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Donald Trump was inaugurated five days ago.

Some Christians are disconcerted. A few examples of essays posted last week on the subject follow. Emphases mine below.

1/ John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) blog has an excellent post by staffer Cameron Buettel who reminds GTY readers about obedience to government, specifically Romans 13:1-5 and MacArthur’s sermon ‘Why Christians Submit to the Government’.

GTY readers — conservative Evangelicals — were most unhappy. How on earth could an immoral, unbiblical man become president? One surmises they would have preferred the scheming, conniving and possibly criminal ‘Crooked Hillary’. Bottom line: Trump isn’t Christian enough to be in the Oval Office! (As if abortion and single sex marriage advocate Obama was?!)

2/ Moving along to the Episcopalian/Anglican site, Stand Firm, one of their contributors, A S Haley, was, rightly, more concerned about what he calls the Sea of Political Correctness. In ‘A Wave of PC Crashes into a Solid Barrier’, Haley points out:

The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads …

The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction—which is supplied by a leader.

Although I disagree with Haley when he says that Trump’s platform lacks

concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions

because those had been laid out in detail on Trump’s campaign website for over a year, he is correct in saying:

there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made—is being made as I write—and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.

One of Haley’s readers wrote about the protests during the weekend of the inauguration:

In fact, since one of the main complaints about Trump is his vulgarity, the vulgarity and viciousness of these speakers should negate any of those complaints.

I hope so. How can people — e.g. the GTY readers above — miss the stark contrast?

3/ From there, I went for a Reformed (Calvinist) perspective. Dr R Scott Clark of of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog. He posted an excellent essay at the time of the inauguration, ‘A Reminder Of Why We Should Not Long For A State Church’.

The GTY readers moaning about Trump not being Christian enough should peruse it, but it looks at something anathema to conservative biblicists: history.

Excerpts follow:

… I am regularly astonished at the number of American Christians who seem to want a state-church. They seem not to understand the history of the post-canonical history of state-churches nor the difference between national Israel and the USA …

The governor of my state is a former Jesuit seminarian turned New Ager. I certainly do not want the Hon. Edmund G. Brown, Jr dictating what is to be preached or when it is to be preached. I am sure that Americans who advocate for a state-church do not want the Hon. Barack Hussein Obama or Donald J. Trump to meddle in the life of the institutional church.

Of course, when this objection is raised, the reply is an appeal to an eschatology of great expectations. This raises the problem of the chicken and the egg. Does the postmillennialist want to facilitate the coming earthly glory age through a state-church or is the state-church only to come about after the glory age has descended? This is not clear to me …

Under the new covenant and New Testament, there is no state-church. There is the state and there is the church. Calvin described these two realms as God’s duplex regimen (twofold kingdom). He rules over both by his providence but he rules the church, in his special providence, by his Law and Gospel revealed in holy Scripture. He rules over the civil magistrate by his general providence through his law revealed in nature and in the human conscience (see Romans 1–2) …

The visible church’s vocation is to announce the Kingdom of God in Christ, to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments and church discipline (Matt 16 and 18) …

4/ I then sought another sensible Calvinist perspective, this time from Dr Michael Horton, who also teaches at the same seminary as Dr Clark. He is Westminster Seminary California’s J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics.

The Washington Post invited Horton to write an article on faith. On January 3, the paper published ‘Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy’. It concerns one of the prosperity gospel preachers who prayed at the inauguration: Paula White.

On the one hand, I heartily agree that White is a very poor example of a Christian pastor. On the other hand, she and Trump found solidarity in the prosperity gospel which he grew up with under Norman Vincent Peale. Furthermore, White was helpful to his campaign in getting out the vote among this sector of misguided churchgoers.

Even more unfortunate than her praying at the inauguration is the news that she will head the Evangelical Advisory Board in the Trump administration. I suspect this had not been announced when Horton wrote his article. Still, Trump is no theologian. I refer readers to Clark’s essay above.

Horton points out that such preachers have been around the White House before and are popular among certain sections of American society:

Peale and [Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’] Schuller were counselors to CEOs and U.S. presidents. Word of Faith has been more popular among rural sections of the Bible Belt, where faith healers have had a long and successful history. But in the 1980s, the two streams blended publicly, with Copeland, Hinn and Schuller showing up regularly together on TBN.

He goes on to explain the dangerous heresy:

Televangelist White has a lot in common with Trump, besides being fans of [Joel] Osteen. Both are in their third marriage and have endured decades of moral and financial scandal. According to family values spokesman James Dobson, another Trump adviser, White “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”

Like her mentor, T. D. Jakes, White adheres closely to the Word of Faith teachings. Besides throwing out doctrines like the Trinity and confusing ourselves with God, the movement teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, not to reconcile us to God but to give us the power to claim our prosperity, not to remove the curse of death, injustice and bondage to ourselves but to give us our best life now. White says emphatically that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first. We’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence.

Again, Trump doesn’t get this because his family left their mainstream Presbyterian church in Queens after his confirmation to worship at Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. After Trump married Ivana and became even more successful, he drifted away from the church. Although in recent years he has been attending Episcopal church services, his theological formation isn’t very good. But, again, echoing Calvin’s two-fold kingdom theology, voters did not elect Trump as Pastor of the United States but rather President of the United States.

I nodded in agreement to this comment, which is 100% true:

Trump is president not a theologian and Horton shouldn’t be holding him up to that standard. Where was Dr. Horton when Planned Parenthood and the Gay marriage thingy was going full steam under Obama. Yes, Horton, we realize you are not an evangelical fundie, but jumping on Trump for this?

