Presbyterianism and the Pope

Chapter XXV, section VI, of the Westminster Confession says:

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ.[13] Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.[14]

This is, of course, utter nonsense. Certainly, a Pope may be an anti-Christ, just like a Presbyterian elder may be an anti-Christ. But the Pope is not an anti-Christ, much less
the Anti-Christ, simply by virtue of his office. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent onto the “high mountain” prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: “the hope of glory” (Col 1:27; cf. St. Leo the Great, Sermo 51, 3: PL 54, 310c).

Christ “is the head of the body, the Church.” He is the principle of creation and redemption. Raised to the Father’s glory, “in everything he [is] preeminent,” especially in the Church, through whom he extends his reign over all things.

Of the office of Pope, the Catechism says:

The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

A vicar is a representative so, in the Catholic scheme of things, the Pope is the visible "the buck stops here" representative of Christ. One might complain about the use of
unhindered power, but as the Catechism subsequently states, this refers to the relationship between the Pontiff and the College of Bishops; not between Christ and the Church.

Too, one might argue about what the structure of the visible church should be: a group of unallied independent congregations, independent congregations joined in a voluntary flat federation, congregations organized in a hierarchy, or whatever other scheme might come to mind. Scripture doesn't say how churches are to be organized. A hierarchical organization with a single head, who reports to Christ, is certainly one way to do things. The
Presbyterian church is hierarchical, although that doesn't prevent our presbytery from being about as useful as a camouflaged golfball.

Finally, it might be argued that the Pope is the Anti-Christ because of doctrinal differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Certainly, Protestants and Catholics differ on whether or not Peter was the first Pope, issues surrounding apostolic succession, and so on. But the Westminster Confession, in XXV.V, states:

The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error;[10] and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.

As someone who used to write software architecture documents for a living, XXV.V is useless, because it cannot be implemented. That is, there is no test for determining which error(s) result in which congregational classifications. Any Presbyterian could say, "you're a congregation of Satan because you don't measure up to my particular checklist." Vague requirements might make a committee feel like they've accomplished something, but this statement should never have passed critical review.
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Presbyterianism and the Sabbath

The book of Nehemiah came up in the sermon rotation and, in due time, Nehemiah 13:15-22, where Nehemiah lamented the lack of Sabbath observance by the Israelites and took corrective action. Our assistant pastor said [@ 21:11]:

"How are we to worship? ... Very clearly, [our Pastor has] said 'theologians are divided.' I happen to be on the other side, I believe that this is binding to us, this is one of the Ten Commandments..."

This position comes from the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI:

VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him:[34] which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week,[35] which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day,[36] and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.[37]

VIII. This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their wordly employments and recreations,[38] but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.[39]

I dissent.

First, the Confession bases the positive command to keep the Sabbath on Exodus 20:8-11 -- the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Even if we ignore the larger discussion of the relation of the New Covenant to the Mosaic Covenant, the Confession ignores what St. Paul says in Romans 14:5-6a:

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord.

This alone should be enough to show that Sabbath observance, as described in Exodus, is not binding on the Christian. It is permissible for the Christian to treat all days the same.

The Confession also ignores what St. Paul says in Romans 13:9-10:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

"And any other commandment" includes the Fourth Commandment in the Mosaic Covenant.

Paul provides yet more detail why love fulfills the Law in Colossians 2:16-17. Because the "substance belongs to Christ":

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Paul repeats this idea in Romans 10:4

For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Now, we can argue over what τέλος means in this passage: does it mean the end of the book, or the end of the term of a contract, after which something new happens; or does it mean the goal to which all things point, in which case the thing continues completed? The second part of VII implicitly argues for the latter by claiming that the Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week. But the passages used as support by the Confession say no such thing. The Confession is reading into the text what isn't there. One could also, and with more fidelity to Scripture, argue that the disciples met on the first day of the week because that is when Jesus rose from the dead and began the first day of the new creation.

What the Confession ignores is that Christ, crucified on Good Friday, spent the Sabbath in the tomb. In "
The Parables of Grace", Capon observers:

(Sunday, for Christians, is not the sabbath; it is the First Day of the Week, the Lord's Day, Dies Dominica, celebrated in honor of the resurrection. In the Romance languages, the name for Saturday comes from the Hebrew-e.g., the Italian Sabbato; the name for Sunday comes from the Latin for Lord's Day-e.g., the French Dimanche).

Item. In the old covenant, the sabbath is a day of rest in honor of God's work of creation; in the new covenant, the sabbath becomes a day of death-the day Jesus' body lay in the tomb, the day Christ lag in Totesbanden....

