Hope For Fans of Ravi Zacharias

Reporting on the alleged sexual abuse of a prominent apologist has shaken parts of the evangelical world if the coverage at Christianity Today is any indication. I for one still find it hard to believe that Zacharias was the owner of two day spas. Imagine Tim Keller or Francis Schaeffer having side businesses like a delicatessen or mountain-climbing equipment store.

Here’s the thing. As I read and listen to people lamenting an evangelists fall from grace (alleged), I can’t help wondering whether the people who converted or became more convinced of Christianity through Zacharias are any less converted or convinced because of the apologist’s sins. The truth of the gospel, after all, does not depend on the character or zeal or holiness of the one proclaiming the gospel.

And here evangelicals depressed by the news about Zacharias might be envious of Reformed Protestants because we have a tradition that recognizes that the efficacy of preaching does not depend on the character of the minister. Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:

THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.

I understand not all Reformed Protestants believe this. But even in Zurich, which was not exactly Geneva on the spectrum of high church/low church convictions, the church confessed a high view of preaching that could rival Rome’s teaching on transubstantiation for unbelievability.

58 thoughts on “Hope For Fans of Ravi Zacharias

  1. A great many “Protestants,” in my experience, don’t believe that sin REALLY persists in believers.

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  2. An interesting parallel: in the Middle Ages, the Bishop of Winchester ran the bathhouses in his bishopric. For centuries, these would serve as the legal red light district of London. The general sentiment in those times was the same as modern prostitution legalization advocates: it’ll happen anyway, so tax and regulate them, etc., but equally no moral reformer stood any chance against the golden goose that filled the treasury, and it took Henry VIII’s reformation and a syphilis epidemic to finally drive the hustlers out of the temple.

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  3. “A great many ‘Protestants,’ in my experience, don’t believe that sin REALLY persists in believers.” It’s curious that in 66 years I never met one of the “great many”.

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  4. Scott,

    Larger Catechism:

    Q. 155. How is the word made effectual to salvation?
    A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

    High view of preaching but not the cigar of Zurich.

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  5. Westminster certainly takes this approach towards sacraments, with an implicit endorsement of the efficacy of the Word apart from the piety or intention of the one administering

    The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

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  6. “”The research that I’ve seen shows that more than 90% of victims of any sexual harassment experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. So intense feelings of isolation and anger and helplessness. But the research shows that with Christian ministers, when your spirituality is wrapped up in the abuse that happened to you, it’s different. It often results in intense feelings of shame, more intense feelings of shame, guilt, and sometimes long periods of spiritual confusion. So the one woman told me that she sort of suddenly stopped believing in God, and it took her a lot of therapy to kind of recover her faith. Another woman told me that she hasn’t been to church in over a decade since this happened and that she can’t trust religious institutions.“”

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  7.  “”Groups, individuals or even organizations claiming to be a church who primarily uplift institutional identity and institutional fidelity as a chief value for all its members, instead of primarily uplifting Christ, are engaged in Churchianity more than they are Christianity.”” This is indeed exactly what NAPARC leaders do. They uphold their idol of the institutional church at all cost. Sacerdotalism and an over realized ecclesiology are par for the course in conservative churches ever as much as Rome.

    “Whether or not the Western institutional church as we know it survives is of no ultimate consequence.  What God has accomplished and will accomplish in Jesus Christ will always stand.  His Church, in whatever form it takes, will stand with Him.”

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  8. Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:

    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    Yeah right whatever! So let’s get this straight, a fallen sinful human being stands up to read 2 verses of scripture text that the sermon is based on for all of 2 minutes, then spends another 40 minutes “preaching” telling us what he thinks it means and we are to believe that 40 minutes of human unpacking the meaning of the scripture text is on par with THE WORD of God itself? Wow! So we Protestants do believe in magic? And apparently we believe in total depravity except of course for elders, pastors and their offices have a special hall pass. What an over inflated view of yourselves and your offices you Reformed leaders have.

    Show me the scripture text, in context which backs that view?

    This is why the phrase “Protestant Sacerdotalism” is spot on. This Sacerdotalism is pervasive in NAPARC. Tear down that idol!

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  9. @E. Burns: You raise a fair issue. Is 2nd HC saying that preaching is identical to God’s revelation? Is there any daylight at all in Reformed thought between preaching and actual Scripture?

    And we should ask the opposite question. Are you arguing that there is *no* difference between preaching Scripture and simply expression a man-made opinion?

    The first category of Scripture that indicates that preaching is something above simple opinion are the passages that mention “preaching the word” (kerusso ton logon). It indicates that the preacher is capable of proclaiming the Word of God. 2 Tim 4.2

    Paul to Timothy: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

    See also Mark 2.2, Acts 8.4, Acts 13.5. I would put the passages about “preaching the gospel” in this category.

    The second category of Scripture looks at the power of the preached word. Eg

    For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1.17, 18.

    Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you 1 Cor 15.1

    Preaching (esp of the gospel) is not mere “words of eloquent wisdom” but “the power of God”

    So you ask, in effect, How far does this go? You suggest that Reformed thought places absolute equality between the Scripture and the preaching of Scripture, and call this sacerdotalism.

    But it’s not absolute equality. Instead, preaching is a proclamation and exposition of Scripture. It is to be regarded as Scripture insofar as the preacher is faithfully proclaiming. Compare to the Bereans of Acts 17. There is no suggestion that the preacher is providing infallible revelation. In fact the opposite is the case. When 2HC examines the teachings of the church fathers (who are proclaiming the word in writing), it says

    Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures. Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement. — 2nd HC

    Bottom line: Preaching carries with it the power of the Word of God, but only insofar as the preacher accurately proclaims. Preaching is not new revelation, but does convey the revelation already taught in Scripture. The preacher exercises authority not on the basis of his person, but on the authority of the message he preaches.

    The whole point of that passage is to make Scripture the sole authority.

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  10. Jeff,

    I appreciate what you are attempting and you make some fine points. I agree preaching from a text is important and can accurately express what the (text) Word of God that was originally communicating.

    However, with all due respect you are engaging in a lot of gymnastics. This also speaks to a significant and persistent problem in Reformed circles…..why can’t we just admit this statement is not true?

    Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:

    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    Again I asked, show the Scripture text which this statement is based on? Can we not admit this is poorly written? Can we not see that this and many other Reformed traditions give way to all manner of its own abuses via the road of Sacerdotalism which is based not on scripture but rather on confessions/ traditions?

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  11. If this statements purpose is to make scripture the sole authority …..
    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    Let me just say in the most appropriately penetrating way, it does a very piss poor job of that.

    Can we just call that what it is? Or are we so man pleasing as to uphold our institution/ denominations/ traditions at all cost? I will stick to my point and further stick to the fact that all manner of abuse has come out of Reformed circles due to this dogmatic, authoritarian and over realized ecclesiology which is so wrapped up in the statement in question.

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  12. E. Burns,

    I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize the wording of a confession written four hundred years ago as being confusing. I’m no expert, but I’m sure it was sufficiently clear for the people of that day to work.

    Here’s a question—it is possible for me to accurately explain the Scriptures and the biblical gospel without having a Bible in my hand or even referring to a specific text. “the Bible says Jesus died on the cross to atone for my sins, was risen from the dead, and now everyone who believes in Him will be saved.” I have preached the Word inasmuch as I’ve given the same sense of the Bible. God can use that simple phrase to save people. He has done so all around the world. But if God saves only through the Word, how can that be unless the preached Word in this case is actually the Word of God?

    All it is saying is that we have to receive the words spoken by the preacher and believe them insofar as they accurately convey the truth of Scripture. I don’t know why that is controversial. If your preacher accurately teaches you the Bible, are you allowed to disbelieve him when he’s right about what Paul or Jesus or whoever speaks?

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  13. Robert,

    I already answered that question. See above. However, it has has failed to be shown how the statement in question has any Biblical foundation. Other than circular arguments pointing to traditions (which primarily uphold their Sacerdotalism and offices) NAPARC leadership has notta in the Biblical foundation department on this topic.

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  14. To your question…..“Is possible for me to accurately explain the Scriptures and the biblical gospel without having a Bible in my hand or even referring to a specific text?” I think I already covered the crux of that, but let me answer directly by saying…Yes, insofar as it gets it right.

    However, that is not in any way shape or form the issue in question here, so it is a non sequitur.

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  15. As to your claim that the statement (HC) is not a big deal, not a controversy.

    The statement was brought up as kind of apologetic for why Reformed systems would be a better solve/fix.
    No, it’s not a fix. Hardly! The very fact that this type of circular argumentation is so allowed and prevalent in Reformed leadership circles, speaks volumes. I would argue it can lead to more abuse. On the one hand Sola Scriptura is declared. On the other hand can claim the NAPARC Elder…”My Word is God’s Word…. the confessions tell me so.” Can you not see that is the taking away with the left hand that which was just given by the right hand? Can you not see how this can and in fact has made Reformed NAPARC leaders “puffed up”?

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  16. EB
    Jeff provided you with texts that equate preaching with the word of God. Insofar as the word of God is infallible, the content of the faithfully preached gospel would be infallible. As dgh notes, not all reformed Protestants believe this (indeed I can’t find this in the Westminster stds or tfu). The HC is not a doctrinal standard for any NAPARC denomination that I am aware of. Do you know of any?

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  17. sdb,

    No Scripture foundation in any meaningful proper context for this statement has been provided. The ones that you think were, upon reading are actually vague at best as far as correlation to support the statement in question. Again, the question is not whether preaching or the gospel are good or whether God’s Word is good, etc.

    Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:
    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    It was cited positively as being from the Reformed tradition and now you wave it off as not official….huh, what!!!?? Make up your minds. In fact it was cited as being “AN ENVIOUS REFORMED TRADITION”. It is in fact true that it is a Reformed tradition. We all agree on that fact. The only thing in question is whether it’s a good one or not. Are you aware this statement is in fact essentially to some degree or another the defacto view held by every conservative NAPARC denomination? Come on! That is why it was cited, that much is clear! It is especially loved by the hardliner authoritarian types. It was in fact cited here to make some big point about how this is the answer to abusive situations. As referenced earlier NAPARC is brilliant at that taking away with the left hand that which was just given with the right.

    Reformed hardliners cannot even admit its poorly worded. The equivocation and gymnastics engaged in is flat out staggering, but sadly not surprising. It lends to proof of the idol of Sacerdotalism and the over realized Ecclesiology which are par for the course in conservative NAPARC.

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  18. Jim, who seems to have the same thought and language patterns as E. Burns,

    I think you’re misreading what the soundbyte is saying. “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    You have rendered this as “we are to believe that 40 minutes of human unpacking the meaning of the scripture text is on par with THE WORD of God itself?”

