Against “Gospel Services”
I have read with very close personal interest the ongoing discussion of Sunday evening gospel services (Standard Bearer, Nov. 1, 2003; Feb. 1, 2004; April 1, 2004). With regard to this subject I make a few comments. Let me first say that I am a part of the mission work in Spokane, WA. My background is Arminian, and “Reformed Baptist.” I am very familiar with the type of sermon that Rev. Stewart warns about in his letter (SB, Feb. 1, 2004). I greatly appreciated that warning. It is simply a fact that such “gospel” preaching will in fact lead to potted gospel preaching with an invitation tacked on the end addressed to the unbeliever.
The argument is made that we ought not reject something that is legitimate simply because it can be abused. This is true of many things, e.g., the drinking of alcohol. There are many who have used alcohol in a right way their whole life and never sunk into the excess of drunkenness.
But the fact is that without one exception history has proved that measures and procedures like Sunday evening gospel services adopted by the church lead to full-blown Arminianism and then modernism. This was the decline of the Presbyterian church and greatly contributed to their embrace of the free offer and common grace. Therefore, we are not talking about a knee jerk reaction to change. Our objections have a firm and undeniable basis in the objective facts of history. It requires a certain unintended arrogance to think that we could do much better.
In addition, as has been brought out, we need to be careful about confusing personal witness with preaching in the established church on the Lord’s Day. Although it is not the intent to preach to a mixed group, to be baptistic and individualistic, yet it will become just that. Many of the passages in Scripture that have an emphasis on responsibility are instances of personal witness or what you would almost have to call street preaching. But those texts are few, and there is a different way entirely that Jesus and the apostles preach when in the synagogue or the formal worship of the New Testament church. Baptists and evangelicals preach to the church as though they are unbelievers. Reformed preaching does not do so, as has been pointed out by both Prof. Hanko and Rev. Stewart. This does not mean that when a text explicitly warrants it that the call to repent does not go forth.
It is because God sees His church organically that we do not in any way or degree alter or shape the service around unbelievers. I must agree with Prof. Hanko that this places an undue emphasis on human effort. The implication is that there is a gospel for unbelievers and a gospel for believers. Speaking as a man who has no “Reformed” in his generations, I can say that the strength of the churches is that they are completely different in worship, particularly in the element of preaching.
Because this is the strength of our churches, we must not treat the mission field any different than we would the established church. The preaching, especially catechism, exclusive psalmody, and our stance on all of the difficult issues such as marriage and divorce must be firmly implemented from the inception of the work. We ought compromise nothing. The church order must stand. All of these things are the gospel. By God’s working, they are repugnant to some, but are irresistible to others. We are called to walk by faith. I can remember losing many people over the issue of marriage and divorce, who expressed the desire to be members. But there were some who were in that situation drawn by the faithful preaching of the hard truths. Implicit in all the preaching here in Spokane is the call to repent without that call being artificially tacked on at the end.
I agree with Prof. Hanko that God is indeed putting a roof on His house here in America. America is simply not Singapore. There are very few people in this country who have not in some fashion or other been confronted by Christianity and some form of the gospel. If there are yet burning brands to be plucked from the fire, God will do so by our faithful witness in word and deed and by the same preaching that goes on from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day in our established churches. If He does not use those means, then we must humbly confess that there never was an open door.
Educating the Church
Thank you for the May 15 article, “Ecclesiology: The Study of the Church.” We live in central Missouri, which is impoverished of Reformed churches. We must drive an hour and fifteen minutes to our PCA church in Union. On the way we pass three or four liberal PC/USA and UCC churches.
A neighbor puts pressure on us to participate in a “home fellowship” instead. He derides the instituted church.
The Standard Bearer article helped confirm our feelings that we do belong with the body of believers in the place where we are. The PCA is not perfect, but it is all we have here, and we are blessed to have some great believers with whom to worship and learn. Magazines like yours help educate the church as a whole, wherever it is, and I am glad we subscribe to it.
Lewis and Katrinka Goldberg
Difficult and Dangerous Area
I have just finished reading your defense of amillennialism in connection with my preparing to teach the book of Revelation in our church (Standard Bearer, Jan. 15, 1995 — Dec. 15, 1996). I thank you for your efforts in this most difficult and dangerous area for the church.
Your position struck home with me for the first time in many readings of that difficult book of the Bible, Revelation.
I am a ruling elder in a PCA church and went to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, where postmillennialism reigned.
If you can point me to any new studies or readings in amillennialism, I would most appreciate the help.
Again, thanks for the very well-done arguments.
Southern Pines, NC
The articles defending amillennialism with several preliminary chapters criticizing postmillennialism as “Jewish Dreams” and several concluding chapters examining “preterism” have been published as a book, Christ’s Spiritual Kingdom: A Defense of Reformed Amillennialism. The book is available from the publisher: The Reformed Witness, 1307 E. Brockton Ave., Redlands, CA 92374 (e-mail: email@example.com).
In a study of Revelation, be sure to read Herman Hoeksema’s outstanding commentary on Revelation, Behold, he Cometh!: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation. The book can be obtained from the Reformed Free Publishing Association, 4949 Ivanrest Ave. SW, Wyoming, MI 49418 (e-mail: mail@ rfpa.org).
I am just now reading the newest Standard Bearer (June, 2004), and I want to add my words to those of Dr. Carl Bogue: your series on “Covenantal Universalism” (aka “the Auburn Avenue Theology” or “Shepherdism”) is superb.
I would like to know if there are plans to put the entire series into a booklet, or book format.
I would dearly love to have the series in an accessible format, to hand out to my congregation and my fellow pastors.
(Dr.) Charles H. Roberts
Pastor, Ballston Center Associate Reformed church
Ballston Spa, NY
Were You There?
I was handed a copy of the April 15, 2004 issue of the Standard Bearer a few weeks ago to read. It was my first introduction to the magazine.
Having recently attended the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s spring conference in March where this year’s topic was the covenant and a critique of the so-called Auburn Avenue Theology, I found your article to be helpful and very much to the point. I do have one question, followed by a comment on another article.
In the article on “Covenantal Universalism” on page 317, far right column, you make mention of the proponents of this movement and include the name of Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). I have always associated Dr. Gaffin as a proponent of redemptive historical preaching but not with that of “covenantal universalism.” Would you please provide me with specific references from Mr. Gaffin’s books and his other publications where you believe he sets forth covenantal universalism?
In your review article “The Account of a Fallen Seminary and a ‘Falling’ Church” on page 321, middle column, you state, “God’s judgment already falls heavily on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The 2003 General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church approved the doctrine of justification by faith and works.” I simply ask you, Sir, were you present at the 2003 Assembly of the OPC? I am assuming you were not, even as O. Palmer Robertson and John W. Robbins were not present either. I simply find it astounding that non-attendees have the audacity to make judgments about another denomination when they were neither present for the entire presentation of the case, did not have in their possession all the documents, were not privy to the debate or the discussion, yet will boldly declare that the OPC teaches justification by faith and works. Ken Ham of the Answers in Genesis organization always makes it a point to ask, “Were you there?” to those who pontificate that the days of creation were something other than literal, sequential 24 hours.
What is missing from your review is firsthand reporting. Contrary to Messrs. Robertson, Robbins, and Engelsma’s absence, I was there and I read the volumes of material, listened intently to the presentation of the case, its discussion, and debate on the matter. In my opinion (and apparently in the majority opinion of the Assembly) I judged that the presbytery bringing charges failed to make their case against Mr. Kinnaird. Mr. Kinnaird affirmed audibly and publicly that he does not hold to the doctrine of faith plus works to which he was charged. He audibly affirmed his commitment to justification by faith alone. To specific questions drawn from our Standards he wholeheartedly affirmed justification by faith alone.
The OPC does not advocate nor does it teach justification by works. Contrary to your middle paragraph, the OPC does indeed uphold the Scripture’s (and the Westminster Standard’s) teaching that justification is by faith alone.
It bothers me when secular media do not get it right; however, there is no excuse for such reporting in the body of Christ.
(Rev.) Peter Stazen II
I was not present at the 2003 General Assembly of the OPC.
Neither was I present at the Council of Trent.
Absence from the General Assembly no more disqualifies me from judging the decisions of the OPC than absence from Trent disqualifies me from judging the decisions of Rome at that council.
I have the documents. I have the appeal to the General Assembly of the OPC containing the statements teaching justification by faith and works by the disciple of Norman Shepherd. I also have the decision of the 2003 General Assembly of the OPC approving the heretical statements of the disciple of Shepherd and the theology of Norman Shepherd they propound.
Does Rev. Stazen require that Ken Ham have been there, in order to pronounce on the days of creation?
As for the teacher’s protestations of his orthodoxy on the floor of the assembly (for which I take Rev. Stazen’s word, not having been there), since Mr. Kinnaird refused to confess the error of his heretical statements, and his own sin in teaching them to the congregation, his profession of soundness means nothing. Many a Roman Catholic theologian at Trent loudly professed to believe salvation by grace alone, as he was adopting the heresy of salvation by the will and works of the sinner.
Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.’s name was included in a list of those who “publicly espouse” or “vigorously defend and promote” the heresy of which Rev. Norman Shepherd is the leading, but by no means only, proponent in reputedly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The sentence is this: “Among those who publicly espouse and teach covenantal universalism, or vigorously defend and promote it, are, in addition to Rev. Shepherd … Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., of the OPC” (SB, April 15, 2004, p. 317).
Dr. Gaffin was the main defender of Prof. Shepherd at Westminster Seminary in the late 1970s and early 1980s (see Mark W. Karlberg, “The Changing of the Guard: Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia,” Trinity Foundation, 2001, pp. 28-30, and O. Palmer Robertson, The Current Justification Controversy, Trinity Foundation, 2003, pp. 27, 28, 46).
Dr. Gaffin recommended Norman Shepherd’s denial of justification by faith alone, attack on all the doctrines of grace, and defense of universal, conditional, resistible grace in the covenant in Shepherd’s recent book, The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism (P&R, 2000). This is what Gaffin says on the back cover of the book:
This lucid and highly readable study provides valuable instruction on what it means to live in covenant with God. God’s covenant is the only way of life that fully honors both the absolute, all-embracing sovereignty of his saving grace and the full, uninhibited activity of his people. The Call of Grace should benefit anyone concerned about biblical growth in Christian life and witness.
According to reliable reports, which Rev. Stazen will verify, since he was there, Dr. Gaffin was one of the most energetic and powerful defenders of Mr. Kinnaird and his false doctrine at the 2003 General Assembly of the OPC.
Vigorously to defend and promote a false teaching renders one as guilty of the false doctrine as does teaching it oneself.
Rev. Stazen’s quotation of my statement, “God’s judgment already falls heavily on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” without any reference to what precedes in the review article, makes me wonder whether he understands the statement. The decision of the 2003 General Assembly of the OPC approving justification by faith and works is God’s judgment upon the OPC. The judicial ground of the judgment is the refusal of Westminster Seminary and the Philadelphia Presbytery of the OPC to condemn the heretical theology of Prof. Norman Shepherd in the 1970s and early 1980s. This deliberate refusal of Westminster Seminary and of the Philadelphia Presbytery of the OPC was the emphasis of my review article. About this refusal, Rev. Stazen says not a word. Why not?
Rev. Stazen affirms that the OPC upholds justification by faith alone.
Rev. Stazen is wrong.
The OPC had the opportunity and calling to uphold justification by faith alone, in the face of attack on that cardinal truth of the gospel, both in the 1970s and early 1980s in the Shepherd case at Westminster Seminary and in 2003 at its General Assembly. It miserably failed. “The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle” (Ps. 78:9). The OPC has let the glorious gospel-truth of justification by faith alone fall to the ground.
This is bad enough. But matters are far worse for the OPC. By the refusal of Westminster Seminary and the Philadelphia Presbytery of the OPC to condemn the theology of Norman Shepherd and by the decision of the 2003 General Assembly of the OPC upholding the appeal of Mr. Kinnaird, the OPC approves the false doctrine of justification by faith and works. Its official creed to the contrary is now a dead letter.
In accordance with Martin Luther’s declaration that justification by faith alone is the article of a standing and a falling church, which is the teaching of Galatians, the OPC is a “falling church.”