Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Calvin’s Doctrine of the Church (VIII)

Getting Back to Basics
Much—some would argue most—of modern worship has abandoned the idea of searching through the Bible to see how God would have us worship him. Those of us living at the front-end of the 21st century seem more concerned with “authenticity” (pastors that speak of all their secret sins and temptations) and a full-orbed, unashamedly consumer approach to church/community/tribe than we do with worshipping our Lord in a manner that is according to his will and is, therefore, honoring and pleasing to him.
A truly novel approach to worship in the 21st century would be one that paused and asked the question: What does the Word of God say about worship? Modern “worship” services could just as well be renditions of American Idol, Desperate Housewives, or Dr. Phil—rather poorly done. (This is not to suggest that any of the programs mentioned above are actually done well.)
Since it is precisely Calvin’s doctrine of the Church that we are examining, it is to Calvin we shall go. By way of explanation (and methodology) I should disclose that I firmly believe that our theology is not and cannot be compartmentalized. That is to say, if we’re discussing the Church—which we are—that we should not neglect other facets of what we believe, say, about our doctrine of Scripture. In fact, these two—as well as all other aspects of our theology—hang together. I want to make this point because I am now going to take us on a brief analysis of Calvin’s view of Scripture in order that we might learn how this impacts his view of how we should worship God. I must, by necessity, skate lightly and paint with a broad brush.
Therefore, I begin by giving a thumbnail sketch of Calvin’s view of the Bible and how it functions in the individual Christian’s life as well as in the corporate body: the Church. Those who have studied the Reformer at all are aware of his analogy of the scriptures as “spectacles” or “glasses.”[1] It is the scriptures that give us a precise understanding of who God is. Calvin uses the example of “bleary-eyed” men and those with weak vision being required to read some “beautiful volume.” He admits that these men might be able to recognize what is thrust before them as “some sort of writing” “But with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This, therefore, is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, not merely uses mute teachers but also opens his own most hallowed lips. Not only does he teach the elect to look upon a god, but also shows himself as the God upon whom they are to look.”[2]
His argument is from general to particular. We have flitting around in our brains a conception of what God is like and what he would or would not like in worship—if we even stop to pose what biblical worship ought to look like! It is Scripture and Scripture alone, Calvin argues, that will gather up our otherwise confused knowledge of God and give it precision. Scripture shows us the true God. The instruction of the Bible is meant to be used by the church, because the words contained in it are the very words from God’s lips. Our Lord takes us by the hand and shows us the God upon whom we are to look.
In Inst.1.6.2, McNeill and Battles chose the heading “The Word of God as Holy Scripture.” Following up on what he began to teach in 1.6.1, Calvin writes, “At any rate, there is no doubt that firm certainty of doctrine was engraved in their hearts, so that they were convinced and understood that what they had learned proceeded from God.”[3] Calvin believes it is proper for man to consider the works of God’s hands, but he must not remain there. What is man to do? He is to “prick up his ears to the Word, the better to profit.”[4]
Unfortunately, experience does not bear out that man is teachable with a view to what the Bible teaches. In fact, Calvin is convinced that “there are very few who, to contain themselves within bounds, apply themselves teachably to God’s Word, but they rather exult in their own vanity.”[5] Today, instead of vanity we would use words like “creativity.” A great deal of will-worship or the consumer mentality is the step-child of a pastor’s or staff’s “creativity.” Rather than creativity, our Lord is looking for obedience. What passes for creativity today is, as often as not, about one-half step away from heresy.
Calvin continues: “Now, in order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture.”[6] This being Calvin’s assessment we can easily “connect the dots” from the individual to the body of Christ, the Church.
Of course, at this stage in the downward spiral of the modern Church (both in its mega-church and Emergent Church movements) you really do have to stop and wonder if this ever gets past the individual. Moreover, does the individual ever stop and reflect on right and sound biblical doctrine? Surely, thankfully, some do. I also believe, however, that a case can be made that far too many do not. The progression (or regression) is that individuals don’t know good biblical doctrine nor do they care to know it. A number of pastors have long since given up on knowing and/or teaching right and sound doctrine so whatever they wish to do is just fine with the congregation as long as it keeps them happy and coming back; it is part of the consumer’s entertainment on Sunday. Calvin maintains that it is to the decided benefit that both faith and right knowledge are born of obedience to the Word of God.[7] What holds for the individual Christian holds no less equally for the corporate body of Christ and the worship we offer to the Lord God Almighty. Yet you really do have to wonder how this notion of Calvin’s has played out in the modern Church setting.
Citing John 5:39, Calvin reminds us that “it pleased the Lord to hallow his truth to everlasting remembrance in the Scriptures alone. Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven as if there the living words of God were heard.”[8] Or, put another way, Scripture is “…the eternal and inviolable truth of God.”[9] This being the case, it would seem that pastors, church leaders, worship leaders, and individuals would meticulously search the Word of God to ascertain what is pleasing to him rather than want is pleasing to them. It is an age old adage that “Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth.”[10]
It’s precisely here that the modern Church is called to move from a formal view of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture to a material one. What do I mean by that? Precisely this: it’s one thing to confess that Scripture is our “norming norm” formally, but then refuse to bow to its authority practically when it comes to the matter of worshipping God. It is lamentable that so few mainline evangelical churches take the requisite time to ponder just how our God wants to be worshipped. More time is spent trying to figure out how the “audience” will respond to the praise band than how to follow God’s mandates in terms of worship.
Ralph Gore points out an interesting item in Calvin’s sermon on Deuteronomy 5:8-10. We’re going to take a more in depth look at the Ten Commandments in Calvin’s concept of worship later, but it’s instructive at this juncture to note that according to the Reformer “the Word must lead us because of our own sin and our propensity to idolatry” and “God is please with our obedience to his commands. Thus, ‘we are to follow in all simplicity what he has ordained by his Word, without adding anything to it at all.’ For Calvin, then, the only way to guarantee legitimate worship is to obey the commands of the Word.”[11] Therefore, according to Carlos Eire, “for Calvin, acceptable worship is that which is conformed to the Word of God and not the product of human invention.”[12]
This, of course, begs the question: How do we then decide what is pleasing and acceptable to our Lord in our gatherings for worship? This questions strikes at the very heart of the modern “worship wars.” It remains to be seen whether churches will, in fact, pause and reflect and, where necessary, adjust their worship services to bring them more in line with what Scripture teaches. No doubt for some this will be a major adjustment if not an entire paradigm shift. Others will simply ignore what Calvin says for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the real possibility of people leaving. I must admit that I don’t quite comprehend why this is even an issue. If people leave because we are instituting and implementing biblical worship doesn’t that tell you something?
Naturally, if a local congregation is going to make changes those do not all have to be made in one fell swoop. It would be Christian prudence to inform the congregation of the upcoming changes and precisely why the church leadership was making the changes in worship. Members should be permitted to ask whatever questions they had, but with the knowledge that the leadership was convinced that what was more honoring to God was a worship service along the lines of what Scripture prescribes.
Would some people leave if such changes were implemented? Possibly. It’s sad, but these types of things occur, especially in a spiritual milieu where consumers have been catered to and spoiled for decades. If they leave in droves, you find yourself in the midst of a “Scottish” revival. Seriously, the arguments in favor of moving to a more biblical worship style far outweigh the arguments against it. Having laid this groundwork, it is now a more proper time to delve into Calvin’s explanation of worship as he explains it from the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments.
It is an accepted truth that the first table of the Ten Commandments deals with man’s relationship to God while the second table deals with the Christian’s relationship to his fellowman. It is also a known fact that Calvin shared a deep love and reverence for the Hebrew language along with his friend, Heinrich (Henry “Hank”) Bullinger. In working out their respective covenant theologies (Bullinger is a must read on understanding covenant theology), both of these Reformers stressed the unity of the testaments and, therefore, the place of the Ten Commandments in the life of the Christian.
We’ll pick it up next time by beginning to observe how the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments can guide the modern Church in her understanding of building a biblical, God-honoring, Christ-centered, and Spirit-directed worship.

