Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Gospel Flower from the Fifteenth Century

Below is Guenever's confession of her sin of adultery with Launcelot and its consequences (such as the death of Arthur and the destruction of his kingdom), and her trust in God's grace in Christ for salvation and intent of repentance, from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (with original Middle English spellings), first published in 1485.  (This is from the Norton Critical Edition published in 2004 by W. W. Norton & Company in New York City, edited by Stephen H. A. Shepherd, 1st edition, pp. 691-692.)

Than Sir Launcelot was brought before her; than the Quene seyde to all tho ladyes, “Throw thys same man and me hath all thys warre be wrought, and the deth of the moste nobelest knyghtes of the worlde; for thorow oure love that we have loved togydir ys my moste noble lorde slayne. Therefore, Sir Launcelot, wyte thou well I am sette in suche a plyght to gete my soule hele. And yet I truste, thorow Goddis grace and thorow Hys Passion of Hys woundis wyde, that aftir my deth I may have a syght of the blyssed face of Cryste Jesu, and on Doomesday to sytte on Hys ryght syde; for as synfull as ever I was, now ar seyntes in hevyn. And therefore, Sir Launcelot, I requyre the and beseche the hartily, for all the love that ever was betwyxt us, that thou never se me no more in the visayge. . . . and I pray the hartely to pray for me to the everlastynge Lorde that I may amende my mysselyvyng.”

Beautiful.

Another Dialogue with a Semi-Congregationalist

The first one can be found here.

OPC Elder:  Hi.  I've heard that you've been saying that we have to choose between Reformed denominations, because separated denominations reject each others' de jure legitimacy and authority, and that you think the denomination we should join if possible is the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Frank:  Yes, that's correct.

Elder:  But that is not the Reformed point of view.  We do not say that only one denomination is the de jure, legitimate church.  We hold, with the Confession, that there are many churches, more or less pure, which are all parts of the visible church of Christ.  There's the OPC, the PCA, the RCUS, the RPCNA, the FCC, and many others.  All of these are legitimate churches, and the OPC fully recognizes the legitimacy and authority of all of them with all their church courts and officers.  It is true that we are not unified in one denomination, but we have fraternal relations with them and recognize them as true churches.

Frank:  But in a presbyterian system of church government, denominational separation necessarily implies a mutual rejection of de jure legitimacy and authority, because presbyterianism holds that the worldwide, catholic church is to exist in formal unity and that church power is collegial.  The government of the presbyterate is universal, so that the elders and courts of the catholic church have a right and an obligation to govern collectively, subject to each other in mutually-binding councils.  Although the OPC has fraternal relations with, say, the PCA, they still reject each others' legitimacy because they do not see themselves as subject to mutually-binding councils.

Elder:  You are right that the OPC and the PCA are not in full communion with each other.  We do not have full unity.  But we do fully recognize each others' legitimacy.  And we are working towards full union.

Frank:  But you don't recognize the PCA's legitimacy, because you don't acknowledge yourself subject with them to mutually-binding councils.  It is the right of church officers and courts to have collegial authority with the other officers and courts of the church.  By denying the PCA officers and courts this right, assuming you have not rejected presbyterianism and that you are treating the PCA justly, you are denying their legitimacy and authority as de jure officer and courts (though not their de facto status as a true manifestation of the Body of Christ, however illegal).  The only alternative to this is an embracing of a form of independency or congregationalism, where there is no recognition of universal collegial authority in the presbyterate and individual churches function independently from each other with no mutual submission.

Elder:  You are right that, ideally, the presbyterate is to function collegially, and that the lack of mutual formal submission between the PCA and the OPC is a symptom that we are not in full unity.  However, you are conflating two things that need to be kept separate.  Although we are not fully unified with the PCA at this time, we do fully recognize the legitimacy and authority of their officers and courts.  These two things do not so much imply each other that you cannot have one without the other.

Frank:  Actually, they do so imply each other.  If the PCA officers and courts have full legitimacy and authority, then that authority intrinsically gives them a right to function together in mutually-binding councils with all other legitimate officer and courts.  You cannot say in words that you acknowledge their legitimacy and authority while denying this in practice by not submitting to their authority by granting their right to govern with you as part of the universal presbyterate of the church.  This is a contradiction.  So which is it going to be?  Do you grant the legitimacy and authority of officers in the PCA, thus recognizing their right to join with you in mutually-binding councils (and thus ceasing to be two separate denominations), or do you refuse to recognize that they have such a right and thus reject their legitimacy and authority?

Elder:  Why do you have to put things in such a black and white way?

Frank:  I only do it when the truth calls for it.

Elder:  But don't we need to recognize nuances?

Frank:  Yes, when they exist.  To ignore a legitimate nuance is a to distort the truth.  On the other hand, to make up a nuance that does not really exist is to distort the truth as well.

Elder:  Perhaps we can say this:  The OPC does not recognize the full legitimacy and authority of PCA officers and courts, but it does grant them a partial legitimacy.

Frank:  Are you saying that the PCA officers and courts only have some of the rights and responsibilities of ordinary officers and courts?

Elder:  Yes, something like that.

Frank:  OK.  So what rights and responsibilities do PCA officers and courts have, and what rights and responsibilities do they not have?

Elder:  Well, they have a right to govern their own churches, but no right to join with the OPC in mutually-binding councils.

Frank:  If they are not competent to join with you in mutually-binding councils, why are they competent to govern their own churches?  Is the former function more important than the latter?

Elder:  Well, no . . . but we can't stop them from governing their own churches.  That is their business, and we are in no position to interfere with them.  But we are in a position to grant or not grant them a right to join with us in mutually-binding councils that affect our churches as well as theirs.

Frank:  Why can't you stop them from governing their own churches?  Are not all churches subject to each other, so that an overarching governing assembly could discipline lower courts and officers if they do not adequately fulfill their responsibilities?  Just because you do not grant their right to govern the church collegially with you, it doesn't follow that they are not subject to the higher courts of the church.

Elder:  Well, yes, but we don't have the kind of relationship that would make this possible.  They don't recognize the OPC courts as being over them.

Frank:  They don't recognize OPC courts as being over them?  Well, that's not the real question, is it?  The real question is, Do the OPC courts actually have authority over them to discipline them?

Elder:  No, we don't.

Frank:  But in presbyterianism, the higher (or broader) courts always have authority over lower courts.  You have excluded PCA officers from having any authority to join in the overarching councils of the church, but surely you aren't denying that there are such councils.  That would be to deny presbyterianism for independency.  And if there are such councils, they can discipline the lower, or subordinate, PCA courts and officers.

Elder:  But they don't require discipline.

Frank:  That answer sidesteps the previous question, which is whether or not they are subject to the OPC's discipline, but I'll follow where you lead for now, as I suspect we will soon return to the previous subject anyway.  So you are saying the PCA officers and courts do not require discipline.  Then let's return to one of my even earlier questions:  Why do you allow them to govern their own (PCA) churches, but not join with you in mutually-binding councils?  If they are competent for the former, wouldn't they be competent for the latter?  And don't they join together with each other in mutually-binding councils--in their presbyteries and their own general assembly?  How can this be lawful, and yet you won't let them join with you in mutually-binding councils?

Elder:  Well, of course they govern their churches, and of course they join together in broader courts and councils.  After all, they are legitimate de jure ecclesiastical officers and courts.  They see themselves as having the same rights and responsibilities as officers and courts as we see ourselves as having in the OPC.

Frank:  Are you saying that the PCA officers and courts view themselves as having full legitimacy and authority, and thus a full right to fulfill all the responsibilities of officers and courts of the church?

Elder:  Yes, that's how they see themselves, just as that's how we see ourselves.

Frank:  But earlier you were saying that you don't grant them full authority, but only partial authority.  Are you taking that back now?

Elder:  Well, yes . . . I mean no . . . I mean, it depends . . . Maybe we can put it this way:  From the OPC's practical point of view, the PCA officers and courts have only partial authority, but from the PCA's point of view they have full authority, and the OPC, while practically granting them only partial authority, recognizes that they have full authority from their own point of view, and so the OPC shares their point of view that they have full authority, but it doesn't grant them full authority in practice from its own point of view . . . or something like that.

Frank:  Why have we suddenly started talking like relativists?  Is church authority an entirely subjective affair, so that it is only a matter of different points of view?  "Church authority is in the eye of the beholder."  Or is it an objective reality?  Can we say objectively that some people have legitimate authority and other people don't, even if they might think they do?

Elder:  Well, yes, certainly, church authority is objective, not subjective.

Frank:  OK, well, then does the PCA have full authority, speaking objectively, or does it not?

Elder:  Well, not practically from our point of view, but yes, they have it from their own point of view.

Frank:  I thought we weren't going to be relativists.  If the OPC sees PCA officers and courts as having only partial authority, and the PCA sees itself as having full authority, and the OPC is objectively right (and thus the PCA is objectively wrong), why doesn't the OPC discipline the PCA officers and courts for taking upon themselves more authority than is their rightful due?

Elder:  Well, they aren't under our jurisdiction.

Frank:  But they are under the jurisdiction of the whole church, for that is how presbyterianism works.  So what is the overarching council that both they and you are under?

Elder:  Um, well . . . Actually, let me rephrase what I previously said.  Although the OPC does not practically grant PCA officers and courts the privilege of governing with the OPC in mutually-binding councils, we do grant that they have full, and not just partial, legitimacy and authority.  They have just as much legitimacy and authority as we do in the OPC.  After all, they also do not practically grant us the right to govern together with their councils either.  The OPC is not better than or higher than the PCA.

Frank:  So you do recognize the PCA's full legitimacy and authority?

Elder:  Yes, we do.

Frank:  Then why don't you acknowledge in practice their right to govern the church with you collectively in mutually-binding councils, as presbyterianism requires?

Elder:  We're not in full communion with each other, and so we cannot grant them power over us.

Frank:  Who gave you the right to deny the rights of other legitimate ecclesiastical officers and courts?

Elder:  They don't have an intrinsic right to govern with us.

Frank:  Yes, they do, if they have full legitimacy and authority.  That's how presbyterianism works.  It is independency to deny that de jure churches have the intrinsic and unalienable right, responsibility, and authority to govern collegially with all other de jure churches.  You must either acknowledge their authority and legitimacy, and thus govern with them collegially, subject to mutually-binding councils, or you can deny their authority and legitimacy and remain isolated from each other in terms of authority, existing as separate denominations.  Presbyterianism leaves you no other consistent options.

For more, see here, here, and in general here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Brief Version of My Overall Position on Church Authority and Denominationalism

One of the central features of the presbyterian view of church government is that the government of the church is collegial.  Elders do not rule in independence of each other, but they are all part of a universal presbyterate governing the entire universal church (while, for logistical reasons, they are appointed to rule primarily over local churches).  This mutual inter-dependence of elders manifests itself in the conciliar nature of church authority.  Individual elders rule not by themselves but as parts of a larger congregational session.  Congregational sessions, while having the immediate rule over their own congregations, do not rule independently of the sessions of other congregations, and they are under the binding authority of larger bodies of elders commonly called presbyteries.  These presbyteries, likewise, do not rule independently, but are subject to larger bodies of elders convening in councils or synods--the highest possible synod being an ecumenical council.  As Charles Hodge sums it up, "The Presbyterian doctrine on this subject is, that the Church is one in such a sense that a smaller part is subject to a larger, and the larger to the whole."

This form of church government has implications for the meaning of denominational separation.  When churches are divided from each other in distinct denominations, there is no formal, binding, mutual accountability between the churches.  Since the authority of elders is inherently collegial and requires in its essence mutual submission between elders, the refusal of two or more denominations to acknowledge mutual submission to each other necessarily (assuming a consistent presbyterian practice) implies that the denominations do not grant to each other legitimate presbyterial authority.  That is, they do not acknowledge each other to possess such authority.  Such refusal to acknowledge authority might be just or unjust.  If Denomination A possesses legal authority as a church and rightfully refuses to acknowledge such authority in Denomination B, then it must be regarded as an objective fact that Denomination B does not possess legal authority.  This is because God has promised to ratify the decisions of church courts when they are just and consonant with his Word.  However, if Denomination A is acting unjustly in its refusal to recognize Denomination B's authority, this act is not ratified by God and is in fact a schismatic act.

This separation, however, does not imply that the divided denominations do not regard each other as members of the visible church in a de facto sense.  God is merciful, and we have reason to hope with a judgment of charity that the presence of his Body is manifest in the world far beyond the confines of the legal body of the church.  God has his people and manifests his saving work in many denominations, and the visible Body of Christ can thus be said to be present within these denominations.  Christians in these denominations possess spiritual gifts, including gifts of preaching, administration, and oversight.  God frequently works through these gifts to providentially guide and feed his church in the world, even though the gifts ought to be exercised with objective legality in communion with the legal church.  Just as God, in mercy, works through the ministry of baptists, and even blesses the children of baptists despite their failure to give to their children the required sign of the covenant, so we have reason to think also that he works in many ways providentially through the de facto Body of Christ even where objective de jure legality is absent.

It is our conviction that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is justly separate from other denominations, but not the other way around, and so the FPCS has de jure authority and legitimacy while other denominations lack it.

For more, see here.

UPDATE 10/31/14:  I've always liked the statement I first wrote up explaining my views on these subjects, way back in May of 2012 when I was still a member and a ruling elder in the OPC, so I though I'd paste a bit of it here:

Churches obviously claim authority. Church officers claim authority to fulfill the various functions of their offices; sessions, presbyteries, and broader assemblies claim authority to function as legitimate synods; etc. Whenever there are multiple denominations, each denomination, by virtue of its existence separate from other denominations, is making a two-pronged statement: “We possess legitimate authority, and other denominations don’t.” We can think of the church de facto and de jure. Considered de facto, the church of Christ is of course broader than any particular denomination. That is to say, the Body of Christ and its essential activities and functions can be found in many different places and denominations. Considered de jure, however, each denomination holds itself alone to be the visible church of Christ. By existing as a separate denomination, the OPC, for example, recognizes the authority of the OPC General Assembly, of the individual presbyteries of the OPC, and the sessions that make up those presbyteries; but it does not recognize the authority of the assemblies, presbyteries, and sessions of other denominations. The OPC does not invite to its General Assembly meetings, as fully recognized voting members, ministers from other denominations. They are treated as being without authority. If the Free Church of Scotland comes to a decision in its General Assembly and mandates that it be enforced in presbyteries and sessions, the OPC treats this decision as being without authority. There may be a de facto recognition that the Body of Christ, the visible church, is present in these other denominations, but there is no de jure recognition of the authority of these other bodies. The full recognition of the authority of the authoritative bodies of other denominations would amount to full union with them so that there would no longer be two distinct denominations.