The death of Jesus, therefore, is not just something that lasted through a single sabbath day in the spring of A.D. 29. Precisely because he who was dead that day was the Incarnate Lord, the Second Person of the triune God, his death is an eternal as well as a temporal fact. Jesus is not only risen forever; he is also dead forever.

This is how the substance of the Sabbath belongs to Christ. His body partook in the ultimate rest.

In Romans 6:4-5, Paul shows how this substance belongs to us:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We are united with Him in His perfectly kept Sabbath -- the one He kept in the tomb. And therefore, I also dissent from subsection VIII. We observe the Sabbath by our union with Him by faith.


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John Owen's Trilemma

In today's adult Sunday class on the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:14), the trilemma of John Owen was mentioned as an aside. Owen tries to shows the doctrine of Limited Atonement -- formulated as Christ died only for the elect -- from this argument:

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
  1. All the sins of all men.
  2. All the sins of some men, or
  3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
  1. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
  2. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
  3. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, "Because of unbelief."

I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"

I would argue that this argument fails because the correct answer is #3: Christ died for some of the sins of all men. In fact, I would propose a modified form of #3: Christ died for all but one sin of all men. This is, in fact, what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 12:31:

Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

We might argue about what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit entails, but I hold that it refers to unbelief, since Paul, in Romans 3:21-25, wrote:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.

Showing an error in an argument for something, of course, does not prove that thing and this post is not looking at the doctrine of Limited Atonement in general. However, in reviewing the doctrine of Atonement in the Westminster Confessions, I found
this discussion interesting, in that it said that the Amyrauldians present at the Westminster Assembly were not hesitant to sign the Confession. That argues for some ambiguity in the wording of the Confession.
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St. Paul and Antimonianism: Part I

The series on Presbyterianism (Intro) will deal with the role of the Law in the Christian faith. For now, I want to put this aphorism out into the world, as it will be the crux of the forthcoming post on the appearance of antinomianism in St. Paul's thought:

We live within law,

not by law

The charge of antinomianism against Paul is supported by the "not by law" part of the statement. But the charge of antinomianism is ultimately defeated by the "within law" part. The forthcoming post will show how this is so.

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Presbyterianism: Intro

Several weeks ago in Sunday School, before class started, I was asked if I was Presbyterian. I really didn't know how to answer the question. On the one hand, I'm Calvinist in the sense that I hold to at least four of the five points of Calvinism. On some days I affirm all five and other days I affirm four1; still this basic understanding is a prerequisite to Presbyterianism. On the other hand, I've read the Westminster Confession of Faith, agree with some parts of it, disagree with others, and find myself wondering about whether or not I've read it correctly in the first place. Parsing the Westminster Confession can sometimes be as difficult as trying to understand whether or not the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution really provides for individual firearm ownership2. Words can be obtuse, readers can be obtuse, and sometimes both hold. Presbyterians may hold to the "perspicuity of Scripture"3, but the same can't be said about the Confession. To further confuse the issue, I was told recently by the pastor of a Presbyterian church that I am "more Presbyterian" than most in the congregation. He didn't mean that as an insult, but I had to ask, since I've been told that the defining characteristic of Presbyterians is that they like to argue.

So, upon recommendation, I read "
On Being Presbyterian" by Sean Lucas. Written for the laymen, it's a clue as to how Presbyterians understand the Westminster Confession and Scripture. Now, it starts well:


The gospel of the Reformation, which proclaimed that God's righteousness shall come to those who live by faith alone, fundamentally challenged the basis of medieval religion and piety. If salvation came by faith alone in Christ alone, and if this provided an effective removal of religious guilt and anxiety...

But what I find with having been around Presbyterians for some time is that, in my opinion, religious guilt and anxiety is very real. (This isn't limited to Presbyterians, but they are the focus of this series of posts). My thesis is that this is because the Westminster Confession gets several things wrong in critical areas. If orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy (as I believe the Bible affirms), then heterodoxy can lead to heteropraxy4.

Two recent examples of this deal with the doctrine of "irresistible grace". The first error is thinking that, if grace is irresistible, then not only do Christians not need to evangelize, but the elders of a congregation do not need to shepherd the flock. The response to this is, certainly, God does not need us to advance His Kingdom. As far as we know, no missionary came to Abraham. Still, God delights to work through us, imperfect though we may be. We are told to make disciples
5, elders are told to tend the flock6. The second error is thinking our falling short of living the Chrstian life -- our hypocrisy, our hardness of heart, and all of our other failings -- impede the spread of the Gospel. "They won't believe me because I fall short" denies irresistible grace. Irresistible grace should be one ingredient that calms our fears; that is does not means that doctrine and practice haven't been fully integrated.

The next several posts in this series will deal where I dissent from Presbyterianism in the areas of:
  • means of grace
  • the role of law
  • Baptism and Communion
  • Corporate Identity
  • Miscellaneous

Note that I will restrict my musings to topics covered in Lucas' book.



[1] Limited Atonement. I'm so glad we aren't saved because of our correct knowledge.
[2] If the Supreme Court decided
Heller by a 5-4 split, what hope do laymen have?
[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, I.VII
[4] We can sometimes do the right things for the wrong reasons.
[5] Matthew 28:19
[6] 1 Peter 5:1-5


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Grudem's Systematic Theology, #2

The following practice question in chapter 10 of Grudem ties together my major complaints, so far, of his text: namely that there is weak, to non-existent, development of the doctrines of epistemology and ethics. To be sure, Grudem has said correct things about each, but he is inconsistent in his application of those things. I've already mentioned one problem with his exposition of ethics in a previous post; this post looks at a problem with both epistemology and ethics.

How can we be sure that when we reach heaven God will not tell us that most of what we had learned about him was wrong, and that we would have to forget what we had learned and begin to learn different things about him?

     — page 152, question #2

The answer that I think Grudem expects, based on the contents of the chapter, would be something like: we can be sure that what God has revealed to us about Himself is true, because He understands that our knowledge of Him requires the revelation of Himself [Mt 11:7], He desires His people to "know him, the only true God", [Jer 31:34], He reveals Himself truly [Num 23:19], and that He would not deceive us, because He is Truth [John 3:33] and the ultimate good. [1 John 1:5].

But the correct answer is, "we cannot be sure."

Part of the problem is semantics. Grudem doesn't define the difference between "sure" knowledge and "uncertain" knowledge. I recently had a conversation at Starbucks about epistemology with an Emory graduate student concerning the question, "do you know that you are at Starbucks right now?" He ended up asking me this several times as we went back and forth trying to clarify various issues. While he always responded in the affirmative, my only answer was "I believe that I am." He based his answer on the assumptions that, first, there really is a reality that is external to us and, second, that our senses give us a (mostly) accurate indication of the nature of that reality. I have no problem with either of those two premises but, as anyone who has read Descartes or watched the movie
The Matrix knows, that might not be an accurate view of reality at all.

What are the differences between sure and uncertain knowledge? I claim that I know that two plus two equals four. I also know that if a plane is flat that the angles of a triangle sum to 180 degrees, but that if a plane is curved, the sum of the angles will be more than 180 degrees if the plane is positively curved, and less than 180 degrees if the plane is negatively curved. I claim I know these things, because the results are self-contained. No connections to external things are needed for these statements to be true.

But the moment we consider objects external to ourselves, things become more complicated. If I physically measure the angles of a triangle, I get 180 degrees as the answer (within the margins of measurement error). This means that, locally, space is flat. But what result would we get if the sides of the triangle were thousands of light-years apart? That depends on the overall curvature of space which, in turn, depends on the total amount of mass. We think the mass is such that, overall, space is flat. This knowledge is less certain because it depends on a correspondence between a model and a measurement between the model and the thing being modeled. Here, the uncertainty is whether or not the mental model is in a one-to-one correspondence with the external object.

Then, if there is uncertainty whether or not a mental model corresponds to an external object, there is also uncertainty whether or not the right mental model is being used, since there is usually an abundance of mental models, but (supposedly) only one reality. Our hope is that we can find a mismatch between one of the models and the external thing, so that the number of models can be reduced, but even if that's possible, it's usually a painstaking, time consuming effort. But what happens if there is no known way to distinguish which of two explanations are correct? Is whatever I am in a place physically external me that serves coffee, or is this all just a simulation? I just don't really know, and while I am not a solipsist by choice, I cannot logically defend that choice against the alternatives.

In one sense, scientists, theologians, and philosophers face the same problem: a multiplicity of explanatory models. The scientist can test the model against Nature and hopefully converge on the correct model. If Christianity is right, then the theologian has no such recourse. While we can experience God, and we believe that God reveals certain aspects of Himself to us, we cannot experiment on Him. In fact, we are forbidden to do so: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" [Mt 4:7]. Philosophers don't have either recourse.

