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?

The Original Evangelicals aren’t Evangelical?!?

Just noticed this in John Fea’s odds making for the evangelical vote this November:

Some evangelicals continue to oppose Trump and have not made it clear what they will do in November. I am thinking here of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (if you can call a Missouri-Synod Lutheran an “evangelical”) and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Perhaps some of these folks are praying that something might happen in Cleveland next week that leads the GOP to pick another candidate. Others might be praying that an independent candidate will arise at this late date. These are long shots, but let’s remember that evangelicals believe in miracles.

Now, regulars at Old Life know that Ben Sasse, despite having grown up in the Missouri Synod, is actually a Reformed Protestant — even an elder in the United Reformed Churches I believe. That may be too much insider 2k baseball for John Fea. But there it is.

The main point pertains to John’s parenthetical remark about whether we can call Lutherans “evangelical.” For starters, the original Protestants, the followers of Martin Luther, were and still are known as evangelical. So don’t Lutherans have the copyright on being evangelical?

A related concern is if a good historian has enough sense to wonder about classifying a Lutheran as evangelical, why are the same historians so ready to put put Presbyterians in the same round hole as Pentecostals and Wesleyans? I mean, if you have the slightest hesitation about Lutherans, shouldn’t you also wonder about Protestants who didn’t like Billy Graham (for his pro-choice theology)?

Prexit

State sovereignty goes hand in hand with ecclesiastical sovereignty, or it sure looks like it.

Michael Lind explains the phenomenon of Trump and what it means for Democrats and Republicans:

The culture war and partisan realignment are over; the policy realignment and “border war” — a clash between nationalists, mostly on the right, and multicultural globalists, mostly on the left — have just begun.

***

For the nationalists, the most important dividing line is that between American citizens and everyone else—symbolized by Trump’s proposal for a Mexican border wall. On the right, American nationalism is tainted by strains of white racial and religious nationalism and nativism, reinforced by Trump’s incendiary language about Mexicans and his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

But while there is overlap between nationalists and racists, the two are not the same thing. The most extreme white nationalists don’t advocate nationalism as a governing philosophy in our multiracial country; they hope to withdraw from American life and create a white homeland within the nation-state. Nationalism is different than white nationalism, and a populist American nationalism untainted by vestiges of racial bigotry might have transracial appeal, like versions of national populism in Latin America.

The rise of populist nationalism on the right is paralleled by the rise of multicultural globalism on the center-left.

For multicultural globalists, national boundaries are increasingly obsolete and perhaps even immoral. According to the emerging progressive orthodoxy, the identities that count are subnational (race, gender, orientation) and supranational (citizenship of the world). While not necessarily representative of Democratic voters, progressive pundits and journalists increasingly speak a dialect of ethical cosmopolitanism or globalism — the idea that it is unjust to discriminate in favor of one’s fellow nationals against citizens of foreign countries.

Now watch (thanks to our W. Michigan correspondent) how church affairs line up with temporal politics, with ecumenists (globalists) on the left opposing the constraints of denominationalists (nationalists) on the right:

Many who witnessed the continuing denominational imprisonment of the Lord’s body and blood experienced ecumenical agony. The late Emilio Castro, the WCC general secretary who hired me, was a Methodist pastor who yearned for eucharistic sharing. He would say, “I’m not even asking the Catholics (or Orthodox) to recognize the validity of the Lord’s Supper that we Methodists celebrate. I’m simply asking them to accept that I see the body and blood of Jesus Christ fully present in their Eucharist.”

In spring 1994 I sat in a restaurant with Castro and his longtime Orthodox friend and WCC colleague Ion Bria, a priest in the Romanian Orthodox Church. The two lifted their wine glasses and said to each other with tears in their eyes, “Someday, before we die, we shall be able to share the body and blood together, with our churches’ blessings.” But they never did. Nor, if they were still living, could they do so today.

So I returned to ecclesiastical disobedience. That became more complicated once I was elected general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. When I assumed that post, I didn’t know all that would be demanded of me as general secretary, but I knew I couldn’t go forward without retreating. I knew I needed regular times away, with a spiritual director, and the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood. A Carmelite retreat center near my home in New Jersey provided all this.

As a church official, I wanted more than ever to show absolute respect for my Catholic hosts. But their invitation to receive at the table was unambiguous. On my retreat days, I’d often be invited to read one of the scriptures at their eucharistic service.

Indifference to church polity and theology like this is why confessional Protestants exited from the modern ecumenical movement.

Arguably the most astounding aspect of contemporary ecumenical discussions is that the leader of the only true church is also apparently indifferent to ecclesiastical laws:

This tension in how we understand the Eucharist is one that, remarkably, Pope Francis himself has acknowledged. Last November he met with a Lutheran congregation in Rome and responded to one member, Anke de Bernardinis, who is married to a Catholic and who asked what it would take for them to receive the Eucharist together. The pope’s spontaneous ten-minute answer was revealing, unprecedented, and even stunning.

Francis said, “I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path, or is it a viaticum (food or provision accompanying one on a journey) for walking together?” He posed that question rather than give the doctrinal response—that she could either become Catholic or continue to pray with her husband over the pain of a divided church.

Pope Francis went on to focus on baptism. “I ask myself. But don’t we have the same baptism? If we have the same baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together?” Then he went further. “The supper? There are questions that only if one is sincere with one’s self and the little theological light that one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me—this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.”

And Francis didn’t stop there, going on to address the classic dividing line over the meaning of Christ’s “real presence.” The pope recalled a Protestant pastor and friend who told him, “We believe that the Lord is present there.” So he said to the Lutheran woman, “You believe that the Lord is present. And what’s the difference? There are explanations and interpretations, but life is bigger than explanations and interpretations.”

Having noted the trademark tension between official policy and actual practice, Pope Francis concluded by saying he would not “dare to give permission to do this” but then repeated, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism. Talk to the Lord, and then go forward. And I wouldn’t dare—I don’t dare say anything more.”

In ecumenism, as in diplomacy, ambiguity can be a helpful tool, allowing room for movement on issues where formal agreement is not yet possible. Pope Francis opened the door more than a crack.

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.)

Every Member Ministry Means No Christian Soldiers

Only a few neo-Confederates and Covenanters may disagree, but most Reformed Protestants assume that men ordained to the ministry of the word may not serve in capacities that involve the use of the physical sword (police, military, and even civil magistrate). The logic goes something like this:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. (Confession of Faith, 23.3)

One could well suppose that if magistrates (who hold the civil sword) can’t have the keys of the kingdom, those who do have the power of the keys shall not assume the power of the civil magistrate. That fits with what the Form of Government says about ecclesiastical power:

All church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security.(3.4)

So imagine what happens to this delicate balance between civil and ecclesiastical power when all of a sudden every Christian is a minister. How could we ever allow a minister to fight in a war, to operate under the authority of the Department of Defense, to bring criminals to justice?

Pope Francis may have the solution — to turn Christianity into a pacifist religion by opposing capital punishment and abandoning just war theory.

If Christians may not serve as soldiers or as executioners, then we need to revise assertions like this:

Public life is not just about politics but all the areas of human activity — thefamily, the workplace, shops and restaurants, leisure and the arts. It is the specific role of lay people to sanctify each and every environment of the world.

Sometimes “every” and “all” make you wish for dualism.

Y B O P C

I have already raised the question about whether belonging to a denomination like the OPC is a good thing. Now as I sit through a prolonged and valuable procedural debate at General Assembly, I wonder again why pastors who want big, contemporary congregations that appeal to Protestants without great biblical or theological discernment and who prefer up-tempo Christian songs led by praise bands (without brass instruments, mind you) — why do these officers endure the deliberations that consume sessions’, presbyteries’, and assemblies’ time and talents. What do you gain by being a minister in a Presbyterian communion like the OPC? It is not as if the OPC is a brand that attracts visitors and new members. You don’t put the OPC logo on your church signs to watch the parking lot fill. So why put up with the often baroque dealings of church courts and committee reports when you are not so particular about worship, the fine points of the confession, and the rigor of Reformed piety (e.g. Sabbath observance)?

