Reformed Baptist Fellowship

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Confessionalism Adrift Amid the Siren Cries for Relevancy – Part 1

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 16, 2009 at 11:05 am

Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies

Address – September 1, 2009 – Westminster Seminary, Escondido

Pastor Jeff Oliver

Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Placerville, CA

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Confessionalism Adrift

Amid the Siren Cries for Relevancy – Part 1

What follows below, was developed from an address given to the theological students of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies and other associate guests at the commencement of their new academic year 20009/2010 on the campus of Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.

What does it mean to be reformed?

We are sitting here this evening on the campus of Westminster Seminary in California; a theological school that is self-consciously and unashamedly reformed. For the students here, you presumably made a conscious decision to come and study here at such a reformed school – why?

More particularly, I am speaking this evening at the invitation of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (IRBS) at the commencement of the 2009/2010 School Year. The IRBS is also self-consciously and unashamedly reformed. The IRBS exists to prepare men for the Reformed Baptist ministry and to serve Reformed Baptist churches.

So, more particularly, what does it mean to be a Reformed Baptist; what is a reformed Baptist church?

Who gets to decide what it means to be reformed or to be a Reformed Baptist?

In egalitarian, individualistic American culture – I do; but don’t worry so do you; in fact anybody does who cares to hold an opinion on these questions.  This is Postmodern America: your way, my way; all are equally valid; none are wrong.

Post-modernity offers a unique challenge to Christianity.

The issue is no longer whether or not we should defend the truth of the Christian message against the ‘threat’ of science and the ‘doubts’ of the enlightened rationalist, as was the case in modernity. Neither is the battle to be defined any more in terms of truth versus untruth, or right versus wrong. The concept of wrong has been largely removed from the postmodern vocabulary with one exception; it is wrong to say that someone’s world view, religion, culture, philosophy or experience is wrong. The only absolute truth that exists in the postmodern mentality is that there is no such thing as absolute truth.[1] For the postmodernist, truth claims are not about ultimate right and wrong but “power plays” in disguise.[2] In addition, post-modernism claims that truth is no longer that which corresponds with reality, it emerges out of a specific community, culture or person.  Individually, truth is that which will produce a better reality for me. It is my truth if it works for me.[3] So I get to say what is reformed; what I think is relevant; what will work for me and this generation.

Now, of course, as Christians we are going to argue our views have to be in accordance with the Bible.  We believe in Sola Scriptura.  Increasingly, however, the Sola Scriptura of our day is not the Sola Scriptura of the reformers.  It is rather the rampant individualism of me, the bible and Jesus.  That is why so often you now hear Christians, even professedly reformed Christians, saying “… well, as I read the Scriptures …” as if they were the first ones ever to have read the Bible. You see I get to decide everything with an open bible on my knee.

But the answer to the question, “What is it to be reformed?” is not subjective.

It is objective.

It is clearly defined in our Confessional Standards as they are historically understood.

To be reformed is to be Confessional. It is to adhere to our Confessional Standards as they are historically understood.  Specifically, for Reformed Baptists, it is adhering to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (2nd LBCF); to all 32 Chapters, which were carefully composed and crafted to express Reformed Baptist theology, piety and practice.

Now I want to deal with a potential objection to what I have just said right off the bat.  It is the objections that confessionalism elevates the authority and role of a confession of faith over the Scriptures.  In response to this objection, it is vital to point out that the great reformed confessions in general, and 2nd LBCF, in particular, do not claim to make anything truth that was not truth before; nor do they propose to bind men to believe anything which they are not already obligated to believe on the authority of the Scriptures.

Hence A. A. Hodge rightly observed, “The real question is not, as often pretended, between the Word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.[4]

So if to be reformed is to be confessional, what is the state of confessional reformed Christianity today in America?

It seems to me that even amongst those who claim to be Reformed, those who fully subscribe our reformed standards, we are drifting from our confessional roots and convictions; from our confessional standards as they are historically understood.

