R. Scott Clark and D. G. Hart have been hammering home for years that the term “Reformed” must derive from the confessions of the Reformed churches. This matters because if the definition of Reformed becomes muddied, then those in the “old” Reformed world are less likely to appropriately scrutinize those who in the “new” who apply the label to themselves.
I was thinking about this definitional struggle when I read this article by Stephen Wellum, professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “3 Reasons Sunday Is Not the Christian Sabbath.” Wellum is a proponent of “progressive covenantalism” and “new covenant theology”, a hermeneutic on which he recently wrote a large book. Progressive covenantalism essentially divides the administration of God’s mercy into two eras: old covenant and new covenant, the old covenant encompassing the entirety of the Old Testament. The old covenant prefigures and anticipates the new, and never shall the twain meet. In contrast, Reformed, covenant theology holds that God’s covenant of grace is one throughout postlapsarian history, only administered differently in different eras.
Wellum’s article underscores this difference significantly: He rejects that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, holds that the Mosaic administration of the Sabbath is a uniquely old covenant relic, and that Christ’s fulfillment of the Sabbath means that requirements of its observance are now abolished. All of these things are contrary to the Reformed confessions, the divergence springing from the difference in hermeneutics. What is notable is not that a Baptist is making the case for a non-Reformed understanding of the Sabbath, but that recently the president of Indianapolis Theological Seminary, which employs Wellum as an adjunct professor to teach hermeneutics, insisted to me that he is “basically” a covenant theologian and is soundly Reformed. This is an example of definitional slippage, and why “Reformed” ought to mean “confessional.” Otherwise you end up thinking that you are being educated in Reformed hermeneutics, only to discover later that in reality you were trained in a different traditions masquerading as your own.
Something I’ve wondered since a kid is how the Christian church would react if intelligent, sentient life from outside Earth were discovered. A silly question in some ways, since there is no evidence of space alien life, either scientifically or from scripture. But particularly in light of the recent declassified U.S. Navy files and videos on U.F.O.s, the subject deserves serious consideration. What effect would the existence of alien life have on the truth of Christianity?
Most likely, the revelation of alien life would lead to a massive departure from the Christian faith and organized religion in general. While there may be a temporary surge in church attendance from people looking for a familiar comfort, like after the September 11th attacks, a large chunk of people would see alien life as fatally undermining the claims of Christianity, discrediting the religion.
In 2014 Pope Francis said that he would baptize Martians if they requested it. This would be the second reaction: all persons, human or alien, have a need for a savior, who is Jesus. This is a plot point in Orson Scott Card’s famous Speaker for the Dead…
A friend asked me the other day what I thought were the key 4-5 distinctives of Reformed theology. I gave my answer, but have found myself pondering that question. I think I would rephrase it to “the distinctives of Reformed faith and practice.” Reformed theology is not just about reforming doctrine, but practice. It’s an embodied, lived tradition of the church. So what separates Reformed faith and practice from other Christian traditions, particularly the (Ana)Baptist, Lutheran (though there is a lot of overlap here), Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Wesleyan traditions? I think the best resources for a quick overview are John Calvin’s The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1544), William Perkin’s A Reformed Catholic (1597), and R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confessions (2008). So Reformed churches are,
Catholic and Creedal. The Reformed are Reformed Catholics (in distinction to Roman or Eastern Orthodox Catholics) and fully embrace the Catholic tradition expressed in the Apostles’, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds. To be Catholic is to affirm and submit to Nicene Christianity as biblical Christianity. Nicene Christianity in particular defines the biblical and Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity and humanity. The Reformed also affirm and look to the church fathers for guidance.
Sola Scriptura. All Christians affirm the authority of scripture, and the Reformed are no different. Where differences lie is in the uniqueness…
The EPC prides itself on allowing differences in “non-essentials” among its churches, and this has included the thorny issue of the eternal fate of people who die in infancy.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states,
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
The Confession strikes an agnostic position that borders on a tautology: elect infants dying in infancy are the ones who are saved. This position allows for a great deal of flexibility, since the who and how of election for those incapable of being outwardly called is not identified.
In 1903 the PCUSA added a declaratory statement to the beginning of the WCF which functionally amended it. The declaration stated, in part, that,
…with reference to Chapter 10, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how he pleases.
This declaration had the effect of eliminating flexibility from confessional subscription. Now only one position, namely that all who die in infancy are elect, was permitted. The EPC formed in 1981, and had to choose which amendments and alterations to the Westminster Standards it should adopt. The Declaratory Statement was one of the items considered…
“God greatly requires [the sealing of the covenant], for in this public covenanting there is a Great Solemnity & awe of God upon the soul, but now in sealing there is this public covenanting. But where this is not, there…
Copyright © 2021 Joy and Solemnity