Tale of Two Calvins

This is my obligatory Calvin 500th birthday post

The occasion of Calvin’s 500th Birthday has led to competing “celebrations” of Calvin’s life and work in Geneva over the last week. One led by WARC, WCC, and other “mainline” organizations that featured such speakers as  Clifton Kirkpatrick, former Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) (read some his thoughts on Calvin here ) and Setri Nyomi, Pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana (He is quoted as saying Calvin would have been for furthering Marxist ideals in society). The other is being backed by NAPARC and other more “conservative” Reformed and Presbyterian Groups (see their website here). So much so that they were required to “share” venues in Calvin’s adopted town. One celebrates the Calvin read through the eyes of Modern Liberalism and Neo-Orthodoxy (read here: Liberation Theology and Karl Barth) and the other allows the John Calvin of 16th-Century Geneva speak for himself (no bias here).  It makes one wonder if both sides are celebrating the same man or each have developed, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer’s quip about the 19th-Century “Quest for the Historical Jesus”, a Calvin that looks, breathes, and thinks like a reincarnated version of themselves.


As an example here is a Calvin article on a doctrine John Calvin vigorously defended that the Neo-Orthodox and Liberationists would have to and do deal gymnastically with:

On Limited Atonement:

Dr. Roger Nicole Deftly and Carefully Turns Away the Thoughts of R.T. Kendall on Calvin’s Thoughts on the Extent of the Atonement.

For those unaware R.T. Kendall wrote one of the oft quoted books concerning the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” discussion. In other words it is Kendall’s these that specifically the Westminster Divines (and their Confession of Faith) “bastardized” John Calvin and made him out to believe things he never believed. Dr. Nicole here takes apart Kendell’s thesis. (Also be sure to check out Paul Helm’s two books (Find them here and here) and Richard Muller’s book on the same subject here) that also show Kendall to be quite incorrect in his thoughts concerning Calvin and Westminster)

Thursday Reading, Day 1

“In answer to [those doubting the historicity of the Patriarchs] various constructions we must first of all emphasize that the historicity of the patriarchs can never be, to us, a matter of small importance.” — Biblical Theology, pg. 67 Geerhardus Vos

Three-Offices of the Church Part One

Why I Came to a Three-Office View

Mark R. Brown

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 4, no. 1 (January 1995)

Many readers of this magazine rightly hold the memory of Bob Atwell in high regard. In 1978 the venerable Mr. Atwell asked me a church government question as part of my presbytery ordination exams: “Do you hold to three offices or two offices in the church today?” I answered naively that I was not yet sure to which position I held. Because of very limited exposure during seminary days to the issues involved in this debate, I had not yet come to any firm convictions on this subject. As I began my church planting labors in Hollidaysburg, PA, I used the few modern booklets on Presbyterian officers that were available and taught the popular two-office view. Only later as controversy erupted in the session would I come to realize that some elements of the current literature were in conflict with our Orthodox Presbyterian Church Form of Government.

The works of Thornwell are highly respected in conservative Presbyterian circles. He said, “Presbyterianism stands or falls with the distinction between ruling and teaching elders.”[1]

All Presbyterian two-office views recognize some distinction between preachers and other presbyters. That is why Presbyterian two-office views are often labeled “2-1/2” office views because they recognize two different functions (teaching and ruling) within their office of elder.[2]

Tensions developed at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania when several of our elders pushed two-office views that allowed for no distinctions of function within the office. I had always taught parity in governing; now these men took it to mean equality in all functions. To recognize distinctions in calling and functions between the pastor and other elders was seen by them as evidence of clericalism, hierarchy, and arrogance. For example, the dissident elders were offended when I would encourage young men to consider a call to the ministry. To them this was a put down. They felt I was falsely assuming ministerial prerogatives to myself. They wanted a rotating pulpit, and the right to baptize, administer communion, and bless the people on the basis of their calling as elders. They were offended that a pastor must be present to conduct session meetings. They preferred to talk of the eldership rather than the session (consisting of a pastor and the ruling elders). I was to be seen as one of the elders. We were all the elder/ pastors of the church.[3]

