Results tagged “orthodoxy” from Reformation21 Blog

When Calling Yourself a "Christian" Isn't Enough

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As a new Christian, I was very interested in studying cults. I studied the nuances of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarianism, and so on. When we think of cults, we tend to think of groups that not only pervert what the Bible says about salvation, but especially that depart from what Christianity has long taught since the very beginning. One of the other interesting features of cults is that they desperately want to be seen as in the mainstream of Christianity. When the Mormons come to my house, they insist that they're "Christians" - in fact the last ones that came to my house told me they're evangelicals.

Recently, I was reflecting on an important point that Dr. Trueman has been making for a number of years--namely, that the term "evangelical" has not only lost its meaning, but that it probably needs to be abandoned altogether.

Is it possible that the term "Christian," like "Evangelical," isn't enough? Since the Nashville Statement was released this past week we have seen a number of negative responses from people also wanting to claim the name of Christian. I have seen many people claiming that suicides among the LGBTQ community will skyrocket every time Christians reaffirm what they've always said on these issues. I have seen nobody try to argue that what is in the Nashville Statement is innovative or foreign to what Christianity has always taught.

Truthfully I don't see engagement from the dissenters when it comes to the text. I do see the modern shaming, naming, and bullying tactics of the crowd being employed in full-force. I don't see anyone carrying the flag for historic Christianity who is opposing the Nashville Statement. There is no effort on the part of the dissenters to make any connections with the teachings that have been part of the catholic (universal) church since Christ established it.

In this regard, one of the most important books that have been released in the last year was the book Unchanging Witness, by Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Unchanging Witness approaches the theological question of human sexuality from two fronts--the historical front and the exegetical front. Fortson and Grams spend most of the book examining every biblical text that refers to human sexuality, and especially to homosexual behavior. They spend about a quarter of the book surveying direct quotations from the early Church Fathers, the church during the Middle Ages, and the church during the renaissance/Reformation period. Their overall argument is that not only do the Scriptures teach with unanimity and clarity that homosexual behavior is sinful, but their larger point is that the church in history has spoken with one unanimous and unchanging voice on this specific question. Lutherans and Calvinists may differ on the Lord's Supper. Methodists and Baptists may disagree over how to baptize. Baptists may disagree with Baptists over the five points of Calvinism (the list goes on). No Christian church or denomination ever disagreed on the morality of homosexuality.

Here's the real money quote from Unchanging Witness

"On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because...both Scripture and the church have clearly and consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church's teaching" (Fortson and Grams, pg. 5).

This is precisely where I wish to come back around to the question of whether it's enough to just claim the name "Christian." The people who are spearheading the 'Gay Christian' movement are innovators in the extreme. They must argue that there is no relevance to the church's teaching on the subject of sexual behavior, because there is no argument to be made in that regard. Can someone really claim to be Christian while enjoying the church's teaching (perhaps) on the doctrine of God while they at the same time willfully jettison its interpretation of what the Bible says about human sexual behavior? They can, perhaps, but they would be 'Christian' in name only. It is our relationship to the history of the church that makes our claim to be Christians meaningful. Wolfhart Pannenburg said this:

"If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norms, and recognized homosexual unions as personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical grounds but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" (Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, pg. 37).

Whatever you think of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood... whatever you think of the helpfulness of issuing public statements signed by hundreds of professors and pastors... whatever you think about the CBMW's willingness or unwillingness to deal with the errors that they put forth during the ESS controversy... an objective reading of the Nashville Statement ought to ring true to all people who are Christians in any sense that our forefathers would have recognized. Those who belong to the cult of Evangelical Libertinism are howling in pain right now, but they should be recognized for what they are: a fringe cult masquerading as Christians, just like the Mormons and Watchtower folks.

 

Great Scott: Thomas Boston's Orthodoxy (and mine?)

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If I, or an angel from heaven, should criticize the Marrow or the Marrow Men, let us be anathema. 

Imagine reading my post yesterday and coming to the following conclusions:

  1. That I was suggesting Thomas Boston was not orthodox in his covenant theology.
  2. That this is what the moralists always do: accuse the orthodox of being antinomian for not being neonomians.

To arrive at these conclusions one would either have to live in a sustained state of paranoia or have a penchant for not reading very carefully or generously. 

In my post I don't believe I accused anyone orthodox of being antinomian. To be more specific, I don't believe that Boston is an antinomian at all. I have great admiration for Boston. As far as the Marrow is concerned, my point was that I believe Fisher was a Hypothetical Universalist, which is well within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy in my view. 

As I said, I believe the Marrow, written in a specific context (the 17thC), has statements that only Hypothetical Universalists in the seventeenth century would have been comfortable with. To me, it is an oddity that certain theologians, including Boston, in the eighteenth century, believed that many statements in the Marrow were consistent with particularism concerning the extent of Christ's death. 

Sinclair Ferguson, in his new book, refers to Boston's own uneasiness with the language of conditionality in the covenant of grace. Hence, I wrote:

"Boston had reservations about the conditionality of the covenant of grace, but pretty much every orthodox Reformed theologian I have read affirmed the conditionality of the covenant of grace (e.g., Bishop Davenant; see also ch. 19 of A Puritan Theology). According to Ferguson: "Later, however, [Boston] was of a very different mind: 'I had no great fondness for the doctrine of the conditionality of the covenant of grace'" (p. 67). Boston says also, "I had no great gust for faith's being called the condition..." 

Now, just because Boston held to this view doesn't make him unorthodox. I own his collected Works. He is a great pastor-theologian. He's Reformed. But, I believe he was guilty sometimes of poor historical theology, which wasn't totally his fault due to the lack of resources he had at his disposal. 

I'd like to personally buy a copy of Sinclair Ferguson's book and a copy of the Marrow (which I have commended for Christian Focus) for anyone who can prove that I have been unfair to Boston or that I have accused the orthodox of being antinomian. 

To tweet or write or speak those sentiments, almost immediately after my initial post, isn't a matter of pixels on a screen, but rather a deadly, careless tirade that unnecessarily threatens the peace and purity of the church.

This brings me to my final point. I have heard that one or two have argued that sanctification is by faith alone. No one disputes that it is by grace alone, but the more contentious question is whether sanctification is by faith alone. 

I do not think so, and I agree with Kevin DeYoung who also denies that sanctification is by faith alone.

Of course, whatever does not comes from faith is sin. So sanctification always involves faith (Acts 26:18). It is the radical principle of all our actions (and so only in that sense could it be "faith alone"). But the phrase itself is decidedly unhelpful.

But, in the process of becoming holier, are we sanctified by faith alone? I think what's at stake is whether there are other means that God uses in a positive way to conform his people to the image of Christ Jesus. 

We could ask whether God's gospel threats or his moral law are true and valid instruments of sanctification in the life of a Christian who is united to Christ. Let's consider the role of God's law.

For Christ, keeping God's commandments functioned as a means of sanctification (Jn. 15:10). For us, keeping the commandments likewise functions in part as the means by which we remain in Christ's love. We are asking the right questions, I think, when we consider whether the moral law can have a positive role in our sanctified life. 

The written law (i.e., God's commandments) and the "law of the Spirit" are not contrary principles for the Christian believer. 

One of the Westminster divines, Anthony Burgess, picked up on this important issue, which I think tends to get overlooked today when we discuss sanctification. Burgess affirms that the law is an instrument of sanctification:  

"If the Law, and the commands thereof be impossible, to what purpose then does he command them? Why does he bid us turn to him when we cannot? Then we answer, that these commandments are not only informing of a duty, but they are practical and operative means appointed by God, to work, at least in some degree, that which is commanded." 

Read carefully the latter part of that quote. A prominent Westminster divine, who wrote a highly valued book on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, claims that the moral law is an "operative means" that works, "in some degree, that which is commanded." Would he say sanctification is by faith alone? No. 

That is what is meant when I say above that the law can function as an "instrument of sanctification." Rutherford adds that the Reformed have never made the law the instrument of sanctification, but they do acknowledge it is a "help" when preached in the context of indicatives. It is, as Rutherford says, "a true instrument of sanctification."

Burgess is careful, however, to point out that the law will only have an effect in sanctification only if it is accompanied by the power of the Spirit. If the Spirit does not accompany the preaching of the law, it will completely fail to sanctify. But this is also true of the gospel: 

"Preach the promises of the Gospel a thousand times over, they convey no grace, if the Spirit of God be not there effectually." (Rutherford says the same thing).

God blesses, with his Spirit, the faithful and accurate preaching of his Word, both the indicatives and the imperatives (Jn. 17:17).

If one holds that the law is an instrument - not "the" instrument - of sanctification, then one may have a different approach to preaching the imperatives compared to the person who tends to think that the law only condemns and drives us to Christ for forgiveness. 

In this regard, I would also say that not only the preaching of God's word, but also the sacraments are true instruments of sanctification. 

Noel Weeks on Biblical Background

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There is great confusion today about the role and possible influence of ancient Near Eastern texts on the Old Testament, particularly the opening chapters of Genesis. Last fall, Dr. Noel Weeks, expert historian and Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Sydney, did an outstanding two part article series for reformation21 on the subject of Biblical background.

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Today in 1967

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On this day in 1967 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) adopted (what we now call) the 1967 Confession, a document largely influenced by the liberalization of the doctrine of Scripture (especially by Karl Barth). It was the culmination of a downgrade movement in Presbyterianism that had been at large for several decades.

As I thought about this today I was reminded of what Iain Murray wrote concerning the nineteenth century downgrade movement in Baptist Union. Writing on C. H. Spurgeon, in a book called The Forgotten Spurgeon, Murray suggested that the prevalent attitude on the part of the Baptist Union leadership was, "an unwillingness to define any doctrinal issue, a readiness to reduce what constitutes the content of orthodox Christianity to a minimum, and a 'charity' which made men willing to question the standing of any denomination in the sight of God so long as it professed the 'Evangelical faith.'"

Murray pointedly adds: "As we look back now on the last decades of the 19th century we cannot exonerate orthodox ministers who allowed the term 'evangelical' to become debased: they had not the strength to declare that men were not ministers of Christ who, while professing the 'Evangelical Faith', either never preached that Faith or practically repudiated it in details of their teaching.

Spurgeon himself warned, "There is truth and there is error and these are opposite the one to the other. Do not indulge yourselves in the folly with which so many duped that truth may be error, and error may be truth, that black may be white, and white is black, and that there is a whitey-brown that goes in between, which is, perhaps, the best of the whole lot."