In a recent First Things article, Peter Leithart has continued to develop his recent emphasis on the “end of Protestantism.” He has a book coming out on the subject, and so this is not the first précis he has offered on the topic. The topic is on his mind, and that is why it is on mine also.
I am sure that others will be responding to his arguments in greater detail, but I wanted to register some basic concerns, which have to do with the outlines or the general structure of his project.
I am not objecting to Peter’s answers so much, but rather to the way he frames the questions in the first place. Grant the questions and the answers generally follow. But why these questions, and why now? The questions are structured in such a way as to gather into themselves much that is misleading and confusing, and that will result in many confusions for others.
A number of years ago, Nancy and I were flying somewhere, and Nancy got pulled out of the jet way line for some security questions, and so I waited for her just a few feet down the jet way. I waited and waited, and then went back up. No Nancy. It turns out it was a double jet way, and when they were done with their questions, which were few, they sent her down the wrong one, and so she naturally boarded the wrong plane. It all got sorted out eventually, but not before I obtained my illustration. It doesn’t matter very much if you find the right seat if you are on the wrong plane.
Peter’s Protestant boarding pass is all in order. It is for the right plane. He really is seated in 5E. He believes in many of the right doctrines. But he is nevertheless on the wrong plane, which means the wrong 5E. There are three basic reasons for thinking this.
The first is that we need to recognize that in all ecumenical discussions a certain assumption of antecedent unity drives the pursuit of future unity. In other words, in order to lament the disunity of the church, you have to have a Protestant doctrine of the church. If you have a Roman doctrine of the church, you can’t have church disunity, by definition. The church is unified by definition.
If you are a Protestant, you need to figure which are rooms in the house, which are run-down rooms in the house, and which are outbuildings. No sensible person thinks that the existence of the JWs or the LDS means that the “seamless garment” of Christ has been torn. A certain kind of disunity is not only not lamentable, but is rather laudable. Protestants need to have a debate and discussion about where they locate Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy, but we do have principles that could govern such a debate. The doctrine of mere Christianity is a Protestant doctrine, and so a Protestant ethos must figure out where the boundaries are. As Lewis points out, the phrase comes from Baxter, a Puritan.
At the beginning of Mere Christianity, Lewis describes the Christian faith as a large mansion with many rooms. He describes the rooms as various communions, and he includes Rome, which is distressing to some ardent Protestants. Why do they get a room? But it is equally distressing to any Roman Catholic who knows his onions. Why aren’t they considered the whole house?
Now what this means is that in order for the kind of ecclesiastical unity that Peter describes to take place, both Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy would have to abandon, repent of, repudiate, and utterly reject, their understanding of themselves as the one true church. This repentance would be an earth-shaking development in historical theology. It will not ever happen off to the side, or as an afterthought.
Moreover, the kind of unity Peter describes means that Protestants generally would not have to give up anything essential to their identity. They could largely carry on just as before. Protestantism is not characterized by “one-true-churchism.” A handful of splinter Protestant sectarian groups do think that way, but the vast mainstream of Protestant churches do not. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches do define themselves in that way. To abandon this particular distinctive would be to abandon something right at the heart of their current identity. When they abandon that, a great Reformation will truly be under way. And if they abandon that, such a reformation will be cheered on by all Christians of good will.
Incidentally, I do believe this will happen. It is just that it is not happening now. Postmillennialism is all well and good, but we must not let it get all muddled up with over-realized wish fulfillment.
So this means that Peter’s urgent rhetoric is entirely wrong-footed. The title to his article asks if Protestantism has a future, but what he is describing is a scenario where Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, considered as such, cannot have any future at all. Peter acknowledges this as a technicality, but does not recognize the gargantuan import of what he is saying. Quoting Ephraim Radner, who was speaking of Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Pentecostal, Peter says this: “But their exclusive finalities have been clearly subverted.” The ecclesiastical problem with this is that the only ones with the “exclusive finalities” were Rome and Constantinople, not Geneva, not Wittenberg, and not the last place they held the Southern Baptist Convention.
Protestant Dress Ups
While Peter denies the status of “one true church” to Rome, he still grants them (and EO) the liturgical center of gravity. His proposal is NOT that we should submit to the pope as the vicar of Christ on earth. He doesn’t believe that, and is not going there. His proposal is more like saying that we should act as though we had. But this is simply the scratch-n’-sniff Anglo-Catholic approach—all the cute outfits, and no actual obedience or submission necessary. This is how Peter puts it.
“Protestant churches that ignore the riches of tradition should learn to treasure those riches, all of them. Protestant churches that believe the church disappeared from the earth between 500 and 1500 AD should mine the wealth of medieval Christianity, east and west. Non- or anti-liturgical Protestant churches should adopt liturgies that more closely resemble the Roman Mass or Lutheran or Anglican liturgies. Non- or anti-sacramental Protestant churches should start having weekly communion, and nurture Eucharistic piety, and confess without any mental reservations what the Bible teaches about baptism. Protestant churches who refuse to consider any but the literal sense of the Bible should learn to read typologically and cultivate an allegorical imagination. Free churches that see the church as a voluntary gathered community should give way to churches formed by ecclesiologies that incorporate public and visible dimensions of the church. Protestant churches that have no theology of orders or ordination should acknowledge the goodness of ecclesial authority.”
Just to be clear, I don’t disagree with everything here. At Christ Church, we have weekly communion, and I do acknowledge the goodness of ecclesial authority. There are places were the text demands a typological reading—I’m looking at you, Hagar and Sarah. But again this emphasis is just wrong-footed.
When Peter urges us not to ignore the “riches of tradition,” and that we should learn to “treasure those riches, all of them,” does he really mean all of them? Or does he mean just those things which actually are riches, buried under mountains of refuse and idolatrous offal? If he means only those things that actually are riches, as opposed to pretend riches, then we need a scholastic and very Protestant hermeneutic that will enable us to sort through a pile like that.
But here is the odd thing. That work has already been done. It was done on such a vast scale that historians have a name for it. It was called the Reformation. We possess a vast library of Protestant resources that worked through all these issues, all of them that mattered anyway, and there is a significant movement among educated Protestants today dedicated to the task of resourcement—bringing those resources of our very rich heritage down to the present. For another example, the Wenden House project at New St. Andrews is translating into English works from the Reformation that have never been translated before. Why not start our ecumenical labors with that?
And also, at the same time, if we are pursuing catholicity in every direction, then why is Peter’s proposed drift all in one direction? Why not also say that we need to learn how to preach with the energy of Reformed Baptists, or sing like Mennonites or Welsh Methodists?
Two Kinds of Unity
And third, the last thing to consider is why this kind of thing is so attractive to some. At the very least, it is attractive enough that the problems that are manifestly right on the surface are not being examined very closely.
The reason for all this is, in my view, an over-realized eschatology. Peter is impatient for unity now, but it is the kind of crowning unity that Paul describes as the end of the historical process. There are two kinds of unity in Ephesians 4. The first is a unity that we already have, and are commanded to preserve. The second is a unity that by God’s design we do not yet have, which means that we are not supposed to try to grasp it early. If we try to grasp it early, we are not going to gain the future but rather will lose the past.
The unity we already have is supposed to be maintained by means of things like humility, gentleness, and patience—“endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This is a unity that is a base line gift to all Christians, and the thing that disrupts it is personal sin—not institutional divisions. Two brothers, a Baptist and a Presbyterian, can have this Spirit-given unity (and frequently do), and they can have it regardless of the fact that their two churches do not have formal, fraternal relations. They don’t care about that—they are too busy being brothers in Christ.
This is not to say that unity between churches and denominations is unimportant. It is important, so important that God sets it before us as a teleological goal. There is a Christian unity for the churches and the Church that is the goal of all human history. Just a few verses down, Paul says this:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–13).
This is a unity we cannot have yet. We are not supposed to have it yet, for the same reason we don’t have roofers pounding away at the shingles when the concrete trucks pouring the foundation haven’t left yet.
On a road trip of two thousand miles, we are the kids in the back seat. We relate properly to the first kind of unity by not squabbling and pinching in the back seat. We relate properly to the second kind of unity by refraining from asking, when scarcely two miles down the road, “are we there yet?”
But Peter thinks that this final institutional unity is the way the world will know that the Father sent the Son, which is locating the persuasive power of true unity in the wrong place. The thing that nonbelievers will find persuasive is our tangible and palpable love for one another, not our joint committees. And this is what Jesus says, expressly.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34–35).
“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:22–23).
I don’t see any reason for taking these words as a directive on institutional unity. It could well be a comment on certain reasons for institutional disunity, but the mere fact of living in different communions presents no barrier whatever to an exhibition of the kind of unity Jesus is referring to. The Wesleyan can love the Calvinist who lives on his left side, and the Baptist can love the Presbyterian on his right, and the new age Buddhist who lives across the alley can see all of it and feel it. I see no reason for assuming he would be impressed if the Baptist started wearing a white surplice when he officiated communion.
What wearing a surplice would most likely do, however, is inaugurate a church split among the Baptists, which would result in all the nastiness that is likely on such occasions, and that would disrupt the first kind of unity in Ephesians 4, the kind that Jesus said would be compelling. In other words, we ought not to do things to demonstrate unity with our distant cousins if doing them will initiate a nasty fight with our brothers and sisters. Maintain unity at home first, and the means for this is humility, gentleness, and patience.
Peter thinks that liturgical unity is evangelistically compelling, but, if I may quote that papist von Balthasar, no doubt in senses he would find objectionable, love alone is credible. This is why I think that Peter’s assessment of our evangelistic impotence is misguided on another level, a very practical level.
“If not, we’re in trouble, because that perichoretic unity is, Jesus says, the way the world will know that the Father sent the Son. If we are never going to be one, then our evangelistic efforts are pretty well doomed.”
But surely this is odd? Why are our evangelistic efforts “pretty well doomed” because of the lack of realization for Peter’s ideals in ecumenism? I mean, we are two thousand years into the history of the church, and we have millions of Christians, all over the place. If lack of liturgical unity were going to doom evangelistic outreach, wouldn’t it have already done so? How have millions of people come to realize that the Father sent the Son when the ecumenical endeavor is largely in shambles?
Going back to Ephesians 4, liturgical unity will not result in successful evangelism. Rather, successful evangelism, much of it conducted by the wahoo brethren who would not recognize a historically-informed liturgy if it bit them on the hindquarters, will eventually result in liturgical unity. But it will do this centuries from now. Rather, if I might continue to mine the treasures of my own reading among the papists, Christopher Dawson once said that the Christian church lives in the light of eternity, and can afford to be patient.
