Not New But Laodecian Calvinism

Trevin Wax argues for yet another third-way that keeps Calvinists and Arminians together in the big tent also known as the Southern Baptist Convention. As the second largest communion (if a convention qualifies) in the United States only behind Roman Catholics, forgive me if I seem to yield to the temptation of membership envy.

What if such girth comes precisely because ministers and congregations are free to follow their own theological convictions? In other words, how big would the SBC be if it had to choose between Calvinism and Arminianism?

But Wax doesn’t think that decision is necessary. He even thinks that kind of variety will make the SBC stronger (as in iron-sharpening-iron, I guess):

In the past, I’ve surmised that God may be using our Southern Baptist diversity on this issue for our overall health. I know many disagree with the idea that our diversity may be a good thing. Some Calvinists believe the SBC would be stronger if everyone shared their soteriological views and other Southern Baptists believe the SBC would be stronger if there were no Calvinists at all. I understand these perspectives, but my strong belief in God’s sovereignty gives me confidence that God will use our differing conclusions for the good of His people.

Not to sound patronizing, but Wax clearly ignores Calvinist history. Calvinists and Arminians don’t coexist. Think Canons of Dort. Think Dutch-American Calvinist disdain for “methodism.” Think Orthodox Presbyterian and Christian Reformed Church rejection of invitations to join the National Association of Evangelicals.

Of course, someone could argue that Calvinists and Arminians should put aside their differences and work together within the same commvenion. If I were Wax, I would not want to be in that land of doctrinal goo because the precedents for doctrinal toleration (or indifferentism) are not good. Contrary to Tom Nettles, it’s not departures from Calvinism that lead to liberalism (though positive estimates of human agency generally undermine Christianity). It’s actually calls for people who disagree so fundamentally to “get along” that produce the flabbiness that is Protestant liberalism.

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Al Mohler To the Rescue

I have often thought of the PCA as Southern Baptists who sometimes baptize infants. The autonomy of PCA congregations, the convention-like atmosphere of the General Assembly, and the original southerness of the PCA are reasons for the comparison. To be fair, the OPC is likely the Presbyterian equivalent of Reformed Baptists. Our assemblies work twelve hours a day (minus meals and devotions), we take doctrine seriously, and we can be ornery about baptizing infants (just as Reformed Baptists can be tenacious about dedicating babies). The difference between the PCA and the OPC is like that between the superintendent of schools in a county outside Birmingham and a plumber who fixes toilets in the suburbs of Toledo.

If this comparison has any merit, then perhaps the most famous Calvinist in the SBC can work out what ails the PCA. Once again the theological doctors have taken out their thermometers and found the patient in need of some program either for six-pack abs or foods that counteract stress. The rest of the ecclesiastical world seems to receive these reports every five years or so. Word of encouragement to other denominations: if you’re not asking what’s broke, you’re probably okay in a church militant sense. What is curious about Bryan Chappell’s assessment and Rick Phillips’ reply is how much the culture matters to each side of the PCA.

For Chapell, the division between traditionalists and progressives breaks down precisely along culture-war lines. His desire to avoid the culture wars is precisely why the BBs confuse the PCA hipsters with 2k even though 2kers avoid the culture wars not to avoid embarrassment but for spirituality of the church reasons. Chapell writes:

The generation that is 50-plus years old was raised in a time of perceived Christian-majority culture; according to Francis Schaeffer it was the time of “Christian consensus.”

The priority of many evangelical Christians who matured in that cultural context was to mobilize this “silent majority” in order to control the religious and political processes of the nation to halt cultural erosion (e.g., Schaeffer’s “A Day of Sober Rejoicing” delivered at the General Assembly marking the RPCES’s “Joining and Receiving” with the PCA). These dynamics created a “Halt” mission for Christians of that generation. The goals: Halt abortion, pornography, drugs, promiscuity, tree huggers, socialism, liberalism, and illegal immigration.

By contrast, Christians in the generation that is 40-minus years old have never perceived themselves as a majority but always as a minority in a pluralistic culture. As a consequence, this generation’s calling is perceived not as gaining control, but as gaining credibility to deal with an already eroded culture.

