Monday, September 18, 2017

Mere Protestantism

I'll comment on this:

I guess the best thing that can be said for it is the pertinent reminder that the Reformation isn't over. It says a lot of things I can agree with. It has some good signatories, as well as some not so good signatories. However, I won't be signing "A Reforming Catholic Confession". I'll begin with two lesser objections:

i) Jerry Walls cochaired the drafting committee. Jerry plays a Julius Kelp/Buddy Love character, wherein he can instantly transform from a militant anti-Calvinist to "the most ecumenical man in the room" and back again. The makeup is impressive, yet the actor underneath the magnanimous makeup isn't the ecumenist, but the militant anti-Calvinist. Sorry, but I can't exercise the willing suspension of disbelief to take his performance seriously. 

ii) The document is terribly redundant inasmuch as there's already plethora of "mere Protestant" creeds in circulation. Every evangelical seminary, college, denomination, and parachurch ministry has a generic evangelical statement of faith. 

However, I wouldn't say (i-ii) are deal-breakers. Moving along:

He will judge the world, consigning any who persist in unbelief to an everlasting fate apart from him, where his life and light are no more. 

Notice what that doesn't say. No mention of "eternal misery" or "everlasting conscious punishment". It's worded in such a way that an annihilationist can sign it. And that's probably intentional.

Perhaps a supporter of the "mere Protestant" confession will say it doesn't deny everlasting conscious punishment. 

Yet creeds are equally important for what they exclude as well as what they include. That's a basic function of creeds. To draw boundaries. To rule some positions out of bounds. 

And needless to say, it is equally silent on Purgatory, which is making a comeback thanks the cochairman of the drafting committee (Jerry Walls). 

What about penal substitution? That, too, is passed over in silence. How mere can you get? 

By the same token, this "mere Protestant" confession is silent on open theism. A "mere Protestant" confession that leaves the door open for open theism, annihilationism, and Purgatory is too mere for me. 

That Protestants are divided is equally obvious and, given our Lord’s prayer for unity (“that they may be one” – John 17:11), even more grievous.

i) Sigh. By that logic, the Son's prayer has gone unanswered for 2000 years. Even if, after 2000 years, the Father finally got around to granting the Son's petition, isn't that like a health insurance company authorizing treatment a week after the patient died? 

ii) Didn't Jesus say the Father always hears him (Jn 11:41-42). So shouldn't we believe that the Father already granted the Son's petition? Indeed, that the Father has been continuously granting that petition, throughout the course of church history–from the inception up to the present–until the Parousia? 

In that event, we should see in church history an answer to that prayer. If we fail to see that, it must be because we're looking for the wrong thing. 

What kind of unity is Jesus referring to? I think the best explanation is that if believers are in fellowship with the Triune God, then believers are thereby in fellowship with one another (1 Jn 1:3,6-7).

Our reforming catholic confession sets forth the catholic substance of the faith (the consensual tradition worked out over the first few centuries of church history about the triune God) according to the Protestant principles of the faith (sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide).

i) Freewill theists don't believe in sola gratia. They have a synergistic soteriology.

ii) What about Protestants who reject the classic Protestant (e.g. Reformed or Lutheran) view of justification in favor of something like the New Perspective on Paul? Or the more recent position of John Barclay? 

That these two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which some among us call “sacraments,” are bound to the Word by the Spirit as visible words proclaiming the promise of the gospel, and thus become places where recipients encounter the Word again. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper communicate life in Christ to the faithful, confirming them in their assurance that Christ, the gift of God for the people of God, is indeed “for us and our salvation” and nurturing them in their faith.

I think the sacraments are simply pictures. 

the Spirit proceeded to guide (and continues to guide) the church into a right understanding of these foundational texts (John 15:26; 16:13).

In a sense this is the right doctrine from the wrong texts. 

i) In context, Jn 15:26 & 16:13 isn't a promise to "the church". 

ii) There is a sense in which God continues to guide "the church". God gives teachers to the church. And God preserves the elect. That doesn't render them infallible, but to keep them faithful, God prevents them from straying too far. 

Yet, given the weight of orthodox judgment and catholic consensus, individuals and churches do well to follow the example of the Reformers and accept as faithful interpretations and entailments of Scripture the decisions of the councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) concerning the nature of the Triune God and Jesus Christ.

"the weight of orthodox judgment and catholic consensus" is not a reliable criterion. That's an intellectual shortcut, and the appeal amounts to a circular argument. By definition, "orthodox judgement" is orthodox, but that tautology is useless in ascertaining orthodoxy. You already need a preconception of orthodoxy to recognize examples of orthodoxy in church history. 

Moreover, "catholic consensus" is a very small sample. Most Christians were uneducated back then. They were in no position to exercise independent judgment. 

One set of Christians is not the doctrinal benchmark for another set of Christians.  Divine revelation is the only standard of orthodox. The onus is not on modern-day Christians to conform their beliefs to a "catholic consensus". Rather, the onus is on a "catholic consensus" to match up with divine revelation. 

When I attend a church service where these creeds are recited in unison, here's what I say and don't say:

The Apostles Creed

I believe in God, 
the Father Almighty, 
Creator of Heaven and earth;

and in Jesus Christ, 
His only Son Our Lord,

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
suffered under Pontius Pilate, 
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell

the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, 
and is seated at the right hand of the Father; 

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
the holy Catholic Church, 
the communion of saints, 
the forgiveness of sins, 
the resurrection of the body 
and the life everlasting.

Since I don't think the harrowing of hell is exegetically sustainable, I don't recite that article. 

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

Although I recite it, I exercise a mental reservation. Notice what it fails to say. It doesn't say "I believe in one God: the Father, Son, and Spirit." Rather, it reserves the "one God" for the Father. That's a defective Trinitarian formulation.

In its defense, the NT often uses "God" as a title for the Father and "Lord" as a title for the Son. However, creeds are different. Scripture has multiple authors, so the usage is varied. And Scripture is generally written in popular language. But creedal language should be more technically precise and uniform. 

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, 
consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

Since I don't think eternal generation is exegetically sustainable, I don't recite that part of the creed. In addition, the "from x" implies derivation, but again, I deny that the Son is derivative. I affirm the eternal sonship of Christ. 

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

Since I don't think eternal procession is exegetically sustainable, I don't recite that part of the creed.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Although I recite it, I don't care for that line. Even though you can prooftext those "marks of the church" from Scripture, the Nicene marks of the church pour ecclesiology into a Nicene wafflemaker, so that what comes out are those four marks. But that's reductionistic. We should begin with Scripture. What are the properties of the church according to Scripture? It's more than four marks.  

I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins,

Since I don't believe that baptism confers the remission of sins, I don't recite that line. Indeed, that line conveys false assurance. 

and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment