All Over the Map

One of the things that modern Reformed Christians have trouble doing is arguing and maintaining tight distinctives without breaking fellowship. This inability is projected back onto the period of the Reformation, on the assumption that from Poland to Wales all the Reformed marched under the five banners of the five solas, all five banners snapping smartly in the breeze. The problem is that it is just not true.

But as soon as this is brought out, it is assumed that the writer of such sentiments (in this case, me) must be some sort of a latitudinarian, wanting to melt down all our reformational distinctives into gray lead compromise. But this is not true either. It is possible to have decided convictions (believing them to be important) and also to have a catholic spirit.

Take one example. I am currently reading A Puritan Theology by Beeke and Jones — a wonderful book — and they make it plain that for the Puritans, the covenant of works had “very much of Grace and Favour” (p. 28). “In other words, perseverance in the garden would have been a supernatural grace given to Adam” (p. 29). I am with them in this — I am not a “monocovenantalist,” and yet believe that both covenants had this something in common. I believe in a covenant of creation and a covenant of grace — and I believe that the grace of God suffused both in different ways, like it suffuses everything. This puts me at variance with all kinds of modern folks, from the radical divide held by the men at Escondido to the monocovenantalism of some of the oatmeal stout Federal Vision men. But that should be all right, and saying we should be able to talk about it without descending into chaos is not to say that the subject is unimportant. Why do we so often measure importance with decibels?

Take another set of examples. The Westminster Assembly contained delegates who denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ — and they were accommodated. The Synod of Dort graciously received men like Davenant, who was a hypothetical universalist — a four-pointer. And Baxter was in a similar position. It wouldn’t be unheard of today for a publishing company to exist in order to publish the works of some Reformation-era theologian, and also to have that theologian be unable to sit on the board of that company.

At the second Auburn Avenue conference on the Federal Vision, Morton Smith defined heresy as anything out of accord with the Westminster Confession. But this only makes sense as a tool to deal with opponents on the other side of an intra-denominational fracas. It doesn’t help us at all with understanding doctrinal movements at large. Wherever people go, you will have significant differences of opinion, and when it is religious people, those differences will be doctrinal. Within the Federal Vision movement there are significant differences — for the sake of not being pejorative, let us call them puritan and lutheran — and there is no reason fellowship cannot function alongside those differences. If I am allowed by Escondido to be friends with a Lutheran, why can’t I be friends with a lutheran?

Of course, at a certain point, when differences get to a certain point, you must break fellowship — when the issue is Arianism, or Mormonism, or postmodern liberalism. But it is a mistake to think that ruptures with the heretics are something you can practice for by conducting ruptures with the saints.

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Don PartrigeTim BushongEric StampherTim NicholsFrank Turk Recent comment authors

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Steve Perry
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Steve Perry

Doug, is women’s ordination a heresy?

Dan Glover
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Great post, Doug. Westminster West is more open to Lutherans and Westminster East to Baptists than either is to Federal Visionists, with whom they have much more in common doctrinally speaking. I’ve read quite a bit of John Murray and, at least in word, he was far more willing than those who carry his mantle today to receive brothers with Federal Visionish distinctives. To borrow a phrase, a time is coming and is now here, when Reformed Christians, and other Bible-believing and obedient Christians, will need to “widen their hearts” (speaking 2nd Corinthianish words) and band together to fight the… Read more »

Steven Wedgeworth
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Richard Muller has stated that both the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and the extent of the atonement of Christ (within certain parameters, of course) were issues of internal debate between those Reformed Christians subscribing to the same confession or confessions. You can see that in the preface to this book: http://www.amazon.com/Drawn-into-Controversie-Theological-Seventeenth-century/dp/3525569459 as well as his review of Jonathan Moore in Calvin Theological Journal 43.1. Muller also points out, rightly, that it wasn’t only Davenant who was a sort of “hypothetical universalist” at Dort, but also Carleton, Ward, Goad, and Hall. There was also delegates from the churches of Bremen… Read more »

Steven Wedgeworth
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So sorry for the wall of text there. Just when I think I have mablog’s comments feature figured out, it turns out that I don’t.

Giovanni Maresia
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Giovanni Maresia

Great stuff, Steven. The informed Christian should definitely be aware of such latitude, lest we make wrongheaded appeals to tradition and historical theology that only serve to reveal our ignorance.

Then again, of course, there is a sense in which theology moves on, as fruitful debates clarify things and iron sharpens iron. So positions that once were more common may lose ground, and justly so. It’s not like past tolerance and acceptance provides ipso facto a cover of legitimacy to any odd and inconsistent viewpoint. So this thing can go wrong in more than one way.

Giovanni Maresia
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Giovanni Maresia

As for the Mablog formatting of comments, there has been one of those upgrades Pastor Wilson every now and then presents us as a challenge of sorts, as we all are called to abandon childish things and strive toward postmillennial maturity.

So the new thing now here is that you need to learn to insert, without the spaces,

whenever you want a paragraph BREAK. It’s a metaphor for the fact that the Roman Catholic concept of the, QUOTE, “BREAKing of the bread”, unquote, is a, QUOTE, “stumbling BLOCK”, unquote, for many.

Giovanni Maresia
Member
Giovanni Maresia

Ha! My immaturity shines through. What you need to insert is BLOCKQUOTE and then / BLOCKQUOTE, both between opening and closing angular brackets, where an opening angular bracket looks like this: <. Boy, is this theological stuff hard.

Tim H.
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Tim H.

It almost seems as though some people are saying that a Council only really condemns a position if the decision is unanimous, or if it turns right around and defrocks the minority that voted for the rejected position. Both these options, however, are untenable.

timbushong
Member

“…for the sake of not being pejorative, let us call them puritan and lutheran”–

Yes-that’s what we’ve been calling them!

Frank Turk
Guest

Then Tim Bushong comments, the least I can do is tip my hat at him …

Tim Nichols
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Tim Nichols

TimH, if the council does not turn around and defrock those who hold the minority position, then the council members would seem to be of the opinion that those who hold the minority position ought not to be defrocked.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Fenced from the board of a business is one thing.  Would you keep a Lutheran off your elder board?  Christ Church’s website says your church holds to postmillenialism, for example.  Is that a company policy?

timbushong
Member

A hat tip right back atcha, Frank!

Don Partrige
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Don Partrige

The fact these early Assemblies allowed those with varying views to come, does not mean they agreed with them. They wanted discussion then a decision to be made to see what the Mind of God was on it. Those who submitted to it as their confessions signed.  Others did not who did not agree with the final conclusion of this church council if we call it that. The faithful historic churches found the Confession to be a proper definition and interpretation of the scripture. Others who differ with the confession may be considered believers, but holding to error in significant… Read more »