In a previous post, I alluded to the important matter of the marks of the church. Historically among the Reformed, these have been considered as Word and sacrament. Some have added a third mark, that of discipline, but I think this represents a small but significant confusion. This is a fallen world, which means that if you don’t have discipline you won’t have Word and sacrament for very long, but you can have them. Word and sacrament are what constitute the garden — discipline is the fence around the garden.
To use the classic terminology here, discipline is part of the bene esse of the church, not the esse of the church. If we try to make it the part of the church’s esse, we can make trouble for ourselves. Discipline, by its very nature, focuses on boundaries, fences, gates and doors. Lettuce grows in the middle of the garden, and the fence edges the garden. The only thing the fence cares about is marking the line between the deer zone and the no deer zone.
Of course, we must discipline. The edge is important. It is the duty of a priest to guard the perimeter of the sacred space. But we must not be all about discipline — lest we find ourselves with a garden that is nothing but fence posts from one side to another.
If we are all about discipline, we become consumed with the exact edges. But as Paul Avis points out in his fine work, The Church in the Theology of the Reformers, we do not recognize our friends by trying to determine the precise end of their shoe laces. If we are trying to recognize someone, we always look at their face. Define from the center out.
What is a Christian church? The answer is wrapped up in Word and water, bread and wine — faithfully preached, faithfully administered, faithfully received. But notice that this just pushes our problem back a step. What is the Word? What is a sacrament? We don’t get very far if we try to find the edges of those and work our way in. Go the other way.
Try to answer these two questions. What is the gospel? What are the edges of the gospel? I can answer the first — Christ crucified for sin, buried in accordance with the Scriptures, and raised again for our justification. What are the edges of the gospel? Are the Arminians in or out? The Jansenists? What about the monophysites?
All this is preliminary to a point that the New St. Andrews statement of faith raises. Let me quote a chunk of it, and then go back and quote the key sentence.
“The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are our only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Lord Jesus Christ committed these inspired Scriptures to His Church (1 Tim. 3 :15). We therefore defer to the witness of the historic Christian Church as a genuine but fallible authority, subordinate to the Scriptures themselves, in discerning what the Scriptures teach. Because they faithfully witness what is taught in the Word of God, we receive the great creedal statements the Church has affirmed throughout the ages: The Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Moreover, we believe that the reformational confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries (including the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort), of all historic statements, most fully and accurately summarize the system of orthodox Christian doctrine revealed in Scripture.”
Take particular note of that last sentence.
“Moreover, we believe that the reformational confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries (including the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort), of all historic statements, most fully and accurately summarize the system of orthodox Christian doctrine revealed in Scripture.”
At New St. Andrews, we strive to instruct our students in the light of a faith that is thoroughly Trinitarian, solidly Protestant and Reformed, and robustly evangelical. We do this because we believe these emphases to be true. When we want to identify Word and sacrament in a Protestant way, which is to say that we want to identify the church in a distinctively Protestant way, we look at the face. We do this by confessing that the historic Protestant statements are the best available summaries of what Scripture teaches. So we start there, working our way out, constantly checking our work against the template of Scripture.
This does not bypass Scripture. This does not diminish the authority of Scripture. This in no way violates sola Scriptura. If you believe that it does necessarily bypass sola Scriptura, then you are a restorationist and not a historic Protestant. In other words, you think the true church died with the last of the apostles and did not reemerge until the early 19th century somewhere in Kentucky, in possession of a mysterious black leather-bound book that had come from places unknown.
By way of contrast, a historic Protestant view of church, of Word and sacrament, is truly liberating. We can see the church of Jesus Christ sailing down through the entire course of church history, and we can recognize it as His beloved ship. We don’t have to count all the barnacles first. Neither do we have to deny the existence of the barnacles.
Doug — your page at http://www.nsa.edu/about-2/quick-facts/ excludes the word “most”, saying “The College believes that these historic confessions fully and faithfully summarize the doctrine revealed in Scripture.”
There be huge difference in saying those creeds do “fully and accurately summarize” Bible, vs “most” fully and accurately summarize.
That “most” compares the extraBiblical Protestant & Reformed vs other schemes.
Take out the most, and you’ve gone Romanesque — with church equal to Word.
