June 19, 2009

History should humble us...

Nothing new under the sun. Although it grieves me to see the controversies raging in the church today, it comforts me to know that it has always been this way. We are not so learned and clever as we think. If one studies Church History, one will soon discover that what the church is debating today has already been discussed and debated in length by the men who have gone before us. If nothing else, studying the controversies within the church (ancient to modern) should, at the very least humble us, but preferably--make us realize that it might benefit all to read what has already been debated before we think we have something great and wonderful to offer. Let us look at a little modern history:

In his earliest writings Perkins frequently defined faith with reference to a direct relationship to Christ. Later he came to lay more emphasis upon the relationship of faith to the words of God in Holy Scripture. He defined faith as “a gift of God whereby we give assent or credence to God’s Word. (Does this not sound familiar?)

He held that “it is all one to say the saving promise and Christ promised” is the object of faith. The earlier reformers, Luther and Calvin, had believed that the conjunction of Word and Spirit made the Scriptures normative through the way in which they created and nourished faith.

As the Bible came to be regarded as a book of metaphysical knowledge concentration upon what it directly said assumed a greater role. The efficacy of Scripture rested no more on the work of the Spirit, but upon the identification of the text and the Spirit, through a conception of the Bible as verbally inspired and inerrant. The Bible was thus seen as a book of delivered truth; theology was the orderly statement of truth and truth became identical with propositional statement. This identification is seen very clearly in the five “points” of the Remonstrants and in the five “counter-points” of the High Calvinists at the Synod of Dort in 1619. Whilst Luther and Calvin had moved from the authority of the Bible to the inerrancy of the text, later Reformed teachers moved in the reverse direction. The battle with Roman Catholicism over the authority of the Bible also caused the Protestants to defend the Bible as the recorded document of the very words of God Himself. Perkins’ position was, as it were, a half-way point between Calvin and the High Calvinists who attended the Synod of Dort.

One of the chief characteristics of Puritanism was its great interest in the doctrine of the assurance of eternal salvation and in the related problems of conscience. The reason for this absorbing interest may perhaps be traced to two sources. First, many ordinary people had been thrown into spiritual chaos by the sweeping changes made in the parish church in regard to the services of worship and the religious observances; these people needed counsel and help. (Sound familiar?)

The complete Federal Theology of the early seventeenth century combined various strands of Reformation thought and made these into a systematic whole through the use of Ramist logic and method. Though it did stimulate much that was good in the religious life of the English Puritans, the Scottish Covenanters and the New England settlers, it did gradually harden into an arid theological system, just as the theology of Calvin hardened into scholastic Calvinism. (Sound familiar?)

The majority of High Calvinists believed that when God converted a sinner He acted directly upon both the intellect and will of the person concerned. He convinced the mind of His truth and constrained the will to accept His offered grace. Cameron taught that God acted solely on the mind, but because of the inter-relation of mind and will, the will is eventually affected even as the effect follows the cause. This way of describing conversion was meant to soften the harsh idea that the term “irresistible grace” suggests. It made conversion more of an intellectual response to God’s truth.

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