confession of faith), and we have either changed the doctrine (WCF), or stopped requiring people to believe all of the doctrine in the confession (Belgic) because most of us in North America no longer believe at least one of the doctrines.

    Now the question is: Do we really believe that the confession is biblical *because* it accurately summarizes the Word of God? If so, why did we have to amend it – or why do we let Reformed church members get away with not confessing that one, particular doctrine? Now where is the authority?

    I think we would be more Reformed (and less Roman Catholic) if we wrote a new confession of faith that we could all point to and say (with a clear conscience): I believe ALL of that.


  106. Chris, at least in the WCF, the authority we subscribe is itself a subordinate/derivative authority. That same confession confesses that councils may and do err. So, again, revising a historical document correcting the particular historical circumstance in which it was immersed but reaffirming it where it remains in accord with scripture seems to be in accord with the confession itself. To write an entirely new confession, could just as easily run the risk of being “less than round”, and may have much more affinity with modernism or even emanating forth from the radical reformation tradition of eschewing what came before for it’s own understanding.
    WCF chapt 1, X

    “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”


  107. Chris, what Sean said. How is revising uninspired text Roman but never revising Reformed? It seems to me that the latter tends toward development of doctrine, since even those who confess theocratic largely live like 2kers. It seems to me more Reformed than Roman to admit error and repent instead of pounding square pegs into round holes.

    But I’m confused. First you say that it’s Romanish for the church to decide what the Bible teaches, then you seem to suggest it’s Reformed for the church to bind members. Where are you? I’m saying it’s Reformed for the church to decide and bind her members confessionally. And when I think Reformed confessions, I think the WFU/TFU as revised 2k.


  108. Sean, I just wonder why the Reformed churches of the 16th and 17th centuries did not seem to share your squeamishness about writing new confessions.

    The point about WCF 1, X and that “councils may and do err,” is well taken. But does the confession mean that when that happens a confession ought to be amended? Or that a new confession ought to be written?


  109. Zrim, I’m wondering where you are! Look, if you believe that it is Reformed for the church to decide and bind her members confessionally (and I’m on board up to this point) – my question is: which confession?


  110. Zrim, that’s not really helpful. Do you mean the Reformed TFU of 1619 and the Reformed WCF of 1647? Or do you mean the Anabaptist TFU of the 1890s and the Anabaptist WCF of the 1780s?


  111. Chris, beyond the desire for historic legibility and continuity, I traffic in the PCA and I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be able to stomach their modern day version of a confession. As it is, any number of us use the historic confessions to try to reform our current communions. IOW, if Johnny can’t preach, I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in his ability to better the Westminster divines. This generation doesn’t seem up to the task, maybe another future one will, but I still prefer revisions at this juncture, for the initial rationale I gave.


  112. Sean, I feel for you. This seems to underscore to me that the only stable factor involved here, is the Word of God. The Church is unstable, and the confession is unstable. But someone is bound to point out that the Word of God is never uninterpreted. Which just brings us back to what it is we confess, and how it compares to the definition of what it means to be Reformed as provided by our 16th and 17th century forbears.

    I’m quite certain that if we wrote new confessions to confess what we actually believe, there would be a great deal of realignment. At least some people who currently belong to the same Church I do would not be willing to subscribe what I confess. And so our solution, for the present time, is to unite around a document that no longer means what it meant in 1647 – but we call it the same thing, and try to pretend that it is.


  113. Zrim, so you DO believe – and require TFU church members to believe – that:

    “Again, it is the duty of these, not only to anxiously preserve civil polity, but also to give true effort that the holy ministry would be preserved, and that all idolatry and adultery of the worship of God would be removed from the public square, that the Kingdom of Antichrist would be destroyed, that the Kingdom of Christ would be truly extended. Finally, it is of their duty to bring it about that the sacred word of the Gospel would be preached from everywhere so that everyone, in turn, can freely worship purely and venerate God according to the prescription of His word.” IOW – that the sword/gun of the civil magistrate ought to be used against Roman Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthodox (not to mention Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, et al)?

    And the Anabaptist (re: the civil magistrate) version of the WCF?


  114. Who is arguing that anything is more stable than the Word of God?

    The Confessions are summaries of the faith and a means of measuring against new fads and insanities.

    If a fad or insanity hasn’t rocked your church lately, just wait a few more weeks…


  115. Chris/Sean, who’s pretending? I don’t confess the 1647 but the 1788 which you seemed to deem as anabaptist, I suppose because it doesn’t support your view of the relationship of the church with the state, but then you argue for cult/culture distinctions. I don’t quite get where you’re coming from. But again, there is also value to maintaining historic legibility so while revisions and maybe more so types of subscription allows for some discontinuity, I much rather preserve historic insights and continuity but embrace the confessions as they are received, than re-invent the wheel. Give me a brighter generation and greater capacity and I might be more amenable but I still value the historic legibility.


  116. Sean, I’m arguing that if we continue to claim to subscribe the WCF, but we mean something (anything) different than the 1647 WCF, then we are pretending at some point – either to be Reformed according to what the Assembly meant, or to heartily subscribe the confession.

    I do not, in fact, believe what the 1647 WCF says about the civil magistrate. And while I wholeheartedly affirm that the children of believers are proper subjects of baptism, I think the 1677/88 Second London Confession of Baptist faith has a much superior chapter on the civil magistrate. It also has a better chapter on covenant theology because it affirms the covenant of redemption (which is odd, since the covenant theology of WLC 31 is much more conducive to baptist theology), but I digress.

    I do not think it is honest to call oneself Reformed, but to hold a doctrine which an original author of TFU/WCF would have held as outside the bounds of what it means to be Reformed. So if we are going to continue to call ourselves Reformed, while holding a non-Reformed view of the civil magistrate, then perhaps we ought to be more charitable toward others who have certain non-Reformed doctrines as well. That is my point.


  117. Well, your view of honesty is uniquely your own Chris. Both the OPC and the PCA claim the reformed heritage and confess the 1788 revision of the WCF. Could be they’re wrong and you’re right, but you’ve got a long way to go from here to get to there.


  118. Sean, you could be right. But I invite you to read Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Edwards, and Robert Baillie (two of whom were members of the Westminster Assembly), and see if they consider our view of the civil magistrate Reformed or not.


  119. Sean, the PCUSA holds to the 1903 version of the WCF (or at least it used to). Is it “Reformed” too?

    In other words, which of the very many competing and contradictory versions of the WCF now circulating, each called by the same name and each cited as a foundation of various and competing “Reformed” identities, from covenanter to Barthian, is actually “Reformed”?


  120. Sean

    Just like the OPC people who claim the Reformed heritage and confess the 1788 revision of the WCF – BUT WITH SOME VERY IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES BORROWED FROM THE PCUSA 1903 revision of the WCF [] – those baptists who call themselves “Reformed” claim the Reformed heritage and confess the 1689 revision of the WCF.

    Do you have any basis for denying their claims?


  121. Chris, If they’re reformed according to the word of God which they confessed to be the supreme judge, and particularly capitalizing upon the theological distinction of cult and culture or the conclusions of the noahic covenant, I’d be willing to have that conversation. cg, I was very explicit about what I confess and certainly the PCA or the OPC don’t equivocate formally, they confess the 1788 revision not the 1903. Again, could be you’re right and they’re wrong but you too have a long way to go to get there.


  122. Zrim says “a true church isn’t located based on its teaching on the magistrate.” Agreed. But we’re not talking about whether Guido would have regarded your local OPC congregation a true church; we’re talking about whether he would regard it as being “Reformed.”

    You should be able to live with theonomists before baptists, as you’re descended from them, but you’re also cousins of the latter, for “Reformed” baptists share the same genealogy. It’s all one happy family.

    And “Reformed” baptists believe in the rpw too.


  123. Sean, it’s not that simple. The OPC does not confess the 1788 WCF without qualification, and it does adopt some of the changes made in 1903 by the PCUSA.

    The OPC website lists the changes:

    So is the 1903 WCF “Reformed” or not? I still don’t get how we are using the term. All these denominations are making it up as they go along, yet so many of them want to deny the label “Reformed” to other groups that do exactly the same thing.


  124. Anyone – I’m getting desperate here – at the risk of repeating myself, which of the very many competing and contradictory versions of the WCF now circulating, each called by the same name and each cited as a foundation of various and competing “Reformed” identities, from covenanter to Barthian, is actually “Reformed”?

    And are all of them better than the 1689 baptist confession of faith?


  125. cg, I hardly find agreeing with the idea of dropping the antichrist for pope monicker in favor of; “nor can the pope of Rome in any sense be the head thereof” as vital or essential much less a sentence from the lawful oaths section. In fact the thrust of the document is that they did NOT adopt the revisions to the confession made by the PCUSA in 1903.


  126. cg, but here’s the rub: Guido did not identify the civil magistrate or an affirmation about him as a mark of the church. Baptism is one for him. And so he could easily see that the way we practice baptism resembles him, while the way you do does not. Not to mention that we do not think sacrament a dirty word.

    I concede your point about all churches being in some kind of process, one that left the 16th c. behind. Why, I think WCF left parts of Guido behind with the experimental Calvinist quest for specifying the ordo. But when it comes to doctrine of salvation, the sufficiency of Scripture, worship, and polity, all OP’s are good.


  127. Chris,

    I’m not sure about your claim regarding consensus. Here is Art. 39 from the Gallican Confession. It is not Erastian the way many of the others are (and this one has affinities with Geneva):

    39. We believe that God wishes to have the world governed by laws and magistrates, so that some restraint may be put upon its disordered appetites. And as he has established kingdoms, republics, and all sorts of principalities, either hereditary or otherwise, and all that belongs to a just government, and wishes to be considered as their Author, so he has put the sword into the hands of magistrates to suppress crimes against the first as well as against the second table of the Commandments of God. We must therefore, on his account, not only submit to them as superiors, but honor and hold them in, all reverence as his lieutenants and officers, whom he has commissioned to exercise a legitimate and holy authority.


  128. Sean, Chris, and CG, if someone can explain why the revised WCF is Anabaptist I’d surely like to know. Just because the magistrate doesn’t have to advance Christianity hardly makes American Presbyterians Anabaptist. Pacifism, serving in political office, shunning outsiders — those are aspects pretty essential to Anabaptism that Presbyterians have never countenanced. Except for the Covenanters who ironically hold the original WCF but practiced politics in the U.S. much like Anabaptists (up to 1980).


  129. cg, to be entirely fair to Guido, you’d have to say that he regarded the Reformed churches being persecuted by the Spanish as Reformed churches. And here, lo and behold, they did not have a magistrate who was enforcing the Decalogue. In fact, Guido never lived to see what the Westminster Divines believed they may have glimpsed with a favorable Parliament. So I’m more convinced than ever that Guido could recognize my communion as Reformed.


  130. CG, all of the pre-1903 versions are Reformed and all are better than the Baptist in 1689 because they do not exclude infants from the covenant community by denying them the sign of the covenant.

    easy peasy


  131. Chris, no, I don’t. But I take refuge in the revisions of the CRC (1910, ’38, and ’58):

    You’d have a point if the magistrate was of the essence like the sacraments, but it’s not.

    cg and Chris, I’m not understanding why what Guido would think isn’t just old-fashioned anachronism, not to mention pure speculation. Fine if he wouldn’t recognize contemporary P&R churches as Reformed because of the revisions on the CM. But I’ll take Kuyper who was unabashed about disagreeing with Calvin, the confessions and our Reformed theologians and said he’d rather be considered un-Reformed if to be Reformed meant enforcing true religion with the sword. Call it Anabaptist if you please, I’ll call it Reformed and always reforming.


  132. DGH, with regard to your last comment, I can briefly summarize it as a syllogism. I can provide quotations later tonight from people like Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Edwards and Robert Baillie, if needed. But the syllogism runs something like this:

    Only Anabaptists object to the civil magistrate using the sword to punish sins (because Anabaptist = libertine).
    Some Churches have removed confessional language about the civil magistrate using the sword to punish sins.
    Therefore those “some Churches” are Anabaptist.

    Some of the louder puritan voices said things at least like the major premise. And I think the point that the Reformed have never been in the habit of confessing esoteric points of doctrine is important. Even in the Gallican (as subdued as its language is) and the Belgic – if it was important enough to be included in the confession (compared to the long list of things that did not rate highly enough to be included) – to deny any element of the confession would mean that one is not Reformed as that confession defines Reformed, right? Help me see where my reasoning is wrong, here.


