Archive for the ‘Jason J. Stellman’ Category

Westminster West and Frame’s Point 27

March 26, 2012

Frame’s point 27 (from this list) of Escondido Theology is this: “The Sabbath pertains only to worship, not to daily work. So worship should occur on the Lord’s Day, but work need not cease.”

Meredith Kline wrote: 

Moreover, since the Sabbath is a sign of sanctification marking that which receives its imprint as belonging to God’s holy kingdom with promise of consummation, the Sabbath will have relevance and application at any given epoch of redemptive history only in the holy dimension(s) of the life of the covenant people. Thus, after the Fall, not only will the Sabbath pertain exclusively to the covenant community as a holy people called out of the profane world, but even for them the Sabbath will find expression, in a nontheocratic situation, only where they are convoked in covenant assembly, as the ekklesia-extension of the heavenly assembly of God’s Sabbath enthronement. That is, Sabbath observance will have to do only with their holy cultic (but not their common cultural) activity.

That seems to pretty clearly correspond to Frame’s accusation.  Kline is not the strongest advocate on this point, although his position does seem to underlie other E2k positions.  For example, Lee Irons argues as follows:

I am in complete agreement with Kline’s interpretation of the function of the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant, thus limiting its observance to the covenant community. I also agree with his theocratic analysis of the Sabbath in the pre-fall and Mosaic economies. But I have reservations about his exclusive application of the new covenant Sabbath sign to the cultic activity of the assembled church. The implication seems to be that our Sabbath duties are exhaustively fulfilled by attending corporate worship. Furthermore, not only are Christians permitted to engage in cultural activity on the Lord’s Day outside of public worship, they are positively required to do so. For to rest from cultural activity on the Lord’s Day would be to place the holy stamp of eschatological consummation upon non-holy cultural activity, thus profaning the Sabbath.

Ironically, those whose Sabbath practice is more in line with the Puritan approach of resting all the day from “worldly employments and recreations” are the greatest violators of the Sabbath, and are theoretically subject to church discipline. I doubt that Kline would want to see his view implemented in our churches with such unyielding disciplinary rigor. But even if strict Sabbatarians are permitted the freedom to practice the Puritan Sabbath according to the light of their conscience, it still does not ring true to say that resting from cultural activity on the Lord’s Day is sinful. I want to avoid laying heavy burdens upon God’s people – whether it be the intolerable yoke of the strict Sabbatarians who say that we must rest from any and all cultural activity, or an inflexible application of Kline’s exegetical insights in which the church’s freedom from the Mosaic Sabbath is distorted into a new legalism requiring that we engage in cultural activity on the Lord’s Day.

Irons is not just arguing that Kline’s position implies that men may work seven days (without excuse) but that they must!  This position contradicts Scripture (particularly the 4th commandment) and also lies outside the bounds of the Confession.

Note that Jason Stellman (one of Frame’s targets) does not follow Kline or Irons’ extrapolation of Kline, but instead takes a more traditional approach. Stellman quotes (approvingly, with a qualification):

“The other difference between Stellman and some of the other Escondido theologians is that he takes issue with Kline’s view of the Sabbath. Kline believed that Sabbath observance in the new covenant pertains to the Lord’s Day worship service alone. He thought that the Sabbath pertained only to what is ‘holy,’ and in the new covenant holiness pertains only to worship, not to work. Therefore we should not rest weekly from the tasks we pursue on the other six days.

“Stellman, however, argues that since the Lord’s Day is a day, and not just a few hours, we ought to withdraw from cultural tasks on that entire day (pp. 57-59).”

Stellman’s qualification is that he thinks he is not alone amongst E2k advocates. He writes:

… I don’t remember a single professor during my three years at Westminster Seminary California ever agreeing with Kline’s view of the Sabbath, either privately or in class.

I will note, however, that Kline is listed as amongst the Faculty Emeriti in the current academic catalog.  Escondido is not particularly active in distancing themselves from Kline.

I know that Pastor Stellman sometimes stops by this blog.  I wonder whether he would be willing to confirm that he agrees with “Kline’s interpretation of the function of the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant, thus limiting its observance to the covenant community.” (Irons’ description)  If so, then we may be able to at least identify one of the core principles of E2k, with three distinct branches built on that foundation.