Rather than being the single common denominator among reformed churches, ‘confessional’ (in the sense of adherence to objective theological standards as they are historically understood) appears to be often at best one optional adjective among many and at worst an outmoded practice of by gone generations that may have served them well but is a barrier to us in our day from being able to connect with those we seek to win for Christ.

Hence the title of this address: “The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Confessionalism Adrift amid the Siren Cries for Relevancy.” I don’t have time within the constraints of this address to make a comprehensive case for our present crisis but for a detailed treatment of this subject, see R Scott Clark’s book, ‘Recovering the Reformed Confessions.’[5] So instead by way of some illustrative examples let me try and persuade you that I am not simply being alarmist.

I attended a reformed conference earlier this year.  During the Q&A time, after a number of excellent addresses on the life and ministry of John Calvin, the following question was asked: “Is adherence to the doctrines of grace a sufficient condition for calling oneself a Calvinist or reformed?” The response of the panel was bitterly disappointing. At best, it was an equivocation.  They did not appear to want to affirm that, whilst to be a five point Calvinist in terms of soteriology is a necessary condition, it is not a sufficient condition to call oneself a Calvinist or reformed.  It is noteworthy that these men were not novice theological students trying to answer a first semester systematic theology exam question.  They were seasoned, mature men, some of whom were ordained ministers in reformed churches, who fully subscribe to reformed confessional standards.

This is not just an issue, however, on conference platforms. How many churches would claim to be reformed, but what they really mean is they hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation but have all sorts of divergent views from their reformed confessional standards on the doctrine of the church, the Sabbath; worship, the means of grace etc.?

It seems that we have professedly reformed elders and churches that would be astounded to find that their views and practices, which they assume to be reformed, have actually very little to do with being reformed as understood by our historic confessions.  Others have consciously redefined what we have always confessed and practiced into optional or secondary categories of distinctives, circumstances and preferences.  It appears often to be the assumption amongst such that whatever one understands Scripture to teach or imply must, ipso facto, be reformed.  Hence the reasoning: I am part of a Reformed Church, I think x and therefore x must be reformed.

The drifting of confessional, reformed Christianity today in America is further seen in the increasing trend for professedly reformed Churches to want to obscure their reformed identity because they believe it is too difficult to explain what it means to non-Christians and it may put them off.  Why do some reformed churches take a conscious decision to remove the word ‘reformed’ from their church name?  Now I am not saying that it is a biblical mandate to have the word ‘reformed’ in your church name.  It is not a sin not to have the word reformed in your church name but if there is a conscious decision to remove the word ‘reformed’ from the church name or change the name of the church altogether, when the church would still claim to be reformed, we must seriously ask what is driving such decisions.  Take the opportunity to visit some reformed churches web-sites.  How many make a clear statement upfront that they are confessional and reformed? How many links do you have to follow before you get to any reference to confessional standards?

In addition we see the increasing trend towards religious subjectivism in professedly reformed churches; the advocating of the pursuit of an immediate individualistic experience of God without the means of grace (the preaching of the Word and the sacraments); the attempt to experience God in a way that we do not confess.

I could continue and multiply examples but time and space prevents me from doing so, but read the many blogs that are actively promoting these things I have sought to highlight.

The alarming thing is that it is not just broad evangelicalism nor mega churches nor the emergent church movement, that are calling for this kind of change, it is also professedly reformed and, specifically, professedly Reformed Baptists, that are calling for less focus on our confessions.  The siren calls are coming from the professedly reformed: “we need to be progressive, relevant, we need to change or we will die.”

Perhaps I might be permitted to adapt and paraphrase a stanza of Bob Dylan’s famous song just a little:

Come confessional pastors
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Our day and generation
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.[6]

How can this be?

Have not all reformed churches and their ministers and elders fully subscribed their confessional standards before God, swearing to uphold, teach and defend the same?