    However, the context surrounding that phrase makes it clear that HC does NOT equate the words of the preacher with the Word of God. The very next sentences clarify what is meant, and your interpretation is one of those that is rejected: “the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches.”

    You might complain rightly that it could be worded better in order to prevent misunderstanding. But to be honest, I have yet to encounter a Reformed minister who thinks that when he preaches, what comes out of his mouth is the infallible Word of God. In fact, I would go further and say that any minister who did say that would be quickly removed from the ministry in any NAPARC church.

    Further, I would say that all NAPARC ministers I have seen preach or administer sacraments seem to bend over backwards to avoid sacerdotalism.

    So rather than continue to wrangle about words, let me ask you some questions:

    (1) Do you have any first-hand experiences in NAPARC churches that substantiate the charge of sacerdotalism?

    (2) Do you have data that show that NAPARC churches are particularly prone to abuse above and beyond churches in other denominations?

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  19. Jeff, your bottom line takes about as much space but is admittedly more clear than the HC statement. In which case, though perhaps overstated, EB’s point is well taken. And while you may have never encountered a Reformed minister who thinks when he preaches that which comes out of his mouth is the infallible Word of God, that’s not really the problem. The problem is hearers thinking so because one of their standards seems to come pretty close to suggesting it.

    Robert, is it possible that the human can be elevated to or confused for the divine in preaching? If so, what would it sound like if not to say that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God”? And since all preaching is always a mixture of human and divine speech, it does seem misleading to formulate things this way. The point of the statement is to say that its efficacy does not depend on the character of the preaching but on the purity of the preaching (and I’d assume the combined work of the Spirit), so it’s not clear what’s to be gained be a rather sloppy formulation about preaching.

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  20. Dear gentlemen,

    Regarding E. Burns’ background, he lurks on OldLife accusing the NAPARC of sacerdotalism. You can check a previous post of him this year with the same speech patterns. From what I could muster from his presence in other blogs such as the Heidelblog, he used to attend a PCA but left it. I suppose that is where his grievance regarding NAPARC comes from.

    Regarding the HC, I feel it is quite unfair to call it a “sloppy formulation” about preaching. As someone who is not a native speaker of English, I have come to appreciate the wisdom in taking the context as whole before pronouncing the meaning of something. We should also be wary of anachronism regarding the use of language. We could use a similar argument to misconstrue Scripture itself in a couple of places (for instance, when Psalm 82 says “you are gods.”) We could also use the same logic to say that Scripture can lead people to heterodoxy.

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  21. Zrim: The problem is hearers thinking so because one of their standards seems to come pretty close to suggesting it.

    Fair. Good theology should clarify.

    I wonder how much of a problem it really is … but that may vary greatly by church. If E. Burns / Jim’s experience is with a more FV-ish church, then the other criticisms make more sense.

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  22. lmag, the problem in your comparison is that Scripture is divine and infallible speech which categorically mayn’t be criticized, while confessional speech is human and therefore may (and thus revised). Some might wonder if your comparison betrays the problem being pointed out, namely that the distinction between human and divine speech is being muddled.

    Jeff, if the few people in this exchange are a microcosm of the issue then maybe it’s more of one than assumed. Not that it should be easy to revise confessional standards, but some acknowledgment of a possible problem would go some distance to show it’s at least understood that human and divine speech should be well distinguished.

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  23. Dear Zrim,

    Point fairly taken. What I had in mind was exclusively language interpretation from a human standpoint. My comparison was meant to illustrate how we could do the same reading mistakes with the superior standard of Scripture. I do apologize for not making my point clearer. Confessions can and should be revised when they are found to be lacking. Authors could have been expressing something different, even if by our contemporary standards it is not clearly worded. I certainly do not wish to “muddle up” divine, infallible speech, and human speech.

    Thank you for responding to me!

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  24. “ Jeff, if the few people in this exchange are a microcosm of the issue then maybe it’s more of one than assumed. “

    I doubt that the commenters here are representative of the typical pew sitters in NAPARC Churches.

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  25. sdb,

    I have to agree with you. This is actually the first time I have seen people presupposing this type of problem before. It was actually interesting to follow the comments here (although 5+ people is hardly a drop of water in the bucket of the internet).

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  26. “ No Scripture foundation in any meaningful proper context for this statement has been provided. The ones that you think were, upon reading are actually vague at best as far as correlation to support the statement in question. Again, the question is not whether preaching or the gospel are good or whether God’s Word is good, etc.

    Cue the Second Helvetic Confession:
    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    And what did the authors of this confession mean by this tautology? As Jeff points out, their explication of this section title is not consistent with your interpretation. What they are claiming and what dgh has endorsed is that the faithful proclamation of the gospel has power independent of the moral/spiritual status of the preacher.

    “It was cited positively as being from the Reformed tradition and now you wave it off as not official….huh, what!!!??”

    Right. It is part of the broader tradition (like say Amyraldism), but it is not part of the confessional standards of any NAPARC denomination I am aware of.

    “ Make up your minds. In fact it was cited as being “AN ENVIOUS REFORMED TRADITION”. It is in fact true that it is a Reformed tradition. We all agree on that fact. The only thing in question is whether it’s a good one or not.”
    You’ve latched on to a section title that dgh notes is not universally accepted by the reformed. But this is not what he was referring to when he referred to the envious tradition. The point in context is that the proclamation of the word of God has power independent of the scandalous behavior of the preacher. Do you disagree?

