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, September 27, 2007

The Church of Christ (IV)

There’s Trouble in the Blog-o-Sphere!
Our family recently returned from a visit to Toronto, Canada where we traveled to see our two married sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law, and our eleven grandchildren. It was an excellent visit and immediately upon my return I was required to take up my labors as Stated Clerk of South Coast Presbytery, which meant that there wasn’t going to be an Ethos for a couple of weeks. Now we’re back and things are back to normal—at least as normal as they ever get in my life.
One thing is clear to me these days: we are in dire need of discoursing about the nature and essence of the Church of Jesus Christ. For those who are interested in what is being taught by Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul adherents, allow me to direct your attention to this link ( and you can read for yourself. The dialogue taking place there convinces me more than ever that the PCA was correct and justified in its recent rejection of the Federal Vision, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Auburn Avenue theologies. In passing, I would note that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Church have also done the same. This ought to tell us something, namely that each one of these conservative churches has deemed the FV and NPP to be of such a pernicious and dangerous nature that it needed to be openly, publicly rejected.
Another blog that has been dealing with the Emergent Conversation/Church is Phil Johnson. ( He has written an interesting article entitled, “Different Gospels.” Once you find it you can click on the second set of red letters that will take you to YouTube to a CNN debate between John MacArthur and Emergent Doug Pagitt (Is Yoga Biblical?). Both of these examples are typical of the mass confusion that is rampant in what used to be called the Christian Church. I won’t even direct you to the mindless comments posted on YouTube about the debate. It is instructive to watch the whole ten minutes because it exposes Pagitt’s utter hypocrisy about being a loving person (can you say: iron fist in a velvet glove?) and his disdain for the Word of God—and this from a man who calls himself a pastor.
From my PCA perspective, ByFaith magazine has allowed two PCA pastors from Central Florida Presbytery to write positive articles about the Emergent Church in general and people like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Donald Miller in particular. In fact, the articles suggested that those in the Emergent Church are funny, but from my perspective it is substantially more dangerous and unbiblical than it is funny. To date, I have unfortunately seen nothing in ByFaith warning PCA members about the pernicious and, at times, heretical theology in the Emergent Conversation, although a number of us are quite disturbed about the EC and well acquainted with its theology. What makes this all the more bitter is that ByFaith continues to ask for money from PCA congregations, while to this point only select authors write for what is—ostensibly—a denominational magazine.
For these and other reasons I am pleased that we are discussing the nature and essence of Christ’s Church. By way of reminder, I would point out that we have examined Article 27 of the Belgic Confession and Q/A 54 of Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism. In this issue we turn our attention to Chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. This chapter of the Confession consists of six paragraphs or sections and is followed by a chapter on the communion of the saints (communio sanctorum). Before we discuss the contents of chapter 25, I want to look briefly as some salient points made by the Westminster divines in chapter 26.
First, it should be noted that the communion of saints is not described as a cultural phenomenon, but rather in terms of Christians being really and truly united to Jesus Christ by faith. In addition, they are also united to one another in love. This notion of knowing ourselves to be united to one another in the true faith is a matter that the modern mega-church has completely overlooked and the Emergent Conversation has virtually completing misunderstood. In the Emergent search for “community,” they have jettisoned biblical doctrine and the creeds and have run headlong into a rampant individualism.
With all the hoopla among the Emergent tribe about “community,” one has to wonder what they find objectionable about what the Westminster Confession of Faith (Choke! Gag! Cough! Traditionalism! Old dead guys!) says about true Christian community. Brian McLaren and others want to stop with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—one can only wonder why—when the Westminster says substantially more about community than either one of the earlier creeds. In 26.2, for example, we read this: “Saints by profession are bound to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which community, as God offers opportunity, is to be extended unto all those, who in every place, call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus.”
In fact, one might ask the same question about PCA congregations who are loathe to put the name “Presbyterian” on their marquis. If your title is a “community” church, does the fellowship correspond to 26.2, which is nothing more than a summary of Scripture or if you’re like so many today who have 50% non-Christians in the congregation—yeah, right—are we striving to move them from being happy, ignorant pagans to become a true Christian community?

Of the Church
I’m going to have to skate lightly over what the divines of Westminster teach us here, but I do want us to get a good general impression of what they teach because it is so necessary. In addition, I will not be able to give all of the scriptural texts that they use to support their statements, but you can easily find them by going on line.

Election and Submission
First, in 25.1 we are apprised of the fact that the universal (or catholic) Church consists of the whole number of the elect. The elect are gathered into one under Christ as the Head. Therefore, we are immediately informed that the nature and essence of the Church is not what man makes it, but that she submits to Christ in all things. This comment alone is a severe indictment of the mega-church, the Emergent nonsense, as well as a great deal of the “community” church concept. Why do I include the last group? Simply because the notion of God’s sovereign election narrows the field substantially. If PCA pastors believe what they say they believe, are they informing their congregations of this truth? I have spoken to people that have been in PCA church plants for years and have never heard anything remotely close to what the Standards teach—and sometimes not even what the scriptures really teach. They are, however, aware that they should “engage” the culture. Now if they can ever figure out what that means, they’ll be ready to go.

Professing True Religion
Second, 25.2 proceeds to define the universal Church for us. It is not confined to one nation, as before under the law, but now “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and their children.” Notice how the creed specifies what many today do not want to assert. There is not a multiplicity of true religions, but rather there is only one. True believers and their children are included in the universal Church. Community churches that are PCA typically strive to be—in some sense—inter-denominational, not wanting to “spill the beans” about what it means to be Presbyterian. One has to wonder if it really matters to some of these folk. If it doesn’t matter, then why are they PCA; if it does matter, then why don’t they lay their cards on the table? When do you tell the garden-variety evangelical that the children are part of the covenant community?

Gathering and Perfecting the Saints
Third, how do the divines describe the purpose of the catholic Church? In 25.3 we are reminded that the visible Church has been given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints (Emphases mine). The last of the red hot Puritans seemed to think that we really didn’t need liturgical dance and slice of life drama to convey the gospel. In Ephesians 3:8ff., Paul informs the Church that God extended his grace to him “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God…” In other words, the reason why Paul was called was to preach the gospel.
How can we best perfect God’s people? The short answer is that we teach them to exercise themselves in the ordinary means of grace that God has provided for the Church. We instruct them on how they are to have a consistent prayer life and that they are to read their Bibles daily. Note that the Westminster theologians spoke of two facets that are inseparable. They are to be gathered, but the Church’s task does not end there. We are then called upon to perfect them in the Word of God. Today many are concerned about the lost and that is a proper, biblical concept. Where it derails is when you care about the lost to the detriment and at the expense of the saved. We present both the lost and the saved with the Word of God and call upon them to move on towards increasing holiness and conformity to the image of Christ.

That the Gospel is Taught and Embraced
Fourth, this thought is carried forward in 25.4, where we are told that no local congregation is perfect, but rather that they are all “more or less pure.” That being the case, is there anything that can be done to insure that your local congregation is more pure rather than less pure? According to the divines the answer is Yes. What makes the congregation more pure? Their purity is “according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.” These red hot guys pound the same drum all the time. What is required is that the Gospel is both taught and embraced. Moreover, chapter 25 aims at the proper administration of God’s ordained ordinances for his Church as well as the proper performance of public worship.

Finding a Biblical Church
Fifth, the divines were realists and understood that “The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error” (25.5). This statement is the corporate version of what the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 44, Q/A 114) teaches about individual sanctification.[1] In short, the Reformed heritage/tradition has been both humble and realistic about the Church and her members. This fifth section of chapter 25 alerts us that some Churches “have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.” In the next issue, Lord willing, we shall turn our attention to Article 28 of the Belgic Confession that reminds us that every Christian is duty bound to seek out, find, and attach himself or herself to the most pure expression of Christ’s Church he can find.
This is, no doubt, a novel concept for many modern Christians. As often as not, they choose to attend or join a congregation for a wide variety of reasons including insignificant facets such as the music, the youth program, the size of the congregation, wanting to remain anonymous, not wanting to get involved, and other specious excuses.
Before we move on to the final point raised in chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, we need to pause for a moment and listen to the conclusion of section five. The Church of Christ will always exist on earth; that much we know. It is the final words of this section that point us to the truth that Christ’s Church will abide, but the underlying thought is that the purer churches will “worship God according to his will.” This truth is huge and it forms one of the lynchpins of “doing church.” Far too often scant time is spent asking the question: How does God want us to worship him? In fact, given the “strategies” of a number of mega-churches and Emergent tribes it seems like that question is the last one to be considered, if it’s considered at all.
We conduct surveys and ask non-Christians or nominal Christians what they want and go from there. If they want movies, we give them movie clips; if they want hipper music, we give them praise bands and sound bytes from pagan music; if they want Starbucks, we give them Starbucks; if they want drama, we give them drama; if they want bagels during the service, we gladly give them bagels during the service; if they want a little cussing during the service just to show that the pastor is a transparent, genuine dude, we give them mature themes and language; if they want liturgical dance, we give them liturgical dance; if they want women having more of a say in what happens in the service and serving in more leadership positions, we give them that. We give them all that and more, but we rarely stop to ask the crucial, essential, and central question: How does God want to be worshiped? Do we ever ponder what he has already so clearly prescribed? Frequently, modern churches do not. Their approach is pure American Pragmatism: If it works, do it. However, we have not yet adequately answered the question of what the word “works” actually means, so we have to keep coming up with new, unique, innovative, and creative forms of manmade worship, not for God, but to keep the troops from marching off to a hipper, more cutting edge congregation down the road.

Christ Alone
This chapter concludes (25.6) with a healthy spiritual reminder that there is no other Head of the Church than the Lord Jesus Christ. Recall that Q/A 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism called upon us to confess that it is Christ who gathers, defends, and preserves to himself a Church chosen to everlasting life. That ought to be sufficient. It is Christ’s Church, therefore he wants us to worship him in the manner that he prescribes. Let me illustrate what I mean by a story—the Emergents ought to love this—that my son told me recently. A woman presented herself to her pastor for counseling. She pointed out to the pastor that she was a highly educated and very intelligent woman. The pastor took that under advisement. He asked her, in fact, what her I.Q. was and she responded that it was almost 170. The pastor was impressed, but pressed on to ask her what she thought the I.Q. of an idiot might be. She ventured a number in the low 40s or 50s.
“Ah,” said the pastor. “What do you think the I.Q. of God is?”
The woman was taken aback by the question and looked at him quizzically. “I, I don’t know,” the highly educated and very intelligent woman stammered.
“Would you be comfortable with giving God an I.Q.—just for the sake of argument, of course—of 1,000,000?” he asked.
“Well, sure!” she shot back.
“Good,” he said, “because I’m going to be talking to you about what the Bible says and it seems like to me that your I.Q. is closer to the idiot’s than it is to God’s.”
With the necessary changes being made, I would suggest that all of us are in the place of the highly educated and very intelligent woman: closer to the idiot’s I.Q. than to the Lord’s. Why then, do we insist on doing worship or doing church our way instead of his?

[1] But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly? No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.