  133. As has already been said: the marks of the true church is different from what is a Reformed church. The view of the civil magistrate was clearly an essential part of Reformed identity in the 16/17th century. I’d like to point out though that the WCF is not Erastian. Erastianisn is when the state has power over the church: e.g. the Church of England. That was never the doctrine of the Scottish church and they fought long and hard to keep the state from intruding upon ecclesiastical affairs. The Establishment principle of the WCF/Scottish church was that the church and state should co-operate. The state should protect and promulgate the true religion but should not intrude into spiritual matters (which would be erastianism); the church should advise the state on matters within its jurisdiction but should not seek to govern the state (that would be popery). I don’t know if that’s identical to Calvin but it’s what the WCF teaches because it’s what the Scottish church taught and it’s what the Scottish divines taught and it’s what some of us still teach.

    Using ideas like separation of church and state is confusing because of the modern context: a binary understanding of either theonomy or voluntaryism. The Scottish church held to neither.

    Those communions which have forsaken the original views on the civil magistrate may have compromised slightly on the Reformed faith. However, since (as has been pointed out) hardly any Reformed church ever experienced a proper Establishment situation if all else is equal I think those of the 16th C would recognise Reformed churches today, albeit taking issue with their doctrine in this area. Whereas I think it’s clear that Baptists would never be considered part of the Reformed camp. The right administration of the sacraments is not only a pivotal Reformed element but a mark of the true church. And because of all that comes with (anti-)baptist views the Reformed of the 16th C would reject today’s baptists- just as they rejected the baptists of their own time. It is one thing to fall short in doctrine within the camp; quite another to be outwith the camp altogether.

    I think a more pertinent question, Chris/CG, if one wishes to discover how recognisable modern Reformed churches would be is worship. And I have to ask the OPC/PCAers here: would your worship really be recognisable? You use hymns and instruments don’t you? Two fundamental violations of the RPW.


  134. Chris,

    Perhaps the historical position on the civil magistrate was more situational than normative. That is, perhaps the original doctrine flowed not so much from the Bible as from the Christendom context in which it was birthed. And when that original context was left behind, the original doctrine no longer made sense (and was also more easily seen to be unbiblical).

    The Reformed position on the civil magistrate is an application of the fifth commandment, which of course spells out duties toward superiors and inferiors. For 99.9% of Christians, the Reformed ethic of the civil magistrate remains completely unchanged (by the confessional revisions) because 99.9% of Reformed Christians (or more) are not civil magistrates and never will be. What’s important for the 99.9% is that it is their duty to honor the magistrate, and the Reformed position on that duty was precisely the same in Geneva as it is in Philadelphia.

    But in a post-Christendom context, the question of the duty of a Reformed king becomes understandably irrelevant because, for the most part, there is no such creature. And if the civil magistrate is not Reformed (and perhaps not even a Christian), then what becomes more pressing (and more sensible) for the Reformed church is to spell out its position on his duty to leave the church alone.

    So it’s not even quite true to say that we’ve revised our position on “the civil magistrate,” as though we’re speaking of exactly the same thing now as they were then. The original Reformed confessions spelled out what the Reformed orthodox understood to be the duty of a Reformed magistrate. But the revised confessions, by contrast, spell out what we (post-Christendom) understand to be the duty of a non-Reformed magistrate.


  135. @Alexander —

    I think your analysis is flawed in a key way. The early Reformers still believed in the concept of Christiandom. They weren’t fighting about who is Reformed but what the religion of all Europe would be. A century later when they get to the point of the state churches, they are still envisioning a situation where all persons in a large area (country, principality…) would be of the same faith with the possible exceptions of Jews, Catholics… When they were excluding Baptists they were excluding Baptists from this system.

    That system is now completely dead. What exists today is a situation where within even towns there are a dozen different brands of churches that individuals pick between and flow between semi-freely. The overwhelming majority of Protestants are either Baptist or Pentecostal. Which means that almost all locations the Reformed if they excluded Baptists they way they would have in 1600 would be a tiny fraction of the population. I like to use the statistic that: conservative Protestants are a 1/4 of the population Conservative Presbyterians are 1/90th of conservative Protestants. Do you want to exclude yourself from the activities of 99.7% of the population or rather see yourself linked to some broader groups?

    I have a tough time imagining people who believed in Christendom or state churches wouldn’t go the broader route. I don’t think they would like the fact that this is the choice, but given the choice I don’t agree that it is a simple one for them at all.


  136. Where is your reasoning wrong, Chris?
    In your equivocation/confusion on what it means to be reformed.
    Not that a lot of reformed aren’t also confused, but no matter.

    IOW on the basis of scripture alone at the Protestant Reformation the reformed churches in Christ reformed their doctrine, worship and discipline/government in implicit – if not explicit – opposition to the deformed Roman church.

    Or if you will, what the Belgic calls the the three marks of the true church, further summarized/defined in the doctrines of Sola Scriptura, the Regulative Principle of Worship and Jus Divinum/Divine Rule church government, confessionally affirmed however honored in the breach and misunderstood to boot these days by many in the reformed churches.

    As for the duty of the civil magistrate to uphold the true religion, yeah it was originally a part of all the Reformation confessions, but the modern P&R church has revised the same respective confessions – note bene on the basis of arguing for a better understanding of Scripture – not to mention as above, the role of the civil magistrate is not fundamental to the definition of a reformed church.

    IOW easy peasy/part of the abc’s of the reformed faith.


  137. Bob S,

    Thanks for the clarification. So, as I asked Zrim, which other parts of the Reformed confession are negotiable? If I’m wrong to locate Reformed identity in the Reformed confession, where is it to be found? You said scripture alone, but I thought that part of the point of Reformed confessions was to articulate what we believe the Bible teaches (because Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists, et al, believe in sola scriptura, too, right?).


  138. Sean, you’re making my point – you don’t think the identity of the Antichrist is essential, yet your ecclesiological ancestors did, and confessed it from 1647 until 1903. What else in the WCF do you consider extraneous? The problem in so much of this thread is that the self-identifying Reformed argue sociologically rather than historically, assuming that what their group confesses must be Reformed and of the essence of Reformed irrespective of how much it differs from the foundational and defining statements which outlaw exactly their positions.


  139. zrim, as Alexander says, we’re talking about the definition of Reformed, rather than the identity of true churches. But I add that from memory the three marks are part of the Dutch confession tradition, not the WCF tradition: how would you argue that the WCF tradition identifies the church in the same way?