So the thing that will expedite evangelism today is humility, gentleness, and patience.
Peter has many valuable things to say, about many subjects. I have read many of his books, and have done so with great profit. To take just one example, his book From Silence to Song was one of the best things I have ever read. But on this subject (and a handful of others)—because he is so personally amiable, and because his BS detector is busted—his suggestions should simply be rejected.
This can be done without attacking him personally. I believe that his boarding pass is entirely in order, and I have no complaints in that regard. But I think it would be a mistake to follow him onto that plane.
Throughout this piece, I have been making it a point to quote papists, in part to illustrate my agreement with part of what Peter is urging. I am mining a rich tradition. Protestants can be decidedly Protestant without being bigots. And so I will conclude by citing my very favorite papist, G.K. Chesterton. He once said that you ought never to tear down a fence unless you knew why it had been put up in the first place.
The resourcement project mentioned earlier is an effort to teach Protestants why our fences and boundaries exist in the first place, and why they are located in the places they are located. There are good reasons, multitudes of them, and expositions of those reasons are readily available. Protestants who follow Peter’s suggestions here without working through those reasons in detail are in my view exhibiting, not doctrinal fidelity, but rather a listless ennui.
And that is not the need of the hour.
Just skimmed most of this.
I imagine that The Holy Spirit is getting quite a chuckle out of what traditions we might “mine” for a better church experience.
If only The Holy Spirit would get off its backside and do what we want! Then we would see some church happen!
The caption – if you struggled to read it like me – “Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t carried ecumenism a bit too far.”
Looky there. He’s starting to come around.
“… we have millions of Christians, all over the place” = said with unrecognized amillenialist joy,
unless he’s specting this fallen world to experience “the unity of the faith” and the “perfect man” in coming centuries?
This captures many of my thoughts on reading Leithart’s article. Thanks for stating it well and kindly.
I have often wondered what world Leithart lives in. He is pushing for a ecumenism with Rome ans EO while closer to home the OPC and PCA can’t unite. They share the same standards and have the same form of church government. If we can’t get more cooperation between the conservative reformed denominations we have no business looking at Rome and wishing for more unity. Leithart’s biggest issue is he doesn’t seem to get Rome doesn’t want us.
Dear Doug. Did you chuckle to yourself when you wrote, “Rather, successful evangelism, much of it conducted by the wahoo brethren who would not recognize a historically-informed liturgy if it bit them on the hindquarters, will eventually result in liturgical unity”? Because if I would have had a mouth full of liquid my monitors would have been spit baptized. Helpful article, thanks!
“Protestantism is not characterized by “one-true-churchism.””
Some might say Protestantism is characterized by one-true-churchism run amok.
4% of Americans believe lizard people control politics.
People will say lots of stuff. But in practice, I am welcome to the Lord’s table at other Protestant churches that I disagree with doctrinally more than I do with Roman Catholics — and I am not welcome to the table at Roman churches. Pretty crucial difference.
Well if lizard people don’t control politics, who does? Seems as good a theory as any.
True, Catholics are kind of strict on who gets to take communion, but my rigorous google research suggests this is less due to “Your church is fake and can’t really baptize” and more due to some theological stuff about the meaning of the Eucharist. This is supported by EO members being able to take communion in Catholic churches, despite obviously being a separate church.
So if even the Catholics don’t believe they are the one true church, then who does?
Actions speak louder than words. If you won’t come to the same table with someone, this means you believe you aren’t in fellowship with them. The Roman church treats Protestants the same as unbelievers; what they say about us is rather secondary.
I think the issue is twofold: do Protestants regard Jesus as physically present in the Eucharist as we do, and are they in a state of grace (i.e., no unconfessed serious sins on the conscience). Catholics believe that to receive communion in a Catholic church, both conditions must be met. This applies to Catholics as well. It is considered blasphemous to receive Roman Catholic or EO communion without a belief in the real presence of our Lord, and it is unbelievably sinful to receive communion with unconfessed mortal sin. I realize it looks unfriendly, but fellowship in this area has… Read more »
“It is considered blasphemous to receive Roman Catholic or EO communion without a belief in the real presence of our Lord”
So is it Catholic doctrine that Jesus can not really be present if he isn’t physically present?
No, I think that Catholics and Protestants share the same view about Jesus being spiritually present to us when we pray, when we call upon Him, when we worship, and so on. But Catholics believe that in the Eucharist, we have the great mystery and gift of our Lord’s physical presence. I believe that when many Protestants celebrate Holy Communion, Jesus is present to them in a symbolic, spiritual, and real way–but not in a physical way. This is where it gets a little tricky. If a Protestant, who believes “This is my body” is true in a symbolic and… Read more »
“But the Catholic believes that if that Protestant attending mass goes ahead and receives Holy Communion there, he is actually receiving the literal body of our Lord even though he does not believe that himself. So he is not discerning the true presence of our Lord, and that is problematic.”
Can Catholics accept Communion at a Protestant church?
The one time I had occasion to participate in communion at a Catholic church I declined.
“Can Catholics accept Communion at a Protestant church?”
These days, under Francis, The One True Bureaucracy feels more/closer spiritual brotherhood with Moslems than with us Protestants.
The article did go on to note:
“But canon 844 includes an exception to the rule “whenever necessity requires or general spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.”