-TurretinFan

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Expert or Not? Jason Stellman Then and Now

November 2, 2011

In the first part of 2011, Jason Stellman solicited for contributions for the expenses of “expert witnesses” (the description used at the time) who were to testify at the trial of Peter Leithart (evidence here).  During the trial, as reported by Stellman himself, Stellman identified his witness as an expert witness:

MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, let me ask the prosecutor, why, what’s the nature of this witness’ testimony if it’s not expert testimony?

STELLMAN: Well, he has read every single theological piece of literature or writing that Leithart has written. He’s read every single book, every single journal article, every single theological book I should say, every journal article. He probably has read as much of Dr. Leithart’s work as anyone else except perhaps Dr. Leithart himself. And so why his competence is called into question here is an answer I would like to hear.

MODERATOR O’BAN: No, I think the question more narrowly framed is in what capacity is this witness being called. He didn’t overhear a statement made by Dr. Leithart that no one else would know but for this witness and in that sense he would be a fact witness. It seems to me you’re calling him because he is conversant on Dr. Leithart’s theology through his writings

STELLMAN: Yes.

MODERATOR O’BAN: And you’re asking him not just simply to regurgitate those writings, but in fact to render and opinion on the nature of those writings vis-à-vis the standards. Correct?

STELLMAN: Correct.

MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, that, that is, I’ll just simply rule, is the capacity of an expert witness. So the question is, is he an expert witness that, it just simply may be that your witness doesn’t, didn’t understand maybe that fine distinction. So you’re calling him here as an expert witness, correct?

STELLMAN: Insofar as I understood what you just said. Yes.

(source)

The cross-examination of Stellman’s witness, however, seems not to have gone as Stellman would have liked, in that the defense suggested that Stellman’s witness was not particularly more expert in theology than anyone else in the presbytery before whom was testifying.

Now Stellman has post talking about how there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts (link to post). That is all well and good, and perhaps – after the fact – he is right.  But what was he doing soliciting for contributions for a role that doesn’t exist in the PCA?  Why didn’t he know that there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts during this trial that was so important that he flew what he then considered an “expert witness” to be a part of the trial? I thought Stellman was the prosecutor for the trial?  Shouldn’t he have familiarized himself with the rules of the PCA before the trial began?

It may not be a lost cause.  Stellman’s witness was really called as a fact witness – someone who had carefully read everything that Leithart wrote and could report on that.  Stellman was simply outwitted by those sympathetic to Leithart in his own presbytery. 

Whether or not Stellman knew the rules, the presbytery is charged with following the rules, and while the presbytery’s error in discounting the testimony of a fact witness on grounds that are not really relevant to the fact witness’s role may be in some sense an understandable error under the circumcstances, it is still an error.

One question that the presbytery needed to consider was whether Stellman’s witness or the defense’s witness had a better understanding of Leithart’s teachings.  While theologically training may not be entirely irrelevant to that question, having actually read what Leithart has written seems like a very important consideration, and Stellman’s witness actually read what Leithart wrote.

-TurretinFan

Examining Stellman’s Pragmatic Objection to the Reformed View of the Two Kingdoms

March 11, 2011

My attention was recently directed to a 2007 blog post from Jason Stellman (who is frying bigger fish at the moment, and that’s a good thing). I don’t know whether he still holds to the opinions expressed in that post. Nevertheless, since my friend pointed it out to me, I thought I’d briefly respond.

Pastor Stellman began this way:

For the sake of continuing the argument for the doctrine of the two kingdoms (though I’m disappointed at the lack of biblical arguments to the contrary), I will concede, for one post and one post only, that there is only one kingdom, and that the Church and State are to work together to see God’s kingdom realized.

This seems to be a way of describing all positions except for the rather radical position associated with Escondido (and perhaps the Amish position) as “One Kingdom.” I think that’s a terribly inaccurate description – considering that Westminster Confession (even in the American revision) teaches that the Church and State are to work together to see God’s kingdom realized:

… it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord …

(American version of WCF 23:3)

The main difference between the dominant American view and the traditional Reformed view is how the Church and State work together to see God’s kingdom realized, not whether they work together. Sadly, Stellman’s apparent position is not only at odds with the traditional Reformed view, but also with the view that is part of the confessional stance of the PCA and OPC.