PerfectHold, I agree. The most needs to be there, and is in the official version. Don’t know what happened on the page you cite.
The RCUS denomination insists its members & ministers attest that the 3 Forms do accurately summarize Bible.
Now, do you know Bible well enough to know that ANY fallible document has accurately summarized it?
To be recognized as having the mark of a true Member in denominations such as the PCA, one must swear to be disciplinable.
Imagine that. You must swear to obey the Bible to be recognized as a professing believer.
Which excludes your babies, Jane.
Yes — being baptized by the Spirit, saved by His grace — not enough.
You need to submit to PCA’s version of circumcision.
But circumcision is Biblical, invented by God, is it not?!
Yeah, my babies aren’t recognized as professing believers. I was never really unclear on that. (Not that I have any babies anymore.)
You’re right, it’s absurd to require that those who profess to follow Christ and have His Spirit are willing to obey Him on any particular point, like, say, Hebrews 13:17, in order to judge that profession as having substance. What was I thinking?
Jane — it is indeed absurd and hurtful to require this as the basis for recognizing them as brothers.
Absurd and self-contradictory to recognize them as professing Christ (requiring THAT attestation is Biblical), and then say that they must also take extra-Biblical oaths in order for their profession to be officially received.
What were you thinking!
And here’s a non-irrelevant distinction:
no believers have to be circumcised. It is not biblical to require that.
All believers have to submit to their leaders. It is not biblical NOT to require that. The vow is merely a public statement of one particular thing that is required anyway.
Jane: “merely a public statement” that is required for you to accept them as believers? That part of the Bible you made up. I’m all for requiring folks to submit. Fence them from the table if they don’t. But to make some process as your basis for recognizing them as believers is against the Bible and in accord with the circumcision party. Why do you have a problem leaving it at their profession of faith? Don’t you see that they were baptized in the Spirit, just as you were? Why have you laid down these extra hoops for them to… Read more »
I made up Hebrews 13:14? Publicly professing that you’re going to obey Jesus is an additional hoop?
Please share how Hebrews 13:14 or Hebrews anything for that matter says that a public oath of obedience is necessary or even expedient in recognizing who is or is not in Him.
Hebrews 13:14 doesn’t say it’s necessary or expedient to make a public oath to obey. It says it’s necessary to obey.
A public oath to do something that is necessary to do, can be expedient, without it truly being an “additional requirement.” The idea that making a vow to do something is some kind of additional burden, when the thing you are vowing to do is an absolute requirement whether you make the vow or not, is not sound.
If it is required, then it is a requirement, right?
Does a shepherd have the authority to define who is a sheep by virtue of whether that sheep answers an extra biblical question?
I might be working from a different version.
My Hebrews 13:14 talks about our continuing city.
17 says to obey.
Is that “obey” where you’re coming from?
On the matter of discipline: God bless any pastor who undertakes it. From my little corner of the world, true discipline has been absent for so long in most denominations, that restore it is to put new wine into old bottles. The resulting rupture ends up ruining the congregation and spoiling what little good you were trying to accomplish. Far be it from me to discourage any pastor from pursuing it where it’s needed. But my own personal track record on it mixed, partly a matter of victory of expelling something wicked, and partly a matter of deeply lamented failure… Read more »
I think you left out the word “apparent” from the last clause.
None of us can know anything but the nearest temporal effects of discipline on an individual or our congregation. But might there have been a weak believer saved from sin or unbelief, or a strong believer dabbling in sin brought up short?
It may take the last day to show what the true effects of our faithfulenss have been.
There could also be the removal of an influence that other people found so off-putting, and the fact that inappropriate behavior was known and tolerated so off-putting, that they left the church altogether. You can have mercy on a person, and counsel and help and scold and encourage and monitor, and meanwhile the behavior goes on and on, affecting other people who never asked for it and didn’t want it. At some point you have to consider the whole congregation.
Every pastor who shuns discipline, shuns love.
You are, of course, correct, and leaving evil as the status quo is just sitting there with a case of leprosy and doing nothing about it. It’s eating you the whole time you pretend it’s not. But the practical pastoral problem comes in when you try to establish it after (in my denomination) several decades of neglect. People in their 70s had never heard of such a thing. For such people, this was like going fishing with dynamite.
