The Puritans: Church and State

puritansLetter DDuring the early seventeenth century the group known as the Puritans left England and settled the area of New England, there setting up their colony. They would do this due to a combination of wishing to escape religious persecution in England and the desire to create for themselves a sanctuary where they could develop their ideas and prove to the world that their form of religion could work.

In the creation of their colony the Puritans wished to be sure that the same sort of situation were the church was dominated by the government would not occur in their colony as it had in England, however at the same time they wished to create a “city upon a hill.” In organizing and making their colony a reality the Puritans would need to have a working relation between the church and the state to give liberty to their citizens but also to ensure discipline and deter depravity.

Three authors that discuss this dynamic in various ways are Jack P. Greene in his book Pursuits of Happiness, Thomas J. Wertenbaker in The Puritan Oligarchy, and David D. Hall in his book The Faithful Shepard.

Each work discusses the topic and for the most part, each work agrees fluidly on the way that the Puritans organized their colonies and dealt with the issue of the relationship between the church and the state.

The State’s Duty to Maintain the Church

In his book Pursuits of Happiness, Jack Greene delves into the formation of the British colonies in North America and their social, cultural and economic development. In his discussions Greene spends some time addressing the creation of the Puritan colonies and the relationship they had between church and state.

Greene is quick to note the desire of the Puritans to become a model for the Christian world to form itself after and that in this desire for such a Christian model the Puritans would need a powerful church and clergy.

Furthermore, in order to create such a model the relationship between the religious and civil leaders would need to be a close knit, supportive one. The Puritan colonists desired a community of Christian love and of people of the same mind as themselves.

They desired to keep order, hierarchy, and subordination and in doing so to exercise control over the economic, moral and social conduct of the citizens; all imperative for maintaining their model Christian colony.

This was coupled with a desire to exclude and isolate those who opposed their beliefs, a justification for being highly intolerant of other religions.

In the course of reaching these ends the magistrates passed laws mandating that communities establish schools for the purpose of creating in children the right religious and social principles desired. The state thus required religious schools.

Furthermore, Puritan voting rights were based upon the classification of freemen, a classification which was given only to those with church membership. Greene even goes so far as to note that in the duties of the magistrates apart from “establishing political institutions, allocating land, making laws” and “dispensing justice” included “reinforcing the position of the clergy and churches.” It is this relationship and debates over the organization of church government, focusing much on voting rights, which would cause the Puritans much trouble later.

Not only does Greene discuss the way in which the civil aspects cooperated with the religious, but the religious also worked towards helping the civil government. The Puritans accepted a social hierarchy as well as the authority of their magistrates, authority which was enhanced by the cooperation of the clerical leaders.

The religious leaders believed that it was their responsibility to create and maintain a “political society which would have as its primary emphasis the protection of the rights of the churches.”

The Puritans believed the community was bound in a covenant with God. This visible group of secular and clerical leaders, which they often brought with them from England, gave authority to the government as well as the church through their cooperation.

Finally Greene notes the strong power of family in the Puritan community. According to Green these strong, extended, patriarchal families played a part in helping to keep the social control and in guaranteeing peace. This power was so much that it leaned towards oligarchy as a few wealthy families dominated office, families that had previously grown from the older powers.

All in all Greene views the Puritan relations between church and state as a cooperative one. The church helped the state and in turn the state helped the church, thus giving the ministers considerable political power. To top it off the community as a whole was dominated by powerful, near oligarchic, families.

Church & State – Mutually Supportive Enforcers

In his book The Puritan Oligarchy Thomas Wertenbaker approaches the relationship between the church and the state from multiple angles and for the most part, Wertenbaker and Greene agree on how this relationship was conducted. He notes the close relationship between the civil and the religious and expounds upon the degree to which they worked as one.

Beginning with the founding, Wertenbaker notes that the Puritans intentionally tied the government with the church in the colonies due to their failure to gain support in England before their migration.

In this the ministers had a powerful influence in the community; a power that was not only religious, moral or intellectual, but also political.

The amount of power that the minister held is made apparent in the voting laws. As Greene had also pointed out, in order to vote a person had to be a freeholder, or freeman, and in order to be a freeholder a person had to be a member of the church.

The rationale for this was that only people of God could elect godly leaders.

The minister’s power came in that he had the ability to excommunicate the members of the church. This ability would thereby indirectly give the minister the power to decide who voted and who didn’t, a considerable political tool.

To further tie the state and the church Wertenbaker describes how it was the congregation that elected the minister but it was the town as a whole that paid the minister’s salary. This meant that even those not a member of the church still paid for the minister (although at least for the first generation there were few inhabitants who weren’t members of the church).

Wertenbaker describes the Puritans as a whole creating a mutual ruling relationship between the church and the state. In support of this he quotes the Puritan Urian Oakes as declaring “the commonwealth and holiness in the churches inseparable” and that “to divide what God hath conjoined… is folly in its exaltation;” that God’s interests are set in both the institutions.

The church government was there to strengthen the civil government rather than to oppose it and the civil government was there to support the faith and suppress all others.

Both church law and civil law where to be based upon the Bible, thus it was also the duty of the magistrates to punish such things as blasphemy, heresy and idolatry. The magistrates were thereby in effect responsible for punishing sins.

Finally, Wertenbaker makes it apparent that for all intents and purposes, most of the people who ran the state also ran the church and vise-versa.

Since in the beginning almost everybody was in the church it was not unusual for the congregation and the political body to be one and the same, even though on paper the two where separate institutions. The freemen assembled in a meeting-house that the community was built around and as Wertenbaker notes they discussed both religious and civil affairs; as Wertenbaker puts it “it (the council) could at one moment be considering the matter for the common fence around a grain field and the next, if it so chose, convert itself into the congregation without leaving the meeting room.”

Wertenbaker builds a picture of the Puritan community as one were the church and state enter mutually supportive roles. Each was there to strengthen the other and to serve God. They were meant to work together and as Wertenbaker points out this was quite easy as the same people that made up the civil government also made up the congregation.

Church & State in Conflict

As with Greene and Wertenbaker, David Hall in his book The Faithful Shepard also describes the close relationship between the Church and State in Puritan New England.

Unlike Greene and Wertenbaker, Hall focuses more on the struggles concerning the minister’s role in the society and the changes in that role throughout the Puritan period, primarily changes concerning the appointing of the minister and voting rights. Hall’s goal is to follow the evolution of the minister’s status, power and conflicts from the founding through the declension.

He takes a slightly different stance on the church and state relations.

winthrop.jpegHall begins his chapter on Church and State by describing John Winthrop telling his shipmates that “a covenanted people must build their form of civil government upon the basis of the word.”

This is quite similar to Wertenbaker’s statement that the Puritans believed both civil and church law were to be based upon the Bible. However, unlike Greene or Wertenbaker, Hall goes on to note that with the creation of a godly state in mind, a “’Theocracy’ in which the civil government served the will of God” was the plan for the Puritans.

The Puritan ministers at a point began to speak in terms of “soldiers” and how these soldiers should act in Christ’s stead to rule the kingdom.

The magistrates, according Puritan Thomas Cartwright, were there to defend the church.

According to Cartwright “the civil magistrates must remember to subject themselves unto the Church, to submit their scepters, to throw down their crowns before the Church, yea, as the prophet teacheth, to lick the dust off the feet of the Church.”

Despite this goal of a sort of theocracy and the harsh subjection of state to church that Cartwright promotes, Hall describes a relationship between church and state that is quite adversarial.

Hall points out the church membership requirement in voting and how the Puritans believed this was vital in order for the state to be a tool for enforcing moral law. The state and church were also close in that the ministers had power and used it such as in cases of warfare where the minister had to be consulted beforehand. Even further the colonies extended the protection of the state to ministers.

Hall describes them as believing that the church and state should help and strengthen one another, allowing the ministers to intervene in state affairs, have direct consultations with the government and to attend sessions of the General Court, even when it met as a judicial body. This meeting of the ministers with the court went so far as to even allow the ministers in at least one case to listen to debate, give advice and make motions on the court floor. The meeting days would even be scheduled on lecture days so that the most ministers available could attend.

This shows great cooperation between the church and state, yet even with all of these factors to create a close relationship between the Church and State they were still often at odds with each other.

Puritan John Cotton insisted that the two institutions be separate but equal, both seeking to promote the good of men and God’s glory. He believed that both religious power in state hands and civil power in church hands were wrong.

Ministers turned to politics when attempting to turn theory into practice and found politicking useful for maintaining social order, the state fought against this.

In cases where this happened the social authority of the minister could be degraded. Furthermore, offices could not be held in both institutions such as in the case of Increase Nowell, an elder of the church who was told that he could not be both an elder and the secretary of the Massachusetts government. To make this matter more fragile there was the conflict over voting rights, and furthermore over whom it was that could ordain pastors, God or the people. The Puritans believed the post to be an “ordinance of God” but also needed to elect the individual, thus they sought ways around this.

With these complicated relations between the church and the state in New England a sort of compromise was reached in the time of the declension, though not to the original desire of either side. Hall notes how around the 1640s, the ministers joined with John Winthrop and his magistrates in order to fight against the “purists to their left and the worldly to their right” during the declension.

This alliance between church and state is still apparent, though it wasn’t the norm but rather a reaction to troubled times.

Hall shows just how complicated the relationship between the church and the state were in Puritan New England.

He shows them as being two institutions that weren’t meant to be crossed but that often worked together. He also shows them as being adversarial and working against one another at times despite their closeness, fighting to keep themselves separate and from becoming as they had in England, one institution dominating the other.

Putting It All Together

On the whole the three texts discussed all work together to create an agreeable theory. The three all recognize the requirement of church membership for the allowance of voting rights and the power of the ministers in regard to this, but also the strife that it caused between the church and the state. All three also agree on the close relationship between the church and the state and the power that both the ministers and the magistrates held.

They all note that the two worked together, or at least that the ministers had a strong hand in the affairs of the civil government and they also all recognize the state carrying out the lack of toleration of those not of the faith, persecuting for the church and its religious mandates such as those against blasphemy.

Whether the church and state are described as “separate but equal” or as a group of people fulfilling two roles, the mutually supportive relationship is the same.

Finally they all also agree on the power of the family, Wertenbaker even to the point of calling the colonies a “Puritan Oligarchy.” In these ways the three texts complement each other, each offering a good picture of the Puritan life. Each offers a slightly different point of view, whether the slight overview offered in Pursuits of Happiness, the focus on the founding, family, and decay in The Puritan Oligarchy, or the analysis of the minister’s changing duties and roles throughout the Puritan period in The Faithful Shepard.

Though there are no major contradictions there are some grievances between the conclusions reached by the authors.

Where Greene points to a hierarchy Wertenbaker argues against one, especially within the church government of the colony. Greene states that the Puritans wished to maintain a hierarchy and to subordinate those that disagreed with them. Contrary to this Wertenbaker notes that, especially in the church, the Puritans believed that there should be no hierarchy as it “had no sanction in the Bible.”

Hall also differs from both Greene and Wertenbaker in his depiction of the negative relations between the civil and the religious aspects of the Puritan society.

While all three describe the closeness that the church and state felt and the openness of the civil government and magistrates to the opinions and desires of the ministers, Hall more-so than Greene or Wertenbaker describes the disdain of the magistrates for the ministers meddling in civil affairs, especially towards holding office in both church and civil government. Hall also more than the others describes a subordinate position of the state to the church through the eyes of Thomas Cartwright.

The differing conclusions reached by each author show us one primary fact about the Puritans, the Puritans were not monolithic. If we read the writings of individual Puritans we find that some desired a more hierarchical system while others believed this unbiblical. We’ll find that many desired a close relationship between the church and the state while others saw this as problematic.

We will also find that the views of the Puritans as a group changed over time. During the first generation the Puritans as a group – while they still had their differences – were fairly homogenous. This is why it can be noted that early on to only allow church members to vote still resulted in most everybody being able to vote.

Yet as time passed the first generation gave birth to a second generation and a third. These latter generations were tied less to the ideals of their parents and grandparents. This resulted in an inevitable tension between those who were ostracized by the Puritan system, with tensions growing between the groups on the matter of how closely the church should identify with the state (and vis versa).

The Puritans had a close relationship between church and state, one that could be at times interpreted as a theocracy but was in fact much more complicated and filled with much more tension. It was a system in which the church attempted to guide the formation of the society through its influence in the state, but which ultimately could not be sustained as the society grew and became more diverse.

