The importance and relevance of the Westminster Confession (Part 1)

Tonight at our mid-week meeting we kicked off a series on the Westminster Confession of Faith. We tapped into some of Vandixhoorn’s book, ‘Confessing the Faith’ for historical context; we drew from Trueman’s ‘Creedal Imperative’ for insight into why Confessionalism is essential for the well-being of the church and the preservation of the gospel and we began a study on WCF 1.1. We then explored how WCF 1.1 can help us become better at evangelism. It was a lively discussion and we heard some good testimony which demonstrated some of the material we were looking at.

Here are some of the highlights, followed by the study questions.

Carl Trueman

“The pastor who thinks he is being biblical by declaring he has no creed but the Bible may actually, upon reflection, find that his position is more shaped by the modern world than he at first realized.”

“It would be a tragic irony if the rejection of creeds and confessions by so many of those who sincerely wish to be biblically faithful turned out to be not an act of faithfulness but rather an unwitting capitulation to the spirit of the age.”

“Creeds and confessions are, in fact, necessary for the well-being of the church, and that churches that claim not to have them place themselves at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to holding fast to that form of sound words which was so precious to the aging Paul as he advised his young protégé, Timothy. . . The need for creeds and confessions is not just a practical imperative for the church but is also a biblical imperative.”

“A church with a creed or confession has a built-in gospel reality check. It is unlikely to become sidetracked by the peripheral issues of the passing moment; rather it will focus instead on the great theological categories that touch on matters of eternal significance.”

Vandixhoorn

The Westminster assembly (1643-1653)

Two years prior to the gathering of an assembly of theologians in Westminster Abbey (from whence the Westminster Confession of Faith derives its name), a prominent pastor named Edmund Calamy urged the House of Commons to reform the Church of England. . . Calamy urged Parliament to ‘reform the Reformation itself’. It was not until 1643 that Calamy’s modern reformation took shape in the calling of what proved to be the last of the great post-Reformation synods.

The Westminster Confession of Faith traces:

  • the great history of our redemption:
  • the grim realities of the fall,
  • God’s gracious covenants with man,
  • the stunning announcement of salvation,
  • and our sure hope of eternal life—

 

 All these are sketched out in bold but considered strokes. It is because of the clarity of this gospel presentation in all of its parts that the Westminster Confession of Faith finds itself in the first rank of great Christian creeds

Modern Translation of WCF 1.1

Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, to such an extent that men are without excuse, yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of his will which is necessary for salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at various times and in diverse ways, to reveal himself and to declare his will to his church; and afterward— for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and of the world— to commit this revelation wholly to writing. Therefore the Holy Scripture is most necessary, God’s former ways of revealing his will to his people having ceased.

Scripture Proofs 1.1

a Rom. 2: 14,15; Rom. 1: 19,20; Psa. 19: 1-3; Rom. 1: 32, with Rom. 2: 1. b 1 Cor. 1: 21; 1 Cor. 2: 13,14. c Heb. 1: 1. d Prov. 22: 19-21; Luke 1: 3,4; Rom. 15: 4;

Questions for study

  1. Look up the “scripture proofs” and compare them with WCF 1.1. Do you think the WCF is an accurate summary of these scriptures?
  2. What does WCF: 1.1 teach us about:
  • God?
  • Creation?
  • The Scriptures?
  • Humanity?

    3.
    What does the WCF mean when it says, “Holy Scripture is most necessary, God’s former ways of revealing his will to his people having ceased.” (See Heb: 1.1

4. Do you agree with this part of the WCF? Why/why not?

5. How can WCF 1.1 help us today with:

  • Our relationship with God?
  • Personal discipleship?
  • Evangelism?
  • Guidance?

 

 

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A year in the life of a Free Church Ministry Candidate at Edinburgh Theological Seminary

Year one of four is over. (Not that I’m scraping tally marks onto the wall of my Study). It’s been an enjoyable year. It’s been a good year. It’s been a busy year. It’s been a challenging year. It’s been a productive year. So here are some reflections – in no particular order.

 

Part-Time Study/Part-time ministry

 

Two modules per academic year, along with pastoral responsibilities is probably just the right balance. Of course, everything takes longer this way, but it is manageable. Of course, there is often more than the two modules – there are preaching classes; Presbyterian practice module; and presbytery exams – but in a two-module year, these are still doable.