Additionally, it is surprising that Stellman was (in 2007) unaware of the Biblical argument for Calvin’s position and the position of the Westminster Assembly. The purpose of this post isn’t to present that argument, but it is surprising that Pastor Stellman wasn’t given the Biblical arguments for the traditional Reformed position during his seminary training at Escondido.

Stellman tries to argue against the traditional Reformed view on pragmatic grounds, however. He writes:

First of all, if the State’s precepts must come exclusively from Scripture rather than from natural law, what better place to start than the Ten Commandments? Let’s begin with the first one (you know, the one about how it is illegal to worship any other God but Yahweh).

If, as critics of two kingdoms theology insist, our faith must not be bracketed (since Jesus rules every square inch of the universe), then the first commendment must be enforced in the civil sphere, which would effectually bring an end to Mormonism, Catholicism, atheism, and pretty much any other “ism” that fails to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (this may sound to some like a pretty good idea, to which my only response is a shudder).

(typo in original)

First, the idea that “the State’s precepts must come exclusively from Scripture rather than from natural law” is not really the position taken by Stellman’s opponents.

Second, if the Mosaic civil laws are taken as an example of good civil laws, we can see that Stellman’s application of the first commandment is not quite correct. There is no civil law requiring that all non-worshippers of Jehovah be punished.

Third, it is amazing that Stellman shudders at the idea of getting rid of anti-Christian religions. Why does he shudder? Isn’t that a good thing?

Stellman continued:

Secondly, consider this dilemma: If biblical law is intended to be a blueprint for a godly society, then the State must inflict capital punishment on those offenders who commit capital crimes according to the Old Testament. But then, we’re also called to “turn the other cheek” in the Sermon on the Mount. And since there aren’t two kingdoms but one, the civil magistrate must somehow figure out how to kill people with the sword as well as with kindness.

Stellman is just confused. The “turn the other cheek” command relates to personal retaliation, not to civil justice. After all, the New Testament confirms that the civil magistrate carries a sword (not an extra sturdy cheek).

Part of the confusion seems to be Stellman’s lack of awareness of the fact that even the Old Testament is not “One Kingdom.” The King is not permitted to offer up sacrifices, just as the high priest is not the king over the land.

Furthermore, the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (from which the command to turn the cheek derives) is an Old Testament command:

Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

It is saddening to discover that Stellman is apparently unaware of this law. That law, of course, is fully consistent with capital punishment, even if Stellman cannot understand the consistency.

Finally, Stellman states:

Finally, since we are called in Philippians to prefer others’ needs before our own, then every time we find ourselves at a Stop sign, we must, in obedience to this command, let every other car go before us, until we’re the only one left.

This is lousy exegesis on Stellman’s part. The verse in Philippians does not mean what Stellman is suggesting.

Moreover, since what Stellman is suggesting is something that would bind the individual, as such, if Stellman were right it would be irrelevant to the issue of whether we have two kingdoms radically separated or not. If Stellman really believes that the verse means that, he ought to be obeying it, even in the most secular and God-ignoring society.

Stellman tacks on one last comment in closing:

(Oh, and you know how in basketball you sometimes do a “pump-fake” to deceive your defender, or how in baseball the manager gives secret signs to the hitter about whether or not to bunt? Well you can just forget about that, they break the ninth commandment).

Again, this exegesis is lousy and irrelevant to the discussion. We could get into an explanation of why deception is permitted in games, we could get into the difference between deception and lying, but most importantly – the 9th commandment is definitely binding on all men. No one ought to break it. And if Stellman’s exegesis were correct, then he should not pump-fake, even if he’s living in the most pagan society on earth.

In short, the attempted pragmatic objections to the traditional Reformed view fall flat.

-TurretinFan

Who Cares about Historical Theology?

October 20, 2010

Jason Stellman has posted an article in which he says:

It seems to me that all this effort on the part of Catholics to prove that the fathers are on their team, and (especially) all the effort on the part of Protestants to demolish these claims, is beside the point and can be a distraction from the real issue, which is what the Bible actually teaches.

(link to article)

While I agree that what the Scriptures have to say about any subject is infinitely more important than what the fathers, or Calvin, or anyone else had to say about the subject, there’s still importance in historical theology. Likewise, I agree that focus on what the fathers taught can be a distraction from the real issue, namely what Scripture teaches.