Rereading the Faith for Today – Gnostic Tendencies and Defending Against Them

 

Princeton.pngLetter IIn his book The Everlasting Man G.K. Chesterton asserts that “the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.”

Chesterton is here referencing the way the early church had to deal with their contemporary culture attempting to bring all religions into one accord; the solution as Chesterton presents it was to formulate a creed, to define the Christian faith against those who pushed for mere assimilation.

One of the groups which Chesterton has in mind here are the early Gnostics. Although early Christianity was able to overcome the threat of Gnosticism in its day there is a perpetual tendency to re-interpret the faith, a perpetual tendency for sinful man to read the faith in a way congenial to his own culture. The failure of one attempt, such as the rationalistic Christianity of the Enlightenment, is followed by another, the Gnosticizing relativism of our present day.

When the the stars of cultural tendencies in which people re-read the faith align -as they have done today – the result in something akin to ancient Gnosticism.

This perpetual tendency to re-interpret the faith thus gives the appearance of an ongoing gnostic tendency plaguing the church throughout its history. As Nicholas Perrin puts it “The battle between orthodoxy and Gnosticism isn’t over yet and probably won’t be any time soon.”

Gnosticism in its Origins

In his systematic theology The Christian Faith Michael Horton provides a definition of Gnosticism in which he states that the primary underpinning was dualism, such as a contrast between the God of the Old Testament and that New Testament or the contrast between matter as evil and spirit as good.

They sought salvation from the evil material world, and believed this could be accomplished by gaining a secret knowledge. The cause of this as laid out by Horton is that this group of Jews and Christians “tried to reinterpret the biblical narrative in a basically Greek philosophical framework.”

When we read Tertullian’s writing against the Gnostic heretic Valentinus one realizes that Horton’s definition is only a rough generalization of the Gnostic position. Gnosticism as it expressed itself during the period of the early church had a very elaborate metaphysic consisting of varied and convoluted emanations from the central deity which comprise the various spirits of the world, a complex creation account which places the god of the Old Testament at fault, and has the creation of mankind (and the material world as a whole) being an error.

Although the original expression of Gnosticism is quite complex it is not necessary to go into the exact details of the system. Part of the reason for this is because Gnosticism was expressed in a wide variety of ways during the period of the early church, and because it had such a strong focus on subjective experience and interpretation it is difficult – if not impossible – to give any explicit statement of exactly what Gnosticism entailed.

Another reason for this is because Gnosticism is to a large degree merely a borrowing of philosophic trends popular of any given period; in the instance of the early church this borrowing was done primarily from Platonism.

The result was a group which focused on “a subjective, immediate experience” and “concerned themselves above all with the internal significance of events.” It regarded “all doctrines, speculations, and myths – their own as well as others’ – only as approaches to truth.”

Because the focus here is on the subjective “knowledge of the self as divine is the essential pillar of Gnosticism.” It is with these attributes in mind that one may analyze how Gnosticism is affecting contemporary Christianity.

General Gnostic Aspects in Contemporary Christianity

Ideas reminiscent of Gnosticism entered the contemporary era in a variety of ways, and it might be said that it was these tendencies which brought about the revival of interest in Gnosticism proper present in contemporary academia.

While one of the more recent expressions of gnostic-esque ideals was the New Age movement of the 1980’s and 90’s, the principle characteristic responsible for the gnostic presence in contemporary Christianity is the aforementioned way in which the Gnostics attempted to reinterpret the faith in the light of their culture’s philosophy.

In H. Richard Niebuhr’s analysis of the different ways in which Christianity interacts with the world around it – Christ and Culture he labels this sort of approach towards society as ‘The Christ of Culture’. As described by Niebuhr this is the approach which interprets Christ “wholly in cultural terms and tends to eliminate all sense of tension between him and social belief or custom” and seeks to “reconcile the gospel with the science and philosophy of their time.”

In not-to-distant history this can be seen in the way Enlightenment and modernist worldviews attempted – in step with their gnostic forebears – to interpret Christianity in light of the science and philosophy of that time period.

The result of this attempt was a rationalistic Christianity which put forth the idea “that truth must be a risk-free venture, leaving us with only two options: absolute certainty or thoroughgoing skepticism.” One of the results of this was an adherence to “the notion that we believe the Bible to be God’s Word on certain proofs” and a standard which required an “interpretation-free history.”

It is rather ironic then that in an attempt to find an interpretation-free history, the liberals of the day merely managed to “reinterpret the faith by the pagan philosophy of the day.”

When this ideal of absolute certainty inevitably failed and skepticism took center stage the door was opened for writers such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels – and prior to them Walter Bauer – to try and legitimate the original writings of Gnosticism.

Through the perpetual tendency to re-interpret Christianity via the lens of the popular philosophy, ancient Gnosticism itself was once again able to gain a hearing in the public square.

Yet the rise of Gnosticism is not merely a result of the Enlightenment and modernist thinkers attempting to rationalize Christianity. Other philosophic developments have occurred since then – some of them good and some of them bad – which have also served in one way or another to promote this revival of Gnosticism. Perhaps one of the most relevant philosophic developments in this regard are those of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault.

The first of these philosophic influences which has opened the door for Gnosticism – while at the same time itself owing its existence to the influx of gnostic tendencies –  is that of Derrida’s idea that there is ‘nothing outside the text.’ The idea presented is that reality is always being interpreted through the lens of language, so much so that reality itself is a sort of text requiring interpretation.

When interpreted through a more liberal schema, this is seen as showing that since everything is merely interpretation that the truth cannot be truly arrived at objectively, and therefore all interpretations are valid.

It is with cognitive dissonance that writers such as Ehrman and Pagels on the one hand insist on the modernist standards of an interpretation-free history, and on the other push the idea that all interpretations are valid.

Another of the primary philosophic influences forging the way for the Gnostic revival is the idea of Lyotard that has a disdain for meganarratives and an ‘incredulity toward metanarratives.’

The meganarratives are those which attempt to tell a grand story arching over human history, while metanarratives are those which attempt to legitimate themselves through appeal to some sort of universal reason.

The major result of this view was that the overarching narrative of the triumph of orthodoxy over the innumerable heresies began to be questioned, with a secondary result being an attack on the legitimacy of that orthodoxy’s appeal to something outside itself.

The last of these philosophic influences which was both brought about by gnostic tendencies in the faith and in turn enabled a newfound focus on ancient Gnosticism is Foucault’s idea that ‘power is knowledge’.

The idea behind this notion is that those in power have the ability to influence what is considered true ‘knowledge’, they are able to define what is the ‘correct’ interpretation of a given set of data.

For the resurgence of Gnostic thought-patterns, this meant that contemporary interpreters focused their attacks to a large degree on the way in which – according  to their view – the success of orthodoxy was merely the result of the dominant party powering their way to the front and rewriting the narrative surrounding their history.

Specific Gnostic Aspects in Contemporary Christianity

Even before there was an explicit focus on Gnosticism as a system, gnostic-esque ideas were working their way into the overall worldviews surrounding the church.

The primary of these aspects is the aforementioned tendency to re-interpret the faith through the lens of the popular philosophy.

During the early church period this played itself out in such a way that a variety of Platonism was brought into the church; during the modern period it played itself out in such a way that rationalism was brought into the church; in the contemporary period it is playing itself out in such a way that subjectivism and relativism have become major aspects of many churches.

The most aspect most reminiscent of Gnosticism in the contemporary church is the present focus upon individual experience, where truth is ultimately personal.

As has been already stated, the gnostics concerned themselves primarily with the internal significance of events, which in turn causes them to focus on the internal significance of whatever is perceived as conveying truth.

One way in which this presents itself in the church is a tendency in many Bible studies to focus on ‘what the passage means to me.’

Often, rather than attempting to try and discover what the intended meaning of a certain Biblical passage is, such groups focus on whatever personal feeling or message the reader thinks the passage is trying to tell them, and each person’s interpretation is just as valid as the next person’s. This individual interpretation and experience is elevated above adherence to any particular doctrine.

Indeed, the doctrines of the church are seen as things to be stretched and molded to suite one’s own personal understanding of truth.

A common phrase on the lips of those who take this line of thought is that ‘I have a relationship, not a religion.’ Here a false dichotomy is set up, for what they have is both a relationship and a religion, with the proper term for this being the church.

One chief effect of this focus on individual experience and interpretation is that it produces a class of Christians who are generally ignorant regarding what they believe or why they ultimately believe anything.

When faced with skeptics these individuals often find their faith shaken; when faced with those such as Bart Ehrman who tell them that there are other legitimate versions of their faith or that their faith is founded upon a lie, they have no idea how to respond (and may thus even end up embracing Gnosticism itself as a system, as opposed to merely being influenced by some of its aspects).

Those such as Rob Bell call them to question the doctrines of the faith, but fail to give any advise on actually arriving at an answer to those questions or on what standard these doctrines are supposed to be held to.

This is because the standard being looked to is not external, but internal.

The Christian faith turns to focus on “contemporary ideals of self-discovery, self-awareness, self-actualization, and self-salvation” coupled with a “dislike of any kind of authority” such as that represented in many doctrinal statements.

When the goal becomes this sort of self-discovery not only is the result a group of poorly informed individuals, but also a group that has little real cause for evangelism; since personal experience cannot be conveyed from one person to the next an attitude of ‘if it works for you, do it, if not then try something else’ is adopted.

Not only is simply difficult to be evangelical with a message of subjectivism, but such individuals must also worry about whether they are forcing their own beliefs on others – this fear of being imposing is perhaps the thing that kills evangelism the fastest.

Responding to Gnostic Aspects in Contemporary Christianity

Figuring out how best to respond to these trends is one of the challenges of thoughtful Christians.

tertullian (1)One good way to figure out how to respond is to look back to those who responded to these issues the first time they came about, such as Tertullian. In Tertullian’s writings at least three approaches may be found, to include: making others aware of what is influencing them, pointing out the shortcomings in their belief system along with the strength of the orthodox position, and appealing to the truth of Scripture.

The first way of response which can be picked up by Tertullian is simply to point out what it is that the other side is doing. That is, to bring it to their attention the way in which popular philosophy is influencing their beliefs.

This sort of approach is seen in Tertullian when he asks “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?” and goes on to exclaim “Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition.”

His goal here is to bring it to the attention of his opponents – and more importantly to those who might be influenced by his opponents – where the true origins of their beliefs lie. The previous sections detailing the general and specific aspects of Gnosticism present in the contemporary world (including how they came to be there) are themselves an attempt at this approach, and thus while they served to be primarily informational, that information is an apologetic in and of itself.

Tertullian’s approach may be emulated in the contemporary world by pointing out the way that the church was originally influenced by modernistic values, which then led to its influence by postmodern values. Before the problem can be properly addressed those who fall prey to it must be made aware of it.

Another way of response which can be found in Tertullian is the need to point out the failings of the opposing position.

This sort of tactic can be seen throughout Tertullian’s writings, such as in his writings against Marcion, where he systematically goes through the different implications of Marcion’s views to show how they are inconsistent with themselves. One example of this is where he shows that Marcion’s god is weak and unjust, for “how is it possible that he should issue commands, if he does not mean to execute them; or forbid sin, if he intends not to punish them” because “it would have been far more right, if he had not forbidden what he meant not to punish.”

In the contemporary world this may be accomplished by pointing out the ways in which subjectivism and relativism really keep the individual from saying anything meaningful, and that merely adhering to the popular philosophy is simply to trade one master for another – except whereas one master is constant and able to speak to people consistently over thousands of years, the other is fickle and ever changing with every new fad of thought.

Yet not only does Tertullian demonstrate the shortcomings of the opposing view, he also demonstrates the consistency of the orthodox view.

An example of this is Tertullian’s classic line that “the Son of God died, it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.”

His point is not that the Christian faith doesn’t make sense, but that for it to make sense one must accept it as a whole.

In this case that entails accepting that Christ was a man of flesh, and that in turn “Christ could not be described as being man without flesh… just as He is not God without the Spirit of God.”

In the contemporary world this may be accomplished by pointing out the ways in which Christianity, or the world at large, only makes sense when taken from an orthodox point of view. Furthermore, because the Gospel message is true, it is the only thing that will be able to fully account for their feelings and experiences, and to then offer hope.

A final way that Tertullian gives a good example of how to approach contemporary Gnostic influences in the world is through appeal to the Scriptures.

As he states, “We want no curious disputation after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.” Thus Tertullian can be seen appealing again and again to truth as presented in the Scriptures, such as detailing the authority of Christ from Luke, or proving the nativity through Matthew.

In the contemporary world Christians must appeal to the truth of Scripture, because ultimately it is the only avenue to any sort of salvific truth. If individuals are convinced to follow Christianity because of something other than the truth of Scripture, then more than likely they are merely adhering a different philosophy than they were before, but have found no true conversion.

Today

The perpetual tendency to re-interpret the faith has resulted in the resurgence of gnostic-style influences being alive and well in the world today, and through these influences a newfound focus on Gnosticism itself has arisen.

The primary of these influences is the tendency to interpret the faith in the light of the popular philosophy of the day, which in turn leads to a relativising and a watering-down of the truth.

The danger that this presents to the church is not something seen only by those defenders of the faith such as Chesterton. Quite the contrary, those promoting such gnostic views realize exactly what the danger is; as Elaine Pagels puts it, “Had Christianity remained multiform, it might well have disappeared from history, along with dozens of rival religious cults of antiquity.”

The difference lies in the fact that those such as Pagels view having dozens of rival religious cults as a better thing than having only one, because in the opinion of herself and those like her all of the rivaling cults are merely diverse approaches to truth and God. Because such individuals places no real truth-value on orthodox Christianity it is not a true problem for them if it fades into obscurity beneath a newfound diversity – indeed, that would be a good thing from their perspective.

Yet with a proper understanding of Scripture and of the theological and philosophic issues surrounding it, the Christian is aware of just how dangerous these trends can be.

Gnosticism is far from dead; as put by Alister McGrath, “Its echo is heard today in those who interpret Christianity as a religion of self-discovery, not redemption.” 

The Christian knows that grace and redemption is what is needed by the world, and it is with this in mind that they are called to fight against the influences which would try and make the faith palatable by making it relative.

 

 

 

Two or Three Uses? – The Law in Luther & Calvin

Luther and Calvin.png

Letter WWithin the realm of Christian theology there are many fiercely debated topics. One such topic is the question of the how the Law is to be understood in the Christian faith, especially in the light of the gospel and in the life of the Christian.

Taking on this task, Reformation thinkers Martin Luther and John Calvin both put forth ideas of how the Law is to be understood within Christianity.

When given a cursory reading, it will be noticed that Luther put forth two different uses of the Law, whereas Calvin put forth three, a distinction which has caused a fair amount of dispute between Lutheran and Reformed theologians to this day.

In order to gain a better understanding of this doctrine is helpful to compare and contrast these two great thinkers’ views on the topic, paying careful attention to how and why they draw the distinctions that they do. For John Calvin, it will be necessary to analyze his Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he lays out what he sees to be the three uses of the Law. For Martin Luther, it will be necessary to first look at his Commentary on Galatians, where he lays out what he sees to be the two primary uses of the Law; with this done, it will also be necessary to look at various other of Luther’s writings to discern whether or not he indeed limits the use of the Law to those two areas.

Because Calvin is more systematic in his approach to the topic of the uses of the Law, it will be helpful to discuss him first, and thereby gain a solid understanding of the field to be analyzed; with this done we can consider how Luther compares in his writings, both explicitly and implicitly.

John Calvin’s Three Uses of the Law

What the Law Refers To

In discussing Calvin’s uses of the Law, it is first necessary to discern what it is that Calvin refers to when he refers to the Law.

For this one may turn to the seventh chapter of the second book of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, where Calvin begins his in-depth discussion of the Law. Here Calvin states explicitly that ‘the Law’ he understands to refer to “not only the Ten Commandments, which contain a complete rule of life, but the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses.”

This definition of the Law is given in the context of pointing out that the Law is not something that exists merely as a negative, detracting from the hope of Israel for Christ. Rather, Calvin argues that this was given through Moses for the sake of ‘renewing’ the Abrahamic promises, to be seen as “types and shadows of corresponding truth.” Thus Calvin begins his discussion of the Law by pointing out that the Law is not a bad thing. Indeed, Calvin goes so far as to say in reference to the religious aspect of the Law that “the fullness of grace, of which the Jews had a foretaste in under the Law, is exhibited in Christ,” in reference to the priestly offices that they would come to inhabit.

After this ceremonial and religious aspect of the Law, Calvin goes on to discuss the more explicitly moral aspect of the Law, which serves to point out the fact that eternal life awaits perfect obedience of the Law. By this the Law serves to show that the people fall under the curse, the result of which is “despondency, confusion, and despair.” Regardless, Calvin notes, the fact that perfect obedience to the Law is nowhere to be found does not mean that the Law has therefore been given in vain, for through justification by faith the people learn to embrace the goodness offered in the gospels.

The ‘office’ of this moral law, Calvin continues, itself consists of three parts, which is where one enters fully into Calvin’s understanding of the three uses of the Law.

Three Uses of the Law: Serving as a Mirror

In beginning his discussion on the three parts of the moral law, Calvin first points to the use of the law as it exhibits “the righteousness of God – in other words, the righteousness which alone is acceptable to God.”

Pointing out what righteousness is acceptable to God in turn convicts and condemns the people of their pride and serves as “a kind of mirror” in which “we discover any stains upon our face” such that the people will observe their own impotence, iniquity, and the curse and consequence of those. This aspect of the Law is that aspect experienced by those who are “sinners not yet regenerated.”

In continuing his defense of the Law, Calvin points out that the fact that the Law serves to only condemn does not detract from the excellence of the law, since the reason the Law is insufficient for salvation is because of our lack of obedience, and thereby not any fault in the Law itself. The Law if further not marred because God has declared that his end goal is not to “allow all to perish” but to that he might take mercy upon them by turning them to the mercy offered in Christ.

Thus, the first use of the law is that it serves as a mirror, showing mankind their iniquity and convicting them of their subsequent condemnation, and through this driving them to take refuge in the mercy of God in Christ.

Three Uses of the Law: Serving as a Curb

The second use of the Law, Calvin argues, is that through the fear of punishment that it might “curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.” These individuals have their behavior curbed, Calvin argues, not because their hearts are changed or they are “inwardly moved and affected”, nor do they change their behavior in order to better please God. Rather, they are restrained through the force of “terror and shame”, terror of the punishment which will come to them if they act against the Law, and the shame which will be attached to their actions. 

This outward restraint does not lead to an inward change of heart; just the opposite, due to having to restrain themselves Calvin argues that they become even more hostile to God – the Lawgiver – more inflamed, such that they “rage and boil”, ready to break out whenever the fear of the law is gone.

In spite of the fact that this aspect of the Law doesn’t avail in changing the hearts of those who are under it, Calvin argues that it too is still a good thing. This goodness comes not from the impact of the Law upon those whom it inflames, but on the overall good of society. This is so because through restraining these individuals society’s peace is “secured by a provision but for which all things would be thrown into tumult and confusion.”

Furthermore, even though the unregenerate might not be driven to holiness by this aspect of the Law, Calvin argues that it does train those who will eventually be converted in how to “bear the yoke of righteousness.”

That is, it gives them a sort of head start in what it is like to live as a Christian. Lastly, this use of the law for these individuals keeps them from “giving full scope to their passions, and thereby utterly losing all desire after righteousness.” Calvin here argues that the law keeps the yet-to-be-regenerated individual from giving in fully to their passions and thereby retaining in them at least some desire for righteousness. This is such that should God not immediately bring an individual to salvation, he may prepare them for salvation by cultivating that rightful fear which a child ought to have of their Father.

Thus, in its second use, the law serves both the good of society in restraining individuals from wicked behavior as well as cultivating in some of those individuals the discipline and fear that they should rightfully have when they eventually become children of God.

Three Uses of the Law: As a Rule of Life

In his commentary Calvin notes that there is a tendency for theologians to relegate the entire use of the law to the increase of transgressions as presented in Galatians 3:19. He goes on to note that Paul speaks of the law as profitable for doctrine and notes that “the definition here given of the use of the law is not complete, and those who refuse to make any other acknowledgment in favor of the law do wrong.”

Following his discussion of the uses of the law as a tool for turning people toward reliance on God and as a tool for curbing behavior which would be harmful to society, Calvin turns toward what he refers to as the ‘principal use’ of the Law, and what is known in theology at large as simply ‘the third use of the Law’.

This use of the Law differs from the previous two uses in that while the first two uses of the Law apply – in Calvin’s system – primarily to the unregenerate, this third use is the Law as it is applied to the regenerate, to believers who are already following God.

In speaking of this use of the Law, Calvin begins by pointing out that believers already have the Law written on their hearts along with a desire to obey God. In light of this state of believers Calvin says that there are still two different ways that the Law can be useful for them. The first of these ways is that the Law is still the “best instruction for enabling them daily to learn… what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow.”

That is to say, study of the Law increases the wisdom of the believer in regards to what the will of God for them is. The second of these ways is that through meditating on the Law, Calvin asserts that the believer will be further motivated toward obedience and further drawn away from the temptation of sin; this can perhaps be best summed up in Calvin’s statement that “If it cannot be denied that [the Law] contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it.”

In this the Law no longer serves to condemn the believer – even though they still cannot live up to it – but it points believers toward the goal to which we strive and exhorts them in this task, exhorts them in the task of working towards perfection as a rule of life.

From what has been observed it can be seen that Calvin allotted three uses to the Law. Firstly, it serves as a mirror to show us our unrighteousness and drive us toward dependence on God. Secondly, it serves as a curb to keep those who wish to do evil in check through fear of the punishments associated with the Law. Thirdly, it serves as a rule of life for believers to follow, instructing them in the will of God which they seek to follow.

One of the areas of note here is that in Calvin’s approach to understanding the different ways in which the Law operates, he places a great emphasis on the the Law as it applies to the unregenerate versus the Law as it applies to the regenerate. Thus, the first use applies to the nonbeliever, to drive them toward God. Similarly the second use applies to the nonbeliever, to curb their wicked desires. The third, contrary to these, applies to the believer, giving them a guide to Christian living.

Martin Luther’s Two Uses of the Law

While Calvin is very systematic in his approach to the Law, Luther is somewhat more sporadic and – indeed – pastoral and periodic, addressing his concerns more in response to a given issue rather than developing out each of his ideas in strict logical fashion.

For this reason it is necessary to look at a variety of Luther’s works, centering around his Commentary on Galatians, in which he presents his case for the two different uses of the Law.

Law and Gospel; Active and Passive Righteousness; Sinner and Saint

In looking at Martin Luther’s use of the Law, it is helpful to see how it is that he relates the one notion of the Law to the other of the Gospel, what he calls the active righteousness of the one to the passive righteousness of the other.

Luther begins his Commentary on Galatians with a discussion of the various types of righteousness. After a brief mention of the civil righteousness of abiding by the laws of the state and the ceremonial righteousness of the manners taught by parents, Luther enters into a discussion of the righteousness of the Law – as exemplified in the Ten Commandments – and the righteousness of faith.

These latter two types of righteousness differ from one another in that the righteousness of the Law is what Luther refers to as an active righteousness, a righteousness which actively seeks to fulfill God’s Law. Luther notes this active righteousness as being in vain, through which “sin is made exceedingly sinful.”

In realizing the vainness of this active righteousness, the person then turns to embrace the passive righteousness of Christ. Thus, the unbeliever is to oppressed with the Law until they are “thirsting for comfort”, at which time the Law is removed and the Gospel is placed before them. In turn, Luther argues, both Law and Gospel are necessary, but “both must be kept within their bounds” where the righteousness of the Law applies to the ‘old man’ and the righteousness of faith to the ‘new man’.

This notion is imperative to properly understanding Luther’s understanding of the Law, for the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ does not merely refer to the unregenerate and the regenerate.

Rather, the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ exist both within the believer, hence Luther states that “a Christian man is both righteous and sinner, holy and profane, an enemy of God and yet a child of God.” In the same way he asserts: “both these continue whilst we here live. The flesh is accused… bruised by the active righteousness of the law; but the spirit reigneth, rejoiced and is saved by this passive and Christian righteousness.”