As our session studied the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Form of Government the opposition of the dissident elders to Presbyterian views hardened. They presented this false choice to the whole session: “Are we going to follow the Bible or the Form of Government?” Our session tried very hard to bring compromise and resolution by using Larry Wilson’s excellent article from Ordained Servant entitled “How Many Offices are There?” It clearly sets forth the Presbyterian boundaries of office. The dissidents would not agree that preaching was distinct from ruling. They would not agree that ruling elders could serve who did not teach publicly. They wanted all elders to be preachers. In essence their position was similar to the Plymouth Brethren. They created a new office of local lay preachers and rulers all simply called elders. Of course, this view falls outside the bounds of our presbyterian standards since it disposes of both our preachers and rulers. A helpful analogy to this situation comes from the field of eschatology. Reformed churches allow for pre-, post-, and a-millennial interpretations while rejecting the dispensational premillennial view as being outside the bounds of the Reformed confessions. In like manner our Orthodox Presbyterian Church Form of Government allows both a teaching elder/ ruling elder and a minister/ruling elder framework within our standards while the lay eldership view is clearly beyond our bounds.

Why did this spirit of envy and rivalry develop in our session? I am convinced that it is due to the current confounding of the offices in popular Presbyterian presentations. Where the offices of minister and ruling elder are not clearly defined and distinguished, tensions do develop within sessions. There has been controversy throughout Presbyterian history about the precise relation of the ruling elder to the minister.

The 2-1/2 office view is a mediating view that is both inconsistent and ambiguous. The strict two-office men here rejected it as merely a variant of the three-office view. In trying to respond to the objections of these two-office men, I found solid answers as I discovered the historic three-office position. Charles Dennison encouraged me to gather a book of essays on this subject for the benefit of the whole church. That is the genesis of the new book Order in the Offices: Essays Defining the Roles of Church Officers. In addition to some 19th century reprints from Campbell, Smyth, and Hodge, the book consists of new essays by eight Orthodox Presbyterian Church and two Presbyterian Church of America ministers. Our conclusion is that the classic three-office Presbyterian structure of ministers, elders, and deacons better expresses the biblical framework of church office than does the current two functions within an eldership view.[4]

We often hear the popular phrase that “all Christians are ministers.” Of course we do not believe that all Christians are preachers, rulers, or ministers of mercy. The word minister (deacon) has both general and special usages. So does the word elder (presbyter). The great mistake of the two-office people is in making an across the board equation of the word elder (presbyter) with the ruling elder in all the biblical passages. Elder sometimes refers to an older man, sometimes to a governor or elder of the people, and sometimes to a bishop or pastor. Many in our day just assume an equation between the ruling elder and the bishop. Do not most Presbyterians today read ruling elders into Acts 20 and I Tim. 3? That is not the view of Calvin and other classic Presbyterian interpreters as Steve Miller and Jeff Boer point out in their essays in Order in the Offices.[5]

The question of ordination is highly relevant to the number of offices. The word office itself is not a biblical term. In common parlance an office is either a function or a position. It can be either a task or a role. By either definition our standards are three-office in orientation, as are the standards of the Presbyterian Church in America.[6] Our form of government defines an office as “a publicly recognized function” (p. 17). Note that in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church men are not ordained to the eldership. They are ordained to an office: deacon, ruling elder, or minister (p. 73). I have never been good at math, but I count three offices there. The sacred office (position) and the work of preaching the gospel (function) are not equated with the eldership. The ministry of the gospel is not a subdivision of the eldership but is a distinct calling common to all Protestant denominations. The minister is not an elder who teaches but a preacher who also governs. Out standards present three discreet ordinations with three special gifts: teaching, ruling, and serving (p. 17). There are three ordinary offices for the ministry of the Word, rule and mercy. (p. 18).