At best, theologians can test what they think God has revealed for consistency, under the assumption that God is consistent. But then the problem of ethics arises. Grudem writes:

God's righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.

     — page 204

In particular, this means that God does not have to conform to our expectations of goodness. If, at the end of all things, God were to say "just kidding", He would be righteous in doing so.

This is actually an important thought experiment, because we learn that we cannot judge God according to our expectations, nor can we judge God by any external moral standard. All we can do is trust Him and if things don't happen the way we want them to, we have no other recourse than to say, "You, alone, are God."
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Grudem's Systematic Theology, #1

Based on the recommendation of my Sunday School teacher, I picked up Grudem's Systematic Theology. I've gone through the first eleven chapters. While there are a few gems here and there, they are overshadowed by the egregious parts, such at this philosophical argument for the unchangeableness of God. Here, Grudem attempts to supplement the Biblical statements on God's unchangeableness with an argumentum ad absurdum:

At first it might not seem very important for us to affirm God's unchangeableness. The idea is so abstract that we may not immediately realize its significance. But if we stop for a moment to imagine what it would be like if God could change, the importance of this doctrine becomes more clear. For example, if God could change (in his being, perfections, purposes, or promises), then any change would be either for the better or for the worse. But if God changed for the better, then he was not the best possible being when we first trusted him. And how could we be sure that he is the best possible being now? But if God could change for the worse (in his very being), then what kind of God might he become?

     — page 168

The fundamental flaw with this line of reasoning is that it assumes that there is a fixed standard against which one or more of God's attributes can be compared. Furthermore, if God changes, and this standard does not, then this means that the measure is external to God. But this cannot be so, since God is not answerable to any external thing. So if God were to change, the standard itself would change — since God is His own standard of good and evil. The statement, "then any change would be for the better or for the worse" is wrong. Were God to change, both the initial, intermediate, and final states would all be perfect.

This lack of understanding of measures of good and evil permeates Reform theology. But that's a post for another time.

Update 10/5:

Grudem is woefully inconsistent. Later in the book, he writes:

He is therefore the final standard of good.

     — page 198

This is exactly what I said ("God is His own standard of good and evil"), but Grudem didn't integrate this with his argument on page 168.
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Sputnik's Gonna Get Me!

sputnik
Purely by coincidence, we visited the National Air and Space Museum on Saturday which happened to be the 45th anniversary of the first Moon landing. There, I again met my old nemesis, Sputnik. It was launched by the former Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. I was two years old. My father used to tell me that I was very concerned that Sputnik "was gonna get me." No, I am not neurotic. I suspect some encouragement by my parents.

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Neurosis and Psychosis

Last Thursday, I spent a pleasant morning at the Starbucks at the Hoffman Center talking with Jake, who is one of the regulars. He shared a way to understand the difference between neurosis and psychosis. "A neurotic is someone who believes that two plus two equals four and is deeply troubled by it. A psychotic is someone who believes that two plus two equals five and is quite happy about it."

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Quantum Mechanics and Reformation Theology

We're studying the foundations of Reformation theology in Sunday school. I find myself having to bite my tongue and not always succeeding. However, on the following two points, I've managed to stay quiet.

Several weeks ago, the teacher stated (paraphrasing) that "we believe 2+2=4 because of the axioms of mathematics." However, in "
Quantum Computing Since Democritus", on page 10, Aaronson writes:

How can we state axioms that will put the integers on a more secure foundation, when the very symbols and so on that we're using to write down the axioms presuppose that we already know what the integers are?

Well, precisely because of this point, I
don't think that axioms and formal logic can be used to place arithmetic on a more secure foundation. If you don't already agree that 1+1=2, then a lifetime of studying mathematical logic won't make it any clearer!

Today, in passing, it was said that responsibility necessitates the free will of man. Nothing could be further from the truth. I continued my reading of Aaronson during lunch today and came across this gem on pages 290-291:

Before we start, there are two common misconceptions that we have to get out of the way. The first one is committed by the free will camp, and the second by the anti-free-will camp.

The misconception committed by the free will camp is the one I alluded to before: if there's no free will, then none of us are responsible for our actions, and hence (for example) the legal system would collapse….

Actually, I've since found a couplet by Ambrose Bierce that makes the point very eloquently:

    "There's no free will," says the philosopher;
    "To hang is most unjust."
    "There is no free will," assent the officers.
    "We hang because we must."


Looking ahead to the end of the chapter, Aaronson brings Conway's "Free-Will Theorem" into play. What he doesn't apparently discuss (I've just scanned here and there), is that this randomness is not under our control.
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