Sunday, October 07, 2007

5 Point Intersection?

Every once in a while, Calvinist theologians get a wild hair and decide that 5 points are not enough to be inclusive for fellowship with other denominations or groups and decide to add some point or another which is usually their pet doctrine. Such is the case with Richard Muller, the Historical Theology professor at Calvin Theological Seminary an institute of the Reformed Denomination, in an article How Many Points? from the Calvin Seminary Journal he wrote in 1993. Usually they are just an easy couple of extra points but in Richards case it appears he will have nothing else but full obeisance to the Three Forms of Unity which comprise the confession for the Reformed Denomination. He starts off by saying, "I once met a minister who introduced himself to me as a "five-point Calvinist." I later learned that, in addition to being a self-confessed five-point Calvinist, he was also an anti-paedobaptist who assumed that the church was a voluntary association of adult believers, that the sacraments were not means of grace but were merely "ordinances" of the church, that there was more than one covenant offering salvation in the time between the Fall and the eschaton, and that the church could expect a thousand-year reign on earth after Christ's Second Coming but before the ultimate end of the world. He recognized no creeds or confessions of the church as binding in any way. I also found out that he regularly preached the "five points" in such a way as to indicate the difficulty of finding assurance of salvation: He often taught his congregation that they had to examine their repentance continually in order to determine whether they had exerted themselves enough in renouncing the world and in "accepting" Christ. This view of Christian life was totally in accord with his conception of the church as a visible, voluntary association of "born again" adults who had "a personal relationship with Jesus." Richard never identifies this implied boogeyman but it seems to me he may be referring to John MacArthur, pastor of the Grace Community Church in California and president of the Master's Seminary. Regardless, let us examine what faults this man has.
First of all he believes in baptizing only professing believers. Mark 16:16 says "He who believes and is baptized will be saved...", Acts 2:38 commands to repent and then be baptized and later in verse 41 it tells us that only those "who gladly received his word were baptized." No place in Scripture ever tells us a baby was baptized or commands to baptize any babies but only believers. Any true Reformed theology will stand firmly by the principle of Sola Scriptura or Bible alone and so the boogeyman represents the reformed position more than either Richard or his precious Three Forms of Unity does.
Next we see this man believes the church is an association of "adult believers" voluntarily. Again I bring our attention to Acts 2:41 where it says "those who gladly received his word... were added to them(that is the church) and again we see in 2 Peter 1:1 he in talking to the church refers to them as "those who have obtained a like precious faith. Maybe Richard's problem is that he feels it should not be "voluntary" but forced worship, which is what baptizing babies does. This would be in line with the Catholic Church but again falls far short of the Holy Scriptures and so round two to the boogeyman.
Now this man does not hold to sacraments as a means of grace but ordinances. This is a more convoluted issue as the terms "sacrament" and "ordinance" mean the same thing and so it is a preference of terms. Since Rome uses the term sacrament some Reformed prefer to use ordinance. The second part to this question is are they a means of grace. I again turn to Scripture, as in Romans 10:17 where it states "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God". In Eph. 2:8,9 we learn that it is by grace through faith and not of works that we are saved and so scripture clearly articulates the only means of grace as the Holy Bible. Baptism and Communion are for believers and reflect what has happened internally through Jesus Christ our Lord in the Holy Spirit. Again Richard's weak doctrine of Sola Scriptura is evident.
As to the covenants, I would agree with Richard that there is one covenant offering salvation, but think he is weaker on this than he knows as I will show on a later point he makes. We next read that Richard believes in amillenialism and our boogeyman is a premillenialist. Revelation 20 seems to indicate such a teaching and once again the weight of evidence lies with Richard to prove the man wrong. Even paedobaptists like Horatius Bonar, Gordon Clark and James Montgomery Boice have been premillenial and so Richard may want to convince people in their camps that the "Reformed Creeds" teach amillenialism. As for whether or not "the creeds or confessions of the church are binding" one must ask which creeds or confessions and which church. First some churches prefer to use the Bible alone as a statement of faith, but of the ones that use confessions, there are the First London Baptist, the Second London Baptist, the Philadelphia Baptist and the New Hampshire Baptist Confessions and the Lutherans use the Augsburg Confession. Richard I do not believe would be happy with any of these. There is also statements like the Tridentine Decree of the Roman Catholic's Council of Trent which I hope Richard would not want to associate with. Where does the Bible make any of the above listed confessions binding or any Richard claims to like as the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster. Lastly, Richard takes issue with our boogeyman on his abuse of the 5 points to instill doubt and fear in his congregation about their salvation. He goes on to say that our boogeyman's "doctrines would have been repudiated by Calvin. In fact, his doctrines would have gotten him tossed out of Geneva had he arrived there with his brand of "Calvinism" at any time during the late sixteenth or the seventeenth century. Perhaps more to the point, his beliefs stood outside of the theological limits presented by the great confessions426of the Reformed churches—whether the Second Helvetic Confession of the Swiss Reformed church or the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism of the Dutch Reformed churches or the Westminster standards of the Presbyterian churches." Richard continues"It is also the case that the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism are substantially in agreement with the confessional standards of other branches of the Reformed church, whether the Geneva Catechism or the First and Second Helvetic Confession of the Swiss Reformation or the Scot’s Confession and the Westminster standards of the British and American Presbyterian and Reformed churches."
While I agree with Richard that our boogeyman's beliefs would have gotten him kicked out of Geneva as Calvin was not a fan of either credobaptists nor chiliests, Richard errs in his belief that Calvin would have accepted the Westminster Confession with open arms. The Westminster Confession in fact like our boogeyman and contrary to The Three Forms of Unity divests faith from assurance. Our boogeyman is clearly in the spirit of the Puritan and therefore Westminster view of assurance. This would be seen by Calvin as a return to Rome. Calvin also held to a stronger view of predestination than the Westminster as he was supralapsarian. While I would agree with Richard over our boogeyman on this issue, I do not consider Westminster friendly to our view. Richard needs to read the Westminster as he says " They also — all of them — agree on the assumption that our assurance of the salvation, wrought by grace alone through the work of Christ and God's Spirit in us, rests not on our outward deeds or personal claims but on our apprehension of Christ in faith and on our recognition of the inward work of the Spirit in us. " This leads Richard to conclude that "There are, therefore, more than five points" and " there cannot be such a thing as a "five-point Calvinist" or "five-point Reformed Christian" who owns just those five articles taken from the Canons of Dort and who refuses to accept the other "points" made by genuinely Reformed theology." Richard furthers his point now by introducing a critique of the eminent Baptist theologian Dr. John Gill. He states " An example of this problem — I hesitate to say "a case in point" — is the theological system propounded by the English high (some would say "hyper") Calvinistic Baptist, John Gill, and the way that his system has been read out into the life of some of the so-called Particular Baptist denominations. Gill most certainly affirmed the five points. In fact, he held an intensified version of the third point by arguing that Christ's work was limited in its sufficiency as well as in its efficacy: Christ's satisfaction was not merely, according to Gill, efficient for the elect only, it was also sufficient for the sins of the elect only. With this radical sense of election, Gill could view the entire order of salvation as taking place in eternity — justification and adoption were now eternal acts of God. Since nothing took place in time except for the enactment of the decree, there was no need in Gill's system for a temporal order of grace. Sacraments could be considered simply as ordinances, and baptism could be viewed as a sign administered to adults only, after the eternal decree had been executed in an individual. Those who have followed Gill's theology allow no offers of grace but only a preaching about grace. They have tended to offer no instruction in Christianity for children and they have typically opposed Christian missions — because no human agency is needed in God's elective work. They have also followed Gill and numerous others after him into speculation about the coming millennium when, finally, the career of Satan will be ended and he will no longer be able to roam the world "seeking whom he may devour."The logic of such a theology is to view God's electing grace as an unmediated bolt from the blue. No one knows where it may strike and no one can find any assurance either through participation in the life of God's covenanting people or on grounds of belief or conduct that he or she will be or, indeed, is now numbered among the elect. Gill held forth an antinomian gospel that could declare in its preaching of grace that no obedience to divine commands was required for salvation 429and no offers of grace ought to be made in the church. On Gill's own terms, membership in his Particular Baptist community could be no sign of salvation and no assurance of its possibility. Grace and salvation could just as easily occur on a desert island."
While I hold Dr. Gill in high esteem and prefer his commentaries to many "reformed" commentaries I do admit some extremes in him and deviate from him in some areas. His view of the atonement is however not one of them. While I agree the doctrine of "eternal justification" denies a means of grace and is inconsistent with scripture at Eph.2:3 and 2 Peter 3:9, this does not deny Christ's death for His elect alone. If the covenant of grace was made to the elect alone then for what purpose would Christ die for everyone. Richard's view of the covenant is therefore flawed in its inclusiveness. Gill's point in limiting it's sufficiency as well as its efficacy is to show that Christ accomplished His purpose. In what way is Christ's death sufficient for all except hypothetically. Holding to this view, one must take care to distinguish his view from the "hypothetical universalism" of Amyraldism.
While I have been critical of Richard in this article and have used his article as an example of reformed extremism I do appreciate his cogent presentation of the clear line in the sand that still divides those of us that are reformed credobaptists and reformed paedobaptists and have put his whole article as a link from my own. Despite the disagreements, Richard does have some very insightful things to say such as " Salvation does not arise out of human merit but by grace 430alone through the acceptance, by graciously engendered faith, of the sufficient sacrifice of Christ for our sins." and he goes on with an excellent description of reformed of either stripe who use unbiblical jargon in there invitations to faith when he says " I have often commented to evangelical friends that, for me, having a personal relationship or knowing someone personally means that I can sit down at a table with him and have a cup of coffee, that I can speak to him and he can respond in an audible fashion. But I can't sit at a table and have a cup of coffee with Jesus. And if I speak to him, he does not answer audibly As an angel once rightly noted, "He is not here: for he is risen," and, indeed, ascended into heaven." showing how rediculous it is to call unsaved to a "personal relationship" with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ instead of faith in His gospel. It is my hope that Richard is being dogmatic for the purposes of teaching what he believes to be truth only and not trying to divide over every disagreement. I accept the term reformed as it denotes a belief in the doctrines of grace but if I must hold to an imperfect Confession of Faith in order to retain the denomination, I will defer and stand alone with the Bible. I do not think Richard or anybody else owns it, however, and so I will keep it.
For further study on some of the issues dicussed here I recommend Are Baptists Reformed? by Kenneth Good who is a calvinistic Baptist that would agree with Richard's distinctions, By His Grace and for His Glory by Tom Nettles who is a Baptist theologian holding to Gill's view of Definite Atonement, Diversity Within the Reformed Tradition by J.V. Fesko who is a Prebyterian pastor in the OPC and who proves Calvin held to a supralapsarian position, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul Jewett who is a Baptist theologian, and Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 by R.T. Kendall who has an interesting discussion of Westminster's deviation from Calvin, Luther and the other reformers on assurance being the essence of faith.


Zea said...

Keep up the good work.

Scott said...

Thanks for the encouragement!