    “Are you aware this statement is in fact essentially to some degree or another the defacto view held by every conservative NAPARC denomination?”
    I have been a member of PCA and CRC churches in the Deep South, south west, and Midwest. I’ve been in TR churches, DJKennedy inspired god&country, and Keller inspired PCA churches. I’ve visited OPC churches for extended times out west and in the Midwest and ARP in the Deep South. nowhere have I ever heard anyone ever make the claim that a pastor’s sermon is infallible or equivalent to scripture.

    “Come on! That is why it was cited, that much is clear! It is especially loved by the hardliner authoritarian types. It was in fact cited here to make some big point about how this is the answer to abusive situations. As referenced earlier NAPARC is brilliant at that taking away with the left hand that which was just given with the right.”
    What’s with the passive voice? Darryl referenced this section to emphasize that the power of preaching is found in the message rather than the messenger. Do you think Darryl is a hardline authoritarian? I’ve never met him, but sure isn’t the sense I get here. Is there anyone more tolerant of dissenting (and often obnoxious) voices on their blog.

    “Reformed hardliners cannot even admit its poorly worded. The equivocation and gymnastics engaged in is flat out staggering, but sadly not surprising. It lends to proof of the idol of Sacerdotalism and the over realized Ecclesiology which are par for the course in conservative NAPARC.”
    Well I don’t think I have ever been accused of being a reformed hardliner before. Do you mean Jeff? He has never struck me as particularly hardline either. Perhaps set aside the bombast and engage the actual arguments. I found Jeff’s justification on point. Instead of dismissing it, explain why the explanation provided by the HC under this heading you find so objectionable is not supported by Jeff’s outline. Then provide a quote from a modern naparc theologian/pastor that exemplifies your accusation. Or should we just defer to your authority?

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  27. Dear Zrim,

    As an addition, now that I can dedicate some more time to writing, I suppose I am just reluctant of pronouncing a judgment without taking in account the context of the whole context. Reading according to authorial intent and historical context might help, as they were just getting off the Sacerdotalism of Romanism. It seems poorly worded at worst, but before I say anything I think it’s only fair to try to determine authorial intent, as one would with any piece of text.

    Thank you once again

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  28. lmag, check on both of those points, I had considered them as well, but especially your second one on historical intent. I’m ignorant on the historical intent on this one, but since this figures in so much of confessional formulations it would be good to know, though since the larger point seems to be that the efficacy of preaching depends not on the character of the preacher but on the purity of the message it seems reasonable to surmise some form of donatism.

    Still, the main problem does seem to be the fact that preaching is a mix of human and divine speech and so whatever the historical context may be, saying that “preaching is the Word of God” isn’t as precise as Reformed theology should be. It could be easily remedied by adding the qualifier “faithful” since I do think that’s the idea in its context.

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  29. sdb, maybe, but my only point is that it’s not at all unusual for hearers to naturally ascribe more divine power and authority to persons than is warranted (popes, anyone?). In fact, it’s all too human. Why exacerbate the tendency with this sort of muddled language? Preaching is not the Word of God, only the Word of God is the Word of God. Seems like a good old-fashioned Protestant point.

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  30. Dear Zrim,

    I now see your point. It’s a fair observation. Still leaves me to wonder why it was not revised to do that since it is still one of the most prominent Reformed Confessions out there.

    Thank you.

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  31. @Zrim:

    It’s an interesting problem. As a teacher, I consider the burden of clarity to be on me. As a student, I consider the burden of careful reading to be on me.

    Here, I was reading in context

    THE PREACHING OF THE WORD (AND NOT OTHER HUMAN UTTERANCES) IS THE WORD OF GOD

    whereas E. Burns / Jim was reading

    THE PREACHING OF THE WORD (THE ENTIRE SERMON) IS THE WORD OF GOD.

    So Bullinger perhaps failed to hold up his own end when writing 2HC, but I would also argue that E. Burns perhaps failed to hold up his end also.

    Historical context: Bullinger in 1562 – 1566 had taken over for Zwingli. He had previously collaborated with Calvin on Consensus Tigurnus, and Reformed unity was forefront on his mind. He had been active in debating Anabaptists, desired to keep politics out of the pulpit, and was Lutheran-friendly as a former Lutheran with ties to Melanchthon.

    I read 2HC in that light. He’s definitely not angling for some kind of clerical infallibility, but he might also have a blind spot in terms of wording.

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  32. @zrim
    Really? Given the fraction of catholic’s who use birth control, take the Lord’s supper to be symbolic, and onboard with divorce/gay marriage/co-habitation, it seems to me that most Catholics aren’t taking ascribing much divine power/insight to their pope. That seems to be the case among protestants as well. How many PCA’ers sit under reformed preaching and still think that they will be born again if they choose to repent and place their trust in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior? Far from seeing preaching as a sort of connection to the divine, it is hard to convince a lot of parents to forego travel baseball/soccer/gymnastics/swimming in order to be in worship on Sunday (and forget about showing up for two services). I am very, very skeptical that there is a significant problem with members of NAPARC churches having too high a view of preaching.

    Some context is important here too. Most pew-sitters in my experience have at best a superficial knowledge of what is in the Westminster Confession. I’d be shocked if most of them even know the Helvetic Confession exists much less what it says about preaching. Perhaps there is a reason that this part of the reformed tradition doesn’t have all that much sway these days. Is there any reformed church in America that uses it as a standard? I can’t think of one. It has been superseded by new and approved standards (Belgic and Westminster) as far as I can tell.

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  33. Jeff, right, that’s how I read the differences too (EB/Jim v context). I’m just giving those guys some rope since I can see how a plain or common reading of “preaching” to mean what they infer. Not sure it deserves a visceral response but the crux of their point seems fair.

    sdb, I don’t know what the obedience of “most Catholics” is (unless I rely on the evangelical moralistic canard that most are nominal, which is also used by them against Protestants). To hear the CtC type converts tell it, to be Catholic is to place implicit trust in papacy. (Is the current conservative darling of SCOTUS in the obedient camp? Or do her extra-ecclesial Pentecostal dabblings slot her as more evangelical than Roman?) I do take your pew-sitter point. Maybe it’s my own experience in Little Geneva where we have things like the Prot Reformeds who trade on the idea of the domine and dispatch apostles to churches to preach the evils of home-schooling and other legalisms. It’s just not very far-fetched for me to believe it wouldn’t take much for pew-sitters to take human speech for divine.

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  34. @Z I’m just going by the polls describing catholic identification and actual belief. I don’t think the CtC converts are very representative of most Catholics.

    I’ve never lived anywhere where reformed prots are anything other than a mild curiosity (to the extent that they are noticed at all) which probably accounts for our differences in perspective.

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  35. lmag, thanks. So on Clark’s reading the sermon is the Word of God. But if a sermon is understood to be a mix of human and divine speech, it’s hard to see how this isn’t a problem still.

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  36. Dear Zrim,

    I see where you’re coming from, but I doubt Dr. Clark is advocating this view. From the post:

    “We should note the warning that we are not Anabaptists, whom Bullinger knew (as did Guy de Bres, among others) to claim continuing immediate revelations from the Spirit, and thus we are content with the Holy Scripture as the sufficient revelation of God’s saving and moral will for his people. Further, the congregation it have regard for the Word preached, not the preacher.”

    In the last sentence, he seems to consider that the Word being preached is distinct from the preacher himself, which either means that the distinction between human and divine speech is still retained or that he has some other definition of what is considered preaching by a “lawfully called” minister. Furthermore, from what I could get from the article, he seems to also defend that the sub-heading was not only a later addition, but was added to the confession itself in the early 20th century.

    I mean, this could go on for a while now. I am reluctant to criticize something that has NOT been historically interpreted as saying “x” if “x” is one of the possibilities on how to interpret such text. On the other hand, I see your point and can sympathize with it. Catechesis and instruction by the elders exists for the reason of inculcating laity with (hopefully) biblical and orthodox interpretations of texts. But in the end, I do not think I would die on the hill of the 2HC due to it not being binding to either my denomination or NAPARC churches in general. From my understanding, it is still big on some Reformed churches in continental Europe. Maybe you could ask some of the pastor there for their takes on this question.

    Grace and Peace

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  37. lmag, well, what he says is: “The intent of the paragraph is that the congregation should regard the sermon by a minister, ‘lawfully called,’ as God’s Word.” I’m not dying on any hills, just saying that if one wants to be clear on the distinction between the preacher and preached Word, then don’t say preaching (which is to say the sermon) is the Word of God.

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  38. Looking at the Latin text, it is obvious that poor translation, not a deficiency in the original text is the issue:

    Proinde cum hodie hoc Dei verbum per praedicatores legitime vocatos annunciatur in ecclesia, credimus ipsum Dei verbum annunciari, et a fidelibus recipi, neque aliud Dei verbum vel fingendum vel coelitus esse expectandum: atque in praesenti spectandum esse ipsum verbum, quod annunciatur, non annunciantem ministrum, qui etsi sit malus et peccator, verum tamen et bonum manet nihilominus verbum Dei.

    Neque arbitramur praedicationem illam externam tanquam inutilem ideo videri, quoniam pendeat institutio verae religionis ab interna spiritus illuminatione: propterea quod scriptum sit, Non erudiet quis proximum suum. […]

    Note that the annunciatio (proclamation) of the word of God, as is consistently used in the first paragraph, contrasts with the praedicatio externa (external preaching) thereof in the following. Bullinger, it seems, clearly distinguished between the word of God and the preaching of the word of God! Yet the German is a little more careless, and I suppose by the time it came into English and someone invented a title for that section, the distinction was altogether missed.

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  39. My posts have been blocked, not sure this one will even go through. The suppression of free speech (twitter like), censorship and stifling of questioning is significant within the conservative Reformed community. Typical. Here goes another try.

    It took great scholarship and understanding Latin to show us it is “a little more careless.” As if that wasn’t obvious. “A little more careless”? I’d say that is greatly understating it. In your high brow studied ambiguity you are only confirming what the complaint is to begin with. Why do you suppose the English was kept as is all these centuries?

    Poor past translation (although there is a lot of that, even in scripture translations from church leaders of all traditions) is no excuse and in fact its soft peddling speaks to the bigger problem. Having been in many a broad naparc denoms 23 plus years (very similar to sdb and never under discipline/ left in good standing) I know that of which I speak. My belief is that these “a little more careless envied traditions” are a microcosm of how the powers that be bolster a continuation of the problems brought up here. Namely better keeps the status quo of a pervasive (though non-official and always denied) ethos of Sacerdotalism, over realized ecclesiology and making an idol of the institutional (c)hurch and its power positions therein. God’s people are spoon fed many of these “envied” traditions. So it is of no big surprise to see naparc leaders, the ones putting that spoon to the mouths of the people, dig heels in to defend it or explain it away.