[1] This argument is found in Inst.1.6.1; 1.14.1; and in the “Argument” in his commentary on Genesis, Calvin writes, “For by the Scripture as our guide and teacher, he not only makes those things plain which would otherwise escape our notice, but almost compels us to behold them; as if he had assisted our dull sight with spectacles.”
[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, (John T. McNeill [ed.] & Ford Lewis Battles [trans.]), (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), p. 70. All future references in this article will cite the “McNeill/Battles edition with the appropriate volume number.
[3] Inst.1.6.2, 1:71.
[4] Ibid., 1:72.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Inst.1.7.1, 1:74.
[9] Ibid., 1:75.
[10] Inst.1.7.2, 1:76. For a lengthier exposition of this principle, see 1.7.5 where Calvin calls Scripture “self-authenticated” (1:80-81).
[11] R.J. Gore Jr., Covenantal Worship, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 2002), pp. 56-57.
[12] Carlos Eire, War Against the Idols, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 201-202.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Calvin’s Doctrine of the Church (VII)

Worship Styles Keep Getting More and More Dishonoring to God
At the front-end of the 21st century there is a rather large controversy raging about worship and worship style. We have been discussing this in our recent issues. How serious are these issues? They are quite serious. Many congregations have had serious problems, bitter and divisive confrontations, and some have split over this issue. Emotions are at a fever pitch and some have drawn the line in the proverbial sand accusing the “other side” of a number of things. Few, however, have stopped to consider Scripture or our spiritual heritage. That is what we are doing in these articles. In particular, we are focusing the insights that the Reformer, John Calvin gives us through his various writings.
In our time, some churches have, unfortunately, opted for going to the extreme and offering almost any worship style imaginable in order to draw the crowds. One recent example in my immediate geographical area will suffice. In the not too distant past on Saddleback’s (Rick Warren) web site they offered their latest in a long line of worship styles: hula worship. They are now offering hula dancers for those who want to worship in a particularly “aloha” style. There is a veritable smorgasbord of “worship styles” offered to attempt to offer to the worshipper/consumer what he or she wants.
I ran across a statement from the late Dr. James Boice a couple of days ago that struck me as patently true. Dr. Boice was describing some of the Gallup polling information about religion in the United States. In the 1990s, the good folks at Gallup concluded, based on survey that 95% of Americans claim to believe in God. Moreover, 71% believe in life after death; 84% believe in heaven; 67% believe in hell, and large majorities say that they believe in the Ten Commandments—even though most cannot tell you what they are. In addition, nearly every home in America has at least one Bible. As statistics go, this might give reason for being encouraged. I am not, even though according to the same poll approximately 50% of Americans are found in church each Sunday, with only around 8% claiming to have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
When George Gallup probed; polled deeper he discovered an anomaly: For those who claimed to be religious, only 12.5% said that religion made any difference in their lives at all. Thankfully, Boice is willing to say what many today shy away from, namely that “many who consider themselves Christians, even in so-called evangelical churches, are not Christians. They may profess the right things. They may lead seemingly acceptable lives, if we don’t scratch too far below the surface. But they are not on the path. They are not following hard after holiness. They are not born again.”[1] This deplorable spiritual condition cannot be drawn back completely to poor worship services, but an unbiblical worship certainly plays a significant role in the “dumbing down” of the modern Christian.
So, does it really matter how we worship? Do we need to think past the very superficial notion of what will most likely draw the biggest crowd? Indeed we do! We have inherited a rich, rich heritage from the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition and we would do well to go back and look at it time and time again. If the Church is to be reformed this ought to occur along the lines of what Scripture has to say about worship and what is pleasing to God and not what is pleasing to man or what tickles his ears/fancy (1 Tim. 4:3ff.).
In a similar vein, David Wells asked a series of poignant questions and gives us some very penetrating cultural analysis of the state of the Church in his book Losing Our Virtue.[2] He asks the following questions: “Does the Church have the courage to become relevant by becoming biblical? It is willing to break with the cultural habits of the time and propose something quite absurd, like recovering both the word and the meaning of sin? Is it sagacious enough to be able to show how the postmodern world is trapped within itself?”[3] This type of reflection is desperately needed and would go a long way in recovering proper worship. Does the modern Church, as he asks, truly have the requisite courage to become biblical? That is the true “relevance” that the Church has. Trying to fit into the culture or be like it is hardly relevant. It is more destructive. Or, would the modern Church prefer to hula itself to death? Wells concludes, “There is plenty of evidence that this kind of courage is now missing from large sectors of the Church.”
Wells employs an apt example by citing the Crystal Cathedral, which he describes as a “Christian parroting of Disneyland.”[4] Schuller’s silliness involves the spiritual sleight of hand of exchanging sin for “poor self-image.” Therefore, the “language of sin was banished from the Crystal Cathedral, as were penitential prayers, and in their place came therapeutic language.”[5] I would add that Schuller is certainly not the only one who has seen fit to abandon using the “s” word. A representative number of evangelicals, mega-church, church-growthers have followed suit. Some even announce with a sense of pride that the “s” word will not be heard in their respective churches. That is precisely why Wells is so spot on when he says, “where sin has lost its moral weight, the Cross will lose its centrality, Christ will lose his uniqueness, and his Father will no longer be the God of the Bible.”[6]
This being the case, what, according to Calvin, should we be aiming at and looking for when we consider a proper liturgy? This question is aimed first at church leaders, pastors, Sessions, Consistories. When you convene your meetings and have your discussions about worship and worship style—you have had such meetings haven’t you?—what were the primary considerations in why you worship like you worship?
The question is also aimed at the man or woman in the pew. When you set out to seek out, find, and then attach yourself to a local congregation, what did you expect in terms of worship? Were you willing to settle for unbiblical worship as long as the programs for your children were good? If that were the case, when was the last time you did an in depth study of the youth programs where you attend? Do you even know what is being taught there? Was the proper worship of God, i.e., worship according to biblical principles a primary consideration for you? Was it a consideration at all? If not, then perhaps now is the time to reorient and ask yourself some penetrating questions. So let’s take a few moments and listen to what Calvin had to say.

Liturgy By Any Other Name
When we inspect Calvin’s Institutes and other writings, we don’t find him—or other Reformers for that matter—speaking about worship style or even the word liturgy. He does, however, talk about the Christian’s service to God (le service de Dieu) or the “form” of service to God (la forme de server Dieu), which gives us some insight into how he thinks about what we call worship today.
In these senses Calvin is speaking about our honor or reverence to God. In other words, honor and reverence stand high on his list of why we gather and are gathered to worship. If we were to compile as list of contemporary reasons why modern evangelicals worship those two words would, in all likelihood, be glaring omissions. We have noted previously how Calvin placed such an emphasis on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit in theology, worship, and life, so it comes as no surprise that he “was concerned that Christian worship—the prayers, the preaching, and the celebration of the sacraments—be ‘a living movement proceeding from the Holy Spirit.’”[7]
So what did Calvin and the Reformers think about the nature of worship? More often than not, the word of choice for Calvin when it came to what we call worship was the Latin word ritus. In classical Latin it referred to external observances and the manner in which they were performed. This gives us some needed insight into how Calvin thought about worship. That is to say, both what was done and how it was done was important to him. There is a priority in his approach to worship. The proper elements of worship (what) were culled from Scripture and then the manner in which they were to be performed was pondered.
Worship should,therefore, contain external elements, but these are to serve as catalysts to help the believer worship internally. Now, many pastors today in the modern mega-church or Emergent Church or simply in a broadly based evangelical church might say much the same thing. All the modern accoutrements are merely “aids” if you will to help in our user-friendly, seeker-sensitive services.Calvin would disagree with this modern approach precisely at the points of the what and the how. We cannot and we must not do whatever is good in our own eyes when we worship God as the Scripture is very clear. There are numerous answers to what precisely constitutes worship that is pleasing in God’s sight; that is honoring to him; and that is reverently done. In addition, there are a number of approaches to what Calvin taught about worship. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to settle on one approach that Old suggests in his article: drawing our concepts of worship from the first four of the Ten Commandments. In the Institutes Calvin tells us that the first part of the Ten Commandments pertains “to those duties of religion which particularly concern the worship of his majesty.”[8] That will be our approach in the next installment.

[1] James M. Boice, Romans, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 803.
[2] David Wells, Losing Our Virtue. Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).
[3] Ibid., 199.
[4] Ibid., 200.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Hughes Oliphant Old, “Calvin’s Theology of Worship,” in J. Ligon Duncan III, Philip G. Ryken, & Derek W.H. Thomas [eds.], Give Praise to God, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2003), p. 413.
[8] Ibid., 416, citing the Institutes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Shot across the PCA’s Bow

When a Prayer Turns into an Accusation
On April 3, 2006, John Armstrong fired a shot across the bow of the PCA in the form of a “prayer.”[1] He informs us in this article that he has a growing concern for the PCA and, at the same time, warns us that the PCA is a “conflicted denomination.”[2] To Armstrong’s mind the conflict is not caused by the Left, whatever that is and whoever that might be, but rather comes from the “far Right,” whatever that is and whoever that might be.[3] Of course, any denomination that entertains both a Left and a far Right would be conflicted, wouldn’t it? In fact, to one degree or another, this is an apt description of many denominations.
But why target the PCA in this regard? Surely other denominations such as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church, the Episcopal Church, and a host of other denominations would fall under the same accusation. For whatever reason, Armstrong chose to put the PCA under the microscope in this article. It is instructive therefore to begin with the language that Armstrong employs. According to him, the PCA seems to have a Left-wing constituency, but this is counter-balanced not merely by a Right-wing element, but rather by a “far” Right-wing element. Here the language becomes clear. The Left is not at fault; the far Right is. Unfortunately—and this will plague Armstrong’s article throughout,—he assumes that everyone understands what the far Right in the PCA is and who the culprits are. In other words, Armstrong is vague, non-specific.

The Far Right Vocal Minority
Moreover, Armstrong doesn’t give us any effective guidelines as to what precisely constitutes walking left of center or what would be not merely right of center, but far right of it. Rather than explanation, Armstrong resorts to declaration: “You see, the PCA has a very vocal minority of folks who just can’t stop arguing. They seem to thrive on polemics.”[4] Since I am PCA, my interest is piqued. How large or small is this vocal minority? Who did the survey and accumulated the statistics? How was the gauge set to determine what was slightly right of center and what exceeded the boundaries of propriety? What are the specific issues about which this vocal minority is arguing? Answers to all of these questions would be quite helpful in allowing us to get a realistic handle on the precise nature of the spiritual malady in the PCA. As helpful as this would be, we are not told much of anything helpful in Armstrong’s article. To state that the article is superficial is to pay it a compliment.
What we are told, however, is that “Every controversy known to conservative Christianity seems to eventually find its way into the PCA.”[5] Well, that certainly narrows down the field, doesn’t it? But notice the tendentious language Armstrong employs. Once again, we are at somewhat of a loss to differentiate between the garden-variety, vanilla Christianity and what constitutes conservative Christianity. Does Armstrong mean that the PCA is embroiled in controversy surrounding the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture? Is there a debate among the members and leaders—the vocal minority—of the PCA about the doctrine of the Trinity? The two natures of Christ? The nature and extent of the atonement? The doctrine of justification by faith? The union of the believer with Christ? Eschatology? Ecclesiology? The immutability of God? Armstrong doesn’t say. Yet, all of these qualify—fully—as debates orthodox Christianity has had.

