Reformed Protestants Who Pick Nits

John Piper posted for the recent anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday about the origin of Calvinism. He went right to John Calvin and his conversion:

He was born in July 1509, in Noyon, France, and was educated at the best universities in law, theology, and classics. At the age of twenty-one, he was dramatically converted from tradition-centered medieval Catholicism to radical, biblical, evangelical faith in Christ and His Word.

Radical? At least it wasn’t earnest.

This is the sort of understanding of Reformed Protestantism that drives folks in Zurich nuts. At least a decade before John Calvin arrived in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli was already reforming the churches of Zurich. Calvin was only twelve when Zwingli started on his way to Protestantism.

Nor should Martin Bucer be forgotten. He initiated reforms in the city of Strasbourg a year or so after Zwingli’s activities. Bucer also put his stamp indelibly on Calvin when in 1538 Geneva’s city authorities told Calvin to leave. Calvin ministered in Strasbourg for two years to a French speaking congregation and taught at Strasbourg’s academy, an institution that was a model for the Geneva Academy.

The point is that Reformed Protestants acknowledge the importance of Calvin but don’t put all their hero-worship eggs in one basket.

Piper to his credit quotes Benjamin Warfield who wrote:

The Calvinist is the [person] who sees God behind all phenomena, and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God…

Is it too much to ask the New Calvinists to see the hand of God in the old Calvinism that emerged in places like Zurich and Strasbourg well before John Calvin was even a Protestant?

Those Were the Days (again)

When considering the development of doctrine, do not discount that winners make the final decision. Even legitimate councils that rescue the papacy can be found to be in discontinuity:

Once again, Christendom found itself split, but if the concilarist theologians had prevailed at the time of the Great Schism, in this phase the Pope was sustained by a great theologian: the Spanish Dominican, Juan de Torquemada (1388-1468) (not to be confused with the Inquisitor of the same name). Torquemada decorated by Eugene IV with the title Defensor fidei, is author of a Summa de Ecclesia, wherein he affirms with vigour the primacy of the Pope and his infallibilitas. In this work, he dissipates with great precision the ambiguities that had been created in the 14th century starting with the hypothesis of a heretic Pope. This case, according to the Spanish theologian, is concretely possible, but the solution to the problem should not be sought in any way in concilarism, which negates pontifical supremacy. The possibility of heresy in the Pope, does not compromise the dogma of infallibility, as even if he wanted to define a heresy ex cathedra, his office would be lost at that very same moment. (Pacifico Massi, Magistero infallibile del Papa nella teologia di Giovanni de Torquemada, Marietti, Torino 1957, pp. 117-122). Torquemada’s theses were developed the following century by one of his Italian confreres, Cardinal Cajetan.

The Council of Florence was very important as, on July 6th 1439, it promulgated the decree Laetentur Coeli et exultet terra, which brought the Eastern Schism to an end, but principally because it condemned concilarism definitively, by confirming the doctrine of the Pope’s supreme authority over the Church. On September 4th 1439, Eugene IV, defined solemnly: “We likewise define that the holy Apostolic See, and the Roman Pontiff, hold the primacy throughout the entire world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the successor of blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, and that he is the head of the entire Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church, as is attested also in the acts of ecumenical councils and the holy canons.” (Denz-H, n. 1307).

In the letter, Etsi dubitemus, of April 21st 1441, Eugene IV condemned the heretics of Basel and the “diabolical founders” of the ‘conciliarism’ doctrine: Marsilius of Padua, Jean of Jandun and William of Ockham (Epistolae pontificiae ad Concilium Florentinum spectantes, Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Roma 1946, p. 28, 24-35), but towards Haec Sancta he held a hesitant stance, proposing what in modern terms might be defined as a “hermeneutic of continuity”. In the decree of September 4th 1439, Eugene IV states that the superiority of Councils over the Pope, asserted by the Basel Fathers on the basis of Haec Sancta, is “a bad interpretation given by the Basel Fathers themselves, which de facto is revealed as contrary to the genuine sense of the Sacred Scriptures, of the Holy Fathers, and of the Council of Constance itself.” (Decreto del 4 settembre 1439, in Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, EDB, Bologna 2002. p. 533). Eugenio IV himself, ratified the Council of Constance as a whole and in its decrees, excluded: “any prejudice to the rights, dignity and pre-eminence of the Apostolic See” as he writes to his legate on July 22nd 1446.

The hermeneutic of “continuity” thesis between Haec Sancta and the Tradition of the Church was soon abandoned. Haec Sancta is certainly the authentic act of a legitimate ecumenical Council, ratified by three Popes, but this is not enough to render binding on the doctrinal level a Magisterial document which is posed in contrast with the perennial teaching of the Church. Today we regard that only those documents, which do not damage the rights of the Papacy and do not contrast with the Tradition of the Church can be accepted from the Council of Constance. These documents do not include Haec Sancta, which is a formally heretical conciliar act.

