The Necessity of Good Works

Are good works “necessary to the attainment of eternal life,” as A. A. Hodge wrote at one point? Is that simply what the Confession of Faith and Catechisms say?

“Necessary” is actually a word infrequently used in the Westminster Standards. It appears six times in the first chapter of the Confession (on Scripture), as in:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:p yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (1.7)

The Divines also use it once in the chapter on vows:

It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone:n and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith, and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want, whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties; or, to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto. (22.6)

It comes up once in the 23rd chapter on the civil magistrate, such that wars are sometimes legitimate on “necessary occasion(s).

In chapter 28, baptizing a person by dipping is not “necessary.”

And in chapter 30 church censures are “necessary” for reclaiming unrepentant sinners.

The language of necessity attached to good works’ utility in securing eternal life is not present.

The Shorter Catechism (if my Adobe search capacities are reliable) uses “unnecessary” only once in A. 61 in relation to words, works, and thoughts about worldly employments and recreations, as in those activities that do not qualify for works of “necessity and mercy.”

The Larger Catechism uses “necessary” seven times, all in connection with duties that superiors have to inferiors, the way to pray, or certain implications of the Decalogue.

But for anything close to an assertion that good works are necessary for eternal life or salvation, the Standards say so only by inferences drawn from the mind of the one inferring.

Perhaps the language or “require” will help. But here again, if you look at the Shorter Catechism on the duty God requires, you may wind up backing away from Hodge’s claim.

Of course, Q. & A. 39 state explicitly that God requires all people to obey his law:

Q. 39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.

That answer introduces a lengthy commentary on the Ten Commandments.

Those reflections end with this:

Q. 82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.

Conceivably, someone could receive eternal life by good works if that person lived a perfect life. But the fall sort of threw a wrench into that relationship between obedience leading to salvation. The Shorter Catechism puts that reality in a fairly pithy way:

Q. 84. What doth every sin deserve?
A. Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.

Have a nice day.

It’s not a question of how many good works will secure your salvation. It is a problem than one sin condemns you to God’s wrath. Good works aren’t going to make up for that.

So what is the remedy? What does God require for eternal life? Again, the Shorter Catechism is crisp if not clear:

Q. 85. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?
A. To escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.

If someone was looking for an affirmation of the value that good works perform in obtaining eternal life, that would be a good place to find it.

And in case you are thinking that repentance is in the good works ballpark, you might have to find a different stadium since “Repentance Unto Life” is the chapter before “Good Works” in the Confession. Granted, repentance is necessary to perform good works:

By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments. (15.2)

Repentance is part of the motivation for a good work. But for a work to be good, it must meet three criteria: a heart “purified by faith,” in a manner that conforms to Scripture, and for the end of God’s glory. (16.7)

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Constantine as Mr. Rogers

Remember when Presbyterians used to confess this about the civil magistrate?

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (Confession of Faith 23.3)

Of course, imagining Donald Trump presiding over the General Assembly of the PCA might prompt chuckles (moderating debate with Roberts’ Rules, winding up the woke commissioners, Trump supporters’ embarrassment). But even giving “good” presidents this kind of power is precisely why American Presbyterians revised the Confession (at least one reason). The Congregationalist, Barack Obama moderating a General Assembly? The United Methodist, George W. Bush? The Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy? I don’t think so!

But even in a secular United States, Americans have trouble abandoning the idea of a president’s moral authority. Even those who believe in total depravity struggle with expecting too much of POTUS. Here’s one fairly recent foray into the topic of presidents’ morality at National Public Radio. Surprise, it started with St. Abe:

While Americans often take the idea of the president as a moral leader for granted, Barbara Perry, a presidential historian in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, says she has traced this concept back to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

The North and South were divided in the middle of the Civil War, and Lincoln sought to bring the country together by pointing to our common heritage, Perry says.

“He points to the fact that our common heritage is that our forefathers came upon this continent and created a new nation, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Perry tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “To me it is the ultimate presidential speech of unification, grief, calming — but also uplifting and inspirational.”