Now, this fact, I have come to see, is important in terms of selecting the denomination one is going to be a part of. As there are a multitude of conflicting Christian denominations, they cannot all be right in their claims to authority, for they all exclude each other. This means that there is an objective question to answer: Which denomination, if any, is the legitimate heir to the de jure Church of Christ? There have been many denominational splits in the history of Christianity. It is theoretically possible to have a split in which both sides are equally wrong. It is not possible to have a situation in which both sides are fully justified in the split, for otherwise there would be agreement and no split. A denominational split always involves sin and/or error. There is always heresy and/or (non-doctrinal) schism. Most of the time, there will likely be one side that is right and one side that is wrong, or at least one side that is more right than the other. When a split occurs, it is necessary as far as possible to ascertain which side is right and to follow that side, for that side will possess the continuing authority of the de jure church while the other side will not. (Again, I am not saying that both sides can’t be de facto true churches. I am saying that they cannot both be de jure true churches, because in their mutual separation they exclude each other. The side that is right, then, being legitimate in its exercise of authority involved in the split, will retain that authority, while the side that is wrong will lose it, as it has had its authority rightfully revoked by the other side.) The question of which denomination is the rightful heir of the true de jure church is thus an objective question that we all must answer, and there will be an objective answer to that question that will not differ depending on one’s location, culture, language, nationality, etc. (except insofar as one’s conditions prevent one by some means or another from knowing about or being unified with what otherwise ought to be considered the rightful heir). We must first look at the churches currently existing and determine which is the most orthodox, and then we must factor in historical information regarding how they came to be separated from each other, and from these we can determine which denomination ought to be regarded as having rightful de jure authority. We would then have a prima facie moral obligation to join that denomination and not to support other denominations (by doing anything that would attribute de jure authority to them, by joining them, being an officer in them, etc.).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Denominational Division and Reformed Civil Government

The movement to strive for biblical civil government seems to be growing among Reformed circles, and this is a good thing.  The Reformed tradition has historically advocated for the Establishment Principle, which teaches that the state ought to formally recognize both the true religion as well as the true church.  Civil law and policy should be rooted in the moral law of God, and civil officers and courts should grant formal recognition to the independent authority of ecclesiastical officers and courts (just as the latter should also grant formal recognition to the authority of the former).  See here for a great article arguing for these ideas.

Among the obstacles that need to be faced in order to achieve the Establishment Principle's goal of Christian civil societies, one that stands out to me prominently is the current disunity of the church.  The Establishment Principle assumes that there is a unified body of ecclesiastical officers and courts that can be formally recognized as well as looked to as authorities in teaching the Word of God (just as the civil officers and courts in the Old Testament could look to the Levites and priests as authoritative teachers of God's Word).  But the Reformed world today is an ecclesiastical hodgepodge of divided denominations, separated from each other and often differing on significant points of doctrine and practice.  These denominations, being separated from each other, exclude each others' de jure legitimacy and authority as churches (though not necessarily each others' de facto being as churches).  If they do not recognize each others' de jure status, how could the state consistently recognize the de jure status of all of them?  This would amount to an internal contradiction in the society, just as would be the case if the state government of Utah decided to recognize a number of competing mayors over Salt Lake City.  And since the denominations differ from each other in doctrine and practice, which beliefs, values and practices is the state to uphold, endorse, and protect (in fulfillment of its biblical obligation to uphold and enforce both tables of the law of God)?  This could create some significant practical dilemmas.  For example, if one church teaches a requirement to baptize children and another teaches that children should not be baptized, which baptisms will the state recognize as valid?  If one church teaches that the church can sing hymns in its public worship while another teaches that this is a violation of the regulative principle and censures those who do it, which view will the state endorse and which censures will it recognize?  In order for a society to function properly, it must possess internal coherence.

As a member and an officer of the Reformation Party, I am committed to the promotion of biblical, Reformed civil government, but I am concerned that the disunity of the Reformed world, including among supporters of Reformed civil government, creates an insuperable obstacle to the success of this goal.  Of course, there are plenty of other practical obstacles as well, so there are lots of things that need our attention.  We have to chip away at these obstacles bit by bit, fighting on multiple fronts, in reliance on the grace of God and with trust in his guidance.  But we must not think of our disunity as anything less than the huge obstacle that it is, as if our goal of Reformed civil government can be achieved without resolving it.

In the end, the state can only recognize one church, and so the achievement of Reformed civil government is inevitably going to involve competition among the divided denominations.  The question of which specific denomination the state should endorse and establish will eventually become unavoidable, and so it is something that those of us who are working together towards Reformed civil government should be squarely facing and discussing even now, even while our goal seems very far away practically.  It may not be as far away as it seems.  We need not think only in terms of entire nations (like the United States) embracing the principles of Reformed civil government, but we can also strive to create smaller Reformed societies (such as is envisioned in the New Plymouth Project).  What will happen if we are able to establish enough of a Reformed presence in some particular area that we can begin to actually put into practice biblical principles of civil government, and then we find that we bring amongst ourselves divided denominational allegiances?  How will such a situation not end with debates between the denominations splitting what could otherwise have been a unified society?  These are things we need to be considering, even now.  As an example of a question we need to consider, should we be working towards the goals of the New Plymouth Project by trying to get people from a bunch of Reformed denominations together in one place to form a Reformed society, or should we first decide which denomination is the right one to establish and then work to get members of that denomination into one area to form a society which recognizes that denomination?  It seems to me that the latter course is the only reasonable one, given the inevitable conflict that must be involved in the former.

No regular reader of this blog (if there be any!) will be surprised that the denomination I endorse as the one our civil society should be built around is the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.  I see my work, then, in promoting proper understanding and endorsement of presbyterian church government and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland among Reformed people (and all Christians) as a vital part of my work in promoting biblical, Reformed civil government.  The two issues are unavoidably intertwined.

For more, see here and here, and this two-part article here and here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Some Implications of the Unity of the Catholic Church according to Samuel Hudson

In his book, A Vindication of the Essence and Unity of the Church-Catholick Visible (1658), pp. 254-258, Scottish Presbyterian minister Samuel Hudson puts forward some conclusions that he believes follow from the biblical doctrine of the unity of the Catholic visible church.  He has argued for these conclusions throughout the entire book and states them here at the end in outline form.  So here they are (adjusted a bit in format to fit more nicely in this blog):

CONCERNING THE CHURCHES IN GENERALL

1. That there is a Church-Catholick.

2. That the Church-Catholick is but one.

3. That the Church-Catholick is visible.

4. That though the Church-Catholick be alwayes transient and in flux by addition and subtraction of the members thereof, yet it shall never cease to be visible.

5. That if the Church-Catholick be contracted into narrow limits, yet the remaining part thereof conserves both the nature and priviledges of the Church-Catholick, and puts on the notion thereof, more properly then of a particular Church: as a City burnt down or wasted into a few streets, reserves the Charter and Priviledges of the whole; and that which was accounted but a part of it before, now puts on the notion of the whole.

6. That the Church-Catholick is mixt of good and bad, as well as particular Congregations are.

7. That the Church-Catholick may be considered either as Entitive or Organical.

8. That the Church-Catholick is one habitual, organical body, or Integral.

9. That the keys of Discipline are Catholick as well as of Doctrine.

10. That the Church-Catholick is one similar body: if considered as Entitive, the members are similar parts of it, if as organical, the particular Churches are similar parts of it.

11. The Promises, Priviledges, and Ordinances of worship and discipline, belong primarily to the Church-Catholick.

12. That the Church-Catholick is constituted by one Covenant, Charter, and Systeme of Divine Laws.

13. That the Priviledges and Ordinances of the Church arise not from the Nature of it, but from the covenant, denotation, and institution of Christ.

14. That the Church-Catholick is the prime Church.

15. That the Church-Catholick visible is of greater dignity then the particular Churches.

16. That the Church-Catholick visible is more august, and of more large authority then the particular: though the authority differs not in kind.

17. That the Church-Catholick is of greater perfection then the particular Churches.

18. That the Church-Catholick visible is ministerially an instrument to convey the Nature, Priviledges, and Ordinances of the Church to such as are added thereunto.

19. That the whole Church-Catholick is the primary and adequate object (sue genere) of Christ's Offices, and the particular Churches, but as parts thereof, Job. 3:16.

20. That the Notes and Signs of the true Church belong first to the Church-Catholick visible, and therefore are distinctive to that onely.

21. That the Church-Catholick visible hath an existence, accidents, and operations of its own, as it is Catholick.

22. That the Church-Catholick visible hath an head or governour over it, and but one head, even Jesus Christ, who is very Man as well as God.

23. That though Christ be the onely supreme head and ruler of his Church, yet hath it immediate rulers over it under Christ.

24. That the unity of the Church-Catholick requireth not a meeting of the whole body together at any time.

CONCERNING PARTICULAR CHURCHES

1.That the particular Churches are made up of the members of the Church-Catholick Entitive.

2. That the particular Churches organized, and all visible beleevers make up the Church-Catholick Organicall by aggregation, and the particulars are inferiour thereunto.

3. That the particular divisions of the Church-Catholick visible for convenient enjoyment of public, Ordinances, have the name (Church) and the Priviledges and Ordinances (as far as they are capable of them) secondarily in consideration.

4. That the particular Churches being similar parts of the whole Church, having no essential, specifical differences, are to be distinguished by accidentall differences and circumstances, as their limits of place, &c., though they be heterogeneal to them.

5. Many Congregations may be in the same community of discipline, and be ruled by their Elders in common by coordination, and so be called one church, National, Provincial, or Presbyterial.

6. If the particular Churches claim power of dispensing all the Ordinances of Christ, by virtue of the generall Charter, Covenant and donation, they being parts of the Church, then much more may the whole Church-Catholick, for which they were primarily intended and made.

7. The greater the parts of the Church-Catholick be, and the more united by combination and coordination, the stronger they be, and the smaller the divisions be, the weaker.

8. The divisions of the Church-Catholick into small parcells, to stand alone by themselves without coordination, is dangerous.

9. Yet necessity in regard of distance of place, &c., may cause a particular Church to be Independent, and stand alone in regard of actual, external consociation or combination.

10. The necessity of an explicit Covenant, as the essential form whereby the particular Church is constituted, implyeth a denial of all other Churches to be true, that are not so constitued, because they must want the essential form.

11. The ordinary and constant operations of the Officers of the Church in dispensation of Christ's Ordinances are in the particular Churches primarily.

12. Any particular Congregation may fall, apostatize, or be dissolved and cease, but should the Church-Catholick be reduced into so narrow limits, and the being thereof be reserved therein, and it sustain the notion of the Church-Catholick, God would not suffer it in such a case to fail or cease, for then the whole must cease also.

CONCERNING THE PUBLICK OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH

1. Every Minister is an Officer of the Church-Catholick visible, and that relation is primary to him, yet the particular relation hee stands in to a particular Congregation, giveth him a more immediate especial call, and charge to administer the Ordinances of God constantly to them.

2. Any single Minister by vertue of his office hath power ministerially to admit a member into the Church-Catholick visible, if hee bee fit.

3. Although the election of a Minister to a particular Congregation bee an act of liberty in the people, yet his mission is from Christ primarily and ministerially by the Presbytery.

4. He doth not administer the Ordinances of God in the name of the Congregation as their servant, but as the servant of Christ.  As a Mayor in a Corporation though chosen by the people, yet executeth his Office in the King's name.

5. If hee administreth any Ordinances out of his own Congregation, hee doth it not as a gifted brother, but by vertue of his office, 2 Cor. 5.20.  And the like may bee said of their dispensation of Ordinances to members of other Congregations that come to their Congregations.

6. Although the particular flock over which a Minister was set be dissolved, yet hee ceaseth not to bee a Minister, because the Church to which hee bare first relation is not dissolved, which is the Catholick.

7. The Elders of several particular Congregations as they may exercise the keys of their office divisim, in their several Congregations, so they may exercise them conjunctim, in combinations, if they bee called thereunto.

CONCERNING PRIVATE MEMBERS

1. Particular converts are first converted into the Church-Catholick Entitive, and secondarily conjoyned into particular consociations, for the more oppurtune enjoyment of Ordinances actually and constantly.

2. Every member of a particular Congregation is a member of the Church-Catholick Entitive, and that relation doth primarily belong unto him.

3. External profession of the true faith, and subjection to God's ordinances, is enough to make men capable of beeing a member of the Church-Catholick visible, and so also of a particular Congregation, quo ad externam formam.

4. By Baptism members are visibly and ministerially admitted into the Church-Catholick visible.

5. By excommunication rightly administered an offender is cast out of the Church-Catholick visible, as much as out of a particular Congregation.

6. Federal holiness belongs to none primarily, because born of members of a particular Congregation, but of the Church-Catholick.

7. They that are onely in the Church-Catholick visible, are not without in the Apostle's sense.

8. Children of believing parents have right to Baptism, though their parents were not members of any particular Congregation, and are debarred from their due, if denied it.

9. Every visible beleever is or ought to bee a member of the particular Church, wherein and among whom hee dwelleth.

10. The beeing in the general Covenant gives right to the Ordinances, and not any particular Covenant, neither do wee finde any mention in Scripture of any particular Covenant either urged or used as admission of members into a particular Congregation, or at the Constitution thereof.

11. The invisible members of the Church which have internal communion with Christ, are also visible members, and have external communion in external Ordinances.

12. The departure of a member from a particular Congregation, and removal to another for convenience, or by necessity, is no sin, but departing from the Church-Catholick, and ceasing to bee a member thereof, is a sin.

