COMPETING THEORIES OF DENOMINATIONAL AFFILIATION
Readers may find these excerpts from a discourse on competing theories of denominational affiliation helpful:
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org,
"Richard Bacon" <pastor@...> wrote:
> Such reasoning, IMO, undermines the very point of distinguishing
> true and false churches on the one hand, and between being and
> those true churches on the other hand. The purpose of
> and false churches is so we can know what churches we may lawfully
> conscientious join. Thus to make the esse / bene esse distinction
the one by
> which we determine whether we may or may not affiliate with a
> church makes the prior distinction of true church/false church
Another list member posted the following comments:
“if Elders would only stay in a church that may be slidding and fight to reform her and make her a beauty of a jewel in her profession AND walk...what a glory that would be unto our King! Since Rev. Pockras has written that the RPCNA is moving towards reformation and trying to clean things up, and return to the faithful old paths, then why should ministers that know the good old way leave just because a few, let's say liberals, are trying to change things? They should stay and battle it out and those that are loose or trying to diluate the Truth should be made to leave or better be taught and repent of their unfaithful ways.”
Dr. Bacon, I do not understand you here. Let me give 2 examples:
1. The Lutheran churches during the Protestant Reformation: they
preached a true gospel by which men could be saved, but would it
have been right to join with such?
2. The schismatic churches in England and Scotland during the 1640s
(eg, those believing in Independency): they preached a true gospel
by which men could be saved, but would it have been right to join
As you know, I disagree with the Cameronians, especially on their
view of legitimacy of civil magistrates, but also on their
occasional hearing view. (And the errors of the RPNA multiplied far
beyond that.) On the other hand, I fail to see how we can discard
the esse / bene esse distinction in terms of denominational
As noted at http://www.puritans.net/news/biblicalrealism021207.htm,
I believe: So long as there is full subscription to the Biblical
standards outlined in the original Westminster Standards and a
reasonably good faith effort on the part of the church assembly to
implement those standards [i.e., a church in well being], we should
seek to be united to such a denominational church. On the other
hand, we ought not to join ourselves with churches that do not fully
subscribe to the Biblical doctrines outlined in the original
Westminster Standards. And we ought not to join with denominations
schismatically formed, when there was already a denomination which
fully subscribed to the Biblical standards outlined in the original
Westminster Standards and there was a reasonably good faith effort
on the part of the church assembly to implement those standards. We
ought not to aid and abet schism in the visible church of Christ in
our church membership. If a church meets the scripturally bottom
line conditions, then we ought not to leave it on the fanciful
prospect of some "better" church that could possibly be created.
It seems to me that you understood perfectly. But I also understand that you disagree with me. So...would that mean you could not conscientiously join any church where a common cup is not observed? If so, then I think you are simply falling into the "unduly constituted" error of the Steelites, whatever else you may find good about them.
Dr. Bacon, I was sincere when I asked my questions, because I was not sure how you would answer them. Both the Lutheran and Independent churches are certainly true (not false) churches in being, for they preach a gospel by which men can be saved. Would you not agree? Yet, I fail to see how a reformed Presbyterian could rightly join such. But it is not clear to me whether you would agree, given you feel “distinguishing true and false churches is so we can know what churches we may lawfully and conscientious join”.
With respect to your question to me, I would preface my response by noting the sense of ‘church’ I mean when I write, “So long as there is full subscription to the Biblical standards outlined in the original Westminster Standards and a reasonably good faith effort on the part of the church assembly to implement those standards [i.e., a church in well being], we should seek to be united to such a denominational church.” In this context, by ‘church’ I mean the whole denomination, not some local manifestation. So when I speak of the church in its well being in this context, I mean in its official status as a whole denomination. I am not speaking of the spiritual well being of some local congregation(s). As a Presbyterian, we ought not to separate from a denomination just because there are peculiar local shortcomings.
I would also preface my response by some quotes from James Begg that you have helpfully provided at your church’s website http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/Begg_Communion_Table_Introduction.htm : “This Innovation gave just cause of offence to several Ministers and private Christians. It was considered as a corruption of the worship of God, and contrary to the established laws and authorized practice of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. They saw that it was reviving an old heresy in worship, already condemned by the Church of Scotland, and calculated to interrupt the peace of the Church, and to produce schism and division...If there are any Ministers of the Church of Scotland who are dissatisfied with our Established Presbyterian form of worship, and are more attached to the Independent form, they ought publicly to declare so, and leave the Church…This matter has already been frequently and solemnly decided. It was decided in the Westminster Assembly, and in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1645.”
With these things in mind, so long as a denomination maintained full subscription to the Biblical standards outlined in the original Westminster Standards, its official position as a church would be as noted in the article at http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/Begg_Communion_Table_Introduction.htm . James Begg rightly did not separate from the denomination simply because there were local violations of the established law. And he rightly did not separate simply because the church as a whole might not have as decisively and quickly enforced church law as ideal. On the other hand, if the church as a whole were foolishly to alter its official position (for instance, officially adopting the sorts of violations condemned in http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/Begg_Communion_Table_Introduction.htm, then I agree with James Begg in his characterization of this as “an old heresy in worship… calculated to interrupt the peace of the Church, and to produce schism and division...”