Spiritual Poisoning
Even though the spiritual post-mortem has yet to be pronounced on the PCA, according to Armstrong it is suffering from a kind of “poisoning.” Armstrong explains, “One theological overture after another keeps surfacing and making its way into the bloodstream of the PCA, poisoning the missional good of this fellowship over and over again. I do not know how long this group can sustain this kind of hostility.”[6] Well, I certainly don’t know either! I only wish I knew more precisely what Armstrong is talking about.
Fortunately, he doesn’t leave us in the dark much longer. On page 2, he cuts right to the chase, but not before leaving us with this profound thought of the day: “But the PCA seems conflicted about which conflicts truly matter.”[7] I see. More and more I find myself wishing that I had some inkling into what Armstrong is aiming at. But Aufklärung is on the way. Prepare yourself. We’re getting ready to be exposed to some far Right poison that is in the bloodstream—a kind of spiritual staphylococcus infection—of the PCA. Ready? Here it is: “Just a few days ago a brother told me of an interview he had with a PCA search committee. The very first question they asked him was: ‘What is your position on the six literal days of Genesis?’”[8]
Now I’ll bet you are just as incensed as I am about such an unfair question! That is totally—totally—unfair and uncalled for! Well, you have to start somewhere with your questioning of a candidate I suppose, but if this were a gentler, kinder sort of PCA they could have at least eased into the exam and asked the candidate how his self-esteem was or if he liked their track lighting. Or, they might have asked him about the formal and material aspects of his missional and ecclesial notions. Seriously, I don’t see what the problem here is. When I was a candidate in the Dutch-speaking churches in Holland—which is very close to The Netherlands—I had six calls to churches. They asked me a lot of questions; all kinds of questions and I had quite a few for them as well. It is simply part of the process. For Armstrong to use the above-cited example is, to my mind, a clear case of some candidate in the PCA whining about a legitimate question. The calling and ordination of a pastor is a very serious matter. Whenever a congregation considers calling a candidate, they should be very certain—as certain as is humanly possible—that the man they are calling is biblically qualified. Asking pertinent questions is one way to find that out. Reciprocally, if the candidate believes that foreign and home missions are also very important and the committee doesn’t ask him any questions about either, he has the opportunity to ask them what their position is on missions.
What is disconcerting in this all is the subtle and less subtle manner in which Armstrong presents this example. He juxtaposes missions and Creation by the Lord God Almighty, which is an unfortunate thing to do. Both are important and both need to be discussed openly. At another level, it would have enhanced Armstrong’s article to have told those outside the PCA that even though the Bible and the Westminster Standards appeal to six day creation—and this is a viable option—the PCA allows some leeway with regard to other views such as the “Framework Hypothesis.” Why doesn’t he?
When a congregation is searching for a pastor whether the question about the days of Genesis comes at the front-end of the questioning or the back-end is really quite irrelevant. It is a legitimate question that each congregation seeking a pastor may and should ask. The Dutch, Canadian, and American churches all wanted to know what my theology was from front to back, which is quite understandable. In order to discern what my theology was, I was asked numerous questions. I didn’t call, “Foul!” It was part of the process. Calling a pastor is a big step and each calling committee is free to explore what the candidate’s theology is. What is the problem? You simply answer the questions as biblically as you can and let the chips fall where they may.

Questions of the Floor of Presbytery
But Armstrong is not finished yet. Not only was someone so insensitive to the missional good of the PCA that they dared asked about the biblical creation account, but yet another brother told Armstrong “of a Presbytery that took ninety minutes to cross-examine a new pastor because it would not accept their own committee’s report on the pastor’s fitness for PCA standing.”[9] Why is this a problem? Each Presbytery must accept responsibility for determining whether or not a candidate is truly ready, qualified to receive licensure or ordination. Again, this is a big, crucial step. There is something to be said for erring on the side of taking too much time rather than not taking enough, thereby allowing something essential to the exam to fall between the proverbial cracks. Well, if we’re just trading stories—, and it seems like according to Armstrong’s article that all we’re doing is swapping generalities—a Baptist friend of mine was questioned for ninety minutes at his ordination exam because he did not espouse a particular eschatological position. The actual exam was longer, but ninety minutes was consumed talking about eschatology. He was not merely questioned but grilled, accused, and had to come back a second time simply because of his particular eschatology. He was eventually ordained, but not without serious objections because he was an amillennarian. My friend had a choice: either go through the process or opt out. He chose to go through the process. He lived.