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism said that, as a general rule, common worship and eucharistic and other sacramental sharing should “signify the unity of the church.” But it acknowledges that such sharing can also be seen as advancing unity. In fact, according to the decree, “the gaining of a needed grace sometimes commends” it.”
If a Protestant, who believes “This is my body” is true in a symbolic and spiritual but not literal way, …
When the disciples heard this, firsthand, did they believe that they were eating Jesus’ physical body?
I don’t know what they believed. But Jesus instituted a sacrament that is outside time. His presence in the body and blood the disciples received was real, just as it is today.
Jesus’ words were directed to those disciples, and He was communicating something very important to them. I don’t think He failed in His communication; I think they knew it was meant to be allegorical. We should understand it in the same way. Allegory can be as real as anything else.
Well, as Pastor Wilson put it, I sure don’t believe in the Real Absence. Are you seriously suggesting that an RC priest would accept my baptism as valid and receive me to confession and the Lord’s table? Because every other RC I’ve talked to has said otherwise.
I expect your baptism would be fine. But, for the other two, you would have to receive instruction and make a profession of faith as a Catholic. But, if you were on your deathbed, they would make an exception for you.
Remember that even Catholic children have two years of instruction before they are allowed to receive the sacraments of penance and communion.
Right. Which, again, means that in practice they regard me as outside the faith.
Not outside the Christian faith. But outside the Roman Catholic church.
I know that’s what they teach. But again: actions speak louder than words.
Let me try a different way. A Catholic receiving holy communion is signalling not only his assent to Catholic doctrine and the absence of serious sin, but also recognition of the Church’s teaching authority and its role in mediating the sacraments. Why would a Protestant want to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic church? Why would he want to signal basic assent to a specifically Catholic doctrine or to the church’s authority?
The last time I was at a Roman Catholic Church, I could have communed as the other Protestant members of my party did,* but I chose not to. When the subsequent prayers asked that through this Eucharist we would be brought into closer communion “with Francis our Pope and our Bishop”, I was glad I had not, and I cannot understand why Protestants who do not wish to be part of the RC Church would want to commune. The same would apply to Protestants who complain that they are not allowed to commune in an Orthodox church when they do… Read more »
You make my very point. It is hard for me to see why people who have doctrinal objections to the Catholic church would want to appear to express agreement by any portion of the Catholic mass (including its invocation to the saints and its prayers for the dead) by taking communion. Logistically, it would be impossible for a priest to discern who is Catholic and who isn’t. My parish has at least 600 people at every mass, and the priests and lay Eucharistic ministers could not possibly keep track. I think it would take wearing a t-shirt with “Proud Satanist… Read more »
Hence, Protestants cannot be in fellowship with Catholics without becoming Catholics. Whereas the Protestant understanding is far more broad-minded: “we disagree, but Christ is bigger than us; his Church exceeds our understanding, and even people who are quite wrong can still be in a state of grace — and we are prepared to treat them as such.”
More “There is no such thing as a perfect church but you guys aren’t even trying anymore.” Or something.
Which reminds me of a joke. Robinson Crusoe is rescued so he shows his rescuers around his island. They see his house, his plantations, and his fort. Finally they see his church. Then one of the rescuers asks “What’s that building over there?”. RC hangs his head and says dejectedly “That’s where I used to go to church.”
Wow. Some of the most compelling argumentation I’ve ever read and I didn’t even know I was interested in the subject. I bet a lot of labor and love went into it.
Also “not before I obtained my illustration” is very funny.
No, that was not funny.
If you were in the room with Doug, it would be funnier than it is online. He tells this kind of story with a big grin on his face.
Clearly, your humor meter is broken.
Or… it could be that your satire meter is malfunctioning.
“… you have to have a Protestant doctrine of the church”
Doesn’t this phrase rub against Lewis’ Mere Christianity’s grain?
The Protestant Reformers dug in with this doctrine? — good on them.
But isn’t it a doctrine that preceded them, and can be found in the Church many centuries before even the incarnation?
Maybe you could massage this to say, “you have to have the doctrine of the church that the Protestants recovered”?
“The doctrine of mere Christianity is a Protestant doctrine” — again with the anachronism!
Abel held this doctrine.
So did Melchizedek and Job and Moses and Jesus.
Good Protestants all?
“Good Protestants all?”
I’m curious: what do you propose Abel, Melchizedek, Job, Moses, and Jesus were protesting?
You might be able to draw some parallels in the fact that Jesus was dismantling man-made traditions that had risen to higher status than God’s actual Law (as the Catholics have done), but none of your other named patriarchs were quite engaged in correcting false doctrine at any level. Especially Abel. Unless you want to assume Abel was protesting his own murder…
Malachi — I’m sure I was not clear.
Doug is here the one promoting the idea that mere Christianity is “a Protestant doctrine” — implying its center of gravity if not its origin should be found in the Reformation.
I’m saying that Abel, as an example, exhibited all the hallmarks of understanding and exercising this doctrine.
Hence we shouldn’t center our attention on the Reformation, but go way back to the beginning of Christendom to discover it operating in the original fathers.
What hallmarks? Abel and Melchizedek don’t even have speaking roles.
The hallmarks of understanding the doctrines of mere Christianity include knowing our place before God as sinning servants promised undeserved redemption we acquire by faith.
Well then, by mere Christianity you mean Christianity. Fair enough, although you aren’t really interacting with Lewis’ (or Doug’s) use of the term.
