Confessional Laxity Over At Mississippi Valley

In my previous Auburn Avenue post, in the comments section Mark Horne supplied the following quotation from Turretin. The emphases are Mark’s, and Turretin was da bomb.

“The question is not whether faith alone justifies to the exclusion either of the grace of God or the righteousness of Christ or the word AND SACRAMENTS (BY WHICH THE BLESSING OF JUSTIFICATION IS PRESENTED AND SEALED TO US ON THE PART OF GOD), which we maintain ARE NECESSARILY REQUIRED HERE; but only to the exclusion of every other virtue and habit on our part…. For all these as they are mutually subordinated in a different class of cause, CONSIST WITH EACH OTHER IN THE HIGHEST DEGREE” [16.8.5].

I bring this up because I just finished chapter seven of Waters’ book-length material. I don’t have much to say here because in the second part of that chapter, Waters was taking other fellows to task. As I said at the beginning of this series of posts, I will let my compadres answer as the fit takes them, and their wives are unable to restrain them. But a few things in this were too delicious to pass up, and the Turretin quote provides a good springboard for just a few comments. Waters says:

“By way of preface, we may note that Lusk’s argument is filled with quotations from Calvin, other sixteenth-century Reformers, and certain seventeenth-century divines. He points to these quotations as evidence that his position has some pedigree and precedent in the Reformed tradition. To engage each of these quotes seriatim would distract us from our primary concern . . .” (p. 211).

I dare say it would. Nevertheless, Waters does give a general hand-waving response to the quotes, though it is nothing quite so magisterial as a seriatim response.

First, he wonders aloud what the context of those pesky quotations might be. Of course, this is reasonable as a general point (context always matters), but the substance of these sorts of quotations would only be seriously affected if the context of the above quote (say) had an intro like this from Turretin: “Here I summarize the position of my opponent, that hardy blasphemer Sergius Smith. He maintains, and we deny, that . . .” It is not really an appropriate response to muse thoughtfully that it is possible that some contextual clues in the original setting might possibly “bail my position out. Let us prayerfully hope that it is so.”

Second, he grants that it sometimes sure looks like Calvin and all those other home boys of ours were saying the same thing that Lusk is. But were they advancing “that statement in service of of the same theological ends for which Lusk as adduced it”? (p. 211). Hmmm? Maybe not, and so there we rest our case.

Third, Waters wonders if certain qualifying or balancing statements have been left out. Oh? Sort of like how Waters has left out all my qualifying or balancing statements? When talking about the same things? I have to grant that this argument from Waters is the most persuasive. This sort of thing does happen.

And last, Waters and his readers have “bypassed these quotations and have restricted ourselves to a single argument, the argument from the Westminster Standards” (p. 212). But to do this is to miss one of the central historical and theological arguments that the FV guys are advancing. And for a critic, to miss it is fortunate because if you miss it, you don’t have to answer it. To read the Westminster Standards in the light of Dabney, Hodge, Miller, and Thornwell is to read the document in the light of theologians (to whom all praise!) who, despite all their signal strengths and virtues, cannot be said to have had an impact on the theological climate that led to the writing of the Standards. This is because they all lived a long time later. This is not the case with Calvin, Beza, Knox, Turretin, et al, men who lived, wrote, and reshaped the continent of Europe prior to the writing of the Standards. The Westminster Standards are not a confessional standard that fell from the sky. It was composed by men who were self-consciously doing theology in the Reformed tradition, and a battery of quotations from the fathers of that tradition would seem to be to the point. A battery of quotations from those men from whom the Westminster divines learned their theology would seem to be pertinent. The issue is not what can be read back into the Standards in the light of subsequent developments in anabaptist America. That is anachronism. The issue is what the Standards meant to the generation that first adopted them. And in order to understand that, a grasp of 16th and 17th century Reformed thought would be, shall we say, screamingly relevant. Waters cannot simply say that to study the context of the Confession would take him far afield, far away from his attempts to interpret a pristine Confession of faith that mysteriously showed up (in a place of honor)on his bookshelf.

To this point in his book, Waters has quoted (a number of times) that portion of the Westminster Confession (28.6) that says that the efficacy of baptism is such that, by a right use of it, the grace promised in it is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred. He has done this, and yet he himself cannot bring himself to say that baptism confers the grace promised in it. He objects to Lusk’s argument from this portion of the Confession. “He does this by isolating such terms as confer, sign, seal, and exhibit from their confessional qualifications” (p. 231). Okay, let’s not do that. Let us not fall into the Error of Lusk (just because Lusk didn’t doesn’t mean that we should). Let’s qualify it like Zeus distributing thunder, lightning and blue ruin. Worthy receiver, repentance as deep as David Brainerd on steroids, evangelical faith sloshing out the ears. Dr. Waters, has there ever been a Christian in the history of the Church to whom you believe this sentence applies? One who used his baptism rightly, and who, as a consequence, had the grace of salvation promised in that baptism, not only offered to him, but also exhibited to him and conferred upon him? Has this ever happened? If you think it has, then lay off us already. If you think it has not, then when will you notify your presbytery that you have to take exception to this portion of the Confession? I don’t think you need to worry because Mississippi Valley is kind of lax when it comes to this kind of thing. They overlook this particular discrepancy all the time.

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