Michael plays the ‘guilt by association’ card very well.

Correct. I do not recall Horton criticising Obama’s policies very much. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 2009.

5/ Finally, I found Dr Carl Trueman‘s article on First Things, ‘President Trump, Therapist-In-Chief?’

Trueman, a Presbyterian, is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is politically centrist but theologically conservative.

Trueman says:

I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.

That is what inauguration prayers are largely about. Rightly or wrongly, everyone is represented, especially those who were helpful to the incoming president during campaign season.

He concludes that the real shame is that Trump seems to be endorsing the notion of ‘Psychological Man’.

However, once again, may I remind Drs Trueman and Horton: voters did not elect Trump to serve as the nation’s pastor-in-chief.

6/ The best rebuttals to Trueman’s article is in the comments to his essay. The two comments that nailed it perfectly came from Mike D’Virgilio, whose website is called Keeping Your Kids Christian. It looks very good.

D’Virgilio is a Trump supporter and I agree with his assessments. Excerpts follow. First, from this comment:

I believe Trump is a net positive for Christianity because what he’s doing (including putting the huge “Merry Christmas” signs on his podium during his thank you tour) is potentially contributing to the re-building of the Christian plausibility structure of America. The term “plausibility structure” goes back to sociologist Peter Berger’s 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. In a more recent book he defines this simply as, “the social context within which any particular definition of reality is plausible”. In other words, what *seems* real to people. For the last 50 years the secularists have driven American culture off a cliff (via education, media, Hollywood, etc.) so that the dominant plausibility structure has been postmodernism/relativism/materialism/secularism (they are all logically intertwined). So God for many people (the rise of the “Nones” for instance) *seems* no more real than Santa Claus. Rarely, if ever, do people grapple with the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity; they just drift away or don’t see it as relevant at all.

So Trump, regardless of the content of his own faith, or those at his inauguration, is possibly making Christianity plausible again. Most Americans don’t pay attention to what these people actually believe, the theological content of their faith, such as it is. But all of a sudden with Trump this Christianity thing doesn’t seem like such the ugly cultural step-child anymore … None of this will change over night, but the arrival of Trump is the first time I’ve had hope in this regard since, oh, I was born!

… And I agree with pretty much everything Carl says here (I’m a graduate of Westminster myself), but I don’t at all agree that Trump is contributing to a therapeutic faith and the triumph of the psychological

This is from D’Virgilio’s second lengthy comment:

… There is no other candidate who has done what Trump has done, or could be doing what he’s doing. Cruz is closest of the bunch, but I’m afraid he’s just not a winsome fellow. Once you get beyond the caricature of Trump, he’s a very likable, appealing showman. Everyone who knows him likes him, says he’s humble (impossible to believe for many) and kindhearted.

The greatest thing he’s done is blow up political correctness. He’s taken that on, along with the shamelessly corrupt media that promotes it, in a way no other Republican can even get close. This is huge for a Christian plausibility structure because PC is antithetical to a biblical/classical (in the sense the objective truth exists) worldview …

And Trump was Trump before the Apprentice. Trump made the Apprentice, the Apprentice didn’t make Trump. So I totally disagree Hollywood had anything to do with making the man, The Man. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the secular materialism, which is one of the reasons I initially wanted nothing to do with Trump … He doesn’t have to be an orthodox, Bible believing Christian to fight for Christians, to appreciate and respect Christians, to love America and the Christian influence in its history. I leave the soul judgments to God. I’m just grateful he’s our next president, and not that other person.

I realise some readers are apprehensive about Trump, what he might do and what he represents. I hope this has given them some food for thought, especially in terms of Christianity in America.

Let’s remember that there were four other members of the clergy besides Paula White and a rabbi. Furthermore, in his remarks, Franklin Graham reminded everyone that there is only one God.

In closing, sensible Christians living in the United States should be relieved Trump is in the White House. This will be borne out in due course.

In the meantime, rather than sitting around carping, we can always pray that he becomes a better, more orthodox Christian.

R Scott ClarkReformed minister and professor Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog.

On July 26, Dr Clark wrote ‘Between Pearls and Privatization’, a post about the confusion between making everything secular or everything sacred. Those who like to do the latter are known as transformationalists. Hence, we read or hear of ‘Christian math’ or ‘Christian plumbing’.

Of this, he rightly points out:

Instead of “Christian plumbing,” why not exhort Christians to fulfill their daily vocation to the glory of God and the well being of their neighbor. This would save us endless, and as far as I can tell, fruitless wrangling about exactly what is distinctively Christian about “Christian math” or “Christian plumbing.”

Clark appeals for a return to the 16th century perspective in such matters, as supported by John Calvin and the Belgic Confession (Article 35, in this case):

Over against transformationalism, I am arguing that we need to recover the older Reformed conviction that there is a distinction between the sacred and the secular. Calvin used these categories without embarrassment. The common is not “neutral” and the secular is not dirty. We recognize this very distinction every time we administer holy communion. Reformed liturgical forms regularly speak about setting about common (secular) bread for a sacred use.

Ultimately, neither the secularist nor the transformationalist is correct. Not everything is worldly. Not everything is holy. Clark explains (emphases mine):

Our English word secular comes from the Latin saeculum which stands for “world.” We might distinguish between secular and secularist. It is one thing to recognize a distinction between a good secular vocation (e.g., plumbing) and a sacred ecclesiastical vocation to pastoral ministry. A secularist, however, seems to want to insist that we live in a closed universe and that nothing is sacred. The transformationalist seems to want to make everything sacred and the secularist seems to want to deny the sacred universally but the historic Christian position is distinct from both.

Our Lord instructed us not to cast our pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). He was invoking the Mosaic (Old Covenant) restrictions against pork, which made pigs ceremonially or ritually unclean. Whatever else this teaching means to it certainly means that there are times when Christian truth is to be withheld from those who are metaphorically pigs or dogs. There are times when it is not appropriate to speak the truth of the kingdom. In his comment on this passage Calvin exhorted his readers strongly not to use this verse as a justification not to preach the gospel to sinners. He urged his readers to preach the gospel indiscriminately but to recognize that there are times and places in which it is wise to hold our counsel.

In other words, do what is appropriate in the situation, time and place.

A Heidelblog reader responded with a cut and paste of Precept Austin’s collection of commentary on Matthew 7:6, well worth reading for all clergy, Christian bloggers and those who lead groups or classes in churches.

Through that page I was introduced to an Anglican preacher with whom I was unfamiliar: Charles Simeon. More on him tomorrow and on Tuesday, pearls of his wisdom on what Matthew 7:6 means.

Tomorrow: Who was Charles Simeon?

R Scott ClarkReformed minister and professor, Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog is running a series about the Heidelberg Catechism and authority.

The first essay — ‘Heidelberg 104: Authority and Submission (1)’ — is particularly pertinent to Christians who mistakenly advocate Mosaic Law, theonomy and male supremacy.

It is unfortunate that the Reformed churches are affected by these scourges. I suspect it is because a significant number of Americans attending such churches as new members came from highly conservative congregations with erroneous ‘Christian’ teachings.

What follows is a summary of his excellent explanation, supported by the Heidelberg Catechism and Scripture. Emphases mine below.

Mosaic law

Civil punishments prescribed in Mosaic law:

expired with the death of Christ. This is how the civil punishments are interpreted in Reformed theology.

Theonomy:

or the teaching that the Mosaic civil laws have a bi[n]ding validity in exhaustive detail is contrary to the Reformed faith.

And Christianity in general.

The notion of a Promised Land is also no more:

There is now no national people of God and there are no more national promises. There is no earthly promised land and therefore the nature of the promise has changed. Believers are the Israel of God but we have no land promise since Christ is the land, the rest, and the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down (Eph 2:14).

John Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians 6:2 says:

And that thou mayest live long on the earth. Moses expressly mentions the land of Canaan, “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exod. 20:12.) Beyond this the Jews could not conceive of any life more happy or desirable. But as the same divine blessing is extended to the whole world, Paul has properly left out the mention of a place, the peculiar distinction of which lasted only till the coming of Christ.

Home life

Reactionary Christians have an extreme interpretation of Ephesians 5 and 6 regarding authority in the home.

Clark unpacks what Paul meant:

This is not patriarchy nor the ontological (i.e., as a matter of being) subordination of females to males because Paul warns fathers not to be abusive and instructs them to be gracious and kind and patient with their children just as God has been gracious kind and gentle with us.

As Christians seek to re-assert creational and biblical patterns of living in our late-modern age, it is imperative that we do not over-react as some have done. I have heard and read discussions of “federal headship” of males over females in the new covenant. For example, some have inferred that, e.g., females may not or should not vote in a congregational election. Such an inference requires a series of assumptions that must be questioned. Most of the argument seems to rely on a degree of continuity with the Mosaic (old) covenant that is not exegetically or theologically defensible. Some of the arguments (e.g., that females are inherently inferior) that I have seen and read over the years are not worthy of Christians. These sorts of over-reactions to aspects of modern and and late-modern feminism do us no credit as we seek properly to insist that:

• There is a creational, natural order

• Creational order can be determined by looking carefully at creation

• There are two sexes (male and female)

• The two sexes are distinct and complementary

As for ‘federal headship’:

Paul did not invoke the “federal headship” principle nor did he invoke a male Patriarchy in order to justify his teaching. Christ is the only federal head of believers. A husband is just that, a caretaker. A father may be said to be the head of the house but only as a matter of administration not as a matter of being. As we saw above, for Paul, the father’s role in the house to be like Christ, to lead gently and self-sacrificially not abusively and most certainly not high-handedly.

Church life

Clark makes it clear that certain restrictions on women do not actually exist in Pauline teaching:

he nowhere implies that females may not vote in a congregational election.

As for women’s silence in church:

The problem was speaking up inappropriately. The problem was disorder in the worship service. The solution was order.

Creational order, not extremism

Clark concludes by noting that Paul and Peter acknowledged the order of creation, which we are still obliged to follow, but not to drastic extremes.

On the one hand:

Paul was not a sexist nor was he “hopelessly patriarchal” as one polemicist said in the 1990s. Nevertheless, we should not confuse Victorian prejudices with biblical teaching. Paul does not argue that men are inherently smarter or more rational than females. Peter recognized differences and similarities between men and women (1 Pet 3:7). We are both the heirs of the “grace of life.”

On the other:

Paul, like Peter, does teach a creational order. We are not free to disregard his instruction because it puts us at odds with the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) or widely held assumptions.

Gentlemen favouring extremes would do well to take it easy on their wives and children.

Be Christlike in family relationships.

j0289346In 2011, I suggested teaching one’s children the Ten Commandments and a short Catechism. That post was Lutheran-oriented.

Summer is a good time to encourage one’s children to memorise their denomination’s doctrine by heart.

