Heidelcast 149: Q & A On How Pray, When To Drop The H Bomb, What Did OT Believers Know, And Why Final Justification Through Good Works Is Bad News

Now sanitized for your listening safety, the Heidelcast is back with episode 149 in which we take questions from Lancaster, PA, Houston, TX, Cork, Ireland, and Belfast, UK. The Heidelcast is a global podcast. As always we had some good and challenging questions: How do we pray, “Your kingdom come,” when we see so many false teachers around? We will look at what 1 Timothy 3 says and what it means for Christian eschatology and at Heidelberg Catechism 123. We also tackle the thorny question of when to drop the H[eresy] Bomb, i.e., when do we call teaching or a teacher a heretic? Pastor Richie Cronin has an interesting question about the history of redemption: what did the OT saints know about Jesus and when did they know it? Finally, Keith Giles, from Belfast, asks about John Piper’s doctrine of “final salvation through works.” Since this has been a topic of conversation (again) this week on social media I spent about 25 minutes reviewing the history and evidence from Piper’s own writings. We will compare and contrast his doctrine of final salvation through works with Belgic Confession art. 22.

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  1. Prof. Clark,
    One hears all kinds of people these days calling themselves “Reformed” Baptists. I understand your frequent schema of “theology, piety, and practice” regarding them, but I suppose what I’m asking is whether or not the word “Reformed” is a misnomer, altogether, with them. If they accept neither a confessional understanding of “covenant”—and tied to this—refuse to administer the sacrament of baptism to children of believers—how can an affirmation of TULIP do it? Because even how they understand TULIP is compromised. I need not bring up their views of kingdom and eschatology—which also is derived from a non-Confessional view of covenant/redemptive history. You’re a professional historian; were they ever called “Reformed” before our time? I’m thinking of people like Charles Spurgeon. Or perhaps John Gill. Did/would have Calvin used this word for them?? Before I try to explain this stuff to Baptist friends, I want to make sure I’m on accurate historical footing. Many thanks—

    • Prof Clark and Greg Ballard: Now that I can see the original post by Greg Ballard again, I will quote directly from that to rephrase the question that I sent to Clark last week. Gregg says, “If they … refuse to administer the sacrament of baptism to children of believers—how can an affirmation of TULIP [make them Reformed]. (Greg, I hope my edits didn’t change your meaning.) To me, Greg seems to suggest that an affirmation of TULIP is compromised if one refuses to baptize their infant children? Since Prof Clark seemed to agree with Greg, I sent a query to Prof Clark asking for clarification. That is all. I certainly didn’t intend to create a blog post storm. Thank you, Dr Franks

      • Ed,

        There are two or three distinct questions here:

        1. Are Baptists Reformed? I say no.
        2. Is an affirmation of TULIP sufficient to qualify Baptists as Reformed? I say no.
        3. Does a refusal to baptize infants compromise Dort? I’m not sure that it does.

        • Scott: Thx for prompt reply, and for breaking it down into the 3 issues involved. I AGREE with each of your conclusions entirely (I think). Thank you, Ed Franks : )

  2. Great comments on Piper’s view, especially the points about his theology coming from Fuller.

    I’ve mentioned it previously, as Allison pointed out, there was a huge debate in England over the view of an initial and final justification in the seventeenth century. Allison’s emphasis is the single question, what is the instrumental cause of our justification? Allison argued that the Anglican orthodox position was that Christ is the formal cause and faith through grace alone is the instrumental cause. There were those who tried to keep the formal cause and like Piper they rejected faith and grace alone as the instrumental cause while trying to keep the formal cause. Wesley also held the same view of an initial and final justification.

    I have not seen it but are there any links between the federal vision and Fuller that you are aware of, or does it almost exclusively come through Norman Shepherd and Dick Gaffin?

    • Are you talking about Allison’s “The Rise of Moralism?!” I just happened to have just finished that book literally 3 weeks ago after 8 months of “trudging” my way thru the book and every single endnote to boot. It was truly a massive moment of clarity for me, at least with respect to understanding better what the heck happened to the Anglican Church between 1600 and 1700, as it went from being nearly card-carrying Calvinistic to not having a dime’s worth of difference with the Papists. I thought I was the only one to have read Allison in the last 20 years or so. I’m glad to see I’m not alone. And here’s the best part. It was recommended to me by a professor emeritus of history at FULLER seminary (!), which is where I also got my MA in Theology. Yes, I survived Fuller, entering as a Reformed Christian and graduation still as a Reformed Christian, but it was a lonely journey. (Westminster West was my first choice, but moving the family of 4 school age kids from Pasadena to Escondido just wasn’t an option.) Anyway, thanks for mentioning Allison out of the blue for me. What a pleasant surprise. Over and out.

  3. Great treatment of Piper. No wonder he didn’t see any problem with FV – he’s right there with them!

  4. As a disaffected Evangelical it was Piper that got me on the entry ramp to the Reformed superhighway, back on the vine.

    So why did his teaching lose almost all value when one joined a truly confessional church under the 3 Forms and/or the WCF?

  5. Scott, the last dozen attempts to listen to him exposes it as theatrics, and I just can’t….

    There still is a lot of gratitude and fond memories though.

  6. If you google the meaning of heresy, the first entry is Robert Godfrey’s response to the question of what is heresy. He answers: “Its a great question because the word heresy is thrown around and some people throw the word heresy simply to mean any error, or fairly serious error in theology. But classically the word heresy is used for those theological errors so severe that it would deprive one of salvation, and I think that we ought to be using heresy more in that sense. Error is serious. Error can be small. But there are some errors that are so huge that they really are cutting us off from God because we have so misunderstood Him and His truth. And that is what I think heresy should be used for in the church.” My question is, would the FV error of adding works to faith as the instrument of salvation not be such a serious error that it would be “cutting us off from God because we have misunderstood Him and His truth?”

  7. Dr. Clark,

    You had referred to John Piper’s statement that if pastors don’t read their Bibles, they will go to hell. Could you point out the source of that comment?

    • Venkatesh,

      He made them at T4G, I believe.

      He said:

      “Don’t read your Bible mainly for sermon preparation or for answering theological questions, read your Bible because you’re going to go to hell if you don’t!”

      at 23:15 in his talk.

  8. How is an affirmation of TULIP compromised if one refuses to baptize their infant children, covenantalism or no? This is a sincere question. You imply that such a view is an inherent contradiction. How? Where? Why? Thanks. (I’m prefer Bapterian, or Presbaptian, myself.)

      • Oh… sorry. I was simply responding to an earlier comment made by someone, but his comment has now vanished. I didn’t know what he was trying to say exactly, so I pretty much quoted him. I’ll try again, via paraphrase. He seemed to say that if you don’t embrace infant baptism, then it is entirely inconsistent for you to embrace TULIP. Apparently, to him, this claim is so obvious that he didn’t feel it was necessary to provide any examples. Maybe he’ll see this exchange and pop back up. : )

        • Mr. Franks and Professor Clark—

          How my question “vanished”… I have no way of knowing. Mr. Franks, I was not trying to evade you, but rather, wait in patience on a reply from Prof. Clark first—for an answer to a sincere question which I posed in good faith. From there, I was going to address you properly. To restate my original query: to what extent (if any) may Baptists (of any ilk) be properly referred to as “Reformed”? It seems that 8 people out of 10, these days, who are claiming this moniker, are Baptists. I’m 47 years old. Having grown up in Baptist circles, I can definitely tell you that term wasn’t thrown around so commonly 35 and 40 years ago. While affirming TULIP in all cases—or traditionally, 4 of those letters—my personal view is that TULIP is not invalidated, per se, but severely compromised and misunderstood outside of the purview of a proper covenantal understanding—which of course, cannot help but flow into matters of ecclesiology (infant baptism) and eschatology (proper views of covenant and kingdom). To deny the administration of this sacrament to a child of covenant parents is grave error, is it not? And doesn’t the idea of the covenant affect one’s view of “unconditional election”, for example? Etc., etc. One can claim to be a “Presbybaptist” or “Baptyterian” all day long. It’s a free country. But if we strive for precision in theology and consistency of thought, then I don’t see how this can be done without confusion upon confusion. We have “Reformed” who not only don’t baptize their children, but who also believe in continuation of sign-gifts/miracles. John MacArthur has a sermon series entitled “Why every Calvinist Should Be a Premillennialist”—and he maintains a “secret rapture”, also. My question to Prof. Clark is this: what is the baseline for “Reformed”? He’s the professional historian and theologian. What about Charles Spurgeon? John Gill? Piper and Wilson are in the woodshed…are they Reformed? Or…Remonstrant?? I’m asking for a universalization of terms—that comports with how men or groups of men have been historically seen—before the declension of the 20th and 21st centuries—that’s all. When and if I rebuke my Baptist friends—who may believe all manner of things contrary to the Reformed Confession—I want to know that I’m on solid historical footing for robbing them of the title “Reformed” that they seemingly desperately want to claim now as their own. That’s all. Thanks Mr. Franks for your patience, and thank you, Prof. Clark, for your scholarship—

          • Gregory,

            I do think that there are real tensions, some of them irreconcilable, between the Reformed theology articulated and confessed at Dort and the so-called “Young, Restless, and Reformed” or “New Calvinist” movement, which is mostly Baptist.

            There were no Baptists at Dort nor could there have been theologically considered. Historically, there were only General (more or less sympathetic to the Remonstrants) Baptists until the 1630s or so. The First London Confession was published in 1644, I think.

            TULIP, of course, is a modern way of re-organizing and simplifying the Canons. Richard Muller has complained about this. TULIP is inherently misleading.

            I’ve argued at length at Baptists cannot be Reformed. I think some are closer than others. E.g., I think Gill was much closer than e.g., Denault, Sam Renihan, and their Particular Baptist predecessors are. I’ve tried to explain this at length on the HB. I keep asking my PB friends if I can call myself Baptist because I baptize hitherto unbaptized converts. They never answer. So, no, Spurgeon wasn’t Reformed. He was a Baptist who sympathized with aspects of Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

            Resources On Defining Reformed

  9. Follow up: I now can see at the top part of the feed that Prof. Clark did indeed answer my earlier question. I simply didn’t see it before. My sincere apologies to him for not noticing. And, I’m pleased to see he agrees with my stance. Again, my apologies Dr. Clark to you. And Mr. Franks, I hope this catches us up!

  10. Dr. Clark,

    Can you please review the first 5 minutes of this link where RC Sproul speaks of salvation, justification and good works? Can you explain your agreement or disagreement with RC’s comments?


    Thank you

    • Matt,

      I’ve read and heard R. C. on this. He’s not saying what Piper is saying. He articulated the Reformed doctrine of the logical necessity of good works as fruit and evidence. If Piper had stopped with that, there would be no problem. He didn’t. He turns good works into the instrument of an alleged “final salvation” “through works.” This is NOT what R. C. was saying. Even had (note the conditional. I’m not conceding that he said what Piper is saying) he said it, he would be wrong.

      I love R. C. but I didn’t subscribe R. C.’s works when I was ordained. I subscribed the Reformed confessions.

      R. C. Sproul: Why Can’t We Say That Good Works are Necessary As Evidence?

  11. Thank you for your response, Dr Clark. I love RC and learned so much from him. Can you comment on RC’s statement which is at the 2:38 mark in the video I posted: “Works that proceed from our justification are very much a part of our total salvation. The point is they don’t contribute any merit to our justification.”

    Also, I like the category distinctions that Sproul makes. Salvation as a major category, and justification, sanctification and glorification as all being under the main category of salvation.

    Do you accept that categorization? And if so, would you say that the whole category of salvation is by faith alone? I’ve learned from RC that the main argument of the reformers was justification by faith alone (rather than salvation by faith alone).

    I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks.

    • Matt,

      I’ve read this passage in R. C.

      He’s repeating Reformed theology. That’s NOT what Piper is doing.

      The Logic Of Fruit As Evidence

      Piper has turned fruit and evidence (good works) into the instrument of an alleged final salvation (in an alleged two-stage) scheme.

      R. C. was merely saying that good works are necessary as fruit and evidence. Amen! I’ve always said that.

      Yes, this is salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide). R. C. didn’t address the current controversy at length because, for most of the past 40 years, we were defending justification sola fide. Honestly, I don’t think many of us in the Reformed world were paying attention to Piper’s “future justification” scheme. I wasn’t. I was aware of Daniel Fuller and I’m sure that R C was too. See the responses from Godfrey and Robertson to Fuller. I’m sure that Bob and R C talked about that.

      I took Piper to be embracing classical Protestant theology when he rejected the NPP and embraced imputation. Only later did I see that he was just adding it to an already existing two-stage system.

      Did R C know all that? I don’t know. My sense, from reading and talking to others, is that it’s not yet well understood everywhere in the Reformed world what John is actually saying. I think that some are starting to see it.

      Certainly, there’s no way to square what R C taught with “maintaining” one’s justification “through good works” or “final salvation” “through good works.” Good works never become the instruments of salvation. They can’t. It’s contrary to their nature. It’s in the nature of faith to receive.

      Take a look at the resources. I’ve addressed this at length.

      Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works”

  12. Thanks again for your full reply. I’m still unclear on one point.

    Is all of salvation by faith alone?

    Would it be accurate to say:

    Justification is by faith alone
    Sanctification is by faith alone
    Glorification is by faith alone

    I honestly cannot recall ever hearing RC teach this. But as you’ve alluded, we may have a high regard for the late Dr Sproul, he is not the final authority.

    Are there confessions or reformers that teach that justification and sanctification and glorification are all by faith alone?

    Thank you again for your time.

  13. Dr Clark,

    At the risk of irritating the management (which I sincerely hope not to do) I am going to ask a second question, before you’ve replied to my last.

    I just want to see if you would agree to the way I understand justification and sanctification.

    Justification occurs once in a Christian’s life. It doesn’t grow. We are never more justified than we were at first. God declares us to be righteous based solely on the imputed righteousness of Christ (received by faith alone). And the faith itself is a gift from God lest any should boast. In justification, we are passive. We add no merit, and there is no cooperation. It is God who justifies.

    All those who have been justified will never be unjustified. God will finish what He started. For as long as the Christian is alive in this world, the process of sanctification will continue. There is a sense in which the Christian is sanctified in a positional way, and that positional sanctification is a one time event. But progressive sanctification is… progressive. The Christian is not passive in progressive sanctification, but rather active. Progressive sanctification does not happen apart from faith, but in contrast to the Christian being passive in justification, he is active in progressive sanctification.

    The Christian cooperates in sanctification in that he is active in the good works that God has prepared for him. But the power to cooperate does not come from within the Christian himself, but rather by the Spirit of Christ operating in him.

    With all that being said, the New Testament in several places exhorts Christians to good works. Good works don’t flow automatically from the Christian (as though he were passive) but rather through effort (hard effort) on the part of the Christian. This effort again is not some energy that is wrought by the Christian on his own, but rather supplied by the Spirit of Christ. So much so that apart from power of the Spirit of Christ, the Christian can do nothing.

    I would very much appreciate a reply to this. Your reply to this may very well help to mend some tension within my congregation.

    Thank you!

    • Matt,

      1. Yes, we are justified once for all. This is the great problem with Piper’s scheme. He has us, in effect, out on probation but not really justified once for all since we still have to pass a final exam (through works).

      2. Sanctification is progressive. Yes, we are sanctified in Christ but that is essentially a part of our justification. His holiness is imputed to us. Our progressive sanctification flows from our justification.

      Whatever we say about the Christian’s activity in sanctification—I would rather say that we are active as a consequence of sanctification—we should start here:

      Q. 35. What is sanctification?

      A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

      Sanctification is not by grace and cooperation with grace. Sanctification is by grace alone. The Westminster Divines (or their committee, in this case), were no slouches on sanctification and they could have not been clearer. It is the work of God’s free grace. Notice the passive voice: “we are reneweed” and “enabled…”. That’s important.

      Notice too the way Belgic Confession art. 24 speaks:

      We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

      “Regenerates” here is used in a twofold sense. We are already made alive (art. 23) but we are being made alive and being made more holy progressively.

      Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

      These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification—for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

      Notice that good works are the fruit of sanctification and both are the fruit of faith. The living tree does what the living tree does. It produces fruit. Does the fruit tree strain to grow fruit? I’m not saying that sanctification doesn’t lead to real struggle but we shouldn’t pass over the image too quickly.

      o then, we do good works, but nor for merit—for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”60—thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ”

      Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works—but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

      So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

      There are a lot of resources on sanctification here:

      Sanctification Is A Work Of God’s Grace: Resources On Sanctification

      Resources On Keeping Justification And Sanctification Together Without Confusing Them

      Resources On the Doctrine of Sanctification And The Third Use Of The Law

      Sanctification is the necessary and supernatural result of God’s grace. It leads to good works. It is dying to sin and being made alive to Christ and it leads to real struggle with and against sin, the flesh, the Devil but sanctification per se is monergistic, not synergistic. Sanctification is not by works; not even grace and cooperation with grace. It is by grace alone, through faith alone.

  14. Prof. Clark—

    Have you ever encountered this question re: the topic of justification or, let’s say of saving faith in general? It goes something like this: does the doctrine of justification one holds need to be pure/accurate to possess saving faith? Or, can someone be justified DESPITE holding a non-confessional, or errant view? Put another way, how critical is an accurate doctrinal stance re: “justification” to personally appropriating same? To me, it’s a critical question—which almost takes on the appearance of a trick question. I was personally asked this—and at first, thought the person was just being devilishly clever to try and entrap me, and then I thought about it a while and saw what a vital question it actually is. What’s the best answer to this? I pose this now, if only because it seems very relevant to this feed involving Piper—to say nothing of the Federal Visionists and those who defend Shepherd—

    • Hi Greg,

      Yes, I’ve heard this question many times.

      Yes, it’s a truism, almost axiomatic, that one is not justified by being right on justification but by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone. So, yes, we have always said that God has his elect in other communions, even those where the doctrine of justification is corrupted.

      Nevertheless, and this is an important qualification, we are (e.g., in Belgic Confession art. 28 and 29) insistent that, e.g., Roman Catholics, come out of churches where the gospel is corrupted (e.g., those congregations where the Federal Vision is taught) and join themselves to congregations where the gospel is preached purely, the sacraments are administered purely, and where church discipline is used.

      The doctrine justification is the “article of the standing or falling of the church.” It was J H Alsted who said that (following Luther in essence) in the early 17th century. We’ve never said that we have to choose. We are catholics, we recognize that the church universal is beyond the bounds of the Reformed church but it is so, in a sense, irregularly.

      Consider Calvin’s attempt to convict the “Nicodemites” to come out of the French Roman congregations and to unite with the Reformed church. We might say the same to evangelicals today who attend Reformed conferences but who then nestle back into their broad and vague megachurches as if nothing happened at the conference.

      To the Evangelical Nicodemites

      When the question is framed as a binary, it is a trick. It’s not a binary. Yes, God is free to save whom he wills, where he wills but we’re still obligated to the revealed will of God and the gospel. God’s freedom does not change our duty.

      • Thank you, Prof. Clark, for your thorough answer to my question. Just wanted to say it was very much appreciated!

  15. Dr Clark,

    I’m grateful for the thoroughness of your response.

    When it comes to the words we use to describe these things, perhaps there is grace to be shown for brothers who use different words.

    For example, RC and John Gerstner were fond of using the word monergistic for justification and synergistic for sanctification.

    It doesn’t sound like you’re comfortable with the word synergistic when referring to sanctification. But, would you say that RC and Gerstner were just using a word you don’t prefer, rather than corrupting the gospel?

    I hope it’s the former. Those two guys were both faithful ministers of the gospel, right?

    Thanks again for all the helpful responses. They will do a lot of good.

    • Matt,

      I have a number of problems with Gerstner’s theology. I have not seen RC describing sanctification as synergistic but I would understand if he did. That way of speaking is widespread. I have used it myself in the past.

      Over time, however, I have come to see that way of speaking to be a mistake. It is part of what has created the conditions to allow P&R people to talk about two stages of salvation, the final of which, allegedly, is said to be through works.

      this is just one of many ways we have lost track of our older theologians and our confessions, which speak differently then many do today on sanctification.

      This is why we have confessions, to norm our speech. this is why we have confessions, to norm our speech. if our way of speaking about an issue is out of accord with the way the church speaks about it, then we should change the way we speak about it.

      Think about it, is sanctification, the putting to death of the old man and making alive of the new really within our power, even by cooperation with grace? The phrase, “I making a live of the new,” is an allusion to the resurrection. “The putting to death of the old man” is an allusion to crucifixion. these two things are fundamentally the work of the Holy Spirit.

      If you will take a look at the resources I have provided, which constitute an extensive library of discussion on sanctification, you will see that I advocate the vigorous wrestling with sin. The Reformed doctrine of sanctification, as we find it in the confessions, does not teach passivity in the Christian life.

  16. Dr Clark,

    I’m an elder in a PCA church and I’ve studied and love the Westminster Confession. However, I have some concerns about using confessions to norm our speech.

    If we would norm our speech by the reformed confessions, then how can we have an open ear to faithful theologians that wrote prior to our confessions? This is a real concern, but not as big as this one…

    How will we have an open ear to Scripture when words are used in Scripture that aren’t used in our confessions? Certainly we wouldn’t want to be afraid to use the words of Scripture to speak on a given doctrine.

    Perhaps I’m understanding your statement about confessions normalizing our speech incorrectly.

    Can you elaborate on that?

    Thanks again!

    • Matt,

      You’re understanding me. We have to set priorities. The confessions are the church’s official, authoritative interpretations of Scripture. Where they speak, these are our agreed interpretations and our agreed language.

      If someone wants to speak differently, it’s a free country but they should register their dissent from the confession. If they are dissatisfied with the confession, then they should petition the church to revise the confession.

      If we have to choose between them, we should give the benefit of the doubt to the church, as reflected in the confessions.

  17. Dr Clark,

    I definitely value the confessions, in particular the WCF, but this confession gives a priority of authority to Scripture.

    Chapter 1 section X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

    Wouldn’t you agree that our discussion of any doctrine should freely use any and all relevant Scriptures?

    • Matt,

      Of course! The shorter catechism is the church’s interpretation of Scripture. If you’re dissatisfied with that interpretation, that way of speaking, petition the church or join a Wesleyan church or some other church that agrees with your interpretation of Scripture.

      Scripture is the norm. The Reformed churches disagree with your interpretation. That doesn’t mean that we’re not paying attention to Scripture.

  18. Dr Clark,

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing with the interpretation of the confession.

    All I’m saying is that no confession I know of has an interpretation of every verse of Scripture. Since all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (etc.) then I want to sit under the preaching and interpretation of all of it. Which goes beyond the scope of any confession.

    And even the passages of Scripture that are expounded and interpreted by the confessions are not exhaustively expounded or interpreted.

    I just think that limiting the words to only those within confessions will put an unnecessary and unhelpful constraint upon the Bible expositor.

    Sound reasonable? Or must I find a Wesleyan congregation? 😁

    • Matt,

      Have I claimed that the standards interpret every passage? No, I haven’t. I’ve said that, e.g., WSC 30 is an interpretation of Scripture on this point. The divines (or their committee) weren’t just making up things out of thin air. The divines had been meeting in committee and as a whole to discuss these issues for years. This was the agree Reformed doctrine when the divines wrote it, which was the result of the painstaking study of God’s Word.

      Remember, this began as a discussion of how we should speak about the relationship of grace and works to sanctification. We have language already that we’ve adopted after prayer and study.

      Sanctification is the “work of God’s free grace.” That’s Reformed doctrine. Reformed is not, “the work of God’s free grace” and “not the work of God’s free grace.”

      Why is it that whenever I point people to the language that the church has adopted, which is the direct answer to their question, people “but sola Scriptura” as if they just discovered it or their re-formulation of Reformed theology is some breakthrough that no one has ever considered before?

      Look, the confessions are a lost resource for a lot of people. Hence the book (Recovering the Reformed Confession) and the blog. It’s challenging to learn to talk the way the church talks. That is, by the way, what the Reformed meant by “semper reformanda,” constantly recovering the Reformation, which tends to get lost.

  19. Dr Clark,

    Let me say again that I love the WCF. I thank God for blessing the church with the men who painstakingly produced this wonderful confession.

    In honor of the confession, I want to make sure that I view my multiple authorities rightly. The WCF is an authority for me, but not my final and ultimate authority. As valuable as the WCF is to me, it is not infallible. Only God’s word is infallible.

    I can understand the concern to guard against a thousand private interpretations of Scripture. We want unity and that means unity of doctrine. And sound doctrine (like the doctrine found in the WCF) is a great way to unify God’s people.

    But schisms will happen even among Reformed Christians. After all, sanctification is never complete in this life. So even if we restrict the language of the church to only use confessional language, we will still suffer from schisms, because people will interpret the confessional language differently. Visit my church sometime and watch a room full of men go at it with WCFs in hand.

    You’ve been kind in taking time to reply to all of my posts. If you feel like I’m working your last nerve, just remember that you’re helping a local congregation.


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