To speak of two offices within the office of the eldership is an illogical use of language. But, as Dr. Clowney reminds us, the essence of the matter is not the number of offices but whether all who rule in the church must have gifts for public ministry of the Word. Three-office views prevent clericalism and preserve the importance of the office of ruling elder in all the courts of the church. Nothing I have said is in any way meant to demean the godly, wise, and respected men who have been called to the office of ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (p. 34). I highly value the many godly ruling elders who share in the government and discipline of the church. With Thomas Smyth I would say:

…ought not ruling elders to be very thankful to us for defending them from the imposition upon them of clerical titles, clerical office, clerical duties, and clerical responsibilities? We think so for who among them could endure to be clothed with the pastoral office without education, fitness, desire, or opportunity for it—without, in short, a call to the ministry.[7]

In our congregation (and in many others with whom I am familiar from correspondence, both within and without the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) the ambiguous two-office view leads to tensions and strife among the officers. May I encourage you to take some time to read Calvin’s Commentaries on the key office passages, Charles Hodge’s three essays on office, and above all Thomas Smyth’s “Theories of the Eldership I and II.” Smyth is to the subject of church officers what Geerhardus Vos is to biblical theology.

I believe Robert Rayburn is right when he says that the two-office view is the opinion of the majority in our circles today. However, many have never studied a positive defense of the classic three-office position. Order in the Offices is the first major book-length presentation of the three-office view since the works of Hodge and Smyth over 100 years ago. Before you reject our classic three-office Presbyterian heritage, please give it some thoughtful consideration. I would also be glad to personally respond to correspondence from any of you on this subject.

[1] Thornwell’s Works, Vol 4, p. 125.

[2] Thornwell and Dabney are actually much closer to classic three-office views than to contemporary two-office views. See the Annotated Bibliography of Order in the Offices for references to their views on office.

[3] See Greg Reynold’s essay in Order in the Offices and Nathan Hatch’s book The Democratization of American Christianity on the development of egalitarian views about American church officers.

[4] All readers of Ordained Servant may obtain a copy of Order in the Offices at the special price of $10.00 postpaid from Classic Presbyterian Government Resources, 807 Peachdale Lane, Duncansville, PA 16635.

[5] Steve Miller writes on “The New Testament Warrant of the Minister of the Word” and Jeff Boer writes on “Calvin’s View of the Teaching Elder-Ruling Elder Distinction.”

[6] See Robert S. Rayburn’s essay on “Ministers, Elders, and Deacons” in Order in the Offices for evidence that the Presbyterian Church in America, as well as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is basically three-office in orientation.

[7] From the essay “The Forgotten Thomas Smyth,” p. 116 in Order in the Offices.

Revelation 14:2 and Musical Instruments in Worship

One of the verses I see most quoted in the arguments surrounding the propriety of using Musical Instruments in stated corporate worship is Revelation 14:2. This verse is used by many of the proponents of Musical Instruments as being a source text that we can point to for showing a New Testament example of the use of Musical Instruments in worship after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the short exegetical piece after the pericope I will show how the citation of this verse is folly and ripped out of context for those who wish to use it for the purpose of supporting the use Musical Instruments in worship.

Revelation 14:1-5

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.

The above section of Scripture from Revelation 14 (specifically the highlighted part in verse 2) is often used as a proof text (and we wonder why the Puritans were not too keen on proof texting)  against the view that instruments should not be used in stated corporate worship.  However the problems with using this verse as a proof of “New Testament instrument use in worship” are many.