The need to win a hearing for a credible faith has resulted in a “Help” mission for this generation’s church leaders. The goals: Help orphans (to counter abortion through adoption), AIDS sufferers (to win a Gospel hearing from gays and a gay-sympathetic culture), sex-trafficking victims, addicts (enslaved by chemical, gambling, gaming, body-image, or sexual brokenness), the environment (to teach the world that we are stewards of God’s creation), and poor and oppressed foreigners within our borders.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates these generational differences than the way many Christian leaders feel about major figures in prior conservative Christian movements. To mention Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Dobson, James Kennedy, and Chuck Colson is to identify the heroes of the 50-plus generation. Church leaders of that generation are shocked to discover that younger leaders consider these figures exemplars of failure, representing attitudes and approaches that have led to the church’s cultural ineffectiveness.

Phillips responds:

“But we are being culturally isolated!” progressives respond! Our answer is that we are indeed, just as the Chinese Christians were culturally isolated under Maoism and as the early Christians were culturally isolated as they were marched into the Coliseum to be fed to the lions. Both of those groups ended up doing pretty well. Now, we do lament this isolation, mainly because we earnestly expect that we will soon be fed to the lions, so to speak, or at least excluded to cultural gulags. What we do not understand is why cultural persecution is a cause for cultural accommodation, as if Christ had anything to fear from Caesar or the cultural elites. The confessionalist concern is whether we will stand with our fellow courageous Christians who are being slaughtered around the world because they will not bend the knee to an imperious pagan culture and with the saints of the early church as they were urged by Christ in Revelation, or whether we will cringe before the powers of cultural elitism in the media, government, and entertainment structures. A statement like this may come across as religious arrogance, and for this we are sorry, but we simply want to join the ranks of those who conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” not loving our lives even to death (Rev. 12:11). We want this not because we have embraced a traditionalist martyr complex but because we sincerely believe that this is the best way both to love God and to love the world.

This is not at all to say that Christian courage and reliance on divine grace are the exclusive province of the confessional wing of our church. We know that this valor is shared in all factions of the PCA. What we do not understand is how this leads to a strategy of cultural engagement in which the assumptions of a spiritually rebellious culture are embraced as an evangelistic starting point.

Parenthetically, let me pause to ask where these cultural attitudes put TKNY. If the culture is so broken (Chapell), and so hostile (Phillips), then why is it that the culture thinks so well of Redeemer Presbyterian Church? Or why has that NYC congregation to which professionals, artists, journalists, and movers and shakers in the culture — as we constantly hear — become the model for PCA church planting in North America? Would Tim Keller share either Chapell’s or Phillips’ assessment of “the culture”? Or should more pastors in the PCA join Bill Smith in the REC?

But this is where Al Mohler can help. Chapell is truly troubled by the pluralism that he sees in the United States:

Right now our eyes are not focused on pluralism as our greatest enemy. We are more focused on what others in our ranks are doing or not doing. Debates about charismatic gifts are unlikely to divide us. Discussions about the role of women will continue to marginalize us but probably will not break us. Dealing with changing sexual mores may drive our youth away but will probably not divide us. All these issues are secondary to the challenges of pluralism.

Does Chapell want to return to 14th-century Italy or 16th-century Massachusetts Bay colony? “Enemy” sounds hostile, war-like, more Benedict than Eusebius.

In effect, Phillips agrees that pluralism is a danger, whether it’s tolerating wrong views about race or sex:

Confessionalists note with concern the different strategies taken by progressives today regarding homosexuality versus our past strategy concerning sins like racism. One of the better moments in the PCA took place when our denomination boldly repudiated and rebuked racism, without seeking permission or giving apology, an action in which you and I were actively joined. On that occasion, no one complained that we were alienating the racists by speaking so forthrightly from Scripture. So why is that charge made when we seek to speak biblically regarding homosexuality and other sexual perversions? Is it because while racism is reviled by the culture, homosexuality is celebrated by the culture? Do we, then, only confront boldly those sins which the culture also hates, while accommodating those that it loves? Why would we do this? Where does this assumption come from that we must blur the Bible’s anathema of sexual perversion and concede ground as an initial stage in our witness to homosexuals?

But since Al Mohler is on THE council of the Gospel Coalition with Bryan Chapell and Tim Keller, an organization that Phillips supports, and since Al is also part of Together for the Gospel with Lig Duncan, one of Phillips’ associates among PCA conservatives, perhaps the difference between the two sides is not as great as each man thinks.

