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Archive for the ‘Reformed Tradition’ Category

In my blog entry yesterday, I raised a couple questions for Calvin about his theology of the sacraments.  It seemed to me, at least from Sinclair Ferguson’s summary, that Calvin talks as if we shouldn’t need sacraments.  The Word ought to be sufficient for us; the sacraments were added because of our weakness.  I wanted to follow up on that today.

Ferguson’s summary of Calvin’s view appears to me to be accurate.  Calvin approves of Augustine’s description of the sacraments as visible words: “Augustine calls a sacrament ‘a visible word’ for the reason that it represents God’s promises as painted in a picture and sets them before our sight, portrayed graphically and in the manner of images” (Institutes 4.14.6).

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In a book entitled Serving the Word of God, Sinclair Ferguson has an essay entitled “Calvin on the Lord’s Supper and Communion with Christ.”  The essay’s okay, though I don’t know if it breaks any new ground.  But it raises two questions I wish I could pose to Calvin:

1.  Ferguson points out that Calvin, together with the Augustinian tradition (so the question may really be for Augustine!), views the sacraments as “visible words” (pp. 204-205).  He says, summarizing Calvin’s view,

The signs display or exhibit Christ to the eyes and to the sense of vision, just as the word displays Christ to the ears and to the sense of hearing as the Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and shows or exhibits it to us (p. 208, emphasis mine)

and later he refers to the function of pictures.

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The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies really valuable book for gaining historical perspective on the American Presbyterian scene. (I will note for the record that I don’t believe there is an objective definition for “puritan” and I wish historians would stop using it and instead speak of “English Calvinists” or “dissenters” or use some other label that actually designates a particular group by shared characteristics. But it is still a good book.) What is especially helpful is chapter 4: “Puritan Worship and the Continental Reformed Churches.”

Davies points out that it was “clearly the intention to bring English worship into line with Reformed practice” (p. 35). Furthermore, the Puritans would “appeal to the continental Reformed Churches for precedents.” Even the Separatists would do this.

Oddly, however, one John Durel, a Reformed pastor of a congregation in Savoy, France published an entire book arguing that the Anglicans were closer to the Reformed Churches than the Pruitans. It was entitled, A View of the government and Publick Worship of God in the Reformed Churches beyond the Sea (London 1662). On page 14 of that work, according to Davies, he wrote that the views held by the Westminster Assembly regarding the continental Reformed churches were, “mere Chimeras and Ideas; which, like the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, never existed but in their brain.”

Davies goes on in the chapter to examine Durel’s claims and evaluate them. As I have time I’ll post more about what he says on various practices and structures that the Puritans were advocating as “Reformed.”

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I’ve recently re-discovered an awesome theological resource, The Westminster Shorter Catechism Project. It is excellent, not least because it demonstrates the healthy diversity that has always been allowable in the Reformed Tradition until recently.

For example, consider the sources attached to Question and Answer #94:

Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Chist, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

Among the links we have Matthew Henry and James Fisher.

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All I can find are three quotations.  The first is from the Bible Presbyterians really good resource on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Matthew Henry has left the following testimony in his Treatise on Baptism: “I cannot but take occasion to express my gratitude to God for my infant baptism; not only as it was an early admission into the visible body of Christ, but as it furnished my pious parents with a good argument (and, I trust, through grace, a prevailing argument) for an early dedication of my own self to God in my childhood. If God has wrought any good work upon my soul, I desire with humble thankfulness, to acknowledge the moral influence of my infant baptism upon it.” (s0urce)

And then there is Alexander Campbell in the Millennial Harbinger:

Matthew Henry. “In baptism,” says he, “our names are engraved upon the heart of this Great high Priest. God doth in this ordinance seal and make over to us all the benefits of the death of Christ. Baptism seals the promise of God’s being to me a God.” Treatise on Baptism, p. 12, 40, 42.

And finally, there is a blogger who posts the following as from Matthew Henry’s “Treatise on Baptism.”

As far as the parents are concerned, we are sure, that the children are not so regenerated, as not to need good instructions, when they become capable of them, and yet are so regenerated, that if they die in infancy, parents may take comfort from their baptism in reference to their salvation: and as to the children, when they grow up, we are sure, that their baptismal regeneration, without something more, is not sufficient to bring them to heaven: and yet it may be urged, (as I said before,) in praying to God to give them grace, and in persuading them to submit to it.

This last sounds uncannily like something I’ve seen from Holifield’s The Covenant Sealed. Does anyone have access to Matthew Henry’s treatise so I can verify these quotations and see the context?

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What follows are from a couple of posts on my blog.  I hoped to do a series.  If I do follow up, I will probably want to do it here on the BH blog rather than my own.  Feedback welcome:

It is no secret that some have been scathingly critical of N. T. Wright, the “New Perspective,” and anyone who would appreciate those things–all in the name of the Reformed Faith or, worse, “the Gospel.” To hear them tell it, there is absolutely no legitimate reason for this appreciation. People are only attracted to the New Perspective because they don’t understand the perfectly satisfactory traditional perspective.

If one wants to understand why the “traditional perspective” has, in certain cases, utterly botched exegesis, one need only look at one example of traditional preaching on Romans 4. Particularly this passage:

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When I was first introduced to Reformed theology, I encountered “the five points of Calvinism” and “TULIP.” I was told that these came from the Synod of Dort, which essentially decided that Calvinism would be the accepted religion of the Reformed churches in Europe. Calvinism and TULIP were for the most part equivalent.

As I moved from a Reformed Baptist to a Presbyterian, I began to hear pastors mention that Calvinism was more than the five points. I began to learn about “covenant theology,” which served as the basis for baptizing infants. Calvinism now included the TULIP as well as covenant theology and infant baptism. Still later in my studies, I began to learn about the Calvinistic doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. My understanding of Calvinism broadened, but I still had a tendency to think of Dort when I heard the term Calvinist.

Given the central place of Dort in the history of Calvinism, I was surprised when I began to read R. L. Dabney’s Systematic Theology and his book The Five Points of Calvinism. He nearly dismissed the five points saying, “Historically, this title is of little accuracy or worth.”[1] As I continued to read in Dabney, I began to discover there were various schools within Calvinism, some of which disagreed in key places. Amazingly, Dabney, Charles Hodge, and William Shedd all distance themselves from theologians like Francis Turretin on the relationship between the decree of God and the cross of Christ, and even go so far as to explicitly reject key exegesis that underlies the “limited atonement” argument found in John Owen’s The Death of Death.[2] These 19th century Presbyterians were neither Arminians, nor Amyraldians though, but rather they represent what is called, for better or for worse, moderate Calvinism.[3]

How is it, I wondered, that I had never heard of this distinction before? Why have I been taught that the Five Points of Calvinism are the summary of Reformed theology? What is limited atonement? This brought on a bit of theological dizziness, and I was eager to learn more about the true history of Calvinism and the Synod of Dort. What did it teach concerning these matters, and what is its place in the larger Reformed church history? (more…)

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