On the other hand, the study of what the fathers and the Reformers and others taught can be important. It can be important for several reasons.

1. One way to help Roman Catholics see that they are following a church that is lying to them is to expose Roman Catholics to the historical record. When we examine the historical record, we see that doctrines like the immaculate conception, transubstantiation, the bodily assumption of Mary, papal infallibility, and Purgatory are innovations, not doctrines handed from the apostles. Thus, the study of the patristic literature can serve as a tool for the evangelism of Roman Catholics, by helping to liberate them from the false gospel that requires their unjustified trust in Rome.

2. A second, defensive, use is also important. Frequently, Roman Catholics make claims that the core doctrines of the Reformation are themselves historical novelties. While, in principle, this doesn’t matter to us (since Scripture, not history, is our rule of faith), these lies about the historical record can be discouraging to Christians. In particular, Roman apologists try to suggest to those unfamiliar with history that by following Reformed doctrine one is saying that “the whole church went off the rails almost from the earliest time,” or something like that.

3. Historical theology is not our ultimate rule of faith, but it is a helpful guide. We do not believe that a universal apostasy happened or will ever happen, even if there are great falling away periods in church history. Moreover, we value the teaching of our spiritual ancestors, even those who made many mistakes. I suspect that Pastor Stellman realizes the value of historical theology, because I’ve noticed that his recent book, Dual Citizens, makes use of human authors. He does not rely exclusively on the Bible, nor should he!

I do think it is foolish to simply say “who cares,” to the historical record. Sometimes we will simply have to disagree with the errors of our predecessors, but we should do so carefully, not recklessly.

Pastor Stellman writes:

Rather than get into a patristic prooftext war—especially if we may very well lose it—wouldn’t it be wiser to shift the locus of the battle to Scripture, the place where we claim to believe all controversies of religion are to be solved?

Well, of course, we’ve already won the battle on the grounds of Scripture. There may be a tiny handful of Roman Catholic apologists that think they can prove their doctrines from Scripture, but those folks are easily shown to be wrong.

The problem is that Rome has persuaded many people to accept an additional rule of faith – one that in effect supercedes Scripture. It is useful to help Roman Catholics see that this additional rule of faith is one that doesn’t work, that cannot stand up to historical scrutiny, indeed one that is both established and maintained on lies and forgeries.

And don’t worry, Pastor Stellman, we won’t “lose” the analysis of the patristic writings, because we have nothing to lose. We’re interested in the truth of what happened in the early church, not transforming the early church fathers into a PCA presbytery in Greece. We “win” simply by letting the fathers be the fathers, because history is our friend.

That means we admit that certain departures from the purity of the apostolic teachings happened very early, while other departures happened much later. Precisely because Scripture is our rule of faith, we cannot “lose” a battle over whether Bernard taught the immaculate conception (answer: he definitely did not) or whether Bernard taught the personal sinlessness of Mary (answer: it seems he did). In one case we can point out that Bernard’s testimony is one voice among many against the idea the the dogma of the immaculate conception was really handed down in some kind of oral tradition format, in the other case we can acknowledge Bernard’s mistake.

All that said, all the historical knowledge in the world won’t save someone. One may be able to persuade a rational person that Rome is not who she claims to be, but unless that person trusts in Christ alone for salvation, they will be no better off in eternity. Mere knowledge of the truth is not enough.

-TurretinFan

Radical Two Kingdoms – Both Anti-Biblical and Worthless

September 13, 2010

Jason Stellman wrote an article (link) in which he suggested that preachers preaching against the sins of the nation is somehow improper. I can’t imagine an article that would be more universally dismissed by not only all the Reformers but also by all the Presbyterians and Puritans from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Even the Reformed Baptists from that period would likely share the same assessment of this article, despite their stronger view of separation of church and state.

Preaching against sin is not some sort of optional aspect of the gospel ministry. Nor is it proper to draw the dichotomy that Stellman draws, when he writes:

Just admit it: the fact that you’re angry with me right now and want to engage me in political debate in the combox only proves how much you benefit from a two-kingdoms ministry each Sunday, one that refuses to oppress and wound your consciences and insists rather on preaching sermons to you about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on the third day. I mean, if things get a bit out of hand on this blog after a post such as this, imagine how violent things would become after church if our ministers pulled stunts like this from the pulpit?

