Monday, April 23, 2012

The Necessity of Creeds 

Question from Anonymous, from here: Are creeds NECESSARY to be a faithful church?

A church, in order to be a faithful church, must hold to sound doctrine. It must teach and preserve that doctrine. It must counter the teachings of false teachers. A church needs some kind of creed to do this.

Jesus instituted the church in the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19- "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." We see from this that teaching lies right at the heart of what the church is called to be. A disciple is one who is learning to be like the master, and the master is Christ. In Revelation 2-3, in His letters to the churches, Jesus repeatedly criticizes the churches for failing to defend sound doctrine and counter false teachings, or commends churches for doing so.

How do we defend sound doctrine? Many will say, "We have the Bible for that. We don't need creeds." Certainly, if the creeds are separate from the Bible or add to the Bible, we reject them. But this is not the purpose of creeds and confessions. Creeds define for our church what the Bible says. The problem is that the Bible is a big book, and Christians have a lot of different ideas about what it means. This doesn't mean the Bible is unclear, or can be made to say anything you want. It's clear and it means what it means. But in this sinful world there will be lots of disagreements. Some of those disagreements are well-intentioned disputes between brothers. But some are more than that. Jesus and the apostles warn us constantly about people who will come in to the church with evil intentions and attempt to rob the church of sound doctrine. Jude 1:4 is just one example of such a warning. As a result, the church needs to have not only a commitment to the Bible, but also a common understanding about what it is the Bible teaches. False teachers always come as angels of light, and attempt to present their teachings as the "true" teaching of the Bible. The church cannot simply say, "we believe the Bible", because the false teacher will say that he agrees, and then you have no mechanism to prevent him from leading the people astray, which is what Christ has commanded us to do.

This is where creeds and confessions come in. Creeds are really just a mutual agreement, a covenant, within the church which states what it is we believe the Bible teaches and doesn't teach. A good creed does not attempt to define belief on every possible issue. A creed is a consensus document, defining which doctrines are non-negotiable. It erects a fence, if you will, around faithful doctrine. Within that fence, we accept disagreement and debate. But outside the fence, we do not. On many issues (mode of church government or infant baptism, for example), many churches will define a position and state that disagreement with this position does not mean a person is not regarded as a believer, but means that a person ought to find a different body to be part of for the sake of peace. Different people have very different ideas about how the church should function, and it's often for the best that we work separately, as Paul and Barnabas did at a certain point. On other issues, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation, disagreement puts one outside the historic Christian faith.

Without a creed there is no way to define one's faith. This is widely recognized, given that almost any church you join yourself to, that's been around for more than a few months, will have some sort of statement of faith. Many churches prefer a short, relatively general statement that they themselves have written. A Reformed church is defined by the fact that it chooses to adhere to one of the historic Reformed creeds such as the Westminster or Belgic Confessions, giving us a much greater level of unity and continuity with the historic church, as opposed to a short, ad-hoc confession which a church writes from scratch.

However one chooses to do it, there have to be standards about which beliefs and practices are acceptable and which are not, or a church will not be around very long. In practice, churches without creeds will be governed by the unwritten and unacknowledged standards of the most powerful person or group within the church- sometimes the pastor, sometimes the wealthiest, sometimes just the loudest and most contentious. Standards like that have a way of changing rapidly and without notice. But there is always a standard. We in the Reformed Faith believe it far preferable to have that standard be in a written form, so that it is clear and easily accessible to all, and that such a standard be in the form of a mutual commitment or promise that we make to each other, for the purpose of accountability. Also it is best that such a standard be the same one that many other churches use, since we are to seek as much unity with other believers as we can without compromising the truth. Signing on to a historic confession of the church is a wonderful way of pursing all of these goals- unity, accountability, good order and defense and preservation of the right doctrine of Scripture.

Ask your own question here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ask the Pastor 

A suggestion was made that I open a forum for anonymous questions.  I think that's a good idea, so I'm posting a thread to encourage that.  If you have a question you'd like to ask, please just submit it in the comments below, and if you want it to be anonymous just select that option at the bottom of the comment form.  These questions can be theological in nature, or for pastoral advice, or anything that's on your mind.  You don't have to do so anonymously but are welcome to do so.  I won't promise to answer all of them, but will do my best.  I may just answer in the comments but I expect that many of them will become blog posts.

I'll put this up on the sidebar as well for easy access.

