More on Reformed Apostasy

Many Reformed churches have progressed from (i) a lack of theological nuance to (ii) a disregard for doctrinal distinction to (ii) an actual repudiation of Reformed theology. It’s no longer that Reformed pulpits and sessions are merely being manned by elders who aren’t theologically keen, which eventually gave way to a general sense, if not firm philosophical conviction, that theological precision and confessional fidelity no longer matters. Today we are witnessing a third stage of downgrade in Reformed pulpits and sessions (and consequently our churches’ pews). We are seeing an outright repudiation of Reformed theology from within. With an insidious air of orthodoxy to accompany it, which lends an element of credence to the less discerning, we gradually slouch further toward Arminianism, Romanism and Secularism.

IMG_4099.jpg

Even the unqualified want to feel good about themselves:

Nobody enjoys living in tension, especially tension that exposes oneself as not gifted or just plain lazy. So, given a lack of theological understanding, we can see how one might adopt a mindset of Reformed theology doesn’t matter. Such a mentality protects the less gifted and the lazy from self-consciously accepting that they’re not well prepared to articulate, teach and defend the deposit of the Reformed faith. A more suitable alternative would be for the less gifted to remain humble and keep striving, and the lazy to apply themselves better, or else just step-aside. Unfortunately, a more honorable approach has not always been taken by too many. Instead, what we have found in the past several years is a return to pre-Reformation theology, which in the end cashes out as a rejection of the fullness and richness of Biblical Systematic Theology in light of the comparatively unsystematized and unsophisticated medieval and early church theology.

Knowing about the Reformation vs knowing the theology of the Reformation:

This is not surprising once we consider that the formal teaching of Systematic Theology has at many seminaries been relegated to history types rather than to analytical thinkers. This phenomenon has opened the door to subjective and more novel takes on settled theological matters of serious intricacy. The debates of the Reformation period have taken priority over the theology of the debates. Possessing vast acquaintance with multiple sides of any doctrinal dispute has become more academically impressive than possessing an intimate working-understanding of which doctrines are theologically correct and why. Consequently, reinterpretation of Reformed confessional boundaries is now both unavoidable and permissible if only accompanied by a fragile appeal to the standards being a “consensus document” or a scattered few seventeenth century theologians who held esoteric views that did not win the confessional day. The kicker is, one can now earn an honorary degree of “Reformed orthodoxy” merely by possessing an air of historical understanding without actually subscribing to Reformed theology, let alone robustly subscribing.

We may not avoid hard thinking. It inevitably leads to heterodoxy:

As for the minimally Reformed, anyone can assert the Bible teaches both A and B. Yet it’s how we reconcile A with B that leads us to doctrines C, D, E and F. One pastor I recently spoke with from a conservative Reformed denomination was admittedly pleased to teach A and B discretely, yet without further reflection or perceived need to understand the further implications of A alongside B. With all sincerity this ordained servant did not see a moral or pastoral responsibility to systematize the discrete A, B, C’s of Reformed theology so that rudimentary principles of doctrine might not just be consistent with each other but also demonstrate a coherent systematic whole that is worldview explanatory and beyond refutation. This is the unhappy state of the Reformed church. A most serious dumbing down, as it were.

For example, I have found that too many seminary students, graduates and ordained servants within the Reformed tradition affirm the following points of theology (most of them unwittingly), which aren’t just theologically incorrect but directly impinge upon other foundational doctrines and philosophical considerations to the right of the dash (–). The list below overlaps yet doesn’t include doctrinal confusion cited here.

Hypothetical Universalism – The gospel and God’s numerically one undivided will

Libertarian Calvinism – God’s aseity, independence, unique eternality and exhaustive omniscience; moral accountability; compatibilism vs incompatibilism

Egalitarianism – Ministry of God’s Word; Equality vs Sameness; merely arbitrary vs naturally fitting gender functions that transcend church and family

Radical 2 Kingdom – Corruption of the Spirituality of the Church and the crown rights of King Jesus

Limited view of the Fall and Total Depravity – Roman Catholic nature-grace dualism; Pelagian tendencies; Concupiscence; Apologetic methodology; Natural Theology; Seeker sensitivity and worship practice

Peccability of Christ – Hypostatic Union and Nestorianism; Narrowly Logical vs Metaphysical modalities

Those are just a mere smattering of false doctrine (and doctrines they impinge upon) held by Reformed servants, and often times they don’t even know it.

Suffice to say, it should be obvious; this is no small matter. A growing number of pulpits and sessions are at least partially manned by men who are comparative liberals relative to Puritans and Continentalists. Yet in the context of a distinctly pre-Reformation theology, these false teachings are now all in play.

