This weekend we are in Boerne, TX with a small band of church friends to attend the Texas Hill Country Bible Conference sponsored by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Today is the first day, and we spent last night in the local La Quinta Inn.
I dreamed that it was Halloween, or as we Reformed folk sometimes refer to it, Reformation Day, and two of my favorite local churches were celebrating the Reformation and promoting their churches by being out and about on their properties to interact with trick-or-treaters and fellow observers of Reformation Day. I have no idea why I’m home and not at church and participating, but the events were covered on the local news, and I noticed in the footage that legendary (in his circles) Reformed theologian and Ligonier Ministries founder, Dr. R.C. Sproul was at one of the churches!
What? I decided to call one of the elders of one of the churches to see if this was still going on so I could come meet Dr. Sproul, but couldn’t reach him! As I prepared to call another guy, my alarm goes off and I’m frustrated because I want to get through to someone!
I didn’t want to get up yet, but I reluctantly succumbed to consciousness. I laid there wallowing in my missed opportunity for a moment, and then I sighed with relief when I realized that it’s okay, because at least today I get to meet the current president of Wheaton College and former pastor of Philly’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, Dr. Phil Ryken.
John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and recent host of the controversial Strange Fire Conference, predicted in an interview with Christianity.com that what he calls the “Reformed Revival” will reverse itself in the next few years. He thinks this is so, because he sees so many of the younger generation who seem to be merely adding the doctrines of sovereign grace to their otherwise non-Reformed modes of operation like contemporary worship music, drinking beer, and Arminian forms of evangelism. He says in time, their Calvinist soteriology will fall by the way side because of the contradictory positions they hold.
Watch the video first, then read my comments below:
I find it ironic that this pastor should offer this critique of other pastors when he himself has added the five points of Calvinism to a non-Reformed view of eschatology. Reformed theology, after all, is not the home of Dispensational Premillennialism. Those who embrace total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, effectual calling and perseverance of the saints but reject the Covenantal theology in which these doctrines were developed, should think twice before criticizing others for selectively embracing popular elements of Reformed theology without embracing the whole system.
I also find it amusing that he should critique Calvinists for drinking beer. The enjoyment of alcoholic beverages in moderation is historically more Reformed than otherwise.
But I am in agreement with MacArthur that the five points of Calvinism isn’t enough. I would encourage him and members of the movement which a few years ago was called the Young, Restless and Reformed to take another look at the rest of Reformed theology. If it’s so right about the sovereignty of God in election, redemption and regeneration, what makes you think it’s so wrong about eschatology, church government and the sacraments?
As much as I love the Reformed tradition, some of its more extreme instincts, in my humble opinion, lead it to throw out the baby of the communion of the saints with the bath water of Roman Catholic superstition. One case in point is the memory and example of the saints of the past. Not wanting to retain a Romanist veneration of the saints, we neglect the important and edifying discipline of gleaning from the history of the church the graces of the saints conveyed to us in the annals of church history. This may lead us to keep an eye on the historic church calendar, but we do not have to allow the entire worship of Christ to be distorted by this. There are ways to corporately remember the faith and works of the saints without violating the regulative principle of worship. What it takes is a little ingenuity on the part of Reformed congregations—their members under the informed supervision of their sessions.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 26, “Of the Communion of Saints,” presents the biblical principles that go along with the communion of believers with Christ by the Spirit through faith, and with each other in love.
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by the Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory (1 John 1:3; Eph. 3:16-18; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12): and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7,12; Col. 2:19), and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (1 Thess. 5:11,14; Rom. 1:11-12,14; 1 John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10). [WCF 26.1, as adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church]
With regard to this section of the confession, there are gifts and graces to be communicated by one believer to others. This does primarily intend to apply to all living believers who are physically present among the saints in their generation of the church militant. But just as our confession transmits to us the corporate Reformed understanding of biblical faith, piety and practice, so can church history communicate to us the benefit of the gifts and graces of great Christians of the past who are now numbered among the church triumphant in heaven, with whom we are lifted in the Spirit on a weekly basis to join them in worship of Christ.
In one sense, this takes place all the time in one Reformed church or another as pastors illustrate the teachings of Scripture with examples of the works and experiences of saints of the past. By so appropriating their examples in the exposition and application of the Scriptures to us, I submit that we are benefiting from the gifts and graces of these historic saints, and so are experiencing the communion of saints even with them, if only in a sense. If the teaching ministries of Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, etc., continue to build up and instruct the church, why not the lives and works of those who published nothing, as their lives are recorded in church history?