A Reformed minister and professor, Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog recently republished his 2009 post on teaching one’s offspring to memorise the shorter versions of the Heidelberg or Westminster catechisms.

Clark writes (in part):

… small children are apt to memorize. This is how they are wired. Our stupid contemporary education program seems to be systematically making us all ignorant by refusing to teach children that they can memorize or to encourage them to do it …

All things being equal, children are able to memorize a good deal of material at a very early age. As an experiment, I taught my children the first line of the Vulgate (“in principio creavit Deus, caelum et terram.”) when they were 2 and 3. They can still recite it at will. Imagine if our children knew the Heidelberg or Westminster Shorter Catechism by age 9? It’s quite possible. Simply have your child memorize a part of a q/a each Lord’s Day and before long your child will have the stuff of the Reformed faith in his head.

My mother taught me prayers by heart as soon as I was three years old. I also learned parts of the weekly liturgy which I could recite spontaneously during the week. It is possible!

The Daily Confession site has helpful shorter Reformed catechism entries, one post a day. Each response has only one or two sentences for a child to memorise and understand.

This Daily Confession post — ‘Structured Shorter Catechism’ — describes in more detail how to teach the catechism for memorisation purposes.

Some heads of families reward all the family with a special holiday afterward. The Blogorrhea site describes how one father planned a trip to Disneyland if he and his wife and his children successfully memorised parts of the Shorter Catechism.  Everyone had to participate and everyone had to do it well. Otherwise, the holiday was off. He outlines in a basic Q&A how the arrangement worked based on family members’ ages and capabilities.

Let’s make sure our children know what they believe and WHY they believe it.

R Scott ClarkDr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog recently wrote a three-part series on how to graciously turn down invitations to un-Christian events.

He also explains the biblical significance in doing so, drawing largely on St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, specifically, chapters 8 and 10. He also cites the Reformed (Calvinist) confessions of faith.

His series is called ‘You’ve Been Invited To A [Fill In The Blank]: Should You Go?’ — Parts 1, 2 and 3.

In light of my post on Christian summer solstice celebrations, I highly commend Dr Clark’s series to everyone wrestling with difficult and sensitive invitations.

Below are excerpts from Part 1 (emphases mine):

How should we respond? There are two things that we must do: communicate our genuine love for those involved and our resolute commitment to honor Christ and his Word in every circumstance. Let’s start with the latter. How do we honor Christ in a difficult circumstance, when by saying “No” we may seem to be unloving and thus perhaps judgmental, uncharitable, and even unchristian? The answer is that if we act on biblical principles we honor Christ even when it is painful to do so.

Believers are already in communion with the Lord. Just as the Israelites (infants and adults) were baptized into Moses, and just as they communed in the wilderness between redemption and the promised land, so we have been identified with Christ and are sojourning between redemption and consummation (1 Cor 10:1–13). So, too, we’ve been initiated into Christ’s covenant community (the visible church), identified with his death in baptism. We’ve made profession of faith and have eaten his ascended, proper and natural body and blood (John 6:53; Belgic Confession Art. 35) by the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, through faith. Our loyalties have been bought with a price. Therefore we honor God with our bodies (1Cor 6:20).

As Paul says, we are free from the opinions of men and from bondage to the same but we are not free to damage brothers and sisters by leading them back into sin and we are not free to participate in rituals which rival those instituted by Christ.

In Part 2, he says:

Unfortunately, sometimes those who profess the Christian faith give unbelievers reason to think that is how the world works, that we really do relate to God on the basis of our personal obedience when the truth is quite opposite: after the fall we are accepted only and ever on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness earned for us and imputed to us and received through faith (resting, trusting) alone.

Of course unbelievers may be misinterpreting our assertion of the fundamental spiritual (and consequently epistemic) difference between believers and non-believers as a claim that we have nothing in common. Perhaps, however, we have unintentionally given the impression that we have nothing in common? Sometimes Christians (and even some in the Reformed community) sometimes speak about the antithesis in a way that gives that impression.

There is a most profound difference between believers and unbelievers. It is the difference between spiritual blindness and sight, between spiritual life and death. The only reason the dead come to life (Ezek 37) and the blind are made to see (Matt 11) is free, sovereign Spirit of God who raises the dead and grants sight to the blind. The dead have no prior claim on God and he does not give sight to the blind because of any quality in them or even because of the quality of their faith. Therefore, we must not ever ascribe the difference to anything but God’s free favor and sovereign good pleasure.

In Part 3, Clark reminds Christians of their status as dual citizens — of earth and heaven:

The limits of our participation in are determined by our dual citizenship. We are free to do a great many things but insofar as our heavenly citizenship (Phil 3:20) limits us there simply are things we cannot do. As Americans (or where ever the reader might be) we love our country but we love another country, a heavenly city-state (Gal 4) even more and we are ambassadors from that place to this. We must live before our unbelieving friends, neighbors, and relatives as if we represent the heavenly kingdom because we do.

It is not always easy to turn down dubious invitations, especially when we are young and eager to make friends. We do not wish to be seen as bigoted or biased.

In such cases, we could claim a prior commitment on that day. Even if asked, we are not obliged to state what that commitment is. It’s no one else’s business but our own.

A little over two years ago, I explored some Church history in delving into the theologians who were brought up Calvinist but separated themselves from it.

