Call to Confesional Renewal Will Be Heard at PCA General Assembly

According to Wes White:

. . . the Admin committee voted 28-2-0 to recommend approval of the NW Georgia Presbytery’s overture on confessional renewal. This overture will be presented on Thursday as a substitute motion for the permanent committee’s motion to reject this overture. We adopted the NW Georgia Presbytery in such a way that it is a stand alone motion and not an alternative to the Strategic Plan.

This is good news to us at RP who adopted this overture as our position on the proposed Strategic Plan.  I am quite eager to see and hear the discussion on confessional renewal as I believe it will be very telling for the confessional stance of the PCA.

>Globalism, The Westminster Standards, and The PCA Strategic Plan

>Do we need to jettison or at least add to the Westminster Standards in order to participate more effectively in the global mission of the Church?  In order for the gospel ministry to be more effective, does it need to be freed from North American and European biases that result from a more rigorous Reformed theology?  Have the self-consciously confessional Presbyterians mistakenly equated confessional Reformed piety and practice with 16th century Swiss, Scottish or British culture?

In his recent article “Catholicity Global and Historical: Constantinople, Westminster, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century, in the Westminster Theological Journal, Robert Letham provides the historical and global make-up of the Westminster Standards and shows how the Divines purposely placed themselves in the stream of historic, orthodox biblical interpretation by allowing the ancient creeds to guide the Westminster Standards.  He notes how they saw themselves as continuing and perpetuating the insights of the Church fathers and the ancient creeds.

After laying out the ecumenical history and content of the Westminster Standards, he turns his attention to those who say that the Church needs to free herself from the influence of Western theology and practice in order to be more effective globally, and that the Church needs to allow the third world theologians to shape today’s theology and practice.  He notes,

There are those who claim that we are entering an entirely new era requiring a massive paradigm shift in the church’s thought and action. In this case, historical theology is merely a curiosity. It may have a part in an ongoing conversation but the debate has moved on. The past is effectively sidelined since a conversation, as it progresses in subtle and dynamic ways, renders obsolete and irrelevant the comments made five minutes ago. Many voices praise the idea that the church will be freed from its captivity to Western Europe and North America. This misses the point that the foundations of the church were laid by Egyptians (Athanasius and Cyril), Turks (the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor), Tunisians (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine), and a Syrian ( John of Damascus), to say nothing of the apostles (Middle-Eastern Jews)—these hardly look like Western Europeans, let alone North Americans. This mantra is a coded message, indicating that its utterer wants to move away from the confining dogmas of the Reformation. . . . The ecumenical creeds cannot be reduced to conversation partners at a global round table. Insights there may and will be from various parts of the world. But the nature of the ecumenical councils was quite different—they simply confessed the truth and the church recognized what they confessed. They were acknowledging the apostolic faith, not bringing insights from their culture. The same principle applies to the teachings of the Reformation. (p. 55)

Letham’s point is quite timely given the desire on the one hand to make church practice reflective of culture while on the other hand complaining about the cultural captivity of Reformed theology and practice.  Maybe what they mean to say is that we would be better served to be held captive to culture that is not North American or European.  Funny how the winds of politics seem to be shaping this conversation. But merely exchanging one cultural influence for another is not biblical, but is also not truly catholic or ecumenical.

If we are going to be more “global” it cannot be the result of leaving history behind, even Westminster history. Letham concludes, “Global Christianity in the twenty-first century, to be truly catholic, must be apostolic—grounded in Scripture and built upon the teaching of the church. It is worryingly evident that many who have leaped onto the bandwagon of globalism—mainly in this country—are ready to move beyond the foundations. (p.57)

As the Christian Church, who has been commissioned by Christ to take his gospel to all the globe, it is right for us to desire and spend ourselves in going global.  Yet, we need to pursue it wisely.  And the wise way includes retaining our history, especially our history of interpretation of the Bible.  This history is retained for us in the historic creeds of the Church including the Westminster Standards–both in doctrine and practice.  Let us not fall prey to bad practice as a result of a bad understanding of our Standards and of ourselves.  Yes we go forth as Americans subscribing to the Westminster Standards, which means but we go forth with a gospel founded upon, shaped by and explained in the creedal and confessional work of many nations.

>How do we go from defending to discipling?

>I have been reading Scott Clark’s, Recovering the Reformed Confession and have been enjoying it. In it Clark makes his case for recovering the biblical and historical understanding of Reformed theology, piety and practice (RTPP) in the life of a Reformed church.

The basic problem as Clark sees it is as a class of churches, which profess */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> allegiance to reformed theology, piety and practice (RTPP), as revealed in the Word, and summarized in the Refomred confessions, we have drifted from our moorings. Some have become confused about what it means to be reformed, while others have lost their confidence that RTPP is correct or effective.

One of the specific ways in which this problem has reared its ugly head is what Clark calls the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). QIRE finds its roots in the “new measures” of Finney and the Second Great Awakening, and found its way into Reformed Presbyterian church life through New Side Presbyterians who thought they could borrow the forms of the new measures while maintaining the theology of the Westminster Standards. As such, this new piety and practice desires “to achieve an unmediated encounter with God. It also describes religious subjectivism (often part of that quest) and even religious enthusiasm,” (p. 74). This subjectivism is “alien to the Reformed confession,” (p. 82).

Clark argues that this is not historic, biblical RPP, which John Williamson Nevin referred to as the system of the catechism, or what the Old Side Presbyterians referred to as the outward and ordinary means of grace. RPP is not focused on experience above all else, but upon the objective divine promises of scripture first, and then on one’s awareness of the Spririt’s presence (p. 74).

Clark is clear that this does not mean that RPP is opposed to genuine religious experience. RPP is strongly in favor of a vital religious life (p. 89), and confesses a “living religion that is organized around the means of grace,” (p. 114), which according to the WCF 21.5 are:

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God.

Clark summarizes the perpective of RPP as being confessional, “Christ-centered, grounded in the gospel of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection for sinners, and in the operation of the Holy Spirit through the ordained means of grace: the preaching of the gospel and the aministration of the sacraments. According to the Reformed churches, Christ has promised to use these means to bring his people to maturity and sanctity,”(p. 116).

Before I read Clark’s chapter on QIRE I was already in agreement. But this caused me to think. It is one thing for me to agree. It is one thing to defend RPP and to call myself and the church to pursue them by faith, and faithfully. But what is the most effective way to communicate this to the church? What is the best way to postiviely present RPP to the layman without appearing defensive and reactionary?

What does RPP look like in the day in and day out Christian pilgrimage? Jonathan Edwards gave us a portrait of his religious affections in The Life of David Brainerd. No thank you Mr. Edwards. The pietistic spirituality crowd has flooded the market with books and helps promoting their unbiblical version of spirituality for day to day living.

What have we provided our folks? How do we promote and disciple our people in RPP?