  140. Dgh: the revised WCF teaches a view of the civil magistrate which the compilers of the WCF themselves believed to be anabaptist. That’s the rub!


  141. David, that is doublethink.

    Alexander don’t confuse the teaching of the WCF with the position of the “historic”church of Scotland. It was largely under the control of the monarch in the c16, had a prayer book imposed upon it in 1637 by sheer royal fiat, without even the approval of parliament, and was less than Presbyterian through 1660s until 1690s when it again capitulates to the powers that be and patronage becomes an issue until well past 1843. The Kirk understood that ch 31was claiming too much for the power of civil govt to convene synods, which is why the first church to adopt the WCF does so with qualification and commits the original sin of the confessional tradition – so that no one now adopts the WCF as published by parliament, everyone qualifies it to their own inner light, and yet pretends they are the same.

    I’ ve said enough — over and out from me!


  142. And another person shows up with attitude and insists we all read Samuel Rutherford.

    I’m guessing he’d be ashamed of those who loudly trumpet his name as a magic potion.


  143. CG, How is the revised WCF Anabaptist?


    1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers.

    2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.

    3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.

    4. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less hath the pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever.

    To this:

    The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good. In the Law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their death, and the same (sword) is (now) ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates.

    In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death – simply the warning and the command to sin no more.

    Now it will be asked by many who do not recognize (this as) the will of Christ for us, whether a Christian may or should employ the sword against the wicked for the defense and protection of the good, or for the sake of love.

    Our reply is unanimously as follows: Christ teaches and commands us to learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find rest to our souls. Also Christ says to the heathenish woman who was taken in adultery, not that one should stone her according to the Law of His Father (and yet He says, As the Father has commanded me, thus I do), but in mercy and forgiveness and warning, to sin no more. Such (an attitude) we also ought to take completely according to the rule of the ban.

    Secondly, it will be asked concerning the sword, whether a Christian shall pass sentence in worldly disputes and strife such as unbelievers have with one another. This is our united answer. Christ did not wish to decide or pass judgment between brother and brother in the case of the inheritance, but refused to do so. Therefore we should do likewise.

    Thirdly, it will be asked concerning the sword, Shall one be a magistrate if one should be chosen as such? The answer is as follows: They wished to make Christ king, but He fled and did not view it as the arrangement of His Father. Thus shall we do as He did, and follow Him, and so shall we not walk in darkness. For He Himself says, He who wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Also, He Himself forbids the (employment of) the force of the sword saying, The worldly princes lord it over them, etc., but not so shall it be with you. Further, Paul says, Whom God did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, etc. Also Peter says, Christ has suffered (not ruled) and left us an example, that ye should follow His steps.

    Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate because of these points: The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christian’s is according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christian’s are in heaven; their citizenship is in this world, but the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christian’s weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. In brief, as in the mind of God toward us, so shall the mind of the members of the body of Christ be through Him in all things, that there may be no schism in the body through which it would be destroyed. For every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed. Now since Christ is as it is written of Him, His members must also be the same, that His body may remain complete and united to its own advancement and upbuilding.

    If anything, the revised WCF is more like Cromwell’s England, not like Schleitheim. (of course, you know this.)

    What I find odd is that you insist on the civil magistrate as of the essence of being Reformed and that you liken the magistrate to baptism.

    It is also strange that you don’t allow that British Protestants could be flexible (somewhat) on the magistrate, as if they were locked into one position, when England during the 17th c. may have been as politically unstable as at any time in its history. All this just to get Baptists to the Reformed table?


  144. Chris, I am not sure that only Anabaptists said the magistrate should not use the sword to punish sins. I think you need to look at the temporal and spiritual aspects of sins, and there you would find Roman Catholics also all over the map.

    You may be thinking more in terms of coercion and whether the magistrate can coerce spiritual matters. But that’s a long debate going back to Augustine.

    In other words, I think you and CG have defined Anabaptist fairly narrowly as well as the established church view. Thomas Chalmers still thought the Free Church was part of the Establishment. The point being, with all of the variety of church-state ideas, it strikes me as odd to insist that any departure from creeds written with specific political regimes in mind is not Reformed. I mean, it’s not as if the Scottish Confession was written with Geneva in mind, or that the Gallican with England in mind. Despite the language of the confessions, the Reformed churches practiced great flexibility in politics — monarchy, republics, city councils. The churches were hardly in a position to require one view of the magistrate. The only Reformed church that did was the Covenanters, and they wound up functioning more like Anabaptists — not voting, not serving in the military, not holding public office.


  145. cg, but to the ecclesiastically minded, to ask what is Reformed is necessarily to ask what is a true church. That isn’t to say something like Christology isn’t in some sense essential to being Reformed, but Christology doesn’t help locate true churches since there is catholicity on it.

    Plus, what others here have said about the teaching of the magistrate being more or less inherently relative to times and places. It necessarily has to bend in ways gospel, sacraments, and discipline just don’t.


  146. Something to remember: charismatics can fairly be considered a baptist/revivalist sub-species since (I’m guessing) well over 90% of them are not paedobaptists and virtually all of them are new measurites. So no surprise that if a fair number of baptists want to walk next to the Geneva bandwagon a few of their tacky charismatic relations will want to do the same.


  147. cg, what I said before. Plus the norming idea within the confession itself, which answers the question of reformed according to what; the word of God. I understand the historic legibility question, but that seems to answer the why of revision and also grant breadth for historical considerations while continuing to make distinction according to the norming principle inherent in ‘reformed’. However, along with others, I don’t know how to raise erastian sensibilities or historical circumstances to the level of baptism.


  148. CG- as someone in a Scoftish Presbyterian church which sti preaches on the Establishment principle I can tell you you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

    1) There was no qualification. The WCF was adopted with commentary clarifying how the church understood certain articles in context. It did not disagree with the Confession in this area but understood that there was more to be said: which was said in the other Westminster documents also adopted. A confessional document needs to be adopted to be worth anything after all. You did not address the point that the Scottish church adopted a raft of documents not just the Confession.

    2) Yes the Scottish church had a prayer book foisted upon it. If you knew your history as you claim you would know that the Scottish people went to war over this! Yes the history of the Scottish church is one of struggle but I fail to see how that means qualification of doctrine. The fact that moderates over time accommodated state intrusions doesn’t mean that there weren’t those who continued to fight for the teaching of the Confession.