If so, are they all not morally obligated to be confessional according to their theological standards?  But as reformed churches that profess allegiance to the reformed theology, piety and practice as revealed in God’s Word and summarized in our confessions, we are drifting from our moorings.  This includes Reformed Baptists. Some seem to have become confused about what it is to be reformed, whilst others appear to being losing confidence that Reformed theology, piety and practice are even correct.


[1] Albert Mohler, Here We Stand (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), 61. “Modernity has given way to postmodernity, which is simply modernity in its latest guise. Claiming that all notions of truth are socially constructed, the postmodernists are committed to total war on truth itself, a deconstructionist project bent on casting down all religions, philosophical, political, and cultural authorities.”

[2] Gene E. Veith, Postmodern Times, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 1994), 56-7. “For the deconstructionists, all truth claims are suspect and are treated as a cover-up for power plays. . . Today’s universities, while ostensibly devoted to cultivating truth, now argue that truth does not exist. This does not mean that the universities are closing their doors. Rather, the universities are redefining what scholarship is all about. Knowledge is no longer seen as absolute truth; rather, knowledge is seen in terms of rearranging information into new paradigms.”

[3] Reinder van Til, Lost Daughters (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 284. “Postmodernists . . . deny the modernist assertion that words signify reality in an objective world around us and affirm instead that in a fundamental sense words construct our reality—in fact, that apart from words there is no reality. Some have understood this to mean that whatever we feel or perceive at any given moment constitutes reality.”

[4] A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (London, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964) 2.

[5] R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession Our Theology Piety and Practice (Phillipsburg, NJ, P&R Publishing, 2008)

[6] Adapted from the song, The Times They Are A-Changin,’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Columbia Records, 1964)

  1. Which part of R. S. Clark’s book would you be referring to as a guideline to being reformed? He thinks that to be reformed, one must be a paedo-baptists and rejects the 1689 as a reformed confession. He doesn’t even think Keach was reformed because he was a baptist. I think Clark carries it to the other extreme. Even an <a href="http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=157"ordained OPC minister seems to think so.

  2. Opps that link is suppose to be here

  3. Jade. I am a Particular Baptist. I agree with Clark. I wrote a blog defending him. He is historically correct.

    Don’t be alarmed. Be honest.

    R. Martin Snyder

    http://www.puritanboard.com/blogs/puritancovenanter/316-covenantal-baptists-reformed-historical-understanding-reformed-theology.html

  4. This is an interesting, and necessary, if somewhat difficult discussion. I am frankly torn by an One The One Hand – One The Other Hand persepective.

    So, On The One Hand…

    In my personal experience, I would say that the definition of Reformed has increasingly been reduced to meaning simply “Calvinist soteriology” – note, I did not say TULIP, as that would be too optimistic. This is even in churches who “hold to” the 1689 Confession. On more than one occasion, I have been left wondering whether the men in question have ever read the Confession, or comprehend its contents, or realize that their own views radically differ at points of great substance (hmm, maybe it’s a Van Tillian paradox).

    An example: one Baptist church in my area professes to hold to the 1689 “with a few minor exceptions.” Er, turns out they are premillenial, pretribulational rapturists who advocate a Dispensational view of Israel. Now, kick me if I’m wrong, but seems to me the relation of church and Israel is one of the principle headings of Reformed theology, and is deeply entwined with many layers of what has historically been called Reformed.

    There is also a trend I’ve observed in which the word Reformed is used as an adjective in front of things that are, well, not Reformed, as if to “sanctify” them.

    An example: The US now has a denomination which professes to be Reformed Charismatic, whose leader believes that he holds the office of apostle, and whose definitions of what the gifts are is taken directly from 20th century Pentecostalism. The “apostle” at the top is a frequent guest on the national Reformed conference circuit. This begs the question, can Reformed simply be grafted on to anything?

    But, On The Other Hand…

    I wonder whether the statement: “To be reformed is…adhering to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith…to all 32 Chapters” is perhaps going a bit too far.

    Chapter 26.4 says: “…the Pope of Rome…is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition…whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.”

