R. Scott Clark

Paul Contra Final Salvation Through Works (Romans 5:9–10)

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Thursday, June 2, 2022
We have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from the works of the law (Rom 3:24, 28; 4:1; 5:1; 8:1). Sanctification is being worked in us. It results in a change in us. We do good works because we have been freely justified and because we are being freely sanctified (Rom 7:4; Eph 2:10; 5:9; Col 1:10; Phil 1:11; 2:13; Gal 5:22; James 2:14; 3:13). We are being conformed to the image of Christ. Mortification (putting to death of the old man) and vivification (the making alive of the new man) is being worked in us by the gracious, gradual work of the Spirit.

For many evangelicals and for some ostensibly Reformed folk it has been fashionable for the last several years to teach that we are justified now by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), based on Christ’s righteousness imputed, but that because salvation includes sanctification and sanctification entails works, we shall finally be saved, as they say, “through good works.” One prominent evangelical organization published the thesis: “You are not saved by faith alone. Be killing sin.” Thus, what this two-stage approach to salvation gives with the right hand (initial justification sola fide) it takes away with the left (final salvation through works).
Most of the Federal Visionists are explicit about their rejection of the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and about their rejection of imputation on the basis of justification. Some of them, however, cleverly affirm initial justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and one of them even affirms the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. Remember, however, for them, there is a second stage. Others, who style themselves opponents of antinomianism but who do not identify as Federal Visionists, also teach a two-stage doctrine of salvation and final salvation through works.
Make no mistake about it. This is an intentional revision of the Reformation doctrine of salvation. Their goal is that Christians should be more sanctified and produce more good works, but they are dissatisfied with the Reformation doctrine of justification, sanctification, and glorification by grace alone, through faith alone. They do not believe that good works are nothing but the fruit and evidence of justification and sanctification. They do not accept the Reformation distinction between law and gospel. They reject the notion that sanctification is, as Walter Marshal wrote, a “gospel mystery,” and that there is not a straight line to sanctification. They reject the notion that progressive sanctification is the fruit of justification and that good works are the fruit of progressive sanctification. For more on these various revisions and rejections of the Reformation doctrine of salvation see the resources below.
Justification and Salvation in Romans 5:9–10
Considering the proposed revisions let us consider briefly how Paul thinks about the nature of both justification and salvation and how he relates the two in Romans 5:9–10. Paul writes,
Since we have now been justified by his blood how much more shall we be saved from wrath through him? Because if, being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, by how much more shall we be saved by his life? 1
The two-stage view depends 1) upon the notion that there is an initial justification and a final salvation; 2) that initial justification is through faith alone but final salvation, because it involves our sanctification and sanctification is by grace and cooperation with grace (i.e., by grace and works), is through works.
The first premise is manifestly contrary to the Pauline doctrine of justification and salvation in several places including this one. We have been saved (Eph 2:8) by grace alone, through faith alone. In this passage Paul is teaching us that the future aspect of our salvation, (i.e., the consummation of our salvation), is also by grace alone, through faith alone. Works are never instrumental in our justification, our sanctification, or our salvation taken as a whole.
It is true that salvation is or can be a comprehensive category. It is also true that the Westminster Divines were aware of this when they said justification “is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC, 33) and sanctification “he work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC, 35).
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Should the Visible Church, as an Institution, Form and Express an Opinion on Political Violence?

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Presbyteries, as an institution of the covenant of grace, do well to remember the limits of their competence and authority and to remember the Christian liberty of their members to disagree with the cultural, poltical, social, and economic opinions of her ministers and ruling elders.

According to the PCA’s denominational magazine, By Faith, the Potomac Presbytery (PCA), on March 19, approved an overture that makes what Presbyterians call “in thesi” statements (which the Dutch Reformed call doctrinal deliverances) against political violence. It is as “Overture 26.” It articulates 17 reasons why the PCA should go on record as officially, as a denomination, opposing political violence. Among them:

The PCA has spoken to other “pressing moral issues” e.g., abortion
The civil magistrate is ordained to keep order
Peacemakers are blessed, Christians are called to do good and to live in peace with all
WLC 135 interprets the sixth commandment to require gentleness etc.
Christ’s kingdom is spiritual in nature
There is an increase in political violence in the USA
Christian symbols have been involved in some of that violence
Some members of the PCA serve in the military and police forces and are called to keep the peace
The 49th PCA General Assembly has spoken to these issues