The parachurch, with help from Southern Baptists, will lead them.

I Guess Crossway Will Not Be Publishing the Collected Works of John Murray Soon

From the 1966 OPC report on whether or not to admit Baptists to church membership (from our Mid-West correspondent):

The committee considers, however, that to admit to communicant membership those who “refuse” to present their children for baptism would constitute a weakening of the witness the church bears to the ordinance of infant baptism as one of divine warrant, authority, and obligation. Of greater weight is the fact that infant baptism is the way in which God continues to remind and assure us of that which belongs to the administration of his redemptive, covenantal purpose. The defect of the person not persuaded of this aspect of God’s revealed counsel is not concerned with what is peripheral but with what is basic in the Christian institution. And the person who resolutely refuses to present his or her children for baptism is rejecting the covenant promise and grace which God has certified to his people from Abraham’s day till now. It is this perspective that lends gravity to the offense. It is this estimate of baptism that underlies the statement of our subordinate standards when the Confession says that it is “a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” (XXVIII, v) and the Directory for Worship that the children of the faithful “are holy in Christ, and as members of his church ought to be baptized” (IV, B, 4). It cannot be denied that the person refusing baptism for his children is delinquent in doctrine. It is the obligation of the session (in the case envisioned in this study) to apprise him of this. It is scarcely compatible with honesty, therefore, for such a person to answer in the affirmative such a question or any other form of question of similar purport as must be asked of those being received into communicant membership, namely, “Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline?” (ibid., V, 5, 4).

In support and confirmation of the foregoing position the following additional considerations are offered.

1. God has revealed his great displeasure with those who refuse or neglect the administration of the sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:14; Exod. 4:24-26).

2. To refuse the covenant sign to the children of believers is to deny God’s covenant claim upon them, and thus to withhold from him those who are rightfully his. Such denial provokes him to anger (Exod. 4:22-26; Mark 10:13, 14).

3. The riches of God’s grace are most clearly seen in his covenant mercies, and to deny baptism to the children of the church prevents the grace of God from being seen in all its richness and manifestly detracts from its fullness. This cannot help but weaken the sense of gratitude in both parents and children and consequently rob God of the praise and thanksgiving that are due to him.

4. Those professing parents who refuse to present their children for baptism thereby deny their solemn obligation to keep God’s covenant by raising their children in the knowledge and fear of the Lord, and deprive their children as well as themselves of the comfort of God’s covenant promise.

5.Professing parents who refuse to present their children for baptism withhold from the church of Christ the holy seed which God in his goodness has provided for it, and consequently deprive their children of the nurture and discipline which the body of Christ imparts to its members.

In answer to the objection that the scriptural evidence for the ordinance of infant baptism is not of such clarity as to command our obedience, it may be conceded that there is no express command in Scripture to baptize infants. Nevertheless, what by good and necessary inference can be deduced from Scripture is to be received as authoritative (Confession of Faith I, vi) and the scriptural evidence for infant baptism clearly falls within this category. It may be further objected that in order to establish this doctrine such a closely reasoned and complicated process of inference and deduction is demanded that it is not reasonable to require those to conform to this ordinance who are unable to exert such powers of logic. In answer to this objection, it must be affirmed that the doctrine of the covenant of grace is all-pervasive in Scripture and that it takes no great powers of reasoning to find the rightful place of the children of believers within its fold.

That throws an ecclesial wrench into the Gospel allies’ paraecclesial machine.

From DGH on Does The Gospel Threaten Submitted on 2015 03 24 at 12:22 pm

Mark,

You have me scratching my head again. If the gospel threatens, as you say:

God, as Adam’s father, threatened Adam in the Garden. His threat was an act of love (grace?), designed to keep Adam from sinning. Adam had good reason, then, to be afraid of God when he sinned. It would have been the “essence of impiety” not to have been afraid after he rebelled against God. Adam’s first sin was unbelief. But he clearly forgot to fear God, which was a factor in his unbelief. Adam doubted God’s threat to him as well as God’s love.

then when God said to Adam, “if you eat of the tree you will surely die,” we have the first expression of the Gospel — the protoevangelion as it were. And here I had thought that Genesis 3:15 was the first instance of the gospel:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.

Silly me.

While I have you, I have to ask about your math skills. In your reflections on China (and I do wonder what the sound of 1,000,000 Chinese Christians clapping sounds like) you say that the underground church in China is the size of 100,000 OPC churches. Did you mean the OPC with its total church membership (roughly 32,000) or number of churches/congregations (roughly 300)? If the former, my math says the underground church in would reach a level of 32,000,000,000. But if it is only the size of the number of OPC congregations, then the underground church would be 300,000,000.

Is this one of those metric system differences between the U.S. and Canada?

Would the PCUSA Hire Me?

What if I claimed to be channeling God’s Spirit, the way that More Light Presbyterians say the Holy Spirit descended upon the PCUSA’s General Assembly during its recent vote to allow Presbyterians ministers to officiate at same-sex marriages in state’s where gay marriage is legal. (If you’ve got the Spirit, feathers and all, why does state law restrict your ministry?) I mean, by those Spirit-led rules, why would a search committee object to an Orthodox Presbyterian trying to secure a post on the pastoral staff of a PCUSA congregation? Sure, it would be odd. But the economy has yet to rebound fully and the PCUSA still marshals lots of financial resources. Even more, the PCUSA, as it indicated in its recent vote, tries not to discriminate against the marginal and oppressed. The OPC may not be oppressed, though the PCUSA’s 1937 suit against the OPC for choosing a name (i.e., Presbyterian Church OF America) too close to the mainline denomination’s collection of initials sure looked like sour grapes. But Orthodox Presbyterians are surely not mainstream. If the PCUSA wants real diversity and to demonstrate real love, why not call an Orthodox Presbyterian? This would be perfect, by the way, because the Greek and Hebrew I learned and have long since forgotten would not be needed in a church that runs according to the Spirit.

Could it be that the PCUSA actually discriminates against religion the way that a team of researchers recently found:

Résumés that made no religious reference, that listed a generic student group, received about 20 phone calls and e-mails from employers for every 100 résumés sent. This was 20 percent more callbacks than the average of the other seven groups.

The Muslim résumés were the big loser. Résumés that listed involvement in a Muslim student group received only 12.6 phone calls and e-mails from employers for every 100 sent. This was about 40 percent fewer callbacks than the control group résumés. Simply adding Muslim to a résumé decreased employer interest substantially.

The remaining six groups fell in between the control group and Muslims. Among them, the pagan résumés did relatively well, the atheist résumés did relatively poorly, and Jews, evangelicals, Catholics, and Wallonians were in the middle. (Our New England findings were published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility in 2013; our Southern research was published recently in Social Currents.)

So yes, religious discrimination in hiring seems to be very, very real. Our study seems to confirm a social norm in America: that religious expression should be compartmentalized and private, something kept at home or brought out only in specific, limited circumstances. Publically identifying oneself with a certain belief system can be a faux pas with real and negative consequences. This norm applies to a wide range of religious and irreligious expressions. As such, both the proselytizing evangelical and the adamant atheist are suspect.

In point of fact, everyone discriminates (especially when they buy a car) and Americans might live together a lot less frustratedly if they gave up the hokum about being open minded and simply advertised truthfully about what goods or truths they actually believe and advocate. The PCUSA’s problem (as if there’s one) isn’t that it discriminates. It’s that it doesn’t know that it does.

Roman Catholic Calvinists

Not sure that this is what Jason and the Callers had in mind.

Mark Silk compares politically conservative (read GOP) Roman Catholics to Jansenists and neo-Calvinists (I think he means New Calvinism) (thanks to Michael Sean Winters):

Today’s neo-Jansenists are likewise moral sticklers, focused laser-like on the twin evils of abortion and same-sex marriage, They are driven crazy by a Jesuit pope who tells them to stop harping on those issues, whose most famous remark is, “Who am I to judge?”

Where he portrays the Church as a hospital for sinners, they want to restrict Communion to the deserving, whether that means excluding politicians who are soft on abortion rights or holding the line against divorced and remarried Catholics. Possible papal readiness to open the door to the latter led Ross Douthat of the New York Times to blog the other day, ”Pope Francis would be either dissolving important church teachings into what looks to me like incoherence, or else changing those same teachings in a way that many conservative Catholics believe that the pope simply cannot do.” Oh, can’t he?