Before closing, I thought I'd copy a quotation that occurs on the very next page of Hudson's book, p. 259, where he describes how the principles of the independents rend the Body of Christ into pieces.  It's a good description not only of classic congregationalism but also of semi-congregationalism (or denominationalism):

Yea, there be others of our honoured and beloved brethren, whom I forbear to name among the former [he's just listed various heretical groups who rend the unity of the church in various ways]; who, though they acknowledge us as true churches, yet deny us to be one Church, and would have us rent into a thousand pieces and parcels, and these to stand as so many entire, compleat bodies, without any coordination, as so many Spouses of Christ, as so many Queens appointing their own orders and Officers, with liberty to censure both Officers and members within themselves, by the votes of the whole body; and not to be accountable unto any Churches as coordinate members, except arbitrarily.

For more, see here, here, here, here, and in general here.  I've copied other quotations from Hudson's books here and here, and in general under the label "Samuel Hudson."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Brief Case for Exclusive Psalmody

My intention here is not to present a full case for exclusive psalmody.  I don't feel a need to do this because of so many others who have done a great job of making that case.  For starters, I would recommend Rev. Brian Schwertley's thorough article on the subject.  I would also recommend Rev. G. I. Williamson's article.  (On the question of musical instruments in worship, Williamson and Schwertley have written another couple of useful articles.)  I would also recommend a book by Michael Bushell entitled Songs of Zion: The Biblical Basis for Exclusive Psalmody.  I myself have not yet read this book (due to the most recent edition being a bit pricy), but I have heard this book recommended so many times from so many people that I'm pretty sure it is a very useful book on the subject.  Another useful article on this subject is the minority report submitted to the General Assembly of the OPC in 1947 while the OPC was investigating the question of songs in worship.  There is also a very helpful website devoted to the defense and practice of exclusive psalmody where many great and useful theoretical and practical resources can be found.

My intention here is simply to make a very brief argument for exclusive psalmody and then make some general comments on the subject.

WHAT IS EXCLUSIVE PSALMODY?

The "regulative principle of worship" tells us to keep three categories of actions distinct: 1. things commanded, 2. things forbidden, and 3. things indifferent.  Since we are not to add to or subtract from God's law (Deuteronomy 12:32, etc.), we must avoid making things forbidden that God has not made forbidden, making things commanded or necessary that God has not made commanded or necessary, etc.  The exclusive psalmody position is simply this:  God has commanded us to sing psalms from the Book of Psalms in our worship of God (both in public and in private and family worship), and he has not commanded us to sing anything else in our worship of God.  Therefore, the singing of psalms in worship is a thing commanded, while the singing of anything else is a thing indifferent (since God has not forbidden the singing of other songs either).  We can distinguish a narrower and a looser definition of the word "worship."  In the broader sense, it includes (or should include) anything at all that we do, for "whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).  In this sense, mowing the lawn is an act of worship.  In the narrower sense of the word, "worship" refers to acts done in devotion to God that are specifically commanded by God and therefore can be said to be intrinsically pleasing to him (so that he is pleased when they are done and displeased if they are not done).  The exclusive psalmody position is that as the singing of psalms is commanded and no other songs are commanded, only the singing of psalms should be done in the worship of the church (using "worship" in the narrower sense).  This distinction is especially important when we speak of the public worship of the church, because a public worship service is a commanded event.  When the elders of the church call for a public worship service, the congregation is required to attend and participate, and therefore what is done in such a service is considered to be an offering up to God of that which is required by him.  To include the singing of anything other than the psalms in the worship service, then, is to require the people of God to engage in an act of singing that God has not required of them, which is to impose unlawfully upon their consciences and to confuse God's special worship with acts that are indifferent.  And this is to add to God's law, which is forbidden.

IS EXCLUSIVE PSALMODY TRUE?

So now that we have a (hopefully) clear understanding of what exclusive psalmody is, the next question is, Why should we think it to be true?  Well, here's a brief argument (again, not intended to cover all bases and respond to every possible objection):

1. God has commanded us to sing as part of his worship.  This is evident to anyone who picks up the Bible and spends any significant amount of time looking through it.  There are commands to sing all over the Bible (including many in the Book of Psalms itself).  A few examples are Ephesians 5:9, Colossians 3:16, James 5:13, Psalm 104:33, etc., etc.

2. More specifically, God has commanded us to sing the psalms in the Book of Psalms in his worship.  How do we know this?  Well, for one thing, God has given us a worship hymn book right in the middle of the Bible.  If God gives you a hymn book--that is, a collection of songs designed for the worship of his people--it seems rather obvious that you should use it.  The first time I ever heard a psalm sung in worship as such (so far as I can recall) was when I was 22 years old.  I thought it was odd to hear people actually singing a part of the Bible.  How strange!  Now, I look back at my past and around at the various churches and think it odd that it occurs to so few evangelical Christians today (as opposed to in the past, when psalm-singing was normal and pretty much universal in the church) that God might actually want us to sing the book of songs that he gave us.

God has specifically commanded his people to use the book of songs he has given them in his worship.  In addition to his general command to sing, he has specifically prescribed the Book of Psalms in his worship.  See, for example, 2 Chronicles 29:30:

Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.

This is clearly a reference to what we now call "The Book of Psalms."  It may not have been completed at that time, but the Chronicles passage clearly implies a collected book of songs for use in worship, and as we have such a collected book in our Bible which has a number of songs written by David and Asaph in it, I think it is safe to say that the Book of Psalms is the current, completed version of this collection.  There are other inspired songs recorded in the Scriptures elsewhere, some of which made it into the Book of Psalms and some of which didn't.  The distinction seems to be that some songs were intended for specific circumstantial use (like the song of Miriam in Exodus 15) while others were intended for the ongoing, regular worship of the people of God.  The church as a whole, in its ongoing regular worship, is to use the Book of Psalms, but there is no evidence that it is commanded to sing the songs not included in it.  In conclusion, the evidence of the Old Testament tells us that the people were commanded as part of their ongoing worship to sing the psalms, but it never gives us any indication that they were commanded to sing anything else.  Therefore, we can conclude based on the Old Testament data that the singing of psalms is commanded and the singing of other songs is indifferent.

But is singing from the Book of Psalms required in New Testament times, or only in Old Testament times?  A good rule of thumb when dealing with God's commands, considering that we are not to add to or diminish from his law, is that if God commands us to do something, we continue to observe that command until or unless God gives us some indication that we are to stop.  There is no evidence in the Scriptures that we are no longer to use the Book of Psalms in worship.  It is still there in our Bibles.  There is no obvious reason arising from it why we shouldn't sing it anymore.  One argument that might be made against using it in New Testament times is that the command to sing psalms was a part of the ceremonial law which was abrogated by the coming of Christ.  It is true that the singing of psalms was a part of the ceremonial worship of the OT people of God, and it is true that ceremonial worship as such (including, for example, the Temple worship, animal sacrifices, incense, etc.) was abrogated with the coming of Christ.  However, not all aspects of Old Testament worship have been abrogated.  The New Testament tells us that some elements of worship, such as having a holy convocation once a week, reading the Scriptures, the preaching of the Scriptures, and other things continue in New Testament times.  The command to sing is also repeated in the New Testament (as I noted earlier), which tells us that the element of singing in worship continues in New Testament times.  Does the New Testament alter the Old Testament's instructions as to what we should sing?  No, it doesn't.  It never annuls the Book of Psalms, nor does it provide anything else in addition to it.  Therefore, it follows that the New Testament people of God should continue to sing the Book of Psalms in their worship.