One of the Scripture proofs in the section of the confession above is Romans 1:11-12,14. In this passage, the apostle Paul expresses his desire to commune with the saints at Rome.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
If Paul desired to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans in person, for his strengthening with the Romans in their mutual faith in the Person and Work of Christ, he certainly did impart such not only to them, but also to all Christians who would follow to this present day, twenty centuries later in his writing the most comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Christ in his letter to the Romans.
Paul’s grace was the grace of apostleship. Other ministers of the gospel have spiritual gifts to impart which are outworkings of this Pauline gospel. In the case of Nicholas, the grace of generosity to the poor among his parishoners has been communicated to us today through sixteen centuries of church tradition. If we may demythologize the traditions of St. Nicholas’ “wonder-working” intercessions, among other fanciful traditions, what we find remains is the kernel of a godly example of generosity on a par with that first lived by Christ in his state of humiliation. As Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV). Saint Nicholas was rich, and he used his wealth to relieve the poverty of those in his ministerial care. Truly, Saint Nicholas excelled in the grace of giving, taught in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. His example can help us learn how to live out the teaching of this passage.
It seems to me that due to the Reformed tradition’s utter rejection of corporate recognition of such great saints from church history, depriving ourselves and our congregations of their gifts and graces, are we not also neglecting a sense of communion with those professing Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, who do recognize these days? We may be appropriately divided from Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians over essentials like justification by faith alone, or other Protestants over important doctrines like the sovereignty of God in the gospel, ecclesiology and the sacraments, but we can at the very least affirm the validity of, rather than despise, their edifying themselves with the gifts and graces of the saints of the past. We could furthermore, I propose, go a step further by not only affirming them in their commemoration, but perhaps exemplify a “more perfect way” of doing so in the context of Reformed theology, piety and practice.
Many Reformed churches are happy to commemorate Reformation Day on a yearly basis. We promote our commonly held Protestant distinctives, displaying our unity with Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Protestants. We also take it a step further and do it in a Reformed way. If we can do it with the memory of the works of Saint Martin Luther, why can we not do it with others like Saint Nicholas? Today is Saint Nicholas Day. December 6 is the anniversary of his death. It is on this day that Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches commemorate his life and ministry in their various ways. Yet the Reformed ignore it, although many of them have borrowed from the Anglicans at Christmas and found a way to bring into greater conformity to the Refomred confessions the Anglican Service of Lessons and Carols.
I say we should find a way to bring into greater conformity to our confessions the commemoration of the life and ministry of Saint Nicholas (read all about him here) and so reform in a more winsome and attractive way, the commercialized specter of Santa Claus, rather than merely turning up our noses to it and saying “Bah! Humbug.” Saint Nicholas is the world’s favorite saint. Sure, they’ve refashioned him in their own image, but we shouldn’t just leave him to them. Let us keep alive the true Saint Nicholas, who currently enriches our Christmas seasons with his emphasis on sacrificial generosity to the poor, and perhaps, through such edifying efforts build bridges over which some of the elect may find their way into the communion of saints through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit and love for one another, and we can learn from Saint Nicholas how to better minister to the needy among us, as well as in the world, without feeling like we’re capitulating to some liberal “social gospel” or postmodern version of progressive “social justice.” Let us reform Saint Nicholas day and perhaps in his providence the Lord will use us to reform the way Christian charity is done in a more perfect way.
Happy Saint Nicholas Day!
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle, Washington’s Mars Hill Church, must have been very thankful for his friends in the Christian publishing world on Thanksgiving. Since he was asked some tough questions about some passages in his latest book, A Call to Resurgence, which gave insufficient citation to one of his sources, they’ve been circling the wagons around their author.
But Driscoll is no stranger to controversy. It’s plagued his ministry since the beginning. He started out a member of Emergent Village, working alongside Brian McLaren and others, trying to find new ways to do church with the “emerging” generation of postmoderns who were leaving Evangelicalism, or at least lowering the Evangelical bar even closer to the ground than it already is. To his credit, he left Emergent Village, when they left orthodox Christianity. You can read about that in “Navigating the Emerging Church Highway.”
Building a church in what he calls “the most unchurched city” in America, Seattle, Washington, Driscoll earned a reputation among his Evangelical and Calvinistic colleagues for his delivery—irreverent at best, and vulgar at worst. I personally recall Steve Camp’s ongoing blog crusade calling him out for this. But they have since buried the hatchet in the wake of an edifying debate Mark did on Nightline. I don’t know if what Camp called Driscoll’s “scatological” language has ended, but Camp’s crusade certainly did.
