Saturday, March 12, 2011

Confusion Over a Reformed View of Baptism

Just as it is hazardous to build a doctrine of baptism from Scripture simply by examining verses having to do with water, it is equally dangerous to try to build a robust view of baptism by simply looking at one chapter in the Confession.

Whenever union with Christ is present, so is saving faith (and visa versa). The WCF teaches that saving faith is “ordinarily” wrought by the ministry of the Word. The Confession most unambiguously steps out and discloses a view on God’s ordinary means of conferring the instrumental cause of justification, which is always accompanied by all the benefits of Christ’s work of redemption. There is no mention of the sacraments in this chapter on saving faith, other than teaching that the sacraments (along with prayer) strengthen, but do not produce, that which we receive by faith (not baptism!). Even more significant is that in its chapter on effectual calling, the Confession also indexes effectually calling not to baptism, but to Word and Spirit. In effectual calling, wrought by Word and Spirit and not baptism, the Confession teaches that God replaces the unbelieving heart of stone with a regenerate heart of flesh, the very work that many want to attribute to the rite of baptism. In a word, the Confession attributes that which baptism signs and seals not to the sign and seal of baptism but to the effectual working of Word and Spirit. The sacraments along with prayer serve to strengthen these realities (that are effected by other means than baptism).

At the very least, those with FV tendencies have irreconcilable differences with the Westminster standards. That is because they will not make conscience of the Confession’s teaching that sacraments in general and baptism in particular are “efficacious” in that they “confirm(!)” our interest in Christ, which we inherit through the effectual working of Word and Spirit, which together unite us to Christ. The chapter on the sacraments plainly teaches that baptism is a confirmatory seal and not a converting ordinance. Baptism confirms that which Word promises and Word and Spirit effect. The role of the sacraments are not intended to effect that which the Confession teaches is offered in Word and effected by Word and Spirit, but rather they are to effect the confirmation of what is effected by Word and Spirit. In other words, the Confession teaches that together Word and Spirit effect the reality (union with Christ), and the sacraments effect the confirmation of that effectuated reality.

All of that is not to say that conversion cannot be accompanied by baptism or that baptism cannot be given increase by the intelligible Word, resulting in Word-Spirit conversion. Notwithstanding, the Confession explicitly states that the gift of saving faith is ordinarily wrought through the administration of the Word (as opposed to baptism) and that the precursor to faith, effectual calling (wherein a sinner is recreated in Christ) comes not by baptism but by Word and Spirit. The place of baptism in particular is that by Word and Spirit it “confirms” that which is granted to us in our effectual calling etc. So, in sum, when we read in chapter 28 of the Confession about the efficacy of baptism, we must interpret “efficacy” according to chapter 27 on the sacraments, which states that the role of baptism is to confirm our interest in the offered promise, and not to effect what the promise contemplates. We must interpret Confession by conmparing it with Confession, no less than we are to interpret Scripture by Scripture.

Sacraments effect confirmation, plain and simple. They are not given to make effectual the reality of what is confirmed in the sacrament. Sacraments don’t create; they by grace sustain. Again though, baptism may certainly accompany the converting work of Word and Spirit, but it need not even do that in the life of the believer.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

John Frame on Michael Horton's "Christless Christianity"

I have thought for quite some time that Westminster Seminary California (WSC) is not only theologically incorrect on many issues, but often historically mistaken as well. WSC is wrong on Natural Law; wrong on Two Kingdom theology; wrong on the Covenant of Works; wrong on Redemptive Historical preaching; wrong on Molinism; wrong on Law-Gospel; wrong on John Frame – yet had they got Frame right, they probably would not be so wrong on so many things. They would probably draw finer distinctions than they do. (NOTE: Natural Law, Two Kingdoms and Covenant of Works are all biblical ideas. WSC simply misunderstands them. Redemptive Historical is an excellent manner of preaching. WSC simply places undo emphasis upon it. Molinism implies heresy. WSC simply has little appreciation for what distinguishes it from Open Theism, let alone the metaphysics implied by libertarian freedom. Law should be distinguished from gospel regarding the way of salvation, but not dichotomized into mutually exclusive messages. In a word, WSC knows enough to be dangerous about many things.)

That WSC is wrong on so many issues wouldn’t be as bad if the seminary didn’t fancy itself as the keeper of the Reformed faith, another thing they’re wrong about.

In any case, in 2009 John Frame reviewed Michael Horton’s book: Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Although I have not read the book and, therefore, cannot comment on truthfulness of the review, I provide the link as information. My only hope is that those young, impressionables out there who have placed their trust (if not also their tuition dollars) in any institution, whether in Moscow, Idaho, Escondido, California or Glenside, Pennsylvania would consider all they are taught with a critical mind.

In summary, Frame contends that Horton’s criticisms of the American church presuppose more than ten major principles that although he says Horton does not maintain with utter consistency, they are necessary for Horton’s case. Not only does Frame observe that Horton does not maintain with consistency his own critical strictures, Frame also asserts that “Horton’s argument depends on ideas that cannot be justified by Scripture, or by the classic Protestant confessions.” In short, “Horton measures the American church with a defective theology” says Frame. Frame concludes that “Christless Christianity is essentially an evaluation of the American church, not from the standpoint of a generic Protestant theology, but from what I must regard as a narrow, factional, even sectarian perspective.”

Below are the unvarnished “ten points” that Frame argues are foundational to Horton’s thesis:

1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to Christ.

2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearers.

3. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are a zero-sum game. The idea that man must do something compromises the absolute sovereignty of God.

4. God’s work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us. (Here he backtracks some.)

5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a “theology of glory,” deserving condemnation.

6. Law and gospel should be utterly separate. There should be no good news in the bad news and no bad news in the good news.

7. Preaching of the gospel must never use biblical characters as moral or spiritual examples. Nor must it address practical ethical issues in the Christian life.

8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.

9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.

10. Analysts of the church must compare the Church’s focus on Christ with its focus on other things, rather than considering that many of these other things are in fact applications of Christ’s own person and work.

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