    I happen to agree with this statement, but I would have a very hard time declaring someone to be “not Reformed” simply because they did not believe the Pope of Rome to be the big-A antichrist of Revelation/Thessalonians.

    But the big “On The Other Hand” is alluded to by Jade, above. Reformed Baptists have already made a radical change in the covenant theology of the Reformed confessions – redefining the visible church, and the nature of the covenant of grace. This is not a mere debate over the regulative principle. The difference between credo and paedo is a difference over the very nature of God’s covenants, of His promises, of His relationship to His people, in both Old and New administration. It is a core difference which deeply affects exegesis of wide swaths of Scripture, and core aspects of theology – subtracting “and their seed” from “believers” is no minor change, and was certainly not viewed as one by the 16th or 17th century Reformed.

    A Reformed paedobaptist like Clark would argue that this alteration in Reformation theology is so profound that it renders the result “not Reformed,” much the same way that RBs have argued against NCT (though the comparison fails in a way, as most NCT don’t even claim to be Reformed).

    So the question is this: Is it fair, consistent, or even rational, to insist that 1689LBC Baptists be included in the definition of Reformed, in spite of a huge departure from the historic Reformed confessions, while simultaneously arguing that anyone who deviates from the 1689 cannot be, er, Reformed…?

    This is not a trick question. I struggle with this issue of definition myself.

    Finally, on a lighter note, we cannot pass without mentioning the Lutheran definition. Old-School Lutherans had only three categories: Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed. This is not because they thought everyone outside Lutheranism subscribed to the theology we call Reformed, but because their opinion of the Reformed was so low that they regarded it as a catch-all phrase to include not merely what we would call Reformed, but also the Anabaptists, the Quakers, and sectaries of every kind. Now that’s a wide definition of Reformed.

  5. I greatly appreciate your candor David. As a RB these are things we do need to wrestle with. Westminster West with R Scott Clark and Michael Horton, good men, yet paedobaptists, are not enthusiastic about calling RB’s Reformed at all. We need to accept that and get on with our lives.

    If Reformed historically means being a Presbyterian and adhering to the WCF then RB’s are not Reformed so what? I believe our Confession was written to show our catholicity with our Presbyterian and Congregationalist cousins but not to show we are ‘Reformed’ per se. I do not believe it was a 17th Century debate like it is a 21st Century one. I am happy to be corrected on that point.

    I would call for RB’s to stop pursuing the need for ‘full acceptance’ amongst Presbyterians and the need to be ‘accepted’ as ‘Reformed’ by those who are never going to accept it and to be comfortable with that.

    If we are pursuing the fulfilment of Ephesians 4 with all this debate and discussion then good, if we are simply living in a little world of talking to ourselves endlessly about whose passport is the real one, shame on us. Satan is having a right laugh.

    Fear seems to be governing some of us rather than faith. I am confident on the final day we are all in for a shock with regards to what really mattered to our King and we ardently claimed mattered. Will Christ not measure us according to His word? What will His verdict be about baptism and the church? Reformed according to WCF? or Biblical according to NT? As a RB my answer is self-evident.

  6. I would not think that Calvin, Luther or the Puritans would agree that Reformed = Covenant Theology. The problem is that people are making up their own definition of ‘Reformed’ these days. Presbyterians don’t have a trademark on the term Reformed.

    This explains why so many churches are simply calling themselves Bible Churches these days. These churches are typically Calvinistic Baptists with a Dispensational theology, yet do not like being labeled Reformed. Now I understand why.

    princeton.edu stats Reformed (of or relating to the body of Protestant Christianity arising during the Reformation; used of some Protestant churches especially Calvinist as distinct from Lutheran)

    wikipedia says The Reformed churches are a group of Christian Protestant denominations formally characterized by a similar Calvinist system of doctrine, historically related to the churches that first arose especially in the Swiss Reformation led by Huldrych Zwingli and soon afterward appeared in nations throughout Western and Central Europe.