What exactly is moral about social unity, grief over soldiers’ deaths, calm reassurance, uplift, and inspiration? That’s a pretty low bar (not low enough for Trump).

“The president is not always successful in the persuasion, in terms of policy outcomes,” Perry says, “but if he can be successful in at least calming and soothing the nation and showing us a way forward — that someday perhaps we will reach the policy point, as we did with President Kennedy and the ’64 Civil Rights Act — he will have been successful.”

So what, ultimately, is the responsibility of a president in critical moments? Perry says the president primarily serves to comfort the American people in times of crisis. We look to the president as a father figure.

“The president is the very first symbol of American government that children comprehend,” she says. “The president, especially in the modern era, comes into our homes — first by radio, then television, now through all sorts of electronic gadgetry — and so we think of him as part of our life. And that’s why it’s so important for him to model the proper behavior for us.”

The only way this makes sense for Christians is to have two standards, one for Christians, another for citizens. The United States relies on conduct that is outwardly moral in some sense. But that is a far cry from the Confession:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word, nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. (Confession of Faith, 13.7)

A president’s moral authority, accordingly, should proceed from true faith, obedience to God’s word, and an aim to give God the glory.

And yet, we have many Americans who expect presidents to be moral at a time when Christians have been “engaged” in politics in a direct way for at least a generation. You might think that a Christian perspective would reduce expectations for a presidential morality. It is exactly the reverse. Many American who have made a living by flouting conventional standards (think Hollywood celebrities) now have no trouble echoing Jerry Falwell, Sr.

If only Mencken were alive to see this show.

When a State Agency Endorses Two Kingdoms

And they didn’t even address the situation in Ireland.

The state office in question was the Westminster Assembly, a gathering of ministers to write a new set of church standards for the English church. One of their most forceful arguments about the spirituality of the church came in the chapter on Christian liberty. First, their understanding of such freedom was completely removed from political, economic, or social considerations:

1. The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

A servant could enjoy such liberty as much as Charles I.

To make sure that everyone knew they were talking about spiritual matters, not politics, the divines added this:

4. And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity (whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the church, they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of the church.

The theological gospel was not a social gospel. The freedoms purchased by Christ were not leverage for social justice. Heck, the divines even say that you can’t use Christian liberty to disobey the legitimate rule of the visible church.

This is why it is so great to live in the greatest nation on God’s green earth. We don’t need to use the Confession of Faith to dismantle oppressive legislation or exploitative policies. We have the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Imagine that. Political documents regulating political affairs, and ecclesiastical ones shaping the church.

How novel!

Neo-Calvinists Made This Possible

How to be a Calvinist without subscribing the Three Forms of Unity (especially the Canons of Dort), Trevin Wax uses the same logic that allowed USA Presbyterians to be Presbyterian without subscribing the Confession of Faith:

I do wonder how David defines the contours of the Reformed heritage. At times, I get the impression that he is speaking of the Reformed tradition in its distinctively Calvinistic soteriological position. Certainly, one can speak of the “Reformed” in this way, but I suppose I come at this definition by considering the broader framework of the Reformation tradition.

For example, I don’t think of Os Guinness or Charles Colson as “Calvinists,” but as thinkers who have adopted and adapted the Kuyperian worldview and its distinctive approach to creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Perhaps my concern with proper definition says more about my own placement in this tradition, as one who doesn’t line up exactly with Calvinist soteriology and yet appreciates the worldview emphasis one finds within this tradition. I would include John Wesley under the Reformed moniker, even though he was an Arminian with his own Wesleyan twist on the doctrines of salvation.

Interestingly, when David lifts up contemporary treatments of the atonement from N. T. Wright and Fleming Rutledge as preferable to the classical Reformed tradition, he is lifting up heirs to that broader tradition. That’s not to say there aren’t differences between Wright, Rutledge, and the classically Reformed. Still, these writers operate within the basic Reformed worldview and outlook. So, when David differentiates his perspective from the “Reformed,” he does so by appealing to one wing of the Reformed tradition over against another.

Wax never knew Machen:

Even if all this were true, even if a creedal Church were an undesirable thing, it would still remain true that as a matter of fact many (indeed in spirit really all) evangelical churches are creedal churches, and that if a man does not accept their creed he has no right to a place in their teaching ministry. The creedal character of the churches is differently expressed in the different evangelical bodies, but the example of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America may perhaps serve to illustrate what is meant.

It is required of all officers in the Presbyterian Church, including the ministers, that at their ordination they make answer “plainly” to a series of questions which begins with the two following: “Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?” “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?”

If these “constitutional questions” do not fix clearly the creedal basis of the Presbyterian Church, it is difficult to see how any human language could possibly do so. Yet immediately after making such a solemn declaration, immediately after declaring that the Westminster Confession contains the system of doctrine taught in infallible Scriptures, many ministers of the Presbyterian Church will proceed to decry that same Confession and that doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture to which they have just solemnly subscribed! (Christianity and Liberalism)

Neo-Calvinism created this when it stressed culture over salvation, transformationalism over doctrine. Now we have cultural Calvinists, like cultural Jews and cultural Roman Catholics.

Thank YOU!

We’re Supposed to Believe Evangelicals Care about Nicea?

While evangelical leaders and some of their critics debate the complexities of Trintarian theology (thanks, mind you, to prior considerations of the relations between the sexes – ahem), please keep in mind two points.

First, evangelical Protestants never — NEH VEH — cared about Nicea. If they knew about Nicea, they certainly didn’t know the Council of Constantinople of 381 (wasn’t that a Muslim city?). Just look at some evangelical statements on the Trinity:

God has revealed himself to be the living and true God, perfect in love and righteous in all his ways, one in essence, existing eternally in the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Fuller Seminary, flagship seminary of the neo-evangelical movement)

We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (National Association of Evangelicals)

By way of comparison:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (OPC Confession of Faith 2.3)

Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term “person” they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself. (Augsburg Confession)

So when Carl Trueman writes:

In light of the last few weeks, the American conservative evangelical movement as a whole has been exposed as theologically thin in its doctrine and historically eccentric in its priorities. As the war of words dies down, the subsequent peace must bring with it ecumenical consequences. It cannot simply involve papering over the obvious cracks in order to return to gospel business as usual.

Does he really mean to say “the last few weeks”? What about the last century does he not appreciate?

The second point to consider is how parachurch this entire debate is. As Jake Meador observes, evangelicals don’t debate well:

And so we continue to go around the maddening how-evangelicals-debate cul de sac: Dr. Trueman has long complained that evangelicalism is driven more by cultural concerns, like complementarianism, and a celebrity pastor complex than by sincere concern with faithful preaching and ministry. In the way he makes these critiques, he has sometimes been excessively aggressive, thereby making it far less likely that people will hear his real concerns or weigh whether or not there is any truth in them at all. He is, instead, easily dismissed as a crank.

One reason is that the means for conducting debate are parachurch institutions, not church assemblies, committees, reports, and debates.

So while evangelicals debate the Trinity — THE TRINITY!! — Orthodox Presbyterians were discussing the doctrine of republication.

Evangelicals really should join a confessional church. The water is warm.

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.

Today's Theme is Breadth

After hearing from Pastor Sauls on the valuable contributions from those who disagree, we read Mark Jones who has his own objections to the narrow road. Maybe Pastor Sauls qualifies as one of Jones’ Reformed irenics since the former is not beholden to Reformed orthodoxy. But I suspect Sauls would fall short because he doesn’t know enough historical theology. Those who do know the breadth of the Reformed tradition as Jones does are different from and less appealing than the Truly Reformed who read the Reformed confessions in a wooden manner (unlike someone trained in historical theology):

Among this group, I sometimes worry that their zeal for Confessional fidelity – a noble zeal, in and of itself – can sometimes reflect an overly restricted reading of the diversity of the Reformed tradition and our Reformed confessional history. They can read our confessions in a somewhat a-historical manner. Thus they tend to draw the lines of orthodoxy quite narrowly, excluding views from the tradition that have quite a bit of historical precedent. We must admit: our tradition has lots of diversity. Lots. And this diversity is present in the way our Confessions were formed, if one reads them carefully (e.g., the nature of Adam’s reward is ambiguous).

A recognition of diversity leads to an awareness of how narrow our conservative Presbyterian world in North America is:

When we consider the Christian world, and just how broad it is, it doesn’t make much sense for us in the Reformed Confessional tradition to be too narrow. We are, after all, a tiny minority. We should, as far as we are able, and without compromising our confessional heritage, embrace or respect other Christian traditions, viewpoints, and values. It is actually a firm confidence in our Reformed Confessional heritage that allows us to do this.

If I may be allowed a minute at the historical microphone, let me assert that historical theology is not church history. And church history teaches a couple of lessons that Dr. Jones’ historical theology apparently leaves out.

First, a confession is not a work of historical theology. It is a legal standard for a Christian communion. Does it mean that it doesn’t have a history or that context isn’t important for understanding the words and arguments of the Confession? No. But it does mean that a confession for a specific denomination functions in a very different way from a theologian highly regarded by people in a theological tradition. The Confession of Faith is a secondary standard for the PCA and the OPC. John Calvin and John Owen are not such legal standards. And the reason churches have confessions is very different from the aim that animates historical theologians; churches need criteria and consensus for ordination and discipline while historical theologians, like Dr. Jones at least, can marvel at the diversity.

Second, church history also teaches why some Presbyterian communions are narrow. The reason is that some Presbyterian communions became broad — as in Leffert Loetscher’s Broadening Church, the history of the PCUSA. In addition, one of the reasons mainline Presbyterians celebrated breadth owed in part to the discovery of Christians in other parts of the world and a concomitant recognition of how seemingly foreign the West’s creeds and confessions were to non-Westerners.

Dr. Jones may not be celebrating breadth and diversity in the same way, but when he lectures us about history, I wish he would take more history into account.

What To Do about Church Law

If you are worried about antinomianism, then what do you do with those rules and structures that regulate the ministry of the word? In the OPC, for instance, ministers must answer in the affirmative to the following questions (among others):

(3) Do you approve of the government, discipline, and worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

(4) Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?

(5) Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote his glory in the gospel of his Son?

(6) Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, the peace, and the unity of the church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?

If you are a Presbyterian or Reformed Protestant minister and take vows like this, should you be careful in aligning yourself with parachurch ministries that replicate the means of grace that God has given to the church? Of course, life outside the church would not be possible without a parachurch organization. Everything from a non-denominational Christian college to National Public Radio qualifies as a parachurch organization. But there are parachurch organizations and then there are parachurch organizations. And if you are in one that has a mix of Reformed and non-Reformed church officers and that engages in work that resembles the teaching and preaching of the church — that even claims to support the church — have you engaged in antinomianism? What about the oversight that should accompany the ministry of the word? Isn’t the biblical model of oversight presbyterian? And even if you belong to a parachurch agency that is comprised entirely of Presbyterian officers, shouldn’t your organization be overseen by an assembly of the church? Does ministry ever happen without oversight by the church? Doesn’t the church matter? Doesn’t church law matter?

Before you answer, be sure to keep in mind (if you are a Presbyterian) that system of doctrine that includes a set of theological affirmations on oaths and vows (though why we need that chapter or whether anyone pays attention to it is beyond me):

1. A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness what he asserteth, or promiseth, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he sweareth.

2. The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence. Therefore, to swear vainly, or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name; or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred. Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the new testament as well as under the old; so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in such matters, ought to be taken.

3. Whosoever taketh an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth: neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform.

4. An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation. It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man’s own hurt. Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels.

