Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Communio Cockalorum

Paul Owen levels yet another salvo at Baptist theology:


By way of comment:

i) For the most part, all that Dr. Owen has done here is to illustrate the tautology that Baptists aren’t Presbyterians.

This tautology could be extended to other comparisons as well. Baptists aren’t Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims or Mormons or Aztecs.

To merely set up a contrast between Group A and Group B does nothing whatsoever to establish which group is right, and which is wrong.

ii) Dr. Owen, intellectual slob that he is, fails to distinguish between Reformed Baptists and fundamentalists. This leads him to frequently say that, for Baptists, baptism is contingent on a “decision” for Christ.

It should be needless to point out that this is an inaccurate and frankly dishonest description of Reformed Baptist theology. A voluntarist definition of faith and conversion is typical of the fundamentalist wing of Baptist theology, popularized by Billy Graham and others.

iii) By making the assurance of salvation contingent on the sacraments, Dr. Owen merely shifts the source of doubt, for all the same uncertainties resurface over how we can be sure that we have satisfied the conditions of valid baptism and communion.

iv) As a matter of fact, the promises of the gospel are conditional. Grace is unconditional, but gospel promises are general and conditional. God did not make a personal promise to Judas Iscariot or Simon Magus.

They are contingent on faith, repentance, and perseverance. From a Reformed standpoint, these conditions are met by the grace of God in the lives of the elect.

An apostate was truly promised something—but the promises are conditional. The promises are for believers, not unbelievers. Even Dr. Owen has to admit that God’s promises are indexed to those who “profess the true religion.”

v) Assurance is, in the nature of the case, a state of mind. That makes it subjective. The grounds of assurance are objective, but the psychological state is necessarily subjective.

vi) Doubt takes different objects. Doubting God. Self-doubt.

vii) A Reformed Baptist doesn’t look to his own election. Rather, it’s a question of faith. Do I have faith in Christ? There’s no way around this.

Looking to one’s baptism for the assurance of salvation is a source of false assurance for the obvious reason that not every baptized church member is heaven-bound. Many are hell-bound.

viii) There is objective certainty and subjective certainty or uncertainty. God’s grace is objectively certain. Faith and hope are subjective. They may be certain or uncertain to varying degrees. It depends on the individual. We might like it to be otherwise, but that’s a fact of life.

Indeed, it’s a fact of Scripture. As you study the lives of various OT and NT saints, you can see the variations from one person to the next, or even the same person at different times and circumstances.

There is no magic formula which will eliminate the individual element. There is no magic formula which will eliminate the subjective element.

Keep in mind, though, that God is sovereign over our subjectivities no less our objectivities. God is the Lord of faith as well as grace.

ix) There is no promise to the “entire visible church.” Whole denominations apostatize and die over time.

Dr. Owen cites the Westminster Directory. Although he does so in connection with baptism, this raises an rather incriminating question. Does Dr. Owen also follow the Directory in matters of worship? Is he a strict Puritan in the public worship of God?

You know what I mean. No organs. No choirs. No hymnals. No crosses. No robes. No stained glass. No Christmas. No Easter.

If he is not, in fact, a faithful adherent of the Westminster Standards, which include the Westminster Directory, then he should drop the double-dealing pose of wrapping himself in the mantle of Presbyterian tradition and reading every Reformed Baptist out of the Calvinist camp when he exempts himself from his own confessional tradition.

x) As a reductio ad absurdum of his own position, he goes so far as to claim that a reprobate can enjoy the “infallible assurance of salvation.”

He then tries to make sense of nonsense by claiming that the preservation of assurance is contingent on faith and fidelity.

And that, of course, is true. But that happens to be the Reformed Baptist position. Dr. Owen tries ever so hard to camouflage the difference with circumlocutions, but when you read the fine print, assurance comes back to faith and perseverance.

He may say the promise is made to “the church,” but the promise is appropriated by personal faith. He may say that the promise is made to me in baptism, but I must “improve” on my baptism.

In the end, then, his position reduces to a tautology: God will save everyone in a state of grace, and every believer, whether nominal or genuine, enjoys a “present” assurance of salvation.

On the other, hand, an “infallible” assurance cannot be suspended on an unrealized condition.

xi) In what sense did God promise his grace to the baptismal candidate? The offer of the gospel is not a promise of the grace to believe and persevere, but a promise of gracious acquittal on condition of faith and perseverance.

The bottom-line is that when Dr. Owen is being consistent, he stakes out the very same terrain as a Reformed Baptist.

But he then muddies the water by indexing assurance to baptism or the church. And he extends “infallible” assurance to the hell-bound.

It’s always hard to tell from reading Paul Owen what he is: an addlebrained Catholic, addlebrained Lutheran, addlebrained Calvinist, addlebrained Presbyterian, addlebrained Baptist, or addlebrained Mormon? All of the above? Other?

Actually, I think I know the answer. Paul Owen is a member of Communio Sanctorum, a worldwide fellowship numbering upwards of three individuals.

Running a close second is Societas Christiana, with a combined membership of one.

Then there’s Coffee Conversations, whose membership rolls fluctuate wildly between one and zero, depending on whether or not Kevin Johnson is in a blue funk.

Just compare this solid front of Catholicity with a piddling little sect like the SBC.

With such a groundswell of popular support, it’s only a matter of time before their movement sweeps the globe and thereby dissolves all the schismatical divisions hitherto rending the Body of Christ.

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