What's to Abhor?

One of the arresting vows that church members take in Presbyterian circles is this:

Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?

Important to consider is that this is something someone who has already converted or been baptized and reared in the church is supposed to answer in the affirmative. That means that someone who is already regenerate and progressing in sanctification is supposed to affirm. After all, we don’t go straight from the conversion experience to a gathering of the congregation to receive members.

Why is it then that someone who is holy and sanctified, since these are parts of the gospel as some tell us, would abhor himself (notice too that we require the fairer sex also to abhor herself)? And why is it that we need to understand, as the gospel networkers are encouraging us to learn, that growth in holiness does not lead to spiritual pride?

We deny that assurance gained through growth in godliness amounts to a performance-based religion or necessitates an unwholesome spiritual pride. . . .

We deny that rejoicing in victories over sin amounts to spiritual pride or performance religion, although Christians may and sometimes do sin in this way.

This makes me wonder if our membership vows need to be revised. Should we add a membership vow that asks, “do you rejoice now and will you continue to do so in your victories over sin?” Or is the posture of abhorrence much more fitting for those who join the body of Christ?

Now if you believe Jesus is in some sense (hear that republicationists) like us, then you may not care for the language of abhorrence. Then again, if you affirm what Machen explained about the uniqueness of Christ, disgust with yourself may not be so bad:

Certainly Jesus had a religion of His own; His prayer was real prayer, His faith was real religious faith. His relation to His heavenly Father was not merely that of a child to a father; it was that of a man to his God. Certainly Jesus had a religion; without it His humanity would indeed have been but incomplete. Without doubt Jesus had a religion; the fact is of the utmost importance. But it is equally important to observe that that religion which Jesus had was not Christianity. Christianity is a way of getting rid of sin, and Jesus was without sin. His religion was a religion of Paradise, not a religion of sinful humanity. It was a religion to which we may perhaps in some sort attain in heaven, when the process of our purification is complete (though even then the memory of redemption will never leave us); but certainly it is not a religion with which we can begin. The religion of Jesus was a religion of untroubled sonship; Christianity is a religion of the attainment of sonship by the redeeming work of Christ. (Christianity and Liberalism, 92)

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Gratitude and Motivation

The good (loaded term?) folks over at Gospel Reformation Network state the following:

We deny that gratitude for justification is the only valid motivation for holiness, making all other motivations illegitimate or legalistic.

I am not sure how many critics of neonomianism or flattening insist that gratitude is the exclusive motivation for good works. But if you think about better and worse ways to seek holiness, why do you have to warn about gratitude?

For instance, if you sought to follow a program of good works according to the Confession of Faith (16.2), would you be in danger of becoming self-righteous?

These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

If I set out to prove (we are in the realm of evidence here — is this a courtroom, a science lab?) that my faith is alive by doing good works, don’t I wind up drawing attention to me, myself, and I? I am not saying that this is what the Confession is teaching. This paragraph is not necessarily prescribing motives for godly living. It is describing the reality of good works and how to understand them in relation to affirmations about justification by faith alone. But if you were to look at this paragraph for a motivation for sanctification, it could certainly lead to the kind of Protestant work ethic that Max Weber made famous: Protestants do good works to prove that they are elect, as if Protestants don’t already have assurance of salvation from resting in the righteousness of Christ.

What then is the problem with describing the Christian life, as Heidelberg (86) does, as one of thankfulness?

Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.

It seems to (all about) me that whenever I say thank you for a gift, a serving of a meal, a gesture of kindness, or a routine act of service (even one for which I am paying), I take on a spirit of humility. By saying thanks, I am recognizing that someone has helped me, that I am in debt to someone, and that I need assistance. That sounds like a pretty good way to pursue holiness. Conversely, if I am trying to prove my goodness, do I say thank you to the waiter, Comcast serviceman, or bank teller? If I am trying to show evidence of righteousness, don’t I have less of a reason to say “thanks”?

Inquiring minds want the Obedience Boys to think this one through.

Gratitude As the Basis for Obedience

The title of this post is not meant to echo the Guilt-Grace-Gratitude structure of the Heidelberg Catechism but to indicate that the Obedience Men and Boys should be forever grateful to Tullian Tchividjian for providing a target for those who believe sanctification is besieged in our time. If you look around on the web for information on antinomianism or the sanctification controversy, the only name that keeps surfacing is Pastor T’s, with responses from Kevin DeYoung or the Gospel Reformation Network. Here is one example with a follow-up to a response:

I’ve read with interest debates in the Reformed community on the doctrine of sanctification the last few years. Debates about the motivations and sources of sanctification now are worked through in discussions on Ref21, The Gospel Coalition, and other Reformed web blogs. Tullian Tchividjian has been at the center of these discussions and has received critiques from theologians and pastors such as Rick Phillips, William B. Evans, and Kevin DeYoung.

But if you look at the Gospel Reformation Network’s 5 Questions to church leaders, you have to conclude that a controversy is palpable in Reformed circles over the place of the law and obedience in the Christian life. For instance, to the question, “Is there misunderstanding about Sanctification within the PCA and the broader Reformed community?”:

There is significant misunderstanding among some in the PCA regarding Sanctification. More specifically, there are a number of ministers and congregants who have (wittingly or unwittingly) been deeply influenced by a “Lutheranized” view of Sanctification.

The short answer to this question is yes. With the (proper) Reformed emphasis on grace alone and faith alone, many believers have been delivered from the guilt of performance-driven Christianity. God loves us, and in Christ he freely and fully accepts us. Unfortunately, the liberating message of the gospel has led some within the Reformed community to de-emphasize the responsibility of Spirit-empowered effort to fight against sin and temptation. Like Joseph, we’re to run from temptation (Gen. 39:12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). And, according to Paul, we’re to sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Both require considerable exertion on the part of the believer.

Again, with Pastor T and his blog and videos, how would these people know about what is being preached and taught in PCA, OPC, URC, ARP, or RPCNA congregations?

First, how many Reformed or Presbyterian pastors preach doctrinal or catechetical sermons? If they do, then sanctification may be neglected, say like when the URC pastor when going through Heidelberg neglects Questions 88 to 115. Otherwise, most Reformed pastors are preaching through a book of the Bible where the doctrine of sanctification is not mentioned directly any more than the doctrine of the Trinity. If the Bible had a book dedicated to sanctification that most pastors were avoiding — say, the way they generally avoid Song of Solomon — then the obedience boys and men might have a point. But we don’t have much doctrinal preaching in our circles — as far as I can tell by observing the way OPC pastors operate. Otherwise, obedience and sanctification likely come up in the regular exposition of books of the Bible.

Second, how many of us who write on trends in the churches actually get around to other churches? Most of the people talking or blogging about the sanctification controversy are church officers or pastors whose duties don’t allow them to get out much. Maybe you pick up a vibe here at General Assembly, or sense a trend there when you go to a pastor’s conference. But who of us is to judge what pastors are teaching or preaching on such slight evidence? (For instance, not even Mark Jones’ book on Antinomianism has references to Pastor T or Jack Miller or Sonship in the index.)