One of these men was the Dutchman, Jacobus — James, in modern day parlance — Arminius (see here and here). His ‘free will’ theology — that a person can freely come to Christ of his own human will — is called Arminianism. A number of Protestant denominations — Methodism and Evangelical churches — espouse it. In error, so do Anglicans, because the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion no longer have their rightful place in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Arminius has provoked endless confusion in non-Calvinist denominations because he was never formally denounced. His ‘free-will’ Remonstrants in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands — and offshoots elsewhere in the world — have used this to their advantage since the late 16th century. Even today, those who have had Remonstrant professors at university consider them Calvinist, when they are nothing of the sort.

Arminius lived in difficult times, not unlike ours today (emphases mine below). As I said back in 2011:

In 1588 Arminius moved to Amsterdam and served as a Dutch Calvinist pastor.  A few years later, it was apparent to his congregation and other clergy that he was preaching ‘opinions’ about free will, which clearly contradicted Calvin and Beza’s teachings.  The city councillors of Amsterdam — European cities were still run as theocracies at the time — managed to calm everyone down enough to avoid open Protestant conflict.

The plague, running rampant through Europe at the time, brought an opportunity to ArminiusAs some of the professors at Leyden fell victim to this fatal pestilence, the University invited Arminius to teach theology.  His appointment was not approved without controversy among the faculty.  Their difference in religious views also coincided with political partisanship, to the extent that Arminius and his staunchly Calvinist rival Franciscus Gomarus were invited to the Hague to each deliver speeches before the Supreme Court in 1608.  (Politics and Protestant Christianity were closely bound in the Netherlands until the 20th century.)

By the time Arminius and Gomarus were invited back to the Hague the following year for a second conference, their respective viewpoints had begun to split Reformed clergy around the country. Arminius did not last the full duration of the second conference and returned to Leiden because of ill health. He died in October 1609.  However, his legacy of free will theology — as expressed in what he called Arminianism — lives on to the present day, most notably in Wesleyan and Evangelical churches, particularly in the United States.  Arminian followers of the 17th century were called Remonstrants, adhering to a radically revised view of Calvinism — which ended up being no Calvinism at all.

You might ask what the ‘problem’ is with ‘free will’. The difficulty is that it leads to the heresy of Pelagianism — salvation through good works and one’s own will — or semi-Pelagianism. Part of the difficulty with Christianity today is that no one knows the various heresies anymore; as such, they do not know how to avoid errors of faith, some of which are grave sins, which contradict the New Testament. See my Christianity / Apologetics page under ‘Heresy’ for more.

The problem with Arminianism is that, in the words of Dr Herman C Hanko, Professor Emeritus of the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, Michigan:

Ultimately the free offer also makes the perseverance of the saints a doubtful matter. It stands to reason that if man can either accept or reject the gospel offer, he can at one time accept it, at another time reject it, and yet again accept it. But because his salvation is dependent upon what he does, his salvation hangs by the thin thread of his own free will. Thus his final salvation is always in doubt. He can fall away from the faith, and he can, while once having accepted Christ, still spurn Him in the future. It is undoubtedly this general Arminian teaching that is the basis for revivals and recommitments to Christ through the invitation.

Read John 6 and the Epistles of St Paul — Romans, in particular — for scriptural backup.

Theological error causes much conflict, still alive in our doctrinally weakening churches today. Lutherans rightly take objection to Universal Objective Justification (UOJ), which, if I understand it correctly, says that everyone, in principle, is saved. The few orthodox Anglicans around grieve the lack of education on the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion — a combination of the original Lutheran and Calvinist theology based on the New Testament. True Calvinists, having condemned the original Arminianism, are now calling attention to its latest incarnation, Federal Vision, which attempts to combine Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Revd N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul (see my Christianity / Apologetics page for that series of errors) with classical education, therefore, legitimising this pernicious falsehood.

In short, if your mind is spinning now, what this boils down to is false teaching.

Dr R Scott Clark  of Westminster Seminary California (WSC) asks in his Heidelblog — in light of this Federal Vision encircling certain Reformed churches — whether a modern day Arminius should be invited to preach in a Reformed church. His answer is certainly not, but let us look at the historical background he gives to Arminius and the Reformed Church in the Netherlands of the late 16th and early 17th century.

This gives insight into the Remonstrants claim to be Calvinist, despite Arminius’s theological errors:

Despite the intense controversy that his views and teaching generated, views that fractured the church, that nearly ignited a civil war in the Netherlands, that split a university, and that ultimately led to the convocation of the greatest international synod in the history of the Reformed churches, the Synod of Dort (1618–19), Arminius remained and died a minister in good standing in the Reformed churches. Partly this was a fluke. Arminius died in 1609 and the Synod did not conclude for a decade later. At the time of his death there was great controversy but there was not unanimity as to what Arminius was actually teaching. This was intentional. Arminius was intentionally vague, even to the point of being deceptive. Despite the fact that he rejected significant aspects of established Reformed teaching, despite the fact the seemed bent on leading the Reformed churches away from the gospel and back to a form of medieval moralism and synergism, despite the fact the he called into question the teaching of the Reformed confessions, despite the fact that it was he, and not his opponents, who was elevated to Rector of the University of Leiden, and despite the fact that it was Gormarus (and not Arminius) who left the University, Arminius whined incessantly about the hardships he allegedly suffered at the hands of the evil orthodox.

To this day — and Dr Clark rightly cites Dr Roger Olson’s blog (yes, it’s in my blogroll, because he does cause one to think) — as being an example of an Arminian who objects to notional nasty Calvinists.