Yeah, yeah – we know. People don’t like being told that they are in sin, or that their nation is dishonoring God by having unjust laws or unjust policies. They might even leave the church, if the pastor preaches against the horrors of abortion or against injustices in war.

But that’s one of the duties of the gospel minister. Preaching sermons about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on the third day are great, and there is nothing wrong with them, but … ministers must preach the whole counsel and that includes convicting sinners of their sins. Mr. Stellman may not like doing it, it may not fit nicely in his radical version of two kingdoms theology (“radical” as opposed to the classical version of Calvin, Knox, Turretin, and John the Baptist, who had no problem speaking out against the sins of their contemporary political regime). Nevertheless, if Mr. Stellman is to be faithful to God’s word, he must address sins from the pulpit.

But the Radical Two-Kingdoms (R2K) notions that Stellman is promoting are not just anti-Biblical, in that they suggest that ministers may not properly preach against the sins of the nation, they are worthless as can be seen from this:

Since my goal is not to engage specifically the Baylies’ main point, I will say this: abortion is a horrific evil, and though I have no idea what should be done about it from a political standpoint, I see it as a sin for which those who participate in it will be held accountable if they do not repent. (In fact, I know of no 2K proponent who would take any other position than this, which makes it kind of weird that I feel the need to say it.)

Even if someone were to say that we should just throw away the Old Testament and ignore the sentence of God against those who take human lives unjustly (Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.), still one would think that R2K would be able to use the light of nature to get some idea of how to handle such matters. If, however, upon throwing away Scripture, the R2K proponent has “no idea what should be done” by the civil magistrate about such a heinous sin as infanticide, what earthy good is R2K?

Perhaps Stellman will not listen to me (and why should he – I’m just some pseudonymous guy), but perhaps he’ll consider listening to Paul’s inspired counsel to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1-2
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

-TurretinFan

The Apostolic Succession as a Solution to Ambiguous Scriptures Challenge

May 14, 2010

In a comment box at the GreenBaggins blog, Jason J. Stellman sets forth a simple but important challenge (link to comment).

The challenge is this (paraphrased):

If “apostolic succession” is the solution to multiple competing Scriptural interpretations, then what is the solution to multiple claims to “apostolic succession”?

Let’s suppose for the sake of the argument that there is some ambiguity in Scripture that we would like to resolve. Suppose further that we try to resolve it by resorting to “apostolic succession.” We will encounter multiple claimants:

1) Mormons (who claim to have living apostles)
2) Roman Catholics (who claim to have a living successor of the Apostle Peter)
3) Eastern Orthodox (who claim to have a plurality of bishops that have succeeded the apostles)
4) Other “Orthodox” groups, including the Nestorians, Monophysites, etc.

It does not appear that the answer can come from any disputed Scripture, because that would introduce a circle. I have heard some folks claim it is history, but if disputes over Scripture are fierce, disputes over History are often even more fierce.

I would respectfully submit that there is no neat answer to the challenge. By whatever skeptical rule one denies that Scripture is the rule of faith, one’s own rule of faith will perish.

– TurretinFan

Further Replies to Stellman

May 3, 2010

There are two parts to this post. The first is a response to Stellman’s response to my previous post (link to previous post)(link to response: part 1part 2). The second part is a response to comments he had made earlier in the same comment thread.

I. Dividing Word from Scriptures

Jason J. Stellman wrote: “So to TurretinFan’s statement that “To divide the Word from the Scriptures, as Stellman is doing, is dangerous ground (although it is one of the approaches that the Romanists use),” I would simply answer that I am doing nothing other than what Horton is doing in the citation above.”

Paige Britton had written: “Whoa, I don’t think you need to pin some insidious Romanism on Jason’s thought, there.”

On this point, I want to clarify that I’m not pinning Romanism on Jason’s thought. I do think his argument is dangerously imprecise, but I don’t think he’s a Romanist. My comments (at great length) were aimed at showing him the danger, as well as helping to steer him clear of that danger.

I appreciate the quotation from Michael Horton. The quotation states: “Of course, God’s Word was at first delivered by oral tradition and was only later committed to writing. None of the Reformation theologians held that the Bible as we now have it preceded the church! However, the Reformers argued that the Word of God preceded both Scripture and the church.”