 

I remember listening to a Mark Driscoll lecture on ministry (before he crashed, burned and re-emerged). He argued that the best way to train for ministry is to be in ministry whilst studying theology. His argument was that the practice enables you to test out your learning in real ministry situations. I have to say, I think I agree. My first degree is a BD (Hons) in pastoral studies and theology. I was a full-time student, and whilst I was involved in local church leadership at the time, I wasn’t in pastoral ministry to the extent that I am now. Studying theology, whilst having responsibility for a church really changes the way you approach your studies – and I think it changes the way you approach ministry.

 

Studying in a Reformed Seminary  

 

I often get asked “Why do you have to study theology formally at undergraduate level again.” If I’m honest, I’ve asked myself that question several times this year. I’m grateful for my under-grad in theology from the Scottish Baptist College. It was there I developed a respect for “exegesis”; “hermeneutics” and “theological reflection”. The Scottish Baptist College was as theologically diverse as it was robust – that after all is the beauty (and bane?) of Baptist ecclesiology. However, ETS is a Seminary with clear Confessional commitments. This meant we had rich resources to mine, but there were also boundaries to be respected. So whilst I’m studying theology a second time, it is beneficial to view the theological landscape from a reformed perspective. Further, it’s not only good from a personal perspective, but it’s good from a denominational perspective. It’s one thing for denominations to require their ministers to have a theology degree, it’s another thing entirely to ensure that ministers are grounded in good, biblical theology.

 

I know some folks who see the Reformed Seminaries as being too rigid, and too conservative – yet that’s not really what I experienced. There is a rich diversity even within Confessional denominations. The Calvinistic stereo-type is nonsense. It doesn’t exist. Every student, lecturer, and staff member brings their own unique gifts, character and experience into the life of the Seminary.

 

Yet having said all that there are some beautiful unifying themes that weave the whole thing together. A vison for God’s glory; the gospel message; the authority and sufficiency of scripture; and a heart for mission is the beating pulse of ETS. It’s alive.

 

Studying as a Ministry Candidate

 

It’s one thing studying theology as an independent student (I did that at SBC); it’s another thing studying as a ministry candidate. For me, I’m constantly aware of the weighty responsibility and privilege that this is. I am grateful to the Free Church for recognising the gifts and call of God. I’m grateful for their support, and the opportunity to study at a world-class Seminary.

 

When the challenging times come, your commitments are challenged. You can find yourself asking why you are doing what you are doing. You can doubt your calling. You can wonder if you are doing the right thing. And as you go through those times, the fact that you are not where you are solely because of an independent choice that you made, is a strengthening thing. The fact that your Kirk Session; Presbytery and the Board of Ministry sought the Lord about this and believed it to be the right thing – that is a rock in the storm.

 

The other good thing about difficult periods, is not only do they challenge your commitments and motivations, but they also strengthen them. You are brought back to core foundations. For example, last night as I sat through the Awards ceremony, I was rejuvenated and re-envisioned.  Iver Martin’s Word was top-class. For me, it reminded me why I’m in the Free Church. At the core of the denomination is an unwavering commitment to God, His Word and His world. It was the same when John McIntosh spoke. His retiring comments did not miss the mark. He challenged us not to abandon biblical truth for contemporary innovations. As a seasoned historian he warned us that if we did it would take decades for the church to recover. And he knows. He speaks as one who knows the history of the church. He sees the dangers. Do we?   

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Professor John McIntosh at ETS Awards Ceremony 2017

 

There are many more things I could say. I could write about what I’ve gained from studying Systematic Theology with Bob Akroyd; New Testament and Greek with John Angus MacLeod; and the staff and students I’ve had the joy of meeting, but this will do for now. Overall, I’m grateful to the Lord for ETS, the Free Church and the staff and students I’ve got to know this year.

 

To God be the Glory.

 

Acts 29: Missional or Charismatic? Engaging with Newfrontiers/Sam Storms/Steve Timmis

Andrew Wilson has written an interesting blog which interacts with a diversity of views within the Acts 29 network. Andrew is a leader within the Newfrontiers movement. His ministry is marked by theological thoroughness, missional engagement and charismatic commitments. His stuff is always worth a read.

