The Preferred Outlook for Ecclesial Reformed Protestants — You Guessed It

Bill Evans recently wrote about the importance of ecclesiology and made recommendations for seminarians. Nothing wrong with the post except that Evans doesn’t seem to notice that 2kers are the ones who have been arguing for the importance of ecclesiology (as opposed to the Unionists, transformationalists, theonomists, and New Calvinists). My own bona fides (all about me) are Recovering Mother Kirk. So why won’t Evans give 2kers any credit?

Evans writes:

Reasons for the decline of ecclesiology in many mainline churches are not difficult to discern. Much of this can ultimately be traced to the fact that many in these churches bought wholesale into the optimistic Enlightenment notion of the autonomous individual human being. People are basically pretty good, it is thought, and any tendency toward dysfunctional behavior (i.e., what used to be called “sin”) is attributed to the environment. Moreover, these human beings are not answerable to any authority, such as Holy Scripture, higher than themselves. Needless to say, this quickly resulted in the erosion of the Scriptural basis and confessional moorings for church life.

Since human beings are basically OK, the great need is not salvation in the life to come (whatever that may be), but the amelioration of social ills in this present life and the maximizing of individual freedom in every sphere of life, whether or not expressions of that freedom conflict with biblical morality. Historically the church had sought to maintain biblical moral standards for its members, but now there is widespread disagreement as to what even constitutes moral or immoral behavior—hence the current front-page controversies among mainline Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Episcopalians over homosexuality. . . .

While the broader situation is somewhat better in evangelical churches, there is an ecclesiological crisis there as well. To be sure, many American Evangelicals have retained a high view of the Bible’s authority, and of the saving uniqueness of Jesus Christ. For that we must give thanks! But the news is not all good, for various factors have conspired to undercut a vibrant doctrine of the church. A major problem here is that many American Evangelicals have bought into aspects of the broader culture that corrode a biblical doctrine of the church.

Much of this has to do with the reflexive individualism and voluntarism of North American culture generally. Our national consciousness was historically shaped by the frontier experience and by the keen desire to be free from the external constraint of king and Pope. Individual rights are of paramount importance. We begin our thinking with individual rights rather than our responsibilities to the community, an impulse given a great boost by the Enlightenment. All this is no great secret, and was extensively explored by sociologist Robert Bellah and his colleagues in their book Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985).

One reason for the decline of ecclesiology among Reformed Protestants is the very understanding of the kingdom of God that Evans uses to criticize 2k. After all, if the kingdom of God is bigger than the church, then Christians can just as likely pursue “kingdom work” through plumbing, baking, teaching (general revelation), and politics. That mindset clearly affected Abraham Kuyper whose involvements as a churchman and worshiper trailed off the more engaged he was in taking every square inch captive.

Evans falls prey to kingdom ambiguity by insisting that Reformed orthodoxy has always taught that God’s kingdom is broader than the church:

. . . on the matter of the relationship between church and kingdom the real issue is not whether the church is the kingdom but whether the visible church and the kingdom are coextensive (as 2K proponents maintain). The recent NT scholarship I referenced maintains, rightly I think, that the church is an aspect of the kingdom of God, but that the kingdom is a reality greater in scope than the church. Hart’s protestations notwithstanding, as far as I can tell none of the major Reformed confessions have definitively pronounced on this key question.

In point of fact, the Reformed confessions and catechisms everywhere teach that God rules all things and then make a separate point, that Christ rules the church in a way distinct from divine providence. How could this not be the case if we are to make sense of the Lord’s Prayer’s second petition, which the Larger Catechism:

In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate; that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends. (LC 191)

That is a different kind of rule from this:

God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory. (LC 18)

So if Evans is going to ding 2k for making the kingdom of God coextensive with the church (2kers don’t, the kingdom of Christ as redeemer is coextensive with the church), then he needs to pony up his own definition of God’s kingdom and where the church fits. Until that happens, the Ecclesial Calvinist makes more sense as the Kingdom Calvinist. The question is whether he believes in one or two kingdoms.

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14 thoughts on “The Preferred Outlook for Ecclesial Reformed Protestants — You Guessed It

  1. “[N]one of the major Reformed confessions has pronounced definitively” on “whether the visible church and the kingdom are coextensive”? How about, “The visible Church… is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”?

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  2. “We begin our thinking with individual rights rather than our responsibilities to the community, an impulse given a great boost by the Enlightenment.”

    Evans dings evangelicals for this, but I have been disheartened a bit by the amount of church hopping I have witnessed by some Presbyterian and Reformed people, sometimes over matters that could have been worked out if they had stuck around.

    It’s hard to heed a call to be a part of “a family” or “a community” having seen people split from that family/community after an offense, rarely or never to be seen again. You don’t know how solid the (visible) thing is that you are committing to.

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  3. I suppose one problem with identifying church and kingdom is locating churches that look anything like what our old life theory about churches teaches us we should find. While the world would be lost if Christ had not died on the cross to save elect sinners, would the world necessarily be lost if there were only friends who were Christians but no churches as we thought churches would be?….

    Do we change our theory about apostolic continuity of churches past and churches present? I have no desire to take sides with Harold Camping and say that the Holy Spirit has left the building. What Christ already got done is primary, and Christ Himself is first, but the organization of ecclesia still happens. Body still matters..

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  4. Daniel 2: 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever

    I Corinthians 6 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?

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  5. Jason Stellman, Dual Citizens, p 9— “God never deals with us as individuals”

    Jason Stellman, Dual Citizens, p14—“Even if there is no faith, is there no blessing?”

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  6. @mark mcculley

    “I suppose one problem with identifying church and kingdom is locating churches that look anything
    like what our old life theory about churches teaches us we should find.”

    ding ding ding

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  7. Mark and MSL, but over-reading that problem may be where we get the Stellmans (speaking of). What old lifery actually fosters is a better grasp of the condition of the church militant–it’s not the triumphant church. The militant is weak and more often not what she should be. Deal with it, that’s the condition of things in the inter-advental age.

    And this is why there is a parallel between theonomy and CtC Catholicism. Theonomy wants triumph in the civil sphere (the Bible will solve all temporal conundrums), CtC Catholicism in the ecclesial (the Magisterium will solve all ecclesial conundrims). Both are the height of naievete.

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  8. I believe Zrim (and 2k) is saying embrace the suck while trying to reduce the suck, but don’t be shocked if the suck index seems only to rise. And try to find a church where Sundays don’t suck. Highbrow translation — you’re welcome.

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  9. And Erik I dont mean to be a complete annoyance, but I thought .ire about that clip. Growing up, my parents had us watch McGee and Me.

    There’s a reason we don’t let out kids watch Veggie Tales.

    It looks to me about on that level.

    Peace.

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  10. I know my wife will want to watch the God is Not Dead movie. I’ll be passing.

    “God’s not dead, he’s living on the inside”. And sadly that’s their apologetic: God’s on the inside of everyone. Is this like the burning in the bosom like the Mormons? How many church goers adhere to this? Argh!

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  11. It’s interesting how the transformationalists only become interested in ecclesiology when their 50-year-long struggle to establish a Christian Democracy is hopelessly imperiled. The problem is that most of their churches are nothing but organizational outposts for the Culture War.

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