Further on in his commentary he builds upon this notion, asserting that though he commits sins, these do not plague his conscience since he knows he is in Christ; instead he directs the chastisement of his sins towards his body, making the point that the Law cannot touch the conscience, though it may be directed towards the flesh.

It is only with this dual nature of man in mind that one may move on to understand the way that Luther appropriates the Law.

Two Uses of the Law: The Civil Use

When it comes time for Luther to discuss the nature of the Law in a more systematic manner, he states that there is a double use of the law. This first use, he argues, is the civil use. The civil use, simply put, is that the law is given in order to restrain sin. This restraint of sin does not lead to righteousness; rather, the very fact that there are sin to be restrained is signal that the individual is unrighteous, for it is only person who is prone to sin who needs to be threatened against sinning. Thus, this first use of the Law is “to bridle the wicked.” For this purpose there have been created governments and civil ordinances, ready to bind the person who acts against the law. While this use of the law does not produce salvation, it does provide for the public peace and “the preservation of all things.”

Two Uses of the Law: The Spiritual Use

Following his discussion of the civil use of the law in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther then turns to discuss what he calls the ‘theological’ or ‘spiritual’ use of the Law.

This use of the Law, as Luther argues, is that it is used in order to reveal to man his sin and his contempt of God, and in turn reveal the judgment and wrath which the man deserves from God. This use, Luther argues, is “the proper and the principal use of the law.”

The purpose of the law is thereby to terrify, to “rend in pieces that beast which is called the opinion of righteousness.” That is, the purpose of the law is to defeat the pride of the individual, to reveal sin, and to make the individual feel the burden of the law so that they might despair.

This use of the law Luther connects with God’s work at Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, which “brought that holy people into such a knowledge of their own misery, that they were thrown down even to death…” On top of this use of acting as a mirror, one finds in Luther’s other writings that he is willing to connect the law driving the individual “to despair of himself” with the result that it causes them “to seek the help which he does not find in himself elsewhere.”

Other Uses of the Law in Luther

It is noteworthy that in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther only points to two uses of the Law. Yet, if one looks to his other writings, a larger picture begins to appear. Thus, in  Against the Heavenly Prophetsone may find Luther writing of the five different articles of the Christian faith. The first is the law of God, the second the gospel. The third article is what Luther calls ‘judgment’, which is “the work of putting to death the old man”, and it is followed by the fourth article of “love toward the neighbor”, and a fifth article to “ proclaim the law and its works” to the “crude masses” such that they will “know what works of the law they are to do and what works ought to be left undone”; yet these works are not put before the Christian “as if one through them were upright or a sinner.”

Luther does not answer directly here the question of how one is to put to death the old man, or where one might look to discern what it is to love one’s neighbor, yet in his Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors he gets closer to doing so, stating that the “third element” of Christian life is “the doing of good works”; works which include “to be chaste, to love and help the neighbor, to refrain from lying, from deceit, from stealing, from murder… [etc].” Here Luther lays out at least four of the ten commandments as the ‘doing of good works’ which is an element of Christian life.

One may also turn to the most practical area of Luther’s writings, his catechisms.

Here Luther’s addresses the Ten Commandments in the life of the Christian, instructing his readers that they should not act contrary to the Commandments, that God promises blessings to those who keep the Commandments, and that Christians should “gladly do according to His commandments.”

In his Larger Catechism he then states that the one who knows perfectly the Ten Commandments will be able to “counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.” He later follows this statement up with the assertion that the Ten Commandments are “the true channel through which all good works must flow,” that doing these works will result in God’s blessing, and that “everyone is to make them his daily habit in all circumstances.”

Yet in contrast to this there is also the idea present in Luther’s Concerning the Letter and the Spirit that since the Christian “lives in the Spirit as the law demands; indeed, he no longer needs any law to teach him, for he knows it now by heart… there no teaching or law is needed; everything happens as it should happen.”

In figuring out how these apparent works of the law can be present in the Christian life of good works, it is necessary to see a further distinction Luther makes in his writings. In his Lectures on Romans, Luther makes the point that ‘the works of the Law’ are those that take place at the urging of the law, while the works of faith are those done “solely for the love of God.”

Thus, it could be argued that for Luther the same act could be either a work of the law or a work of faith, depending on the motivation for the act; “thus we gain a genuine desire for the law, and then everything is done with willing hearts, and not in fear.”

In light of this it is not incongruent for Luther to utter statements such as the one that the Christian should call upon God “according to the second commandment.”

Similarly, when Luther adamantly asserts that there is not teaching of the law and no need for the law, it seems that this should be read firstly to mean that there is no teaching of the law-as-condemning-force.

Luther’s practical use of the Law seems to demonstrate that when Luther talks of the Christian not needing the Law to teach him due to him knowing it by heart, he seems to be speaking more idealistically, of the ideal Christian.

In all of these other writings of Luther it may be observed then: (1)  adhering to the law works nothing for justification; (2) yet there are good works to be done by the Christian, and that these ‘good works’ include acts synonymous with certain commandments of the Law, for indeed, the heart has been changed to naturally act out the Law; (3) that the Christian should abide by the Ten Commandments, which will result in his being blessed by God; (4) that it is the motivation behind these acts that distinguish them from being ‘works of the law’, such that when done for the glory of God it is no longer law but faith.

In summing up his view on the two different uses of the law Luther states that “the law is good and profitable, but in his own proper use; which is, first to bridle civil transgressions, and then to reveal and to increase spiritual transgressions.”

The Law, for Luther, is primarily a light, but one that shows only sin and death. The Gospel, on the other hand, is a light which shows the mercy of God in Christ.

There are various noteworthy aspects to understanding Luther’s understanding of the Law. One of these aspects is the way in which Luther’s second use of the law is already contained in his first use of the law. As he said, the first use is to bridle the wicked, and the very fact that they need a bridle demonstrates that they are wicked, at least in a general way. The second use, then, narrows down this general demonstration of wickedness to terrify and convict the individual. This restriction and conviction is the extent of the Law for Luther.

Rather than go any further than this, where the Law ends for Luther, the Gospel may begin. The Law makes the individual despair so that the Gospel may come and give hope, the active righteousness of trying to live up to the law is replaced with the passive righteousness of Christ.

Most noteworthy in Luther’s understanding of the Law is that his primary focus is upon the old man verses the new man.

This is important because both the old man and the new man exist in the person of the believer. Thus, when the old man causes the individual to sin, the Law points to that sin in the life of the believer, but it doesn’t convict, for then the righteousness of Christ – the Gospel – is there to cover the sin. Yet in this it can be noted that the Law does still exist in the life of the believer for Luther, as he says: “among Christians we must use the law spiritually, as is said above, to reveal sin.”

In the writings of Luther as a whole it was observed that Luther does – in practice – use the law for more than merely keeping the wicked in check and revealing sin. He also seemed to promote good works as a Christian – works of faith – which were synonymous in content with the works of the Law, with the difference that they were done not out of the fear of the condemnation of the Law, but out of love for God and the desire to be blessed. In desiring to do these good works Luther advises the believer to meditate on the Ten Commandments, the same Ten Commandments he also equated with the righteousness of the Law.

Thus it might be observed that while in some instances Luther seems to clearly reject out of hand the use of the law in the life of the Christian, it seems that this may be in large a semantic error of Luther simply refusing to refer to this use of the law as a guide as a use of the ‘law’, for he desired to equate this with faith rather than Law.

In contrast to this it might be contended that “love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved” and that because the new man does not need the Law as an instruction, for the Law is written on his heart and he will act this out naturally and spontaneously; yet, Luther’s practical use of the Law seems to assume that the Christian can get instruction in good works from the law, and it is simply that fact that when discussing this facet Luther refrains from referring to it as the law.

Comparing & Contrasting Luther and Calvin

In comparing and contrasting Luther and Calvin there are many things which can be discussed. Perhaps the best place to start with this is to figure out where the two thinkers agree.

The first use of the Law that Luther put forward was what he called the civic use, which was noted as serving the purpose of bridling sin for the good of the society through the fear of the law. In the same way Calvin’s second use of the Law was that it served the purpose of curbing sin for the good of society through the fear of the law. In this use of the law Luther and Calvin seem to be in full agreement; there is only the relatively minor difference in how Luther points out that this use indicates the wickedness of man, whereas Calvin points out that this use serves the dual purpose of further inflaming the wickedness of man and training those who do not yet believe.

The second use of the Law put forth by Luther was what he called the spiritual use. In this way the law was used to terrify and convict people of their sin, to reveal their sin to them as in a mirror. Furthermore, whereas in his Commentary on Galatians he left the second use at that, in his Freedom of the Christian Luther alluded to the fact that this despair drives the individual somewhere besides themselves. In like manner, Calvin’s first use of the law was that of a mirror. This mirror shows people their unrighteousness and convicts them of their impending condemnation, and through this drives them to take refuge in the mercy of God in Christ.

While this second set of uses for the law by Luther and Calvin, both serving as mirrors, seem to be identical, there is an important distinction to note. This distinction is that – for Calvin – this mirror’s purpose rests in convicting the unbeliever, the unregenerate. Calvin’s mirror seems to only be for the unregenerate man prior to his conversion. In contrast to this, Luther’s mirror is ever present.

This is because rather than focusing on the regenerate/unregenerate distinction, Luther focuses on the old/new man distinction, and this is a distinction which stays with the believer even after regeneration.

Therefore, while Calvin’s mirror is used by the individual prior to conversion, Luther’s mirror is used by the individual both before and after conversion, a fact which will be important when analyzing the different ways the two thinkers apply the law in the believer’s life.

With this in mind, one may then turn to the third use of the Law as presented by Calvin.

It was noted that for Calvin, this use was the one in which the law served to instruct and guide the believer after conversion, increases the believer’s wisdom in regards to the will of God. With regeneration, the individual is able to make the move from using the Law as a mirror to using it as a guide.

Luther would have been unable to follow Calvin here for a variety of reasons.

Firstly – as has been noted – Luther’s focus was not on the regenerate/unregenerate distinction. Because for Luther the old man is always there with the new man – and because the mirror applies to the old man – the individual is never fully able to put the mirror down.

Thus, for Luther, when the Law comes up it necessarily comes up as that mirror.

Because the old man is always present in the life of the individual, the Law must always serve the purpose of driving that old man to despair, that he might find relief in the Gospel.

This sharp Law/Gospel distinction is important for understanding Luther in that whereas Calvin was comfortable placing a close connection between the Law revealing sin and in turn driving the individual toward Christ (and thereby having the Gospel implicit in the Law), Luther drew a much sharper distinction between Law and Gospel; thus for Luther the most the Law could do in revealing sin was drive the individual away from themselves, he doesn’t take the next step with Calvin in asserting that it drives them to Christ.

Rather that asserting that the Law drives the unbeliever to Christ, Luther prefers to speak of the move in terms of the Law driving them solely to despair and then the Gospel coming in as a balm and a comfort.

Thus, not only does Luther have an old/new man focus over against Calvin’s regenerate/unregenerate distinction, but Luther also has a much sharper separation of the law from the gospel than Calvin.

Yet, Luther also has a stronger connection between them in another sense, for in Luther both the law and the gospel are ever present and presented together.

The old man is always present, and therefore the law must always be there to terrify, and at the same time the gospel always be there to comfort. When talking of the Christian as a whole, Luther still has a place for the law, which is, for condemning the works of the old man in the body of the believer. He does not expel the law from the life of the believer, but he takes care when referring to ‘the law’ to refer to it in exclusive reference to the old man.

While asserting that Luther cannot follow Calvin into Calvin’s formulation of the third use of the Law due to the differing angles at which each thinker is approaching the Christian system, Luther does have his own variety of this.

Whereas Calvin’s third use is the Law applied to the regenerate man, Luther’s ‘third use’ might be said to be the Law applied the ‘new man’ (though as noted above Luther would not use that language).

While this sort of use was not discussed systematically by Luther, it is implied in various of his writings. In this it was observed Luther suggesting that knowledge of the Ten Commandments made one able to make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters, that good works flowed from them, good works which would cause God to bless the individual.

Yet, while a position such as Calvin’s this might seem to roughly fit the criteria of his third use of the law, the distinction for Luther was that – at least semantically – these are not uses of the law. A use of the law for Luther would have been something that was necessarily done under compulsion, and therefore incompatible with good works or the faith of the Christian. Rather, these same works are works of faith – not works of law – even when they are centered around the same principles as the ‘law’.