Today’s neo-Jansenists do their predecessors one better by embracing the Spirit of Capitalism famously associated with Calvinism by sociologist Max Weber. To tweet that inequality is the root of evil, as Francis did the other day, distressed them deeply. Altogether, they resemble the neo-Calvinists who have become the intellectual leaders of contemporary American evangelicalism.

The old-time Jansenism included world-class luminaries like mathematician Blaise Pascal and playwright Jean Racine but never the Catholic majority. In their emerging struggle with the Jesuit pope, the neo-Jansenists have lesser lights like Robert George and George Weigel, even as the faithful are overwhelmingly on Francis’ side. And so, history seems likely to repeat itself.

The good news for Weigel and George is that the Vatican makes no such distinctions. From their statistical perspective, the only distinctions are among bishops, priests, deacons, and baptized (not to mention monks and nuns). (But the Callers know better.)

By the end of 2012, the worldwide Catholic population had reached 1.228 billion, an increase of 14 million or 1.14 percent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which, as of 2013, was estimated at 1.09 percent.

Catholics as a percentage of the global population remained essentially unchanged from the previous year at around 17.5 percent.

However, the latest Vatican statistical yearbook estimated that there were about 4.8 million Catholics that were not included in its survey because they were in countries that could not provide an accurate report to the Vatican, mainly China and North Korea.

According to the yearbook, the percentage of Catholics as part of the general population is highest in the Americas where they make up 63.2 percent of the continent’s population. Asia has the lowest proportion, with 3.2 percent.

During the 2012 calendar year, there were 16.4 million baptisms of both infants and adults, according to the statistical yearbook.

It said the number of bishops of the world stayed essentially the same at 5,133.

The total number of priests — diocesan and religious order — around the world grew from 413,418 to 414,313, with a modest increase in Africa, a larger rise in Asia, and slight decreases in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Asia saw a 13.7 percent growth in the number of priests between 2007 and the end of 2012.

The number of permanent deacons reported — 42,104 — was an increase of more than 1,100 over the previous year and a 17 percent increase since 2007. The vast majority — more than 97 percent — of the world’s permanent deacons live in the Americas or in Europe.

That means Rome has roughly 5 bishops for every 400 priests and 1.2 million members, and 4 priests for 1,200 members. In the OPC, where the costs are nowhere near PCANYC levels, you have roughly 1 pastor for every one hundred members (and these members — ahem — meet membership requirements).

Calvinism Envy

Mark Tooley wishes Methodists were more like Calvinists. (H.L. Mencken couldn’t tell a difference when it came to Prohibition and World War I.)

Calvinists are sometimes mocked but they do have their own élan. These determined people endured the flames, created their own cosmology, generated revolutions, crossed oceans, conquered virgin lands, built civilizations, and writ themselves large across history. Calvinism inspired literature, art, work ethics, and systems of governance. Theirs is a world of fire and drama. Think John Knox, Oliver Cromwell, Jonathan Edwards, Rembrandt, Hester Prynne wearing the brand of her Scarlet Letter, Woodrow Wilson, George C. Scott in “Hardcore,” or a bewhiskered Francis Schaeffer in his lederhosen traipsing about the Alps. They may not always be easily lovable but they must command respect. Theirs is a firm, unflinching identity.

As a Methodist, I’m jealous of the Calvinists. . . . Where’s the drama in Methodism? Methodists typically are amiable people, earnest, quiet, dutiful, often colorless, diligent but not renowned for intellectual rigor, art, literature or political theory. Methodism transformed Britain, shaped America, and has influenced the world. It fostered education, charity, philanthropy, a democratic ethos, and social reform. But Methodism doesn’t easily spark the electricity that Calvinism often has. Instead it evokes images of potluck suppers, hymn sings and ice cream socials. Very nice.

In point of fact, Methodism did once spark experimental, culture-transforming Protestantism with the best of the Edwardseans. The problem was that it cooled off the way most movements do when they organize and form structures. Then Wesleyanism needed the kick of Holiness (read Nazarenes) or a second dollop of the Holy Spirit (read Pentecostals) to reignite the fire.

The source of Tooley’s envy is John Piper’s recent poem, The Calvinist, set to video. (The sort of financing, planning, and producing that go into even a small video like this do tend to sap the vigor of even Piper’s earnestness.) Here are a few lines:

See him on his knees,
Hear his constant pleas:
Heart of ev’ry aim:
“Hallowed be Your name.”