3. There is no evidence that anything besides the Book of Psalms is commanded for use by the people of God in their ongoing, regular worship.  There is not much to add here.  There is not even the slightest, clear hint of any command to sing uninspired songs in worship anywhere in the Old or New Testaments.  Some people think that there is such a command in Ephesians 5:9 and Colossians 3:16, because there Paul commands us to sing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs."  Well, isn't that a clear command to sing not just psalms, but hymns and spiritual songs as well?  "Psalms" refers to the songs in the Book of Psalms, "hymns" refers to the songs of John Newton, Isaac Watts, etc., and "spiritual songs" refers to . . . contemporary worship songs like "Shine, Jesus, Shine"?  Obviously, people who make this argument often don't think it out fully.  The fact is that "psalms," "hymns," and "songs," are all words used by the Scripture to refer to the songs in the Book of Psalms!  Here is Rev. Schwertley on this point (footnote references added), pp. 11-12:

When we examine the Septuagint, we find that the terms psalm (psalmos), hymn (humnos), and song (odee) used by Paul clearly refers to the Old Testament book of Psalms and not ancient or modern uninspired hymns or songs. Bushell writes, “Psalmos ...occurs some 87 times in the Septuagint, some 78 of which are in the Psalms themselves, and 67 times in the psalm titles. It also forms the title to the Greek version of the psalter.... Humnos ...occurs some 17 times in the Septuagint, 13 of which are in the Psalms, six times in the titles. In 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah there are some 16 examples in which the Psalms are called ‘hymns’ (humnoi) or ‘songs’ (odai) and the singing of them is called ‘hymning’ (humneo, humnodeo, humnesis).... Odee ...occurs some 80 times in the Septuagint, 45 of which are in the Psalms, 36 in the Psalm titles.” [Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion, pp. 85-86.] In twelve Psalm titles we find both “psalm” and “song”; and, in two others we find “psalm” and “hymn.” “Psalm seventy-six is designated ‘psalm, hymn and song.’ And at the end of the first seventy two psalms we read ‘the hymns of David the son of Jesse are ended’ (Ps. 72:20). In other words, there is no more reason to think that the Apostle referred to psalms when he said ‘psalms,’ than when he said ‘hymns’ and ‘songs,’ for all three were biblical terms for psalms in the book of psalms itself.” [G.I. Williamson, The Singing of Praise in the Worship of God, p. 6.] To ignore how Paul’s audience would have understood these terms and how these terms are defined by the Bible; and then instead to import non-biblical modern meanings into these terms is exegetical malpractice.

So there is no evidence from these passages for a command to sing uninspired songs as a part of worship.  But what about other inspired songs recorded in the Scriptures?  I dealt with this a bit earlier.  While there are other songs and poems recorded in the Scriptures outside the Book of Psalms, there is no evidence that these songs are commanded to be used in the regular, ongoing worship of the people of God, unlike with the Book of Psalms.  Therefore, their presence is Scripture does not constitute evidence that we are commanded to sing them in our worship.  As I said earlier, the fact that we are given a collected book of songs for worship and these other songs are not included in it points to these songs as having been deliberately and specifically left out of the songs commanded to be sung in the ongoing worship of the people of God.

4. Therefore, in light of the above, we must conclude that we are commanded to sing the Book of Psalms as part of our worship and that we are not commanded to sing anything else.  Therefore, we should sing only the Book of Psalms in our worship (using "worship" in the narrower sense) and particularly in the public worship of the church.  The Westminster Confession (chapter 1, section 5) captures this well when it describes the ordinary elements of Christian worship (leaving out prayer, because it is addressed elsewhere in the same chapter):

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious manner. 

The Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church-Government also puts this well in its description of the "ordinances in a particular congregation":

THE ordinances in a single congregation are, prayer, thanksgiving, and singing of psalms, the word read, (although there follow no immediate explication of what is read,) the word expounded and applied, catechising, the sacraments administered, collection made for the poor, dismissing the people with a blessing.

We are not simply commanded to sing in a general sense, but it is the "singing of psalms" that is commanded.

WHAT ABOUT INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC?

I want to add to my above argument one more piece relating to instrumental music.  Again, see my links above to delve into a deeper look at the issue, but, in short, the main argument against using musical instruments in worship is that they are not commanded to be used in worship.  Instrumental music was a part of the ceremonial worship of the Old Testament, but that has been abolished in New Testament times, and there is no New Testament command to continue it.  Therefore, we cannot consider it commanded, etc.  Sometimes people argue that it can still be included because it is not a separate element of worship but rather a part of singing, perhaps as it provides accompaniment that aids in singing.  But the fact is that it is indeed a separate element.  It provides something that singing does not.  It adds its own unique contribution when it is used in worship.  It has the ability to stir the emotions in a unique way, for example.  It was very distinctly commanded and organized in the Old Testament dispensation (see 2 Chronicles 29, for example).  Also, singing is quite possible without it, so it is not required as part of the essence of singing.  Therefore, there ought to be a command for its use if it is going to be used in the worship of the church.  (Under normal circumstances at least--philosopher that I am, I can see a hypothetical argument being made that there might be circumstances where people are so awful at singing that they simply cannot do it without some instrumental accompaniment.  In such a case, perhaps a minimal accompaniment could be allowed.  But does this situation ever actually exist in reality?  Unless accompaniment can be shown to be truly necessary, I think it should be avoided because of the natural tendency of musical instrumentation to add its own distinct element to the experience of worship.)

A BRIEF CONCLUDING COMMENT

Many comments could be made upon the benefits and implications of exclusive psalmody and the regulative principle of worship.  One comment that comes to my mind at this time is how the regulative principle, and its implication in exclusive psalmody and the avoidance of musical instrumentation in worship, keeps Christians from lording over the consciences of other Christians.  I enjoy psalm singing, but I also enjoy many other types of music.  Just this morning, I was listening to Enya, who is one of my favorite artists.  I also enjoy classical, traditional Japanese, Middle Eastern, Medieval and Renaissance, some contemporary Christian, celtic, and other kinds of music.  I'm quite sure that not everyone shares all of my tastes in music.  And I know I don't share a taste for all the music that suits other people either (such as country music, which I take on pure faith that some people somehow actually find enjoyable).  If I were to craft a worship service according to my taste in music, who knows what sorts of weird elements I might bring into it?  What songs would I use?  What forms of music would I employ?  What instruments would I use?  The end result would be that I would be imposing my own musical preferences on the entire congregation, forcing them to employ in their worship things that I personally find useful and enjoyable but which are not commanded and which may not be useful or enjoyable for others.  Not everyone gets out of my music what I get out of it.  It is not my place to impose that which is unique to myself on everyone else as if it were on par with what God has commanded for all.  The regulative principle reminds us to keep up a firm distinction between the worship of the people of God, which is something we all have in common together and which is intrinsically pleasing to God, and other activities we as individuals (or as voluntary groups) may find enjoyable and useful to engage in but which are not essential elements in God's commanded worship for his people.  Employing the regulative principle in worship allows the people of God to find unity in what God has given to all of us and to avoid imposing ourselves as lords over each other (which usually leads to schisms in the church).  And it allows God to define his own worship that is intrinsically pleasing to him, which is something that is his prerogative alone.