 

In light of this analysis, it might be stated that while Calvin and Luther do have some genuine differences in their approaches to way the Law is to be used, much of this difference can be attributed to viewing the same truths from different angles and with different foci; this is to be expected, for these men existed within space and time and were reacting against their own given environments.

Though a detail of biographies was outside the scope of this study, it might be noted – for instance – that Luther was much more closely tied to his reaction against the abuses of Rome, and this reaction shaped how he focuses his theology.

On top of this difference of foci, Luther and Calvin are also separated by what it is often the hardest bridge to cross in theology, the bridge of semantics.

To a large extent the approaches taken by Luther and Calvin to the Law have the same result and are getting at the same points, but using different categories and different terminology which makes the similarities difficult to see.

Thus, Calvin uses the Law as a guide for believers, whereas Luther also in practice uses that same Law as a guide, but is careful not to refer to it in that manner due to way that he has defined ‘Law’ in his understanding; it is simply incongruent for Luther to imagine applying the term ‘Law’ to something utilized by the new man, for the Law to him can only apply to the old man.

Yet, there are still differences here, and these differences do affect the way Christians go about their lives. The way in which Luther keeps the mirror of the Law at hand, and in turn the comfort of the Gospel, has the practical result of constantly driving the individual back to the Cross for their comfort.

This can be a helpful attitude to take when dealing with sin; and yet it can also be helpful to have a guide to aid one in avoiding sin and for instructing one in how to live a life pleasing to God. Calvin’s focus is more helpful in addressing this aspect of the Law.

Thus, it can be asserted that neither John Calvin nor Martin Luther is necessarily ‘correct’ in this matter.

When they discuss the uses of the Law they are seemingly discussing the same matter, but they are discussing it in very different manners for different reasons, with different foci and different terminology. Neither has the perfect system, and neither has a defunct system; rather, each has a system which is helpful and unhelpful in turn, true and false in differing ways.

In looking back over these various uses, it can be found that they all have some legitimacy. The civic use of the law found in both Luther and Calvin is viable in either context. Calvin’s first use of the law is helpful for bringing the unbeliever to faith, and yet as it is used in Luther, it also serves a use in the life of the believer, continuing to drive them to Christ and the rest that He provides, as well as subdue the flesh; Calvin can be corrected by Luther here, in that the mirror may still have a use after conversion. Finally, with Christ as the goal, Luther may be corrected by Calvin in noting that it can be helpful for the Christian to gain wisdom of God’s will through the study of the law.

A Continuing Orthodoxy: A [Fairly Short] PCA History

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Letter Roots of the PCA

In telling the story of the Presbyterian Church in America there are a number of different places one can start. One could begin with the Reformation. Presbyterianism places itself in the Reformed tradition and thereby traces its roots back to the Reformation in the 16th Century, where the Reformers broke off from the Catholic church in order to work towards a purer theology.

Two of the main groups that would eventually come out of the reforms are the Lutherans and the Anglicans. Some distinctly Presbyterian groups would form in Scots-Irish lands and make the journey to the Americas; meanwhile in England, again seeking doctrinal purity, groups would once again work to reform the church. These groups from England – the Congregational Puritans, Presbyterian Puritans, and Separatists – joined together to form the Congregationalists in the 17th Century America, then divided into Presbyterians and Baptists in the 18th Century.

Once in America the first presbytery was established in 1706. The history of American Presbyterianism is marked by a series of splits and reunions, again with many of them being theological. Colonial era Presbyterianism would split over issues such as what qualified as ‘subscription’ to the confessional standards and over whether the church’s emphasis should be on confessional adherence or the more pietistic Awakening. The more revivalistic group who supported the Awakening were referred to as the New Side, the more strictly orthodox were referred to as the Old Side. These two groups would have many quarrels but would eventually reunite. The church as it was known at this time was the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

Though they had worked through many of their differences in order to achieve union, the denomination would stay united for less than a century. Another split would come between what were referred to as the New School and the Old School. Revivalism was once again a part of the issue, as well as a more general battle of adherence to conservative reformed orthodoxy that would serve as a precursor to the later schisms that would occur in the wake of modern liberalism. The New School was of a more revivalistic stance whereas the Old School stood for confessional orthodoxy. The Old School and the New School would further split over the issue of slavery, with the Old School emphasizing the spirituality of the church and attempting to the keep the church out of the issue of slavery by focusing on its political aspects over its moral aspects. The Old School and the New School would eventually reunite in 1869, but before this reunion could come about the southern section of the Old School broke off in 1965 to form what would become The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS).

It is from this denomination that the PCA was finally formed.

Breaking from the PCUS

            The break of the PCA from the PCUS is the defining moment of PCA history. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries a way of approaching the Scriptures called ‘theological liberalism’ had been making its way from Germany into the Christian churches of America. By the early 1930’s it had began making its way into the PCUS. Those who aligned themselves with theological liberalism sought to apply the rigid standards of science and rationalism to the Scriptures.

The result of this was often a denial of such key doctrines as the the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and the deity of Christ. These men sought to get their views accepted into the churches by first getting their views accepted into the seminaries and the colleges. Once they had taken the seminaries then they would be the ones educating the ministers, who would then take their teachings into the churches. This agenda didn’t only affect theology, but also replaced what had previously been a focus on evangelism and missions with a focus on the social agenda.

The problem was not with the social reforms in and of themselves, but with the unhinging of the social reforms from the evangelical and missional focus.

As theological liberalism worked its way into the churches, by the time of the 1960’s and 70’s many ministers in the PCUS felt that they could not remain in the denomination. Kennedy Smart noted that “I knew I was denying my Lord and lending my name to actions which denied the Word of God.” He would go on to say that “The Bible was not our authority, but rather, our authority was the humanistic agenda of men whose view of Scripture allowed them to choose for themselves what they wanted to accept as the Word of God.”

They felt that it was no longer possible to remedy the problem through the practice of church discipline in the courts, and so they took the advice of Francis Schaeffer who said that when this happens “you must practice discipline in reverse and leave, but your leaving must be with tears, not with flags flying and bands playing.”

With this reverse discipline in mind many ministers began to meet and discuss how to go about breaking off from the PCUS (with a focus on how to keep their church property in the process).

On December 4, 1973, delegates from 260 churches met in Birmingham, Alabama, to form the National Presbyterian Church, which was soon renamed to the Presbyterian Church in America. Although it had broken off from the PCUS, the PCA saw itself as a “continuing church” of the PCUS. That is to say, the PCA saw itself as the true successor – or at the very least, the spiritual successor – to the PCUS.

The PCUS had wandered from its conservative reformed heritage by way of theological liberalism and those who formed the PCA saw themselves as carrying on that heritage, the heritage that stretched back through the Old School, through the Old Side and the New Side, back to Scotland and England and back to the Reformation. This heritage is pivotal for understanding the theological foci of the PCA.

Thus the Old Side/New Side debates gave the church a dedication to unity in the essentials of the faith and liberty in the non-essentials, noting the need for both experience and orthodoxy in the Christian life. The later split between the New School and the Old School – with the PCA tracing its roots through the Old School – would give it a significant emphasis on the spirituality of the church. These issues come to manifest themselves perennially in the life of the church.

Once the PCA had been formed it continued to grow and it continued to draw in other churches. The initial growth of the denomination was largely through this sort of expansion, of other churches joining the denomination. Thus many conservative presbyterian churches in the south left the PCUS to join the PCA up until 1992 (the PCUS allowed churches to leave with their property up until 1990). Churches didn’t only join from the PCUS. In 1982 the the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) merged with the PCA. This merger brought with it Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary. This provided the PCA with a denominational college and seminary, whereas they had previously utilized more independent schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary.

The PCA also invited the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) to join them in merger, and while the OPC voted to accept the invitation to join the PCA the PCA voted against receiving them. By the time the PCA renewed the offer the OPC as a whole no longer desired to join, though some individual congregations left to OPC to join the PCA. These congregations – often called the called “New Life Churches” – brought with them a focus on Sonship Theology. After this initial period of growth through churches joining the PCA from other denominations PCA growth shifted to being largely accomplished through church planting and outreach rather than by transfers of whole churches.

Contemporary PCA History

Since its founding the PCA has been one of the faster-growing denominations in the United States. While it has been steadily growing since its founding the PCA there has been some disunity over the years. Many of the debates which littered the early presbyterian history would make their way into the PCA, along with the some new debates.

Early on the denomination had to deal with the perennially recurring question of subscription. Some wanted a strict subscription, thereby placing the Standards almost above amendment. The alternate view of the Good-Faith subscription was also advocated. The issue was not resolved during the 1st Assembly, and would come up again during the 19th and 26th-29th Assemblies. The first year of the PCA also marked the first conference held by Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). Though the RUF had been founded by Mark Lowrey two years prior it eventually became a full-fledged arm of the PCA.

Many of the other issues facing the PCA during its early years were logistic, along with the aforementioned matters of bringing the RPCES and the attempt to bring the OPC into the denomination. During the 8th General Assembly one of the more significant theological issues came onto the scene, that being the issue of theonomy. Theonomy suggested that all of the Old Testament laws should be applied today. The issue ended up being postponed till the following year and the theonomist eventually left the PCA.

During the same period of time Reformed Theological Seminary had hired Greg Bahnsen as apologetics professor, who also turned out to be a theonomist and who after a fair amount of controversy ended up being forced to leave the school. The issue of theonomy came before the Assembly once again in 1983 at the 11th General Assembly when a presbytery asked for guidance on how far they could question a theonomist and a small number at the Assembly gave indication that they were in favor of the view.

During the 13th General Assembly questions were raised regarding both the Free Masonry and whether or not women should be ordained as deacons. The former was passed on for further consideration and the latter was ruled against. The 14th General Assembly approved the PCA’s entering into full membership of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), through which the PCA came into relations with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). The PCA would thereby came to participate in the formation of the World Fellowship of Reformed Churches in 1992 (later World Reformed Fellowship), a group mainly made up of conservative Presbyterian denominations in the Americas.

While the question of the ministry of the Holy Spirit had been present earlier on in the PCA, it came further into view during the 14th Assembly. The issue at stake was primarily a desire to confirm that those speaking in tongues or a prayer language did not identify those with revelation. The issue would come up again in the 16th Assembly, which would finally  conclude that a candidate may hold to the gifts of prophecy and tongues provided that he does not believe they provide any binding special revelation.

With one issue settled another would come up, and during the 17th and 20th Assemblies the question of theonomy was once again brought forward, namely as theonomic elders worked to keep members of their congregations from transferring their membership to other churches; when members would try and transfer the theonomic elders would place them under discipline and refuse to allow them the transfer.

Despite the many disputes that were present in the PCA it continued to grow during this time. During 1992 forty new churches joined the PCA from the PCUSA due to the liberalizing influences in that denomination. While the PCA did have its fair share of disputes these disputes were still disputes within the conservative camp and thus the PCA was still able to draw in those who were seeking refuge from the liberalizing tendencies of the PCUSA.

The issue of subscription which was central to the Old Side/New Side debates and which presented itself at varying points throughout presbyterian came up once again in the early 2000’s. This was first during the 26th and 27th Assemblies, which attempted to settle the question of whether to allow diversity of views on the length of creations days and whether those who held to other-than-24-hour Creation Days would be required to declare exceptions to the Westminster Confession.

The Assembly refrained from making a solid judgement, instead leaving it up to the lower courts to determine if a man’s views are in accord with the constitution. The resulting Report of the Creation Study Committee demonstrated that there have been a plurality of approaches taken by respected reformed and presbyterian theologians over the years. They stated that while they “recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism” that they were “unable to come to unanimity over the nature and duration of the creation days.” This question of creation would come up again in the 40th and 41st Assemblies, specifically on the question of the historicity of Adam.

While the 26th and 27th Assemblies had discussed how views on creation related to subscription, the 29th General Assembly of 2002 attempted to address the question of subscription as a whole, echoing back more directly to the Old Side/New Side debates. In this discussion four different views of subscription were taken: Dr. Tim Keller presented the System-Subscription View; Dr. Bryan Chapell presented the Good-Faith (or “Vital-to-the System”) Subscription View; TE David Coffin presented the Articles-of-Unity (or “Logically Consistent”) Subscription View; Dr. Joseph Pipa presented the Full Subscription (or “Strict Subscription”) View. Dr. Chapell’s position won out, and the following year the 30th Assembly subsequently approved and enacted a “Good-Faith Subscription” amendment to the Book of Church Order.