Yet, the Remonstrants of Arminius’s Dutch tradition carry on. They let the rest of the world think they are Calvinists — with great success, I might add (Lutherans have mistakenly come to believe that Calvinists are Universalists) — yet, they themselves decry the teachings of Calvin and Beza based on the New Testament. It’s a win-win for the Remonstrants.

Dr Clark says that, eventually, the learned representatives of the Dutch Reformed churches which met at Dort in the Netherlands to resolve the Arminian controversy concluded:

This Church has been attacked, first secretly and then publicly, by Jacobus Arminius and his followers (bearing the name of Remonstrants). They did this by means of various old and new errors. These flourishing churches, being persistently disturbed by offensive disputes and schisms, have been brought into such grave peril that they were in danger of being consumed by a dreadful fire of discord.

Furthermore:

They rejected the errors of the Remonstrants categorically and declared that the Remonstrants had brought “again out of hell the Pelagian error” (Rejection of Errors, 2.3).

In light of this, Clark rightly asks whether, in the name of unity, whether a Reformed church today should ask someone akin to Arminius (e.g. someone of the Federal Vision preaching N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul) to preach in their church:

In light of the judgment of the Synod of Dort, had you the opportunity, would you allow James Arminius into your pulpit? After all, he died in good standing with the Reformed churches. After all, he professed adherence to the Reformed confessions. Of course not! Why not? Because you know, despite Arminius’ protestations, that he was not actually a minister of the Word as understood and confessed by the Reformed churches. You know that he was disingenuous, that it’s not possible to reconcile what Arminius actually believed and taught with what the Word of God says.

If that is the case, then, what if you had the opportunity to allow a modern-day Arminius into your pulpit, would you do it? What if he was well-regarded by many as a social conservative and as a witty and articulate defender of the faith against a rising tide of neo-atheism? It does seem as if the foundations of the culture and civil society are collapsing and that the faith is under intense public assault.

No, never acquiesce to admitting or listening to an error-ridden clergyman — no matter how charming or relevant — preach in your church.

This is what Clark has to say about Pelagius and Arminius. This is why learning Church history is so essential:

The heart of the Roman Empire was sacked in 410. Their world was literally crumbling before their eyes. The British monk Pelagius was known for his strong adherence to Christian morality. He was also well-known for his denial of the doctrine of original sin, depravity, and what we today call the doctrines of grace. Should the churches of North Africa have overlooked his doctrinal errors and should they have invited him to speak to their congregations? As a matter of history, they did not. They prosecuted his errors in the courts of the church most vigorously and condemned his teaching repeatedly. Indeed, the entire catholic church (Ephesus, 431 etc) condemned his doctrine.

Arminius lived during a time a great social and cultural upheaval. The Reformed churches might well have said to themselves that the cultural and social issues they faced were too great to worry about doctrinal fine points. Indeed, there were powerful voices, some of whom protected Arminius from his critics in Amsterdam and in Leiden, who favored doctrinal latitudinarianism, who thought that Arminius had some good and useful things to say. We may be thankful, however, that the churches did not take this view.

Study the New Testament. Knowing the New Testament enlightens study of the Old Covenant made with Moses. We see that God was preparing Israel — via the Mosaic Laws — for the advent and birth of Christ Jesus. Christ came to fulfil that Law.

The Gospel and Epistle authors are careful at every stage and in every chapter to explain who Jesus is and what He taught.

There are no contradictions in the truth of Christ.

If you study novels, politics or film, please make time to put those aside for a while in order to absorb the New Testament this year. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll also be able to spot the errors in Arminianism and various heresies old and new.

Almost every atheist bangs on about Moses and Christians.

This is incomprehensible to most Christians, because Jesus Christ put an end to the 613 tenets of Mosaic Law.

Yet, the atheist’s bravo sierra persists: ‘So, how is it you can eat seafood and wear mixed fabrics?’

Why are they not asking this of Reform Jews instead?

My suggestion to atheists is to stop reading the ignoramus Dawkins and begin studying the Bible and proper Christian theology.

My ‘go to’ man for biblical Christianity is the Reformed minister and Westminster Seminary California professor, Dr R Scott Clark, author of several theological books and the website Heidelblog, devoted to the eponymous catechism and the Reformed confessions.

If every town and city had an R Scott Clark, we would have much less unbelief and a more intelligent articulation of Christian faith.

Take, for example, Dr Clark’s ‘Abraham was not Moses’. Most professing Christians know the difference between the two. All of us will acknowledge both as being biblical greats. However, for Christians, one outshines the other in spiritual terms.

Clark explains (excerpts follow, more at the link, emphases mine):

The covenant theology underlying the Reformed view of baptism does not understand Abraham to have been, strictly speaking, an “old testament” character. He was a typological character in the history of redemption (John 8:56; , Matt 3:9; 22:2; Acts 3;13, 22; 13:26; Rom 4; 9:6; Gal 3; Gal 4:21; Heb 2:16; 6:13-15; ch. 7; 11:8; 11:17;  but not an “old covenant” character. He lived in the period of, as Hebrews puts it, “types and shadows” (Heb 8:5;  10:1. see also Col 2:16).

We distinguish Abraham from the old covenant because Paul does so consistently. He does so in 2 Cor 3:14 when he applies the language “old covenant” not to Abraham but to Moses. Of course the pattern for this was established in Jeremiah 31:32, which describes the new covenant as not like that made with the fathers when they were led out of Egypt. In other words, Jeremiah connects the old covenant to Moses and not to Abraham. Paul also makes this identification in Galatians 3 and 4, where he explicitly distinguishes between Abraham and Moses. In Gal 3 Paul argues that the Mosaic covenant did not change the Abrahamic covenant which is fundamental to God’s administration of saving grace in the world. The Mosaic covenant was a codicil added to the Abrahamic covenant 430 years later and it has expired with the coming of Christ. The Abrahamic covenant, however, has not expired.

The NT appeals consistently to Abraham and to the promise given to Abraham, not in earthly terms but in spiritual terms, not with respect to the land promises (which has expired with the expiration of the national covenant with Israel) but it consistently regards Abraham as our spiritual father in the faith. Abraham was looking forward to the heavenly city.

This is true not only of the Reformed — Calvinist — denominations but of Catholic and the other earliest Protestant ones as well: Lutheran, which came before Calvinism, then the Anglican Church.

Liturgical prayers, particularly during the Holy Communion service, often refer to ‘Abraham, our father in faith’.

None refers to Moses. And Christ’s abolition — fulfilment — of Mosaic Law (ritual, hygienic, ceremonial) is the reason why.

Although other smaller denominations came later, hardly any of these — including piestist-oriented churches — observe Mosaic Law. Those which do, do so in error. Those are not true Christian congregations.

Abraham’s story is one of absolute faith and hope in the Almighty. God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. When God saw Abraham’s faith as he brought Isaac forward, He had confirmation of the man’s belief. Does this occur now? No. However, God works everything to His divine plan. Abraham is a role model for us. God blessed him richly because of his obedience to Him.

Today obedience is a bad word, even when it concerns God our Creator and Father. However, Christians cannot consider themselves as such unless they recognise His sovereignty.

Certainly, Dr Clark would have expressed my thoughts more eloquently.

Suffice it to say that Abraham’s belief was one of hope. He did not see Christ Jesus on Earth. He lived thousands of years before the arrival of the Messiah. Yet, without knowing the detail, he believed in God’s salvific plan which would embrace all of mankind.

This brings us to the everlasting covenant of God’s grace and what Protestants refer to as the solas. As Clark explains:

The chief benefit  of the covenant of grace is righteousness with God and it is by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) which looks to the righteousness of Christ alone (solo Christo). This was true for Abraham and it’s true for believers today. Abraham believed as a gentile and he believed as a Jew. Circumcision did not do anything more or less than signify and seal his faith, i.e. it was visible word or proclamation of the coming obedience and death of Jesus (through the shedding of blood) and a seal or a promise to those who believe that what the gospel offers is really true for them.

Clark goes on to cite the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, specifically chapters 7 – 10 and 13. Essentially:

The comparison and contrast is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The covenant that God made with Abraham was a covenant of grace, the covenant he confirmed with the “blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20).

Therefore, with Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross:

The Mosaic covenant, the old covenant, is, in the language of 2 Cor, fading. According to Hebrews 8:13 it is “obsolete.” These things are not said about Abraham’s faith or the promise of salvation given to and through Abraham.

Thus, the Reformed covenant theology sees the promises and commands given to Abraham as still in force. The typological elements (bloodshed in circumcision) have been fulfilled in Christ but the promises and commands (to initiate children of believers into the visible covenant community) remain. This is why God said through the Apostle Peter, “the promise is to you and to your children….” The promise is the very promise he gave to Abraham: “I will be a God to you and to your children.

I hope that this explains briefly why the Mosaic Covenant is no longer in force for Christians. It was to prepare the Jews for the Messiah’s coming. It had a time limit. Jesus was meant to fulfil it, which He did on what we recognise as Good Friday. He died for our sins, and rose on the third day — Easter Sunday.

Atheists might wish to step back from Dawkins and read the Bible for themselves, along with worthwhile biblically Christian sites as well as solid biblical commentary.

Heidelblog is a good place to start.

R Scott ClarkEven unbelievers and enquirers can appreciate what Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California (WSC) writes on his Heidelblog.

As many will have grasped, today’s great American debates centre on theonomy versus  secularism and small versus big government.

Dr Clark outlines his transition from an Evangelical to a Calvinist and from a Democrat to a small ‘l’ libertarian. I hope that you find his account as enlightening as I did (emphases mine):

My parents were [Hubert Horatio] Humphrey Democrats [1968, the year Richard Milhous Nixon won the Presidency] and I was that when I went to university. Via Plato, Augustine, and one of my profs I moved toward a sort of socialist neo-Platonism. Reading Calvin, however, and an early confrontation with theonomy actually began to cause me to reconsider my politics/economics even while I was in university. In theonomy I saw the same thing of which I had become suspicious in the Anabaptists, an over-realized eschatology. Calvin’s account of the relations between heaven and earth seemed much more biblical and realistic, i.e., it accounted for human experience.

In sem (WSC) I read more and discovered that my earlier politics were the product of an over-realized eschatology combined with ressentiment (envy). I had institutionalized envy, a violation of the 10th commandment and attempted to make a virtue of it. I began to move toward a more libertarian politics.

I’ve also been influenced by my reading of the NT and 2nd century (early patristic) approach to social issues: Christians said virtually nothing about the social ills of the day. There’s not a shred of evidence in the NT that the church as institution or as organism addressed the grave social and economic inequalities of the period. Their chief request of the authorities was to be left alone to live quietly, “in all godliness.”

The closest thing to advocacy for social change that one might find in the NT is the fairly subtle suggestion in Philemon that perhaps Christians ought not to own other Christians but even then it’s not terribly overt. Scripture seems to assume that private property is a fundamental natural right. In Matt 28 our Lord speaks of the “ο κυρις του αμπελωνος (master or owner of the vineyard). without a hint of irony. The point of the parable is that the owner of the vineyard may do with it as he pleases. Without an owner/owned relation, without the assumption of private property, private ownership of the means of production, without employer/employee relations, the parable doesn’t work.