Wilson begins by noting: “There’s an intriguing discussion taking place within Acts29 at the moment over whether, and to what extent, miraculous spiritual gifts (like prophecy or healing) continue today.” What is the discussion? Sam Storms (an Acts 29 leader has written a book which promotes charismatic practice; Matt Chandler (Acts 29 President) endorsed the book and wrote the Foreword; but Steve Timmis (CEO of Acts 29) has written a friendly but critical review of Storms’ book.

Wilson says all of this “intriguing.” I’ll come back to this later. But for the moment I’ll simply add that there is nothing really unusual about this. From what I understand, Acts 29 has always been diverse, and by and large, “continuationist”. For example, Mark Driscoll (Acts 29 Founder) always described himself as “charismatic with a seat-belt” although, towards the end of the Mars Hill era was moving towards a more explicit charismatic position as could be seen in in his infamous ‘Sixth-Sense-esque’ moment when he declared “I see things” and when he gate-crashed John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference.

However, as far as I understand it, Acts 29 have always had a “continuationist edge” but they have never been “charismatic”. In fact, when I attended an Acts 29 Boot Camp in London (it was the one where Steve Timmis was brought in as the director for Acts 29 Europe), I happened to be sitting next to a guy from Newfrontiers. We had a discussion about the nature of New Frontiers and Acts 29. Both of us were “charismatics” and we noted that the Acts 29 conference was great in its emphasis on mission, but not so good in worship (worship being defined through a charismatic grid).

So, from my experience, Acts 29 (and Mars Hill where it derived its origins and ethos) have never been overtly charismatic. And there is a reason for this too. Acts 29 was always missional, and it was understood that charismatic practices often hindered mission rather than enabling it. The whole premise underpinning Acts 29 was contextualization and biblical faithfulness. Consequently, churches which made the charismata a central tenet tended to be not very missionally minded . Very often they would create church cultures that alienated people because of the various charismatic practices (en masse tongue-speaking, Toronto Blessing style manifestations, people being slain in the Spirit and so on). At least this is my analysis of the Acts 29/Mars Hill philosophy.

Wilson views the difference between Storms and Timmis as “intriguing”.

It’s intriguing because, as a local church, it is not an issue on which you can sit on the fence: you either “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy,” or you don’t (although the degree to which you do this can obviously vary).

I think there are two issues here. One is a difference in tradition/worldview held by Wilson, Storms and Timmis. The second is a contradiction in Wilson’s understanding of the ongoing charismata.

First the difference in worldviews.

Tradition/Worldview difference

Wilson, develops his point about not being able to sit on the fence. He says the diversity of views on the charismata within Acts 29: “reflects a fairly important difference in ministry philosophy, not to mention theology, which in turn reflects a rather broader theological bandwidth than I am used to within Newfrontiers.”

Of course, this is correct. The charismata does have a different emphasis in Newfrontiers than it does in Acts 29, and in fact as it does in the worldview/experience of Sam Storms.

Charismata in Newfrontiers

New frontiers was pioneered by Terry Virgo and was a product of the charismatic movement of the 60s. The charismatic movement took different forms. One stream flowed into the Old mainline denominations, other streams flowed into the historic pentecostal denominations and others flowed out into new churches. One particular expression of the new churches was the restoration movement. New Frontiers, however else it may have evolved over the years (e.g. from a house church movement to a mega-church movement) has an ethos that is firmly rooted in the charismatic and apostolic restorationist movement. You can get a grasp of Newfrontiers’ history and core values, and development by reading Terry Virgo’s books on the church: ‘Restoration of the Church’ (1985); ‘No Well-Worn Paths: Restoring the Church to its original intention’ (2001); and ‘The Spirit-Filled Church: Finding Your Place in God’s Purpose’ (2011).

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To understand Newfrontiers’ theology of the charismata you need to understand its pneumatology and its ecclesiology. In terms of its theology of the Holy Spirit, in line with its charismatic history and tradition, Newfrontiers still seems to operate within a framework which understands the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a distinct and separate experience from conversion (however, given their lack of Statement of Faith, this is more assumed). It is not clear whether they make speaking in tongues “an” or “the” evidence, but Terry Virgo’s connection between baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues  is clearly emphasised in his latest book.