This system means that a prospective minister must declare every difference he has and the Presbytery rules on each as to whether it is allowable; it is assumed that the candidate agrees with everything he does not explicitly take exception to. This differs from strict subscription which allows no exceptions on the one hand and the system subscription which doesn’t require exceptions to be stated on the other. The result of this was that a presbytery would be allowed to use their discretion and approve candidates whose stated differences they deemed as not out of accord with any fundamental of the Confession and not striking “at the vitals of religion.”

It was also in the early 2000’s that the denomination saw movements towards racial reconciliation. The 30th Assembly adopted a statement urging racial reconciliation. This statement included a confession of past actions, of the denomination’s “covenantal involvement in these national sins” such that they “publicly repent of our pride, our complacency, and our complicity” and “seek the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters for the reticence of our hearts.” This issue would come up again in the 43rd Assembly and was the central topic of discussion at the 44th Assembly.

In tandem with discussions of racial reconciliation were questions of homosexuality, of the homosexual lifestyle and homosexual marriage. These discussions were spawned in response to laws that had been passed by the U.S. government as well as the military repealing its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Thus the Assembly sent down a statement prohibiting legal recognition of homosexual marriages by presbyteries as well as an overture encouraging PCA members, pastors, churches, and institutions to support adoption of the Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 30th Assembly also saw the launch of byFaith magazine. byFaith would serve as the PCA’s denominational magazine. The mission of the magazine was to draw readers into the life of the Church by “informing, edifying, and encouraging them with news of God’s Kingdom.”

In the mid-2000’s the denomination would begin to wrestle with the New Perspective on Paul and the incursion of Federal Vision theology into the PCA. In 2006 the Mississippi Valley Presbytery had pushed to distribute its own “Report on the New Perspectives on Paul, the Theology of N. T. Wright, the Theology of Norman Shepherd, and the Theology of the so-called ‘Federal Vision’ in the PCA.” The General Assembly refrained from distributing this report but the following year (2007) the 34th General Assembly approved the creation of an ad interim committee to study “Federal Vision, New Perspective on Paul, and Auburn Avenue Theologies.”

The goal of this committee was to determine whether these views conformed with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards. Those in favor of Federal Vision (Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart, specifically) saw their system as a way to rid the church of the influences of American revivalism and individualism and return it to the theology of the Reformers, and in 2007 some of the prominent members of PCA – Jeff Meyers and Peter Leithart– had signed the Joint Federal Vision Profession. Those opposed to Federal Vision felt that those such as Meyers and Leithart had gone too far and that their revisions resulted in a heterodox position, if not outright heresy. Critics argued that the Federal Vision system in essence taught baptismal regeneration, denied the dual imputation of Christ’s work, and thereby made sanctification a works-based endeavor.

The investigation found Leithart not guilty of being out of accord with the Standards in his teachings. This was not the end of the matter, however, as an elder of that Presbytery appealed the case to the PCA’s Standing Judicial Committee (SJC), which concluded that the Presbytery had erred and sent the case back to the Presbytery for action. The Presbytery then chose to file charges against Leithart on the grounds that he held views contrary to the Standards.

At the same time the New Perspective on Paul was an attempt to reinterpret the doctrine of justification in the light of Second Temple Judaism. Those opposed to the New Perspective argued that Paul should be interpreted in light of the Old Testament rather than rabbinic writings. They saw the the New Perspective as rejecting the historic Protestant understanding of justification, specifically the forensic and legal aspects of it. All of these developments: the allowance of a multiplicity of views on creation, the allowance of Federal Vision, requiring merely a “good faith” subscription were and are seen by many as evidence of a liberalizing trend in the PCA that is growing in strength.

In 2008 at the 36th Assembly approved the admission of Canadian and American Reformed Churches and the Presbyterian and Reformed Church into the North America Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). The other major issue at the Assembly was the role of women in local church ministries of mercy, a revisiting of the issue as it had been addressed during the 13th Assembly. This issue continued on into the 2009 Assembly, with the basic question being whether women involved in mercy ministry should be designated as “deaconesses” and officially commissioned; Ligon Duncan argued against this proposal while Tim Keller argued in favor of it. The Assembly chose not to allow women the title of deaconess.

During the 39th General Assembly in 2011 another major controversy came before the PCA, this time in the form of the Insider Movement. The Assembly approved the formation of a committee to study the Insider Movements in Islam and Bible translation. The basic issue was and is one where missiologists have suggested Christian converts in circumstances where public baptism and joining a Christian church may subject them to persecution should remain in their non-Christian religions. They further suggested that standard translations of the Bible might confuse non-Christians (for instance, implying that the Father engaged in sexual intercourse with Mary to produce Jesus) and that the notion of God having a son may offend and repel many Muslims from converting to the faith. The PCA’s denominational mission agency – Mission to the World (MTW) – took the position that Christian converts should not continue to practice non-Christian religions but should become part of the Church. They further took the position that Bible translations which remove references to God as “Father” or Jesus as “Son” alter key Christian doctrines (such as that of the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, and the doctrine of Scripture) and are generally out of accord with God’s revealed Word.

Continuing the controversy from 2007, in 2011 the PCA’s Pacific Northwest Presbytery found Peter Leithart not guilty of charges of being out of accord with the Standards in his views associated with Federal Vision. In 2012 a complaint was once again taken to the SJC, which in 2013 denied the complaint thereby affirming the ruling of the Presbytery.  The SJC argued that Leithart’s differences with the Standards were largely semantic and a matter of injudicious use of language and insufficient explanation. The SJC did not endorse Leithart’s views, but simply concluded “that neither the prosecution nor the Complainant proved that TE Leithart’s views, as articulated at the trial or otherwise contained in the Record of the Case, violate the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards.”

This was again not the end of the controversy.

Three Presbyteries unanimously voted to overture the General Assembly to take original jurisdiction over the case. Their key claim was that there should be a mistrial because prosecutor TE Jason Stellman – whom the SJC had noted failed prove that Leithart’s views violated the Standards – had actually converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after a negative verdict. They argued that there should be a mistrial due to the conflict of interest present therein. A request for a rehearing was denied, and the Assembly sent the case back to the SJC.

The 41st Assembly in 2013 also saw the questions of the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Insider Movement come up once again, as well as that of paedocommunion in connection with the Federal Vision movement sections of the Pacific Northwest and Central Florida Presbyteries. The central question before the Assembly related to the Insider Movement was the question of “Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God?” No conclusion was found during that meeting and the topic was referred to further study.

The 43rd Assembly revisited the topic of race relations from 2002, though this time with the goal of achieving some sort of personal repentance and restitution. This resolution was referred to the 44th General Assembly. A key reason for referring the resolution to the 44th Assembly was to give time for lower courts to study and discuss the issues involved. During these discussions the older matter of the spirituality of the church has once again come to the forefront, with many arguing that it is not the place of the church to take action on such matters.2s09lxD.png

The 44th Assembly also instituted a new logo that looks like Boba Fett.

Summary

The PCA has always had a view of itself as the spiritual successor to the conservative Presbyterians of the PCUS, to the Scots-Irish Presbyterians and those seeking to purify the Church of England two centuries prior, and to the reformers who had sought to reform the Catholic church a century prior to that.

In this the PCA has taken special pride in its theological heritage. It has sought to continually uphold the reformed confessional truths found in the Westminster Standards against the ever encroaching tide of liberalism, of heterodoxy, and of heresy. It is for this reason that the PCA can view itself as a continuing church of the PCUS, and it is for this reason that those who hold the Standards and the heritage of the PCA in high regard continue to fight against such aberrations as Federal Vision, the New Perspective on Paul, or creation accounts that cede ground to secularism.

The denomination continues to grow, and as it grows it continues to face new challenges. The denomination began in 1973 with 260 churches, as of 2014 it has 1,831 churches with a total of  358,516 members, 4,556 ministers, and $766,520,059 in disbursements. Although the history of the PCA has been marked by controversy this controversy has largely been controversy within the conservative church as opposed to drifts towards liberalism, which has allowed the PCA to continue to be a denomination which those who flee from liberalism may find a home in. Further, though the PCA has continual debates it has also continued to uphold its dedication to unity in the essentials of the faith and liberty in the non-essentials.

It is this dedication that allows for those with such divergent views to find a home under the same roof, and it is the hope that we can continue to address our concerns with both a Christian love for God’s truth and a Christian charity.

Gnosticism: Heresy or Paganism?

maxresdefaultIn his book The Great Heresies, Hilaire Belloc defines a heresy a sort of thing which takes a system of thought and – rather than depart wholesale from the previously established tradition – picks out one part of that system and through either overemphasis or removal leaves the structure marred, yet in-tact enough to still draw adherents of the previous system to it; thus Belloc states that “The denial of a scheme wholesale is not heresy” but “it is of the essence of heresy that it leaves standing a great part of the structure it attacks… wherefore, it is said of heresies that ‘they survive by the truths they retain’”.

In this way Arianism denied the divinity of Christ, Docetism denied the humanity of Christ, while the various Trinitarian heresies such as Monarchianism or Sabellianism overemphasized the oneness of God. In approaching early Christian heresies it is necessary to look at them and determine what the major tenets of these systems were, and in turn to determine where they departed from the orthodox tradition.

However, when looking at a system such as that of Gnosticism, there is not merely one (or even two or three) doctrines or pieces of the orthodox system which have been removed or overemphasized. Rather, one finds that the Gnostic system is – for all intents and purposes – a denial of the Christian scheme wholesale. Thus, when one composes a list of the tenets of Gnosticism, one finds that this list in every way departs from Christianity; indeed, it merely borrows Christian language and categories in order to tell an entirely different story.

gnostic-gospelsIn demonstrating this one may look at the Gnostic views of God, man, creation, Christ, salvation, and Scripture, each bearing no resemblance to the orthodox system of which it is said to be a heresy.


View of God:

As with anything dealing with theology, the first place to begin is with God, and from the beginning Gnosticism takes a radical departure from orthodoxy Christianity; indeed, rather than merely overemphasizing one quality of the Christian Trinity (such as His oneness or his threeness), Gnosticism substitutes the Christian God for a plurality of gods, demoting the creator-god of the Genesis narrative to a minor and somewhat malevolent being, and putting in his place a being of pure thought.

From this being of thought the myriad of lesser gods ’emanate’, one of these being the Jewish creator-god who contaminated the previous existence through the creation of the material world. Rather than being a god to be revered, the creator-god of Genesis is looked down upon, and is said to have sinned when he claimed to be the only god. Thus, the Gnostic gods – and especially their interpretation of the god of the Old Testament – are far removed from the God of Christianity, who is upheld not only as the only God, but as a wholly holy God, deserving all honor and worship.

View of Creation:

Just as Gnosticism has a radically different view of God than Christianity, so does it have a radically different view of man.

The Gnostic view of man is made of somewhat disparate elements. In The Secret Book of John man is created through angels and demons working together to construct a natural body , while in The First Thought in Three Forms it is the creator-god of Genesis as a great demon who creates the body of man while his spirit is given by a higher being. In On the Origin of the World man is created “when Sophia let fall a droplet of light” which “flowed onto the water, and immediately a human being appeared…”  Yet, while the origins of mankind vary in the Gnostic mythos, it is generally agreed in some form or another that the soul of man “is a precious thing which came into a worthless body.” Thus the soul of man is held in high regard, while the material body of man is seen as something degenerate; this is quite far from the view of man – body and soul – being made as essentially good and in the image of God their creator.

Just as the creation of fleshly man is seen as a negative thing in Gnosticism, so is the creation of the entire material world. Here again the Gnostic views vary, in most accounts, such as The Gospel of Philip, the material world “came into being through an error,” most often the error of the lesser god of Genesis. In contrast to this The Secret Book of John has the material world being created by various lesser beings. Once again, even though the way in which the material world came into being may vary in the Gnostic system, it is agreed that this creation was not a good thing (ie, an error). Thus, just as the Gnostic view looks down upon the body of man, so it too looks down upon the entirety of the material world – quite dissimilar from everything being counted as ‘good’ in the Genesis narrative.