“Protestants generally would not have to give up anything essential to their identity”
While that is true, you’d help your argument by plainly stating that RC & EO folk also would NOT have to give up anything essential.
True enough, their statements contradict this — but those sentiments are not the essence of their identity, but a long-held bad habit that needs to be abandoned for their own good and the good of the Church.
The absolute authority of the church is THE central doctrine of the Catholic Church.
If that were their stated doctrine (and I suspect you have a good case), it still does not dislodge their central identity as a community of saints who “operate” in the house of mere Christianity.
Abandoning that concept might cost them an arm and a leg, but not their heart.
They’d survive and thrive.
But of course they’d appear quite different in their machinations.
They may survive, but not as the Catholic church. They would become something different, something a whole lot like Protestantism.
I don’t think its just my partiality as a Catholic that makes me think that is unlikely to happen. I think of the words of the Protestant historian Lord Macaulay: “She (the Roman Catholic Church) was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch… Read more »
I have no doubt that the Catholic Church will stand for quite a while longer, but that wasn’t quite the point that I was disagreeing with.
My statement was that the Catholic church couldn’t exist as what we know recognize as the Catholic church without it’s demand that the church has all final authority. Essentially every doctrine that protestants and catholics disagree on comes down to this one issue.
Yes, that is true. And I don’t foresee circumstances in which the church would give up that claim, especially in relation to Reformed communions. Catholics feel a strong affinity to Anglicans and Lutherans, but not to Calvinists. A High Anglican converting to Rome really just has to deal with accepting a pope and accepting tougher rules on marriage and divorce. But the Calvinist and Catholic views on the doctrines of grace are far apart. Catholics cling to a view of God based primarily on His love and mercy to all people who conscientiously seek Him. The view that God has… Read more »
I really don’t think it’s the calvinist issue that separates most protestants from the catholic church. There are plenty of calvinistic and arminian protestants who call each other brothers and sisters in Christ with absolutely no trepidation. Many churches have a melding of the two with people representing both positions vocally in the church. The church I currently attend is one such place. The leadership is mostly arminian, but there are quite a few attendees who hold to a more calvinistic view without issue. We all worship together as a Christian family. The real difference comes down to sola scriptura.… Read more »
Jilly, could you explain a bit more why reprobation is so difficult? The way I understand the doctrine, it is not that God pushes away honest seekers of Christ, but that He has created people knowing how His creations will act and choose – and that he has the ability to make everyone in such a way that they will respond to the Gospel, but chooses not to do so. I don’t see God seeing a person with faith and stripping that faith away, sending them to Hell, but rather God creating a person He knows will ultimately reject Him,… Read more »
Hi Ian, I think we are in perfect agreement in our understanding of divine foreknowledge. Where we probably differ is in the issue of “irresistibly drawing some.” My church teaches that all people are given sufficient grace to conform their will to His, and that God does not overpower anyone’s choice to reject Him. If we think of the parable of the banquet, everyone is invited. Some people refuse the invitation. Does the banquet host overwhelm the refusal of a chosen few, while accepting the refusal of everyone else? My faith would argue that everyone had the same opportunity to… Read more »
That makes a lot of sense, thank you. Fundamentally, I do not think “free will” is a very clear concept – to mean, when someone says “I freely choose to follow God” or “reject God,” my next question is “Why?” If there is no reason for why we do something, why is there moral significance to that choice? Choices divorced from motive have no moral weight – if choosing to do right and wrong is the same as a rock falling right or left, why are we blamed for our rock falling right when it should have gone left? And… Read more »
“I mean, we are two thousand years into the history of the church …”
You meant to say “six thousand years plus”, right?
How can you say that on this subject and a handful of others, people should reject what Peter says because his BS detector is broken, and then turn around in the very next sentence and say that isn’t a personal comment against Peter? If Peter said that about you, would you take it personally?
Are you saying everything said always gets taken personally? — you’re right, of course.
But a jab from a friend can be good medicine, no? — not to be taken as personally mean, over against personally trying to help.
Maybe saying his BS detector seems to be on the fritz would have a softer touch for the same effect.
Or, maybe…just maybe…the problem with that phrase lies in the fact that Wilson used a common abbreviation for bull shit, and pastors using “dirty words” ruffles feathers faster than a pickup full of Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande.
Gabe, no, not at all. If Peter said something like that about me, I wouldn’t take it personally at all. I worked very hard to say what I thought needed to be said, while making sure everyone saw it in the context of high praise surrounding the critique.
The context of praise is very clear, and I speak as one who thinks it needs to be less clear.
Peter’s commentary on Samuel is basically the point where I learned to actually read the Bible, and I’m always indebted to him for that.
But something has gone very wrong with him, Doug, and you know it.
This was incredibly helpful, thank you. I err also in being impatient to see the promised end rather than joyfully and faithfully doing the work. “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
I would side more with you than Peter here. A concern is that your claim on Ephesians about leading to unity. You make this to be a communal thing in the sense of denominations, and it is that communal type interpretation that leads to Peter’s thinking which you then critique. I am all for corporate type interpretations at times, but one of the features of Christendom is to focus on personal piety. We don’t get to be in the kingdom because we are related to Abraham by blood. I think this unity of Paul here is a gradual unity of… Read more »
A wise guideline: avoid tearing down denominational fences until you find out why they were erected in the first place.
