On Churchless Evangelicals (Part 3)

An HB Classic

So far, the case has not been terribly difficult or painful. However many evangelicals may be wandering in the churchless wilderness without any congregation whatsoever, there are few responsible evangelical theologians who, however much they may not wish to talk about the doctrine of the church, would actually advocate a policy of avoiding the local church. Thus, the first two articles have been on the order of house cleaning. With this essay, however, we go from preaching to meddling. Hold on to your britches.

For decades after World War II, we relied on the Gallup Poll numbers that told us 40 percent of Americans attend church. This research was probably behind the popular notion of “Christian America.” More recent studies have found, however, that American church attendance is actually much lower and much more sporadic. The more recent picture makes sense of the fact that, if the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals is correct and there are sixty million evangelicals in the USA, then evangelicals make up close to 20 percent of American Christians. And were those evangelicals as devoted to the visible church as once thought, church attendance figures should be higher than they actually are. Weekly attendance is probably actually something like 10 percent. This means that on any given Sunday morning (forget Sunday night!), about thirty-five million folks are at church. I think there are something like sixty million Roman Catholics in America, and let us say that among the mainliners there are seven million. If we impute a church attendance of 40 percent to each group, we get our 10 percent figure of thirty-five million. Whatever the actual figures in each of the groups (it might be slightly higher in one group than in another), it is unlikely that much more than 50 percent of the sixty million evangelicals are actually in church on any given Sunday.

So, as a practical matter, even if most evangelicals are members of congregations where there is some sort of actual record of membership and some sort of accountability structure (i.e., discipline), it seems likely that most have unchurched themselves simply by opting for shopping over the means of grace (assuming they exist in our putative evangelical congregations). If we figure for the number of megachurches where the gospel is virtually non-existent, the number of angry fundamentalist churches trying to reclaim their socio-political place in the culture, and Pentecostals and Charismatics blissed out by the Spirit, one can begin to understand why our evangelicals skip the whole thing. They may be doing today what liberals began to do in the ‘60s and ‘70s—just stay home. What is the point of hearing the minister do poorly what Bob Schuller or Joel Osteen or Charles Osgood can do much better?

For our churchgoing evangelicals, however, let us assume that they attend some congregation, even if it might not have a formal membership procedure or the practice or possibility of discipline. With this picture in view, there is another way in which most of the sixty million or so American evangelicals may be said to be churchless.

They may be churchless because, despite attending a congregation, that congregation may not have the marks of the church. This language of “marks of the church” is very ancient. In substance it goes back to the patristic (most ancient post-apostolic) church’s struggle against the Gnostics and other heretical groups claiming to be “the church.” By the time of the Reformation, the Reformed churches identified three marks of the true church.

The Scots Confession (1560) identified two “notes” (marks or indicators) of the “true kirk” (article 18):

So it is essential that the true Kirk be distinguished from the filthy synagogues by clear and perfect notes lest we, being deceived, receive and embrace, to our own condemnation, the one for the other. . . . The notes of the true Kirk, therefore, we believe, confess, and avow to be: first, the true preaching of the Word of God, in which God has revealed himself to us, as the writings of the prophets and apostles declare; secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, with which must be associated the Word and promise of God to seal and confirm them in our hearts; and lastly, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished. Then wherever these notes are seen and continue for any time, be the number complete or not, there, beyond any doubt, is the true Kirk of Christ, who, according to his promise, is in its midst. This is not that universal Kirk of which we have spoken before, but particular Kirks, such as were in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, and other places where the ministry was planted by Paul and which he himself called Kirks of God.1

This is the same conception that one finds in the Belgic Confession (BC) Article 29, adopted by most of the European Reformed churches beginning in 1561. The French Confession of 1559, in Article 27 uses essentially the same categories. Thus, by the mid-sixteenth century, there was a widespread consensus among the Reformed churches of Europe and Britain that there are clear, inherent marks by which the true church may be distinguished from the false church and sects (BC 29) or from “filthy synagogues” (Scots Kirk).

If this way of thinking about the church seems strange, that ought to alert us to how far we have drifted from our Reformation moorings. In practice, however, we use these categories daily. We just fail to apply them to the church. Not everyone who shoots baskets is a basketball player. A true ball player moves a certain way. He or she has a certain fluidity on the court. A true ball player is in the right place at the right time; he or she holds the ball a certain way, dribbles the ball a certain way, plays defense a certain way. There are marks of genuine ball player. Either one has them, or one does not.

It is the same way with a church. Just because folk who love Jesus and claim to have had an encounter with the risen Christ meet on Sunday morning does not make them a church. What is essential to the existence of a “church”? First, according to Scripture, in Galatians 1, it is possible to corrupt the gospel so that it becomes what Paul calls “another gospel.” If a congregation institutionalizes that false message or fails to preach the true message, it lacks one of the essential marks of a church. The gospel is the proclamation or the announcement that Jesus the Messiah has come, that he was born of a woman, under the law (Gal 4), that he kept that law (Rom 5), that he was crucified, dead, buried, and raised on the third day (1 Cor 15), and that he is ascended to the right hand of the Father in glory (Acts 2). The good news is that sinners are justified by the undeserved favor of God, through faith (trusting) in Christ and his righteousness alone (Gal 2). Anyone who preaches anything other than that, or any congregation that routinely ignores or distorts that message, lacks an essential mark of a church. They may be a gathering of good Americans and there may be Christians present. They may be earnest. They may be any number of things, but together, without the gospel, they are no church.

So far, so good. I suppose that most thoughtful evangelicals who still remember the teaching of Packer, Stott, Graham, and Henry (the founders of the older British and American neo-evangelical establishment) would probably agree with the first mark of a church. Now let us say a church is gathered around the gospel but there is no structure (either on the pretense of being truly apostolic or because of sinful fear or laziness) and no one is held accountable for their behavior after they have made a Christian profession. Again, I suppose that most of the older evangelicals would probably have said that such a congregation lacks an essential mark of the church. It was the absence of this mark that caused conservatives to leave their mainline churches in droves for sixty years from the 1920s to the ’80s. For decades in the mainline churches, conservatives were frustrated by the fact that ministers were able to deny the faith publicly without any sanction against them or their errors. Eventually, people voted with their feet and they left the mainline (liberal, Seven Sister) denominations.

After all, the one-two punch of Jesus and Paul on church discipline is hard to miss. Jesus lays out a structure and an order for discipline in Matthew 18, and Paul demands that it be enforced in 1 Corinthians 5. If there are members who are openly contradicting their Christian profession, either by denying the faith or by scandalizing the church and its gospel, or by living in open sin and rebellion against the law of God, they must face some sanction (see Heb 6, 10)—this in the hope that the rebellious one will recognize his need of a Savior, turn to Jesus in faith, and begin living in a way that is consonant with his profession of faith. If there is no sanction against open and willful sin or heresy, then there is no church.

Whatever agreement we might have been able to generate on marks one and three is likely to evaporate as we next come to the second mark. It is so difficult that the old neo-evangelicals simply avoided it altogether. It is the line that many contemporary evangelicals will not cross, and it is a line that many, perhaps most, Reformed folk will not cross today. It is virtually universally accepted among evangelicals and even among Reformed folk today that we must be pluralists when it comes to the holy sacraments. Indeed, I guess that most people regard the Quakers and the Salvation Army as “evangelical” even though they do not practice the holy sacraments.2 If one can be an evangelical without sacraments, the movement is certainly not well positioned to say that a certain practice of them is essential to the church.

Nevertheless, in contrast, that is exactly what the Reformed churches have done since the middle of the sixteenth century. I realize that this is scandalous to all evangelicals and to most Reformed people today, but it is the clear implication of the Reformed confession and it was the standard position of the magisterial Reformers.

The debate is most pointed and painful when it comes to baptism. An overwhelming majority of modern evangelicals hold Baptist convictions of one sort or another. If it is the case that rejecting infant baptism is sufficient to unchurch a congregation (i.e., to deprive them of the status of being a “church”), then there are very few actual churches in North America, to pick but one global region.

To many, such a thought is impossible. It was quite difficult for me to reach this conclusion, but I did not reach it carelessly or quickly. For most of my life in the Reformed world since 1980, I shared the assumption that, though I disagreed with my evangelical brothers and sisters over the question of baptism, their congregations were still churches. It has only been in the last few years that the other shoe has dropped.

Consider the Reformation argument against the Anabaptists. The Reformed had a number of issues with the Anabaptists, including Christology (many Anabaptists held to a docetic Christology—i.e., that Jesus had what they called a “celestial flesh”—a view which has no relation to the catholic doctrine of the true humanity of Jesus), a defective view of the Christian’s role in civil life, and a unanimous rejection of justification sola gratia et sola fide.

On the christological and soteriological issues alone, the Reformed were warranted in describing the sixteenth-century Anabaptists as “sects.” There was, however, another issue which the Reformed mentioned consistently as providing grounds for such a label—namely, the Anabaptist denial of infant baptism.

However orthodox modern Baptists are on the other issues, they continue to share with the Anabaptists this fundamental conviction: that however valid infant circumcision was prior to the incarnation, under the new covenant there is no place for infant baptism as a proper recognition that the children of believers are members of the covenant of grace just as much today as they were in Abraham’s day.

This rejection of the status of Christian children as such introduced (and continues to perpetuate) a principle of radical discontinuity between Abraham and the Christian, a radical principle of discontinuity in the history of redemption and in the covenant of grace. This principle of radical discontinuity, this denial of the fundamental unity of the covenant of grace—as symbolized in the administration of the sign and seal of the covenant of grace to covenant children—is serious enough to warrant saying that any congregation that will not practice infant initiation (baptism) into the administration of the covenant of grace is not a church. The Protestants criticized the Anabaptists on these very grounds. Denial of infant initiation is a denial of the catholicity of the church stretching back to Abraham, and it is too much like the Gnostic denial of the unity of the covenant of grace in the second and third centuries.

Of course, there are great difficulties in applying the Reformed critique of the Anabaptists to modern Baptistic evangelicals, because there are great discontinuities between the two groups. As I say, however, they do have that one thing in common, and it is one of the things that the Reformed mentioned consistently in their treatises against the Anabaptists and in their confessional documents. The question is whether the modern Baptist repentance of the other Anabaptist errors and heresies is enough to rescue them from the category of “sect.” Another way to put it is to ask whether the administration of the holy sacraments may be so marginalized that they are not a mark of the church any longer. It does not appear that Baptists actually think so, and Reformed folk should not think so either.

This is why the Belgic Confession says in Article 29, “the pure administration of the sacraments.” The Anabaptists and the Romanists practiced the sacraments, but according to the Reformed churches, they did not practice them purely. The adjective “pure” is decisive.

The reader should be aware that the view I am advocating here is not widely accepted, even within my own NAPARC circles. Doubtless it will seem radical to many, but consider a few things. My Baptist friends and students (of whom I have many) do not consider me baptized. What happened to me in 1961 was, for them, nothing other than mere magic or sentiment—it was not baptism. Therefore, I and all such persons are, in their view, unbaptized. For most of Christian history, to say that someone was unbaptized was to unchurch them. In other words, to call me unbaptized is to say that I am not really a Christian. I may profess faith, but if I have not been baptized, then my profession is at best hollow and hypocritical so long as I persist, in their eyes, in being unbaptized. As an unbaptized person, I certainly have no right to the Lord’s Supper and therefore, on their principles, they quite rightly bar me from the table.

To be clear, because we are not Baptists and because Reformed churches recognize all Trinitarian baptisms, we do regard our Baptist friends as baptized. According to the Westminster Confession (1647), “it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance,” but so long as they are baptized in the Triune name, they are baptized, even if it is late in coming. When they gather thus, in congregations, I regard them as being rebellious, as having a poor view of redemptive history, as having an over-realized eschatology (this is not the age for the unmixed church), and thus I cannot regard their congregations as “true churches.”

From the Baptist point of view, what are congregations of unbaptized persons? Are they true churches? The London Baptist Confession (1689) does not say explicitly, but let us make some inferences. From the Baptist perspective, we paedobaptist Reformed churches may have the gospel, and that is a good thing, but we are necessarily undisciplined. After all, we are all unbaptized and no one is doing anything about it; and, worse, we celebrate our unbaptized status. Certainly, from the Baptist point of view, we corrupt the sacrament of baptism; and a correct view of baptism would seem to be of the essence of being a “Baptist.”

Thus it is not just the Reformed who are bound to insist on the presence of all three marks—the Baptists do as well. At the least, they unbaptize all those who are baptized only as infants, and thus they effectively unchurch us, even if they do not like to follow their logic to its conclusion. Most evangelicals are not as thoroughgoing about their doctrine and practice as the so-called Reformed (i.e., predestinarian) Baptists, but they do have a common view of baptism, to the degree that evangelicals have any particular view of the sacraments at all.

From a historical perspective, since the eighteenth century, on this particular question, the Anabaptists have “won.” They have not won the theological argument but they have won demographically. There are many more “Anabaptists” when it comes to baptism than there are paedobaptists among the evangelicals and Reformed. Thus, it seems shocking for the minority to unchurch, as it were, the majority. Yet, this is precisely what the theology of the majority does to the paedobaptist minority: it unchurches us. We cannot both be right. Either God’s promise and command to Abraham is still in effect or it has been abrogated. Either there is a fundamental unity to the substance and administration of the covenant of grace or there is not.

The issue of who is right about baptism is not really a matter of narrow-minded Reformed confessionalists unchurching their Jesus-loving evangelical friends. The difference is that, for Reformed confessionalists, the sacraments are at the heart of our theology, piety, and practice. And because we are the minority in late modern America, we feel the tension with the majority.

If the Reformed confessionalists are right, that there are three marks to a church, and if they are right that most evangelical congregations lack one or more of those marks, it leaves the relations between most evangelicals and most consistent confessionalists in a very tenuous place indeed.

If Jesus did institute the Holy Sacraments, however, if he really said, “This is my body. . . . Take, eat. . . . Do this in remembrance of me,” and if he commanded the visible, institutional church to administer baptism to converts and to their children (Acts 2:39), then these are not mere options or second blessings, but essential to the life of the Christian and to the life of the Christian church.

Even if the confessionalists are wrong about whether the evangelical congregations are really churches, no one could fairly say that the evangelical congregations are marked by devotion to and rigorous practice of the Holy Sacraments. Even on a more latitudinarian or pluralist approach to the question of the status of evangelical and Baptist congregations, the evangelical piety must be regarded as virtually sacrament free; and that alone should give my broader-minded brothers reason to pause and take stock as to whether most evangelical congregations deserve the title “church.”

Notes

  1. See “The Scots Confession,” 1560, art. 18. Adapted here to modern English.
  2. See R. Scott Clark, “The Evangelical Fall From The Means Of Grace.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the Heidelblog in 2008.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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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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78 comments

  1. Controversial, but I think it needs to be said. I don’t quite understand how one can read stuff like Belgic Article 29 otherwise. In the last year, I heard a guy who had subscribed the Three Forms tell me that a church only had to hit one of the three marks to be considered a true church.

    Based on this understanding, do you tend to agree with the Canadian Reformed when it comes to table fencing? Should we only admit members of churches our federation recognizes as true churches? From my viewpoint, it seems like this ecclesiology would tend to favor the practice of “attestations” rather than personal interviews prior to communion (which isn’t a bad thing, in my book).

  2. Bryan,

    Thanks.

    I like our policy at OURC which is modeled on the original Dort Church Order. We commune those who profess the Reformed religion. We commune our members and any member of a NAPARC congregation. If one comes from a Reformed congregation outside of NAPARC we ask them to talk to us before coming to the table. We don’t commune folk who are not in a recognizable Reformed congregation.

    We don’t require a letter. We mention our policy before the service and we print in the weekly bulletin with a lengthy explanation.

  3. I don’t know. Early on I know that there were congregations who used language like, “member of an evangelical church” but in at least one case I know that a congregation abandoned that language for language more like Dort. I assume that there is a range of practice in the URCs.

  4. Here I “stayed tuned” for an answer to my practical question and instead received a polemic against Baptist and Evangelical “meeting houses’?

    But I suppose that we can arrive at a couple of deductions on how those Churchless Evangelicals outside the sphere of NAPARC Churches can find a true Church.

    First, NAPARC could publish a map showing where all the NAPARC Churches are located and encourage the Churchless Evangelicals to migrate to those limited areas where NAPARC Churches are located. NAPARC should immediately begin a mass advertising campaign in major Evangelical publications directing the unchurched where to find the true Church. The only problem with this approach is that soon the NAPARC Churches will become mega-churches with all the inherent problems associated with mega-churches.

    Or second, with the heavy responsibility of being the only true Churches, NAPARC Churches must begin a massive church planting operation to make the true Churches visible and assesable to the wider Churchless Evangelical population. The problem here is that the Churchless Evangelicals will wander in the wilderness awhile waiting for a relatively small group of Churches to expand it’s presence in a “decent and orderly fashion”.

    “To whom much is given, much is required.”

  5. GAS,

    I’m sorry you’re disappointed. Are you sure your disappointment is with me or with the French, the Belgic, and the Scots Confessions? If so, then you’re with most of the 60 million American evangelicals.

    As to what to do, if you listened to the most recent White Horse Inn program you would have heard the fellows advocating that, when people move, they consider whether there is a true church present in their prospective new home town. Often times church is the last thing that people consider when they think about moving and then they get there and find that though they may have a great job, a great house, and a no place to go to church. For confessional Reformed folk the space between the Rockies and the Appalachians and from Canada to Mexico is quite barren relative to confessional Reformed congregations. Unfortunately all the energy church planting seems to go toward the coast and the places where the population density is higher (although the URCs haven’t done a great job at hitting those areas either).

    NAPARC as an entity can barely keep a website going. I doubt that they are going to be able to raise funds from the constituent denoms and feds in order to fund a campaign, but it’s a great idea. I could probably help them find a good ad agency here in So Cal. Maybe the people who did the “Happy Cows” campaign will take us on pro bono. I know you’re being facetious but our virtual invisibility is a problem we should work harder to overcome.

    The biggest practical problem we have is no buildings, bodies, or budgets. No body really knows how large the PCA is (lets say 300,000 to 400K), but they’re the only ones with any money and getting hold of that isn’t easy! I think I’m safe in saying that they aren’t going to help fund a NAPARC ad campaign. We’re (NAPARC) probably only about 500K total. Most of our groups are micro groups of a few thousand souls. Most of our congregations are tiny and underfunded. Even if every member of a NAPARC congregation donated $1.00 to a campaign we probably wouldn’t have enough to do much in a national ad campaign. The web has probably been the best thing to happen to us, relative to media, since Machen did radio addresses in the 20s and 30s in Phila. The White Horse Inn hits thousands weekly. Lots of Reformed congregations get visitors from the WHI. Ditto for RC’s radio program but even so our visibility low.

    Our evangelical friends can help. There are a good number of people who attend PCRT conferences, Ligonier Conferences, and other such gatherings, who benefit from sound Reformed teaching and then proceed to go back to their churchless mega-churches or whatever. They know about NAPARC congregations, and they’ve probably visited one or two but they can’t bring themselves to sign up because, well, the NAPARC congregations just don’t have the same panoply of programs, options, “ministries,” and the like. They found the local NAPARC congregation just a little weird or scary. There might not have been a “worship leader” or a band or worse, the NAPARC congregation was trying to ape the local mega-church and doing it badly. Yikes! The interested evangelical came for bread and we gave them (a poor imitation of the Rolling) Stones.

    The two parties have to cooperate. We could really use the help of those evangelicals who know in their heart of hearts that they should unite with the local NAPARC congregation. We need them to make the sacrifice to help God’s little flock to get on its feet. We need the local NAPARC congregation to resolve to move beyond being goofy, beyond arguments among the clans (literally), beyond chewing up the ministers (you know who you are, stop it!). We need the local NAPARC congregation to preach the gospel EVERY SABBATH and to be warmly Reformed so that when the PCRT, Ligonier, or White Horse Inn family does visit, they find what was advertised and not some bizarre federal vision, home school-obsessed, angry theonomic/theocratic, paedocommuning sect.

  6. “I’m sorry you’re disappointed. Are you sure your disappointment is with me or with the French, the Belgic, and the Scots Confessions?”

    As I said it sounds good in theory but the practical realities present a problem. As to the Confessions, and this you would know better than I, perhaps we should understand some aspects of the Confessions in their historical situatedness. Was it a more practical application in 16th century Europe than in the 21st century world?

    But I guess I’m still confused on what you would have the Churchless Evangelical outside the sphere of NAPARC Churches do. Should they make immediate plans to move to an area that has a NAPARC Church? Should they join a local unchurch that has the greatest marks? Should they merely attend an unchurch with the greatest marks without making formal membership? You’ve called the Churchless Evangelical to repentance that is accessible to a small portion of that population but have not provided any counsel for the vast majority of that population. If I recall correctly I believe that Calvin wrote something to the effect that it’s better to stay at home than attend a bad church. Should Churchless Evangelicals avoid all unchurches?

    “As to what to do, if you listened to the most recent White Horse Inn program you would have heard the fellows advocating that, when people move, they consider whether there is a true church present in their prospective new home town.”

    Ya, I heard the program. I believe it was Rod, one of the unchurch guys on the show, that said that they should take that into account or suffer. In my experiences with conservative Lutherans they say basically the same thing you present but of course the Lutheran Church is the true Church.

    • Well, if enough churchless evangelicals, lets say the Restless and Reformed guys (and all the folks they represent) decided to organize Reformed congregations where they are, they wouldn’t need to move!

      If all the folks who listen to the WHI or to RC or to James Boice or to whomever would form confessional congregations where they are, the NAPARC would could double over night.

      There are real options. I don’t know to how many conferences I’ve been or at which I’ve spoken where the audience is swollen by evangelicals who identify with aspects of Reformed theology but who won’t leave their shiny congregations for our dumpy little churches.

    • As to whether the Reformed confessions are still relevant isn’t the existence of the WHI and this blog and Mike’s 15 books and ACE and Ref21 and T4G all the rest prima facie evidence that the evangelicals need a Reformation?

      Let’s see, the confessions were written in a time when there was mass confusion about the gospel, the sacraments, the Christian life, the law, vocation, the two kingdoms, and redemptive history. Was that the 16th century or does it describe our time? You make the call.

  7. “Well, if enough churchless evangelicals, lets say the Restless and Reformed guys (and all the folks they represent) decided to organize Reformed congregations where they are, they wouldn’t need to move!”

    The problem there is that most of those guys are coming out of baptistic Churches and are still missing a mark. I doubt NAPARC will include a bunch of Piper churches. They still don’t identify with all the aspects you need.

  8. High Desert URC fences the table in much the same way that OURC does. We require that one a) believe in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, b) be a member in good standing of either a Reformed or a Presbyterian church, as defined by their respective Confessions, and that c) children of believers have the permission of the consistory and make public profession before communing.

  9. The Impression I got from all the talk about the “young, restless, reformed” crowd is that the majority of them are not at all Confessional, and merely ascribe to a vaguely Calvinist soteriology without actually connecting it to anything else. I would assume this is the case for the majority of WHI, Ligonier and T4G folks as well.

    Do you see any other possible way of explaining what exactly a Baptist “gathering” is other than saying it is not a true church? Can a church ever remain a church and yet not be carrying out proper discipline on only a single issue that it doesn’t realize is in need of discipline? After all, a Baptist church can still exercise discipline on its members (and clergy) in other areas, so we aren’t talking about a total delinquency in discipline across the board. And many Baptist churches would take baptism very seriously, though they would only administer it to adults. So I guess what I’m asking is whether or not you see another plausible way of explaining these bodies besides saying that they are not real churches, even if you don’t agree with the explanation. Or is there simply no way of holding to the marks of a true church outlined above and still holding that both Baptist and paedobatist bodies are true churches?

    • The YRR fellows like our soteriology (the five points) but they reject our doctrines of the church and sacraments. The irony is, when we define the faith, as measured by the Belgic, the French, and Scots Confessions, all three marks have to directly with the church! Two of them are utterly inseparable from the visible, institutional church.

      The founders of the neo-evangelical movement tried to do the same thing back in the 40s. They like our view of Scripture and other parts of our theology. They heard it at WTS in the 30s but the OPC “creeped them out” (as my kids say) and they tried to set up a parallel to WTS in Pasadena, without the ecclesiastical baggage and it went south in less than 3 decades, from a confessional Reformed pov. This isn’t my view, it’s Carl Henry’s. At the end of his life he was hanging out with confessional Baptists. He picked the wrong confession but at least he realized that churchless evangelicalism was a failure. Unfortunately the movement he unleashed can’t be bottled again. I’m dubious that the various attempts to saddle the evangelical bronco (to change metaphors suddenly) will likely fail. American Christians are just that, American Christians. The culture will probably always determine the theology, piety, and practice of American evangelicals and liberals — unless of course the postmils are right and there’s a glory age just ahead.

  10. we do regard our Baptist friends as baptized.

    Amen; one of the reasons I eventually rejected baptist theology was its uncatholic, sectarian nature. But since Baptists are baptised, doesn’t that mean that they are churches, albeit less pure? Wasn’t baptism given to the church?

    It’s not as though, because the Baptists “unchurch” the Reformed, we should hit the nuclear button and retaliate in kind. We need to go where Scripture leads us, and that means that we can’t acknowledge their baptisms and then say that they’re not churches. We can acknowledge their baptisms and then categorise them as “less pure” churches.

  11. “Let’s see, the confessions were written in a time when there was mass confusion about the gospel, the sacraments, the Christian life, the law, vocation, the two kingdoms, and redemptive history. Was that the 16th century or does it describe our time? You make the call.”

    The disconnect between then and now is easily discernable by merely looking at the names of the confessions; French, Scotish, Belgic. The Prince of the State determined the national religion. It’s not like you could roll into a town and find a Foursquare Gospel Church of Holy Rollers and Tongue speakers or find the Theraputic Church of a better life. Maybe you would find a few ana-baptist enclaves or maybe a few Romanist temples were allowed to exist but for the most part whatever was the State religion was what churches were found. I think you’re trying to jam a one kingdom confession into a two kingdom reality.

  12. I agree that we live in a religiously pluralist world now but that fact doesn’t change other facts to which I appealed. The Reformed confessions still speak to the very issues to which they spoke then. The only difference is that the prince doesn’t require anyone to hold them. We have to persuade people to hold them now.

    That said, the Reformers realized that the people had to be persuaded then too. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed, but they kept on confessing the faith anyway.

    Are you suggesting that the Reformed confessions are irrelevant and if so with what would you replace them?

  13. Hi Philip,

    I didn’t “go nuclear” in retaliation. I considered applying the “less pure” language to Baptists but it doesn’t work historically or exegetically. The Westminster Divines were almost certainly speaking to the C of E when they used that phrase. It was a commonplace among the Puritans that the C of E was “but halfly Reformed.”

    Applying the adjectives “less pure” assumes that the divines accepted the Baptists as churches, but you will note that though there were Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Independents at Westminster, there were no Baptists. They even went so far as to say that the Baptists were committing grave sin by not baptizing their children. It’s a little hard to believe that they nevertheless accepted the Baptists congregations as churches.

    It’s true that they did not pick up the language of the Scots Confession but I attribute that to the passage of 80 years. The circumstances had changed. The Reformation was well established in the hearts and minds of most folk, if not in the hearts and minds of royalty and various Abps.

    There was a heated polemic, much warmer than the arguments going to today, between the Baptists and paedobaptists. In light of that rhetoric it’s a little harder to imagine that the divines intended us to think of those who denied baptism to their children rightly constituted churches.

    At best I think one could say that the picture is ambiguous but I don’t think we can say with certainty that “less pure” applies to Baptist congregations, unless of course we would say that congregations committed confessionally to practicing polygamy or adultery were also “less pure”? Surely those are also “grave” sins? We don’t think in those categories today. It seems scandalous to equate denying infant baptism to committing adultery but isn’t that the effect of calling it a “grave” sin?

    • I’m not disagreeing about the “heated polemic” between the Baptists and those who comprised or later followed the Westminster Assembly, but what do you make of the widespread use of Pilgrim’s Progress among non-Baptists from a very early date? It would certainly seem that there was some level of recognition by confessional Calvinists that Bunyan, despite his views on baptism, was not a worthless writer.

      • Protestants continued to bind the Apocrypha in Protestant Bibles for years after the Reformation. We read broad Anglicans and Dante’s Inferno not to mention the pagan classics. We’ve always read and appreciated a wide variety of texts but such appreciation doesn’t indicate theological sympathy. Sometimes a good story is just that.

  14. Dr. Clark,

    I’m not sure if this is the right time to ask this (and whom to ask), but I’ll ask this question anyway. I’ve heard this objection before. Baptists argue that paedobaptism would require the baptisms of unbelieving adult children and unbelieving household servants. As I read the Genesis narratives, however, the initiation of the children of believers does not seem to require this. We read, for instance, in Gen. 18:19 that God required Abraham to command his children and his household to keep the way of the Lord.

    My question concerns how exactly household baptisms are adminstered by Reformed churches. I’ve only been to one confessional Reformed church. Several weeks ago, I witnessed a baptism of a baby girl. Her parents and her older sisters apparently did not need to be baptized because they are former Roman Catholics. But suppose the situation is somewhat different. A Mormon couple converts to Christianity, and would like to join a Reformed church. They have three children: an 8-month old child, a 10-year old, and a 16-year old. The baby would obviously be baptized. But how about the other two? Would they be required to profess faith first before they can be baptized? Thanks.

  15. Dr. Clark,

    You said earlier concerning NAPARC: “The biggest practical problem we have is no buildings, bodies, or budgets.”

    Do you think there is any possibility of the currently loosely affiliated NAPARC denoms ever forming a single, ecclesiastically unified denomination? Perhaps I’m just a young idealist, but it seems to me that such a thing would help out all the NAPARC churches and also make the confessional Reformed faith a bit more attractive to those who are currently hesitant to sign on.

  16. GAS,

    I still don’t understand this notion that KoM duties must take into account KoG realities. In other words, where one lives is determined by one’s worldly calling. Where there is a true church should be close to the bottom of the list when determining worldly calling. The onus isn’t on the individual believer to have the church scene dictate his worldly location; rather, assuming a potential place is barren, this should serve as incentive for the church to do more church planting. But once we confuse the kingdoms is when you get misguided moves to Moscow, so to speak.

    True, they are opposed to each other, but Jesus is Lord over both kingdoms (Reformed live for dualities and paradox!). We do best to play by the rules according to both.

    Phillip Walker,

    To my lights, the segment here about the ironies of the credo-baptists is its brilliance. I don’t read this an eye for an eye response to the credo-baptists. It’s simply playing by the same legitimate rules they do. It is never clear to me why the double-standard of the credo’s is overlooked, while even paedo’s have some sort of self-hatred.

    It is one thing to acknowledge their baptisms, another to tangentially affirm their teachings against ours. They don’t affirm ours, and rightly so because they’re credo-baptists (!). The only reason they can be read as to show charity is that they don’t place much importance on the sacraments. Which is weird for folks who go by a name that seems to imply it is more important than the first or third mark (Baptists).

    • That’s interesting, thanks for those links. So this “dream” described by Godfrey, is he not simply describing NAPARC?

      Also, another question struck me. I have heard/read you toss out the ballpark number 500,000 for total membership in NAPARC denominations.

      Do you have a feel for the total number of (pardon the oxymoron) “Reformed Baptists”? For a large number, how many would self-identify with that label? For a smaller number, what if an analogue of NAPARC were created for all churches/denominations who affirm either LBC or Savoy? (Baptist And Reformed Kirken? BARK anyone? Or NOrthamerican, NOBARK? Or trending scottish, North American Evangelical Baptist And Reformed Kirken?)

      • Rube,

        Yes, he was thinking of NAPARC. No idea how many Particular Baptists in N. America. ARBCA is probably the most confessional group and they are fairly small but I don’t know the numbers. FIRE is broader, less confessional, more evangelical but again I don’t know the membership stats. My impression is that, again, it’s not large. It’s understandable when one considers that the SBC is supposed to be 16 million and that’s were many PBs are. I think Mark Dever used to say that the really SBC membership is 6 million but that still dwarfs NAPARC. Of that, I guess a small portion would identify with the PB theology, piety, and practice.

    • Rube, if you check your earlier history, you’ll find that the predecessor group before NAPARC did not include church government as a membership requirement, and there were both Congregationalists and Reformed Episcopal people involved. I do not know at this point if Baptists were invited or involved. The decision to organize NAPARC in its current form excluded people who can’t agree with the confessional stances, which include church government and baptism.

  17. Albert,

    I don’t know if there’s any consensus about the contemporary practice of household baptisms. We received a family in Kansas City by baptism. I baptized a father and two pre-teen children and then I catechized the children in preparation for profession of faith and communion. A 16-year old might be more challenging but if we distinguish properly we can perhaps clear it up.

    The most important thing here is to distinguish the function of communion (covenant renewal) from the function of baptism (covenant initiation). So long as baptism doesn’t necessitate immediate communion then we can theoretically initiate anyone who is still in a “household.” There were “household” baptisms and those households included servants.

    That baptism doesn’t necessitate communion, however. What it does is implicate the baptized person in a scheme of Christian education leading to profession of faith. If, after some reasonable time, a person makes no profession of faith, then they would be subject to discipline.

    Some cases are more like the Philippian jailer (that’s gaoler for Philip 🙂 ) or the Ethiopian eunuch. Those were mature, independent persons who made profession of faith and received baptism. They weren’t children (minors) or subordinates in a household. Reformed churches practice both baptism of adult converts and covenant/household baptism. We don’t choose between them because we don’t presume that the New Covenant is utterly new relative to Abraham. It’s new relative to Moses. If household circumcisions were practice under Abraham and convert circumcisions were practiced under Abraham, then we expect to find that pattern in Acts and we do find it.

    As Americans we think in egalitarian, individualist categories. The NT wasn’t written in post-Jacksonian American democratic society! It was written in a hierarchical quasi-feudal society where household and extended family/social relations were much more important in defining a person.

  18. Dr Clark,

    I may be a little confused about the language of ‘pure churches’ but does not the idea of more or less ‘pure’ include churches that have improper concepts of the sacraments while holding to a correct understanding of the Gospel? Or does it mean they must be their in form with less than pure understanding of what is going on? Would then only true churches include the Protestant trio of Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed denoms according to their original confessional understanding?

    Coming from Baptist Dispensational Fundamentalism, I find it hard to completely write off the more covenantal, confessional Baptists having attended one after my ‘conversion’ to more covenantal understanding of the Bible but that sentimentalism does not mean I will not. I have merely heard arguments from Reformed that the more ‘Calvinistic’ baptists would be under the heading of ‘less pure’ churches. Maybe you could open up the context of the confessions to clear up this dilemma. (I say this as one who has come to fully embrace the Reformed confessions and reject baptist ecclesiology)

  19. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for the clear answer. Household baptisms indeed are consistent with the Biblical pattern. By the way, I am not an American. I am a Filipino though egalitarianism and individualism pervade our society as well. Which partly explains the popularity of many-female led Pentecostal congregations and separatist fundamentalist churches in my country (I’ve been to both), and the unpopularity of Reformed piety. Also, the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines was a US colony until 1946. With the exception of confessional Reformed churches, most of the major American Protestant denominations (e.g. AoG, Foursquare, SBC, Nazarene, CRC, UCC, UMC, etc.) have churches in my country. So I am really blessed to have a confessional Reformed family within our area.

  20. If I remember rightly, it was still illegal to be a Baptist in 1646, which might go some little way toward explaining why none was in attendance!

    This business about “less pure” churches is a funny one. The WCF clearly intends that there is a spectrum of purity which churches inhabit, below which all you’ve got is “synagogue of Satan”. Now, you’re right that they might well have had the CoE in mind in the language of “less pure”, but it cannot have been exclusively so: they were plainly allowing for other churches to exist on this spectrum. For starters, the Presbyterian church was somewhere on that spectrum, as even “the purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error”. Is it impossible to suppose that the Baptists were somewhere on it too?

    It might be that even Rome was. When the divines described the Pope as he that “exalts himself, in the Church”, did they really mean what they seem to be saying: that Rome is in the visible church, albeit as a gross degenerate?

  21. Philip,

    Wouldn’t the fact (if it’s fact) that the Baptist congregations were illegal answer the question of whether the Reformed considered them true churches? Did the Assembly Parliament to lift the ban on Baptists? I guess not.

    When they said “church” relative to the Pope, weren’t they simply describing his intent and not the actual state of things?

  22. Timothy,

    Read back through the comments. I’ve been discussing that with Philip. You can see my answers there about whether “Baptist” congregations were considered “less pure.” That approach is widely used today but I doubt that it has a lot to do with the original intent of the divines.

  23. Zrim,
    I don’t disagree with you I’m just trying to flesh out the practical implications of Clark’s proposal. Clark is calling the Churchless Evangelicals to repentance, in fact, he is calling you to repentance since apparently the CRC is not a true Church.

    But for the Churchless Evangelical who is performing his worldly calling outside the sphere of a NAPARC Church I still have not heard any practical advise on how he should act with regards to the unchurches in his area.

  24. GAS,

    Who declared the CRC “not a true church”? They were booted out of NAPARC for ordaining women but that doesn’t make them ipso facto or ex opere not a true church nor does it make every congregation “not a church.” There are still several confessional congregations in the CRC. Whether they can long remain confessional in the CRC is an open question. I recommend that they take a close look at the PCUSA to see how well that worked for the congregations that stayed in, but that’s another question.

  25. GAS,

    I think it is important to distinguish between church and denomination. It seems to me that the latter is simply a “way of doing” the former. I have been told by some of the last confessionalists in the CRC that to leave the CRC is schismatic. That strikes me as not only a confusion of church and denomination but terribly un-Protestant insofar as it binds a conscience and forgets ours is a tradition of being able to discern right from wrong; “my denomination, right or wrong,” seems more Romainst than Genevanist. Conversely, I have been told to stay with the CRC is just as unfaithful. Nobody ever bothers to ask pastorally my particular reasons either.

    I am satisfied for now to be a disgruntled member of a misguided denomination. Call me misguided, but I happen to think being Reformed the old fashioned way beats being Reformed the fundy way. I’d hope it’s a good thing to able to at once abide in the CRC and think RSC is right.

    Scott,

    If my KoM calling ever happens to alight me and mine at OURC one Sabbath, I’ll be sure to meet with you or Dan before the service. We can draw beards on the face of Jerry Dykstra who adorns my CRC calling card.

  26. Zrim and Clark,
    Well at least we have a few more pin-points on the map. Perhaps we can start adding some EPC Churches and RCA Churches and, who knows, maybe even some PCUSA Churches.

    But now NAPARC has quite a task in front of it having to interview all the individual congregations of those satelitte denominations to determined which of those churches are truly true Churches.

  27. GAS,

    I can’t tell if you’re being facetious or serious or both.

    For my part, I appreciate wanting to be practical. But think to get into this sort bean-counting and pin-pointing actually misses the larger point of these posts. There are some pretty important ideas to grapple with before entertaining your project, and I am not so sure everyone is quite convinced yet.

    Indeed, while I like the feel of the breeze in my britches (“With this post, however, we go from preaching to meddling. Hold on to your britches”), from what I can tell plenty still seem confused.

  28. I guess that is possible. The problem (in the absence of as you point out definite facts, and also primary sources) is that we cannot know that there weren’t other reasons for Presbyterians not to petition Parliament for a lifting of the ban. I can think of good political reasons not to call for the toleration of a seditious sect whose views undermined the established church, especially since Presbyterians hoped to disestablish that church and reform it more than halfly!

    On the other hand, if you’ve got some treatise from a seventeenth-century Presbyterian in which he calls Baptists a “synagogue of Satan”, we’ve got this thing covered. 😉

  29. Was the church at Corinth that Paul wrote his letters to a true church?

    We know they had problems with 2 of the 3 marks: bad sacramental practice and lack of church discipline.

  30. Lee,

    Yes. The true church isn’t perfect or pure in practice necessarily. That’s the Baptist mistake of an over-realized eschatology (the attempt to bring too much heaven to earth too soon). The Corinthian congregation didn’t have a confessional error — they weren’t confessing that the table must be abused. So far as we know from 2 Cor, they followed Paul’s command and disciplined the fellow from 1 Cor 5. Most all the NT congregations struggled, as we all do.

  31. Dr. Clark,

    Overall, I quite appreciated your rebuke of churchless evangelicalism. Amen and amen!

    Your shoe dropping is challenging. I have to process it a bit more. I do, however, have some initial questions. I didn’t read all the way through the comments; so if this is duplicating discussion, let me know.

    The Westminster Confession makes some nuanced statements about the holy catholic church. Particularly I think of WCF 25.4, 5, “(4) This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.
    (5) The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error: and some have so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.” It seems as though the Westminster divines qualified the adjective “pure” when describing various particular churches. To me, that’s not antithetical to the standard 16th century statements on the three marks of the Church. But it does seem to clarify the thought. Am I off here?

    If I am not mistaken, then, the job of churching or unchurching is not an easy one. There are gradations of faithfulness. I’m not suggesting it cannot be done. Then we cannot call any pseudo-churches ‘synagogues of Satan.’

    Yet, there are some Baptistic churches that practice ecclesiastical discipline much more faithfully than some paedobaptist churches. Cowardice can infiltrate even bastions of confessionalism. Depending on how you define “pure” discipline, then I wonder if the NAPARC list would need some winnowing. I wonder if my own congregation would be edged out. Does Jesus have a few things against us? I fear he does.

    On a historical note, did the 17th century witness the genesis of some measure of ecclesiastical acceptance of Baptists within confessionally Reformed circles? I remember reading of Owen once who got on the case of his New England brethren for being hard on the Baptists. And I think that Cotton Mather participated in the ordination of a Baptist minister, which would seem to presume a recognition of some legitimate ecclesiastical status. My guess is that such figures wouldn’t have denied the 16th century statements, but they might have rethought how they should be applied to the unique animal of ‘Baptist’ as distinct from 16th century Anabaptist.

    This all being said, I highly valued the piece. And the question is certainly worth raising and debating.

  32. Hi WPE,

    Good questions. I’m reasonably sure that one could find examples among individual theologians of relative tolerance of Baptist ministers and congregations.

    The question I have (that Stephen has asked) is what was the intent of the Westminster Divines? What was the ecclesiastical stance toward the Baptists? (See the discussion above in the combox).

    Reasoning from analogy with the 16th-century documents, I think presumption should be that they had a negative view but I’m not claiming to make an air-tight historical case re the 17th-century.

    As I said above, I doubt that we can simply assume that “less pure” can be easily applied to Baptist churches, in view of the Confession’s language about the gravity of refusing to baptize children.

  33. I may have missed this in the three posts, but I thought I would raise the question. If it has been answered, please let me know.

    When we’re considering the difference between “church” and “sect”, aren’t we considering the difference between an officially sanctioned church (one which is required by virtue of citizenship) and that of a dissenting group? I seem to dimly remember my church history professor at RTS-J mentioning this important distinction.

    Having not spent a lot of time on this issue, don’t we have a murkier situation here in the United States due to denominationalism rather than an official church? That is, when the confessions speak of “church”, they are addressing a completely different environment from the one we live in?

    If I’m barking up the right tree, then the issue is that the language of the confessions and our use of the same terms is confusing the issue. In any case, I am curious to know if this issue has already been discussed.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      It’s an interesting question, what the Belgic means by “false church” and “sects.” I have thought sometimes that perhaps de Bres meant to make a distinction between Rome as the false church and the Anabaptists as “sects.” The Epitome of the Book of Concord seems to associate the noun “sect” with the Anabaptists and other such radical groups.

      The French Confession (1559) uses it to refer to the ancient heretical groups (Art 6). The Second Helvetic (’61, publ. ’66) uses it generically to mean “groups arising from a division” and uses it of internal divisions within the Roman communion.

      I’m not persuaded presently that, when BC 29 says “sects” that it means just the Anabaptists. If not, then it doesn’t refer to non-state sanctioned groups. So that’s an interesting suggestion and does have plausibility because it was certainly used that way in the 16th century, but it’s not clear that’s what it means in the BC.

      In the BC it seems to refer to any group that is not a true church, whether it had state sanction or not. After all, post-1555, churches varied from region to region and the BC certainly doesn’t think that state sanction makes Rome, e.g. a church in the same sense in which the Reformed Churches were thought to be churches.

  34. Zrim: For my part, I appreciate wanting to be practical. But think to get into this sort bean-counting and pin-pointing actually misses the larger point of these posts. There are some pretty important ideas to grapple with before entertaining your project, and I am not so sure everyone is quite convinced yet.

    Me: Call me old fashioned but I find grappling with the implications a subset of the larger project of grappling with the ideas.

    Obviously there will be a host of implications to any large scale project. For example, if preservation of the true Church is the highest priority what are the implications of a large scale influx of Churchless Evangelicals and the doctrines they’ll bring along to maintaining the highest priority?

  35. GAS,

    “Old fashioned.” Kidding.

    So you are being serious. I thought perhaps you were suggesting this may be an effort in mere denominationalism, what with your suggestion that my own membership was in the cross-hairs of rebuke.

    Not that I really expect that the rantings of certain Reformed professor will actually bring a large scale influx of CEs, but consider the 3,000 converts of Acts 2:1-41. Certainly it could be said they brought with them threats to orthodoxy. Like the converts at Pentecost are being asked to repent and believe, all that is being asked here is to embrace a better orthodoxy. If you are suggesting that sinners can potentially ruin the party, I don’t care. If the gospel doesn’t ask anyone to clean up their miserable act before being welcomed at the table, the plea to a better orthodoxy realizes full well that there may be a lot to sort out afterward.

  36. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for your responses. And I think I’ve read the portion to which you referred.

    A couple of counter-questions

    First, about WCF 27.5. I welcome more historical light. But the clause “it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” seems to apply to the entire practice of baptism itself and not strictly to paedobaptism. It is true, the section follows the one on infant baptism. But the referece appears to be the basic ordinance itself. That is, it is a great sin to neglect the baptism altogether (Salvation Army in the present day?). The scripture references the Divines cite are both to instances of people neglecting the ordinance of baptism altogether, nevermind circumstances of its administration. Refusing baptism is unarguably a greater sin than deferring it for erroneous theological reasons. This seems to reinforce in my mind the fact that there may be irregularities about the administration of baptism in a church, but it remains an inferior grade of faithfulness in a true church.

    Second, on WCF 25.5. Wouldn’t it seem that the Baptistic administration of the ordinance would be classified in Westminsterian terms as a “less pure” administration and not a non-administration or a vitiated one? Their baptism is baptism, since it is administered with water in the name of the Triune God. And when adults are baptized by confession of faith, we are in complete agreement. Yet their withholding baptism from covenantal infants is an impurity. Am I off here?

  37. That’s a reasonable reading and probably the majority reading by American Presbyterians but I’m not sure it’s the best reading. Yes, Baptists practice baptism but it’s only “convert” baptism. To refuse to baptize one’s infants is neglecting baptism. I’ll have to do some more work on this. Implicit in the view you suggest is that there was a shift in views from the 16th-century condemnation of the Anabaptists for rejecting infant baptism (and for making most of the church therefore unbaptized and therefore not a church or even sub-Christian) to a less clear-cut position viz Baptists for making the same fundamental mistake. The polemical literature I’ve seen from the 17th century does not suggest such a change in views.

    The question isn’t really just that the Baptists postpone Baptism, thus making them a “less pure” church. It’s that they more fundamentally redefine the church and the history of redemption and even the nature of the sacraments and the regulative principle. From a paedobaptist pov, to withhold a divinely ordained sacrament from a divinely ordained recipient is a transgression, it’s a form of will-worship.

  38. Zrim: “consider the 3,000 converts of Acts 2:1-41. Certainly it could be said they brought with them threats to orthodoxy. Like the converts at Pentecost are being asked to repent and believe, all that is being asked here is to embrace a better orthodoxy.”

    Me: That’s an interesting example but let me suggest that those converts were at the polar opposite position of current day Evangelicals. Those exilic Jews had a good understanding of the roots of the faith, they understood God’s promises and just needed to be informed that the promise had been accomplished. Current day Evangelicals know the gospel but lack a good understanding of the roots of the faith such that it affects their practice and piety.

    As an example look at what Clark writes in his post to westportexperiment. It’s not the validity of their baptism that is in question but their understanding of baptism as rooted in the faith that affects their piety and practice.

    I’ve had Baptists tell me, “I’m a NT Christian”, which always baffled me. They bifrucate the Kingdom of God. They are not looking at the kingdom through Jewish eyes and the roots of the faith.

    So I am not suggesting that “sinners can ruin the party” but that the task is somewhat different than what happened at Pentecost. The task is not merely to preach the gospel, since putatively these Evangelicals already know the gospel, but the task becomes preaching the gospel in it’s full redemptive-historical context such that they begin to accept the full orbed Reformed piety and practice.

  39. Assuming that the CEs (churchless evangelicals) did come suddenly streaming into NAPAC congregations and assuming that all those NAPARC congregations were confessionally Reformed (in which case I wasted my time with RRC!), then what would be needed would be a robust catechism/church membership course. Last I knew, the church growth gurus were counseling a six-part session focusing on giving. I’m pretty sure that memorizing the HC or the WSC isn’t in the cards. American Presbyterians should also have to decide that they are going to require their members to be Reformed. As it is, there is a widely held view that laity need not be Reformed, that only the officers (or office bearers, as some in the URCs prefer) need be Reformed. And they say that the second blessing theology has no home in NAPARC.

  40. GAS,

    No doubt the present task is necessarily different from Pentecost. But everything is. Maybe I am confused as to what your point is. Are exilic Jews finally really any different from wandering evangelicals?

  41. Scott,

    Exactly. There will be some howls that the implication here is that if the wandering in evangies are being treated like new converts that those left behind (pun intended) are unbelievers. But it seems to me that this would be to reveal is the very confusion of in/visible the thesis of these posts (and RRC) means to correct (!). There are converts and then there are converts. I mean, I never considered my conversion to Geneva from Wheaton to be qualitatively the same as my conversion from unbelief to belief; it was simply giving true faith a way better wardrobe.

  42. When I left my SBC congregation for St John’s Reformed I was informally catechized by attending the college group led by Warren Embree and Bill Stephens (both recently graduated from the old Reformed Episcopal Sem in Phila when it was still dominated by “prayerbook presbyterians”). I made profession of faith before the elders (in the basement of the parsonage, as I recall). The only forma preparation I had was to memorize the the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments. I already knew the Lord’s Prayer (but not from the Baptists — from the Alcoholics, but that’s another story).

    Looking back at my days in the SBC I am shocked at how thoroughly pagan I remained about so many things and how easy it was simply to baptize (no pun intended) my paganism and call it Christian. I spouted all manner of nonsense (not that the spouting has ended, mind you) to friends and fellow youth group members and people took it seriously. Yikes! I suspect it was because my secular, egalitarian, individualism was only shades different from the religious egalitarian individualism of my fellow evangelicals. I loved Jesus and I was having a quiet time (or at least laboring under the law of the quiet time) and that’s all that really mattered, that and my Navigators verse pack.

    I don’t think that my experience back in the 70s was much different from what’s happening today. I’m sure that, but for the grace of God, I would be an “emergent” guy saying and doing who knows what in that possible world. Yikes!

    I’m grateful for all the time Warren and the others spent with me. I learned a good bit in the three years or so that I had there before going off to sem. Not everyone has a “Warren” or a “Bill” in their congregation or a vibrant college group such as we had back then.

  43. Zrim,
    Sure one could say that the exilic Jews and the wandering Evangelicals are undifferentiated in the sense that the exilic Jews were part of the invisible Church by their faith in the promise and the wandering Evangelicals are part of the invisible Church by their faith in the accomplishment.

    But I think what is being proposed is a dramatic paradigm shift in what should constitute Reformed Church growth. Instead of the traditional model of planting Churches and calling sinners to repentance it shifts to calling wandering Evangelicals to true piety and practice.

    As Clark intimated, it’s a shift from using resources to plant churches to a program of catechism and membership classes.

  44. GAS,

    To suggest that what is being put forth here is to undermine church planting is pretty odd. That Reformed having something against evangelism or church planting is an old revivalist trick. The historical data just don’t support this idea.

    The thesis here assumes that vigorous evangelism/church planting is already happening. Its point is that what also has to be happening is that we are just as responsible in instructing those who come in what it means to be Reformed (something quite lacking anymore). There is no antagonism here between evangelism and catechism, rather an organic one.

  45. So on the one hand you say….

    “This rejection of the status of Christian children as such introduced (and continues to perpetuate) a principle of radical discontinuity between Abraham and the Christian, i.e. a radical principle of discontinuity in the history of redemption and in the covenant of grace. This principle of radical discontinuity, this denial of the fundamental unity of the covenant of grace as symbolized in the administration of the sign and seal of the covenant of grace to covenant children, is serious enough to warrant saying that any congregation that will not practice infant initiation (baptism) into the administration of the covenant of grace is not a church. The Protestants criticized the Anabaptists on these very grounds. Denial of infant initiation is a denial of the catholicity of the church stretching back to Abraham and it is too much like the Gnostic denial of the unity of the covenant of grace in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.”

    So Baptist churches are invalid churches.

    Then you say…

    “By analogy, the church invisible is composed of those who are, have been, or shall be, members of a visible church. if you’ve never sworn membership vows and confessed a common faith with a congregation, you are not a member of the visible church and if you’re not a member of the church visible, by definition, you are not a member of the church invisible. The former is a prerequisite for the latter.”

    So if you are not a member of a valid (i.e. infant baptizing) church evidenced by “sworn membership vows” and therefore part of the visible church as you have defined it, you are not part of the invisible church, or the elect from all the ages.

    So membership in a non-infant baptizing church is membership in an invalid church, so your membership is invalid or at least no more valid than membership in the local Rotary club. Membership in an invalid church is not membership in the local body at all. Not being a member is tantamount to not being in the Body of Christ.

    Isn’t the inevitable conclusion here that you are saying that by refusing to baptize infants, one is demonstrating that they are not a part of the elect of God and therefore not Christians at all? That seems the logical end result of your proposition….

    • Arthur,

      I wouldn’t presume to claim to know the secret will of God (Deut 29:29). God is free to do as he will (John 3). Churches, on the other hand, have to make a judgment on the available evidence. If someone comes to us, as happens with some regularity, and demands to be admitted to the Lord’s Table on the basis of one’s membership in the “invisible church,” if that applicant for the table lacks a credible profession of faith as measured by membership in a recognizably true church, then we cannot admit them to the table.

      As I keep saying, I didn’t write the Belgic Confession. It was published in 1561. It has been a doctrinal standard of the Reformed Churches since that time.

      Are you scandalized by the fact that Baptists don’t regard me as Baptized?

      FWIW, my good friend Jim Renihan isn’t scandalized by my view. We were just chatting about it today and he was defending me to some RB friends! (God bless ‘im).

  46. Arthur,

    From this side of the font, it sure seems like credo-baptists are faulting Reformed for being Reformed. Why is this oddity so hard to apprehend over there? It’s like Reformed faulting Baptists for not baptizing their children. Good Baptists don’t do this, bad ones do.

    It is the classic formulation of the Reformed to understand the visibility of the true church by the three marks, the second of which is the right administration of the sacraments. What you are having problems with is the Reformed formulation. To be credo-baptist is to deny paedobaptism as true Christian practice.

    Also, has it has been explained throughout, nobody is saying that there is some sort of magic one-to-one correspondence between what is visibly manifest and what is invisibly true: not being a member of a true church doesn’t mean someone isn’t a true believer. You know, wolves within and sheep without. Putting rings on certain fingers and living in the same house doesn’t itself make anyone married. But married people wear rings on certain fingers and co-habitate.

  47. Dr. Clark,

    Perhaps you have already commented on this, but how would you articulate the distinction between being (or not being) a “church” or “true church” on the one hand–and yet still being part of the visible church on the other.

    For example, a Baptist church, though not a “church” in the sense you’ve explained above, is still part of the visible church, isn’t it? (Or am I hopelessly confused?)

    Thanks!

    • David,

      I think the best way to speak about it is to distinguish between the visible church and “congregations.” The problem is what to say about the Baptist groups that developed after the Belgic? I consider Particular Baptist congregations to be irregular gatherings of earnest believers. They are, by Reformed lights, defective and deformed in significant ways and thus not churches as defined by Belgic Art 29. Just as there are believers in the Roman communion so there are believers in other groups that are rather more faithful to the gospel than Rome but which remain, in significant ways, defective.

  48. So, what is the practical solution for those of us out here in the wilderness, where there are plenty of unchurches, but none who exhibit the 3 marks? Please send your “dumpy” churches our way!!!

    • MSL,

      Thanks for reading. Good, very important question.

      Here’s a response. Further, if you’re willing to start a bible study that might lead to a church plant, contact the nearest NAPARC congregation and tell them that you’re interested in starting a bible study. It will take some research. I guess that you’re in W. Virginia. Dennis Bills reflects on the particular challenges of planting in WVA. God is sovereign. He uses means. Pray. Organize. Pray some more.

      NB: We don’t normally post anonymous comments on the HB. There is a comment policy box right above the comment form.

  49. Thank you for your reply… I am an exiled West Virginian and have been living in central Florida for 33 years, 20 of them as an active member of a local PCA. Short story, I have moved in a more confessional direction, they in a more Tim Kellerite/megachurch/social gospel/quasi-emergent direction (they cover all the bases…). But noted…. pray, organize, pray some more. Thank you for your time.

  50. Hey y’all-

    I too am a West Virginian who loves the 3 Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. Tough country for the Reformation… but glorious opportunities to share the solas with people. It’s exciting to see what God is doing.

    Tonight, our Majesty of God conference begins, D.v., in Huntington. Jerry Bridges is the main speaker and he is going to teach through Romans 3. Pray for us.

  51. Dr. Scott,

    I appreciate the clarity and passion for the church you exemplify in your article. Thank you for expressing the very real zeal of the magisterial reformation for the “true church.”

    As I read your words I couldn’t help but be struck by their internal logic and force they bring to bear on ecclesiology as determined from a 16th C Reformed position. By your own words, and by your theology, modern churches, such as the one I pastor, should be considered “non-churches.” I disagree of course but admire your zeal, sir. But in “unchurching” us you will find yourself quite at odds with the Lord who reveals His will for the church in the inspired Scriptures written by the apostles and prophets alone.

    There are several good reasons to consider your theology of the church as resting not on the “foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians. 2:20) but instead the magisterial reformers and their heritage in Catholicism. Let’s look at the underpinnings by considering the idea of a “true church.” This idea is not found anywhere in the writers of Scripture and was first mentioned by Cyprian about 200 years after the apostles in a church’s connection to a true bishop. The true church, said he, is found in communion with a rightly ordained single overseer. Not exactly reformed polity there.

    The next advocate for the “true church” theology in church history is Augustine in his stinging polemics against the Donatists: they are not “true churches” since they reject the broad testimony of rightly ordained bishops and their churches. From him the RCC makes much of “true church” theory and down through church history defines the “true church” following the same monotonous format: “we are” and “you aren’t.” Consistent Reformed men like yourself reaching back to Catholicism are likewise enamored with “true church” theory and rely on infant baptisms a mark of the true. Conversely, the contemporary “Churches of Christ” demand an adult baptism in their church in order to be true. You say they aren’t. They say you aren’t. So there.

    You are both wrong. Nowhere does the NT declare any church to be true or false; instead, each church is evaluated as obedient or disobedient to Christ. If the 1st C church of Corinth were down the street you would be hard-pressed to grant them ‘true’ status since they weren’t abiding by the 3rd mark. Nor were they faithful to the 2nd mark. But Paul calls them “the church of God existing in Corinth” (1Co. 1:2). In Rev. 2-3 seven churches receive the Lord’s pure judgment. Some are highly obedient but others like Sardis and Laodicea are entirely disobedient and in the case of Laodicea entirely unregenerate. Yet both are visible institutions of Christ. The Lord of the church still calls them a “church” (Rev. 3:1, 14).

    If brothers in Christ like you and I will experience rapprochement in our day, if we will be held back from unchurching others who are in the Body of Christ, and most importantly – if Ephesians 4:3-6 will grip our very souls – we both will need to eschew the unbiblical notion of “true/false” and adopt the mind of Christ in evaluating churches as “obedient/disobedient.” After all, an ecclesia is a gathering. How can a gathering be true or false? It just is.

    The true/false distinction suffers another fatal flaw. It doesn’t represent real life. Lots of “true churches” as you judge them are fatally inconsistent with your own standards. Some preach the word occasionally yet mix the true gospel with falsehoods more often than they don’t. Some don’t discipline elders but will discipline lesser members in mocking hypocrisy of Christ. True and false become worthless designations in real life simply due to the scale of human obedience and disobedience to Christ in the church. Can a church be true to Christ one year, yet not the next year, but true again in the third year? By your theology “yes.” But all they’ve really done is exist in the continuum of obedience and disobedience. Many churches have a name that they are alive but are dead. Your theology, grounded in the 16th Century and prior Catholicism is found deficient and inadequate as judged by the 1st.

    If we shall have rapprochement it won’t come by the 3 forms but by the apostles and prophets who are Christ’s foundation of the obedient local church. All we need to do is judge our churches by the simplest of standards: what have they written for us under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that teach us in both precept and example what an obedient church is. From here, we who submit to their writings more than our own ecclesial forefathers shall find blessed koinonia and all that it brings to our lives and this fallen world.

    To a church on the verge of schism our beloved apostle wrote: “The things you have learned and received and heard (precept) and seen (example) in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9). Our task is to examine all practices of our churches by this simple maxim: where do the apostles and prophets give us both precept and example for an ecclesial practice. Where we fail them we shall ecclesiastically repent. Shall we start with infant baptism?

    • I know I’ve advised you before, Ted, but hope springs eternal.

      Before you criticize, you should read D. Bannerman, The Scripture Doctrine of the Church. Nearly 600pp of biblical theology and exegesis there. It might help to know something about the texts that inform Reformed faith and practice.

      It’s free! http://books.google.com/books?id=83FJAAAAYAAJ

    • Hi Ted,

      There are hints in your bio that you might not have had the most careful and thorough introduction to the history of Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

      The theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed churches isn’t merely a 16th-century museum piece. We still confess it! Our church orders still list the Belgic, the Canons, and the Heidelberg as our corporate understanding of the theology, piety, and practice taught in Scripture.

      The question here is about churches, about congregations, corporate entities and what they confess. The question here isn’t about individuals precisely. They are related (as they are in article 29 of the Belgic) but distinct.

      I concede that it is more difficult now to see as clearly now as in the 16th century which are true and false churches. I also concede that my view is a minority view even among the Reformed. Nevertheless, I persist. It seems to me that the marks set out in the Belgic (and the Scots Confession) still work. Either a congregation preaches the gospel or it doesn’t. That’s not that difficult to discern. It takes only a Sunday or two. If the minister isn’t preaching the gospel, it will show up pretty quickly since his main vocation is the preach the gospel and if can’t do it in two Sundays, one has to wonder.

      It’s fairly easy to see whether a congregation is administering the sacraments purely. It might take some time. Where Zwingli reigns the Supper tends to be administered infrequently. Here, as in the first mark, we can look at what a congregation confesses. Do they confess the pure doctrine of the sacraments or something else?

      The most difficult test to apply is probably the third mark, discipline. Nevertheless, it is still a good test>. Notice that Belgic 29 doesn’t use the adverb “purely” or the adjective “pure” in qualifying the administration of discipline. The question is whether it exists. In the average mainline congregation (e.g., one of the seven sisters of the mainline) or in the average mega-church, it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist much in some other contexts and it exists imperfectly where it does happen. I look for evidence. If a minister preaches/teaches heresy is he held accountable? Are believers held accountable per Matt 18 for their lives and doctrine? Are openly scandalous, impenitent people admitted to the table? Over time we can see whether this is so.

      So, I don’t accept the “that was then, this is now” paradigm. The truth is the truth. The world has changed but the Word hasn’t and the confession of the church as to what the Word teaches and implies for the life of the church hasn’t changed and that’s a good thing.

  52. Dr. Scott,

    If we both share in Christ’s work on the cross (Phil 1:7) and submit to Scripture as the very theopneustos of God then the only reason we can’t come together in church this Sunday (1 Cor. 11:18) is either geography or sin.

    Instead of unchurching each other (something unknown in Scripture) let’s regard the apostles and prophets as the foundation of Christ’s church and act submissively to their teachings in both precept and example. It’s simple and even though we both have doctorates, can be done by anyone who can “read and run.” Christ’s church is built on the foundation of their teachings. It starts with recognizing that “true church” theory is an historical development begun long after the apostles wrote down the faith once for all delivered to the saints and churches, esp. Rev. 2-3. The theory isn’t built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. IOW, you are unchurching my church on developments in historic theology that are in opposition to Scripture. In distinction I invite you to embrace the apostle’s demand on unity, not schism.

    • Ted,

      You want to escape from history and go back to the 1st century as if the intervening 2000 years haven’t happened, but they have. We don’t live in the apostolic age. We live in the post-apostolic age.

      No churches un-churched, as it were? That’s not how I read the 1st three chapters of the Revelation. Some of those congregations were unchurched. Smyrna was without a visible church for a very long time!

      Paul addressed implicitly the matter of churches without the marks in Galatians 1-2 and arguably James did too in James 2. Then, of course, there are the prophets. They spoke to the old covenant church.

      The very idea of “unchurching” begs the question, i.e., assumes what has to be proven, that a congregation is a church in the first place. Our reading of Scripture is that not every congregation that calls itself “church” is one. The Anabaptists were not a true church. Rome is not a true church.

      You are proposing marks but of a very truncated sort. So, you have marks and the Reformed churches have marks. Competing marks, competing paradigms.

  53. Bruce,

    Thanks for the advice. As I believe I may have shared with you before I have not read that book but have read 1000s of pages on Reformed ecclesiology in other highly regarded works. Unless I am mistaken, there isn’t an argument from Scripture made from the Presbyterian perspective with which I am not conversant.

    I don’t find Bannerman’s book necessarily probative. A few moment’s scan reveals commonplace errors repeated in subsequent Presbyterian works.

    2 examples:

    “In every case, with the possible exception of Athens, the congregation which was formed as the fruit of the labors of Paul and his companions, was a mixed one, consisting of Jews and Gentiles in varying proportions” (524). Bannerman neglects Philippi, the great opening of the work of the gospel in Greece and quite devoid of Jews.

    Or this: “they are chosen, as it appears [here referring to elders] by the members themselves…” (535). “It seems a fair inference, from all the circumstances of the case, that the choice of presbyters in each congregation, was entrusted to the members of the church” (536). Bannerman in he next sentence admits there is nowhere in Scripture where it actually teaches this, but feels it must be so since many others feel it to be the case. On page 537 he makes the common mistake that Antioch’s elders (Pisidia) were elected by the members, but see the greek word for “appointed” in Acts 14:23 – it is masculine plural (Paul and Barnabas) not feminine singular (the ecclesia). Elected leadership is never seen in Scripture, ever.

    Please don’t take me as disparaging the work – its exceeding lovely. But our goal as Christians and church leaders must be unity under the writings of the apostles and prophets, not our theological forefathers, lest we be revealed on that Day only to be those who “seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:21).

    • This comment is submitted in the interest of answering the fool according to his folly; making plain his errors, in hopes of guarding sheep and lambs, who otherwise might be led astray by this Diotrephes. As to himself, he has been admonished a first and second time, and remains divisive; he should be shunned as an unsafe guide (Tit.3:10).

      “In every case, with the possible exception of Athens, the congregation which was formed as the fruit of the labors of Paul and his companions, was a mixed one, consisting of Jews and Gentiles in varying proportions” (524). Bannerman neglects Philippi, the great opening of the work of the gospel in Greece and quite devoid of Jews.”

      What an amazing statement. How much of Paul’s ministry in-and-about Philippi are you acquainted with? Just based on the Scriptures, I mean?

      According to Act.16:13, in the absence of a synagogue, Paul made his way on the Jewish Sabbath to the riverside, “where prayer was customarily made,” and where there were women who met for that purpose. (Please don’t be pedantic, and deny they were there for this purpose; no other purpose is mentioned.)

      Sufficient evidence, then, that there was a handful of ethnic Jews or Old Covenant proselytes in the neighborhood, even if we only know of women, who met by custom in accord with established Jewish practice. Certainly your assertion is groundless (and you offer no argument) that the Philippian church was “quite devoid of Jews.” The scant evidence points in the other direction.

      And there is no reason to think from its content that the later letter to the church in Philippi presupposes a situation without Jewish connection. In fact, Paul inoculates the Philippians against the influence of Judaizers–a situation that clearly implies at the very least a Jewish-outsider threat seeking to co-opt the fruit of apostolic ministry. Act.20:3 envisions a hostile Jewish-presence that affects the whole region, even a physical threat to Paul prior to his imminent sailing “away from Philippi.” And if Jewish-outsiders were all about, then certainly the possibility of Jewish converts.

      How could such an observation even be controversial, much less subject to your dismissive hand-waving?

      Your bowdlerized quotations in your second “example” prove not acquaintance with the argument, but only a slipshod treatment of a text which you admitted you haven’t read. The 1000s of other pages you claim to have read have not remedied your ignorance, and you are in fact mistaken about being conversant with the Presbyterian’s argument. Your “moment’s scan” does you the opposite of credit, since it would have been safer to simply admit you neither knew nor cared.

      Your misrepresentation of Bannerman ought to embarrass you. (And you thought you could just drop in on his work after 500pp, and judge him? You can’t even read a few pp with care!)

      Bannerman is being circumspect (avoiding a tedious objection) about the weight that the single word χειροτονέω can bear (cf. its use in 2Cor.8:19). He distances himself from those who have made such a claim that you attribute to him.

      He doesn’t make the claim that the NMP participle belongs to the church as subject (a novice Gk. student knows that participles are subject to governing verbs). He simply notes, “the original meaning of the term” rather compels a drawing into the interpretation of the meaning of what the apostles did there the quite-compatible notion that those so ordained were put forward by the congregation.

      Who then appointed these elders? The apostles, of course, “The presbyters are formally set apart to their office by men already in office in the Church with solemn religious services,” (note the accompanying praying and fasting). Here is Bannerman’s own translation of 14:23, “Paul and Barnabas appointed for them elders in every Church having prayed with fasting.”

      It is more than passing strange, that a man who claims to know so much about Presbyterian polity is manifestly confused about the ordination of our elders. Only our presbyters ordain other presbyters; which is certainly the position taken by Bannerman. Ordination is not a “congregational” act among us.

      From p538. “We recognize the same leading features in this transaction as in the appointment of the seven deacons, and in the separation of Barnabas and Saul to the Gentile mission. Certain men are separated for a special office, or special service, by the call of the Spirit, acting in and through the Church. They are set apart to the work with solemn prayer and special waiting upon God by those already in office, and are sent forth to their work accordingly, whether in a wider or narrower sphere, by the Holy Spirit and by the Church acting in unity. Hence the presbyters at Ephesus are the “presbyters of the Church;” and yet it was “the Holy Ghost, who had set them as bishops therein, to tend the flock, and the Church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.”

      So, I have to say that you are pretty obviously “disparaging the work,” which you neither know nor care to know. Saying “its [sic] exceedingly lovely” is transparently sarcastic. And your pious reference to the Scripture to defend your actions is about as sincere as another of your quotes: “Very funny!! Good laugh!! Love it!! Thanks, dear brother.”

      Ignorance on parade, from start to finish.

  54. You are proposing marks but of a very truncated sort. So, you have marks and the Reformed churches have marks. Competing marks, competing paradigms.

    I assure I am not, brother. Rather I am going underneath the theology of the marks and exposing it as unbiblical.

    We don’t live in the apostolic age. We live in the post-apostolic age.

    Yet you reject Romanism, and praise the Lord Jesus for that. You have a consistent choice to make in that godly commitment, then. Will you abandon all forms of Apostolic Successionism (even Prot) and worshipfully embrace Apostolic Foundationalism (precept and example)? Its not about going back, but going forward.

    No churches un-churched, as it were? That’s not how I read the 1st three chapters of the Revelation. Some of those congregations were unchurched. Smyrna was without a visible church for a very long time!

    Very funny!! Good laugh!! Love it!! Thanks, dear brother.

  55. I think there are more fundamental problems between Mr. Bigelow and Dr. Clark. Mr. Bigelow is dispensational. Mr. Bigelow thinks the Church began at Pentecost and is distinct from Israel; he thinks the land promises for Israel are still binding upon God.

    Also, I wouldn’t be surprised that Baptists (Reformed Baptists, which Mr. Bigelow is not) like Dr. Renihan would argue differently from Mr. Bigelow and still affirm a true/false church distinction.

    Here is his (Mr. Bigelow) church’s view of the Church.
    http://www.gracechurchministry.org/documents/teaching5.pdf

    Here are his end times beliefs.
    http://www.gracechurchministry.org/documents/teaching7.pdf

    Mr. Bigelow sounds a bit like Restoration type movement people. I’m no expert, so I could be wrong.

  56. Bruce,

    After reading your comments it’s plain to see you are wise and I am a fool. Even worse I am an unregenerate man (like Diotrophes) who does evil and does not know God (3 John 10). Worse, I am a sheep stealer and a divisive man.

    Bruce. Flee to Christ. He’s really merciful and wonderful to the worst of sinners – by that I mean the religious kind. But do it quickly. He is coming to judge.

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