Friday, April 06, 2012

More on the Two Kingdoms 

Lee responded to me and asked several questions in the comments of my last post.  I'll respond here- might as well get another blog post out of it.

I have taken a while to write back because there is so much to say to what you wrote. It may take several comments. I finally decided to start with this: you are a 2K guy. If you believe that the structures of society are not being redeemed and that they do not bring in the Kingdom of God or participate in that, then you are not a Transformationalist. And unless you are a withdraw from culture guy that leaves 2K as your option. If you want to be a Transformationalist then I hope you will be voting Constitution Party this year because they are the only party that includes Jesus Christ in their platform. Since I know you are not going to do that from previous discussions, you are already operating on 2K thinking. I just have to get you to see it.
Overall, perhaps I am closer to a moderate 2K view than cultural transformationalism.  I think you set up a false dichotomy, however.  I don't think transformationalism or 2K, especially as presented by VanDrunen, are our only two options.  I think a middle road between the two is possible.

Lee again:
Next, I think you are wrong about 2K and Scripture. Those guys are clear that Scripture applies to the Christian always and in every area of life. He is not allowed to do things not for the glory of God. It is not that the Scriptures say nothing about economics, it is just that they don't teach a full view of economics. The Christian is always bound to follow such things like just weights, no usury, and the other things we find throughout the bible, but that does not teach us Free Market Economics for example as you mentioned. If the Scriptures are really teaching Capitalism then was the colonial mercantilism system sinful? Is America's current "mixed" economy sinful? Those are questions that are all yes if the Scriptures positively teach Capitalism. Now if Capitalism is just the result of people living out other Biblical principles, then it is a different story, and that is a 2K position.
I know the 2K guys say that the Scriptures apply to every area of life.  I think this is an inconsistency on their part, however.  Of course it is undeniable that the Bible talks about things besides forgiveness of sins and our eschatological hope.  My point is, I think this demonstrates the weakness of their system.  What is the point of their instruction to use just weights and measures, for example?  This information is contained in natural revelation as well.  In the 2K view, the law is largely superfluous to the Christian life, or at best a supplement to natural theology. And what is the role of the law of God in my salvation?  I know they say I "should" do it, but why?  And given their sharp law-gospel distinction, would it not be a valid conclusion to say I simply will not try to obey the law, since I may fall into legalism if I try, and I will go to heaven even if I don't, and my observance of the law now has nothing at all to do with my eternal state?  That strikes me as a legitimate implication of VanDrunen's teaching, even if he himself does not draw that conclusion.  I know plenty that do.  Horton says the law is everything I do and the gospel is everything God does.  Here's why I think that's wrong.  But if I am to focus on the gospel, according to Horton, then I must not look to my own actions as any part of my salvation at all- not even a living out (or "working out") of my salvation or an experiencing of my salvation.  This strikes me as quietism, and it's all through 2K, at least as VanDrunen and Horton present it.  I know they say I "should" do good works, but I cannot see how those works function in their view of salvation at all.  It seems like merely a duty that God gives me without consequence if I don't, and without advantage or benefit if I do, and a lot of risk of legalism if I even try, so that the safest course in their theology would seem to me to be antinomianism.

As to free market economics, I think it's the only possible conclusion from the eighth commandment.  The state does not have the right to tax for whatever purpose it deems right.  It has the right to do the things God tells it to do in the Scripture- punishing evil, praising good, protecting people.  Nowhere in God's will for state governments do I see economic planning, and if God doesn't give it the right, then the eighth commandment applies.  If they take my property for purposes other than those which God has given them, it is theft.  One of the reasons God destroyed Israel by the Babylonians was the state's violation of property rights.

Also, I don't think this debate is about whether or not the culture is transformed. It is about how the culture is transformed. Is cultural transformation a goal of the gospel, or is it a by-product of the gospel? Is the culture transformed by distinctly Christian institutions or is it transformed by the church preaching the gospel and people responding to it? These are the questions at hand. Charlamagne was a Transformationalist. He did transform the culture of Saxony by putting to death those rebel rousing pagans. He was a distinctly Christian emperor going about a program of instituting Christianity. Is that Biblically legitimate? Is Charlamagne the second greatest person to ever walk the earth (which I heard in seminary from a professor who shall remain nameless)? That is the question of 2K or Transformationalism.
And for the record, I don't think Transformationalism is the new legalism. I think it is a perfectly confessional way to go about things (when not taken to extremes). It is just not what I see right now when I read the Scripture.
The culture is ruled by the covenant of preservation, according to VanDrunen.  God rules the culture through that covenant for the purpose of preserving the status quo, not for the purpose of redeeming it.  Christ in His messianic role rules only the church.  So what would transform culture?  If there is no Christian approach to culture, as VanDrunen states, then how is the spread of the gospel going to transform the culture?  What force will act on the culture to transform it?  Many who describe themselves as transformationalists believe that transformationalism can only follow conversion.  Most theonomists believe that, that the transformation of society only comes after large-scale conversion within a society.  So if that's the only difference, it is no difference.