See him in the Word,
Helpless, cool, unstirred,
Heaping on the pyre
Heed until the fire.

See him with his books:
Tree beside the brooks,
Drinking at the root
Till the branch bear fruit.

It won’t rival Horatio Bonar, so why did it turn Tooley’s head? It likely goes back to the way that Puritanism has dominated the English-speaking world’s idea of Calvinism. And of course, no Protestant group, not even those world-changers, the Dutch-American Calvinists, can rival the way that the Puritans continue to enrapture and repel.

But if Tooley wants to see a different strain of Calvinism, one less exceptionalist and more restrained, he only needs to visit any congregation of the OPC. There he will find pot-fatalist suppers, hymn sings, and even the avoidance of stimulants (e.g., grape juice). That’s not a put down or a recommendation. It is (what it is) a communion Christ founded.

Transforming History

Bill Evans thinks that a few pokes at the cultural transformers means the neo-Calvinists are taking it on the chin these days. It is in fact odd to see folks express surprise when others don’t agree with them, as if neo-Calvinism were the settled position of Reformed Protestantism since the days of Ulrich Zwingli and Zacharias Ursinus. One way a tradition becomes fossilized is to imagine that everyone is agreed; arguments keep you sharp, unless you are a follower of Abraham Kuyper whose authority cannot be questioned. I doubt Kuyper himself would be pleased with that group think.

Evans is a little worked up about a post by Carl Trueman that wonders whether the transformationalists have accomplished enough to make news:

The secular and religious media are awash with reports of how the millennial generation of evangelicals is burned out on the political activism of the religious right, and the Two-Kingdoms theology (2K) currently being trumpeted by some faculty members at Westminster Seminary in California (WSC) certainly provides a theological fig-leaf for such culture-war fatigue. In short, H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, with his favored model of “Christ transforming culture,” and the great Dutch Neo-Calvinist theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper are not exactly the flavor of the month.

Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised, though certainly not shocked, to see Carl Trueman jumping decisively on the anti-transformational bandwagon (here on Ref21 and here on TheAquilaReport). Dr. Trueman, as most of us know, teaches church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (WTS), and is the former Provost and academic dean there. But despite Trueman’s very public aversion to all things trendy, he seems to be right in step with the Zeitgeist on this one. He also seems to be somewhat out of step with his institution’s history.

Evans goes on to assert that Trueman is out of step with the history of Westminster Seminary. Trueman himself is fully capable of defending himself and I won’t speak for him. But I will observe that Evans is remarkably ill informed about the history of Westminster.

For one, he does not seem to recall that WTS’ chief founder was J. Gresham Machen, a man whom neo-Calvinists will contort into a transformationalist but who better than anyone else in the first half of the twentieth century articulated the spirituality of the church over against the transformationalism that dominated the PCUSA:

In the first place, a true Christian church, now as always, will be radically doctrinal. It will never use the shibboleths of a pragmatist skepticism. It will never say that doctrine is the expression of experience; it will never confuse the useful with the true, but will place truth at the basis of all its striving and all its life. Into the welter of changing human opinion, into the modern despair with regard to any knowledge of the meaning of life, it will come with a clear and imperious message. That message it will find in the Bible, which it will hold to contain not a record of man’s religious experience but a record of a revelation from God.

In the second place, a true Christian church will be radically intolerant. At that point, however, a word of explanation is in place. The intolerance of the church, in the sense in which I am speaking of it, does not involve any interference with liberty; on the contrary, it means the preservation of liberty. One of the most important elements in civil and religious liberty is the right of voluntary association – the right of citizens to band themselves together for any lawful purpose whatever, whether that purpose does or does not commend itself to the generality of their fellow men. Now, a church is a voluntary association. No one is compelled to be a member of it; no one is compelled to be one of its accredited representatives. It is, therefore, no interference with liberty of a church to insist that those who do choose to be its accredited representatives shall not use the vantage ground of such a position to attack that for which the church exists. . .