UPDATE 6/18/14:  For those interested in the history of psalm-singing in the worship of the church (in addition to the resources already cited above), here, here, and here are a few articles for starters.  The articles do not agree with each other in every point, but they are useful as a place to dive into further historical investigation on this subject.

Arminianism and Merit

"To merit" means "to be or do something such that a certain response is fitting and appropriate, and the non-attainment of that response would not be fitting or appropriate."  If I write something that "merits a response," this means that a response ought to be given to it, and if no response is given to it something unfitting or inappropriate has been done.  If my work "merits praise," this means that people ought to praise it, and if they don't they have failed to treat it appropriately.

The Arminians get angry with the Calvinists when the latter say that God does not choose to save all men from damnation and that he might justly have left all in a state of damnation if he had so chosen.  They say that this makes a cruel, mean, unloving God.  In their view, it would be completely inappropriate for God to leave any in hell if he could save them.  There would be something wrong with God if he did such a thing; he would not be treating his creations as they ought to be treated, as it is fitting and appropriate for them to be treated.  Thus, Arminianism teaches that all men merit salvation from sin and eternal life, contrary to Scripture which teaches that all men are sinners truly deserving of hell and that salvation and eternal life are free, unmerited gifts of God's grace (Romans 3:9-26; 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-10; etc.).  The great Calvinist theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards put the logic this way:

When men are fallen, and become sinful, God by his sovereignty has a right to determine about their redemption as he pleases. He has a right to determine whether he will redeem any or not. He might, if he had pleased, have left all to perish, or might have redeemed all. Or, he may redeem some, and leave others; and if he doth so, he may take whom he pleases, and leave whom he pleases. To suppose that all have forfeited his favor, and deserved to perish, and to suppose that he may not leave any one individual of them to perish, implies a contradiction; because it supposes that such a one has a claim to God’s favour, and is not justly liable to perish; which is contrary to the supposition. (Jonathan Edwards, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974], 670.)

And we can go even further than this:  Eternal life consists in the full and unending enjoyment of God as his adopted children, sharing in the relationship between the Father and the Son.  It is something that belongs exclusively to God.  No finite creature, being finite and not divine, could be naturally worthy of such a thing (Romans 8:1-30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:1-2; etc.).  And yet the Arminians make us to merit this infinite blessing, and thus make us by nature equal to God.

Certainly, then, Arminianism deserved the condemnation for heresy that it received at the Synod of Dordt.  It is no mild error, but strikes at the heart of both the sovereignty of God and salvation by grace.

For more, see here, here, here, and here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Alexander Shields on the Implications of Denominational Separation in a Presbyterian System

I just came across a great quotation from Alexander Shields, a Scottish Presbyterian minister in the seventeenth century, from his book Church-Communion Enquired Into, p. 7, quoted in an article by Matthew Vogan entitled "Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement, and the Unity of the Visible Church" (Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, 3 [2013], 109-157), 145:

[A]s the Church Triumphant is but one in Heaven, so the Church Militant is but one in Earth; Therefore all the true Members thereof should study Unity, This Truth of the Oneness of the Catholick Visible Church, being the Ground of all the Union and Communion in the Ordinances thereof. . . . If the Church be One, Divisions and divided Communions in her must either infer that this one Church is many, made up of Heterogenous parts, or that the Church divided from is not a part of that one Church, and hath broken off from that which compacts the Body together.

Here, Shields recognizes the fact that when there are separated denominations, assuming a presbyterian system of church government, the necessary implication is that the separated churches are rejecting each others' de jure legitimacy and authority as churches (though not necessarily each others' de facto existence as churches).  The only alternative to this is to deny the doctrine of the essential unity of the visible church for a congregationalist view of multiple independent "Bodies of Christ."  Matthew Vogan, on p. 144 of the same article, quotes Shields as recognizing the un-presbyterian, congregationalist nature of the idea of multiple de jure denominations (the quotation is from p. 68 of Shield's book):

Shields is emphatic that an independent Church, gathered and constituted and “not Subordinate unto the National Church” with its own officers and “invested with all Church Power” is “Schism, if ever there was any in the World”. “For then, what shall become of Presbyterian Government and our Testimony for that against Independency, Sectarianism and Schism?”

For more, see here and in general here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Charles Hodge on the Presbyterian Unity of the Church

Here is Charles Hodge on the nature of the unity of the church in the presbyterian view, from What Is Presbyterianism? (taken from the online version found at the blog Semper Reformanda).  Hodge points out clearly and admirably how the church is one body, in contrast to the schismatic errors of congregationalism/independency (and semi-congregationalism).

As then presbyters are all of the same rank, and as they exercise their power in the government of the Church, in connection with the people, or their representatives, this of necessity gives rise to Sessions in our individual congregations, and to Presbyteries, Synods, and Assemblies, for the exercise of more extended jurisdiction. This brings into view the third great principle of Presbyterianism, the government of the Church by judicatories composed of presbyters and elders, &c. This takes for granted the unity of the Church in opposition to the theory of the Independents.

The Presbyterian doctrine on this subject is, that the Church is one in such a sense that a smaller part is subject to a larger, and the larger to the whole. It has one Lord, one faith, one baptism. The principles of government laid down in the Scriptures bind the whole Church. The terms of admission, and the legitimate grounds of exclusion, are everywhere the same. The same qualifications are everywhere to be demanded for admission to the sacred office, and the same grounds for deposition. Every man who is properly received as a member of a particular church, becomes a member of the Church universal; every one rightfully excluded from a particular church, is excluded from the whole Church; every one rightfully ordained to the ministry in one church, is a minister of the universal Church, and when rightfully deposed in one, he ceases to be a minister in any. Hence, while every particular church has a right to manage its own affairs and administer its own discipline, it cannot be independent and irresponsible in the exercise of that right. As its members are members of the Church universal, and those whom it excommunicates are, according to the Scriptural theory, delivered unto Satan, and cut off from the communion of the saints, the acts of a particular church become the acts of the whole Church, and therefore the whole has the right to see that they are performed according to the law of Christ. Hence, on the one hand, the right of appeal; and, on the other, the right of review and control.

This is the Presbyterian theory on this subject; that it is the scriptural doctrine appears, 1. From the nature of the Church. The Church is everywhere represented as one. It is one body, one family, one fold, one king dom. It is one because pervaded by one Spirit. We are all baptized into one Spirit so as to become, says the apostle, one body. This indwelling of the Spirit which thus unites all the members of Christ’s body, produces not only that subjective or inward union which manifests itself in sympathy and affection, in unity of faith and love, but also outward union and communion. It leads Christians to unite for the purposes of worship, and of mutual watch and care. It requires them to be subject one to another in the fear of the Lord. It brings them all into subjection to the word of God as the standard of faith and practice. It gives them not only an interest in each other’s welfare, purity, and edification, but it imposes the obligation to promote these objects. If one member suffers, all suffer with it; and if one member is honoured, all rejoice with it. All this is true, not merely of those frequenting the same place of worship, but of the universal body of believers. So that an independent church is as much a solecism as an independent Christian, or as an independent finger of the human body, or an independent branch of a tree. If the Church is a living body united to the same head, governed by the same laws, and pervaded by the same Spirit, it is impossible that one part should be independent of all the rest.