I don’t have the full context for this quotation, which makes it hard to respond to it. With that enormous and important caveat, I’d like to venture a few responses.

1) If Horton is simply referring to the fact that God’s word came orally from Adam to Moses, he’s right. No one can doubt that.

2) If Horton means that God’s word sometimes came orally from Moses until Malachi and again from John the Baptist to John the Beloved Disciple, he’s right. No one can reasonably deny that.

3) If Horton is simply trying to repeat what the WCF 1:1 says:

I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.

… then of course, Horton is right, and his point can’t reasonably be denied. (However, note that the confession itself teaches that the Church is founded (“establishment”) on the Scriptures.)

4) However, Horton’s comments could be taken another way. If Horton’s comments were taken as suggesting that the Scriptures themselves are simply a transcription/condensation of prior oral tradition (and without context, I have no reason to think that Horton meant his words that way), then they would seem to be wrong.

In that regard, Horton’s characterizations would be imprecise. For example, Paul’s epistles were not examples of prior oral tradition being committed to writing. Indeed, it is rare in Scripture that we are told that something is an oral tradition being committed to writing.

Finally, I note that the rationale/explanation provided in Stellman’s original comment, namely “but it was not founded upon ‘the Scriptures,’ for the obvious reason that decades elapsed during which the church was growing, and no NT books had even been written, let alone collected and recognized as canonical,” is still problematic, but since he’s not continuing that (and has already acknowledged that there was some imprecision there), I figure the point has been sufficiently made for everyone concerned. Indeed, the point that the Scriptures were given for the establishment and comfort of the church is simply Scripturally and Confessionally the undeniable fact. And Paige Britton has already noted that: “[Stellman]’s steady-on re. the mother-daughter thing (Church as mother of Scriptures v. Scripture as mother of Church).” So, I suppose the clarification is at an end, unless I’ve misunderstood Stellman’s responses above.

However, there is another issue I’d like to address.

II. The Authority of Councils

I wonder what Stellman means when he writes:

Were ministers in the post-Acts 15 church free to disregard the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council? Or, are we free today to disregard the Nicene formulation of the Trinity or the Chalcedonian definition of the hypostatic union?

You may answer (1) no and no; (2) yes and yes; (3) no and yes; or for the sake of argument, (4) yes and no.

My instinct is to opt for option #1. Now, if the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon were so authoritative that they actually define orthodoxy, my question is, “Are the Westminster Assembly’s conclusions that authoritative, and if not, why not?”

And is there a church or branch of the church today that can still make Nicaea-like pronouncements? If so, where is it? If not, where did it go?

(source)

The specific question mark in my mind is his expression: “free to disregard” which isn’t really a defined theological term.

There are two possible senses to his comment. I’ll give the sense I hope he meant first. The sense I hope he meant is the sense of WCF 31:3:

III. It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially, to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his Word.

In this sense, Christians are not free to utterly disregard the decisions of councils. If that’s all that Stellman meant (and to be clear, I am charitably presuming that’s what he meant), then I agree with him.

However, there is a possibility that what he said could be understood to mean that Nicaea and Chalcedon are our regula fidei – our rule of faith. That is to say, their definitions are not something that we can even consider questioning on the basis of Scripture.

If Stellman’s expression were to be understood in that light, then it would be both wrong and contrary to our (his and my) confession, namely WCF 31:4:

IV. All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.

Notice that the Confession (which in Section 2, had specifically indicated the Scriptures as the rule of faith) explicitly indicates that councils are nor our rule of faith/practice (even councils that were right).

In this regard, I am concerned that Stellman’s view of the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura may sound closer to Keith Mathison’s presentation of it (in The Shape of Sola Scriptura) than the presentation we find in the Westminster Confession of Faith. While it may sound that way, please note that I’m not accusing Stellman of denying the WCF in favor of a more Mathisonian approach.

-TurretinFan

Holy Scripture – The Foundation of the Church – A Response to Stellman

May 2, 2010

Jason J. Stellman wrote:

I think we need to make a simple distinction between the “Word” and the “Scriptures.” The New Covenant church was founded on the Word (that is, upon Christ and his message as preached by the apostles), but it was not founded upon “the Scriptures,” for the obvious reason that decades elapsed during which the church was growing, and no NT books had even been written, let alone collected and recognized as canonical.