    3) You seem to think that for a church to claim to be Reformed it needs to achieve a perfect Establishment principle in practice. Not so. My church teaches the Establishment principle whilst recognising that the church, today, does not have a godly civil magistrate to perform his duty.

    And we would still hold that it is the duty of Christians to cleave to the Presbyterian faith. My church maintains a separate position from all other communions. To do otherwise is to start on the road to accommodation, compromise and declension.


  149. Alexander,

    It might be a bit soon to jump the conclusion that I really don’t know what I am talking about (though the possibility is certainly there).

    1. The Oxford English Dictionary on “qualification,” meaning 1a: “A clause, condition, circumstance, etc., which qualifies or modifies; a reservation, restriction, provision; (also) the action of modifying or limiting something; modification, limitation, restriction.” As you note above, the CofS adopted the WCF alongside other documents (let me check that) while “not agreeing” with the confession in a certain area. According to the OED, that’s a qualification.

    2. Who went to war over the prayer book intrusion in 1637? It wasn’t the CofS, it was the Scottish peerage, associated with a radical group of presbyterians, who started a petitioning movement outside the boundaries of the church (as far as I understand it) in the period before the revolutionary General Assembly in 1638-9, though a large number of ministers were certainly involved. And that General Assembly is revolutionary principally because it continued to operate after the withdrawal of the royal commissioner, who represented the monarch, and without whose supervision the highest court of the church was not allowed to deliberate: for the Church operated under the jurisdiction of the king. That was how things were. Then in 1647 the Church adopts – in a qualified way, see above – the WCF, a document prepared by an assembly called by the English parliament, attended and monitored by English MPs, some of whose conclusions were rejected by parliament and could not be published (see Chad van Dixhoorn’s introduction to the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly). Then after 1660 the Church of Scotland is again led by bishops – some good ones too, like Robert Leighton. All this is part of the “historic” position (rather, positions) of the CofS to which you referred me. I suggest you’ve been influenced too much by hagiography which associates the “true” CofS with the “trail of blood” of the presbyterian martyrs – though most likely not with the trails of the blood of the non-presbyterians they persecuted so terribly. You are right to say that the history of the Scottish church is one of struggle, but I’m talking about the institution rather than the godly remnant who so often rose up to protest against it, a remnant that you and I no doubt both appreciate historically and in the present day. These believers too often find themselves struggling against the church.

    And 3. Not so at all. I have no quarrel with your denominational position (FP?). But I do have a difficulty with churches which claim that label “Reformed” in any simple way without holding to the establishment principle (see, I didn’t say Erastian – maybe you’re right).


  150. CG: I apologise for my tone. I have a tendency to get snarky. And I concede that you do know a bit of our history 🙂

    I think what I would want to say in response is that yes the history of the C of S is one of strife: within and outwith. Sometimes it accepted/ had forced upon it episcopalian elements but these were resented and usually repudiated at some point. The issue if patronage is certainly a thorny one and, as far as I know, was always a contentious issue within the church. That the C of S was often in a compromised state institutionally I do not dispute, but again I don’t think that voids its claim to being Reformed. Rather it was faced with circumstances that weren’t always ideal. But I think if one were to hear the preaching in the churches one would hear the Reformed faith preached robustly throughout the land.

    I agree that the original view of the CM is an important part of being Reformed and the 2kers here are still to explain why that particular doctrine is somehow negotiable whilst the others aren’t. (I would also argue they’ve negotiated on worship and the Sabbath). However, to be fair, the American churches amended the Confession. Some of us might say they shouldn’t have, but at least they were upfront that they didn’t hold to the Establishment principle instead of subscribing the confession with their fingers crossed.

    I’m afraid I must still take issue with your view of how the C of S adopted the Confession. Nothing in their statement says they disagreed with the Confession. They were adding detail which was further elaborated upon in the Form of Predbyterian Church Govt. They adopted the Confession as it was. But I feel this argument isn’t going to progress.


  151. Chris,
    Rather the question again is, what are the implications of SS for worship and government for the reformed? That separates them from other protestants like the lutherananglicanbaptistscharismatics.
    Yeah, maybe it’s honored in the breach more than it’s observed, but first things first.


  152. The point of common Confession is not to explicate “what the Bible teaches” exhaustively on a topic, or even every topic. A Confession or Creed is an ecclesiastic statement of what we agree to declare together “with one heart and mouth,” as vital to the Christian (and in our case, the Reformed) religion.

    Either the documents/statements of various places and time conform to a general consensus, or they do not. They either adhere to a core, or they do not. Arguably, the Three Marks of the church are fairly substantially “core.” BTW, the WCF and its revisions explicitly confess the Three Marks in ch.XXV.4–Word, Sacraments, discipline–under the terms “gospel,” “ordinances,” and “worship.”

    Besides the disassociating Reformed polemic against the antisocial (as they reckoned it) tendencies of the Anabaptists becoming more pronounced through the decades, it is easy to see that the doctrine of the Magistrate and his relation to the church was largely circumstantial. The more elaborate (and LATE) the Confessions were, the more elaborate their expression (when they made it) on the relation of the church to state, and the more distinctly they spelled out various duties such historically situated persons bore toward that likewise historically situated church.

    As mentioned earlier, the (as yet) 3+ volumes of the Reformed Creeds and Confessions from the early 1500s through 1646 are a profound witness to the unanimity of the churches in many places across 150 yrs. on core principles of our common Faith. Not until the very end of this whole period of Reformation (as the series editors professed intention states) will we find the introduction of disunity in regard to one of the key designators of how the Reformed church is known/identified, by the inclusion of the LBC. Unless one has already bought into the notion that denial of paedobaptist practice is an inevitable terminus of true reformation, the inclusion as a Reformed Confession of one that denies the consensus re. one of the Three Marks is a generous inclusion.

    Finally, consider the OPC: it has a doctrinal stance is “in line” with those 150 years of previous statements (and quite different from the PCUSA’s perspective on their multiplied historic doctrinal expressions ala their Book of Confessions, that have zero binding force). Perhaps the most salient fact in this discussion is not that the OPC’s witness is for all intents and purposes the same as 1788s. But rather that as the title page plainly states, , here is “The Confession of Faith and Catechisms” (note the Large Print) of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

    And at the top of each page of the confessional section, “The Confession of Faith.” The sub-title of our Confession is that it is “the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” sub-sub titled, “With Proof Texts.” This document is NOT the WCF, as adopted by the Kirk of Scotland in 1647 (who added their own adopting statement to it). It doesn’t pretend to be, but is a Reformed Confession among the others of the past–not 150, but–500 years.