View of Christ and His Work:

Just as the Gnostic views of God, man, and creation bear no resemblance to the Christian system, so the Gnostic view of Christ is at great odds with the orthodox position, with the primary point of their system being that Christ did not truly come in the flesh, but rather merely possessed the body of a man named Jesus.

This divergence can be seen all throughout the Gnostic writings, such as in The First Thought in Three Forms where it is stated that “As for me, I put on Jesus”, or in The Second Treatise of the Great Seth which states “I visited a bodily dwelling. I cast out the one who was in it previously, and I went in”. In keeping with the theme that Christ did not really become incarnate, the Gnostic system hold that he also did not die, such that in “… I died, though not in reality…”. Rather than suffer on the cross, the divine part of Jesus – according to The Coptic Apocalypse of Peter – was “above the cross, glad and laughing” while his human counterpart died. For this reason the Gnostics ridicule the orthodox, claiming that “they will hold fast to the name of a dead man, while thinking that they will become pure” . This view is opposed in the more orthodox writings – such as The Letter of Barnabas – with statements noting that “the Son of God came in the flesh for this reason…” and “this is why he allowed himself to suffer”. This notion is echoed in The Epistle of the Apostles where the author asserts that “he has truly risen in the flesh”.

Because the Gnostics have radically different view of both God and man, and thus of Christ, so they also have a different understanding of why Christ came and what salvation entails.

Perhaps the primary way in which the Gnostic idea of salvation differs from the Christian view is that while the Christian view deals with bringing man back into right relationship with God through the covering of his sins (and thus revolves in a large degree around morality), the Gnostic view of salvation is primarily epistemological. Thus, mankind does not need saved from their sins, they need saved from their ignorance. This theme is fairly consistent in the Gnostic writings: in The Gospel of Truth it is stated that “He has brought back many from error” and “knowledge to those who have committed sin in their error”; in The Coptic Apocalypse of Peter it is said of certain people that “they have become ignorant and have not been saved”; in The Second Treatise of the Great Seth that “they did not know the Gnosis of the Greatness”; in The Gospel of Philip that “Folks do not know the right meaning”; and finally in The Secret Book of John one is made perfect when they are “liberated from the forgetfulness and acquires knowledge”. The common theme her is that there is no real moral or sinful quality to speak of, but the focus is instead on a lack of knowledge, an ignorance of the truth. Certainly Christianity too speaks of having true knowledge, but this is not the central focus of its soteriology. The Letter of Barnabas responds to this error as well, stating that “he renewed us through the forgiveness of our sins.”

View of Scripture:

Just as the Gnostics differ from the orthodox view on every other position, so they also hold the Scriptures in a different manner, which is likely a large contributing factor to the other errors; because they have an inadequate view of Scripture they therefore have a faulty view of everything on which Scripture speaks.

When one reads the early church writers in the more orthodox position, one is struck with the high view of the Biblical Scriptures that they had. Thus, when they reference the Old Testament texts, they do so in order to use them as proof-texts, using the sources of the Old Testament to build their theologies. In sharp contrast to this, the Gnostic texts may quite often be seen ridiculing the Old Testament characters and directly stating that they are departing from the traditionally understood narrative (which, in turn, demonstrates that there must have been a traditional narrative already in place to depart from). In this way they refer to a large number of the great figures in the Old Testament as “laughingstocks.” stating that the law of Moses has been misunderstood, attacking authority and leaders as such, and criticizing the orthodox for “proclaiming the doctrine of a dead man and falsehoods to resemble the freedom and purity of the perfect assembly.”

This departure is particularly noted when the Gnostic texts use such statements as “in our view”, which assumes they are disagreeing with some pre-established view. That the more orthodox writers held in much higher esteem the writings which are now referred to as the canonical Scripture can be seen not only in their use of the Old Testament texts as reference material, but also in the way they stress the keeping of tradition. Thus in The Didache it is stated that “if the teacher should himself turn away and teach something different, undermining these things, do not listen to him”, or in The Third Letter to the Corinthians that “anyone who remains in the rule received through the blessed prophets and the holy Gospel will receive a reward”. When the more orthodox writers turn to critiquing the Gnostic writings, the most often attack them on the grounds that they are written “very recently, in our times”, that is, the sources that the Gnostics did use were of a later date than that of the more orthodox and therefore did not hold the same authority as those writings which were contemporary to the apostles.


 

Through looking at each of these areas of doctrine it can be seen that Eusebius was quite right when he claimed that “they are as different as possible from truly orthodox works”.

Indeed, the Gnostic narrative possesses only the barest similarity to that of Christianity. Each of these departures is in itself as a particular problem with the Gnostic system, yet on the more general level the Gnostic system faces a grander problem. This problem is the aforemenionted way in which the Gnostic texts disagree with each other, presenting often conflicting narratives. One group writer that the world was made in error by a Demon, another by a host of demons; one writer claims that man was made by that same demon, another from a droplet of light, another through angels and demons working together. There is a common element of material creation (and therefore the creator god) being bad, of ignorance being the problem, and of Christ not truly coming in the flesh; it is these overarching themes which give some coherance to the Gnostic system, while the individual details vary depending on whoever might be telling the story. Apart from this the Gnostic system also presents writings which are much more mythical than that of traditional Christianity, generally without any practical value, and once again they self-consciously depart from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

On the whole, it seems that the Gnostic system can be called a Christian heresy in a loose sense, for it is in fact a completely different religious system, as different as possible from the Christian tradition. In the words of Belloc, it is a denial of the scheme wholesale; it is simply a complete departure from the systems of either Judaism or Christianity, albiet one which still uses some language of Christianity and feigns some reliance upon the Judeo-Christian texts (even if only to refute them). Gnosticism has a different view of God, of man, of creation, of Christ, of salvation, and of Scripture; thus unless one is judging by some standard other than Christianty, it must be asserted that the entirety of Gnosticism is itself a problem.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

deyoungFor those who hold the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, one of the more relevant questions of the day is “What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality?”

As his title clearly displays, this is the question that pastor – and newly appointed Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS – takes up in this book.

DeYoung begins his book in a somewhat surprising way, in that before jumping in to discussing individual passages of Scripture and how to interpret them, he first takes some time to lay out the basic assumptions of the discussion for the reason that “As is so often the case with controversial matters, we will never agree on the smaller subplots if it turns out we aren’t even telling the same story” (p9). Thus DeYoung spends his introduction making sure we’re all on the same page in regards to the basic outline of Scripture, discussing who he is writing to, and defining some of his terms and how he will approach the topic. That is to say, DeYoung first sets out to correct and/or provide a big picture view of Scripture, from which he will then proceed to dip down and analyze certain vital points.

The book is divided into two basic parts. In the first part DeYoung analyzes the five Biblical passages that most directly relate to discussions of homosexuality (Gen 1-2, Gen 19, Lev 18&20, Rom 1, 1 Cor 6 & 1 Tim 1), and argues through contextual, lexical, logical, and exegetical arguments that each of these passages does indeed amount to a condemnation of homosexual activity.

After a clear and thorough analysis of relevant Scripture, DeYoung proceeds to answer the many common objections or questions that come up when discussing the Bible’s relation to homosexual activity. These include the objections that: the Bible hardly ever mentions homosexuality (and therefore it doesn’t really care); that the Bible isn’t referring to modern, consensual, loving homosexuality; that traditionalist are inconsistent in that they don’t treat divorce and gluttony in the same way; that the church is supposed to be a place for broken people (and therefore should embrace homosexual activity); that traditionalists are ‘on the wrong side of history’; that it’s not fair because they were born that way; or that God is a God of love (and therefore approves of homosexual activity).

In each instance DeYoung carefully – and gently – uncovers the misunderstandings or misconceptions involved in each the objections, and he does so in a very concise manner (offering better arguments than similar texts and yet in a quarter of the space). Thus he points out that “The reason the Bible says comparatively little about homosexuality is because it was a comparatively uncontroversial sin among ancient Jews and Christians… Counting up the number of verses on any particular topic is not the best way to determine the seriousness of the sin involved (p72); that “If the ancient world not only had a category for committed same-sex relationships but also some understanding of homosexual orientation (to use our phrase), there is no reason to think the New Testament’s prohibitions against same-sex behavior were only for pederasty and exploitation” (p.84); asking “do we really want to suggest that one sin is no big deal because we’ve been lax about a different sin?” (p90); that “If we think people can find a Savior without forsaking their sin, we do not know what sort of Savior Jesus Christ is… No doubt, the church is for broken and imperfect people – broken people who hate what is broken in them and imperfect people who have renounced their sinful imperfections” (p98); that “As Christians we ought to fear being on the wrong side of the holy, apostolic, and universal church more than we fear being on the wrong side of discredited assumptions about progress and enlightenment” (p108); that “We cannot derive oughts from what is. Our own sense of desire and delight, or of pleasure and of pain, is not self-validating” (p111); and that “the love of God does not swallow up all the other divine attributes” (p121).

On the whole, DeYoung offers an excellent and readable resource for parents, lay elders, college students and ordinary people for dispelling misconceptions and understanding the teaching of the Scriptures on the topic of homosexual activity.

Perhaps most noteworthy in DeYoung’s text – apart from his sound exegesis – is that he doesn’t approach the discussion as one of ‘homosexuality’ itself, but of homosexual activity. That is, what he points out as being condemned in Scripture are the homosexual actions, not homosexuality (what might be called ‘homosexual temptation’) or homosexuals themselves. Thus throughout the discussion DeYoung deliberately – and rightly in my opinion – avoids the use of the term ‘homosexuality’. As he states: “Quite deliberately, these terms suggest a freely chosen activity or behavior. In using these terms I am not speaking in a blanket way about those who find themselves attracted to persons of the same sex, nor am I commenting on whether these desires were consciously chosen (almost certainly not) or whether and when the desires themselves become sinful” (p20).

Through this DeYoung avoids the standard conservative cliche of saying that homosexuals are condemned by the Bible in and of themselves, that it is a sin to be homosexual (or to be more semantically accurate, to have homosexual feelings/temptations). While DeYoung does expertly dismantle the various objections to the Biblical stance on homosexual activity, it is this aspect of his book that I have found to be missing from the contemporary conversation as a whole, and so for this aspect I am especially glad.

On a similarly helpful note DeYoung also attacks the idol of [monogamous] sex and marriage that we’ve set up for ourselves within the church, where marriage is the highest ideal; thus he points out that “If everything in Christian community revolves around being married with children, we should not be surprised when singleness sounds like a death sentence. If that’s the church’s challenge, what’s needed in the wider culture is a deep dymthythologizing of sex. Nothing in the Bible encourages us to give sex the exalted status it has in our culture, as if finding our purpose, our identity, and our fulfillment all rest on what we can or cannot do with our private parts” (p119). In this DeYoung reminds us that we ourselves as the church have contributed some of the factors that make this conversation so difficult, that it is the conservative church that has helped make marriage and sex pivotal for out purpose and identity. It is only natural that after having this ideal set up for them by the church that those who have a desire for homosexual activity feel like they are having their very identity and purpose denied them.

All in all, DeYoung’s short text is the single most lucid, orthodox, and concise discussion to be found today.