But when I say that a true Christian church is radically intolerant, I mean simply that the church must maintain the high exclusiveness and universality of its message. It presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths. It cannot agree not to proselytize. Its appeal is universal, and admits of no exceptions. All are lost in sin; none may be saved except by the way set forth in the gospel. Therein lies the offense of the Christian religion, but therein lies also it glory and its power. A Christianity tolerant of other religions is just no Christianity at all. . . .

There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street. ( “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” 1933)

Lest Evans think that Machen was Westminster’s conciliar tradition swamped by the high papalism of neo-Calvinism, he should also remember that after Machen’s death, the Westminster faculty (including R.B. Kuiper, Cornelius Van Til, and Ned Stonehouse, all sons of neo-Calvinism) opposed the transformationalists who formed with Carl McIntire the Bible Presbyterian Synod. The Bible Presbyterians wanted to retain the transformationalism of American Presbyterianism as the genuine Presbyterian tradition in the United States, hence the overture that split the OPC — one in favor of prohibition, the very crusade that had cost Machen a promotion at Princeton Seminary.

So Evans can argue for neo-Calvinism and its superiority all he wants. But he can’t read his preference back into the history of American Presbyterianism. And he should not let his preference prevent him from considering the real tension that comes from trying to harmonize Abraham Kuyper and J. Gresham Machen.

An Acquired Taste that May Not Last

The missus and I finished the first two seasons of The Killing (better than Breaking Bad, not nearly as good as The Wire) and turned last night to the third season of Downton Abbey. After two episodes, I like the presence of Shirley Maclaine far more than I expected. The differences between Yanks and Brits on tradition and history is particularly intriguing and definitely ironic. Most citizens of the United States (Canadians are Americans after all) sympathize with the idea of ending tradition and letting estates like Downton be relegated to the ash heap of housing developments, representative government, and wireless internet. At the same time, the ongoing appeal of the British royalty and the popularity of shows like Downton Abbey prove that for all the common sense of equality, merit, and reason, many moderns still enjoy having around a ruling class with its pomp and circumstance. Perhaps that kind of tradition sets a standard that provides order even for those outside the ruling class, and it is a desire for order that keeps institutions like the British and Dutch monarchies alive. Whatever the explanation, I am betting the executives at BBC know that a series based on the Earl of Grantham and his estate will always pull in better ratings than a show based on Sybel’s husband, Tom Branson, the Irish chauffeur who can’t help spouting republicanism at family dinners and making uncomfortable all guests of aristocratic backgrounds, along his former peers among the downstairs help.

That appeal of estates, titles, wood-paneled libraries, grand dining rooms, dutiful servants, and formal dinner attire may explain why some Protestants find Rome or Canterbury a better brand of Christianity. Roman Catholics and Anglicans simply set a better formal dining room table than Presbyterians. Just compare the altar and Mass to the table and the Lord’s Supper. One is grand, the other is ordinary. It is comparable to the difference between Tom Branson and the Earl of Grantham. I might feel more comfortable having a pint with Tom, but I’d rather watch a series about the Earl.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard picked up on this dynamic somewhat in her reflections about why low-church Protestants turn to high-church communions:

The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

Missing from this description is a recognition of the difference between liturgical styles in historic Christianity. The options are not simply high-church liturgies over against megachurch informality. Another layer of difference is one between simplicity and ornateness. Reformed Protestants have been sticklers for simplicity in worship. Reformed worship has plenty of reverence and transcendence but it comes from the word, read and preached, with the sacraments as illustrations. Anglicans and Roman Catholics derive reverence and transcendence from the show of the architecture, vestments, images, music (not Roman Catholics post Vatican II), and THE sacrament. It is like the difference between folks songs and opera. For Christians who want a sensual experience in worship, a Reformed Protestant service will come up short — too didactic and logocentric. For those same Christians, the P&W worship service will simply be tacky.

VanDoodewaard is on weaker footing when she goes on to commend Reformed churches for holding on to their children in ways that evangelicals do not:

But not all kids who grew up in American evangelicalism are jumping off into high church rite and sacrament: congregations that carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to their children are notably not losing them to the Vatican, or even Lambeth. Protestant churches that recognize their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage, training their children to value and continue it in a 21st century setting, usually retain their youth. These kids have the tools they need to think biblically through the deep and difficult issues of the day and articulate their position without having a crisis of faith.