    Is it a lay person’s responsibility to learn Latin? Or should they just depend on better enlightenment via the translation of the Reformed scholars/elder/pastor on these matters? Why should we when past leaders translate horribly at times and modern leaders don’t correct or only make excuses for?

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  40. The “little more careless” comment was predicated of the German version of the 2HC, which does use predigen instead of verkündigen in the final clause of the paragraph in question. It doesn’t really change the fact that the external preaching of the next paragraph is delineated from the proclamation in that one, which would stand even if the two didn’t use different words.

    I think you’re vastly overstating how significant the potentially dubious heading on this English rendering of the 2HC is. For one, most English-speaking Reformed Christians use the Westminster Standards and are at best passingly familiar with the Three Forms of Unity, let alone lesser Continental creeds, and the Continental Reformed minority hardly look at such either. From R Scott Clark’s scholarly endeavors (no effort was expended in finding the various languages off Wikipedia), the translation in question is only half a century old, and only ever used in the PCUSA (indeed the only Anglophone church that officially recognizes the 2HC AFAIK) and however problematic you see the issue as, I don’t think it makes the top 100 list of problems in *that* church. If “preaching = word of God” was a common maxim in Reformed churches, it may well be a significant cause of error, yet I don’t think I’m alone in never having heard of it before this post. Either way, I think you’re ways off demonstrating a supposed rampant sacerdotalism.

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  41. The selective downplaying and studied ambiguity of the statement when it’s Achille’s heel is pointed out is obvious.
    The overstating is on that side of the issue. Cannot escape the fact that it was used here as a shining example of tradition of a tribe (NAPARC) of Christians which represents roughly 0.002 % of all Christians in the USA, and done so in the typical spirit of ‘we got it all figure out in our tribe’, using a Christian sex scandal from someone outside the tribe to exalt the better ways in ‘our tribe’. Cannot now try to hide (take away with the left, that which you gave with the right) that it is indeed considered an envious Reformed tradition by many leaders within that tribe. Whether it is the official confession of this or that naparc denomination is besides the point. It was used here as an envied reformed tradition and here is the bigger point> ideas like this are indeed used by many a conservative authoritarian Reformed leader and sessions when it suits them. Fact.

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  42. You clearly have an unhealthy pre-occupation with NAPARC. The post nowhere mentions it, unless there’s a branch in Switzerland I’m unaware of. In this case I think D. G. Hart is right to point out that God’s word stands even if a minister is wicked, and the celebrity status of Zacharias clearly contributes to the crises in faith triggered in many (though the scars of the abused are deeper than latent Donatist tendencies). But even if we grant Hart is wrong and insensitive and arrogant and a meanie, he’s one elder of one small church in all of NAPARC. You allude to a broader trend in Reformed leadership but don’t present it (not to mention the entire thrust of this post is that the flaws of leaders are ultimately immaterial to faith). I think you need to take the beam out of your eye here.

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  43. Sir you stand corrected in that the unhealthy preoccupation is coming from that side in its ever tight grip to attempt exalting its systems and offices therein at all cost. Evidenced in microcosm here and by how often many “Envied Reformed Traditions” are so used and excused. Not an isolated example here, rather an indicative one.

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  44. “ The suppression of free speech (twitter like), censorship and stifling of questioning is significant within the conservative Reformed community. Typical. “

    Right. This place is known for its censorship of dissenting views.

    Your bitterness feeds your confirmation bias and has led to over generalizations and thus crass stereotypes. You still haven’t addressed the meat of the post:

    1. Evangelicalism has an unhealthy relationship with celebrity leaders.
    2. When these celebrity figures fail it causes undue harm to the fans because of the emphasis on personality
    3. Within the reformed tradition, there is an insistence that preaching has power irrespective of the character of the preacher.
    4. Adopting this stance would help inoculate believers when preachers fail.

    That was clearly the point of the post. For some reason (perhaps your bitterness?), you launched into an arrogant diatribe casting aspersions on the motives of whole groups of people you do not know.

    Set aside the anger and bitterness and try to have a reasonable conversation. The last few posts have been utterly incoherent. Do you disagree with the thrust of the post as summarized above? Which points?

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  45. Pot calling the kettle black. Casting aspersions on the motives of people outside of your insignificant tribe is a regular occurrence for sycophants like you and for the leaders of your tribe. Casting aspirations is in fact frequently done here at this blog. You should get a t shirt which has 0.002 on the front and “Old Life Groupie” on the back.

    I too have come out of the conservative Reformed world accurately described here. Most other Christians would agree with the points made. Although tiny conservative Reformed denominations are dangerous for those caught in it. There is where one finds an abundance of arrogance and bitterness. Arrogant as they dogmatically think their way is the only pure way. Bitter because very few believe or listen to them anymore. 0.002 micro small and growing smaller.

    Don’t believe them when they try to sell you on the lie that the reason they are small is because they are pure.

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  46. Wow, I’m now really curious about how many actual different people are commenting here.

    @RWB: Posts with more than one hyperlink go to spam purgatory. Posts with one hyperlink sometimes go to spam purgatory.

    @Linda: I’ve asked E. Burns to explain further what he means by the charge of “sacerdotalism.” No reply yet. Perhaps you could stand in for him?