1) It is a dangerous thing to do, in my opinion, to use the visions of John to support practically anything we do, because hermeneutically and logically if we do it here in Rev. 14:2 then why should we not do so for the other places in Revelation where worship is described in heavenly places? (cf: Rev 4: 9-11, 5: 13-14, 7:11, 11:16, etc…)

2) The Greek grammar in this passage, specifically verse 2, is full of simile. In Greek, just as in English, simile is not meant to be taken literally. The passage uses the Greek word ως before describing the many waters (ως φωνην υδατων πολλων), the loud thunder (ως φωνην βροντης μεγαλης), and the harpers playing their harps (η φωνη ην ηκουσα ως κιθαρωδων κιθαριζοντων). I have never seen “many waters” or “loud thunder” used in corporate worship, but if we take the third clause in that way why should we exclude them? Also we would never use verse 1 in this passage to support writing God’s name on our foreheads so why would we use a like, as simile statement to support what we do in worship?

3) Even more so this passage has nothing to do with the church gathered for worship, on earth or in heaven. Remeber who/what is John describing in verse 2? He is describing the voice from heaven, not what the 144,000 are doing.

Partial-Preterist Post-Millenialist

One of the courses I am engaged in this term has been a look at the Doctrine of the Last Things or better labeled “Eschatology”. In this class we have barely yet to scratch the surface as far as ripping apart the pertinent texts like Matthew 25, Revelation 20, 1 Thess 4 & 5, and 2 Thess 2. Before taking this course I had not thought through this stuff very much as where I was before put little to no emphasis on these type of subjects and never had a reason to “stake out a territory” so to speak. So after reading other books prior to this class and in reading an excellent book by Cornelis Venema (an optimistic A-Mill) and beginning a work by Marcellus Kik (a Post-Mill) I have come to the following conclusions (for now)…

1) I believe in Partial Preterism.

What does that mean? Basically it means that I hold that the majority of the events prophesied in Scripture dealing with the “end times” refer to and were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple cult by the Romans in A.D. 70.

2) I believe the Millennium is symbolic.

The literal 1,000 years that Dispensational Pre-Millennialists push is not Scriptural or in keeping with the Biblical text. In other words the reference to 1,000 years in Revelation 20 is not meant to be taken as a literal 1,000 years.

3) I believe that Christ will come back at the end of the Millennium

Which makes me a post-millennialist (also one thing that A-Mills and Post-Mills share).

4) I believe that Revelation was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

I would highly recommend Ken Gentry’s work here. Basically that the Book of Revelation was written during the reign of Nero. Also that Nero Caesar is the sixth king who is the one who is in Revelation 17:10.

Suggested Reading List

An Eschatology of Victory by Marcellus Kik

The Last Days According to Jesus by R.C. Sproul, Sr.

Before Jerusalem Fell by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

He Shall Have Dominion by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Post-Millenialism: An Eschatology of Hope by Keith Mathison

Days of Vengeance by David Chilton

The Promise of the Future by Cornelis Venema

This will be the first of several posts on Eschatological issues that will help flesh out my beliefs and illustrate how and why the Scriptures teach what I have professed above.

Loose, Good-Faith, or Strict Subscription?

How does your ecclesiastical tradition hold to your standards? How should they? Is loose subscription just a surefire way to allow liberalism into the church? Is Strict Subscription “mean”? These are some questions I would like to look at in following posts.

Here is a couple of snippets from an article by J. Gresham Machen citing Charles Hodge:

The question put to every candidate for ordination in our Church, is in these words:  “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?”  It is plain that a very serious responsibility before God and man is assumed by those who return an affirmative answer to that question.  It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the Church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the Gospel.  In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God…