And example of such foolishness on the part of a denomination is that of the RPNA regarding tattoos and head-coverings in public worship , even mandating that members agree to these things. Such erroneous positions no Christian should accept, so there would be just ground for separation. Nevertheless, I still regard the RPNA as a true church in being, even though not in well being.
Edgar, if you feel that you have tried out the philosophy of denominational affiliation I am advocating at http://www.puritans.net/news/biblicalrealism021207.htm and have found it wanting, I would submit at least 3 reasons you never really tried the philosophy out in the RPNA at all:
1. The RPNA, along with other Cameronian denominations, while sincerely believing they adhere to the Westminster Standards, do not in truth, as explained at http://www.puritans.net/news/magistrate072804.htm .
2. The RPNA, as shown by its actions regarding tattoos and head-coverings in public worship, has not reasonably implemented the Westminster Standards it professes to uphold.
3. Those who joined with the RPNA chose to join with a small denomination schismatically formed, when there was already a church in place that held to the Westminster Standards and reasonably well implemented those standards. In so doing, they chose to join an organization with only a handful of leaders, in contrast to the ideal of many leaders (Proverbs 24:6 ).
Those who made the choice should not be so surprised by ill consequences when various sound principles for denominational affiliation were not followed.
Now with respect to your newly embraced philosophy of denominational affiliation, its underlying assumptions, if consistently applied, could logically lead you back into the church of Rome for several reasons.
First, because if we can choose denominational affiliation with a church in being (esse), and are not obliged to choose a church in well being (bene esse), then it may well be argued Protestants can and perhaps should have remained in the Romish Church to improve it. As noted in the article at http://www.puritans.net/news/catabaptism091905.htm , Dr. John Calvin rightly opined, in his commentary on II Thessalonians 2, that the Romish Church “retaineth some relic of a church, mangled as it is.” We cannot argue the Romish Church is in no sense a true church in being (albeit it certainly is not one in well being), without contradicting what is taught in II Thessalonians 2:3-4, and as rightly interpreted in the Westminster Confession.
Furthermore, the nature of rejection of creedal full subscriptionism, which characterizes not only the RPCNA, but also the PCA, OPC, etc., is predicated on assumptions which are consistent with Romish and not Protestant positions:
1. Rejection of creedal full subscriptionism is generally predicated on an effective denial of the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture. If scripture is perspicuous in its body of doctrines, then men are without excuse in their rejection of creedal full subscriptionism. But if scripture is not perspicuous, as Rome has long argued, then full subscriptionism is unrealistic and unwarranted, for the church can not be expected to draw up the chief doctrines from scripture alone.
2. Rejection of creedal full subscriptionism is generally predicated on an effective denial of the importance of written confessions in the life of the church. But differences over the doctrines contained in written confessions was a chief impetus for the Protestant Reformation. It was no accident that Protestant theologians wrestled for long hours in discussions with Romish theologians, trying to see if agreement in written confession on the chief doctrines of faith were possible.
3. Such denominations generally allow those as communicant members in their churches who disbelieve the doctrines of grace (are Arminians) and the Regulative Principle of Worship. Some even allow elders who disbelieve one or both of these. Now we should remember these words of John Calvin describing the Protestant separation from the Romish Church, who rightly stated: “All our controversies concerning doctrine relate either to the legitimate worship of God, or to the ground of salvation” (The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543), http://www.swrb.ab.ca/newslett/actualNLs/NRC_ch03.htm). If these doctrines be not essential after all, as implied by allowing their disbelief in communicant members, then the basis of the Protestant separation from the Romish Church is weak indeed.
While to stay in such denominations to improve them may seem high-minded, we should not ignore where such arguments logically lead. Even more importantly, such a course is contradicted by scriptural principles for selecting denominational affiliation. Scripture requires us to join that denomination which stands opposed to heresies and schisms, for only such is approved of God (I Corinthians 11:19).
… I understand all too well why we should affiliate with the best reformed church the country may have given our current ecclesiastical climate. Trust me, when I tell you that this is so at the fore in my life right now. My concern is that most of the ones that on paper claim to hold just about all points of doctrine that I hold to, are either very small and therefore I am gun shy given what we went through in the "RPNA-GM" or denominational in their mentality and therefore given over to a sort of schism in that they all remain separate from one another for various and myriad reasons… Since I know that you hold that the FPCS is the best reformed church in the USA, I wonder why you still have not joined her, yet ask everyone else to do so. I have issues with that. I also have issues with some denominations, but recognize that we need to be a part of the Body and I am considering many aspects, not only what is on paper, but the current health of the denomination, and how robust their ministry is. Before I jump in the water, I need to settle some things...I understand that is part of your reason why you have yet to join the FPCS…Since I know that you hold that the FPCS is the best reformed church in the USA, I wonder why you still have not joined her, yet ask everyone else to do so…While the FPCS may be solid in many, many areas, they are Scottish, we need an indigenous church in the USA that aims at unity in Truth, without compromise that may one day lead to being the National Established Church… I am still a Reformed Presbyterian…
Edgar, here are several thoughts for you to consider:
1. You are wise for taking your time to sort these matters out and thoroughly to consider them before jumping into a new denomination. And if a church is doing you justice given these circumstances, it will not seek to hastily make you a communicant member in their denomination.