Memorable Quotes:

“The central plotline of the story of Scripture was set in motion: a holy God making a way to dwell in the midst of an unholy people.”-11

“If you are not convinced by the lexical, logical, and exegetical arguments, I only ask that you make doubly sure it is the actual arguments that are unconvincing. Our feelings matter. Our stories matter. Our friends matter. But ultimately we must search the Scriptures to see what matters most. Don’t discount the messenger as a bigot if your real problem is with the Bible.”-18

“The act of sexual intercourse brings a man and a women together as one relationally and organically. The sameness of the parts in same-sex activity does not allow the two to become one in the same way. mere physical contact – like holding hands or sticking your finger in someone’s ear – does not unite two people in an organic union, nor does it bring them together as a single subject to fulfill a biological function.”-28

“Marriage is, by definition, that sort of union from which – if all the plumbing is working properly – children can be conceived.”-29

“The meaning of marriage is more than mutual sacrifice and covenantal commitment. Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church – each ‘part’ belonging to the other but neither interchangeable – cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female. If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative.”-32

“Homosexual practice is sinful because it violates the divine design in creation. According to Paul’s logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior – even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires – have suppressed God’s truth in unrighteousness. They have exchanged the fittedness of male-female relations for those that are contrary to nature.”-55

“The English translations are almost always right, especially when they basically say the same thing… That doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes or that we can’t learn new things they missed. But it does mean that after reading a few commentaries and perusing a couple of articles online you will certainly not know the ancient work or Koine Greek better than they did.”-62

“[H]omosexual activity is not a blessing to be celebrated and solemnized but a sin to be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven.”-67

“Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice… It’s death by dialogue… The moratorium on making pronouncements will only be lifted once the revisionist position has won out.”-76

“Silence in the face of such clarity is not prudence, and hesitation in light of such frequency is not patience. The Bible says more than enough about homosexual practice for us to say something too.”-77

“A rant is not an idea, and feeling hurt is not an argument. To be sure, how we make each other feel is not unimportant. But in our age of perpetual outrage, we must make clear that offendedness is not proof of the coherence or plausibility of any argument. Now is not the time for fuzzy thinking. Now is not the time to shy away from careful definitions. Now is not the time to let moods substitute for logic. These are difficult issues. These are personal issues. These are complicated issues. We cannot chart our ethical course by what feels better. We cannot build our theology based on what makes us look nicer. We cannot abdicated intellectual responsibility because smart people disagree.”-126

“Sweeping statements about nebulous spiritual sentiment do not a worldview make.”-127

“Faithfulness is ours to choose; the shape of that faithfulness is God’s to determine.”-129

Specific Criticisms

The only real criticism I have of this text is that the author jumps too quickly to assigning homosexual activity as one of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. While he did prove that homosexual activity was involved in the actions being done in Sodom and Gomorrah, he begs the question when he concludes that homosexual activity was condemned in that narrative. He seems to have only been successful in that chapter in proving that the sin there condemned violent homosexual activity. On the whole this does not affect the overall thesis of the book, but it does seem a case of overstating his conclusions on the part of the author.

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Kevin’s book can be found for purchase at the Westminster Bookstore and Amazon.com.

“All of this, of course, is rank speculation” – or, 3 Main Problems with Modern Scholarship’s Account of the Early Church

manuscript.jpgWhen the average Christian take up their Bible and reads, the assumption is generally made that what is being read is the inspired word of God. Yet in popular contemporary scholarship there is a rising tendency to re-interpret the history of the early church in such a way that the average Christian would no longer be able to have this same assurance.

The primary goals of this new scholarship are twofold: on the one hand the integrity of the Scriptures is called into question, the argument being that it is impossible to know what those texts actually taught due to intentional and unintentional changes to the original texts; on the other hand the argument is being put forward that rather than one Christianity there were actually various competing ‘Christianities’ – with the orthodox position being merely the position which won the struggle for supremacy – such that there is no true and unified Christian tradition that has been transmitted from the time of the apostles onward.

Thus, not only is the trustworthiness of the Scriptures questioned, but so also is the reliability of the canon, which then allows for a wide number of ‘Christianities’ to find credence.

This tendency is rooted in a number of errors in the way this type of scholarship approaches the early church. These errors include (1) the presuppositions of modernism and postmodernism skewing the perspective taken by the scholars, (2) failing to take into account the Biblical data (in part due to an insufficient understanding of Scripture, which flows from the aforementioned presuppositions), and (3) potentially operating off of a deliberate bias to reinterpret and/or misrepresent the standing narrative.

False Cultural Biases – Rationalism

The greatest influence upon much of contemporary scholarship’s flawed interpretations of early church history boils down to these scholars allowing the social and cultural presuppositions of the last hundred years to play too much a part in determining how they view history. Two scholars whom this is most readily visible in are Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels.

In the case of Bart Ehrman, the presupposition which most heavily impacts him is that of modernism; that is, both in his religious upbringing and in his intellectual assumptions he is dedicated to the philosophy of rationalism (even when it fails). When an individual takes up the lens of rationalism they are then forced to dismiss all those things which cannot be verified for certain via reason or scientific experimentation; accompanying this quest for scientific certainty is a desire to study only the facts of history, and thereby to try and apply a similar objectivity to history as is present to an extent in science.

The way that this plays itself out for Ehrman is that because he cannot verify with absolute certainty the authorship, the original texts, or the authority of the Scriptures, he then calls the legitimacy of all of these things into question.

This sort of approach can be seen all throughout Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus when he laments that modern scholars “have only error-ridden copies” of the New Testament due to the ways in which scribes altered the texts both intentionally and unintentionally. This brings Ehrman to the conclusion that it does little good to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God “if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired.”

If these ‘errors’ were of any significant import, Ehrman might have a point; unfortunately for him – and as he himself admits – these errors don’t actually change anything about the Biblical message. His qualm, instead, is that no uncertainty can be allowed at all (even when that uncertainty has no practical or theological import or relevance).

Rationalism of this sort ultimately finds its roots in the Enlightenment, yet Ehrman was also influenced by the traces of rationalism which had found their way into the fundamentalist background in which he was raised. In regards to this Timothy Paul Jones in his book Misquoting Truth makes the observation that “[Ehrman] inherited a theological system from well-meaning evangelical Christians that allowed little – if any – space for questions, variations or rough edges.” Ehrman describes this journey himself in the introduction to his book Misquoting Jesus, where he explains how he came to discover discrepancies in the various source texts, and in turn began to doubt the inerrancy of Scripture – that is, because he found that he could not verify such things with 100% certainty, what faith he had in them was removed.

When Ehrman’s attempts to prove the authority of Scripture failed under rationalistic standards, his system crumbled. His system crumbled not because of any fault in the integrity of Scripture, but due to the faults in the rationalistic system through which he attempted to analyze it.

As Wheaton scholar Nicholas Perrin points out in his book Lost in Transmission: “The notion that we believe the Bible to be God’s Word on certain proofs is not a biblical notion; it is a notion of fundamentalism inherited from the scientific age.”

Both the quest for certainty – especially in the realm of history – and the quest for absolute objectivity are inherently doomed to failure. As Perrin again notes: “To observe is to interpret… Balance is a fine ideal, but purely objective history, something else entirely, is an illusion.”

In this sense Ehrman’s journey followed the same general trajectory as all of contemporary scholarship between the age of modernism and that of postmodernism; when they found themselves unable to verify things with absolute certainty during modernism, they plunged into the relativism and subjectivism of postmodernism.

Despite the failure of rationalism, it is this assumption which lies at the foundation of the flawed worldview that plagues contemporary scholarship. Indeed, it is the failure of rationalism, coupled with a devotion to the tenants of rationalism as the only avenue to truth, which results in the aforementioned relativism; when the supposed only avenue to truth fails, it is assumed that there is either no avenue to truth or that they are all equal.

When this sort of relativism is applied to the division between orthodoxy and heresy scholars such as Ehrman and Pagels cease speaking about Christianity and instead move on to speaking of Christianities, assuming that these are all valid forms of the faith. In order to account for the prominence of orthodoxy they then rely upon their devotion to relativism – and therefore a disdain for authority – to create a narrative in which the proto-orthodox were the “victorious party” which “rewrote the history of the controversy.” Rather than being ‘correct’, the orthodox are seen as those who simply powered their way to the front and as the winners rewrote history. It is merely taken for granted that whoever ‘won’ must have rewrote the story to suite themselves, with all concerns of whether the winners were actually ‘correct’ being pushed to the side.

Ignoring Textual Testimony – Failing to Account for Biblical Data

Apart from the basic presuppositions which accompany a reliance upon (and the subsequent failure of) rationalism, another factor which plays a large part in the way contemporary scholarship misinterprets the early church is by failing to take into account the Biblical data.

Perhaps the most pointed example of this comes from Ehrman when he states that:

We need always to remember that these canonical Gospels were not seen as sacrosanct or inviolable for many long years after they were first put into circulation; no one, except possibly their own authors, considered them to be the “last word” on Jesus’ teachings and deeds.

In one swoop Ehrman is thereby able to assert the early church did not take the authority of the Gospels seriously and – knowing that the Biblical testimony contradicts this – dismiss this contradiction as merely the biased opinion of the authors.

That the early church didn’t take the texts seriously is thereby not reached as a conclusion, but is used as a starting point around which the rest of Ehrman’s narrative can be built, as it is only be ignoring the actual words of the Biblical writers that one could assert that they did take their texts as being sacrosanct.

Yet, Ehrman does not quite clear himself by simply noting the personal bias of the individual authors, for various Biblical authors cite one another as authoritative, such as in 2 Peter 3:15-16 where Paul’s letters are cited as ‘Scripture’, and Paul in 1 Timothy 5:18 quoting Luke as Scripture. Thus, it is only by ignoring the actual testimony the Scripture itself that such scholars can take the view that they do.

Rhetoric Over Evidence – Misrepresentation of the Facts

A final problem with contemporary interpretations which must be noted is the apparent deliberate misrepresentation the standing narrative; that is, in some instances, modern scholars – who are themselves not Christians – act off of an agenda to try and discredit the faith.

Such harsh accusations should no doubt not be made without warrant, but in this case it seems that such accusations are warranted, primarily through clear misrepresentations of the source material. Such clear misrepresentations of the source material can be seen perhaps most clearly in the internal discrepancies in the texts of these authors.

As an example, in his book Misquoting Jesus Ehrman plays up the thesis that we have only error-ridden copies of the New Testament, and that because of scribal errors and because of intentional changes to the text, the question of inerrancy is irrelevant; yet at the same time in his book Lost Christianities he makes the assertion that in spite of these various differences “scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the oldest form of the words of the New Testament with reasonable (though not 100 percent) accuracy.” These two assertions seem wholly at odds, that the texts can be so riddled with errors that one must ask what good it does to speak of the originals as inspired when we do not have the originals, and yet the oldest forms of the New Testament can be constructed with reasonable-if-not-100% accuracy.

Similarly in Lost Chritianities Ehrman can be found stating that “most scholars think that 1 Timothy is pseudonymous,” which is immediately followed with a firm assertion that it is no wonder the early church was “forging documents in Paul’s name condemning the practice of having women speak in church (1 Timothy).” This is a subtle move taking the reader from a state of possibility to one of certainty.

Other such tactics can be seen when Ehrman asserts that “almost all of the ‘lost’ Scriptures of the early Christians, were forgeries” and then claims that those canonical texts which are of uncertain authorship are forgeries; yet it is a long jump from ‘uncertain authorship’ to ‘forgery’. Ehrman can also be seen starting with the assertion that the church “gained” a doctrine of the Trinity, and that someone “decided” which four Gospels would be canonical, and that there were a ‘diversity’ of Christianities. All of these are subtle assertions which serve to push the bias of Ehrman before he has actually proved his thesis.

In Pagels, this bias presents itself in her book The Gnostic Gospels by assuming ulterior motivations – primarily political – for each advancement of orthodoxy. Each of these is stated as a premise rather than arrived at as a conclusion in the locations they appear, and so while it does seem nitpicky to point such things out, it does show the underlying bias which is in effect in such writings – a bias which seeks to instill the conclusion at the outset which the text is supposed to be arriving at.

So what?

In analyzing these three areas one may come to a fuller understanding of that which has had the greatest influence on contemporary interpretations of the early church.

Due to the dedication to the Enlightenment standard of certainty, contemporary scholars necessarily misinterpret the history of the early church, for the seek certainty where none may be found and strive for rationalism where it cannot be had; as Nicholas Perrin notes: “our being Christian does not also require us to be rationalists.”

When this rationalism necessarily fails, contemporary scholarship embraces the same relativism as the rest of contemporary culture, and in turn read the current struggle for tolerance and incredulity toward authority back on the early church. Due to not being able to verify the Scripture by rationalist standards they then fail to take into proper account Scripture’s testimony of itself, which causes them to leave out crucial source of data in interpreting the early church. Finally, there is a blatant bias and agenda present in the scholarship done which comes across as an attempt to undermine Christianity rather than arrive at any truth.

In order to realign itself contemporary scholarship must realize these hidden underpinnings to its endeavor. Until it gives up on its Enlightenment devotion to scientific certainty – which necessarily leads to a wall between the spiritual and the material worlds – it will be impossible for contemporary scholarship to describe itself using any other words than those of Ehrman regarding himself, that “all of this, of course, is rank speculation.”

Indeed, the rank speculation of relativism is all that is left when the rationalistic system has failed and that same failed system remains being seen as the only avenue to truth.