5. A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness.

6. It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith, and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want, whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties; or, to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto.

7. No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God, or what would hinder any duty therein commanded, or which is not in his own power, and for the performance whereof he hath no promise of ability from God. In which respects, popish monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself.

Persuasion by Innuendo

Bill Evans is baaaaaaaaaack with another dismissive post about 2k. I am not sure why he grinds this ax, though I have ideas. Also, I detect another attempt to tarnish 2kers with unmentioned and unmentionable implications of their position — the guilt by association technique:

We will cheerfully admit that 2K advocates have some legitimate concerns, particularly that the mission and witness of the church not be hijacked by political and cultural agendas. But in this instance the cure is worse than the disease. While 2K theology may well scratch the itch of Christians who need a theological excuse to remain silent in current cultural conflicts, it is both less than biblical and less than faithful to the decided weight of the Reformed tradition.

Evans shows that he still does not understand 2k. Plenty of 2kers talk about law and politics. The point is for the church only to speak or declare what God has revealed, and in the case of gay marriage, for instance, the Bible does teach what marriage, and that Israel and the church are to enforce biblical norms. But Scripture does not say what a constitutional republic’s marriage policy is supposed to be.

And this gets to the heart of the disagreement — not to mention where Evans not only fails to understand 2k but also the Reformed tradition. If the entire world is Christ’s kingdom, then we would expect all lawful authorities to enforce God’s revealed will. But the Bible tells us quite clearly that the entire world is not Christ’s kingdom — the world consists of believers and unbelievers. The Bible also tells us — contrary to mid-twentieth-century western foreign policy — that Israel no longer exists as the covenant people. The church is now the new Israel, and the church does not have temporal jurisdiction. That means that the church transcends national borders and magistrates’ rule. In other words, what goes on in the church is different from what goes on in the state — the state of Russia, the state of Canada, the state of Japan. Christian’s should expect the church to practice God’s law. But whether Christians should expect non-Christian governments to enforce God’s law upon people who do not fear God is a very complicated question.

The problem is that Evans fudges this very question when he says — in direct contradiction of the Confession of Faith:

. . . the kingdom of God and the institutional church are wrongly equated by 2K advocates. There is a rough consensus among New Testament scholars that the kingdom of God is a much more comprehensive reality than the institutional church, and this misidentification of the church and the kingdom has all sorts of unfortunate results, such as confusion over the nature of “kingdom work” and the silencing of Christians from speaking to societal issues.

Well, how would Evans rewrite this if he considered what the Confession — pre-1788 revision — does say?

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (25.2)

That’s not exactly the same thing as the kingdom of God. But when the Confession goes on to say — again, pre-1788 revision, “Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto, (25.3), it is saying that the kingdom of Christ and the visible church are doing something distinct from what the state or magistrate does — “the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers” (23.1). And this distinction between the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom (remember “my kingdom is not of this world” anyone?) and the temporal nature of the state’s rule, also explains why the Confession (pre-1788 revision again!) says the church should stay out of the state’s bee’s wax:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate. (31.4)

So the notion that 2k is outside the Reformed tradition on the nature of Christ’s kingdom is wrong.

In fact, those who expand the kingdom the way that Evans does under the influence of either Kuyper’s every-square-inchism or Finney’s millenialism are the ones who are outside the Reformed tradition and who threaten the gospel. And this goes to the heart of what animates 2k — a desire to preserve the integrity of the gospel and the church’s witness by not identifying the gospel or Christian witness with matters that are not Christian or redemptive but are common or related to general revelation. Once you begin to expand the kingdom as Evans so glibly does, you wind up doing what Protestant liberals did when they attributed to economics or agriculture or medicine on the mission field redemptive significance or what Social Gospelers did when they identified Progressive policies as signs of the coming of the kingdom. Only the church has the keys of the kingdom and all the Reformed confessions state explicitly that the magistrate may not hold them.

