Sunday, January 12, 2014

Marks of the Church: Some Clean up, and a Response to the Second Hypothetical

The blogger at By the Light of Latimer's Candle and I have been engaged in a discussion of the marks of the church, with the intention of ultimately focusing on the question of the appropriate consideration of the marks of the church.  We have had a cordial exchange of views regarding the sacraments that has helped us to identify areas of common belief and differences.  While the dialogue remains productive, we seem to have taken a step back in the last exchange, and it would seem that I have been misunderstood to the point that LC has managed to cite my own confession against me in what he regards as support of his view.  This may simply be the result of my working so hard at emphasizing a difference that I have appeared to state a view different from what I actually hold.  However, that being said, I can't figure out what he thinks I have written in disagreement with the chapters from the Westminster Confession that he cites.

Perhaps I erred by using the word "symbols" with regard to the sacraments in stating that baptism symbolizes the cleansing of the Spirit and union with Christ.  Perhaps that language sounds to Zwinglian, and I will strike the word "symbol" from my vocabulary as a result.  However, to say that the sacraments symbolize these things in no way suggests that they are mere symbols, and I have explicitly repudiated the Zwinglian view while affirming the sacraments as a means of grace by which God creates and confirms faith in us.  LC's pedantic statement that "something important" happens with regard to the signs and seals of the covenant of grace seems entirely unnecessary, as I have no where indicated otherwise. 

Nor have I in any way denied that there is a "spiritual relation, or sacrificial union between the sign and the thing signified...."  I would affirm that without question.  What I have done is insisted that there must not be confusion between the sign and the thing signified and, outside of the issue of transubstantiation, LC seems to find virtue in confusion, particularly with regard to the seeming affirmation of an ex opere relationship of baptism to regeneration.  The reformed understanding is that there should neither be confusion (as with Rome) nor separation ( as in Zwingli) between the sign and the thing signified.  God uses the visible signs and seals as means of grace through which he works invisibly in the hearts of his people.  This is true not only of these sacraments, but also of his preached word, through which he enlivens hearts and creates faith.

The Second Hypothetical

LC sets up the following hypothetical situation:

Let us consider an adult male member of each church. Let us for a moment assume that this man is baptized and a member in good standing in the church. The obvious theological point is that this man is a covenant member. He is outwardly and visibly a member of the covenant community. However, there is no clear knowledge of his inward or invisible faith. In other words, despite his participation in church, he may not actually be among the elect. Now, let us add a visible sin to the picture. This man owns a local hardware store. His store is open Saturday and Sunday (for clarity and to sure there is a fourth commandment issue), and he not only works in the store himself on these days, but forces his employees to do the same. He is unwilling to hear of anyone telling him otherwise. Let us begin.

I chose this example for several reasons, but there are two compelling issues here. First, many would say that this isn’t really a sin. I fail to see the wiggle room myself, but if MDA chooses, he can change the sin to one more suited to his arguments. Secondly, once we accept this is a true violation of the fourth commandment in the intention of the man, we can easily move past the issue of its habitual nature.

Now, it is to MDA to explain how he views the situation of this man in terms of his ultimate salvation, membership in the church, state of repentance and finally whether and how he is fenced and disciplined. My own thoughts I will save for second place as I have far too much ground to cover without first understanding the process about which we will spar.
Before getting into the particulars of this, I need to state that the chosen issue is a difficult one, as there are varying views regarding the Sabbath within the PCA.  Certainly, the Westminster standards take a very -- many would say excessively -- strict view of of the Christian Sabbath that forbids not only unnecessary work, but also all recreation, in order that the believer would focus entirely on worship.  In the PCA, those seeking licensure or ordination must declare any exceptions that they have to the standards, and the Westminister teaching on the Sabbath is by far the most commonly requested exception.  Presbyteries generally exercise their discretion in permitting the licensiate or ordinand to proceed with this exception on the record.
Having said that, the attitude and conduct of the hypothetical member would be widely regarded as sinful.  With that in mind, I would submit the following:
1. RE this statement:  However, there is no clear knowledge of his inward or invisible faith. In other words, despite his participation in church, he may not actually be among the elect.  Could that not be said of any and every member of the church?
2.  For this type of sin, the primary type of discipline would be the public teaching of the Word of God.  In addition, depending on the church, the pastor and/or the elders might meet with the man to urge him to reconsider his position and repent of his Sabbath breaking.
3.  Even with non-repentance, I would not make any assumptions based on this situation with regard to the person's ultimate salvation.  Nor do I believe that most churches would deny admission to the sacraments or exercise any other judicial process.

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