Friday, February 10, 2006

Calvin in the dock

The redoubtable Doug Wilson has linked to a satirical post in which Calvin is brought up on charges for his commitment to the Federal Vision, in defiance of the Westminster Confession.

This is intended to be the reductio ad absurdum of the anti-FV/AA position. However, the satire is a piece of sophistry.

In fact, there’s nothing ridiculous about the idea that Calvin might be ejected from a Reformed denomination.

The specious reasoning of the satire commits a level-confusion.

If someone accused Calvin of not being a Calvinist or an authentic voice of Reformed theology, then that accusation would be, by definition, absurd.

But there are, as we know, varieties of Reformed theology.

Suppose that Calvin were ordained in the OPC. Adherence to the Westminster Standards were part of his ordination vows.

Suppose it turns out that Calvin is a closet Reformed Baptist. That, in his ecclesiology and sacramentology, he really subscribes to the London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Those would be sufficient grounds to convict Calvin and evict him from the OPC.

And this is irrespective of where you believe the truth lies.

The larger issue is whether you believe in the right of free assembly.

Certain seminaries, colleges, and denominations have chosen to make the Westminster Standards their standard of church discipline.

These are voluntary associations. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to.

But the question is whether you believe in the principle of free assembly. Do voluntary associations have a right to lay down terms of membership in order to preserve their self-identity?

Do they have the right to form an association of like-minded believers?

Even if you happen to think their interpretation of Scripture is wrong at this point, do we not respect their right to be wrong? Should they not be at liberty to enforce the terms of membership?

What if men who didn’t believe in Wilson’s ministry were to infiltrate his ministry, take over the board, and reorient the ministry in a direction at odds his vision?

Suppose there were some fundamental differences between Calvin and the Puritans, or Calvin and the old school Presbyterians.

Is there some a priori reason why a particular church is not entitled to take sides and promote one viewpoint over another?

Does Wilson think that’s absurd? Does he think it’s equally absurd that his own organization should reflect his own outlook?

1 comment:

  1. Good response, Steve. Thanks.

    However, I think it is worthwhile to point out two things:

    1. these issues deal with more fundamental Reformed distinctives (like perseverance of the saints), not simply Reformed Baptist vs. Presb stuff or confessional particulars.

    Suppose that the AA/FV crowd gave up subscription to the Westminster Standards or 3 Forms. Could they still call themselves Reformed?

    2. the issue of consistency. If, as I suspect, these quotes from Calvin simply demonstrate some inconsistency on the issues (inconsistencies that he would conceivably clarify or amend if he was put under ecclesiastical examination in a trial) that contradict his stated beliefs elsewhere or with his broader theological system, then this cannot justify the AA/FV adopting and emphasizing similar inconsistencies.

    Trumping up what are, in Calvin, mere inconsistencies leads to a systematic incoherence that I find at the root of the AA/FV theology. My brain can only take so much cognitive dissonance. But this prompts the question - at what point do things get so muddled and incoherent that they can no longer call themselves Reformed, or worse - when we can say that the gospel is unequivocally denied?