That means that the kingdom of Christ comes through the ministry of the church, not through the administration of the state or the advancement of Western Civilization or the building of the metropolis. Preaching and the sacraments establish the spiritual kingdom, not Broadway, the Tea Party, or a Supreme Court ruling.

Does this mean that 2kers agree with Calvin, Beza, or the Divines on the nature of the magistrate? No 2ker has said that they do. But we have it on good revised confessional authority that the Reformed churches no longer believe about the magistrate what the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Reformed pastors and theologians did. That change is not a minority position only held by 2kers. Proponents of 2k along with all the NAPARC churches, for instance, do not believe that the magistrate should enforce both tables of the law. Surprise!

But the question for the likes of Evans is whether (if he believes that the magistrate should shut down Mormon Temples and Roman Catholic basilicas) the state is actually establishing God’s kingdom. Calvin and the Divines did not believe that politics (or medicine or higher education or New York City) has “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints.” Only the church has this power and ministry.

And that is why 2kers are so insistent on the dangers of transformationalism in whatever guise it comes. It attributes to human activities other than the church, no matter how good or legitimate they may be, transformative powers that Scripture gives only to the church and her ministry of word and sacrament.

So I wish Bill Evans in future comments on 2k would consider the weakness in his own understanding of Reformed Protestantism, not to mention the dangers that come from confusing the spiritual and temporal spheres.

Postscript: Evans also needs to give up the Lutheran-vs.-Calvinist mantra, at least when it comes to politics. One of the arresting parts of John Witte’s argument in The Reformation of Rights (a fairly whiggish and neo-Calvinist rendering of Calvinist resistance theory) is that Calvinists learned resistance from Lutherans: “It is significant that Beza cited the Magdeburg Confession (1550) as his ‘signal example’ of how to respond to political abuse and tyranny. For the Magdeburg Confession was a major distillation of the most advanced Lutheran resistance theories of the day, which the Calvinist tradition absorbed. (106)”

Putting a Point on Two Kingdoms


Posts and comments have been flying fast and furious over at the blog of those two crazy guys, Brothers Tim and David Bayly (they admit that they are “out of their minds”) about two-kingdom theology. It started over a week ago with acrimony surrounding the experimental Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards and Martin Lloyd-Jones, but quickly descended into mud-slinging about who has picketed abortion clinics the most, thus proving that the conversion experience is hardly otherworldly.

One of the points to surface in these debates is the cockamamie idea (to them) of the separation of church and state. As I have tried to point out, if you don’t believe in the separation of church and state, what is the alternative? One to which a Bayly Bro alluded was Calvin’s Geneva, with a nice scoop of scorn for those Calvinists who have departed so far from the pater familia of Reformed orthodoxy and Christian politics. But when I try to bring up the idea that idolaters and heretics were not welcome in Geneva – ahem, can anyone say Servetus? – I receive another helping of scorn. I simply don’t know what I’m talking about because executing heretics is not what they are talking about. Then why bring up Calvin?

I may not know what I’m blogging about, but I definitely don’t know how you can promote Calvin’s ideas on church and state and not see the pinch that might be coming in this greatest of nations on God’s green earth for Mormons and Roman Catholics (for starters). I’m not sure Baptists would be secure either since they do rebaptize. (Just trying to show I’m not selective in my dogmatic intolerance.) And the Baylys have the nerve to call me utopian. What land of chocolate (props to the Simpsons) would execute Servetus and keep Orrin Hatch?

And then along comes Rabbi Bret to the rescue. Mind you, he has been banished (it could be a self-imposed exile) from the Bayly Bros land of chocolate blogging for extreme remarks, so I am not implying that he speaks for the Baylys. But I am not sure how the Baylys and other versions of Christian America, from an orthodox George Washington and a federally envisioned Moscow, Idaho, to the transformation of New York City, can avoid having a Christian influence on society that stops at religious intolerance without limiting Christian influence to mere morality (quite like the liberal Protestant project, mind you, where the Bible was good for ethics but lousy for doctrine).