A proposed preventative prescription:

To look for deep theology prior to the Reformation era is like seeking to nourish oneself from dumpsters behind fine food restaurants in the hope of finding some tasty morsel that is not on the menu. Obviously, it’s madness. Clearly, there’s much on the Reformed menu that does not entice.

Those with an insatiable appetite for pre-Reformation theology should at least put forth what they believe is lacking in Reformed theology, which by Reformed standards swallowed up any and all orthodoxy prior to the Reformation in toto! Until such time, one is wise to consider the patristic and medieval fad-rage a smokescreen for a multifaceted agenda that is just beginning to take form.

As a path forward, the new wave of Trinitarian theologians, who think they’ve unearthed some non-Reformed yet orthodox doctrine of God, should be scrutinized and held accountable to a deep confessional systematic theology that should be able to be articulated, taught and defended against the onslaught of doctrinal impurity from outside the Reformed tradition, to the end that Jesus’ sheep might be nourished by the pure milk of God’s word, if not unto meat.

The post above was the third of three on the general matter of theological infidelity in the Reformed tradition of the church. For parts 1 and 2. 

NAPARC Infidelity

This is a follow-up post to Seeds of Apostasy and Congregant Responsibility.

It’s staggering to consider how far a preponderance of NAPARC churches have drifted from Reformed confessional theology. If the shepherds won’t protect the sheep, the sheep better get better at protecting themselves.

Today’s obsession with egalitarianism, critical theories, and medieval philosophy by “historians” posing as philosophical theologians is more a result of confessional infidelity than a reason for it. In other words, when confessional theology doesn’t grab you, something else will. Something must fill the void. Like a vortex – enter Thomasts, Davenant Institute, Egalitarianism, Aimee Byrd, Diane Langberg and others. You can almost hear the sucking sound. Again, something must fill the void.

Unwittingly and to their surprise, the new breed of moderates are working on the same side of evangelicalism, the New Life church movement and other thin complementarians who are together dumbing down, diluting and denying the confessional faith and practice of NAPARC. “Really, Ron?” Well, you tell me. For instance, is today’s gospel more about healing broken relationships and making the abused whole, or is it more about vicarious penal substitution that exhausts the unmixed wrath of God so that sinners might find forgiveness and righteousness in Christ? How can we find so much in the text of Scripture that’s not actually in the text of Scripture, yet we can’t seem to find, or at least make application from, the cross of Christ? Is it because culture and social media is framing ministry rather than Word and Spirit working in and through broken vessels? Are church leaders leading the sheep or responding to felt needs and critical theories with a new social gospel? If shepherds are indeed shepherding, then ask yourself two questions – with what and toward what?

In no particular order, below are some of the more significant theological departures from NAPARC ordained servants. But first, as I stated in my previous post:

Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows… If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?

It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy.

Knowing full well that most congregants aren’t theological, let alone passionately so, I offer the following for prayerful reflection.

* By denying theological determinism, one loses claim on the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) God’s eternal decree; (ii) God’s aseity; (iii) God’s exhaustive omniscience; and that (iv) God is most free and absolute. That’s the theological implication of not internalizing and embracing WCF 3.2. Now that needs to be internalized!

* By denying the regulative principle of worship, one betrays the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) upholding Christian liberty of conscience, (ii) maintaining wine at the Lord’s Supper, and (iii) forbidding women to pray and read Scripture during congregational worship services. (WCF 20:2, 21:3,5; 29:5; WLC 109)

* In cases of divorce, by not rendering ecclesiastical verdicts, including censuring the guilty and vindicating the innocent, no-fault divorce is condoned, which denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is not a matter of private judgement but requires public and orderly proceedings. It also denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is only lawful for adultery and willful desertion that is beyond the remedy of church and state. (WCF 24:6; 30:2)

* By affirming contemporary 2 Kingdom theology, the Reformed position on Christ’s kingly reign over all creation including all civil magistrates is denied. (WCF 19.4; WLC 108)

* By not “fencing the Table” from non-communing members of evangelical churches, the Reformed doctrine of the visible church is denied. (WCF 25:2,3; 26:2)

* By intimating that children of professing believers actually join the church upon profession of faith is to deny the Reformed doctrine of baptism and the visible church. (WCF 25:2; 28:1)

* By not disciplining delinquent church members who depart and don’t in due time join another evangelical church, the doctrine of the visible church is violated. Also, the solemnity of lawful oaths and vows are compromised. (WCF 22:3,5; 25:2)

* By condoning movies, books or nativities with images of Jesus, the Reformed teaching on the Second Commandment is denied. (WLC 109)

* By condoning going to restaurants on Sunday, even under pretense of unbelievers being permitted to work on Sunday, the Reformed teaching on the Fourth Commandment is denied. (WLC 99, 117)

Again, these departures do not bother the average congregant. I get that. But neither did they bother those who remained in the pews of the now apostate PCUSA, a denomination with less outward pomp and glory than Roman Catholicism, yet a synagogue of Satan just like her.