Instead of scripture, tradition and magisterium, it should be beware the fine print.

Who’s Afraid of Orthodox Presbyterians?

I may have asked this before, but do Hasidic Jews or Amish engage in the wailing and gnashing of teeth that afflicts white Protestants in America? Where are the Hasidic Jews coming out in support of Trump because we need a president to appoint the right Supreme Court justices? And Amish on Twitter? Oxymoron doesn’t cover it. But the Amish do have a record of carving out their own existence in the United States without any ambition to take over “English” society.

Samual Goldman’s review of Mary Eberstadt’s new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe, prompts a repeat of the question: do Jews and Amish engage in the same sort of outrage about America’s decadence as Christians (and relatedly, why don’t Christians, if they really are strangers and aliens, act more like Hasidic Jews and Amish?)? Here’s one part of Goldman’s review:

Why do Jews escape the opprobrium to which traditionalist Catholics or Baptists are subjected? Partly because they have never been more than a tiny minority, but also because they make few claims on political and cultural authority. Apart from a few neighborhoods in and around New York City, no one fears that religious Jews will attempt to dictate how they live their own lives. As a result, they are able to avoid most forms of interference with their communities.

There is a lesson here for the Christian traditionalists for whom Eberstadt speaks. They are more likely to win space to live according to their
consciences to the extent that they are able to convince a majority that includes more liberal Christians and non-Christian believers, as well as
outright secularists, that they are not simply biding their time until they are able to storm the public square. In addition, they will have to develop institutions of community life that are relatively low-visibility and that can survive without many forms of official support. The price of inclusion in an increasingly pluralistic society may be some degree of voluntary exclusion from the dominant culture.

Keep that in mind when thinking about Camden Bucey’s post about the differences between the OPC and PCA. Two quotations stand out in that piece. The first goes to the transformationalism to which the PCA aspired from the get-go well before the elixir of TKNY. According to Sean Lucas:

The PCA has sought to be evangelical Presbyterians and Presbyterian evangelicals, which has given the church a voice to the broader culture. Holding the church together has not been easy. For some, frustrations have arisen from the church’s tendency to opt for an identity that is more comprehensive than pure. Others are disappointed that the church often spends a great deal of time on relatively fine points of Reformed doctrine instead of focusing on mission, cultural engagement, or evangelism.

But the OPC has functioned on the margins of American society and whether intentionally or not, its lack of size and financial resources has nurtured a communion with the outlook of a pilgrim people. According to Charlie Dennison:

While everyone in the OPC understands our opposition to liberalism, some have had trouble understanding the aversion that others have to evangelicalism. They have been unable to accept the conclusion of Cornelius Van Til and others that evangelicalism, as a system, is Arminian. They have been unable to accept the criticism that modern evangelicalism’s view of regeneration is subjective, incapable of rising above a personal experience of sin and grace to the level of the covenant and the federal headship of Adam and Christ. Further, they have been unable to accept the growing historical and social evidence that contemporary evangelicalism is worldly, individualistic, and adolescent, craving acceptance and desperately wanting to make an impact.

I (mmmmeeeEEEE) discussed these differences with CW and Wresby at Presbycast this week (feel the love).

What I have trouble grasping is the appeal of transformationalism and changing the culture. On the one hand, that is so Moral Majoritarian. Haven’t we seen the colossal failure of such efforts, not to mention how self-defeating they are if you want a hip, urban profile in the cultural mainstream? On the other hand, if you want to pass on the faith, which is lower-case-t transformationalism, do you really think you can do it in the public square? Didn’t Mary lose her son in the marketplace?

As Goldman writes, it won’t be easy giving up on Francis Schaeffer’s Christian nationalism. But at some point you need to adjust to the hand you’ve been dealt:

There is no doubt that this will be a hard bargain for adherents of traditions that enjoyed such immense authority until recently. As Eberstadt points out, however, it will also be difficult for progressives who resemble Falwell in their moral majoritarianism. The basis for coexistence must be a shared understanding that the Christian America for which some long and that others fear isn’t coming back—not only because it was Christian but also because it involved a level of consensus that is no longer available to us. There are opportunities for believers and nonbelievers alike in this absence.

If transformationalists finally recognize that Schaeffer and TKNY are in the same Christian nationalist orbit as Falwell, will they finally say “ewww”?