    Authoritarianism is definitely real in some Reformed churches. Thing is, it is also real in nonReformed churches like Sovereign Grace and other nondenoms, in Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Mormon, and Unitarian Universalist churches.

    So I’m having trouble getting from (1) “Reformed people think approvingly of 2HC” to “which causes (2) them to have authoritarian tendencies.”

    Just because (1) and (2) are true, why is there a causal link?

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  47. “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    This statement has zero foundation from the plain meaning of scripture and then a gymnastic pseudo high brow attempt to explain it away via rabbit trail of Latin, traditions, followed further by more shallow attempts to essentially justify why the English statement as it stands is ‘really not that bad and actually pretty darn good’ etc. If the English really does not mean what the plain & obvious reading of it leads one to think, then why all the digging in of heels here to justify it? Why can’t you just admit the statement is an awful one and plainly correct it?

    Sums up the Reformed world well. That is exactly why people more and more do not trust the Reformed world. They are wise not to.

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  48. Linda,
    You’re right. Those of us who support a robust secular sphere, a restriction on ecclesiastical authority to that expressed in scripture, and a commitment to confessionalism is not at all popular. Critics who post here regularly find fault with our treatment of politics and entertainment as godless accommodationalism. Other critics find our commitment to the regulative principle and sabbath keeping as hopelessly legalistic. And that is just the reformed critics. Others think that because we aren’t willing to anathematize those who quibble over the limited atonement that we deny the gospel. And let’s not even get into our fundamentalist socialist critic, Catholic apologists, or the TGC fanboys. We are a minuscule minority of a tiny denomination. So what? Should I don sack cloth or a scarlet R? I have my convictions and they are articulated pretty well by dgh. I think the church would be better off if they were held more broadly, but obviously you disagree.

    Perhaps you think there is a Christian way to vote? That one’s choice of entertainment is not a matter of individual conscience. Or maybe you think parachurch organizations independent of denominational rootedness is healthy for the church. Do you think someone who questions the canons of dordt is denying the gospel? Perhaps you believe that the power of a message is dependent on the character of the speaker? I would be interested in which of these positions espoused here we are wrong to disagree with? Or is the problem that we hold reformed convictions as summarized by the Westminster standards or Three Forms of Unity? I am curious why you find our existence so offensive.

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  49. Furthermore, most sincere Christians from reading this entire post/ comments would agree it is self evident of the hyper authoritarian and sacerdotal atmosphere. Clearly shows how “envied reformed traditions“ which have zero scripture foundation (yet defacto treated as if they are gold) can and have been easily been manipulated by leaders. And this is just one example! You are showing here why it will never change within naparc. You all are worse than the worst lawyers when it comes to deliberate studied ambiguity. The protection in a plurality of elders is a myth. Give me one useless man and I will show you a disgrace, give me two and I will show you a law firm, 3 or more and I will show you a Session or a Congress. You keep circling those wagons boys! You think so very highly of yourselves, evidenced in the deliberate murky stance surrounding the statement in question and have created an idol of your systems and institutions. Shameful sinking sand.

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  50. rwb
    So you don’t disagree with the substance of the post. You just want us to say that section title is wrong? I don’t think it is. You are misreading what the title conveys as shown by the broader context. Scripture refers to preaching as having the power of God. Why? Because of the content (the word of God) rather than the quality of the speaker. So no, I don’t think this section heading is “awful”. I do believe that it is supported by Scripture. Sorry… I guess we will have to agree to disagree. As Darryl points out, it is a controversial statement in reformed circles, so I gather many reformed Christians would, like Zrim, agree with you. Whatever the case, the reformers didn’t think highly enough of the statement to include it in the Belgic or Westminster Confessions.

    But why harp on this which is besides the point of the post. Do you agree that the power of the proclamation of the word is independent of the character of the preacher?

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  51. RWB: “…most sincere Christians from reading this entire post/ comments would agree it is self evident of the hyper authoritarian and sacerdotal atmosphere.”

    Hm. I saw that you were challenged in the accuracy of your reading. And, there was healthy discussion in which your point was supported in part (by Zrim) and conceded in part (by me). Your point was disputed, with reasons given, by SDB and John M. Is that really authoritarian?

    I also saw that you changed identities twice (maybe four times). Not sure what the purpose of that was.

    I also saw that you were invited twice by me to provide more detail about the “sacerdotalism” you allege.

    And I also saw that you were asked to explain why HC2 leads to authoritarianism, when there are plenty of authoritarian churches who do not subscribe to it.

    So far, you haven’t responded to those invitations.

    I think many sincere Christians reading this thread might wonder why you are not responding to direct questions, and why you appear to be concealing yourself.

    If you’re interacting here in good faith, please demonstrate your good faith with dialogue instead of diatribe. Otherwise, it looks more like you just don’t want to be challenged … which ironically is very authoritarian of you.

    I think your best point is that the subject header can be misread. Do you have anything else to add to that?

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  52. As I said, I was forced (not 4 times) to send through different means as I was absolutely blocked. That kind of authoritarian censorship has occurred at one other respected Reformed blog, had comments even deleted there. This has also happened to me on numerous occasions in my local setting by Reformed leaders only for raising questions similar as such here, beyond that I was slandered in that local setting. So don’t try to make that some shady issue on my end, that lay strictly on that side of the fence.

