Who Is Dr. Thomas P. Roche?

So far all I know is that he taught classics (apparently) at SUNY Buffalo, was in theonomic circles for a while, and wrote one of the more amazing critiques. This is an excerpt from his piece, “Meet the Theonomists” (which is a good read):

Twelve years ago, the Rev. Douglas Wilson was quite literally a nobody from nowhere, the pastor of the then Community Evangelical Fellowship in undistinguished Moscow, Idaho, home of his alma mater, University of Idaho. Wilson, the son of the Rev. James Wilson, the local Evangelical Free Church pastor, was, in his father’s mode, an Arminian evangelical. His church was a 1970s-style college fellowship, the pastorate of which he had inherited in the late 1970s, when the previous pastor moved on and Wilson, the guitar leader, was elected his replacement by acclamation, without seminary training, but with a MA degree in Philosophy. Wilson proved a competent replacement, and in 1981 his church started Logos School, the progenitor Christian school in their “Classical Christian School” movement, dedicated to “recovering the lost tools of learning” along the lines of the medieval trivium, following the lead of a famous essay by this name written in the 1930s by the late British mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers, which Wilson himself (who also holds a degree in Classics) later expanded into a book. The school emphasized logic, Latin, etc., as well as theology, and fit well into the university atmosphere of the Moscow, Idaho/Pullman, Wash. (University of Idaho/WSU) environs. Neither the school nor Wilson as theologian gained much influence outside of this area, however, throughout the 80s. Then, in the late 80s, Wilson chose to preach a sermon series on Romans, and through his studies therein, was converted to Reformed soteriology. This event might well have had little effect beyond his local preaching but for reasons I do not understand, Wilson chose to expand his efforts, and quickly began to seek to expand his teachings and influence outside of his local area. I do know that Wilson, presumably in a worthy effort to learn more about the Reformed faith he had recently embraced, began various correspondences with Reformed thinkers elsewhere (James Jordan was briefly one of these), and soon Wilson was joined at his church by Douglas Jones, OPC elder (?) who had been associated with Greg Bahnsen and his ministry in Southern California. Jones became and in my opinion remains the intellectual engine behind the Moscow church; through his influence Wilson would eventually embrace covenant paedobaptism and even become a popularising author advocating the “Thousand Generation Covenant” paedobaptist promise.

I Did Not Know that Idaho Was In Canada

Over the weekend I was doing a little internet searching for churches that still confess the 16th and 17th century Reformed teachings on the civil magistrate’s role. Practically all of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, both mainline and conservative, have modified the creeds of the Reformation and scholastic eras, even to the point, in the case of the Christian Reformed Church (circa 1958), of calling the original Belgic Confession’s construction “unbiblical.”

One set of churches, I thought, might actually still hold to the original Westminster Assembly’s teaching — that church being the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, which emanates from Doug Wilson’s Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. So I went to Christ Church’s website and was not surprised to see the original Westminster Confession in force “for use in doctrinal accountability for officers of the church.” What was surprising was to see a set of creeds, almost like a Book of Confessions, adopted by Christ Church, including the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

The Thirty-Nine Articles are noteworthy in their teaching on the civil magistrate because they specify the magistrate in view. This makes a lot of sense since the monarch of the United Kingdom is also the supreme head of the Church of England. But this is different from the other Reformed confessions which provide a general description of the magistrate’s responsibilities that can then be applied in various lands and political orders. Here is the bulk of Article XXXVII (see how the NFL unwittingly helps in the ecclesiastical realm?):

The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this realm of England and other her dominions, unto whom the chief government of all estates of this realm, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not nor ought to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended, we give not to our princes the ministering either of God’s word or of sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify: but that only prerogative which we see to have been given always to all godly princes in Holy Scriptures by God himself, that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be ecclesiastical or temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers. The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.

It is indeed odd for Christians to confess allegiance to a particular civil authority as part of their profession, as if Christ died specifically for the subjects of the English crown. It is also odd for citizens of the United States to confess the supreme authority of the English monarch over the Church of England. And to keep the oddity going, it is indeed strange for members of a church outside the Church of England to confess anything about the Church of England. The introductory statement at Christ Church leaves me all the more perplexed: “we therefore commend the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as an faithful and historic testimony of the martyr church. . .” What kind of martyrdom is it that professes the sovereignty of a monarchy that did its fair share in producing martyrs and non-conformists? Can martyrs really identify with the establishment?

This is one of those examples of what happens when you try to add to your confessional play book. You think you are affirming the catholicity of the church and situating yourself in that breadth of voices. Meanwhile, you have so many documents to confess that you lose track of the disagreements among those voices.