2. All the reasons which require the subjection of a believer to the brethren of a particular church, require his subjection to all his brethren in the Lord. The ground of this obligation is not the church covenant. It is not the compact into which a number of believers enter, and which binds only those who are parties to it. Church power has a much higher source than the consent of the governed. The Church is a divinely constituted society, deriving its power from its charter. Those who join it, join it as an existing society, and a society existing with certain prerogatives and privileges, which they come to share, and not to bestow. This divinely constituted society, which every believer is bound to join, is not the local and limited association of his own neighbourhood, but the universal brotherhood of believers; and therefore all his obligations of communion and obedience terminate on the whole Church. He is bound to obey his brethren, not because he has agreed to do so, but because they are his brethren—because they are temples of the Holy Ghost, enlightened, sanctified, and guided by Him. It is impossible, therefore, to limit the obedience of a Christian to the particular congregation of which he is a member, or to make one such congregation independent of all others, without utterly destroying the very nature of the Church, and tearing asunder the living members of Christ’s body. If this attempt should be fully accomplished, these separate churches would as certainly bleed to death, as a limb when severed from the body.

3. The Church, during the apostolic age, did not consist of isolated, independent congregations, but was one body, of which the separate churches were constituent members, each subject to all the rest, or to an authority which extended over all. This appears, in the first place, from the history of the origin of those churches. The apostles were commanded to remain in Jerusalem until they received power from on high. On the day of Pentecost the promised Spirit was poured out, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. Many thousands in that city were added to the Lord, and they continued in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and prayer. They constituted the Church in Jerusalem. It was one not only spiritually, but externally, united in the same worship, and subject to the same rulers. When scattered abroad, they preached the word everywhere, and great multitudes were added to the Church. The believers in every place were associated in separate, but not independent churches, for they all remained subject to a common tribunal.

For, secondly, the apostles constituted a bond of union to the whole body of believers. There is not the slightest evidence that the apostles had different dioceses. Paul wrote with full authority to the Church in Rome before he had ever visited the imperial city. Peter addressed his epistles to the churches of Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, the very centre of Paul’s field of labour. That the apostles exercised this general jurisdiction, and were thus the bond of external union to the Church, arose, as we have seen, from the very nature of their office. Having been commissioned to found and organize the Church, and being so filled with the Spirit as to render them infallible, their word was law. Their inspiration necessarily secured this universal authority. We accordingly find that they everywhere exercised the powers not only of teachers, but also of rulers. Paul speaks of the power given to him for edification; of the things which he ordained in all the churches. His epistles are filled with such orders, which were of binding authority then as now. He threatens the Corinthians to come to them with a rod; he cut off a member of their church, whom they had neglected to discipline; and he delivered. “Hymeneus and Alexander unto Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme. As a historical fact, therefore, the apostolic churches were not independent congregations, but were all subject to one common authority.

In the third place, this is further evident from the Council at Jerusalem. No thing need be assumed that is not expressly mentioned in the record. The simple facts of the case are, that a controversy having arisen in the church at Antioch, concerning the Mosaic law, instead of settling it among themselves as an independent body, they referred the case to the apostles and elders at. Jerusalem, and there it was authoritatively decided, not for that church only, but for all others. Paul, therefore, in his next missionary journey, as he “passed through the cities, delivered to them,” it is said, “the decrees for to keep, which were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.” Acts xvi. 4. It matters not whether the authority of that Council was due to the inspiration of its chief members or not. It is enough that it had authority over the whole Church. The several congregations were not independent, but were united under one common tribunal.

4th. In the fourth place, we may appeal to the common consciousness of Christians, as manifested in the whole history of the Church. Everything organic has what may be called nisus formatavus; an inward force, by which it is impelled to assume the form suited to its nature. This inward impulse may, by circumstances, be impeded or misdirected, so that the normal state of a plant or animal may never be attained. Still, this force never fails to manifest its existence, nor the state to which it tends. What is thus true in nature, is no less true in the Church. There is nothing more conspicuous in her history than the law by which believers are impelled to express their inward unity by outward union. It has been manifested in all ages, and under all circumstances. It gave rise to all the early councils. It determined the idea of heresy and schism. It led to the exclusion from all churches of those who, for the denial of the common faith, were excluded from any one, and who refused to acknowledge their subjection to the Church as a whole. This feeling was clearly exhibited at the time of the Reformation. The churches then formed, ran together as naturally as drops of quicksilver; and when this union was prevented by internal or external circumstances, it was deplored as a great evil. It may do for men of the world to attribute this remarkable characteristic in the history of the Church, to the love of power, or to some other unworthy source. But it is not thus to be accounted for. It is a law of the Spirit. If what all men do, is to be referred to some abiding principle of human nature; what all Christians do, must be referred to something which belongs to them as Christians.

So deeply seated is this conviction that outward union and mutual subjection is the normal state of the Church, that it manifests itself in those whose theory leads them to deny and resist it. Their Consociations, Associations, and Advisory Councils, are so many devices to satisfy an inward craving, and to prevent the dissolution to which it is felt that absolute Independency must inevitably lead.

That then, the Church is one, in the sense that a smaller part should be subject to a larger, and a larger to the whole, is evident. 1. From its nature as being one kingdom, one family, one body, having one head, one faith, one written constitution, and actuated by one Spirit; 2d. From the command of Christ that we should obey our brethren, not because they live near to us; not because we have covenanted to obey them; but because they are our brethren, the temples and organs of the Holy Ghost; 3. From the fact that during the apostolic age the churches were not independent bodies, but subject in all matters of doctrine, order, and discipline, to a common tribunal; and 4. Because the whole history of the Church proposes that this union and the subjection is the normal state of the Church towards which it strives by an inward law of its being. If it is necessary that one Christian should be subject to other Christians; it is no less necessary that one church should be subject in the same spirit, to the same extent, and on the same grounds, to other churches.

For more, see here and here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Looks Like a Denomination to Me

I recently came across again an article I had read and commented on last summer from the August 2013 edition of New Horizons, a regular OPC publication.  A particular comment in the article struck me as I saw it again:

The Bible teaches that the apostles planted local churches, organized regional-city churches (Titus 1:5), and met as a general assembly to hear appeals from the latter (Acts 15). These churches had officers (Phil. 1:1), with biblically restrained authority (1 Cor. 4:6) over specified members “allotted to” their “charge” (1 Peter 5:3; Heb. 13:17). When one translates that into modern practice, the result is what we ordinarily call a Presbyterian denomination.

Of course, what the author is describing is the worldwide catholic church, with local congregations, regional gatherings, and an ecumenical council.  And he calls it "a Presbyterian denomination."

Yes, exactly.  The entire church functioned as one denomination.  That is how presbyterianism works.  So what does that say about our modern Reformed world in which so many try to say that the "visible church" is made up of a bunch of independent evangelical denominations?  This is to turn the one Body of Christ into many Bodies of Christ, which is contrary both to the Scriptures and to historic Reformed presbyterianism.

For more, see here and in general here.