Here is how Rabbi Bret puts a point on it:

A second problem with the idea of a Christian advocating some version of “it is only fair that in a pluralistic culture that no faith, including Christianity, ever be preferred by the state” is that such a statement is treason against the King Jesus Christ. All Christians should be actively working for the elimination of false faiths from our culture and for the elimination of the influence of false faiths upon our civil-social / governmental structures. Any Christian who advocates the planned continuance of religious and cultural pluralism is a Christian who is denying the King Jesus.

If we need to be subject to King Jesus in all of our lives, and if we want his rule in every walk of life, including Manhattan for those who can afford it, then how do we tolerate other faiths in our nation? If the Bible is the norm for all of life, including politics, why doesn’t the state assume the same opposition to false religion as the church? We don’t tolerate heterodox teaching or unrepentant immoral living in our churches, so why would a nation that has Christian standards be more lenient than the church? Wouldn’t that nation be the civil version of the mainline Protestant churches before the sexual revolution? (This question has the ring of plausibility since it suggests why so many Protestants are inclined to conclude that the founding fathers, who were hardly orthodox, were highly orthodox. If orthodoxy is synonymous with morality, then the criteria for judging Christ’s rule shifts significantly.)

But aside from questions this raises about holding back on fully applying God’s word to all of life, including Roman Catholic neighbors, what about being subject to the government ordered by a constitution that preserves religious liberty? If those who say public education is a legitimate option for Christians can be accused of denying the legitimacy of Christian education, can’t those who continue to live with a regime guided by the U.S. Constitution be blamed for supporting idolatry? And if the toleration of unbelief by law is so awful, a sign of disloyalty to King Jesus, then when are folks like Rabbi Bret and the Pastors Bayly going to do more than blog or picket and actually follow the example of many Calvinists and resist tyranny? Is it really fair to accuse 2k advocates of bad faith when the accusers themselves won’t engage in the sort of armed insurrection practiced by Calvinists in sixteenth-century Holland, seventeenth-century England, and eighteenth-century America?

Where Bret seems to part company with the Baylys (and the Christian school advocate, Kloosterman) is over the magistrate’s enforcement of the first table of the law. Bret favors it, while the others seem to think that the magistrate should acknowledge the first table but not enforce it. That sure doesn’t seem to be Calvin’s theory or practice with Servetus who was executed for a defective view of the Trinity (the First Commandment by my reckoning). But even if you allow for this weasely distinction, then haven’t you introduced an area where all that Christ has commanded is not enforce? Christ commands people to have only one God. The magistrate theoretically believes this but lives with subjects who believe in many Gods. Huh? I wonder where exactly the biblical instruction comes for rulers to distinguish the first and second tables of the law so that the latter becomes legislation but not the former.

At the end of the day, it seems to me that the Covenanters had a good position on all this, even if I disagree with their starting place. They refused to participate in the U.S. regime because it did not acknowledge Christ as Lord. They would not run for office or vote in elections (up until about 1980). That seems like a good way of keeping your distance from a regime that tolerates other faiths and doesn’t acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. But folks like Bret rail against the United States and then run for Senate on the Constitution Party ticket – the God-denying Constitution, that is.

For 2k advocates along with your average conservative Presbyterian, Bret’s and the Baylys’ complaints are no skin off our backs. American Presbyterians revised our confession of faith and we now confess that the magistrate has a duty to protect the freedom of all people, no matter what their faith or level of unbelief. According to Bret’s logic, my communion is guilty of treason against the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet, the Covenanters, who would have disagreed vigorously with the American revisions of the WCF, never once considered (to my knowledge) severing fellowship with the OPC because of these differences on church and state.

In which case, are the Christian transformers of the U.S.A. making a mountain out of a mole hill? Or is it better to say that they are like Peter, defending his lord with a sword, when that way of doing things has passed away and a new order is in place, a spiritual regime for a spiritual institution – the church – which is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ?