Although I disagree that Justification was the main concern, this is a good article.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered that launching point for the Protestant Reformation.
The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. It was, to use Calvin’s language, the main hinge on which religion turns.” And the doctrine of justification is no less important today than it was 500 years ago.
There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.
First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).
Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. Alien doesn’t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.
Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.
Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. In other words, faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved.”
God Almighty owns everything. This is the biblical view: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1); God says, “[E]very beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains (Psa. 50:9-12).
God created mankind in His own image. Man reflects God’s character and order. Just as God owns everything, God delegated the stewardship and dominion of property to His image, mankind (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus humans have the capacity and calling to act as private owners. God planted a special garden—the Garden of Eden—and placed man in it to till it, and to guard its boundaries (Gen. 2:8, 15). When Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s law-order, God kicked them outside of those boundaries, and placed a “no-trespassing” sign in the form of an angelic guardian at their gates (Gen. 3:23-24). Adam and Eve very quickly learned the ins and outs of private property.
This doctrine continued as God’s way of ordering and prospering society, and we see this in the fact that God’s fundamental laws for living—the Ten Commandments—include the prohibition of theft (Ex. 20:15). No man or group of men can take another man’s property—by individual act, legislation, petition, conspiracy, or appeal to the “common good”—in disregard for God’s law. The Old Testament frequently refers to the moving of a neighbor’s landmark (a property corner) in order to increase one’s own property (Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Prov. 22:28; 23:10; Hos. 5:10). The references forbid or condemn the act as an attack on inheritance and possession (Deut. 19:14).
The same doctrine holds in the New Testament. In the early Church in Acts 5, as many Christians voluntarily sold their goods and gave to the poor among them, one couple sold some land and laid only a portion at the apostles’ feet pretending they had given all. Nevertheless, even for these corrupt-hearted individuals, Peter up-held the doctrine of private property: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (Acts 5:4). God punished them, not for not giving all, but for lying about what they gave.
Other apostles upheld the doctrine as well: Paul preached against theft (Eph. 4:28), as did Peter (1 Pet. 4:15) and James (Jam. 5:4). Not to mention that Jesus saw the command as quite relevant as well (Matt. 19:18).
The biblical witness is clear: God believes in private property, and He not only desires us but commands us to live by that rule as well. Under this system, our rights and freedoms come from God. No man can take them away. He who tries must answer to the law, and ultimately to God.
Socialism is the belief that individual private property is a bad idea. It is thus an anti-Christian and anti-biblical belief. Socialists believe that governments should own most or all property and distribute it out as government experts, scientists, politicians, or occasionally voters see fit. Under socialism, the State puts itself in the place of God and says, “The earth is the State’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Under this view, the individual has no protection from his neighbor if his neighbor is in the majority, or if the State somehow deems his neighbor as needful in some way; the State simply uses force to take that individual’s property and give it to someone else. In this sense, the State moves landmarks every day. In this view, the State determines our rights, and gives us our freedoms; here there is no appeal beyond the State.
Socialism is the belief, therefore, that stealing is acceptable as long as another man or group of men says so. Socialism believes in theft by majority vote, or theft by a majority of representatives’ votes in Congress. Socialism is the belief that armed robbery is OK as long as you do it through proxy of the government’s gun. Socialism places man, and ultimately the State, in the place of God. Man becomes owned by other men, instead of by his Maker. Socialism is an entirely humanistic, God-denying, God-usurping belief.
Between these two beliefs—private property and socialism— there exists fundamental conflict. They represent contradictory views of sovereignty, man, law, society, and inheritance. They are fundamentally rival religious systems. Choosing one, you reject the other; service and honor to God, or servitude to fellow men. Either God commands and judges man, or man commands and judges man.”
The clash between Peter and Paul at Antioch is one of those back-water biblical incidents that changed the world. It’s ancient history, but it’s as relevant today as it was in the first century, if not more so. Paul recounts the incident in the second chapter of his letter to the Galatians, his main epistle against the “Judaizers.” According to some Jewish converts in the early church, Gentiles could not become full disciples of Jesus without first becoming Jews. They had to be circumcised, observe Jewish purity laws and dietary restrictions, and follow Jewish rules about table fellowship if they were going to be full members of the Christian community.