In the proprietor’s view, is there a similar guideline that cautions one against erecting new ones? (say, for example, like inventing a brand new presbyterian denomination when there are already so many good ones)
Wells wrote: In the proprietor’s view, is there a similar guideline that cautions one against erecting new ones? (say, for example, like inventing a brand new presbyterian denomination when there are already so many good ones) Building something new doesn’t entail fencing out fellowship with the old. In other words, there are reasons for building up around certain theological distinctives that don’t involve excluding fellowship with those who don’t yet share those distinctives, and who are still welcome. For example, if established presbyterian denominations refused to recognize Roman Catholic baptism, it might be useful to form a new presbyterian denomination… Read more »
Um, sounds like you are unfamiliar with all that he’s written about the founding of the CREC.
Simply: Wilson’s church had (and has) elders that hold to either credobaptism and to paedobaptism. So, all the existing denominations would have insisted on some of the leders being “disbarred” to join the denomination.
I think it’s great that the Crec is a really big tent presbyterian denomination. But even so it is divided against most of the Christians who have ever lived. I’m presbyterian too (as is PL). We will have to deal with this at some point, even if we put it off for another 400 years.
How is it divided *against* most of the Christians who have ever lived? In the CREC church I go to, we will commune other Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, heck even Catholics if they were willing. Not sure where the *against* part comes from.
In fact, if I’m remembering correctly, we have communed a Catholic before. I doubt she went back and told her priest about it afterward, though.
Doug’s emphasis on the Gospel as central rather than the sacraments is key. I’d push it further: are the sacraments things that make one a Christian (who can come in), or are the sacraments things that Christians do as a public testimony (who can go out)? That is a crucial difference. The New Covenant shifts the emphasis from hearing (one nation) to speaking (all nations), from being under authority to being given authority. That’s where sacramentalism’s wheels come off and it heads for the Roman Catholic ditch. Peter is more consistent than Doug, but he has pushed the absurdum to… Read more »
Mike Bull wrote: The only reason Doug is not absurd is because he (wrongly) maintains there are two kinds of Christian: those born again and those somehow “under covenant” in an Abrahamic way. Mike Bull repeats his notion that there is a fundamental difference between old and new covenant precisely where Paul says there is continuity. In 1Cor 10, Paul says they: “were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them:… Read more »
“Notice how there is no spiritual distinction between the sacraments of old and new covenant. They were all signs of spiritual unity with Christ in both covenants.”
But as Mike Bull said
“The sacraments are the outcome of that unity, not its origin.”
Yep. Things changed. :)
No, they didn’t. In both the Old and New Covenant, the signs were meant to signify a pre-existing unity – the covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants, and the covenant between God and the Church. Identical purposes for both, which gives rise to Paul’s critique of the Jewish mistake of putting the sign as the cause of the unity, putting the cart before the horse.
Sure, but circumcision was a “generational” sign – fruitfulness of land and womb. Baptism is a regenerational sign – fruits of the Spirit. A very different kind of Covenant. Things did change. I’d also argue that the New Covenant wasn’t “made” with the Church in the way previous covenants were. The New Covenant is a person: Jesus.
Mike Bull wrote:
The Old Covenant is a person: Jesus.
We know this because Paul said very explicitly that they ate the same spiritual manna, and drank the same spiritual drink. And the Rock that they followed was Christ.
Mike Bull wrote:
Indeed. Paul had this covered too. They were baptized in the Old Covenant too. All of them together, as they followed the Rock. Even the infants got baptized in the cloud and the sea. Recall that Moses is a Christ type.
Katecho, you need to go study up on the difference between type and antitype.
And the “infants were baptised” argument holds no water. Israel was baptised as a nation FOR MINISTRY as a nation. They were not baptised into Abraham but Moses. It was a new era of accountability AS A NATION. Christians are not baptised as a nation but as individuals FOR MINISTRY. Baptism is a delegation of authority.
