The Gypsy Curse

“May you get everything you want.”

Some Calvinists have a special attachment to the original Westminster Confession:

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. (23.3)

2kers point out that U.S. Presbyterians had good reasons for revising that affirmation, reasons like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or James Madison (Virginians all) having jurisdiction over church assemblies.

For some, though, it takes Donald Trump to recognize what 2kers have long understood:

It would be one thing for Trump to disagree with Moore. That would be totally fine and appropriate. But Trump does more than that here. Trump criticizes Moore not for bad views but for being a bad evangelical!

The problem with this is obvious. Do Americans really want a president who thinks it a part of his job description to pontificate about who is and isn’t a good evangelical? Or a good Catholic? Or a good Muslim? Or a good Jew? This is totally outside the norms and traditions of the presidency.

Presidents are fine to have convictions, religious or otherwise. But to single out a political opponent and to define him as an unfaithful evangelical simply because he opposes the Trump candidacy is an absurd and dangerous precedent.

Deep down, everyone understands 2k. Sometimes they even recommend it.

Calling the Bluff of A2K

A2K (anti-two kingdom theology) selectively reads history. This is a point made frequently here. This selectivity is evident whenever someone invokes John Calvin or John Winthrop to put 2k down, as if the down-putter really wants to return to a society where adultery is a capital offense. (Could we settle for a misdemeanor?) I understand that A2K thinks that 2kers are also selective historically. We too invoke Calvin on the difference between the temporal and spiritual realms. But that doesn’t mean that we are blind to Geneva’s laws. It is possible to understand a theological point that may not bear political or social fruit at the time someone is making the point.

Now comes Paul Helm to repeat the point about historical selectivity:

Most adherents to the Confession of faith in fact adhere ex animo to a sanitized version, cleansed of references to Presbyterianism as the state religion. This is no small change. No more the Crown Rights of the Redeemer. Ever since the Solemn League and Covenant was rejected in England, this has been the de facto position here, different in the US in the eighteenth century, awaiting the passing into law of the Constitution and its various amendments, one of which concerned the separation of church and state.

The Westminster Confession says inter alia regarding the civil magistrate –

….they whom, upon pretence 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 the 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 maintain them, are destructive the external peace and order which Christ has established in the church; they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church, and by the power of the civil magistrate. (XX.IV)

This went off stage de facto in England in the seventeenth century, when Puritanism failed as a political project, and it failed in America some time later de jure .

The move from intolerance to what was by today’s standards limited tolerance is not a change that was prompted by theological reasoning or doctrinal revision, but it was wholly political, due at least in England to the presence in society of dissenting groups whose vigour and Christian orthodoxy and place in society could not be gainsaid. They were hear to stay.

Such a politically-inspired change had important consequences for Christology. No more are kings regarded as the foster fathers of the church, or queens their nursing mothers. (Isa. 49 22f.) Or rather, such passages have been ‘revisited’. No more is it thought that Christ has established ‘external peace and order….in the church’. No more is state support for the Reformed religion, nor state persecution of others on behalf of Reformed congregations, regarded as support for the one true religion that the state had an exclusive obligation to protect. No more are these things the norm for Confession-believing Presbyterians. Freedom of conscience. Pluralism. Toleration-Calvinism.

These comments are not meant to apply to Covenanter congregations of today. Maybe they are still praying for the fulfilment of Isaiah 49 stricto sensu for their own, and for others. But they do apply, obviously, to others who claim their pedigree by their adherence to letter of the Confession. That’s self-confessedly ‘paleo-Calvinism’ as one Covenanter said to me. And so the question is, is the dominant form, adherence to the purged Confession of Faith, let us call such a position ‘tolerant confessionalism’, a significant change in ‘Calvinism’, the Calvinism of Calvin and of the authors of the Solemn League and Covenant? It could hardly be said not to be.

These changes, both in doctrine and in practice, were not small. They obviously affected the whole ethos of Reformed religion. How much of a deviation from the original outlook was it? Does the abandonment of the early view of establishment compare in seriousness, centrality and the like compared with, say, the abandonment of exclusive psalm-singing, or of the Presbyterian ecclesiology of the early Reformed churches by Congregationalists and Baptists? Since the body of Presbyterians is not governed by a magisterium, who is to say what the answer is? How reads your Calvinometer? Nowadays there cannot be an ‘Old Calvinism’ but only an ‘Older’, not a ‘New’ but a ‘Newer’. No one possesses the copyright of the noun.

This means that we need a new category. In addition to New Calvinism, Neo-Calvinism, Old Calvinism, and Paleo-Calvinism, we need Neo-Paleo-Calvinism.

Old Life is simpler, Occam’s razor and all that.

First Baptists, Now Reformed Charismatics?

Not if John MacArthur has anything to say about it. I read at various blogs that the California pastor recently sponsored a conference, Strange Fire, in which he and other speakers took aim at charismatics. MacArthur affirms, so I’m told, cessationism.

For the life of me I don’t understand why Protestants outside churches that confess a Reformed confession want to be known as Reformed or Calvinist. (Actually, I have a hunch but that is a topic for another time). Lutherans do not seem to have this problem. Baptists don’t want to be Lutheran. Baptists, in fact, are often suspicious of Lutherans on sacramental grounds. Charismatics also do not seem to want to be Lutheran. Perhaps Lutheranism doesn’t offer the full-throated version of divine sovereignty that Calvinism does. Either way, one of the attractions of Lutheranism for (all about) me is that you don’t have to share the road with enthusiasts.

Yet as one blogger puts it, MacArthur has a problem not just with Reformed Protestants but charismatics:

John MacArthur may go down in church history as one of the most confused pastors ever to step into a pulpit. His steroidal cognitive dissonance constantly results in insufferable hypocrisy.

For certain I thought he could not outdo himself in this regard, but he has. After writing Charismatic Chaos in 1992, he partnered with Charismatic CJ Mahaney for eight years in the Resolved conferences sponsored by his church, Grace Community in Sun Valley, California. One year after the last Resolved conference, MacArthur is hosting the 2013 Strange Fire conference that is fustigating Charismatic doctrine in no uncertain terms. The hypocrisy of it all is staggering.

MacArthur also seems to have a problem with the mysticism promoted by Charismatic theology, but yet is a close confidant of John Piper who not only has Charismatic leanings himself, but led the 2012 Passion conference in the mystic practice of Lectio Divina.

In other words, the issue of “Reformed” charismatics raises a host of problems not just for mainstream evangelical institutions like the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today which has skirted issues of cessationism, but also for more explicitly Calvinistic sectors like The Gospel Coalition. After all, C. J. Mahaney was a charter member of TGC’s council and TGC council members have had apparently few problems with his charimatic views of the Holy Spirit and Christian devotion.

So far, only Thabiti Anyabwile and Kevin DeYoung have weighed in but both seem to be reluctant to name names. The latter makes the point that the Westminster Confession comes down on the side of cessationism.

That would be a vote for putting charismatics outside the Reformed camp, since belonging to a church that confesses a Reformed confession is what puts you in. But that logic also works for “Reformed” Baptists since they don’t belong to a church that confesses a Reformed confession. As worthwhile as the London Baptist confession of faith may be, it is not — as some allege — basically the Westminster Confession. In fact, Baptists could not affirm the Westminster Confession and admirably enough wrote their own confession, one that follows in outline parts of Westminster, but it is hardly the same.

What we need, then, is a better term for these Protestants who neither baptize babies nor affirm covenant theology. Here is what I propose: for charismatics, let’s call them Divine Right Pentecostals since they want to stress the sovereignty of God. And for Baptists, let’s simply use Baptist since they continue to insist on believers baptism. I don’t know what Reformed has to do with either since these charismatics and Baptists can likely affirm as much of the Augsburg Confession as they can of Westminster.

Having Your Constitution and Obeying It Too

One of the notable inconsistencies of so-called social conservatives in the United States is the disparity between wanting government to legislate morality and wanting government to be small. This isn’t simply a question of “gotcha” politics, it is a serious matter of political theory and historical inquiry. Is the ideal of American government one of keeping the state under check, or is a far-reaching state fine as long as it supports and enforces the morality that I believe is good. A recent exchange at On Faith explores this tension within the ranks of the Tea Party. This populist effort seemingly favors limited government but if it attracts social conservatives who want the American government to enforce their moral convictions it’s policies may not be so limited.

Contemporary conservative Protestants are equally implicated in this glaring problem. On the one hand, they long for a magistrate who will enforce both tables of God’s law. And shortly thereafter they will upbraid President Obama for violating American notions of limited government.