    Back to the issue at hand. What has clearly been communicated by me is that the HC2 statement, others like it as well as the ethos behind it can and have been used in authoritarian and sacerdotal ways. You are rabbit trailing on minutia of HC2 as well as further studied ambiguity. I am suggesting that the ethos it represents (which goes beyond the statement itself, after all it is in fact an envied reformed tradition) is not just mis-read, but the spirit it represents is in fact OFTEN mis-used and abused. That being said the fact is that by definition the statement in question is sacerdotal and hyper authoritarian >>>

    “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD.“

    No less than 6 times direct questions have been ignored here regarding this topic.

    Here is one more real life example only to speak to the larger point being made. I have never been under church discipline and left my last (and final) naparc denom in good standing. Yet one week after we left and had what we thought was a good faith face to face with the session to depart, we were shocked to get a signed letter by that session declaring my and my families Salvation was in question and was on shaky ground. Why? For no other reason than we did not at that time have a church to directly transfer membership to upon the immediate discontinuation of our membership there. One can see the over realized ecclesiology, authoritarianism and Sacerdotalism in this as well in that evidently a key to Salvation is church membership.

    What was the foundation authority cited for this claim of Salvation on shaky ground due to no membership?
    WCF 25:2. Nothing else, no solid scripture, typical. Now I am sure reformed sycophants will attempt pointing to scripture verses which supposedly are the foundation of WCF 25:2. What is astounding is that NONE (I have read them all) of the scripture verse proof texts typically attached to 25:2 give any clear biblical proof that Salvation hinges upon official bureaucratic church membership in a visible church. 25:2 stands on sinking sand. Far and away the scripture verses speak to the Spiritual Church being the most important and deserving of the primary focus/emphasis. No concrete verse from God’s Word could be established stating “membership in the visible church is requirement for Salvation.” NAPARC reverses this order in practice despite also speaking out of the other side of its mouth. The consistent clear circular arguments pointing back to the institution and its power offices therein are abundant and clear. It is all part of that “envied tradition.” Therein lay the problem.

    BTW, I am not against the visible church or elders. I am against the over inflated idea they are the gateway to our Lord. After all when it comes to the Church, Historically as Protestants it has always been the accepted position…….”Christians are members of the universal body of Christ not because of identification with the institution of the spiritual Church, but through identification with Christ directly through faith.” Rom 12:5, 1 Tim 2:5, 1Cor 12:12-27, Eph 3:6, Eph 5:23, Col 1:18.

    Don’t even get me started on how Hebrews 13:17 has been mistranslated in most English Bibles and how it is mis-used and abused by leaders. No doubt another “envied Reformed tradition. “

    Again, after decades in a broad and wide range of naparc churches, further had much extended interaction with other sessions outside the ones where I was a direct member, I did not come to this lightly, but with conscience and conviction would stand by my suggestion that this is all typical within naparc. I can cite dozens of others examples over the course of the several decades experience in naparc. But I think we are done here and should indeed agree to disagree. My personal experience is not the larger issue, but it is indicative of the NAPARC lawyer like studied ambiguity (exemplified here) and ethos that will all continue to be used and abused by many a NAPARC leader and session.

    NAPARC will never change, at least not in my lifetime. This all speaks to the 0.0002 % holy huddle there and why you will continue to drive out families like mine who might otherwise agree with a majority of Reformed theology. Nonetheless in the end cannot stay because of the pervasive over realized ecclesiology, hyper authoritarianism and sacerdotalism that very much does exist in high levels within conservative reformed circles. My only hope here is that there may be a young 20 year old out there (like I was way back when) thinking about being a part of naparc who may just rightly think twice. Having seen so much abuse of power within, truly hope others avoid it.

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  53. @RWB: Thanks for explaining.

    Just for info purposes, you can use multiple emails but give the same name in order to avoid confusion.

    RWB: No concrete verse from God’s Word could be established stating “membership in the visible church is requirement for Salvation.”

    Nor would there be, since that is not the position. But I can see how the letter you described might be read in that way. I can only speak for my own church, but we warn members who withdraw membership *without seeking to join another church* and *after a long period of time* that associating oneself with the church is what Christians do; ergo, to refuse fellowship is a sin.

    Do you disagree?

    RWB: NAPARC reverses this order in practice despite also speaking out of the other side of its mouth.

    There has to be some way to talk about the church invisible and the church visible, which are two different views (God’s, man’s) of the same body. That will appear to be double-speak to some, and it can’t be avoided.

    RWB: No less than 6 times direct questions have been ignored here regarding this topic.

    What questions do you want answered? I can only speak for myself, but I’m happy to address questions.

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  54. I agree that Christian fellowship is needed and biblical. I believe in The Church. However, because it cannot be found in scripture, I do not believe the typical conservative reformed view and tradition of (c)hurch (over realized ecclesiology) membership is required.

    No surprise, but I disagree with your assertion that double speak on the visible vs invisible church cannot be avoided. It can be easily and simply avoided by putting the emphasis and focus where the Bible puts it, namely on the Spiritual invisible Church. NAPARC on balance absolutely refuses to do that however, which again speaks to my grievances. I get it, naparc has great concern that the church has been devalued, and they have a fair point in that. However, naparc goes to far in the other direction.

    Majority of Reformed leaders put to heavy a emphasis/ focus on the institution, the visible, their own offices, processes, traditions, procedures, etc. etc. Again, therein lay the problem. Certainly is all connected.

    No further questions from me.

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