For restorationists there is a direct link between ‘baptism in the Spirit’; ‘operating in gifts of power’ and ‘expression of gifts within the context of the local church’. For the consistent restorationist, gifts must be expressed in the context of public worship. It’s a primary distinctive.

This is why Wilson argues that charismata “is not an issue on which you can sit on the fence: you either “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy,” or you don’t”. What this means is, ‘miraculous’ gifts must ne normative if we are to be faithful to the New Testament Church pattern for public worship.

It is no wonder that folks in the Newfrontiers camp will be encouraged by Storms book. (I haven’t read it, although I agree with the points that Timmis makes in his review of it). However, Sam Storms’ theology of the charismata has been formed in a different context to that of Newfrontiers. Sam Storms’ background is the Vineyard church. Or, if you prefer to think in terms of movements, the Third Wave (see ‘Riding the Third Wave: What Comes After Renewal?’ edited by Kevin Springer and introduced by John Wimber).

The ‘Third Wave’ was really a major revision of the pentecostal and charismatic theologies. Pentecostalism made baptism in the Spirit and tongue-speaking essential – it was polemic and divisive; the charismatic movement made these things normative, and more widely accepted; the Third Wave returned to a classical evangelical understanding of baptism in the Spirit (happens at conversion) and separated the gifts of the Spirit from the baptism. It also placed ‘gifts’ or rather ‘power tools’ in the context of mission. Miracles, in this context, (in theory) were not so much about the church service, and more intended as signs to accompany the preaching of the gospel. In other words, they were a missional tool. (However, many charismatic churches, including Newfrontiers’ have been influenced by the Third Wave and vice versa).

The ideology of charismata as a missional tool was not always realized in the Vineyard movement. When the Kansas City church (Mike Bickle), where Sam Storms was based, joined the movement, a lot of emphasis was placed on spiritual manifestations. The movement really went off the edge during this stage. There were false prophecies, sensationalism, and scandals (See my review of Bill Jackson’s The Radical Middle).

Since we are thinking in terms of Waves. It is worth noting that the current missional movement is probably the next stage in the evolution of contemporary evangelicalism. With each development, ‘charismata’ is given a slightly different emphasis. In the missional context, mission, contextualization and the gospel are what matters. And, where and when charismata can serve this purpose – that is good and well. And if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be the focus. This is why Steve Timmis can disagree with Storms yet say: “although I’m not a cessationist—nor even a functional cessationist—I’m not and would not describe myself a charismatic.”

It’s also why Timmis can say:

I’d love to see the dead raised. I want to see cancers healed with thrilling frequency. I covet testimonies of multiple people having their hearts’ secrets exposed so they acknowledge God is indeed among his people. But I don’t. The anecdotal evidence cited by good friends is underwhelming. I can and do ask. I can and do expect. At times, I could even be accused of pestering my heavenly Father for these things.

But as I wait, the Lord continues to work powerfully by his Spirit in transforming lovers of self into lovers of God and others. I see many evidences of lives changed, and of sustaining grace. I hear God speak directly and pertinently through his Word as it’s faithfully taught. So, brothers and sisters, press on with the daily task of following Jesus with joy, even amid sacrifice.

Contradiction

This is where there is a contradiction in Wilson’s response. If we look at his statement in the light of Timmis’ comments it is clearly seen:

It’s intriguing because, as a local church, it is not an issue on which you can sit on the fence: you either “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy,” or you don’t (although the degree to which you do this can obviously vary).

On the one hand, he is saying you can’t sit on the fence with the pursuit and expression of charismata yet on the other hand he is saying the degrees to which this outworked can be varied. Yet, it seems as if Timmis’ position is excluded from the scale, despite the fact he says he is not a cessationist. How is that possible? It’s possible because Wilson’s ecclesiastical and theological moorings demand a more central place for charismata. For Wilson (and probably Storms) charismata/miracles must be normative. But this is exactly the reason why Timmis must reject the premise underpinning Storms book – and also the premise underpinning charismatic theology.