Mike Bull wrote: And the “infants were baptised” argument holds no water. Does Mike Bull suggest that their infants were left back on the shore? Paul says they were all baptized in the cloud and the sea. To be baptized into Moses is to be baptized into union with a person, in this case, a Christ type. The Rock they followed was Christ. God’s covenants are about union and relationship and identity. This is why the marriage covenant is what should come to mind when we think of Christ and His covenant people. Can there be a marriage without personal… Read more »
I love you, bro, but you have a knack for consistently missing my point. Israel was a body of flesh, bonded by blood (Abraham) and external law (Moses). The Church is a body in Spirit, bonded by love, and internal law. The shift from external to internal law is the difference between the first Pentecost (3000 dead) and the last (3000 saved). It is a different kind of Covenant. Whether it is Leithart’s “totally objective” baptism (never seen in the Bible, since baptism is investiture of the volunteer) or Wilson’s two-tiered unworkable hybrid version, they both rely on Abrahamic texts… Read more »
Mike: if Israel was a body of flesh, bonded by blood and law, then why in the world does Paul critique them for imagining that blood relation and adherence to the law was enough to save them? If the conditions you mention (blood and law) were sufficient, then Paul is wrong for saying that circumcision was meant to be a sign of faith. If faith played no component in the Old Covenant, then you are essentially denying Galatians 3:7, and Romans 2:25-29, 9:6-8, and 9:30-32. All these passages intimate that the Jews were only members of Abraham insofar as they… Read more »
Good question. Because circumcision was a social boundary with an ethical telos (Abraham > Moses). Baptism is an ethical boundary with a social telos (Christ > the nations). Covenant history is chiastic. See the diagram here: http://www.biblematrix.com.au/cosmic-language-part-2/
Mike Bull wrote: I love you, bro, but you have a knack for consistently missing my point. Israel was a body of flesh, bonded by blood (Abraham) and external law (Moses). The Church is a body in Spirit, bonded by love, and internal law. I appreciate the love, but Mike Bull is simply repeating the same mistake that 1Cor 10 guards us against. Where Mike wants to declare the Old Covenant to be fleshly, as contrasted with spiritual, Paul says to Mike, “they ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink, and followed the same Rock”. So… Read more »
Sorry – I missed this response. And my point is still going over your head. Yes, both Covenants have an objective component and a subjective one. What you’ve totally missed is that Pentecost changed everything. The Covenant sign no longer concerns the objective circumcision of flesh but the subjective response, circumcision of heart. You are still living under the Abrahamic Covenant. So, what was Israel’s baptism? Why were they not baptised into Abraham? Because the nation was ready for ministry. That is what baptism is about, and paedobaptists seem entirely blind to this because of their agenda. The entire world… Read more »
Mike Bull wrote: The Covenant sign no longer concerns the objective circumcision of flesh but the subjective response, circumcision of heart. Since Mike Bull is repeating a point that we’ve already covered, I’ll respond with repetition using a quote from a previous reply: Mike Bull is simply repeating the same mistake that 1Cor 10 guards us against. Where Mike wants to declare the Old Covenant to be fleshly, as contrasted with spiritual, Paul says to Mike, “they ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink, and followed the same Rock”. So it is simply not the case… Read more »
This might help. Esther was married to the king, but really just a chattel, a queen only in name. It was only after the serpent was crushed via her obedience that she became a queen in nature, a true co-regent possessing judicial maturity, internal law. That is the difference between old Israel and the Church, in bridal terms.
Christopher Casey, quoting Mike Bull, wrote:
Sure. This is why Wilson is not a sacramentalist, as Mike Bull incorrectly implied. Wilson, and I, affirm that infants were not circumcised in order to make them covenant members, but circumcision was applied because they were covenant children.
Neither covenant union status, nor applied sacrament, can guarantee eternal glory when the heart is found in unbelief. The inside must match the outside. When faith is dead and fruitless, circumcision becomes uncircumcision, and covenant becomes uncovenant (branches pruned out of the Root).
I think Doug wants it both ways on this one. His sacraments are still related to an imaginary “covenant boundary.” The only boundary now is that of prophetic ministry and related accountability. Since the seed has come in the flesh, our kids are not special. Can there really be any difference between covenant members and covenant children? Were the females not covenant members and covenant children? None of it stands up under basic scrutiny. Too many mutually exclusive claims. Everyone’s already in the New Covenant, obligated to Jesus. That was the point of the New Covenant. Ain’t no covenant members… Read more »
Reformed theology is the best school in which to learn about covenant theology, yet it is also the worst place to learn about New Covenant theology. Why is this so?
But Paul doesn’t mention any covenant in the passage. His point of “it can happen to you too” makes just as much or more sense if he simply means that the externals don’t guarantee final salvation.
jigawatt wrote: … he simply means that the externals don’t guarantee final salvation. Indeed. This is why Wilson is not a sacramentalist (as Mike Bull incorrectly implies). Since the sacraments ritually testify of an existing covenant union and covenant identity, they also testify of salvation, because the One we are united to is the Savior. However, union with Christ requires individual consistency of heart, and living faith; otherwise circumcision becomes uncircumcision. To be brought into covenant union with Christ, while still in unbelief, is to fall under Paul’s warning to the new covenant Corinthians, and Jesus’ warning about fruitless branches.… Read more »
Just as sacraments don’t guarantee eternal glory, neither does covenant union, unless we abide in living faith (consistent with that union).
For the elect, covenant union brings with it the gift of living faith, and the sacraments do guarantee and seal eternal glory, since that faith receives what the sacraments represent–Christ and the gospel.
In other words, sacramental union is covenant union (they ate and drank the same Rock). For the Old, yes. I have yet to see convincing evidence that it is for the New. And there are multiple places where Scripture indicates there is a difference. The only prescriptive for baptism is that it is “made disciples” who are to be baptized. See also my question to Doug re: Jeremiah 31: https://dougwils.com/s8-expository/surveying-the-text-jeremiah.html#comment-2336856524 The baptist wants to say that sacraments don’t guarantee eternal glory, but that new covenant union does guarantee it. The problem with this conclusion is that Paul wrote his warning… Read more »
Hmmmm. He hasn’t responded to my latest reply. This must mean I have stunned him into silence by the sheer power of my irrefutable logic and my mastery of rhetorical skills.
Protip: ^^This never happens.
Charles Addams was an underappreciated comic genius. Good to see his work again. ;-)
Excellent and very helpful. Thank you.
“While Peter denies the status of “one true church” to Rome …”
I call the mindset and claims of the RCC “The One True Bureaucracy”.
By the way, as some of the comments in this thread make clear, it’s not just the Catholics who hold to the “The One True Bureaucracy” mindset, as though Christ were contained by, or ruled by, bureaucracies.