Though I’m pretty sure discipline feels like dynamite whether you’ve never felt it before or been surrounded by it.
The issue behind its lack is probably “pastors” more interested in being admired & preparing & delivering lectures, rather than in sheep development.
That could be the case sometimes. Then again, there comes a point when uprooting the tares really does kill a lot of wheat.
You’re right — loving fathers sometimes fail to discipline because we’re afraid to hurt them too much and cause more damage than help.
Failure to discipline is never the loving choice, though of course loving fathers are not infallible.
It’s just that discipline can take many forms. You’re defining it too narrowly if you think there’s ever a time not to do it.
>>> if you don’t have discipline you won’t have Word and sacrament for very long, but you can have them
He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. – Proverbs 13:24
Aren’t you positing that a church may hate her sons while bearing the marks of a true church?
Hate their own? — you mean like the leaders of the church that were castigated by our Lord for causing the little ones to stumble?
Many a church leaders has done this since the beginning.
From Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith:
The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks:
1. The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;
2. It makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;
3. It practices church discipline for correcting faults.
My house shall be called “A house of the word and sacrament.”
This is insightful. Prayer is a metonym for all of worship. And prayer must be regulated by the Word.
Andy by the Word, you mean Christ, not just the Bible?
And Christ speaks not just through the words He wrote there, but through the speech He pours out in all the world around us, if we had ears to hear?
Distinctions must be made in the use of the word “Word.” Christ is the Logos or Word of God in the sense of being God, as well as revealing the Father. The Bible is the Word of God, but it is not God.
We’ve had the disagreement before about the insufficiency of general revelation for knowing God the way we ought to. Even before sinning, Adam needed special revelation to know God and rightly understand the creation. The speech in creation is not specific enough to save us, even if we had “ears to hear.”
So we also need special revelation to hear the specifics in the Bible?
No, the Bible is special revelation. If by “hear” you mean “believe and obey,” that is enabled by the Holy Spirit. The enabling can be called either “revelation” and “illumination,” but it is additional to both general and special revelation.
Professor John Frame has a helpful comment on Rom 1:18-21, in an article on how unregenerate people still know God.
I’m unclear how nonBible is any less miraculous or special?
Is something less a direct creation?
So the Bible’s specialness is what then, compared to, say, a bird?
Both are direct creations of God, yes?
Both display volumes about what & who we are, yes?
Looking at either, If you had Spirit-enabled eyes-to-see, you’d understand the truth about life, right?
In other words, they’re both sources of true & accurate information about God & the world & ourselves.
I assume you’ll say that the Bible gives us more detail.
But without the Spirit working through either, detailed info doesn’t help, right?
Yet WITH the Spirit working through either, He can save you, right?
To your last question, no. Salvation is found only in knowing about Jesus. Where do you see Jesus’ name revealed on a bird? Where is Christ’s death and resurrection proclaimed in the world of nature? Did you check out Mr. Frame’s article? It’s not that lengthy. The relevant part is in second and third paragraphs: Scripture says that unbelievers know God (Rom. 1:21), but it also says they do not know him… [I]n some sense or senses, knowledge of God is universal, and otherwise it is not. Rom. 1:18-32 is the classic text on this question. Here Paul stresses the… Read more »
john k If salvation comes from knowing about Jesus, can infants in the womb know about Him? Did Abel know about Him? “Through all the world below God is seen all around, Search hills and valleys through, There He’s found.” “The sun with all its rays speaks of God as he flies, The comet in her blaze, ‘God’, she cries.” A prophet once told us to look at how some things must die before they can rise again. john k — can one who is sinful and clouded in thinking really know enough about Jesus to attain salvation? Were you… Read more »
We can trust God to do right regarding infants and mentally impaired people who die. But if people don’t need to know about Jesus to be saved, can we spend all our money on world poverty relief, instead of on preachers and teachers? God preached the gospel in the hearing of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15). Abel’s parents no doubt told him about the coming seed of the woman. Therefore, yes, Abel knew about Jesus. Knowledge can be necessary without it being a way of self-accomplished salvation. Of course by itself knowledge is insufficient for salvation. You yourself write about… Read more »