    Was Spurgeon reformed? Was John Owen?

    Next thing you know, we won’t be able to use the word Calvinistic either, unless you agree with everything Calvin wrote in his commentaries (amillenial, etc.)

  7. Robert I completely agree with you. We need to learn what we can from Clark and forget the rest. However, names and title do matter – just asked someone who has had their identity stolen!

    While I may disagree with Clark about what is the sine qua non of what it means to be Reformed, I am thankful for his clear stand and unambiguous convictions.

    Reformed Baptist as a moniker is quickly becoming meaningless because it now used so often unhinged from our confessional commitments. Perhaps this is not a big deal to many, but when the sign in front of your place of worship displays the term Reformed Baptist, it is hard not to noticed a loss of clarity on what that name communicates.

  8. I enjoyed getting to meet Pastor Oliver at a pastors’ fraternal in Sacramento in January of this year. I appreciate some of the concerns he raised in his address to the IRBS students (and I liked the catchy title and play on Bob Dylan’s lyrics). Particularly, I agree that

    (1) We should strive for clarity in defining who we are. That is, when we use the phrase “Reformed Baptist,” we should be carefully to explain what we mean and do not mean by that designation. We should also expect others to do the same.

    (2) We should not adopt a postmodern hermeneutic that sees all truth as relative and that locates meaning entirely in the eye of the beholder or reader.

    (3) That a healthy Christianity and, therefore, a sound Reformed Baptist faith and practice is one that not only affirms sola Scriptura but that also publicly confesses its faith to the world and to the church. In other words, I join Jeff in advocating a confessional Christianity.

    In addition to these points of agreement, I have a few caveats (or, perhaps, a need for clarification on a few points):

    (1) Words (or phrases) are defined primarily by usage and usage is not limited to one period of history or geographical location. I think we all recognize this tenet of “descriptive linguistics” and employ it in our exegesis. But sometimes we don’t carry over the same linguistic principles in the debate over religious nomenclature. As Michael pointed out above (6th comment), the term “Reformed” has broader semantic range in today’s usage than that it may have had in the 17th century. Shifts in the semantic range of terminology are not necessarily unethical or sinful. The term “Lutheran,” for instance, at first had a broader semantic range. It later developed a narrower range of meaning because of usage. So whether we like it or not words are “a-changin’.” That’s just the way language works. So I think we’re wasting our time trying to secure a patent for the nomenclature “Reformed Baptist,” which limits it to 1689ers. Instead, we should focus our energies on arguing for the biblical doctrines and practices that we believe our religious heritage has, by God’s grace, correctly understood and articulated. Here I agree with Robby Briggs’ remarks.

    (2) I think Pastor Oliver should provide a more nuanced description of Postmodernism. While we should agree that truth itself is not relative or person-variable, we should not affirm that the specific linguistic modes in which said truth is communicated are unchanging. This relates to the point I made above. Languages do change through time. “Nice” once meant “ignorant” but now means something like “kind, agreeable, or pleasant.” The change in the usage of this term does not necessarily betray some kind of postmodern relativism. Pastor Oliver may agree, but I felt his placing in juxtaposition of the undeniable fact that some folks today use the term “Reformed” in ways that others in the past have not together with Postmodern philosophy can potentially mislead the reader to think that changes in language must of necessity be connected with an unbiblical worldview. This gives the appearance of a “guilt by association” argument, which may not have been Pastor Oliver’s intent. But I think it would be helpful if he provided greater clarity and nuance here.