Nit-Pickers Picking Nits
Yet another person “related the story of false and improperly advanced accusations that proceeded along lines that were completely inconsistent with Scripture.”[10] I don’t want to be a nit-picker picking nits, but it would seem that as serious as these matters are Armstrong would provide us with substantially more than a mere, bare sketch of what he’s talking about. As serious as these allegations are, you would think that he would not merely provide us with some facts, but also, for the sake of fairness, would present the other side—for there is another side you know. At the end of the day, we might line up on Armstrong’s side. With the scant evidence he’s providing it would seem imprudent to align one’s self with what sounds more like hearsay than anything else although I’m sure his sources are “reliable.” They always are, aren’t they?
What Armstrong offers next took me somewhat aback. He writes, “The line of questions most often advanced by polemicists in the PCA these days are of a fairly standard variety; e.g., justification and the New Perspective on Paul, the Federal Vision (with related debates about baptism and the Lord’s Supper), Norman Shepherd’s misunderstood views on justification and sanctification, the place of liturgy (including weekly communion, forms of worship expression, ministerial robes and clerical collars), the role of women (including women serving as ordained deacons and women serving in the military), paedo-communion, Bible translations, etc.”[11] (By the way, Mr. Armstrong, the PCA is not opposed to women serving in the military per se, but in them serving in combat. That’s a pretty significant difference.)
But what a relief to finally see why Armstrong is so upset! Why anyone would be upset if the far Right polemicists in the PCA truly are quibbling about such insignificant matters as justification by faith, election, perseverance, and paedo-communion. Does it truly matter what N.T. Wright is teaching about justification when there is missional work to be done? Yes, it does. Both are important. The last time I looked, there is no official pronouncement on the frequency of communion in the PCA. Each Session can decide the frequency. I have colleagues who celebrate weekly while my home church celebrates monthly; still others celebrate quarterly.
But why waste your time on small matters such as baptism, baptismal regeneration, the infusion of grace in baptism or not and the efficacy of the Lord’s Supper when there are substantially more important matters to discuss? Armstrong seems to be asking. One can only wonder that if it is true that these matters are so insignificant, whether or not Armstrong would baptize an infant of believing parents. I wonder.
Armstrong matter-of-factly states (read: declares without any justification) that Norm Shepherd’s views are misunderstood, but that hardly does justice to the protracted debate that raged and still rages about Shepherd’s views on a wide range of biblical subjects. Scholars such as O. Palmer Robertson, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, William Hendriksen, Roger Nicole, Meredith G. Kline, Iain Murray, Philip E. Hughes, Morton Smith, Stanford Reid, R.C. Sproul, Bob Godfrey, and a host of others begged and still beg to differ in the course of the early discussions and the above-mentioned and a number of others still do differ with Norm Shepherd. Shepherd’s notions of the place of works in justification, “covenant, election,” perseverance, and the relationship between Paul and James—just to mention a few—continue to be discussed.[12] Given the tone of Armstrong’s criticism of a certain group in the PCA one rather doubts that he will be swayed away from what he wrote.
Armstrong also laments that a Presbytery in the PCA will make an appeal that “calls for an ad interim committee to determine if various positions related to present scholarly developments in the area of Pauline theology are consistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith.”[13] For the life of me I cannot understand why someone outside the PCA would be so concerned about this proposal. One can only surmise that Armstrong is once again alluding to N.T. Wright’s notions of Pauline theology. If that is the case then what is the problem with investigating the matter thoroughly since Wright truly does deviate from Reformed explanations of justification by faith? Moreover, in a recent blog Al Mohler points out that Wright has recently stated that he has friends who he’s sure are Christians, but who do not believe in the resurrection.[14] If Luther’s dictum that justification by faith is the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls, it would seem that some close scrutiny of Wright’s works would be in order, especially in light of the fact that—as Armstrong mentioned—the PCA holds to the Westminster Standards.
What many of us theologians see as necessary theological discussion Armstrong sees as “bickering.”[15] Without identifying who the “far Right” is, Armstrong is convinced that they will abominate him for saying that “real revival” may be the only immediate answer in the near term.[16] It would seem that in the history of “real revival” it followed closely on the heels of “real Reformation.” Since the first part of Armstrong’s article has dealt primarily with vagaries, he doesn’t seem intent on changing his pattern in order to give us a clear definition of “real revival” so that the vocal minority in the PCA will cease and desist from bickering about unimportant matters like justification by faith.
In fact, Armstrong is convinced that “only the overflowing love of Jesus will stop this nonsense completely.”[17] He writes, “In a time when a healthy dose of orthodoxy is truly needed, the PCA could be a great means for spreading reformation all across the American church scene, but too much time is presently being wasted on these intramural debates that target only a small handful of pastors.”[18] It is more than a touch of irony that Armstrong points out that what America needs is a healthy dose of orthodoxy and then complains because the PCA is trying to be orthodox on, say, justification by faith. As far as the “small handful of pastors” is concerned, I’m sure—historically—that people thought the same thing about Jacob Arminius and Charles Finney.
The upshot of all this for Armstrong is summarized in this manner: “The real danger in the PCA is sectarianism, a sectarianism which threatens to destroy this great fellowship before it begins to reach its fullest missional potential, which I think is still great.”[19] Sectarianism is a very serious accusation—very serious. Granted that the words “sect” and “sectarian” can have a variety of meanings given the tone of Armstrong’s article not to inform the reader precisely what he means by this word is simply irresponsible. If you are going to issue a warning about sectarianism, then you need to be substantially clearer than Armstrong has been in this article.
In short, until Armstrong can come up with something more substantive in nature he needs to cease firing salvos across the bow of a denomination like the PCA. Those of us who are active members of the PCA are aware that discussions are occurring that are of a serious nature. We intend to participate in such discussions and look to Scripture to provide the answers and to show us the way. Rather than being positive in his prayer, Armstrong makes the PCA sound like a police state when he says, “I pray for my numerous friends who are ministers in the PCA. I listen to them with growing concern. I can speak my mind on these several matters without any fear of reprisal from a presbytery that wants to bring me up on charges. Sadly, some of my friends can’t do the same. Some take a real risk by inviting me to speak in their churches for fear of reaction. Some friends can’t speak plainly about this controversy without personal ramifications that threaten them and their families.”[20]
Allow me a short rebuttal. I have been a pastor in the PCA for more than ten years. I made a rather circuitous route from the Reformed churches in Holland and Canada to the Presbyterian Church in America. My choice to join the PCA was quite conscious and deliberate. I have served in a PCA congregation joyfully for more than ten years. I have never—never—feared what might happened if I spoke my mind. At the same time, I understand that if my views change on what I said I believed on day one of my entrance into the PCA, it is my responsibility to make those changes known to my Session and my Presbytery. I gave my word on that and my word should be kept. What Armstrong means by “this controversy” is, like the remainder of his accusations, anybody’s guess. What types of “personal ramifications” is he referring to? What types of threats to PCA pastors and their families? Personally, as a PCA pastor, I have no idea what Armstrong is talking about.
I have been an active member of my Presbytery as the chairman of the Christian Education Committee, Candidates and Credentials Committee chair for two years, Recording Clerk, and Stated Clerk and I have never heard anything like Armstrong is describing. I certainly have never heard of a pastor’s family being threatened! This does not mean, however, that it has never occurred, but I consider myself abreast of what transpires in the PCA and have never received a group email from the consortium of Stated Clerks of which I’m a part addressing this type of thing.

I was encouraged when I first began reading Armstrong’s article that was, ostensibly, a prayer for my denomination. The initial encouragement dissipated after the first paragraph. Rapidly, the “prayer” morphed into a kind of name calling and finger pointing. To complicate matters, Armstrong spoke—from first to last—in unhelpful vagaries. Rather than helping, his generalizations ended up being…well, generalizations.Moreover, many of the theological subjects he designated and discounted as only the work of polemicists would be considered integral loci by virtually any theologian on the Left or far Right. I have never read or heard a prayer that left me so empty.

[1] See John Armstrong, “A Prayer for the PCA with Hope That It Will Thrive in the Next Generation,” located on his web site ACT 3 and available at the following address:
[2] Ibid., 1.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 2.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] For an excellent and fair overview of the entire controversy, see O. Palmer Robertson, The Current Justification Controversy, (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2003).
[13] Armstrong, PCA, 2.
[14] See Mohler’s Sunday, April 16th blog.
[15] Armstrong, PCA, 2.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid. Italics mine.
[18] Ibid., Italics his.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday Special Issue

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Why Was It Necessary for Christ to Humble Himself?
The theologians speak about Christ’s humiliation and his exaltation. As we contemplate the time leading up to Resurrection Sunday (otherwise known as Easter to the Peter Cottontail groupies) it’s proper for us to reflect on the death of our Lord and his accompanying humiliation.
Why was it necessary for him to humble himself even unto death? Obviously, satisfaction had to be made for our sins. We couldn’t do that, and according to God’s plan, not even an angel could make that satisfaction. Our sins are in the forefront of the necessity of Christ’s death. But there are other considerations that we need to ponder.
When we think about man’s fall into sin we are reminded that both guilt and pollution attended that first act that has made all of us to be born with a sinful nature. Therefore, God’s justice and truth demand complete, perfect satisfaction for those sins. According to the Word of God, the satisfaction for our sins and the conditions required by God’s justice and truth were met in the death of our Savior (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:14-15).
Our Lord’s willingness to allow himself to be nailed to the accursed cross (Gal. 3:13) is further described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9 when he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
The willing humility of our Lord and Savior is couched in terms of the fulfillment of covenant promises firmly ensconced in the riches, treasures, and benefits of Christ. Our Lord freely and lovingly emptied himself, took the form of a servant, and was born in the likeness of man. In his love for sinners, Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

Left Alone
I’ve perform a ton of weddings. As often as not, somewhere in the ceremony the point is made that early on in Genesis—before sin entered the world—God said that something wasn’t good. In spite of the constant refrain in the grand scheme of God’s gracious, perfect creation that God saw everything he had made and it was (very) good, there’s that one egregious text in Genesis 2:18 where God says that it isn’t good for the man to be alone.
Within the context of the creation (and that verse) God creates Eve and puts her at Adam’s side. Even after they both fell into sin, the Lord did not remove her from Adam so that he would be left alone on the earth in his sin.
Our Lord, however, into order to satisfy the justice and truth of God and to pay the price as the substitute for our sins became increasingly alone in his Passion. One older document for the celebration of the Lord's Supper describes what occurred in our Lord’s life this way.

By all this, he has taken our curse upon himself that he might fill us with his blessing. On the cross he humbled himself, in body and soul, to the very deepest shame and anguish of hell. Then he called out with a loud voice, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? that we might be accepted by God and nevermore be forsaken by him.

Surely, Christ humbled himself in all of his life, but especially on the cross his humiliation comes rushing to the forefront. When God fulfilled the words of death he had spoken to Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:17), he did it in his Son. God saved man and said to his Son, “You shall die! You shall bear the burden of my eternal wrath and damnation.”
This burden caused him to become increasingly alone. Even when he asked his disciples to watch with him, they couldn’t do it (Matt. 26:28). This text in Matthew’s gospel is one of the few places—if not the only place—where Jesus asks his disciples to do anything for him. He has spent three years teaching them, equipping them, and praying for them. In all that time, he didn’t ask them to do anything for him. As many times as those disciples took from him, they were not prepared to give him their time that night.

Wrestling in Prayer
The scriptures inform us that Jesus wrestled tremendously that night in prayer. The burden of the salvation of lost souls came with a very high price tag attached to it. Therefore our Lord wrestles with the Father in prayer as no man ever has. Finally, he prays these words, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
We’ve read those words so often that we more or less take them for granted. When we place them within the context of Christ’s redemptive work, they take on a new meaning. In violating God’s holy, good, and perfect commandment, Adam and Eve essentially said, “Not Your will be done, Father, but mine!” The Second Adam takes the exact opposite posture even in the face of impending, excruciating death (Phil. 2:5-7).
In Jesus’ case, the words from Romans 6:23 (for the wages of sin is death) did not apply. Our Lord was sinless, yet it was precisely this sinless One that willingly, knowingly, and lovingly laid down his life for lost sinners like you and me.

What Benefits Do We Receive from Christ’s Death?
We need not feel guilty about asking such a question. Many of the documents that have come down to us from the period in history known as The Reformation have asked similar questions. These types of questions are not meant to be self-serving or self-seeking, but rather to aid us in our true manifestation to God for our salvation. So what are some of those benefits? There are many, but allow me to mention a few.
First, through Christ’s death, our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:5-11; Col. 2:11-12).
Second, the evil desires of our flesh may no longer reign in us (Rom. 6:12-14). This doesn’t mean that we still don’t have to wrestle and struggle against remaining sin. We do. For the true believer, however, sin no longer has dominion over us. God’s justifying grace takes away the guilt of our sin and his sanctifying grace progressively removes sin’s pollution. The former is legal—man sinned and broke a law—and the latter is moral.
Finally, as a result of Christ’s humiliation and death on the cross, true believers may offer themselves to him as a sacrifice of thankfulness (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:1-2). Good Friday might be celebrated with certain somber undertones, but the overall atmosphere must be that of every Sunday of every year: joy and thanksgiving.
Good Friday must not be isolated from the rest of God’s redemptive dealings with his covenant people. One of the prominent purposes of Good Friday is to require us to take a long, hard look at the cost of our salvation. Accompanying this requirement is the creation of a thankful heart to our gracious God who loved us so much that he did not withhold the very best: his only-begotten Son. A thankful heart praises the Son who, though rich, became poor in order that you and I might become rich in him. We thank and praise the Holy Spirit who takes everything from the risen and ascended Christ and imparts his riches, treasures, and benefits to us unto eternal life. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Calvin’s Doctrine of the Church (VI)