The Principle of Creed-Subscription

It is no less plain that the candidate has no right to put his own sense upon the words propounded to him.  He has no right to select from all possible meanings which the words may bear, that particular sense which suits his purpose, or which, he thinks, will save his conscience.  It is well known that this course has been openly advocated, not only by the Jesuits, but by men of this generation, in this country and in Europe.  The “chemistry of thought,” it is said, can make all creeds alike.  Men have boasted that they could sign any creed.  To a man in a balloon the earth appears a plane, all inequalities on its surface being lost in the distance.  And here is a philosophic elevation from which all forms of human belief look alike.  They are sublimed into general formulas, which include them all and distinguish none.  Professor Newman, just before his open apostasy, published a tract in which he defended his right to be in the English Church while holding the doctrines of the Church of Rome.  He claimed for himself the Thirty-nine articles in a “non-natural sense”; that is, in the sense which he chose to put upon the words.  This shocks the common sense and the common honesty of men.  There is no need to argue the matter.  The turpitude of such a principle is much more clearly seen intuitively than discursively.  The two principles which, by the common consent of all honest men, determine the interpretation of oaths and professions of faith, are, first, the plain, historical meaning of the words; and secondly, the animus imponentis, that is, the intention of the party imposing the oath or requiring the profession.  The words, therefore, “system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” are to be taken in their plain, historical sense.  A man is not a liberty to understand the words “Holy Scriptures,” to mean all books written by holy men, because although that interpretation might consist with the signification of the words, it is inconsistent with the historical meaning of the phrase.  Nor can he understand them, as they would be understood by Romanists, as including the Apocrypha, because the words being used by a Protestant Church, must be taken in a Protestant sense.  Neither can the candidate say, that he means by “system of doctrine” Christianity as opposed to Mohammedanism, or Protestantism, as opposed to Romanism, or evangelical Christianity, as distinguished from the theology of the Reformed (i.e., Calvinistic) Churches, because the words being used by a Reformed Church, must be understood in the sense which that Church is know to attach to them.  If a man professes to receive the doctrine of the Trinity, the word must be taken in its Christian sense, the candidate cannot substitute for that sense the Sabellian idea of a modal Trinity, nor the philosophical trichotomy of Pantheism.  And so of all other expressions which have a fixed historical meaning.  Again, by the animus imponentis in the case contemplated, is to be understood not the mind or intention of the ordaining bishop in the Episcopal Church, or of the ordaining presbytery in the Presbyterian Church.  It is the mind or intention of the Church, of which the bishop or the presbytery is the organ or agent.  Should a Romanizing bishop in the Church of England give “a non-natural” sense to the Thirty-nine articles, that would not acquit the priest, who should sign them in that sense, of the crime of moral perjury; or should a presbytery give an entirely erroneous interpretation to the Westminster Confession, that would not justify a candidate for ordination in adopting it in that sense.  The Confession must be adopted in the sense of the Church, into the service of which the minister, in virtue of that adoption, is received.  These are simple principles of honesty, and we presume they are universally admitted, at least so far as our Church is concerned.

The question however is, What is the true sense of the phrase, “system of doctrine? or, What does the Church understand the candidate to profess, when he says that he “receives and adopts the Confession of Faith of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures”?

There are three ways in which these words have been, and still are, interpreted.  First, some understand them to mean that every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith is included in the profession made at ordination.  Secondly, others say that they mean just what the words import.  What is adopted is the “system of doctrine.”  The system of the Reformed Churches is a known and admitted scheme of doctrine, and that scheme, nothing more or less, we profess to adopt.  The third view of the subject is, that by the system of doctrine contained in the Confession is meant the essential doctrines of Christianity and nothing more…

The First View:  “Every Proposition of the Confession”

As to the first of these interpretations it is enough to say:  1.  That it is not the meaning of the words.  There are many propositions contained in the Westminster Confession which do not belong to the integrity of the Augustinian, or Reformed system.  A man may be a true Augustinian or Calvinist, and not believe that the Pope is the Antichrist predicted by St. Paul; or that the 18th chapter of Leviticus is still binding.  2.  Such a rule of interpretation can never be practically carried out, without dividing the Church into innumerable fragments.  It is impossible that a body of several thousand ministers and elders should think alike on all the topics embraced in such an extended and minute formula of belief.  3.  Such has never been the rule adopted in our Church.  Individuals have held it, but the Church as a body never has.  No prosecution for doctrinal error has ever been attempted or sanctioned, except for errors which were regarded as involving the rejection, not of explanations of doctrines, but of the doctrines themselves…

The Second View:  The Doctrines of the “System” Enumerated

The same strain of remark might be made in reference to the other great doctrines which constitute the Augustinian system.  Enough, however, has been said to illustrate the principle of interpretation for which Old-school men contend.  We do not expect that our ministers should adopt every proposition contained in our standards.  This they are not required to do.  But they are required to adopt the system; and that system consists of certain doctrines, no one of which can be omitted without destroying its identity…

The Third View:  “Substance of Doctrine”

There has, however, always been a party in the Church which adopted the third method of understanding the words “system of doctrine,” in the ordination service, viz., that they mean nothing more than the essential doctrines of religion or of Christianity….

It is said by some, that in adopting the “system of doctrine,” the candidate is understood to adopt it, not in the form or manner in which it is presented in the Confession, but only for “substance of doctrine.”…

This system has been tried, and found to produce the greatest disorder and contention.  Men acting on the principle of receiving the Confession for substance of doctrine, have entered the ministry in our Church, who denied the doctrine of imputation, whether of Adam’s sin or of Christ’s righteousness; the doctrine of the derivation of a sinful depravity of nature from our first parents; of inability; of efficacious grace; of a definite atonement; that is, of an atonement have any such special reference to the elect, as to render their salvation certain.  In short, while professing to receive “the system of doctrine” contained in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms they have rejected almost every doctrine which gives that system its distinctive character.

The Impiety of the 5-Day Work Week and Exodus 20:9

9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

I have written and posted much on the 4th Commandment on this bog and have done some extensive reading on its application and misapplication in modern contexts. However in all my reading I do not know if I just plain old missed it in the 4th Commandment or just read over it since the Sabbath rest was my “proof point” but today during my Sabbath reading I have been reading John Murray’s Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics and in chapter IV entitled “The Ordinance of Labour” Murray begins to speak of the difference made between the context of Labor in Adam’s time before and after the Fall.  Before the Fall labor was not cursed but a blessed thing man did and it came with no adversity or distress. However after the Fall Labor became a hardship and was done now by the sweat of the brow and the thorns and brush would cause pain for the man (Gen 3::17-19) as punished for Adam’s sin. From dust he came and to dust he would return.

What does this have to do with the 4th Commandment?

Well Murray moves from this point to show in the history of Israel the establishment of the institution of Labor and its force has brought forth a class of people that are not only hard workers but have become proficient in what they do. He gives the example of Noah’s building the ark to prove this point. How could Noah have built such a large structure if he did not have the time or the know how to do so? This for Murray:

…places proper perspective more than one of the precepts of the Decalogue. If we think, for example, of the fourth commandment, it should not be forgotten that it is the commandment of labor as well as rest. ‘Six days shalt thou labor, and do all of thy work’ (Ex. 20:9). If we will, we may call this an incidental feature of the commandment. But it is an integral part of it. The day of rest has no meaning except as rest from labor; and only as the day of rest upon the completion of six days labor can the weekly sabbath be understood.

John Murray means here that the stress upon labor here in Exodus 20:9 is not on labor in and of itself but upon a certain consistency of labor. It says man shall work for 6 days then rest, not 5 and take two off. Now one may say here that the 6th day is for labor around the home etc. and that is certainly permissible given the text and the impetus of the command. However one thing that is not allowable given this construct is taking two-days off and not working at all on the 6th day treating it as more of a Sabbath than the actual Sabbath day which is often the case today. God has blessed us with a day off as rest from labor which he has commanded us to perform for 6 days of the week not 7 or 5 but 6. The fourth, like its sister the 2nd, has taken a seat in the way back of the Christian car in the last 100 years. Being pushed to the rear in favor of worldly employments and various sporting endeavors the Christian Sabbath and the 6-day work week that Scripture commands for us.