    (3) To say that “[Reformed] is clearly defined in our Confessional Standards as they are historically understood” is fine if one is interested in providing others with the 17th century usage of the term. Few would debate that those who framed the 17th century Puritan confessions identified themselves (or were identified by others) as “Reformed” and that they intended the confessions to reflect their beliefs and practices. But to argue that we today must (1) remain “Reformed” and that we must (2) only understand that term “as historically understood [i.e., its 17th century usage]” is the first step towards an unbiblical traditionalism. Our own 1689 forbids us from elevating it to a kind of deutero-canonical status (1.10). We may never “add or subtract” from God’s word, but we certainly may and at times should “add or subtract” from our 17th century confession. What is more, the 1689 mandates that we proclaim and confess the truth of Scripture in the common man’s language (1.8). For this reason, I have argued elsewhere that it’s time to revise our confession (see “The Danger of Reformed Traditionalism, Part II”). Or perhaps it’s time to write a new confession. Even Dr. Clark agrees that being truly confessional is not equivalent to keeping our confessions beyond the reach of revision. In fact, in RRC he calls his Reformed brothers to formulate a new confession.

    In closing, I would encourage my RB brothers to focus less energy on defending extra-biblical nomenclature and more energy on proclaiming and defending from the Bible those truths highlighted by our Reformed forefathers. Moreover, I would also encourage my RB brothers not to view the 1689 as THE paradigm of NT Christianity. It’s a good summary and follows most of the biblical contours quite well. But it’s not perfect. Indeed, I think it fails seriously to highlight adequately the church’s commission to engage in evangelistic and missionary outreach, a concern I’ve addressed in the article I linked above, as well as in a series “Giving Proper Due to the People in the Pew: A Biblical Defense of Lay-Ministry and Lay-Evangelism.” If we fail to address this deficiency in our confession we (or our children) run the risk of another danger:

    “The Tradition It’s A-Stayin’: The Great Commission Adrift Amidst Siren Calls for 1689ism.”

    Once again, I do want to affirm my appreciation for some of the concerns Jeff raises in his article. I hope the few caveats I raised will not obscure my love for him as a brother and my appreciation for his zeal for truth as well as his concern that our churches maintain doctrinal and practical integrity.

    Bob Gonzales, Dean
    Reformed Baptist Seminary

  9. Excellent commentary, Bob (and Robert, too).

    There is a point at the conclusion of Oliver’s article that raised my eyebrows a bit, and I thought either or both of you might be able to comment on whether this is a common RB practice.

    Oliver says, “Have not all reformed churches and their ministers and elders fully subscribed their confessional standards before God, swearing to uphold, teach and defend the same?

    If so, are they all not morally obligated to be confessional according to their theological standards?”

    Confessional subscriptionism in ordination – swearing under oath to uphold a particular confession of faith – is certainly a historic Presbyterian and continental Reformed practice, but I must say I was I somewhat surprised to discover that it was being practiced by RBs.

    Based on my readings of early Baptists (and I am more than willing to be enlightened here; this is jut what I have read, and inferred from those readings), oath-based confessional subscriptionism in ordination seems highly unlikely.

    I have discovered little information about ordination practice amongst Puritan Baptists, except that they didn’t like to call it ordination, but I have a hard time imagining American colonial and revolutionary Baptists doing it, if only from personality. Of course they had confessions, and John Leland wrote against the self-contradicting irony of the early Cambellite “no creed” position, but he would have frankly laughed you out of the room, I think, if you suggested that as part of ordination, he was required to swear, under oath, to “uphold, teach, and defend” any particular creed written by men. (In Leland’s Collected Writings, there happens to be an ordination charge he delivered – it is profound and convicting, but makes no reference to any kind of confessional subscriptionism. I am preparing it for posting, and it should be up on my site in a day or two).

    In Presbyterian circles, subscriptionism has mitigated against revision (how can you suggest altering something you are bound by oath to uphold?), and led to the practice of “taking exceptions” during ordination, to the point that one TR Presby friend of mine, in referring to a large US conservative Presbyterian body, has said that the only person who has difficulty being ordained is one who doesn’t take exception to large parts of the WCC, as he is immediately branded suspicious, and likely a divisive troublemaker by the presbyteries (which are filled with men who have taken exceptions!).

    Anyway, my question is, Do you know if confessional subscriptionism is a widespread or typical practice in RB ordination? Did either of you “subscribe” to anything as part of your own ordinations?