I have come up with three reasons for people who come into the OPC and stay there.

1) Tribalism: Someone whose father or grandfather left the PCUSA in 1936 with Machen. The notion would be something like, “this is the church where my family has worshiped for three generations and so out of loyalty to my kin and I remain a true blue Orthodox Presbyterian.” Other Reformed communions, those with ethnic identities, like the CRC (Dutch-American) or RPCNA (Scots-American) have ethnic attachments that generally elude the OPC. But in some cases, you do see how family keeps some Orthodox Presbyterians Orthodox Presbyterian. (Of course, the nature of covenant nurture itself is a form of tribalism since a child baptized and nurtured in an OP family and congregation, who remains OP, does so in part as part of generational succession.)

2) The Cause: People who identify with Machen and the battle against liberalism in the church and who defend the authority of Scripture come to the OPC and stay there because the denomination is the embodiment of that cause that J. Gresham Machen led throughout the 1920s and 1930s. This was a big factor in my own joining the OPC and continuing to serve. This understanding of OPC identity has sometimes run up against a view of the OPC as a church committed to the Great Commission in which polemics and debate distract from evangelism and edification. The problem with this view is that you wouldn’t have the OPC without polemics and debate. So seeing the very pieces of the church’s DNA as antithetical to evangelism and mission is to be in denial about the denomination’s origins. For these OP’s, evangelism and edification occur in the context of polemics and debate.

3) The Reformed Faith is Pretty Good Great: Another way to identify with the OPC is to look at the central dynamics of the Reformed branch of Protestantism and try to find them in existing communions where you live. Then find and join the one that is most interested in a ministry reformed according to the word of God. Any number of communions could qualify as following in the larger footprints of the Reformation, but judging which one is most reformed according to the word determines which one you join. (Since having to think about the global history of Reformed Protestantism, I have come to regard and identify with the OPC on these grounds.)

I’m willing to lengthen my list.

Make Christianity Pretty Good Again

That is more or less the idea that Donald Trump (on America) inspired Chris Gerhz to ponder. Here is an indication of when Trump supporters thought/think the nation was greatest (compared to other voters):

In general, Republican respondents favored the Eisenhower and Reagan eras. Democrats looked to the much more recent past: the 1990s, or even later. 2016 was the second most popular choice among Democrats.

Even among Trump supporters, the year 2015 was one of the 10 most popular choices. But there was no discernible pattern: 1955, 1960, 1970, and 1985 were all mildly popular, and the single most common response (8%) was the year 2000.

And that was true in general for Americans, regardless of party or other variables. Sanger-Katz observed that “The year’s popularity may partly reflect people’s fondness for round numbers. But many voters explained their choice by referring to a greater sense of security. The Sept. 11 attacks occurred the following year.”

The vast majority of votes were cast for years since the end of WWII, and almost no one opted for a year before 1900. (1776 did get some support.)

So I’ll ask Gerhz’s question: when was the church at its best? I imagine Protestants will not select dates between 350 and 1515. I’ll also wager that Roman Catholics (who read here) will not choose dates between 1965 and 2015. But in light of recent discussions about Mary, will Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox pick a date when the virgin lived on earth. In the realm of sectarian Protestantism, I suspect that Orthodox Presbyterians will not choose from the 1936 to 2016 era but prefer instead the time of the Puritans, Westminster Assembly, John Knox, or John Calvin’s Geneva.

My own preference is the antebellum period (after 1837) when Old School Presbyterians was at its height. The church was pretty sound, liturgy was sensible, theologians knew to be on the lookout for compromise, and Presbyterians were not tempted by the status (and loss of independence) that comes with ecclesiastical establishment.