2. Trying to find the “best” church out there is about as tangible as trying to catch the wind, or trying to find the “best” person on this list. I do not advocate trying to find the “best” church, nor do I know which one it is. As I say at http://www.puritans.net/news/biblicalrealism021207.htm , “if a church meets the scripturally bottom line conditions, then we ought not to leave it on the fanciful prospect of some “better” church that could possibly be created.” And the article outlines those bottom line conditions. (If you look back years ago at the various lists, you will see my posts expressing concern with the way RPNA people were searching for and had supposedly found the “best” or “most faithful” church.)
3. You are not going to be able to have your cake and eat it too. As a resident of the USA, if you want a church with a significant number of elders and that credibly professes adherence to the original Westminster Standards, then it must be a mission work of a foreign church. But if you want an indigenous American church that credibly professes adherence to the original Westminster Standards, then it is very micro-Presbyterian indeed and relatively new in formation. My thoughts on this choice are at http://www.puritans.net/news/name041207.htm . I would simply add that the reasons for existence of the indigenous American churches are generally more than just that they wanted to be an indigenous American church, and in some cases that was not a thought at all in their formation. To take but one example, the Presbyterian Reformed was formed in part because of differences with the FPCS over Sabbath public transport (see http://www.puritans.net/news/sabbathpublictransport042605.htm ), and more differences have developed since then. If they wanted to be purely American, I doubt they would have congregations in Canada and the UK.
4. If by “Reformed Presbyterian” you mean Cameronian, then I would simply point out that among the professedly “Reformed Presbyterian” denominations that have a synod or anything near to it (e.g., the RPCI and RPCNA), they have discarded with the distinctively Cameronian errors regarding the civil magistracy (see http://www.puritans.net/news/magistrate072804.htm ) and occasional hearing (see http://www.puritans.net/news/occasional050807.htm ) every bit as much as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPCS) lacks such distinctives. On the other hand, where Cameronianism was right, such as seeking to maintain full subscriptionism to the original Westminster Standards as adopted by the Church of Scotland in the 1640s, the FPCS has remained faithful, whereas denominations like the RPCI and RPCNA have not (see http://www.puritans.net/news/rpci050307.htm and http://www.puritans.net/news/rpcna043007.htm ). In addition, the FPCS has officially called for the repeal of the Rescissory Act and thus re-instatement of the Solemn League and Covenant in the statute books of the United Kingdom (see http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs070605.htm ). Finally, the FPCS has an historic tie to “Reformed Presbyterianism” like the RPCI and RPCNA do. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland joined the old Free Church back in 1876, before the old Free Church adopted the Declaratory Act in 1892. (The FPCS has an historic tie to Seceders also, because in 1852 the Original Seceders Church merged with the old Free Church.) When the old Free Church passed the Declaratory Act, the FPCS separated from it in order to maintain a church fully subscribed to the Westminster Standards (see http://www.puritans.net/bookreviewseconddisruption.htm ). So those of Reformed Presbyterian heritage in the old Free Church who insisted on maintenance of full subscriptionism to the Westminster Standards joined with the FPCS.
5. The reason the process of my joining the FPCS has been over an extended period of time is due to a combination of factors: my own personal investigation of denominations; difficult personal wrestling with knotty issues like attire and jewelry (see http://www.puritans.net/news/attire040604.htm ) which I had not previously considered in depth; division in my family regarding denominational affiliation (see http://www.puritans.net/news/family022307.htm ); significant distance between my personal residence and the nearest FPCS congregation; and carefulness on the part of the FPCS in terms of my admission into the communicant membership of the FPCS, especially given factors such as my distance. I am not asking anyone else to do what I am not doing myself.
Isn't one obliged to actually take part in the congregational life of the FPCS before recommending it to others? I think you can set up an ideallic model in theory which simply cannot be maintained in practice. I for one was quite surprised to find out what an FPCS church tolerates, particularly outside of Scotland; and notwithstanding I still hold the FPCS in high regard because of their maintenance of the AV, Westminster Confession, and Scottish Psalter. I hold all churches in high regard who continue to maintain the old ways, even though they might struggle to consistently implement them in our day, which we all agree is a day >of flagrant immorality.
Clearly, Rev Winzer, different people come from different perspectives,
and the perspective that I offer is one who is 6-7 hours from the nearest FPCS
congregation and in North America and involved with it (though not yet a
communicant member of it) for the last 6 years. That is different from someone
like Peter in Scotland. I do not think that difference disqualifies me from giving
my opinion about the FPCS. But I would encourage anyone who was considering the
FPCS to shop around for perspectives, and not to rely on mine alone.
I am more aware than you might imagine of various shortcomings and weaknesses in the FPCS. It was with those in mind that I wrote http://www.puritans