UPDATE

Postscript: In other words, you don’t pray in the public square (even if it’s in the hallowed city):

Mainline Presbyterians and later, evangelicals, may once have been the Republican party at prayer. There may once have been an easy alliance, an assumption of shared religious values between those entities but Ms Dhillon’s prayer last night illustrates how that alliance is coming to an end. This is not a lament. The alliance should never have been. Christians as individuals and private societies (groups) may affiliate as they will but Christians as a group and certainly the visible, institutional church should never become utterly identified with any political party. If evangelicals and other Protestants (e.g., confessionalists) were uneasy with Ms Dhillon’s prayer, I can easily imagine how awkward it must have been for Ms Dhillon to witness the closing prayer and imprecation. Watching it on YouTube last night made me uncomfortable and he professes to be a minister of (some version) of the faith I confess.

Both the opening and closing of last night’s events are a good argument for doing away with public, shared prayers in such, common, secular events. It’s not that delegates to political conventions should not pray. They should. It’s not that candidates should not pray. They should. It’s not that voters should not pray. They should. The question is not whether but when? It is dubious whether it is appropriate to open a common, secular, assembly with prayer. To whom are we praying? In whose name? What are we praying? As a Christian minister of the United Reformed Churches in North America I am not free to offer prayers to God that he has not authorized. I am not free to pray to any other deity than the Triune God of Scripture, to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not authorized to approach God in any other name than the name of Jesus. It is not a matter of bigotry. It is a matter of truth, eternal life, and salvation. Jesus was raised from the dead. He is the truth (John 14:6). There are not multiple ways to God. Religion is not multifaceted expression of a common religious experience. It is revealed by God to us.

The Trinity is so Fourth Century

While New Calvinists decide how to receive the teachings of Eastern bishops, Roman Catholic cardinals have moved on. According to Christoph Cardinal Schonborn:

AL [Amoris Laetitia] is an act of the magisterium that makes the teaching of the Church present and relevant today. Just as we read the Council of Nicaea in the light of the Council of Constantinople, and Vatican I in the light of Vatican II, so now we must read the previous statements of the magisterium about the family in the light of the contribution made by AL.

The funny thing about the evangelical controversy over the Trinity, the updated version offered by the likes of Ware and Grudem comes for the sake of outdated views of women’s roles.

Appropriating the past is tricky. Best to hire a historian.

Chairman of the Board

Was this what Bryan and the Jasons had in mind?

Francis’s palpable respect for other religious traditions, coupled with his determination that the various faiths must work together to advance shared values such as peace and the care of creation, have made him a global role model for interfaith cooperation. . . .

It’s possible, of course, that people in either India or Turkey unaware of the pope’s record may be briefly swayed by such rhetoric, but the moment such charges are subjected to critical examination they’ll collapse under their own weight.

While the substance of such complaints may not have much merit, there’s nevertheless a sense in which they’re meaningful. In effect, they may be an index that Francis’s ambition to be the “chairman of the board” for religious moderates around the world is working.

Obviously without using that language, that’s a role to which every recent pope has aspired – trying to galvanize a coalition of authoritative moderates within the world’s religious traditions to demonstrate that, as much as religion can be part of the problem, it is also uniquely positioned to be part of the solution.

As someone who doesn’t hail from a traditional Western power, Francis brings a special capacity to pull that off, since he doesn’t carry the same baggage in terms of being associated with either the West’s colonial history or its contemporary military and political choices. His global popularity also means he carries the largest religious megaphone in the world, allowing him to lift the standing of moderate voices in other traditions.

Don’t think too long about where ex-Nazis went after World War II.

Forget also about popes transcending personal experience. Turn STM into ASTM — Argentina, Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium:

From the beginning, it’s been striking how often Pope Francis, when pressed to explain a particular statement or policy choice, will invoke his background in Argentina.

There are really too many examples to count, but just to choose one almost at random, in a session with priests from the diocese of Rome earlier this month, Francis stirred controversy by suggesting there are cases in which it’s better for couples to live together for a while rather than take part in a shotgun wedding.

“Here’s a social fact in Buenos Aires,” he said. “I prohibited religious marriages in Buenos Aires in cases of what we call matrimonios de apuro, meaning ‘in a hurry,’ when a baby is on the way.”

In fact, Francis cited his experience in Buenos Aires no fewer than five times in that address to priests, on multiple topics.

And be sure to love the sinner while hating the sin (except if you are a global capitalist, climate change denier, or a Turk):

Furthermore, the pope did not tell anyone to issue an actual apology. And his focus was not limited to the LGBT community. Rather, he made the broader statement that the Church “must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended,” but also to all of the people “we could have defended and we didn’t,” including the poor, and women and children who are exploited.

He cited the Catechism, saying that homosexual individuals “must not be discriminated against, (but) must be respected and accompanied pastorally.”