The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543-1544) (II)
In our last installment, we began looking at Calvin’s treatise The Necessity of Reforming the Church. It’s my intention to continue along the same lines now and delineate more in detail the contents of Calvin’s doctrine of the Church defined in this writing. It should be noted that he is criticizing many of the practices in the Roman Catholic Church. His concern is concentrated in three main areas:
First, there was Calvin’s concern for the pure and legitimate worship of God.
Second, he was equally concerned about the proper administration of the sacraments.
Finally, the question of true church government was an issue for him.
Let’s listen to what he has to say to us as he defends the Reformers and their liturgy, sacramentology, and form of Church government. We’ll pick it up where he claims, “Since, therefore, in our churches, God alone is adored in pure form without superstition, since his goodness, wisdom, power, truth, and other perfections, are there preached more fully than anywhere else, since he is invoked with true faith in the name of Christ, his mercies celebrated with both heart and tongue, and men constantly urged to a simply and sincere obedience; since in short nothing is heard but what tend to promote the sanctification of his name, what cause have those who call themselves Christians to take us up so ill?”[1]

The Case Against Idolatry
At the top, then, of Calvin’s list of criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church regarding worship is idolatry. He cites the ancient Church in general & St. Augustine in particular as being opposed to images and relics.[2] Impure worship had not merely been introduced, but had taken a foothold in the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin, therefore, defends the Reformers by stating, “we have not laid even a finger on anything which Christ does not discount as worthless when he declares that it is vain to worship God with human traditions.”[3] In a very sense, this is a highly relevant and actual criticism that not merely pertains to the Roman Catholic Church, but also has clear applications in our current ecclesiastical (modern: ecclesial) milieu. It’s more than just a little ironic that the accusations that Calvin leveled at the Roman Catholics now have application for the modern evangelical church.
Stating his case more strongly Calvin explains, “I am not unaware how difficult it is to persuade the world that God rejects and even abominates everything devised for worship by human reason.”[4] Sound familiar? Precisely how much of what passes for “worship” today is directly or indirectly derived from Scripture and how much is simply the pragmatic invention of man?
When I say pragmatic, I’m referring to that which will ostensibly keep the members or adherents coming back for more. This can range from the moderately reasonable to the absurd and almost anything in between. Saddleback Church here in Southern California, for example, just added a hula worship service. There must have been a crying need for hula dancers during the gathering. Surely there is something in Scripture about hula dancers and their proper place in worshipping the Lord, isn’t there? Something very similar could also be said about any number of “practices” in the modern Church meant to keep the audience happy.

The Place of Prayer
When it comes to prayer, the Reformers made three necessary corrections to the Roman Catholic practice: First, discarding the intercession of saints, the Reformers brought men back to Christ. This should be clear, Calvin explains because “There is scarcely any subject on which the Holy Spirit more carefully prescribes than on the proper method of prayer.”[5] It goes without saying that an examination of Calvin’s prayers leaves us with the distinct impression that they should be patterned after Scripture and filled with solemnity. As an aside, the longest chapter in Calvin’s Institutes deals with prayer. This might come as a surprise to some who have heard caricatures of Calvin, but you can look it up.
Second, Calvin teaches that no one can invoke God except those who have been taught by the Word of God to pray. In other words, God has distinctly declared “that the Word of God is the only sure foundation for prayer.”[6] In short, Christians are to pray the Bible. If we were to take this more seriously, a great deal of out and out nonsense and irreverence would disappear from what passes as modern worship. Prayers would be more in keeping with what God would have us pray therefore freeing us from will-worship. Speaking on what the Westminster Confession of Faith has to say about this topic of worship, R.J. Gore writes, “In reference to worship, it is the confession’s intent to deny ‘will-worship’ and to bind all legitimate worship to the express command of God.”[7]
In terms of the corporate worship, far too many evangelical churches have dispensed with the longer “pastoral prayer” altogether in order that room might be made for other accoutrements that pass as “worship.”
Third, the Reformers taught the believers in the Reformation churches to pray understandably. “Whereas men generally prayed in an unknown tongue, we have taught them to pray with understanding. Every man accordingly is taught by our doctrine to pray in private so that he understands what he asks of God. So also the public prayers in our churches are framed so as to be understood by all.”[8] Clearly, this has a number of applications to our current situation. Whereas prayer involves our emotions, it must also be viewed as engaging the mind as well (cf. 1 Cor. 14:15).

The Bondage of the Will
Vis-à-vis the grounds of salvation, Calvin inveighs heavily against the freedom of the will of man after the Fall and its powers unto salvation. He summarizes the matter for us this way: “For if man has any ability of his own to serve God, he does not obtain salvation entirely by the grace of Christ, but part bestows it on himself.”[9] Little has been said or written about how both Roman Catholic and evangelical churches are, by and large, semi-Pelagian in theology, but it is true.
Few want to be the ones saying that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, but a close inspection of the doctrine of salvation in both Roman Catholic and evangelicalism turns up almost identical results. There are areas where the implications are worked out a little differently and the modern evangelical churches don’t use the various ceremonies, prayers to Mary, veneration of saints, and some other rituals, but the theology of salvation is pretty much the same in both.
The notion of man’s free will is grossly distorted and misunderstood in our time—as it has been in previous centuries.[10] Calvin views free will this way: “Again though we do not deny that man acts spontaneously and of free will when he is guided by the Holy Spirit, we maintain that his whole nature is so imbued with depravity, that of himself he possesses no ability whatever to act aright.”[11] This has long since divided the churches that grew out of the Reformation from those in modern evangelicalism.
What hangs in the balance is nothing less that God’s absolute sovereignty as it is given in Scripture generally and in Romans 9 in particular. Where the notion of free will derails is here: “The point on which the world always goes astray (for this error has prevailed in almost every age), is in imagining that man, however partially defective he may be, still in some degree merits the favor of God by works.”[12] There is truly nothing new under the sun.
Calvin especially dislikes the Roman Catholic notion of the works of supererogation in connection with man’s will. His criticism in this regard is twofold: First, “it is impossible to tolerate the idea of man being able to perform to God more than he ought.”
Second, “That as by the term supererogation they for the most part understand voluntary acts of worship with their own brain has devised, and which they obtrude upon God, it is lost labor and pains; so far are such acts from being expiations appeasing the divine anger.”[13] Allow me a few comments. Evangelicalism does not hold to the Roman Catholic idea of works of supererogation, but there certainly is a strong concept of works righteousness within the evangelical Church. This should really come as no surprise since, as I mentioned above, both Roman Catholics and evangelicals are semi-Pelagian in their respective theologies. This means that some of the ways in which salvation is worked out and a number of the accoutrements are different, but the essence of semi-Pelagianism remains practically unchanged in both.
I make this argument with a view to the type of man-centered “will-worship” that passes for genuine God-centered and God-ordained worship in both the mega-church and Emergent Church movements. While is it totally legitimate to bemoan the histrionics in the past and current mega-churches, the Emergents are taking the silliness in the mega-church a step farther and dabbling in various forms of (Eastern) Mysticism.