Now what this means is that in order for the kind of ecclesiastical unity that Peter describes to take place, both Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy would have to abandon, repent of, repudiate, and utterly reject, their understanding of themselves as the one true church. This repentance would be an earth-shaking development in historical theology. It will not ever happen off to the side, or as an afterthought. My understanding is that Orthodox Churches can’t be described as believing this in a block like this. There are certainly those who do – such as the monks on Mount Athos, which are… Read more »
When Peter urges us not to ignore the “riches of tradition,” and that we should learn to “treasure those riches, all of them,” does he really mean all of them? Or does he mean just those things which actually are riches, buried under mountains of refuse and idolatrous offal? If he means only those things that actually are riches, as opposed to pretend riches, then we need a scholastic and very Protestant hermeneutic that will enable us to sort through a pile like that. But here is the odd thing. That work has already been done. It was done on… Read more »
“The truth is, none of us can understand the New Testament without outside references. At the very least, there is the issue of someone finding the manuscripts for us, and figuring out which manuscripts are the “best” ones. Then they have to examine history to figure out what words mean. Sometimes, even when they examine history and know what the words mean, it takes more work to find out what they meant to 1st-century followers of Jesus Christ, who were sometimes Jews and sometimes Gentiles. Then there is the amazing work of interpreting and applying what that means for us,… Read more »
So I’m guessing that you walk out of Pocatello, pick up a greek manuscript (from where?) and pray over it until God reveals the meaning of the words to you? I’m not sure how you’re getting around the need for translators and the understanding of cultural context, or how you differ the historical study and theological work required for those tasks from any other expositor of Scripture. There are no hard lines between the work to understand the meanings of Greek words and the work to understand the cultural context of those words and the work to understand what the… Read more »
Goodness. Where did I attribute infallibility to the Reformers? Or where did Pastor Wilson, for that matter? It would be an easy position to argue against if we had said it, but we didn’t. What you say in your second-to-last paragraph is what I was trying to communicate: the basic Gospel is perspicacious to even the most casual, least theologically informed reader. And this is one area where the Reformers definitely had it right: they got rid of a lot of stuff that had been added on to that basic Gospel, obscuring and poisoning it. A lot of that was… Read more »
I’m not sure you’re reading my words extremely carefully. You seem to have attributed several things to me which I do not believe, and missed certain points which I did in fact argue. I had to go off of the fact that you had found something wrong in my statement, specifically in the part of it that you quoted, and accused me of denying the perspicacity of Scripture. My response was built off of the assumption that you were making an argument that disputed what I had said on that basis. And while you’ve moved the meaning of perspicacious a… Read more »
Jonathan wrote: I, personally, would suggest that the Catholic Church of the 16th century is not the Catholic Church of the 21st century and shouldn’t be treated similarly, that the protestant church fathers’ lack of exposure to Orthodoxy was a serious limitation in the development of their understanding of church tradition, history, and ecumenism, that they had a serious lack of understanding of the context of 1st-century Judaism and Christianity both which led them to make significant errors at key points, and they were captured by the early stages of the “modern” philosophical understanding, which was less the pointer to… Read more »
I’m not trying to “poop on the Reformers”. I’m suggesting they be assigned their appropriate place as theologians of a particular era who contributed to a 2,000-year-old discussion, which has kept going for 400 years since their contribution. (And, in fact, with the Anabaptists and the Catholics and the Orthodox, was also continuing in different directions even within their time.) And of course I was trying to be vague. I’m not trying to insult them or any particular dogma right now. I’m simply trying to suggest that placing them first and foremost is not the best way to go about… Read more »
Just a semantic note: scripture is perspicuous, not perspicacious. Perspicuity is a property of the thing being understood, perspicacity is a property of a person achieving understanding.
I realize Carson used it that way first; I’m just putting here for no particular reason.
And if you could now persuade the world to distinguish correctly between nauseous and nauseated, I will be happy.
Two hereticks going at it. Should be interesting.
Pastor Wilson. If a prodastant church makes you become re-baptized in order to join isn’t that a very real one true church mentality? Most anabaptist church do this. As a peodobaptist who believe in one faith and one baptism I believe that the vast majority of prodistant churches act as they are the one true church by the practice of insisting that new members get rebatized. You said, “A handful of splinter Protestant sectarian groups do think that way, but the vast mainstream of Protestant churches do not.” in reference to prodostant churches suffering from one true churchism. Correct me… Read more »
I know that Baptists insist on this, as does Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, and most other Pentecostal groups. I think it is partly the immersion issue and partly the not recognizing baptisms performed before the person reached an age to make a commitment to Christ.
That is correct. It is not a matter of “only our church is the church” thinking, it is the understanding that as an outward sign of inward conversion a valid baptism can only follow conscious and professed faith. There may well be some denominations that will only accept baptisms performed within one of their congregations, and possibly there might be some independent congregations that only accept a baptism they perform, but these are outside the mainstream of credobaptists.
Well said, thanks JohnM!
As much as I love getting in debate on a sub-chats about the sacrament of baptism, I think I’ll pass. I think it’s safe to assume (having been taught by both of them) that Doug and Peter would not agree on your definition of baptism. I certainly don’t. I laid out the argument that if Doug denies that baptism is an outward sign of an inward conversion that must then be followed by a conscious profession of faith but rather he would confirm that it is a sign and a seal of the covenant (holding more in line with the… Read more »
I’ve never read anything by Chesterton. Can you recommend a first read?