PURITAN NEWS WEEKLY

www.puritans.net/news/

5/08/07

 

 

OCCASIONAL HEARING

 

By Parnell McCarter

 

Unlike the historic Church of Scotland, and contrary to sound scriptural principles, historic Cameronian and Seceder churches have a policy forbidding what they term occasional hearing.Occasional hearing is the practice of attending worship services or preaching by ministers of denominations other than one's own. The historic Cameronian and Seceder position stipulates as a blanket policy that believers of a certain denomination should never engage in occasional hearing of ministers of another denomination, even if these ministers of another denomination be ministers of a true church in being, preach a true gospel, and have many valuable insights into the word of God.This policy, if consistently applied, would put Puritan Dr. John Owen (who fell into the error of ecclesiastical independency, but who on many other matters had a depth of scriptural understanding unparalleled by many Presbyterians) in the same category as the Pope (or even arguably a Muslim imam), for purposes of receiving instruction via preaching and teaching.Such a consequence alone should serve to evince the absurdity of the historic Cameronian and Seceder position on this matter.It would have been most unwise not to avail of Dr. Owenís theological scholarship in his day, whether via personal instruction or writing.And what is true then is true now.It would be unwise not to avail of the theological scholarship of Dr. Lee, Dr. Bacon, Dr. Beeke, Rev. Schwertley, Rev. Winzer, Rev. Lanning, Rev. Bancroft, Rev. Pockras, etc., even though they be in denominations different from the one in which I am heading.

 

The reality is that the policy of occasional hearing is rarely applied with consistency; even Cameronians and Seceders cannot live with it.A cursory tour of Cameronian websites like http://www.covenanter.org/and http://www.swrb.com/ will show how even Cameronians feed on the ministerial instruction of those of other denominations.Yet, historic Cameronian and Seceder arguments rely on passages like the following to make their argument: ďCease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge" (Proverbs 19:27).Such a passage as this is saying far more than simply not attending the services of one ďthat causeth to err.ĒIt is implying that we should not feed on their instruction in word or print.If historic Cameronians and Seceders, having identified every minister outside their denomination as one ďthat causeth to errĒ according to Proverbs 19:27, then they would not feed on such ministersí instruction in word or print as they do.The truth, however, is that Proverbs 19:27 is not speaking of men such as John Owen at all.And so the basis for their alleged Biblical argument falls.

 

Sadly, the error of the Cameronians and Seceders on this point of occasional hearing has tended to bring into disrepute certain things which should not be discarded.In an over-reaction to the Cameronian and Seceder error on occasional hearing, many have thrown the baby out with the bath water on some other matters associated in some ways with the historic Cameronian and Seceder churches (although certainly not tied exclusively to these churches).First, it has tended to bring into disrepute the esse / bene esse (i.e., being / well being ) distinction among denominations and sects, alongside the true / false distinction among denominations and sects.However, this esse / bene esse distinction is well founded as a basis for denominational affiliation , as discussed in the article at http://www.puritans.net/news/denominations050707.htm .In truth, the esse / bene esse distinction for purposes of deciding denominational affiliation has been employed by many reformed theologians outside Cameronian and Seceder circles.One example that famously comes to mind is James Bannerman, in his excellent work The Church of Christ.Second, it has tended to bring into disrepute a policy of greater care due with respect to which denominations one should partake the Lordís Supper.The esse / bene esse (i.e., being / well being ) distinction among church denominations can come into play with respect to communion.The church should excommunicate those who have fallen into the error of heresy and schism (I Corinthians 5:6-13, 11:19 ).These heretics and schismatics often then form heretical and schismatic denominations of their own.Under such circumstances, it is quite inconsistent for a believer to be partaking of the Lordís Supper in the heretical and schismatic church denominations formed, while recognizing the schism in Christís visible church is due to their heresy and errors.For instance, the Baptist error has caused schism in Christís visible church.It is an error against sound scriptural principle, which the Westminster Standards and other reformed confessions rightly condemn.Baptists should not be allowed communion in the reformed churches until they repent of their error.So it would be wrong for a reformed believer to partake of communion in a Baptist church, even a Calvinistic Baptist church.While a Calvinistic Baptist church is a true (not a false) church in its being, preaching a gospel by which men can be saved, it is not a church in well being.Thus, the esse / bene esse (i.e., being / well being ) distinction among church denominations should come into play with respect to communion, even though one may be greatly profited by reading and hearing some of the sermons of the Calvinistic Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon.As discussed in the article at http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs062804.htm , we should distinguish between allowing a Baptist to partake of communion in a reformed church (as well as partaking of communion in a Baptist church) versus the Reformation practice of allowing a member of the reformed Church of the Netherlands to partake of communion in the Church of Scotland, or vice versa.Letís give a somewhat hypothetical example which is more relevant today.Suppose a congregation in Northern Ireland is seeking union with but is not yet part of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPCS).And suppose one of its communicant members is visiting a FPCS congregation during its communion season.And suppose this communicant member fulfills all the FPCS criteria of belief and practice required of communicant members in the FPCS.Under such circumstances, it would be appropriate that such a visitor were allowed access to the Lordís Table in the FPCS church.But this is very different from allowing a Baptist access to the Lordís Table in the FPCS church.The official FPCS policy (which I think is correct) is somewhat different from the historic Cameronian and Seceder communion policy, but it shares with it great care taken with respect to who is admitted to the Lordís Table as well as where one should partake.