The Doctrine of the Sacraments
The Reformers pared down the list of “sacraments” claimed by the Roman Catholic Church from seven to two: Baptism & the Lord’s Supper. The other five are all considered to be ceremonies of man’s devising, except marriage, which is not technically a sacrament anymore than a funeral is. Failing to discriminate between biblical sacraments and the rites originating with man is to confound heaven with earth.[14]
When the sacraments are administered, they are always to be accompanied by the proclamation of the Word. He writes, “Lastly, we have recalled the ancient custom that the administration of the sacraments at the same time be accompanied by doctrine, expounding with all diligence and fidelity both their advantages and their legitimate use…”[15] In this quotation, Calvin gives us insight not only into the nature of his sacramentology, but also into what should be preached. Quoting a well known dictum from Gratian (master of canon law in the 12th century) he reiterates, “If the Word is wanting, the water is nothing but an element.”[16]
With regards to the Lord’s Supper, Calvin states that it was not merely corrupted but nearly abolished in the Roman Catholic Church. This desecration took place in the development of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. His criticisms of the Romish view of the Lord’s Supper can be summarized as follows: “while the sacrament ought to have been a means of elevating pious minds to heaven, the sacred symbols of the Supper were abused for an entirely different purpose, and men, content with gazing upon them and worshipping them, never once raised their mind to Christ.”[17]
With regards to the presence of Christ in the holy meal, Calvin advocates that Christ is truly present as he is in the Word. The Holy Spirit is the chain (Latin: viniculum) between the human nature of Christ and Christ’s congregation. Part of the work of the Spirit is to take everything from the risen and ascended Savior and to impart that unto our hungry and thirsty souls unto eternal life. This is why he says, “First, we exhort all to come with faith, that by means of it they may inwardly discern the thing which is visibly represented, that is the spiritual food by which alone their souls are nourished unto life eternal. We hold that in this ordinance the Lord does not promise or set forth by signs, anything which he does not exhibit in reality.”[18]

The Government of the Church
His final point deals with the government of the Church. He begins with the pastoral office. He argues that the Reformers have restored the pastoral office “both according to the apostolic rule and the practice of the primitive Church, by insisting that every one who rules in the Church shall also teach.”[19]
Pastors are to be elected and not merely appointed to a particular congregation. In addition, they should be seriously examined as to their life and doctrine. “As the Holy Spirit in Scripture imposes on all bishops the necessity of teaching, so in the ancient Church it would have been thought monstrous to nominate a bishop who would not by teaching demonstrate that he was a pastor also.”[20] Hereby, Calvin emphasizes the crying need for pastors to teach only what is in accord with the Word of God. Moreover, pastors should not make distant excursions from their churches; let them not be long absent.[21]

Christian Freedom
Finally, before Calvin tackles the issue of Christian freedom. Calvin has this to say: “On the subject of ecclesiastical rule, there are laws out of which we readily adopt those that are not snares for the conscience, or that contribute to the preservation of common order; but those which had either been tyrannically imposed to hold consciences in bondage, or contributed rather to superstition than to edification, we were forced to abrogate.”[22] When it comes down to the ruling of the Christian conscience the Reformers held that there was no legislator but God.[23] “This freedom, purchased by the blood of Christ, may not be prostituted.”[24]
Human tradition had wormed itself into the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers had corrected the abuses of Christian freedom in 3 particular areas: 1) the liberty to eat flesh on any day; 2) the marriage of priests; & 3) the rejection of auricular confession. Calvin draws from texts such as Matthew 15:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy. 4:1-3; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Timothy 3:2; and Titus 1:6 to drive home his point.
At the end of his treatise, Calvin reminds the Emperor that for “twelve hundred years this tyranny, for which they contend with us so keenly, was unknown to the Christian world.”[25]
At bottom, Calvin hopes that the Emperor will be satisfied with his apology since “It is certainly just.”[26]

[1] J.K.S. Reid [ed.], Calvin: Theological Treatises, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 185.
[2] Ibid., 190. From Augustine he gives us the following quotations: “No man prays or worships looking on an image without being impressed with the idea that it is listening to him.” “Images are more likely to mislead an unhappy soul having a mouth, eyes, ears and feet than to correct it, because they neither speak, nor see, nor hear, nor walk.” “The effect as it were extorted by the external shape is that the soul living in a body thinks a body which it sees so very like it own must be percipient.”
[3] Ibid., 192.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 195.
[6] Ibid.
[7] R.J. Gore, Covenantal Worship. Reconsidering the Puritan Regulative Principle, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2002), p. 27.
[8] Reid, CTT, 196.
[9] Ibid., 197.
[10] Two recent misinterpretations can be found in George Bryson, The Dark Side of Calvinism. The Calvinistic Caste System, ((Santa Ana, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004) & Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free. A Balanced View of Divine Election, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001).
[11] Reid, CTT, 198. Italics mine.
[12] Ibid., 199. Calvin gives the Reformed perspective in the following words: “First, we maintain that of whatever kind a man’s works my be, he is regarded as righteous before God simply on the ground of gratuitous mercy; be c, without any respect to works, freely adopts him in Christ, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to him as if it were his own.”
[13] Ibid., 201.
[14] Ibid., 202.
[15] Ibid., 203.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid., 205.
[18] Ibid., 206.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., 207.
[21] Ibid., 207.
[22] Ibid., 210.
[23] Ibid., 211.
[24] Ibid.
[25] The Fourth Lateran Council [1215] required this.
[26] Reid, CTT, 216.