Darryl Hart: "Evangelicalism" and Ma Bell

After a brief hiatus, De Regno Christi is back and so is Darryl Hart and he wonders why so many Reformed folk seem bent on identifying with “evangelicalism.”

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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31 comments

  1. I tried to leave a comment on Hart’s blog, but it wouldn’t let me log in. Anyway, my two cents:

    Hart asks, Fellowship? How exactly is such fellowship manifest?

    Well, how about Inter-Varsity or Campus Crusade or Passion Conferences and so on. This is where real life Reformed college students can be found, along with the RUF (for those colleges that actually have an RUF). No, these are not replacements for the local church, nor should they be, but it is a place for those with conservative Christian convictions to congregate and work together to proclaim the gospel. At the two universities that I’ve attended, I’ve witnessed this “evangelical” fellowship, and far from promoting prosperity teachings or end times scenarios, I’ve seen fellow young men and women genuinely commit themselves to Christian witness and service, among their peers and in the community.

  2. I’ve spent most of the nearly 20 years that I’ve been a Christian working with an evangelical para-church organization. I’ve developed my strong Reformed convictions only in the last four years or so. I still am employed by this organization, but I can no longer for the life of me see how Reformed folk can in any way “cooperate” with evangelicals in the work of evangelism. How can we possibly cooperate when we define the gospel differently, when we define evangelism differently, and when we define the church differently?

  3. Kevin,

    If Reformed can find fellowship around Campus Crusade how about that which is associated to lesser or greater degrees by Rome? If not, why not? Chances will be (if you choose not) that whatever might be said can also be said of CC et al.

    I’ve had plenty of edifying times with Romanist and evangelical family and friends; as Christians we have a lot in common. But fellowship?

    What Hart is up against, and what Kevin reveals, is the virtual defeat of institutional Christianity. Luther had it easy, at least he had a door to nail upon. Evangelicalism is more virus-like, floating in and out and never really landing. And all good doctors know viruses are the hardest to treat.

  4. Isn’t the question: Does one’s relation to the visible, institutional matter when defining “fellowship” or does koinonia refer chiefly or only to the “sharing” of a common religious experience?

    How does Belgic Art 29 figure into the way we define “fellowship”?

  5. I found Hart’s assessment lacking in several ways, not the least of which is his emphasis upon the external/institutional to the near complete exclusion of the internal/organic. That’s no surprise, having read his books and heard him speak several times while at WSC, but I do still wish that he would be a bit more even-handed in making his assessments, and a bit more thoughtful in framing the discussion. Dr. HRJ was quite helpful during our pastoral ministry seminar in making clear that to over-emphasize either the institutional or the organic sides of the Church against the other will create problems.

    I have no problem with acknowledging the importance of the external marks of the visible church, nor with the fellowship of believers as made manifest in times of corporate worship, but isn’t fellowship more than that as well? It really hinges on how we define the Church (which I would argue is more than gathered times of worship under the oversight of officers bound to a Reformed confession), and on how we define fellowship.

    If it is true, and I find Scripture to be clear on this point, that there exists a spiritual unity among every regenerate believer by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowering the life of the Christian, then we must be able to affirm that even where there are formal ecclesiastical differences among Christians, differences that will (and should) restrict the ability of those denominations/congregations to work together on an institutional level, yet there will still exist true fellowship among these Christians on a personal level. To deny this is to deny the nature of fellowship as Scripture describes it (being both external and internal), and to take a bit too much pleasure in exaggerating our confessional differences in an attempt to push all else into the background.

  6. Also, if we don’t have fellowship with fellow evangelicals, why do we let them participate in Communion with us?

  7. Hi Pat,

    Not all Reformed congregations do allow “evangelicals” (as distinct from those whose faith is Reformed, evangelical, catholic etc) to come to the table. The Synod of Dort, during the international sessions, required that one profess “the Reformed religion” in order to commune, i.e., one had to be a member of a Reformed congregation in order to commune in a Reformed church. The local (Baptistic) bible church, were there such things, and certainly the local Anabaptist or Roman, Remonstrant, or Socinian congregation was not invited to or accepted at the table.

    We still have to define our terms in this discussion. If we want to use the word “fellowship” informally and broadly, yes, we do have points of connection with broadly evangelical Christians but the ecclesiastical problem and the the narrow or strict or proper definition of “fellowship” remains an obstacle.

  8. Zrim,

    Surely you can see a greater unity among evangelicals than evangelicals and Roman Catholics. A Southern Baptist, a PCA Presbyterian, an LCMS Lutheran, and a Vineyard member can come together around a service of hymns/praise and preaching because the service will be in proclamation of the need for salvation by Jesus Christ alone, received by faith alone. I am sure that a Catholic may find the service edifying, but much of the soteriological teachings that I hear in such services (e.g., penal substitution, vicarous atonement, etc.) are not compatible with Catholicism, but they are compatible with the various evangelical confessions mentioned. The individual churches are necessary, of course, for discipleship and sacramental ministry, but if Hart wants to know what fellowship can exist among the Reformed and non-Reformed, then here’s some fine examples.

  9. AJM,

    Speaking of even-handedness, I don’t think it’s a fair assessment of Hart to suggest that he is ignoring the internal/organic aspect. Certainly, a bit post on a blog isn’t exhaustive of his general thesis. You clearly have engaged that thesis in other venues. What seems assumed in criticisms like yours, I think, is the idea in the first place that institutional and organic are somehow independent, instead of seeing how they are reciprocal. After all, love and duty are not mutually exclusive. It’s a bit like neo-cons talking about “compassionate conservatism,” as if the former is not resident within the latter. In other words, Hart isn’t ignoring the organic, he’s saying it flows out of the institutional. Orthodoxy has always understood that fellowship flows out of confession.

    Kevin,

    I am convinced of Hart’s notion that evangelicalism is an artifice, so it is hard to admit I find unity in something I don’t know actually even exists.

    There’s a difference between what Southern Baptists, PCA Presbyterians (what about OPC or URC, etc.?), LCMS Lutherans (how Vineyard gets smuggled into your example I do not understand) might formally confess and what they practice. Contra your point about the soteriology, if my background in broad evangelicalism taught me anything it was how to cross one’s fingers: I heard a lot of solas language, but what was given with one hand was almost as often taken away with the other. Figuratively speaking, I’d rather attend a RC mass where sola fide is denied and is consistently practiced. The point is that when we want to unite under this banner called evangelical instead of confessional it gets really suspicious. Historically confessional bodies get this. Lutherans and Reformed don’t see it as an affront one to the other that each stays within his gates. And, indeed, I intuit a deeper and more profound sense of ecumenism between these confessional types despite this rigid confessionalism, an ecumenism that puts anything evangelicalism proffers to shame. It’s as if confessional ecumenism finds unity in the intolerance of confessionalism. This is counter-intuitutive, but, then, so is the gospel. Something tells me confessionalists are on to something.

  10. Zrim,

    Vineyard has a confession, as does the SBC, along with the LCMS, PCA, OPC, URC, and so on. Also, the Vineyard and SBC confessions are pretty identical and similar to the vast majority of evangelical nondenominational churches. These “free church” confessions are not as detailed as the Lutheran and Reformed confessions on certain, especially soteriological, matters; though most, interestingly, include a doctrine of perseverance of the saints, even if not set in a strictly monergistic context. Anyway, my point is that you can identify many common points between these confessions, as they share a common Protestant heritage. Important differences will be on ecclesial, especially sacramental, practice and discipline — ergo, the local church is still necessary. Thankfully, the vast majority of so-called “confessional” Protestants (LCMS, PCA, etc.) are quite able to see their common identity with supposedly “non-confessional” Protestants (SBC, Vineyard, etc.), yet they are able to criticize the latter for perceived ecclesiological deficiencies. I grew-up Baptist with an even split between Baptist and Presbyterian friends. The Presbys went to school with us, went to summer camp with us, attended various worship services with us, and so on, yet we also debated the doctrine of election and the sacraments. Maybe we were a little odd, but it proved to me that evangelical fellowship and confessional identity are not mutually exclusive.

  11. Kevin,

    Speaking of schools and summer camps, I am going to a family reunion this weekend, which includes Birmingham WASPs and Detroit Roman Catholics, all of which also are a mix of un/observant. I expect to have a lot in common both in a secular sense and a sacred sense. But *fellowship* is simply another matter. When Sunday comes we will find ourselves in very different situations and for good reason. I will have more fellowship with the guy next to me in the pew I hardly know even after 11 years than Uncle Mike and Aunt Muriel or my favorite cousins.

  12. Kevin,

    With all do respect it is a farce to include the Vineyard in any discussion of any semblance of the word “confessional”. In that sense then all churches are “confessional” because they have a mission statement and some type of rules for membership.

  13. Hey Zrim,

    I never said that the two were independent, those were your words alone. However, I do believe that you are incorrect in asserting that fellowship flows out of confession, and in agreeing with Hart that the institution precedes fellowship. Following Scriptures’ understanding that fellowship is primarily a spiritual matter grounded upon the unity of the Spirit, and not just ecclesiastical organizations getting together for worship, the “common good”, trading pulpits, whatever, I would have to deny that.

    If we really want to be good orthodox Reformed folk then we should follow our forebears’ example and center our discussion upon asking what the Scriptures have to say in the matter, and in the question regarding whether institution/confession or organism/spiritual life comes first, I would have to say the latter wins out over the former. When the great apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” it seems pretty clear to me that it is the internal and organic reality that creates the confession.

  14. AJM,

    I understand what you are saying. I just don’t see how it comports with the mainstream in Reformed orthodoxy. I see how it comports with the Radical Reformation. The Reformation was a battle on two fronts: Rome and the Radicals. While the Reformers had their fair share of beefs with Rome, what they shared with her was a raised brow at these odd creatures called the Radicals who talked a lot about the Spirit, etc.

    So I agree that if we “really want to be good orthodox Reformed folk then we should follow our forebears’ example and center our discussion upon asking what the Scriptures have to say in the matter.” I just think sola scriptura, which allows for tradition and sees the primacy of institution, is the better que for what constitutes good Reformed orthodoxy than solo scriptura, which doesn’t.

  15. Zrim,

    Seriously, if you think the companionship between a confessional Presbyterian and a Roman Catholic and/or Agnostic at a bar is pretty much the same as that between a confessional Presbyterian and a Southern Baptist at an Inter-Varsity service, then I really have no basis to continue this discussion with you. Once again, I believe the latter to have a sufficient common identity to justify “fellowship” as instanced at Inter-Varsity, Campus Crusade, Passion, and so on. These are not replacements for the local church, which is why they do not baptize, etc.

    Benjamin,

    Vineyard has a rather carefully crafted statement of faith to which churches are expected to adhere:

    http://www.vineyardusa.org/about/beliefs.aspx

  16. By the way, are Presbyterian Calvinists incapable of not reducing their opponents’ position to either Arminianism or the Radical Reformation? Just so you know, it gets annoying.

  17. Give me a break.

    The radical reformers spoke of the Spirit apart from Scripture, I am speaking of the Spirit and his work *from* the Scriptures. If one can never speak of the work of the Holy Spirit in both the life of individual and the life of the broader church without having the ridiculous charge of being located among the radical reformers then I guess we should cut our Doctrine of the Holy Spirit courses clean out of our seminaries’ curricula. Should we consider Paul a “radical” when we read how often he appeals to the Holy Spirit? Paul even urges the Galatians to consider their *experience* of the Spirit in defending the precious doctrine of Sola Fide (give a close reading to Galatians chapters 3-5 sometime). There is a good possibility that in attempting to assert your orthodoxy, you have actually become unorthodox by both a mis-application of church history, and holding a certain level of ignorance regarding the teaching of the Scriptures.

    Your attempts to lecture me regarding church history will probably fall on deaf ears. I don’t think that you have a particularly good grasp of it (I think that you’re just parroting whatever you last heard on WHI or wherever), and while the broad brush approach of “Rome, Reformers, or Radicals” may facilitate debate on blog comment boxes and reformed discussion boards, it won’t hold water in serious discussion of the details. I’ve spent five years of my life studying at two seminaries – the last three of those taking my M. Div. at Westminster in California. I studied Hebrew and Greek for all five of those years, and took the Aramaic electives as well. I love the Scriptures, and I read them every day in the originals. Because of that, the Holy Spirit’s work is important to me, and it is important to me because I see how important it was to the apostles and to the early church. Moreover, I see how much it is emphasized in those same Scriptures as a necessary part of the believer’s life; even involving the believer’s experience (oh, no – not that word!).

    You can press the issue if you want, but I really think that you’re barking up the wrong tree.

  18. Can fellowship exist apart from Word and sacrament ministry or is that the proper context for koinonia, biblically defined? Can we de-contextualize or re-contextualize koinonia?

  19. I have some experience with the Vineyard. When a worship leader announces that the Spirit is telling him to skip the sermon so the congregation can keep singing, I think we really are talking about a different kind of piety, despite the number of points of doctrinal agreement we might see on paper.

  20. Dr. Clark,

    You are right on the money in asking that question! I believe that what we see in Scripture would affirm both the formal ecclesiastical context of koinonia, as well as that fellowship that exists between believers of various confessions due to the unity that exists by virtue of the reality of the Spirit’s work among them (necessarily admitting that His regenerative work and its fruit can take place even among individuals who have received some otherwise erroneous theological training).

    I don’t want to derail the discussion too far by engaging in an exegetical point-for-point, but I do believe that Scripture allows for both sides of the argument as briefly seen in a few of the following passages:

    1) Certainly we see koinonia in the context of Word and sacrament in Acts 2:42 and 1 Corinthians 10:16. There is no denying that.

    2) However, we also see koinonia taking place in context of personal relations outside that context based on the grace given us in the common work of the Gospel, as was recognized in Paul by the other apostles in Galatians 2:9, and by virtue of the relationship held between Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and those adopted by His Spirit as seen in 1 Corinthians 1:9 and Philippians 2:1 (although that is a very interesting genitive construct that I would like to study further for other reasons).

    I think that this should allow us to affirm both that there is an importance in maintaining ecclesiastical fellowship around the Word and sacraments in a confessional context, as well as for us to admit that genuine interpersonal fellowship on a spiritual level can be had between persons of various confessional (or even, confessionally minimalistic!) backgrounds.

    I really don’t want to seem like I’m somehow attempting to lecture one of my old profs on stuff that he already knows, I’m really writing this stuff for the benefit of others here.

  21. Darren,

    If we take a bad example or two and use that to characterize the whole, we call that stereotyping. In fact, stereotyping would actually require a more sizable number of concurrences.

    AJM,

    I appreciate your comments.

  22. Kevin, I was merely making an observation; I wasn’t trying to say that all Vineyards do that. I’m glad that you want to distance yourself from that practice (you’re the one who called it bad… I just said it was different). However, as extreme as that is, it is the same quality of spirituality pretty much universal in the Vineyard movement, but writ large — seeking a direct word and/or a direct physical sensation of the Holy Spirit. I’m not making a precise judgment right now on what exactly it means for fellowship between third-wave charismatics and the confessionally reformed, but we do need to be awake that there is a huge difference between the two when it comes to the measure of normal Christian piety. And maybe it’s just a gut feeling, but that would seem to have implications for fellowship.

    I’m not tossing things out on heresay or one or two examples. I was a worship leader for years; the Langley Vineyard was my inspiration. I had friends going to the Toronto blessing, the Framingham revivals, and others.

  23. Darren,

    Thanks for the clarification. I would add that the difference that certainly exists between Vineyard and confessional Reformed thought and practice is mitigated by those Vineyard churches that would never put “experiencing the Holy Spirit” above preaching the Word and by those Reformed churches that understand that our emotional affections need not be sacrificed to an “intellect alone” sort of rationalism.

  24. Kevin,

    (I’m back from the reunion. No fellowship was had but only a good time: Aunt Muriel even put a rosary on a bush and buried St. Joseph to stave off rain. I like my superstition more staid and Protestant, so I just hoped. Neither ritual worked.)

    Admittedly, the reunion thing was a bit of hyperbole to make a point. But I do think it and your supposed examples of where fellowship can occur all run along a continuum which, while they may be ranked internally amongst themselves, fall into a category which falls short of the category wherein we find fellowship: family reunion, summer camp, day schooling and IV service; the first and the last may be quite different, as you say, but the last still doesn’t make the cut. (And I have to say I am puzzled as to why you may find fellowship one summer at camp and I can’t one weekend at a family reunion.)

    It’s sort of like folks who co-habitate (read: fornicate) and want to find a place in status amongst us marrieds. Fornicators and marrieds have a lot in common they could discuss at couple’s camp, but if they haven’t met the standard for marriage, like taking vows before a lawful magistrate, we really haven’t found true fellowship between us. To continue the analogy, the “spirit-based” criterion seems to have a lot in common with the modernist notion of two people being “married in their hearts,” who may very well admit the value in visible and institutional affirmation of marriage but can just as easily dispense with it since equal value is placed on the subjective as the objective. Just as the marriage covenant gives weight to and defines the nature of the particular relationship, fellowship is really only had by those who bind themselves institutionally. In other words, for those more serious about fellowship, it seems there is playing house and then there is getting married.

    AJM,

    I guess you’ll just have to suffer my severe ineptitude. So, are you saying there is something wrong with parroting? I thought that was what Reformation types were supposed to do, parrot orthodoxy. I wonder if the charge of being shamefully “uncreative” subsumes your comment, and if, as a consequence, you have “group-think” confused with “parroting.” I thought being creative or original isn’t normally a prized trait amongst those who might conceive of themselves as confessional. But I parrot lots of people without much shame while also taking a lot of flack for being a sort of contrarian for not accepting various examples of group-think amongst Reformed; it’s a weird dual existence, this conformist/contrarianism.

  25. R. Scott Clark,

    No, I wouldn’t say Cessationism is rationalism. In fact, I’m quite skeptical of much of what passes for “experiencing the Holy Spirit” in charismatic circles. But the Vineyard and Assemblies of God that I’ve known did not speak in tongues or prophecy (or very rarely); they were not much different from your run of the mill Baptist church that uses contemporary praise & worship. This is inevitable as charismatic denominations become more mainstream, and this sort of mainstream evangelicalism is what one finds at IV, CCC, Passion, etc. Some are better than others. I’ve witnessed some rather solid biblical exposition at some of these meetings, and I’ve witnessed some rather therapeutic approaches to “gospel” preaching. However, I can rejoice that the former is more indicative than the latter, and I think this is reflected in the sort of hymns (p&w) that are coming out of these events over the past 7-8 years, especially with Passion. Louie Giglio (founder of Passion) is well aware of the sort of criticisms found on the White Horse Inn, and, in particular, he has criticized the “culture of re-dedication” in evangelical circles, utilizing Paul for the antidote. I respect that many of the confessional Reformed believe the solution is to abandon this evangelical mainstream altogether, but I am intent on working within it.

    By the way, I have read Calvin and Heidelberg on the Lord’s Supper, and it actually reflects my own understanding of the Eucharist, which certainly needs to be recalled in Reformed circles and promoted in Free Church circles — both suffering from an excessively low sacramentology, which is as much to be blaimed on the “high church” as the “low church.”

  26. Zrim,

    The difference between fellowship one summer at (a Christian) camp and one weekend at a family reunion is that the former involves worship and preaching the good news of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice and giving of the Holy Spirit. If you worship God and proclaim the Gospel at your family reunions, then you’ve got Christian fellowship.

  27. Kevin,

    That strikes me as being similar to saying, “If you do a few things that married people do then you are experiencing marriage.” At best it’s cute until serious acts are contemplated and performed: fencing the Table, it seems to me, has a parallel to acts of marital consummation. You know, the second mark of the true chuch and all that. But there goes my institutionalism again.

  28. Well, if the few things that a couple does includes actually getting married, then that’s marriage. If Christian fellowship includes the worship of God and proclamation of the Gospel, then that’s Christian fellowship (not simply “fellowship” or “fellowship with Christians”). If Church is preaching the Word, celebrating the Sacraments, and enacting discipline, then that’s Church.

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