Are these seeds of apostasy or a just musings of a pedantic blogger?

Check out part 3.

Seeds of Apostasy and Congregant Responsibility

If you’re not grieved by the infidelity of the church, then with this post you’ll find little relevance.

Churches don’t become apostate overnight. Apostasy begins with elders having a faith and practice that is contrary to their confessional standards.

Within the confessional pale, elders don’t typically deny their ordination vows overtly. It’s rare that an elder takes the initiative of disclosing conscious theological shifts in faith and practice since the assumption of his ordination vows. A contributing factor to the rarity of such truthful disclosure is the pervasive practice of ordaining unqualified men to the office of elder.

Apropos, if an elder doesn’t internalize what he vows to uphold, how can he state any differences – if not now, then later? Can a man announce a change in conviction without first having conviction? Can a man contend for that which he is so unfamiliar? If a man cannot teach his Confession, how can it be discerned by himself or others whether he truly grasps it? How many elders are apt to teach their Confession? Which is not to ask whether one is capable of uncritically parroting A.A. Hodge or G.I. Williamson on the Confession, which too can be rare.

The deception of self and others entailed by not considering the weightiness of entering into ordination vows soberly and fearfully cannot but end in sin, including full blown apostasy unless God grants repentance. Consider, did the apostate overseers in the PCUSA fall away from truth embraced, or is it more likely they never cherished the truth they vowed to have received and adopted? Congregant beware. Mere casual acquaintance with a church’s Confession has no place among ordained servants. Yet can one truthfully maintain that’s not where much of the Reformed church finds herself today? How do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

There are innumerable understandings, teachings and practices within “confessional” NAPARC churches that constitute not just stated differences but outright exceptions to the Westminster standards and the Three Forms of Unity. Yet too often the elders who approve, teach, and practice such things say they don’t take exceptions to the Standards. Such ordained men, at best, are guilty of denying their vows in ignorance rather than knowingly – until such time they’re confronted for the first time with their confessional ignorance and infidelity. Then, the lesser violation gives way to greater, unless God grants a change of heart. Again, consider for instance the PCUSA. Consider from whence we came, including the need for the Protestant Reformation. When doctrinal exceptions are intentional, there’s usually a self-ascribing of nobility from elders who seek to liberate themselves and the oppressed from the bondage of passé dogma that has in their estimation fulfilled its purpose. Neither Confession nor conscience walls in such crusaders. That’s why congregants need eyes to see and ears to hear.

A charge to congregants:

Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows. In other words, if the average congregant’s lament isn’t with a particular teaching or practice from within that opposes the church’s stated doctrinal standards, shouldn’t their grievance at least be with the integrity of the shepherds who deny what they vowed before God to uphold? If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?

This is not to shift blame from pulpit to pew, but it is the foolish congregant who does not care whether her overseers uphold confessional doctrine that she is indifferent to or even opposes. We’re no longer talking merely about an elder’s doctrinal convictions but instead the caliber of his Christian character. It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy. It’s a fair question to ask whether the average layperson has become more concerned with constitutional representation from our civil leaders than confessional fidelity from our spiritual ones. Again, what’s the congregant’s role in any of this anyway?

Creaturely concerns and the 3 C’s vs confessional standards:

For most congregants, what seems to matter most is what I’ve recently coined the 3 C’s: Community. Comfort. Convenience. When such creaturely concerns of congregants take precedent over another 3 C’s (a confessional cause for Christ), it’s just a matter of time until the proverbial frog-congregant cooks in the kettle.

A settled willingness to float downstream affords great latitude for pastors and preachers to push agendas rather than faithfully explicate God’s word in accordance to confessional standards. Under such conditions, the congregant whose utmost allegiance is to Christ rather than the 3 C’s will peaceably and appropriately voice concerns, leave or both. It’s not a Christian option to idly stand by as apostasy sets in.

History repeats itself:

In this one respect, the Reformed church resembles Romanism. Not to know what your overseers are to believe and teach is to follow glibly after both nothing and anything. As the old adage goes, if you don’t stand for something eventually you’ll fall for everything.

Did the PCUSA become the harlot she now is without first flirting with doctrinal infidelity? Again, how do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

Be in prayer for the forthcoming NAPARC General Assemblies. Pray for your elders, and perhaps pray most earnestly for yourselves to discern according to your gifts of understanding and respective places of calling.

Infidelity Part 2, check it out.