A year or so ago, Mark got in trouble for joining James MacDonald and others at the Elephant Room Conference to pass some soft-ball questions to T.D. Jakes about the Trinity, before declaring him an orthodox brother in Christ. Jakes was raised in the Oneness Pentecostal tradition, but now plays both sides of the Trinitarian divide with carefully crafted language which demonstrates he hasn’t repented of the anti-Trinitarianism of his youth. This No Compromise video handles the issues well.
I haven’t followed Mark Driscoll’s ministry that closely over the years. My theology and interests are on a slightly different trajectory from his, so I’m not aware of the datails in many of the scandals and stories about which I’ve heard. Liberals, however, also find much to criticize in him. Just search your favorite Left-wing site and you’re likely to find posts on his being “anti-gay,” among other things, some of which even his conservative critics would likewise critique, even if for different reasons.
A few weeks ago, when John MacArthur hosted his latest Truth Matters conference at Grace Community Church on the subject of how the charismatic movement often features false forms of worship (see my recent post on this here), the Charismatic Calvinist Mark Driscoll crashed the conference to pass out copies of A Call to Resurgence and tweeted a much-debated claim that security personnel confiscate his books, while cell-phone footage seemed to indicate otherwise, and a representative of the conference accused Driscoll of lying about the incident. See that story here.
It was therefore no surprise to me, when Mark Driscoll was as defensive as he was when he went on the Janet Mefferd Show and was asked some tough questions about several pages in A Call to Resurgence in which he borrows heavily from Dr. Peter Jones of TruthXChange.com but gives only one citation referencing him as an “example.” This is insufficient, because it does not clearly state Jones was the actual source. While I can see how Driscoll may have thought he was doing justice to Jones’ intellectual property, and neglected to cite him properly, his defensive tone and attempt to turn the tables on Mefferd by making the issue her “grumpiness” and “rudeness,” demonstrates to me that Driscoll wasn’t serious about doing what needs to be done, even though he tried to use all the right sentiments to come off as someone who is suffering for doing the right thing. If you listen to the interview, it is true that Mefferd seems to be relentless in her questioning even after he began saying he’d talk to Jones about the matter, even though she was asking if he’d go to his publisher about it. But the tone he takes with her in his own defense, and the pretentious way he attempts to frame her as a bully betrays his insincerity on this, in my opinion.
In the days that followed that interview, Driscoll’s publisher, and a prominent Reformed promoter of one of Driscoll’s past publishers attempted to follow Driscoll in turning the tables on Mefferd and make her the bad guy. But the fact that he is a source of income for them makes their objections less meaningful, if not a real conflict of interests.
Then Mefferd kept finding more examples of plagiarism in other books he’s written. She provided photographs of the texts in question so her listeners could see for themselves how he used the language of others without proper, if any documentation of his use of their intellectual property (but Mefferd removed them all yesterday, upon her apology motivated by her regret over the controversy caused by the interview, though not the inaccuracy of her criticism). The only person who can’t be persuaded that Janet Mefferd is correct in her assertions and documentation are those who want Driscoll to prevail in this controversy, or those too squeamish to stomach a trained journalist doing what journalists do when presented with obstacles in their effort to get at the truth. They get persistent.
Today’s “Bully Pulpit” episode of The Mortification of Spin, in which Dr. Carl Trueman, Rev. Todd Pruitt, and Aimee Byrd address the need for accountability for Evangelical celebrities, and hence the necessity of a free Christian press. Listen to “Structured Accountability.” I am thankful that there are real journalists like Janet Mefferd who are willing to do what they can to hold celebrities accountable for their behavior.
Our pastor, Rev. Joe Troutman, returned from an OPC Missions conference in Orlando, Florida last week with a head full of new outreach ideas and a heart full of motivation to begin doing more to look outward toward our community, having spent the last few months focusing on getting our own new building up to shape for regular worship services. God has been good to us during this time, in eliminating the headache of having to find a place to meet every Sunday morning, and a member’s home in which to meet for evening worship.
Our little body of believers has been being edified together in the gospel, and the Lord has been adding to our number in terms of covenant children born, and grown believers joining. A small part of this new outward focus now involves a public Facebook page for our church, Mid Cities Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Bedford, Texas. It is a work in progress as far as profile pics and such, but I wanted to take this opportunity to invite any of the readers of the blog who’d like to keep up with the ministry of this church in the heart of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. We’ll be posting sermon podcasts (which are also currently available in the sidebar of this blog) and events as they come up, and whatever else our pastor and we come up with in the future in the hopes it is a blessing to you. Like us at http://facebook.com/MCOPCpublic today for a little virtual Reformed communion.