The real issue here is not cessationism versus charismatic theology, the issue is how a theology of the Spirit is worked out in practice. It is a question of what is considered to be normative in church life and what is not. From a New Testament point of view, what is central, the gifts of the Spirit or the Gospel of Christ and the Word of God? If you try and make both central tenets, what is at stake? I would argue that you end up with two competing authorities. You end up with the authority of scripture, and the authority of individual experience. Sola-scriptura will be undermined, despite our best efforts to make that not the case. Further, Nobel Prize winning scientist, Francis Collins, makes the following observations about miracles.

The only thing that will kill the possibility of miracles more quickly than a committed materialism is the claiming of miracle status for everyday events for which natural explanations are readily at hand.

In my experience, this is problem that charismatic practice can create. When everything is miraculous, nothing is miraculous. As Timmis highlights, on the one hand charismatics claim that the same miracle-power that the Apostles walked in is available to all, but the reality is most charismatics are “happy to accept a lower standard of “success”.

Collins further makes the point, regarding healing:

More difficult to evaluate are the claims of miraculous healing from medical problems. As a physician, I have occasionally seen circumstances where individuals recovered from illnesses that appeared not to be reversible. Yet I am loath to ascribe those events to miraculous intervention, given our incomplete understanding of illness and how it affects the human body. All too often, when claims of miraculous healing have been carefully investigated by objective observers, those claims have fallen short. Despite those misgivings, and an insistence that such claims be backed up by extensive evidence, I would not be stunned to hear that such genuine miraculous healings do occur on extremely rare occasions. My “prior” is low, but it is not zero.

The importance of these issues is often overlooked in charismatic contexts. I overlooked them myself for many years. But we need to be realists. Faith cannot mean the redefining of reality. Again, it would seem to me that a biblical understanding of miracles and charismata is to recognise that God does work supernaturally, but at the same time it is not normative. There is no ‘key’ to ‘unlock’. There is no secret technique to discover. Charismatic theology ever forces us to embrace the next solution. Why? Because reality does not match ideology. If miracles are to be normative, why do we not see them more? And to answer that question, there is always the next book, the next method and the next strategy about how to become more supernatural. The irony being we end up less supernatural because we have substituted confidence in God’s sovereign power with a human methodology.

Further, in the constant search for the supernatural element in modern ‘prophecy’ we lose sight of the supernatural element in the ordinary means of grace. God in the midst of his gathered church, his grace conveyed by the means of Word and sacrament. This is supernatural. Maybe the problem is we are in search of the signs, rather than the reality itself – which is God in the midst of his people.  

Acts 29 in many ways is reflective of contemporary evangelical culture. In contrast to the pentecostal churches, and charismatic movements (like Newfrontiers), a diversity of views of spiritual gifts and miracles exists. Movements that make charismata a central tenet in some ways, I think, in decline. Certainly, in the UK, with the shift towards contemporary missional churches, charismata is becoming less and less part of the bread and butter of public worship. Participation in collective praying and prophesying has been replaced by worship that is driven by a professional band, or rendered almost impractical where the church is large. Consequently, in practice, many pentecostal and charismatic churches are indistinguishable from any other evangelical church.

What does this mean for Storms book and Acts 29? I don’t know, I’m not in that movement. Will some Acts 29 churches become more actively charismatic in practice? Maybe. Will all of them? I doubt it. Not if Timmis’ review is anything to go by. In that sense, Acts 29 will just be like every other network of independent churches – some will be more charismatic than others. Whilst this may be a “broader theological band-width” than is the norm at Newfrontiers, it is more reflective of the global church scene. And, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is more reflective of Newfrontiers – or certainly where Newfrontiers is heading. Ever since Newfrontiers split into spheres, my understanding is that some have headed down more charismatic routes (e.g. Bethel) whereas others would be more focused on expository preaching, and would be sceptical of anything as extreme as Bethel.

What will Acts 29 look like in the future? Who knows. If we can learn anything from the past though, the Vineyard movement suffered when it allowed the Kansas City church (which Storms was a part of) to set the trend in terms of a ‘supernatural’ emphasis. As a result, church planting and mission suffered. It would be a great pity if Acts 29 suffered the same fate – that is, if charismata took such central stage that it begins to hinder rather than enable mission.

 

Dreher & Hanegraaff: Why we need to become more Orthodox & Catholic & Why the Reformation Still Matters

So Hank Hanegraaff has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Christian Blogosphere looks like a load of drunk folk staggering through Glasgow City Centre. Some are arguing, some are shouting incoherent nonsense – some are singing sectarian battle songs and others just staggering about dazed. What are we to make of this?

The Hanegraaff situation fascinates me and interests me for a number of reasons which are connected to my own spiritual journey.

Icons, statues of the Virgin Mary, Crucifixes, Stations of the Cross and the altar were all early and frequent images for me as a child. Like most people of my generation I walked away from religion and pursued my own path. But later, I came to faith in Christ through the simple preaching of the gospel in a brethren hall. I then spent a number of years trying to make sense of my experience, evangelical teaching, and the glorious-chaos of the evangelical and protestant church. Early on in my conversion, I rejected the exclusivist, and ‘conservative’ brethren approach to church in favour of the more open and experientialist Pentecostal/charismatic church. Yet whilst I appreciated the emphasis laid upon encountering God, and the call of God, I was always concerned about the doctrinal chaos that marked Pentecostalism. The Toronto Blessing and Prosperity theology, in particular, were sources of concern.

In the providence of God, I stumbled upon a book written by Hank Hanegraaff, ‘Christianity in Crisis’. This book was really helpful for me. In this book, Hank highlighted a number of false teachings plaguing the contemporary church, particularly via the Word of Faith movement. I am indebted to that book for its biblical emphasis on discernment.

Christianity in Crisis

Unbeknown to me, Hank was the ‘Bible Answer Man’, an evangelical Christian apologist. I never knew that, I just read his book. However, now that the ‘Bible Answer Man’ has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, many evangelicals are declaring him apostate.

The fact that evangelicals can equate conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy as apostasy, to me, is actually symptomatic of the problem and the reason why guys like Hank end up ‘swimming the Bosporus’. Are we really saying that there were no Christians from the end of the first century up until the reformation? How can we say that someone who sincerely owns the Nicene Creed as their personal faith, is not a Christian? How can we say that someone who genuinely prays the Jesus prayer (“O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) is not a Christian?

This is the second reason why the Hanegraaff scenario interests me, it’s not only because I’ve appreciated his work in apologetics, it’s also because I totally understand why he has headed into the Eastern Orthodox Church. The evangelical church, by and large is, a-historical, and ever drifting away from solid apostolic Christianity. Rod Dreher in his book, the Benedict Option, demonstrates this issue brilliantly.

Too many of our churches function as secular entertainment centers with religious morals slapped on top, when they should be functioning as the living breathing Body of Christ. Too many churches have succumbed to modernity, rejecting the wisdom of past ages, treating worship as a consumer activity, and allowing parishioners to function as unaccountable, atomized members. The sad truth is, when the world sees us, it often fails to see anything different from nonbelievers. Christians often talk about “reaching the culture” without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize. Without a substantial Christian culture, it’s no wonder that our children are forgetting what it means to be Christian, and no surprise that we are not bringing in new converts.

If today’s churches are to survive the new Dark Ages, they must stop “being normal.” We will need to commit ourselves more deeply to our faith, and we will need to do that in ways that seem odd to contemporary eyes. By rediscovering the past, recovering liturgical worship and asceticism, centering our lives on the church community, and tightening church discipline, we will, by God’s grace, again become the peculiar people we should always have been. The fruits of this focus on Christian formation will result not only in stronger Christians but in a new evangelism as the salt recovers its savor.

Dreher, along with many others, is spot on in his analysis of the contemporary evangelical church scene.

But this raises a question. What is the solution?

Michael Allen and  Scott R. Swain, in their book, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation observe:

Many critiques of Protestantism suggest that if one desires a churchly, sacramental, ancient faith, then one must turn from the Reformation toward Rome or the East. And many have taken to those paths, fleeing what they may perceive to be thin theologies of ministry and of the Christian life in the Reformational world.

Book

This is the path that Hank has taken. However, whilst I would argue that it is wrong, ignorant, and sectarian, to declare the Eastern Orthodox Church an apostate church, it is also, in my view, unwise to run for refuge to Rome or Orthodoxy. Why? Well, as much as I understand the quest for historical-connectedness to the Apostolic church I’m ultimately unconvinced that it can be found in either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism.

To be perfectly at one with the EOC or the RC is to be at odds with the Apostles. If we are looking for a pure stream of the Apostolic faith, we need to look beyond the East which at best is a freeze-frame of 7th or 8th Century Eastern Christianity. We need to look beyond Roman Catholicism – which at best originated in a 4th century development, and instead we need to go to the inspired writings themselves. The Apostles teaching, the Gospels and the Law and the Prophets are a surer foundation for the church than the later developments of the OC or the RC.

I understand the quest for the ancient church. I understand the despair at shallow evangelicalism. I understand the aversion to the schismatic and at times bigoted expressions of Protestantism. Yet having said all that, the Reformation matters. The scriptures matter. The gospel matters.

There is a third way between embracing the errors of the OC and the RC and the mind-numbing banality of evangelicalism. It’s not perfect, and it’s not without its faults and weaknesses. But I do believe that it holds together the best of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism. Where is this place I speak of? It is the confessional, reformed presbyterian community of faith.

I understand that to many ancient-church seekers, the reformation church looks like a novel-schism. It looks less like the ancient church, and more like a modern anomaly. But I would say, look deeper. Read Calvin’s Institutes – a thorough exposition of the Apostles Creed which draws upon the scriptures and the early Church Fathers.

The reformed faith, unlike its evangelical successor, is not anti-catholic or anti-orthodox. Arguably, it retains the best of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. William Perkins, the reformed puritan, argued for a Reformed Catholicity. He said:

“By a Reformed Catholic, I understand anyone that holds the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church: yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine, whereby the said religion is corrupted.”

In other words, Reformed Christianity is exactly that – reformed. It is the reformation of Catholic faith. It seeks to retain that which is biblical but reject that which is false.

Whilst I can see the attractiveness of the ‘ancient’ liturgy of EC/OC I cannot escape the fact that the gospel and the scriptures are smothered in centuries of human tradition. Historicity is important. But at best, EC/RC can take us back to the 4th—8th century. It’s not ancient enough. And it has too much cultural and traditional baggage. The grace of God is buried by vestments, icons, priests, altars, and incense. The clear voice of scripture is locked in a chest of human tradition. And we can’t really see the light of Jesus because he is overshadowed by his mother. These issues, and many more, is why the reformation mattered and why it still matters today.

Why Spiritually Abusive leaders quote: “Touch not the Lord’s Anointed” & Why Confessions of Faith are good

John MacArthur and his Grace to You ministry have engaged in an in-depth way with the excesses surrounding the charismatic movement for many years. I’ve appreciated a lot of the issues that Johnny Mac and his Strange Fire conference have raised. Of course, it’s worth noting that MacArthur and Co. can be guilty of pushing the pendulum too far in the other direction. They can overstate things and overlook valuable and insightful Pentecostal and charismatic contributions to the wider church.

Having said that, a recent article from GTY touches on a deeply embedded problem within many charismatic circles. Cameron Buettel writes:

False teaching thrives in environments where it is unlikely to be questioned. Charlatans and heretics prey on uncritical minds, and work tirelessly to protect and preserve that gullibility. Their success depends on dismantling every challenge to their authority and accuracy.

This was certainly my experience in a number of Pentecostal and charismatic churches. At various times, as a new believer, I would raise questions about the Toronto Blessing, or the Prosperity Gospel — or some other form of strange teaching, and I’d always be told to not question. Basically, people were conditioned to embrace every whim and fad that would be pushed from the pulpit.

This is one of the main reasons why I’m now in a confessional denomination. In a confessional context, we have a Confession of Faith which lays out what we consider to be clear, non-negotiable priorities. Ministers and elders are held accountable to that Confession. This Confession helps preserve solid teaching; it functions as a basis for unity and it is a means of enabling church discipline.

Further, Confessionalism can help to counter the unhealthy  culture described above by Buettel because it helps nurture an environment of discernment. There is a reason why you won’t find the Prosperity gospel in a reformed church, there is a reason why preachers can’t introduce novel revelations and there is a reason why reformed churches don’t facilitate the kind of chaos that comes with fads like the Toronto Blessing — the reason is this: our confession operates as a safe-guard.

If you want to read more about why contemporary evangelicalism could benefit from a recovery of Confessional Christianity, you may be interested in my recent book Radical Church: A Call to Rediscover the Radical Roots of the Christian Faith.