    Like the 17th c. Kirk before it, and many others, the OPC’s Confession is in substantial agreement with Reformed statements both contemporaneous and historic, in fact is slavishly borrowed from its parent churches, allowing for changes in circumstances that should dictate what things must be confessed, and what things might be left to an individual conscience.

    Perhaps the pope IS the antiChrist, in the very sense intended by the 16th and 17th c. reformers. As a church, we don’t have to confess that truth together in order to be Reformed, any more than other Confessions that left such a word out of their formulae. A Christian or a preacher is free to believe and teach it, or not if he disagrees. It doesn’t touch on his identity. But cut out 1/4 or 1/3 of our membership (i.e. non-communicants), and classify them as “non-Christians” until they publicly and individually self-connect, as the Baptist Confession teaches–this is a radical departure from historic identity, and it reflects a different sort of hermeneutic, a different way of approaching and reading the Bible from the main. This is a difference of another order.

    At the end of the day, there’s a point to be conceded that who has title to the modifier “Reformed” is a matter of judgment. But the judgment has to be measured by some yardstick, or some combination of factors, a blending of doctrinal and historic facts, along with pedigree. With regard to the last category, plainly not all are “Reformed” who are “of Reformed,” as Arminius bears testimony. What’s in a name? More than fair Juliet is willing to admit. So why is it hard to concede that there be those with a clearer title? By what reasoning does the variability of the church’s existential relation to the state stand in the same relation to the Reformed moniker as the Marks, or the place of Justification?


  153. cg, you know how publishing works (you never want to see how they make the sausages). But seriously, you’re going to hang your argument now on a little old out of the way biography series? That’s more Baptist-like it.


  154. DGH. I will look at the temporal and spiritual aspects of sins.

    In the meantime, do you not think it is problematic to say:

    1) The TFU/WCF have binding authority because (quia) they accurately summarize the Word of God.
    2) The original TFU/WCF teach Erastianism/establishment principle.
    3) The modern TFU/WCF still teach a confusion of cult and culture/1.5 kingdoms.

    But then to have the Church stand over this accurate summary of God’s Word and say that only certain parts must be believed? If it is accurate, why must not all of it be believed? If it is not accurate, why do we subscribe it quia? And why does the Church call it accurate, and impose its binding authority on its members?

    Re: Anabaptism, I think what Rutherford, Edwards and Baillie (et al) said is important. I will get some choice quotes soon.

    I’m not arguing that the Reformed confessions required any particular form of civil government. But they do clearly call for state violence to be used against violators of the first four commandments. So whether you have a king, a prince, a city council, or a bedouin chieftain, the Reformed all believed that those magistrates had a responsibility to initiate violent force against Roman Catholics, Baptists, Sabbath breakers, blasphemers, etc.


  155. Chris, Reformed churches do not say only certain parts must be believed. They actually revised the confession that they profess. Revision doesn’t make us Anabaptist.

    Also, practically no church today insists the magistrate must enforce the Decalogue. Not even Rome. Does that make Roman Catholicism Anabaptist?

    It appears to me that you and CG need a category different from Anabaptist to talk about this kind of change.

    But the original post about Baptists. I think changes of teaching and practice of baptism may be called not Reformed. When the PCUSA revised its confession on the magistrate, the Scots and Irish and Dutch did not renounce the American church as Anabaptist. I do believe Reformed churches would sever ties with a Presbyterian Church that did practice paedobaptism.


  156. DGH, I think you know that when I cite Boyce in an arena like this, I’m just clutching at straws …

    But just to be clear, I’m not arguing that baptists should be called “Reformed,” though clearly the so-called “Reformed” baptists have their origins in c17th English puritanism, and their 1677/89 confession offers such improvements to the WCF, eg on the civil magistrate, which were very brave developments in their own contexts, and which ought to be appreciated by members of this forum as representing an important step away from the establishment/Erastian bias of the original WCF and towards the modern 2kingdoms theology.

    But I’m also reminding people that the baptists’ revision of the civil magistrate theology was denounced by the framers of the WCF as being indicative of their being Anabaptists.

    And that is their word – the word of the presbyterians who framed the WCF – not mine. And it’s a word they pick up from the c16th “Reformed” confessions.

    There are other words of course: “antinomian” would surely be a term hurled by c17th presbyterians against their modern-day (American) co-religionists who refuse to adhere to the confessional teaching on the sabbath. We haven’t talked about that as another area where confessional revision has yet to catch up with the public teaching of some of the American churches and their seminaries. And so I suppose the contributors to this thread would also want to deny that the confessional position on the sabbath is also not of the essence of being “Reformed.” (Hope Alexander is thinking about this.)

    The contributors on this thread admit that not everything in the confessional tradition is of the essence of the “Reformed” identity, but simultaneously they don’t know what that essence is, unless it’s just the 3 marks of the true church, which proves far too much.

    I’m arguing that the goal-posts can’t keep shifting, and that “Reformed” must have a stable definition. I’m arguing that the stable definition can be formed by reference to the 1647 WCFs. And we are “Reformed” to the extent that we confess that faith.

    Anyway, I’m just repeating myself, so over and out from me …


  157. cg, thanks for the clarification. I’m all for stability and definitions, but it seems to be fairly late in the day to identify 1647 as the date for Reformed definitions. I know this shifts the sand under my OPC feet. I do believe the 16th c. is a better standard, especially since 17th c. England and Scotland were hardly stable places (not sure Geneva or Zurich were either, but give me a break). Though as a historian I am not sure that any point in time permits us to capture it, define it, use it as benchmark. Yes, the danger of historical inquiry.

    So I am willing to concede your point to a point. A lot of flux in the 17th c. with Baptists on the Puritan spectrum. And that is why I am not a fan of Puritanism (I think). You know, John Williamson Nevin and all that.

    But here’s the question, what do Beza, Ursinus, and Bucer make of Particular Baptists?


  158. I think that may be as close as we get to DGH agreeing with us, CG.

    DGH, my point was mostly about RSC’s argument about the way in which confessions may be received by Churches, as his way of dealing with the problem of the Reformed doctrine of the civil magistrate. It seems to boil down to – you have to subscribe the entire confession… except for that. I think it is problematic for us to have quia subscriptions AND to have the Church stand over the confession like that. But if it is not problematic, I am willing to listen and learn.

    I’ve asked the question on here before, but do you confess that ” it is the duty of Barack Obama (or, in your case, Rick Snyder) to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger”? Or what about Marxist contexts in which all religion is the opiate of the people – how does that fit with taking order “that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance”?

    Obviously, that gets even more problematic the farther back in confessional history that we go in the Reformed definition of the duties of the civil magistrate.

    CG is absolutely right to bring up antinomianism. Even a cursory reading of most c17 Presbyterians finds antinomians, libertines and anabaptists used synonymously and interchangeably. So anyone who denied that the civil magistrate must enforce the first four commandments was obviously an antinomian/libertine – or, in other words, an anabaptist.

    DGH, you give me hope when you say you think you are not a fan of Puritanism. We really do need to have that conference we were planning – and if you ever get a chance to read Bozeman’s “The Precianist Strain,” I will buy the cigars and the beverages, because I would really like to discuss that with you.


  159. Chris, but one difference here is that I don’t simply take exception to the original WCF. An entire communion, in good relations with other Reformed churches, revised the teaching of WCF 25 and no one called them Anabaptist. What you and CG seem to be willing to do here is freeze frame history, which is very surprising from a pomo Reformed Baptist like CG. History is in development. Reformed churches changed their understanding of the magistrate, just as Constantine changed the churches’ understanding of the Empire. None of those changes go anywhere near — I would insist — the Schleitheim confession.

    So don’t we need to ask what 18th c. divines in England and Scotland thought of the American revisions? Asking the 17th c. is a tad anachronistic.

    At the same time, we do know what Reformed churches in every age have said about dunking adults and dedicating babies.


  160. Pomo? Only on my good days. “Reformed” baptist? May it never be!

    But that is a great question: what did the real Presbyterians think of the colonists who abandoned their confession? If I have a moment this evening I might try to find out.


  161. DGH, fair enough. Re: an entire Reformed Church in good standing with other Reformed Churches revising the confession – it is curious to me that no one called them Anabaptist. I do see contemporary people calling the American revision “liberal” – which may parallel the c16th and c17th label “libertine.” But if the reasoning went that any Church that did not confess that the civil magistrate was responsible to enforce the first four commandments with the sword was libertine – and if the 1677/88 London Confession of Baptist Faith pared the chapter on the civil magistrate down to simply what Romans 13 says (i.e., generic Greek words for “good” and “bad”), then could not the case be made that the c17th Presbyterian identification of antinomian/libertine and Anabaptist actually held true in the case of that confession?

    And you invoke the Schleitheim, but the whole point of the original title of the 1644 iteration of the London Confession of Baptist Faith was that to WCF types – especially Presbyterians – all baptists were anabaptists: “A CONFESSION OF FAITH of seven congregations or churches of Christ in London, which are commonly, but unjustly, called Anabaptists”

    What if we put the matter differently – what if we were to ask the oldest Reformed confession-writers, even going forward in history 150 years (that’s not freeze-framing history, right?): “There is a group which believes that the civil magistrate should not enforce the first four commandments. What would you call this group?” What answer do you think our forbears would give?


  162. I’m pretty sure Guido wouldn’t have thought of any of us as Reformed. Then again, he wouldn’t have thought of himself as Reformed. Just a faithful Christian who was a member of a true church.

    Interesting that BC 36 teaches how the magistrate ought to behave, then how the magistrate ought not to behave, and then how EVERYONE ought to behave, vis-a-vis subjecting to the magistrate regardless of the magistrate’s behavior. For the Belgic at least, I think it’s pretty clear that the universally applicable teaching is the more essential portion of this article, as it teaches how all members of a true church should behave. I’m guessing that’s why Kuyper’s proposed revisions and others like it has rarely elicited the rhetorical response we’re hearing form Chris and CG.

    One more reason it is nice to confess a statement of faith penned by a church under the cross.


  163. Brian, I agree with the vast majority of the Reformed confession (of course, that’s the rub here, isn’t it?) – just not the confusion of cult and culture.

    I’m not sure that even the Peace of Westphalia, the Peace of Augsburg, or the situation before either of them qualify as being “under the cross” when your prince, who subscribes your confession, can let the blood of those who subscribe and practice the confessions of false churches.


  164. Much like the Wittenberg Door magazine humorously noted that Joseph Smith was the first martyr to die with a gun in his hand – I find it difficult to take seriously the idea that suffering can characterize our Christian lives while we wield the sword (or the gun).


  165. Chris, I’m sure they’d call those guys Anabaptists, just like we call people who believe in planned economies Communists. But is it possible for those guys to adjust to a new form of government like the ones that came in the late 18th century? Well, the officers in their churches did adapt and revised the confessions accordingly.

    In other words, Anabaptist was their vocabulary at the time because that was the word available. Today we have another phrase, “sacred cause of liberty.” kidding. But if Rome can change on freedom of conscience, can’t we?

    The real question is why those Reformed church officers did not seem to notice the nature of the magistrate’s duties at the time of Christianity’s origins. By their lights Jesus and Paul were Anabaptists.


  166. I certainly agree that the WCF revision on magistrate is not “anabaptist”.

    Except of course some Reformed folks use the word ‘anabaptist” as a swear word against anything with which they disagree. Some also lump all anabaptists together and then let the violent anabaptists be representative of the rest. People who do this tend to call 2kers ‘anabaptists”. The same culture calvinists tend to accuse the Protestant Reformed denial of “common grace” as being ‘anabaptist”.

    There was of course a time when it was very representative of Reformed people to write a confession for the sake of the magistrate. Has there been a Reformed confession which was not written for the magistrate? Of course some Christendom Calvinists would say that the confessional revisions were written to enable present day “secular” magistrates.

    DGH asumes a normative “anabaptism”—“Pacifism, not serving in political office, shunning outsiders”. I like the first two, although of course they don’t describe most Mennonites today. As for the shunning, no, that was for those who ” joined church but then left”. Shunning does not apply to the English outsiders, nor does it apply to the Amish young people who never joined church in the first place.

    But all this denominationalism and “voluntary association” and “joining church”, isn’t all that simply free-willism? Reformed people who don’t do arranged marriage and who no longer support the idea of one church per parish, well, they must already be well on the way to Pelagianism…

    Who are you to decide for yourself that you should leave a PCA or CRC and join an OPC?.


  167. It’s more likely that Bonhoffer died as a “witness” than did Zwingli, even though there was no gun in either of their hands.

    cgribbon: “Reformed” baptist? May it never be!

    mark: amen to that. Even if it means that we never know what’s “of the essence” of the confession and what is historically accidental. What is the “ceremonial law”? Well, that’s easy, it’s what’s not in the “moral law”. Well, what is the “moral law”. Easy again, it’s what’s not in the ceremonial law.

    And there you have it. What’s in the “ceremonial” did not reflect God’s unchanging moral character. . Also, the ceremonial law was the gospel, and not the law, which means that Christ did not die to satisfy the “ceremonial law” which was not against us, but only the “moral law”, which was against us…..

    But we must pity the children of baptists like cgribbon–they only have the promise of the gospel, and not the extra special promise of “the covenant”….which is “of the essence”


  168. “good Baptists do in fact re-baptize. If a Presbie who was baptized as an infant comes later comes to credo convictions and seeks to join a Baptist church, the good Baptists overseeing that church will demand he as a professing Christian submit to a valid baptism, which is to say be re-baptized. That is the whole point of being Baptist. Bad Baptists will be latitudinarian and let it go, just like bad Presbies overlook credo convictions and give those holding them church membership.

    mark: sorry to be so late responding, but i have been with my dad in hospital. I most certainly agree that baptists should not be accepted as members of Reformed churches. Also I am not a good baptist, number one, because I don’t agree with them about Christians ignoring the example of Jesus in order to be a magistrate, and second, I don’t see “water” whenever I see the word “baptism”.

    This failure to see water also makes me not a good Reformed person. It will simply be assumed that am a gnostic Marcionite who denies both the creation and the incarnation (even though I don’t). When John the Baptist said that he baptized with water but that Christ would with the Spirit, this turns out to mean, for most Reformed people, that Christ baptizes with water as a means of grace so that the Spirit can baptize people into Christ.

    Thus it comes down to this:
    John Baptist–water
    Christ=church—water and the Spirit

    so that Christ does not baptize with or into the Spirit, but instead
    the Spirit baptizes into Christ

    the very presence of the word “laypeople” is evidence of sacerdotalism, where clergy stand for the church

    no clergy, no church
    no professions of effectual calling, but many with Roman Catholic baptism, plus clergy=church

    but only “latitudinarian” Reformed people refuse to accept Roman Catholic baptism

    “will demand he as a professing Christian submit to a valid baptism, which is to say be re-baptized.

    mark: why not re-say it a hundred more times? one invalid baptism, plus one valid baptism, is re-baptism

    and then i also can beg the question: one valid water baptism, plus a baptism from a false Roman or Reformed church, is NOT a re-baptism

    But what if you would simply say that all baptist baptism is invalid, because number one, they are too ignorant to know that God is doing it and think they are doing it, and number two, all good baptist baptism is based on a principle of “rebaptism”, which means it can’t be valid baptism.

    But to do that, to STOP saying that baptist baptism is both a. re-baptism but b. also valid, would be to a. lose the pose of tolerance and b. to need to baptize baptists who move to the Reformed seats on the evangelical bus

    “That is the whole point of being Baptist”

    mark: maybe there’s a little more to it, like seeing the conditional aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, like seeing that there is no promise of salvation except in the gospel, nothing extra or more in “the covenant promise….


  169. Maybe before arguing whether Baptists can be Reformed, it is necessary to answer whether they are Protestants? I’m serious and not trying to be provocative. According to Paige Patterson of the SBC, it seems Baptists are not Protestants; at least in some sense.

    In response to a question asking if Baptists are Protestants, here is what he tweeted:
    .@kyleworley Yes and no. Baptists owe origin to the Protestant movement, but clearly rejected certain tenets of Protestantism. #AskDrP. Obviously, a tweet can only say so much, but I have heard Baptist ministers claim connection to Anabaptists, and what Mr. Patterson says does seem to be historically accurate.


  170. @Alberto —

    That’s not an uncommon view. During the 19th century baptist successionism the idea that baptists had evolved independently of Protestants was common. I grew up with “Landmarkism lite” which has a sort of a watered down version. So in that teaching:
    God hates religions.
    Protestant churches are religions.
    Biblical Christianity (Baptist evangelicalism) is about a relationship with Jesus not a religion.

    The attitude remains even if no one believes the historical theory anymore.


  171. DGH, I think that is a very helpful analogy between Anabaptists and Communists (not to mention, historical – at least in the case of the Diggers and the Ranters). And I guess it seems to me that it is just as unwise to commit to a particular political view (Erastianism/establishment/theonomy) in one’s confession of faith, as it is to commit to a particular economic view (as much as I favor an unhampered, free market economy). I would rather be wrong about economics, and right about matters of ultimate significance.

    I don’t think we’re disagreeing on people’s ability to change or adapt to new circumstances. But I think CG and I are pointing out that when the Reformation and post-Reformation folk put things in their confessions, it defined what Reformed means, and they expected it to be believed. So, again, I don’t think it is wise to bind other Christian’s consciences about what the magistrate ought or ought not do. But the Reformed confession does that. I’m tempted to agree with you – that the authors of the Reformed confession could have adapted to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But I at least want to acknowledge that there is an element of speculation there. Perhaps they would have doubled down, and insisted that such an antinomian view of the State was not only Anabaptist, but clearly the product of the new thinking of Rene Descartes.

    I think you raise an excellent question about why the Reformed did not seem to notice the nature of the magistrate’s duties at the time of Christianity’s origins. And I think this implies a hermeneutical question (one that, should I ever get an academic job that affords me the opportunity to research and write, I would like to publish on). While we should be thankful that God saved Christians’ lives by Constantine’s policy, it was, ironically, that same policy that seems to have altered hermeneutics until around the 18th century. If I’m on to something here, then I think I have reason to be cautious about assuming what the c16th and c17th Reformed would have adapted to.

    So why must we confess anything about civil magistrate? May we liken it to the ordo?


  172. Chris, I don’t think we need to confess anything about the magistrate. But in a state-church/Constantinian society, you do need to say something, especially since you are likely address the magistrate in your confession.


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