The battle between Paul and the Judaizers focused on table fellowship. Initially, Peter didn’t require Gentiles to “judaize” but ate openly with uncircumcised Gentiles. Pressured by believers from the Jerusalem church, though, he withdrew and refused to share meals with Gentiles anymore. Whether these were common or sacred meals, the same logic would apply to both: If Peter wouldn’t eat common meals with unclean Gentiles, he certainly would have avoided the contagion of Gentiles at sacred meals. For Paul, this wasn’t a small or marginal issue. In Paul’s judgment, Peter was “not straightforward about the gospel” and his actions undermined justification by faith. Unless Jews and Gentiles share a common table, Paul insisted, the Gospel is compromised.
At the center of Paul’s message was the announcement that Israel’s hopes had been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of those events, Torah no longer provided access to God. Torah belonged to the age of the flesh, and now the age of the Spirit had come. Thus, the badges and boundary markers that once marked Israel as the people of God no longer did so. Jews were free to keep Torah in respect for their ancestors, but Gentiles were grafted in as full members of Christ’s body without observing Torah. Faith in Jesus was now the sole badge of membership, faith ritualized by baptism. When Peter implicitly demanded that believing Gentiles observe Jewish ceremonies, he turned back to the age of Torah. Peter obscured the gospel because he acted as if Jesus had never come.
For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this unity should be especially evident in the Eucharistic meal that is the high point of Christian liturgy. One Lord must have one people sitting at one table. Any additional requirement beyond faith in Jesus betrays the Gospel.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some profess Jesus but betray him with their lives. Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion. As Reformed Protestants say, the table must be fenced.
Even with that crucial qualification, Paul’s assault on Peter poses a bracing challenge to today’s church. It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table. Some Lutherans will commune only with Christians who hold to a Lutheran view of the real presence. Some Reformed churches require communicants to adhere to their Confessional standards. The Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Eucharist are reserved, with a few exceptions, for Catholics and Orthodox.
I cannot see how these exclusions pass the Pauline test. Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church. Lutherans and some Reformed Christians will point to Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body” and ask Amos’s question: “Do men walk together unless they are in agreement?” All this avoids the central question: Do Catholics and Orthodox consider their Protestant friends Christians? Do Lutherans consider Reformed believers to be disciples of Jesus? If so, why aren’t they eating at the same table? Shouldn’t the one Lord have one people at one table?
I have shared meals in diners, French restaurants, and at Indian buffets with Rusty Reno, David Mills, David Bentley Hart, Francesca Murphy, Matt Levering, Robert Louis Wilken, Vigen Guroian, George Weigel, and Robert George. At those tables, we were family, and I am exceedingly grateful for that warm expression of communion in Christ and in one another. Such friendships are a heartening sign of ecumenical progress.
But when we assemble as Church, in the place where our brotherhood should be most evident, some of us eat while others watch. If Jesus showed up as host, wouldn’t he invite Timothy George, Alan Jacobs, Robert Jenson, and Gilbert Meilander to share his table along with Reno, Hart, Mills, and all the rest? If Jesus showed up, wouldn’t he want all of us to join him at his table? And, doesn’t Jesus show up?
My friends tell me that my name has been invoked in various web skirmishes concerning Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, sometimes by people, including friends, who claim that I nurtured them along in their departure from the Protestant world. My friends also hinted that it would be good for me to say again why I’m not heading to Rome or Constantinople or Moscow (Russia!), nor encouraging anyone to do so. Everything I say below I’ve said before in various venues – on this blog, in First Things, in conference presentations. But it might be useful to put down my reasons fairly concisely in one place, so here tis.
One of the major themes of my academic and pastoral life, and one of the passions of my heart, has been to participate in the healing of the divided church. I have written and taught a great deal on ecclesiology; I participate in various joint Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox ventures (Touchstone, First Things, Center for Catholic-Evangelical Dialog). I consider many Catholics and Orthodox friends as co-belligerents in various causes, and I think of Catholicism and Orthodoxy as allies on a wide range of issues, not only in the culture wars but in theology and church life.
This isn’t just a theological niche for me. It’s a product of a deep conviction about the nature of the church. I still remember the pain I felt when I first understood (with James Dunn’s help) what Paul was on about in Galatians 2, when he attacked Peter for withdrawing from table fellowship. The division of the church, especially since the Reformation, has largely been a story of horror and tragedy, with the occasional act of faithful separation thrown in. I regard the division of the church as one of the great evils of the modern world, which has seen more than its share of evils (many of which are, I believe, quite closely related to the division of the church). What more horrific sight can we imagine than to see Christ again crucified? Christ is not divided. I think our main response to this half-millennium of Western division, and millennium-plus of East-West division should be deep mourning and repentance.
My Protestantism, my reformed catholicity, isn’t at all in conflict with that passion for church unity. There is no tension at all. On the contrary, it’sbecause I am so passionate to see the church reunited that I, not grudgingly but cheerfully, stay where I am. My summary reason for staying put is simple: I’m too catholic to become Catholic or Orthodox.
I agree with the standard Protestant objections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Certain Catholic teachings and practices obscure the free grace of God in Jesus Christ; prayers through Mary and the saints are not encouraged or permitted by Scripture, and they distract from the one Mediator, Jesus; I do not accept the Papal claims of Vatican I; I believe iconodules violate the second commandment by engaging in liturgical idolatry; venerating the Host is also liturgical idolatry; in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, tradition muzzles the word of God. I’m encouraged by many of the developments in Catholicism before and since Vatican II, but Vatican II created issues of its own (cf. the treatment of Islam in Lumen Gentium).
I agree with those objections, but those are not the primary driving reasons that keep me Protestant. I have strong objections to some brands of Protestantism, after all. My Protestantism – better, reformed catholicity – is not fundamentally anti-. It’s pro-, pro-church, pro-ecumenism, pro-unity, pro-One Body of the One Lord. It’s not that I’m too anti-Catholic to be Catholic. I’m too catholic to be Catholic.
Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople? Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles? Are you willing to say that every faithful saint you have known is living a sub-Christian existence because they are not in churches that claim apostolic succession, no matter how fruitful their lives have been in faith, hope, and love? For myself, I would have to agree that my ordination is invalid, and that I have never presided over an actual Eucharist. To become Catholic, I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated brothers,” rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus. To become Orthodox, I would likely have to go through the whole process of initiation again, as if I were never baptized. And what is that saying about all my Protestant brothers who have been “inadequately” baptized? Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that? I’m too catholic to do that.
Catholicism and Orthodoxy are impressive for their heritage, the seriousness of much of their theology, the seriousness with which they take Christian cultural engagement. Both, especially the Catholic church, are impressive for their sheer size. But when I attend Mass and am denied access to the table of my Lord Jesus together with my Catholic brothers, I can’t help wondering what really is the difference between Catholics and the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Continental Reformed who practice closed communion. My Catholic friends take offense at this, but I can’t escape it: Size and history apart, how is Catholicism different from a gigantic sect? Doesn’t Orthodoxy come under the same Pauline condemnation as the fundamentalist Baptist churches who close their table to everyone outside? To become Catholic I would had to contract my ecclesial world. I would have to become lesscatholic – less catholic than Jesus is. Which is why I will continue to say: I’m too catholic to become Catholic.
One final reason has to do with time. I cut my theological teeth, and still cut them, on James Jordan’s biblical theology. At the end of Through New Eyes, Jordan argues just as the temple was unimaginable to Israelites living through the collapse of the tabernacle system, so the future of the church is unimaginable to us. We can’t see the future; we can’t know how God is going to put back the fragmented pieces of His church. We can trust and hope that He is and will, but all we have access to are the configurations of the past and present. It’s tempting to imagine that the future of the church will be an extension of some present tradition – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, whatever. But the future never is a simple extension of the past and present (how can it be, with the massive surge in Christianity in the global South?). So I remain contentedly and firmly in my reformed catholicity, but I remain also eager and impatient for the church to come. Of that church we know nothing except that it will be like nothing we know. We worship a living God, which means (Jenson tells us) a God of constant surprises.”
About a week ago, some controversy stirred in the reformed world(nothing new there) on the delicate issue of baptism. Baptism is always a topic of contention, especially amoungst those who share a reformed soteriology and a covenental view of the Bible. The debates between infant baptizing Presbyterians and believers only Baptists are notorious, and seemingly endless. Some on both sides tend to take a more hard line, while others take a more ecumenical position. Last week on The Gospel Coalition website, there was a discussion between the two more adamant sides of the debate. It was not the typical “Baptist V.S. Presbyterian” debate on the objects and mode of Baptism. In fact, it was not a debate at all. It was more like a respective “drawing the line in the sand”. Each side wrote an article detailing why one must hold to there viewpoint if they wish to be apart of the respective Church.
James Hamilton wrote from the Baptist perspective in an article called “Baptism and Church Membership: Sometimes Obedience Results in Painful Separations.” Michael Horton wrote from the Presbyterian/Reformed perspective in an article called “Membership Requires Affirmation of Infant Baptism: A Padeobaptist Response.” I will provide a link to both articles at the end of the post.
Briefly, I want to go over what the articles say and then provide some quick thoughts. Nothing extensive, just food for thought. You should keep in mind, however, that I am a Presbyterian, I attend a PCA church and a firmly convinced on the subject of Infant Baptism.
First, the article from the Baptist perspective by James Hamilton. James Hamilton is a professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books that include a Biblical Theology around the topic of God’s Glory in salvation through judgement, and a commentary on the book of Revelation. I have never read any of his books, however I have seen him participate in John Piper’s “Evening of Eschatology”; in which he represented Historic Premillennialism. Even though I don’t agree with his position, I think he performed the best by far and was very impressive. So James Hamilton is a man I respect, he is up and coming in the Reformed Baptist world (he is still rather young).
In the article, rather than dwelling soley on an abstract discussion on the value of Baptismal Theology as it relates to Church Membership, Hamilton starts off with a real world example to demonstrate the practical nature of this doctrine ; “This question hurts. It’s personal. Let me briefly explain. A great family with a quiver full of kids began to visit our church—wonderful people with exemplary kids older than and near the ages of my own. Everyone, not least yours truly, was encouraged and eager to spend time with them. You can imagine how much we wanted to have them join our church, and, by God’s grace, they wanted to do so.” He goes on to say, “The only problem was that they were convinced Presbyterians.” Why would this pose a problem for joining a Baptist Church? Hamilton explains: ” If someone is not repenting of all known sin, trusting Christ for salvation, and submitting to all his commands and teaching, we don’t welcome him or her into church membership. Since we view baptism as a matter of obedience, we understand unbaptized people to be disobedient on this point.” Certainly there was no doubt, insofar as can be seen, that this Godly family was repenting of all known sin and trusting in Christ for salvation by faith alone. But according to the Baptist view, this family was not submitting to all of Christ’s commands. In fact, they were not even submitting the most basic one, Baptism; sense from a Baptist perspective the family had never actually been Baptized.As Hamilton put’s it: “Our Presbyterian friends believe they have been baptized, but here the definition of baptism comes into play. As our statement of faith indicates, we are convinced that baptism is the immersion of a believer in water.”
Hamilton, anticipating the objection that this should not be a cause of division, says , “John Bunyan agreed that baptism is the immersion of a believer in water but felt that he did not have the right to deny church membership to someone who gave evidence of regeneration and believed he had been baptized. William Kiffin’s response was that he did not have the right to disregard, and thereby overrule, a command of Jesus. As baptists we’re not denying that paedobaptists have a right to their own perspective, we are simply maintaining the integrity of our own convictions. Our consciences will not permit us to welcome into membership and communion those who have not obeyed Jesus at the point of baptism.”
Hamilton proceeds to point out of the obvious, if Baptism really is nothing to divide over, then why did Baptists ever separate? He says, “This is the whole reason there are Baptist churches at all. This is why baptists don’t commune with Presbyterians…If this issue were not big enough to divide over, to deny membership over, then why did the baptists ever separate from the presbyterians?”
Hamilton concludes by saying that unity has to be based on the truth of Scriptures, and for Baptists that means obeying Jesus in Believers only Baptism.
Secondly, the article from the Presbyterian perspective by Michael Horton. Michael Horton is a professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, he is one of the most prolific authors today and biggest defenders of the Reformed Faith. Some of his many books include a Systematic Theology, 5 books on Covenant Theology, several books on American Christianity, the Christian Life, The Law of God and Calvinism. He is one of my favorite theologians and one the the biggest impacts on my life, in influencing my theology.
Baptism is often viewed as secondary to views to Perseverance of the Saints or The extent of the Atonement. However one does not go before the Church and get a “Perseverance of the Saints”, one does however go before the Church to be Baptized. Differences on Baptism directly affect our actions sense Baptism is a actual event that takes places rather than just a doctrine. Horton makes this point by saying ” It’s often said that baptism is a secondary issue. Traditionally, both sides in the debate have wrestled over whether they can even accept each other’s profession of faith as valid for membership. That’s hardly secondary.”
The issue becomes very frustrating when one contemplates a Baptist and a Presbyterian that agree on EVERYTHING EXCEPT Infant Baptism, but would be unable to determine what should happen in a Church and remain in the same fellowship. Horton says on this matter, “However, Baptists and paedobaptists are stuck. If our conscience is bound by Scripture, then we can hardly consider as indifferent something Christ’ ordained as essential in the Great Commission. So I respect Baptist brothers who would not admit me into membership or to the Lord’s Table. They are following what they believe Scripture to teach in this matter and for that submissiveness I respect them.”
Horton goes on to give this description, “Historically, Reformed and Presbyterian churches have required professing members and their children to be baptized. In the former, arising from Continental Reformed sources, all church members confess the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort) as the faithful summary of Scripture. What this means is that in Reformed churches historically, only those who affirmed the inclusion of children in covenant baptism could be members. Especially in the U.S., Presbyterian churches came to require only officers to subscribe the Westminster Standards. In Presbyterian churches, it has meant that all of the children of members should be baptized. What to do if they’re not is a matter of some debate and variation.” There is some difference between what typically happens in Churches coming out of the Dutch Reformed tradition (typically called Reformed Churches) and those coming out of the Scottish and English Presbyterian tradition (typically called Presbyterian or Reformed Presbyterian). Reformed Churches that subscribe to the 3 forms of unity, such as The United Reformed Church of North America, require there members to affirm EVERYTHING in the confession’s. While Presbyterians such as The Presbyterian Church of America (of which I am a member) and The Orthodox Presbyterian Church simply require a profession of faith and reliance on sovereign Grace and Mercy for salvation alone for membership, but not necessarily affirming all the beliefs in the Church Confession. So a baptist could join a Presbyterian Church, but not one from the Dutch Reformed tradition.
Horton goes on to say that he affirms what The Westminster Confession says, that it is a great sin to neglect Baptism of Children. If it is a great sin to not Baptize Children, then Baptists in the congregation would be subject to Church discipline for not giving there Children for Baptism. Horton finishes up his article by reiterating the situation. Baptists and Prebyterians, though they agree in most cases in a great many things, simply do not agree on the way to do Baptism. Baptists do not recognize Presbyterian baptisms, while Presbyterians think Baptists are sinfully withholding Baptisms to there children. They are at a tragic impasse.
Now that I have given an overview of what’s in the article, I’ll give a few of my thoughts.