This is what I mean by my legalism / antinomianism comparison.  Legalism says that we somehow accomplish salvation by our work.  Antinomianism says that our works don't matter at all.  So on the subject of bringing in the kingdom of heaven, transformationalists say that our efforts in culture bring about the kingdom of God.  VanDrunen says that our efforts in culture are irrelevant to the kingdom of God.  I'm saying there is a middle course, the course of orthodoxy, which says that our efforts in culture just live out the salvation already achieved for us as the thankful response to all God has done for us.  I don't think that 2Kers are necessarily antinomians or that transformationalists are necessarily legalists.  But narrowly, on this aspect of salvation, on bringing in the kingdom of God, I think the two positions tend in those directions.


Finally, I think Scripture is not non-sensical in 2K. I think 2K applies Scripture to all of life. Take your example of Philemon. Paul argues against slavery by arguing about Christ, forgiveness, and love. The gospel ends slavery by changing hearts like it did for Onesimus. Very 2K. Abolitionists took the Transformationalist position and Lincoln ended slavery with an appeal to the bayonet. Thousands died, but slavery ended. Proverbs too speaks about all of life, but does so by talking about spiritual principles. Sloth, pride, submission, gossip, lying, and such things. Proverbs is by no means a guide to economic investing in today's stock market. I believe that Proverbs is written in a style that is to reflect the Christian's day. Maybe he starts off fighting against sloth, but then he is awake and his tongue is sinning, and then he has to submit to his boss, or is tempted by a seductive lady. Then he is back to sinning with his tongue, and tempted by pride. It is not organized to teach a view of econ, but rather a view of life filled with temptation and sin. Yes, sometimes living a Christian redeemed life according to the gospel gives us earthly blessings and advantages. If the Christian is not slothful, he will be able to work. If the Christian is not prideful, he can get good advice from others. So on and so forth. 
Your language of a "redeemed life" is at odds with VanDrunen's approach, I believe.  He does not believe your life outside of the church is redeemed.  It's in the common kingdom which is not being redeemed and which is governed by common grace.  See in the quote you gave me- where is the Scripture in the common kingdom?  The only mention of the Scripture is its function in calling people into the church.

So I know that they say we have to follow the Scriptures in our lives.  But aren't the Scriptures just repeating what natural revelation already tells me?  Doesn't VanDrunen say that the only real benefit to being a Christian as far as the common kingdom goes is that the Spirit enables me to see natural revelation a little clearer?
I agree with your concern of Redemptive Historical Preaching, so yeah, but Theonomy is clearly related to Transformationalism. I would be interested in what you think the law-gospel problem is.I don't think the Sabbath problem is related to 2K. Lots of Transformationalists make it too, unless we are thinking of different things.I don't think Natural Law rules the Christians life. He must be governed by Scripture in all areas. It is just that Scripture does not make some judgments like homeschool or christian school or public. That is not governed by Natural law, but is an area that is simply governed by liberty.
 The advocates of 2K are also advocates of RH interpretation, in general, if I'm not mistaken.  They go together.  I'm not sure what your point re: theonomy is- I agree with you.  I think I articulated my problem with their law-gospel distinction- they wrongly ascribe it to works versus faith, instead of seeing it rightly in terms of covenant- the distinction between the covenant of creation and the covenant of grace.  Works and faith are present in both law and gospel.  And about the Sabbath- their view of the Sabbath directly affects their view of Adam's mandate.  The pattern of work followed by rest is according to them normative.  Adam also was supposed to work for some period of time and then cease.  So the mandate is probationary, not definitional to the nature of humanity itself.  This despite the fact that Scripture itself in defining the Sabbath does not say that, but says rather than the Sabbath is a sign to show us that the Lord sanctifies us, not our own efforts (Exodus 32, Ezekiel 20).  Our "rest" is not a ceasing of efforts, any more than entering the promised land meant an end of labor, but a joyful enjoyment of that which God had accomplished for us rather than what we earned for ourselves.

And if your point is just that we can't say what the Scriptures don't say- I agree.  You don't have to be a 2K guy to see that.  The homeschool-only advocates don't claim that they have some right to speak where Scriptures don't speak.  They say that the Scriptures do require homeschooling.  I think they're wrong.  But that is a legitimate discussion about what the Scriptures do and don't require.  It's like free-market economics.  We can disagree about whether it is the legitimate inference of Scriptural principles or not.  But nobody is saying that they have the right to enforce principles as "Christian" about which the Scriptures are silent (well, except for Roman Catholics, of course.)

Overall it feels like our disagreement is about what the Two Kingdoms doctrine, as presented by VanDrunen and Horton, actually is.  If you're right about it, then I don't really have a problem with it.  But I don't believe you are.  I believe he goes significantly farther than you think he does.

I guess for me the heart of it is- in the Christian life, what is the function of good works?  What is the purpose of living all of my life in obedience to God?  Is it a necessary part of the Christian life?  And are there Christian principles that govern all areas of life?

I appreciate your interaction, Lee.  And for other readers, I'd highly recommend Lee's blog.  He's currently responding to Frame's book on Escondido theology, which is addressing a lot of these same points.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Two Kingdoms Theology: The New Antinomianism? 

Lee asks:  Alright Matt, I would like you to respond to this summary by VanDrunen.
"I like to describe the two kingdoms doctrine briefly as the conviction that God through his Son rules the whole world, but rules it in two distinct ways. As creator and sustainer, God rules the natural order and the ordinary institutions and structures of human society, and does so through his common grace, for purposes of preserving the ongoing life of this world. As redeemer, God also rules an eschatological kingdom that is already manifest in the life and ministry of the church, and he rules this kingdom through saving grace as he calls a special people to himself through the proclamation of the Scriptures. As Christians, we participate in both kingdoms but should not confuse the purposes of one with those of the other. As a Reformed theologian devoted to a rich covenant theology, I think it helpful to see these two kingdoms in the light of the biblical covenants. In the covenant with Noah after the flood, God promised to preserve the natural order and human society (not to redeem them!), and this included all human beings and all living creatures. But God also established special, redemptive covenant relationships with Abraham, with Israel through Moses, and now with the church under the new covenant. We Christians participate in both the Noahic and new covenants (remember that the covenant with Noah was put in place for as long as the earth endures), and through them in this twofold rule of God—or, God’s two kingdoms.
The “transformationist” approach to Christ and culture is embraced by so many people and used in so many different ways that I often wonder how useful a category it is. If by “transformation” we simply mean that we, as Christians, should strive for excellence in all areas of life and try to make a healthy impact on our workplace, neighborhood, etc., I am a transformationist. But what people often mean by “transformationist” is that the structures and institutions of human society are being redeemed here and now, that is, that we should work to transform them according to the pattern of the redemptive kingdom of Christ. I believe the two kingdoms doctrine offers an approach that is clearly different from this. Following the two kingdoms doctrine, a Christian politician, for example, would reject working for the redemption of the state (whatever that means) but recognize that God preserves the state for good purposes and strive to help the state operate the best it can for those temporary and provisional purposes."
(Full interview here)

If their only point was about the proper role of the institutional church, I would agree with them.  The church should not be involved in pushing particular political candidates or bills.  The church can and must speak about moral issues that might and will have political implications, but that's a different thing.  Also, if their point is that the state or commerce is not the means by which the kingdom of God will be inaugurated, I agree with that as well.  What he says in his second paragraph, about not "redeeming" structures and institutions, is exactly right, and I appreciate what they have added to the debate.

My problems with VanDrunen's statement above mostly lie in what he says about how God rules the natural order, and the way he contrasts this with the redemptive community:

As redeemer, God also rules an eschatological kingdom that is already manifest in the life and ministry of the church, and he rules this kingdom through saving grace as he calls a special people to himself through the proclamation of the Scriptures.
No mention in the previous quote about the Scriptures' relevance to common cultural institutions; that would not have jumped out at me had I not read VanDrunen's book, and seen how these truths are applied.  The force of this is essentially to deny the relevance of the Scriptures to our common cultural activity.  Our common cultural activity is ruled by God's common grace and natural revelation only; the Scriptures are limited to Jesus' function as the redeemer.  This leads to a tremendous downgrading of the value of common cultural activity; I do not think that the 2K doctrine does in fact safeguard against a retreat from the world as VanDrunen hopes it will; I think it virtually guarantees such a retreat.  The logical conclusion is that if work only has the purpose of maintaining the current state of affairs (which is evil), then I will engage in as little of it as I can get by with, since the current state of affairs does not materially depend on me.

Much of the Bible is rendered nonsensical by the 2K doctrine.  The Proverbs for example talk constantly of our work, of our use of money, of our relationship with civil rulers and how those civil rulers ought to behave.  This is presented as the "wisdom" of God.  What role does any of this wisdom have to play in the life of a redeemed believer, if the 2K theology is correct?  Just a helpful supplement to natural theology at best, but is it "redemptive" in any sense?  Why should we study the Proverbs?  Why study the second half of Ephesians, in which Paul exhorts us to experience our salvation in areas of work, of family, of civil life?

Paul says in Ephesians 5:14 that Christ has given us light, that this is the very nature of our salvation, and then tells us how to live in that light in the world.  He tells us how to live as families, for example, a common cultural institution.  He tells us to emulate Christ (as the Messiah) in those areas.  How does the 2K account for this?  Paul appeals to Philemon to treat Onesimus as a Christian brother, and to consider Philemon's own redemption from slavery to sin by Christ in the way that he treats Onesimus.  He calls Philemon to recognize Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, and reminds Onesimus that he owes his own life to Paul, since Paul witnessed to him of the gospel, and therefore to treat Onesimus well.  Wouldn't this be confusing the 2 Kingdoms?  Would slavery have ever ended in the Roman Empire if the church had believed what VanDrunen is teaching?  Paul didn't appeal to natural theology in advocating for good treatment of Philemon's slave.  He appealed to the gospel.

I mentioned Proverbs earlier- Proverbs which is said to be the "wisdom" of God.  In chapter 8, Wisdom is personified.  I do not believe it is a figure of speech- I think the second person of the Trinity is being described in chapter 8, since all of the things said there about wisdom are also said about Christ.  Christ is the Wisdom of God, and came to us to reveal that wisdom- not the wisdom that the world could ever have, but the wisdom that comes only in faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 1).  The natural man does not have this wisdom.  And what is the result of this wisdom?  Better financial management, better government, better marriages, better business relationships, etc.  The history of the Christian world bears out that this is what actually happens when people are converted to Christ.

It seems to me that the book of Philemon, all the application sections of the New Testament, the book of Proverbs, and any other place in the Bible where the Christian is invited to take his understanding of the gospel out into the world and live it out is a clear refutation of the 2K theology.  Natural theology only shows us enough to condemn us.  Special revelation shows the truth about everything- not just about how we are forgiven.  Before Christ came the world lived in darkness and the world would be in darkness today.  That darkness is extensive into all areas- not just our understanding of what happens when we die, but everything.  When Christ comes, He brings light, and the Bible constantly calls us to live in the light of Christ's redemptive work in every area of our life.

It was the application of Biblical principles (not natural theology- they had that already before Christ came) that ended slavery, that ended tyranny, that promoted science, free market economics, and a thousand other benefits, as a result of Christians NOT thinking like VanDrunen, and thank God for that.  VanDrunen is living off the capital of centuries of Christians that came before him that rejected the dichotomy that he is proposing.  We never would have gotten out of the monasteries.

Jesus was the second Adam.  We are being conformed to His image.  Jesus certainly did fulfill the creation mandate given to Adam.  But what then?  What am I being conformed to?  Jesus as a second Adam rules over creation, just like the first Adam was supposed to, and we are clearly said to share in that rule.  What is the nature of that rule?  The Bible points us in a number of places to the continuation of productive activity in the eternal state, a productive activity which is joyful because it is free of sin.

Lots more could be said, and perhaps I will say it- the connection of this to Redemptive-Historical preaching, the rejection of exemplary preaching, the mistaken understanding of the law-gospel distinction, the wrong view of the significance of the Sabbath.  All taken together I think that if cultural transformationalism is the new legalism, then 2K theology is the new antinomianism.  It's just another way of saying that God doesn't really care very much how we live our lives.  And I know VanDrunen would never say that.  But it's the logical conclusion of his theology, and I know of a lot of people who are carrying it out to that logical conclusion.  If natural revelation dictates how I should work, then I should simply conform to the practices of the world in the workplace, and likewise in entertainment, politics, family, education, etc, since as VanDrunen says (in "Living in God's Two Kingdoms"), there is no such thing as a "Christian" approach to these areas of my life.

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