The same is true throughout the OT. Abraham was a wealthy chief/king with vast property holdings and slaves. To be sure, I am reasonably confident that chattel slavery of the sort practiced in the US in the 18th and 19th centuries (and before in the colonies) is not the same sort of slavery condoned by Scripture but, nevertheless, slavery is clearly practiced and condoned in Scripture. As I said, I’m not a theonomist, I’m Reformed. We confess that the Mosaic covenant has expired and has been abrogated (WCF 19) but there is a “general equity” (i.e., natural law or “light of nature” that exists before Moses, under Moses, and after Moses.

The community of property practiced by the apostolic church was a voluntary, private, temporary, ad hoc response to particular conditions. It was never intended to be instituted generally and certainly not by the state!

The early patristic church took the same approach. Here I’m particularly influenced by the Epistle (or Treatise) to Diognetus (perhaps by Polycarp) c. 150 AD. He lays out as clearly as anyone in the period how Christians related to the broader culture (chapter 5). I’ve quoted it a few times on the HB. Here’s an intro. Here’s a section from chapter 5 that I find particularly instructive:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life… For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.

The writer to Diognetus understood a distinction that, for much of modern Reformed history, has been lost: the distinction between the visible church as the chief expression of the eschatological [‘end times’] kingdom of God on the earth and civil society as a proximate, penultimate society. He harbors no illusions about human perfectibility nor is he a radical. He’s not in the streets demanding anything. He only prays that the magistrate will stop killing Christians long enough to realize that we are no threat to the existing order. He’s no anarchist because he understands the difference between the now and the not yet. Anarchism is premised on a conflation of the two in the civil sphere. That’s why the Reformed denounced the Anabaptist riots and their refusal to participate in civil life: both were grounded in an over-realized eschatology (as was their refusal to baptize infants).

There’s a sketch. A blog is obviously no place to do more than that I but I hope it helps.

Dr R Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, recently responded to one of his Heidelblog readers on Scripture and the biblical canon.

Clark’s comment, written from a Reformed perspective, is a concise way of explaining the whys and wherefores of the Bible — the New Testament, in particular — to enquirers. You might also find it helpful (emphases mine below):

… We interpret the Bible with the church. So, we’re not just making up things as we go along. The Scripture is normative but it has to be read and it has been read (interpreted) with the church and we’ve consolidated that interpretation with the church in the confessions.

Can we have absolute, ontological certainty that we’ve gotten everything right? No, but great consensus on creation, humanity, fall, Christ, Trinity, and salvation is very comforting.

Rome didn’t make the canon. The early church gradually received and recognized the 27 books that compose the NT as having intrinsic marks of canonicity. In that sense the canon is self-attesting. The church did not make the canon in some committee room. The church, over time, in various places, but quite early and rather unanimously (with a few minor exceptions) received most of the NT quite early (by the middle of the 2nd century).

Nearly two years ago — March 21, 2011 — The Clergy Project launched.

It is funded by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation (SFF), The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Priests and ministers who become atheists can turn to the Project as

a safe haven for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs,” has already launched scholarships to help non-believing clergy, a new “Employment Transition Program” is launching next month.

The words ‘a safe haven’ are puzzling. True Christians would be only too happy to see such clergy renounce their vocations and quietly leave the pulpit and the Church.

I’m quite sure one of my former vicars was an atheist. He’d already had a prior career as a teacher and it seemed to me that he chose the priesthood as the next best thing post-retirement. After all, ordination and subsequent ecclesiastical assignments allowed him to continue speaking in public in a quasi-teaching capacity. His sermons were chilling in that they were devoid of Gospel teaching, which he eschewed. No one minded when he eventually retired; unlike me, they were sorry to see him go but we all understood that he was getting older, so it seemed a normal progression.

Unlike Muslims, Christians will pray for those going through a crisis of faith. They won’t go after them, physically or conversationally.

That said, a clergyman who experiences a crisis of faith often consults with a spiritual adviser in his church to discuss his issues and to ask for prayer.

A clergyman who does not seek counselling in his apostasy and continues in the pulpit obviously needs the money. He lives a lie. We’d be happier if he left and took a part time job instead.

Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California had this to say on his site, Heidelblog (emphases mine):

Unbelievers should leave the ministry! They do need jobs or careers and it’s probably a good thing that someone is offering them a way out. As ministers, however, they are exactly what Jesus said, “hired hands.”

It seems clear that the intent of the SFF is to promote the denial of the faith. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than wealthy atheist foundations. Who knows? Perhaps the Spirit will use a Scripture reading or a sermon by one of these hired hands to bring not only some in the congregation to faith (we are not Donatists; the sacraments they administer are still sacraments, the Word is still the Word) and perhaps, ironically, the Spirit will use the foolishness of the gospel to bring some hired hands to faith?

May the Lord protect those lambs who live without true shepherds. May he set them free or send them true shepherds.

Clark also cites John 10, which I’ve often considered when contemplating the rapid emptying of pews in Western churches. Believers know the shepherd’s voice. When they do not hear it, they flee, understandably:

I Am the Good Shepherd

10 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

As Clark says, let us remember the faithful in our prayers, especially those who are looking for a true shepherd. And let us also remember clergy in our petitions, praying that their faith increases and that they serve the Lord in mind and heart.

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