Over the last 20 years, there has been an unprecedented renaissance among Reformed Baptists, Calvinism has grown dramatically in Baptist churches, and there has also been a great deal of cooperation between Reformed Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians in groups like The Gospel Coalition, and The Alliance of Confession Evangelicals. In many ways, Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians make up one Reformed family. They speak at each others conferences, write the forward’s for each others books, and work together in a variety of ways. But despite all this doctrinal agreement, the issue of Baptism (and the differences on the Covenant that come with it) keep them divided. I can’t speak for the Baptist Church, they are going to do what they think is right. Many, like James Hamilton, will insist that all members must be Baptized in the Baptist sense of the word. Others, like John Piper and John Bunyan of old, have held that they should not deny membership to those who think they have been baptized. John Piper, when speaking on this issue, noted that to him it would be absurd to say Godly men like John Calvin, R.C. Sproul and Ligon Duncan could not be members of his Church. But I can only speak for myself, being a Presbyterian. There have been many Godly Baptists that have had a huge theological impact on my life, most of all John Piper, who’s impact on my life could hardly be overstated. In addition to others such as Steve Lawson, Al Molher and Paul Washer; and Reformed Baptists of old such as Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan and John Gill. Not to mention all the Reformed Baptists friends I have, more than even Presbyterian friends.
But despite all the affinity and unity, as the articles show, the impasse remains. Some would lament this as a silly doctrinal novelty, dividing over a silly issue and a man made denomination. But what would you have them do? Should Baptists and Presbyterians forget what they believe and just be quiet? and if so which group? Or, perhaps, we could go back to the Pre-Denomination period where we killed each other instead of simply going separate ways in different denominations. As for the issue of allowing Baptists to join Presbyterian Churches, I clearly understand what Horton says, How can somebody be in our Church and not have there Children Baptized? But equally it begs the question how we can require such doctrinal purity to be a member. In the end I believe I favor the Practice of the PCA, but I would say one must have his Children Baptized if he is a member in a Presbyterian Church.
In the last analysis, as painful and heartbreaking it is, despite all the doctrinal affinity, it seems separation must happen. Baptists and Presbyterians cannot allow there conscious to be violated on this subject of Baptism. Two views of Baptism cannot be accommodated within the same congregation. Despite the demoinational separations, Baptists and Presbyterians should continue to work together to forward the cause of the Gospel through the various para church organization, and to fight against the enemy’s of the Gospel, like they have done so well the past 10 years.
In conclusion, we can only look forward to the day when our sinfully clouded views of Scripture will be swept away, and we will all dwell, all the redeemed Children of God, in perfect fellowship with Christ and each other, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and all those redeemed by Grace alone though Faith alone in Christ alone, in the New Heavens and New Earth. Where there will be no more sin, no more death, and no more division. Only perfect unity in fellowship with our triune God. Then Baptists and Presbyterians alike will exclaim with a Loud voice:
““Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
““To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
James Hamilton’s Article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/04/baptism-and-church-membership/
Orthodox, Unorthodox, and Heresy.
These are terms that we hear thrown out a lot today, especially heresy. But what do they mean exactly, specifically from a Reformed perspective?
If you were to go to dictionary.com you would see orthodoxy defined as “sound or correct in opinion or doctrine, especially theological or religious doctrine” and “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church.”
Unorthodox is defined thus, “not conforming to rules, traditions, or modes of conduct, as of a doctrine, religion or philosophy; not orthodox.”
The “H” word, Heresy, has this definition: “opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system”, and “any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.”
I want to suggest a more precise and practical theological definition so that we can classify theological beliefs in a more coherent manner. I suggest the following definitions:
Heresy: A belief that is so destructive and contrary to the Gospel, that to hold to it annihilates the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and is indeed “another gospel.”
Unorthodox: A belief that does severe damage to the Gospel and cause of Christ.
Orthodox: The scope of beliefs that are in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the beliefs that are necessary for the Gospel to be coherent .
First, let’s take a look at Orthodox. By way of introduction, I don’t mean “Eastern Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy or Russian Orthodoxy”. I mean orthodox as defined above. But for the above definition to be valid, we have to ask ourselves, what are the necessary beliefs for the Gospel to coherently make sense? In other words, what does one have to believe to be Orthodox? I will suggest 7 basic things:
1. A proper view of God. Namely, accepting the Biblical God, The Holy Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit. The doctrine of The Trinity was hammered out in great detail in the Apostles and Nicene creeds in the early Church, which is where a proper view of this subject may be found. But to be orthodox, it is essential one accepts the Biblical picture of God. Namely one eternal God consisting of 3 eternal persons, Father Son and Spirit. For a precise definition I would suggest you to go the Nicene Creed or Westminster Confession Chapter 2 on the Trinity. In addition to accepting his other attributes, such as his sovereignty, eternal nature and righteousness, omniscience, omnipresence etc.
2. A proper view of Christ. The doctrine of Christ was also hammered out in great detail by the early Church. Namely, that which is exposed in the Chalcedonian creed. That God the Son the second person of the Trinity, took on a human nature, Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man, in one person. That he lived a sinless life to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. A proper view of Christ is essential for a proper view of The Gospel.
3. A proper view of the Scriptures. Without the scriptures, we would know nothing of redemption. We would be without hope and without God in the world. Essential to Christian Orthodoxy is the trust in God’s word in the Scriptures, that we believe the scriptures to be breathed out by God, our only infallible and inerrant rule for all matters of faith and practice. In addition, holding to the unity of the Scriptures as one coherent whole detailing God’s plan of redemption, and detailing his eternal standard of righteousness, his Law.
4. A proper view of man. This is twofold, on the one hand it is essential to hold that Man was created directly and specially by God, made in the image of God. On the other, we must accept what the Bible says about Human Nature today; that we have fallen into Sin, into total depravity and are totally hostile to God in mind, word, and deed. That we can in no sense do anything to rescue ourselves from our sin laden condition.
5. A proper view of salvation. Because of the views in number 4., man cannot save himself. He has to be saved totally by the power of God and cannot cooperate with God to achieve salvation. God must save, and God alone. So Salvation is by Grace ALONE. God’s Grace is the only cause of Salvation in man. This is done by the instrument of God-given faith ALONE. This salvation coming through the sacrifice of Christ alone. So holding a Biblical view of Salvation by Grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone is key.
6. A proper view of the church. Holding to the truths that Christ established his Church for the faithful, to administer Baptism and The Lord’s Supper and to proclaim all that he has commanded them, is a key component of orthodoxy.
7. A proper view of the future. A hallmark of orthodox Christianity is the confession of Jesus Christ’s Second coming, that he will resurrect all the dead and consign believers to an Eternal new heavens and new earth, and all unbelievers to an eternal Hell.
That is just a basic overview of Christian orthodoxy from a Reformed perspective. These are the beliefs that I believe are necessary for the Biblical Gospel to be clear and coherent. It is important to remember, however, that just because somebody holds unorthodox views on a subject does not mean they have nothing valuable to say or are not Lovers of Jesus. Many great minds have held unfortunately unorthodox views on certain subjects but have contributed much to the faith, an example would be C.S. Lewis, who despite his great insights into Life and Godliness, held views on Scripture and Man’s sin nature that did great damage to the Gospel and cause of Christ. Many people do in fact believe a Biblical Gospel despite holding view that can muddle and distort it.
I’m sure not everybody agrees with everything I listed as being a part of orthodoxy and I am sure others would have added more.
So who can meet all the qualifications of everything I just listed?
Unfortunately not very much of “Christianity” , due to the sad state of affairs that prevails in the Christian world. Only the evangelical Reformed Churches, Lutherans, and some Anglicans and Baptists make the cut. None the less, among those who agree on the orthodox essentials, there is plenty of room for disagreement on smaller (but still very important) issues such as The nature and mode of Baptism, The millennium of Revelation 20, and things of that sort.
Now that I have given my humble definition of what it means to be orthodox, I will move on in part 2 to describing unorthodoxy and heresy.