I would like to see some statistics on this, but my own sense is that communions like the OPC (perhaps not representative but certainly one where a lot of theology is taught) do not retaining their children. For instance, at the recent General Assembly, roughly one-in-ten of the commissioners was a child of the OPC. All others had jumped from somewhere else to benefit from the OPC’s dedication to doctrine. Not even the attempts of the OPC to create something of a brand with its history (the OPC has to have more pages of history per capita than any other Presbyterian denomination) — not even all that history has left the next generation (or their parents) with a sense that they have joined a tradition that is bigger than they are. Sure, 1936 is not as impressive a starting point as 1857, 1618, 1560, 1534, or 33 AD. But conservative Reformed denominations generally have no fixed sense of identity apart from family ties. When membership is part of ethnic identity (say in the case of the Covenaters or the URC), the next generation is more likely to recognize a denomination as being bigger than its teaching and ministry. But when it is limited to teaching the truths of the Bible and the catechism, children after leaving home need only look for another church that teaches the Bible.

I don’t know what the fix is. I really don’t know how to create ties of institutional loyalty among teenagers and young adults who have only been in a conservative Reformed or Presbyterian denomination for possibly only half their lives. If mom and dad switched from an independent Bible-believing church to a Presbyterian communion, why can’t those parents’ children switch to another Bible-believing church? In other words, how do you connect family loyalty to church membership? Or should you when you consider what happens to ethnic denominations? At the same time, without some sort of link between blood and creed, middle-class Christians like Reformed Protestants are never going to set a table as elaborate or refined as the upper-class communions.

Is the OPC the Church Hans Kung Has Been Waiting For?

Kung is hoping that Francis will be like his namesake and repudiate the power, wealth, and intrigue that has afflicted what he calls the “Roman system.” If the current pope follows Francis of Assisi, then he will take a path different from Innocent III:

In fact, Francis of Assisi represented the alternative to the Roman system. What would have happened if Innocent and his like had taken the Gospel seriously? Even if they had understood it spiritually rather than literally, his evangelical demands meant and still mean an immense challenge to the centralized, legalized, politicized and clericalized system of power that had taken over the cause of Christ in Rome since the 11th century.

Innocent III was probably the only pope who, because of his unusual characteristics, could have directed the church along a completely different path, and this would have saved the papacies of the 14th and 15th centuries schism and exile, and the church in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation. Obviously, this would already have meant a paradigm shift for the Catholic church in the 13th century, a shift that instead of splitting the church would have renewed it, and at the same time reconciled the churches of East and West.

But Kung wonder if the papacy can retrace its steps and take a path not taken. If it does, it will need to measure up to three standards:

Poverty: The church in the spirit of Innocent III meant a church of wealth, pomp and circumstance, acquisitiveness and financial scandal. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of transparent financial policies and modest frugality. A church that concerns itself above all with the poor, the weak and the marginalized. A church that does not pile up wealth and capital but instead actively fights poverty and offers its staff exemplary conditions of employment.

Humility: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of power and domination, bureaucracy and discrimination, repression and Inquisition. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of humanity, dialogue, brotherhood and sisterhood, hospitality for nonconformists; it means the unpretentious service of its leaders and social solidarity, a community that does not exclude new religious forces and ideas from the church but rather allows them to flourish.

Simplicity: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of dogmatic immovability, moralistic censure and legal hedging, a church of canon law regulating everything, a church of all-knowing scholastics and of fear. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis of Assisi means a church of good news and of joy, a theology based purely on the Gospel, a church that listens to people instead of indoctrinating from above, a church that does not only teach but one that constantly learns.

It is hard to look at the Eternal City of Rome, follow the rites and ceremonies of the Cardinals, notice the monarchical associations of the papacy, and find the attributes that Kung desires. But if you take a gander at the OPC, by no means the runt of the Reformed Protestant litter, you would find a church with little wealth (by Roman Catholic standards). As for pomp and circumstance, the selection of a moderator for General Assembly has no smoke (or mirrors unless you consider Roberts Rules ceremonial.

For simplicity the OPC does pretty well, at least if you look at the worship services of most congregations. An attachment to proper exegesis and correct doctrine still dominate liturgical and aesthetic sympathies.

For humility, some might think the OPC (the Only Pure Church or the little church with the big mouth) falls woefully short. But two out of three isn’t bad. And we don’t need our General Secretaries to change names.