  10. David,

    Excellent question. I cannot speak for the practice of other Reformed Baptist churches. But in the church where I presently service, we do identify the 1689 LBCF as our official confession of faith. While we don’t require all our members to subscribe fully to this confession, we do expect subscription from the officers of the church. When I was ordained, I was asked to respond affirmatively to the following two questions:

    1. Do you promise before God and this congregation to uphold in your ministry the inerrancy and supreme authority of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament scriptures?

    2. Can you before God and this congregation affirm that you regard the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (allowing the exception of the assertions regarding the salvation of the mentally incompetent [Ch. 10,para.3] and the identity of the antichrist [Ch. 26, para. 4]) to be an excellent, though not inspired, expression of the teaching of God’s Word and do you pledge to uphold it as the doctrinal confession of this church?

    3. Do you promise before God and this congregation that if you should at any time be no longer able in good conscience to hold these positions that you will immediately make that known to the other elder or elders of this church in an orderly non-divisive manner?

    I would classify this as an oath. But I think it’s important to note that in this case the pastor is being asked to

    (1) Affirm the Scriptures as the ultimate religious authority and the Confession as a subordinate authority.

    (2) Affirm the 2LBCF as an excellent expression (or summary) of the teaching of God’s word.

    (3) Affirm a commitment to uphold the 2LBCF as the doctrinal standard of the church.

    (4) Let the other officers and congregation know if one cannot uphold the 2LBCF as the doctrinal standard of the church.

    I can still affirm (1) and (2). I’m also committed to uphold the 2LBCF as the doctrinal standard of my church though I do have a few reservations and/or caveats related to the confession. I have informed my fellow officers and church of my concerns related to (1) the antiquated language of the 1689, (2) some significant omissions in the 1689 (e.g., evangelism and missions), and (3) a few areas where I think better wording could remove doctrinal ambiguity and imprecision. I guess one could view these caveats as “exceptions” I take to the confession. My fellow officers and congregation have not viewed my caveats as significant enough to constitute a departure from “the things most surely believed among us” or as a breaking of my ministerial oath.

    Hope this helps.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales, Dean
    Reformed Baptist Seminary

  11. Dr Lloyd-Jones wrote somewhere that all organizations eventually become the opposite of what they were when they originally started. In church life we can immediately think of the Anglicans, Methodists, PCUSA, Church of Scotland, not a few Baptist churches and even the Doctor’s own Westminster Chapel.

    The only antidote to this is Confessionalism, but even this is not enough. It is a fact that most Presbyterian churches in England were utterly apostate within two generations of the WCF being written. The Confession that is adopted in a church must be rigorously enforced; in respect of the 1689, that especially means observance of Chapter XXII. It is here IMHO that the rot first sets into a church as entertainment is substituted for worship.

    Steve Owen
    http://www.marprelate.wordpress.com

  12. Steve,

    I think Confessions are important and can help to keep churches on course. I appreciate and agree with your remark that Confessionalism by itself is not enough to prevent a church or denomination from slipping into spiritual decay and eventually heterodoxy. I think you’re correct, as history has demonstrated.

    I wonder, though, whether history supports the contention that “the rot first sets into a church as entertainment is substituted for worship.” I don’t question this because I’m in favor of replacing worship with entertainment. It would seem to me, however, that the desire for entertainment as a replacement for worship is indicative of a deeper problem, namely, an unregenerate heart. Accordingly, I’m inclined to think that the best protection against spiritual decay, heterodoxy, and, to address your concern, false worship, is the maintenance of one’s commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture (the real foundation of our faith), the one true gospel of Jesus Christ, and the cultivation of experimental Christianity–where the gospel is not merely articulated correctly in the church’s creed but its power is experienced by the church’s members.

    Just some passing thoughts.

    Bob G.

  13. […] September 22, 2009 by Reformed Joe The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Confessionalism Adrift Amid the Siren Cries for Relevancy – Pa… […]

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