The Catechism teaches that based on Scripture, “tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’”

Homosexual acts, it continues, “are contrary to the natural law … under no circumstances can they be approved.”
When speaking of homosexual persons, however, the Catechism insists that most gay individuals face “a trial” due to their sexual orientation, and “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

What Pope Francis said, then, clearly echoes Church teaching and displays his genuine pastoral concern for a group that has and frequently still does face hostility, including, at times, from within the Church.

Isn’t independence from tyrannical authority wonderful?

Punching Above His Weight

Another example of draping yourself in Calvin’s mantle on women but not on heretics:

This misquote actually drives directly at the heart — directly at the heart — of the current discussion of sexuality. When the dust settles on the Trinitarian debates, even if that time is years away, the church will still have to work out her theology of sexuality. In the Reformed world, Calvin’s own view will be one that carries weight.

And, Calvin thought sex meant something in civil society.

Serious Reformed men who differ from this view should be honest that their views are innovations explicitly rejected by our fathers in the faith.

What if our fathers in the faith put us at odds with the Founding Fathers? This weekend is a good time to consider.

A related consideration is recognizing it may be time to walk on our own in civil society and not rely on those Protestants who still held out for Constantinianism. Medieval Europe is not the standard for Christian reflection about civil society. The Bible is. And it’s hard to find Peter or Paul invoking Moses to correct Nero.

(And don’t even go to Calvin’s views on the Trinity. Nothing to see there.)

So Now the Covenanters are the Standard?

At the Shiloh Institute this week I (mmmeeeeEEEEE) played around with the question of center and periphery in conservative Reformed Protestantism in the United States. For some (not at the conference), the PCA is in the mainstream. One explanation is its size — it outflanks all of the other communions that belong to NAPARC. Another is that the PCA has anywhere between six and a dozen celebrity pastors (with none having the star power of TKNY). Another is that New Calvinism is popular and the PCA is in tune with that immature and attention-deficit-disordered (read young and restless) brand of Calvinism. Related is the Gospel Coalition factor. By virtue of encouraging and defending New Calvinism, PCA officers have seats at the table of a website parachurch endeavor that is seemingly big, popular, and influential.

If you want to put the OPC at the center of conservative or confessional Calvinism, you need to ignore the numbers and pay attention to history and language. The OPC has been around longer than the PCA. In 1937 the OPC coughed up a big wing of the PCA — the RPCES portion of the Bible Presbyterian Synod — that in turn equipped the PCA with its educational institutions, Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary. The OPC continues to draw upon the Reformed past as it attempts to understand God’s word. The variety of views on creation, the presence of two-kingdom theology, and the recent report on the doctrine of republication all indicate ways in which the OPC keeps alive expressions of Reformed Protestantism older and in many cases more substantial than twentieth-century conservative Presbyterianism.

As for language, English is the OPC’s native tongue, which means the OPC has never had to think of itself explicitly as an ethnic communion. And it is ethnicity in part that hurts the URC’s chances for defining the center and periphery in American Calvinism.

That leaves communions like the RPCNA (Covenanters) and ARPC (Seceders), both of Scottish extraction, on the margins of contemporary American Calvinism. They may be bigger or smaller than the other churches, but their histories are different from the OPC, PCA, and URC. All of the latter communions started in opposition to liberalism within an older denomination. The RPCNA and ARP don’t have the same dynamics and so don’t resonate as well with other NAPARC members.

But having said all that, shut my mouth. Now we hear from a PCA source that the RPCNA is at the center of contemporary Reformed church life:

The reason I know this is because the most Confessional denomination in NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) is the RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America). The RPCNA is the most historically confessional church in this council (which the PCA is a member), and yet, those who are claiming to be the confessionalists in the PCA, would not join with this, the most confessional denomination. Why? It is because they ordain women to the office of deacon. Yes, that is right. The most confessional of all the denominations in NAPARC ordains women to the office of deacon. They have practiced this since 1888, and have done so because it was studied, and found to be biblical. They have kept their strong confessional nature all this time, while still ordaining woman to be deacons.

Those in the PCA who are claiming the moniker of Confessional, taking it from anyone else who doesn’t agree with them on the issue of women’s roles, should in fact stop being so disingenuous. Instead of confessional they are more closely identified as Old School Southern Presbyterians, which is fine. But, please stop using Confessional like you have something that no one else does. It’s disingenuous and you are making a non-confessional issue, the defining issue.

Speaking of disingenuousness, does Jon Price really want to embrace the National Covenant (1581) to which the RPCNA still swears allegiance, as ground zero of Presbyterian confessionalism? And is he ready to put away the hymnal and the swaybabes?

Hey now.

At least the PCA is not the PCUSA (at least until Michelle Higgins gets her way):

Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA). We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7]