So whatever our doctrine of ecclesiastical authority, it needs to do justice to the fact that the church existsed (not before the Word, but) before the Scriptures.

(source)

I answer:

a) Most of the Scriptures predate the New Testament church, and those Scriptures speak of Christ.

b) The Church is, of course, founded specifically on Christ, and on the revelation of Him. The primary source of that revelation is the Old Testament Scriptures, but the New Testament Scriptures are also a critical part of the revelation, providing additional light that helps to explain the Old Testament.

c) The Scriptures were completed in the first century, and the Church was nurtured on them from the time of their writing onward.

d) Further to (c), the New Testament Scriptures were recognized as such during the lifetime of the apostles (See Peter’s description of Paul’s letters as Scriptures, as well as Paul’s reference to Luke’s gospel).

e) Further to (a)-(d) the Old Testament Scriptures were used authoritatively by Christ himself and the apostles as well. The one “council” that we see relied for its judgment on comparing their experiences to the authoritative Old Testament Scriptures.

f) Further to (e), the Bereans were specifically commended for carefully scrutinizing the Old Testament Scriptures to determine whether Paul the Apostle’s gospel was true.

g) We also see from the earliest extant post-apostolic writings that the churches had and read both the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

h) The Scriptures were given for the purpose of the edification and instructions of the church.

From the above, which cannot be reasonably denied, it is proper and right to say that the true Church of Christ is founded on the Scriptures, and therefore the authority of the Scriptures cannot depend on the Church.

Certainly, beyond any doubt, the authority of the bulk of the Scriptures, specifically the Old Testament Scriptures, cannot come from the Church.

As a final support for the fact that the authority of the New Testament Scriptures does not come from the church, we see that Scripture itself explains to us that the Bible is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), God-breathed. The Scriptures are not ecclesiopneustos (church-breathed). They come not from the authority of the church, but from God’s authority.

Indeed, the same is true of Paul’s own ministry. Paul was not an apostle of the church, but of Christ. He did not derive his authority from the twelve, but directly from God. Paul’s discussion at the beginning of Galatians is especially clear about this. When he wrote Scriptures, he did not write from their authority, or from his own authority, but according to the authority of the Holy Spirit who inspired him.

The Scriptures were written for the church, not by the church. Their authority is greater than the church, because they are θεόπνευστος (theopneustos). There is no greater authority that we have. Paul himself explained that if the apostles themselves or an angel from heaven were to preach another gospel, we should not accept that (Galatians 1:8).

To divide the Word from the Scriptures, as Stellman is doing, is dangerous ground (although it is one of the approaches that the Romanists use). Surely the Word of God came to prophets in the apostolic age, even as the Scriptures were continuing to be given. Nevertheless, that Word upon which the church was founded is the inscripturated Word. The inscripturated word has, since the time of Moses, always had the priority over alleged prophets:

Deuteronomy 13:1-5
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.

We see the difference between the time period of the apostles and the time period succeeding the apostles in Hebrews 1-2:

Hebrews 1:1-2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; …

Hebrews 2:1-4
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

Notice that the author of Hebrews treats the period of confirmation of the revelation as a time that has past (was confirmed – aorist tense). This makes sense if, as many suppose, Hebrews is one of the last books of Scripture. It particularly makes sense in view of the prophesied completion of prophecy when the revelation was complete:

1 Corinthains 13:8-10
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

So, there is little doubt that the prophecies, and tongues, and knowledge that failed upon the completion of Scripture were not formally the same as Scripture. Nevertheless, the Word of God is preserved. It is what was completed, ending the need for prophecy. And it has been preserved for us by the mechanism of Scripture.

Psalm 119:160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

Isaiah 40:6-8
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

1 Peter 1:24-25 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

This is not a new idea from the 21st Century, but something that Irenaeus recognized in the 2nd century:

1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

2. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1

Notice that Irenaeus plainly teaches us that it is the Holy Scriptures that are the ground and pillar of our faith (“the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”). That’s because for Irenaeus there is a merger, not a division, between the Word and the Scriptures. I hope this post will encourage Stellman to do the same.

– TurretinFan


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