How can you possibly think you stand in continuity with the framers of the American political order who instituted checks and balances to guard freedom from tyranny and also believe, with the original Westminster Confession, that the magistrate has the 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.” Let’s get this straight. The magistrate has power to call synods of the church, and to ensure that whatever happens at them – this from a lay person, no less – conforms not to Scripture but to the “mind of God.” What magistrate has that kind of spiritual insight? What people wants to give a magistrate that kind of power? One obvious answer — not the American people, and that is why they have a Constitution that not only divides the magistracy up into executive, legislative, and judicial helpings, but also prevents the legislature from enacting laws that govern religion.

But despite the disparity between an Erastian magistrate and the American form of government, Presbyterians in the United States continue to think that their big magistrate in religious matters goes with a limited government over the rest of life. Take the example of the Baylys.

First, here’s an excerpt from a sermon which includes exhortations to President Obama from David Bayly (though it may have originated from Doug Wilson):

President Obama stands as our head. He is our representative not just under our federal form of government, not just in earthly terms, but in heavenly terms, before the throne of God. He stands before God for all the righteousness and wickedness of our nation. He either opposes the sins of the nation and reaps blessing from God, or stands in affirmation of them and reaps their judgment.

And in this regard I call on us to declare and President Obama to hear the Word of God.

President Obama, you have promised not to make abortion a litmus test in nominating judges to the Supreme Court. The King of kings, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, however, has declared the murder of innocents a high sin, a sin so vile that even after Manasseh repents of his butchery of the innocent and is followed by the righteous Josiah, God will not turn back his judgment on Judah. President Obama, you are not the first American political leader to embrace this slaughter. Others have gone before you in this. Others bear equal or greater responsibility. But you are president today. And you are the leader of a nation which is at war against God in this, President Obama. We have rejected the Word of God and the Lordship of Christ in this matter. You must oppose abortion in obedience to the King of kings for whom the murder of innocents is indeed a litmus test of righteous authority.

President Obama, in your declaration of June 1, 2009, “NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third. BARACK OBAMA.”

President Obama, you speak of “the year of our Lord,” yet you honor what God despises, declaring a matter of pride that which is an abomination to God. In declaring good what God has judged wicked you are in rebellion against the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.

President Obama, in your speech in Cairo last Thursday you said, “All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer.”

In that same speech you also said, “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

But I say to you as a minister of the Gospel you claim to believe: Scripture tells us God hates all false gods and that Jesus is earth’s sole Lord of lords. When Moses, Elijah and Jesus stood together on the mount of transfiguration and Peter suggested building tabernacles for all three, God thundered from heaven the unique authority of His Son. You proclaimed yourself a Christian in your speech. In so saying you claimed to accept the authority of Jesus Christ. Surely any Christian knows that Scripture teaches the unique authority of Jesus.

You, Barack Obama, by using your office to defend the impostor Mohammed, and to suggest that Jesus and Moses are equals, usurp the authority of Christ and are in rebellion against King Jesus.

Reading this you’d almost think Obama was a king (of Israel, no less). But the American rebellion was against monarchical forms of government. Go figure.

And when figuring do take into account another Bayly post which faults Obama for not following the Constitution:

During his State of the Union Address with the justices sitting under his nose, President Obama shamed them for their recent decision overturning unconstitutional campaign reform laws. Note how little the Constitution matters to this former law professor at University of Chicago and editor of the law review at Harvard. His issue isn’t that their decision was wrong, constitutionally, but that its consequences are bad for America. He might have said “with all due respect First Amendment to the Constitution,” but he didn’t.

Whatever in the world happened to the Constitution? Among these public masters, finding submission to their vow to uphold the Constitution is like a “Where’s Waldo” game.

I know consistency is the hobgobblin of small minds, but wouldn’t President Obama after reading the Baylys, be a tad confused about knowing when he is supposed to obey the Constitution and when he’s not? Do the Baylys (and their defenders) really think you can have the Constitution without the First Amendment? Do they also think you can have the original Westminster Confession or Calvin’s Geneva for that matter and have the Constitution of the United States? If the Baylys want to uphold limited government along the lines of the American founding, then how can they support an expansive government with power to pry into personal beliefs?

This is the plight of contemporary American political conservatism. It is populated by people who, thanks to their confusing the spiritual and temporal kingdoms, also confuse 1640s England with 1770s America. That leaves American Protestants of an allegedly conservative bent lurching for policies, laws, and officials that veer markedly from the limits that those not-so-Christian founders placed upon American government. Ironically enough, the sort of limited government practiced in the United States and upheld by political conservatives grants loud-mouthed ministers the freedom to mock and ridicule authorities instituted by the very God they profess to serve. And people think Obama is un-American!