Therefore:
Be it further resolved, that the 49th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America condemn political violence and intimidation in unlawful expressions, especially that which is illicitly done in the name of Christ; and
Be it further resolved, that the Moderator of the 49th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America appoint a commissioner to pray for peace in our nation and that the Church of Jesus Christ would be instruments of that peace; and
Be it finally resolved, that the 49th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America encourage her members to “seek peace and pursue it” in the public square (Psalm 34:14); to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1); and to pray for peace and for “all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (I Timothy 2:2).
Analysis and Response
Ecclesiastical actions like this one raise a serious question about the nature, vocation, and mission of the visible, institutional church: Has Jesus Christ, as the only head of the church, authorized his church to make such statements? The traditional Reformed view and the official view of the PCA is articulated in Westminster Confession of Faith 31.4
Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.
Overture 26 cites this section of chapter 31 and applies it generally to the spirituality nature of the Kingdom of God and it is certainly true that the Kingdom is essentially spiritual. Our Lord Jesus said this in John 18:36, “Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (ESV). There Jesus explicitly repudiated the use of violence to advance the interests of his kingdom.
The overture, however, does not directly address the specific intent of WCF 31.4 nor does it address the limitations placed on the visible church in this section. The Potomac Presbytery is an ecclesiastical assembly and thus falls under the rubric “synods and councils.” According to the confession, what sort of business is the church, as an institution, authorized to address? The divines answered this question: “nothing but that which is ecclesiastical.” It is not immediately obvious how political violence is an “ecclesiastical” matter. Further, because the divines knew how often the visible church has been tempted to inject herself into what are essentially secular and civil matters, they specifically prohibited the church, as an institution, from meddling “in civil affairs which concern the commonwealth.” The divines used the word “intermeddling.” Overture 26 does not answer the obvious question here: how is it that, in Overture 26, Potomac Presbytery is not “intermeddling” in the affairs of the commonwealth? Political violence is manifestly a civil affair that concerns the commonwealth. Muslims, Jews, and pagans have as much interest in opposing political violence as does the Potomac Presbytery. Thus, it is not evident what special interest the presbytery has here or what special expertise the presbytery brings to this question.
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Run to Jesus: Living in a Time of Great Loss

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Friday, April 29, 2022
If you are in Christ, i.e., united to him by the Spirit through faith alone, your name is in the Lamb’s book of life and eternal fellowship shall be yours. Respect death. Mortify your sins. Grieve and mourn the loss of life but rest in the promise that the end belongs to him, who walked in the garden with our first parents, in whose image we are being re-created.

Americans born after World War II, for most of that time, have experienced prosperity and medical progress hitherto unknown in human history. We have been led to expect that, given enough resources, medical science can conquer virtually anything. In an undated story (why do publishers do that?) Becky Little highlights four diseases about which we have largely forgotten because of vaccines: Smallpox, Polio, Rabies, and the Flu. To be sure, people do still die from the flu but, until Covid-19 we have not faced anything like the Spanish Flu, which killed approximately 675,000 people in the USA and 50 million people globally.
To date the CDC reports 463, 659 deaths in the USA and 2.3 million deaths globally from Covid-19. Though the number of deaths in the USA might be beginning to approach the total number of deaths from the 1918 flu, globally the 1918 outbreak was much more deadly. Be that as it may, when we add to the effects of Covid-19 the aging of the American population, we are living through a time of great loss. Psychologically, this sense of loss is intensified by social media and changes in the way the news is reported.
We grieve these reports of death and these losses, as we should, because death is not normal.
The media generates revenue by clicks, and so they report (market would be a more accurate verb) news from outside their local area with with headlines designed to get the reader to click, if not to read. The old newsroom maxim, “if it bleeds, it leads” was never so true. The media have embraced death and destruction as part of their business model so we are bombarded with reports of deaths from our own town and from places across the globe. Then there is social media, on which friends and acquaintances seem continuously to be reporting death and loss.
We grieve these reports and these losses, as we should, because death is not normal—at least it was not supposed to be. We were not created to die. We were created for endless fellowship with God. He put us a paradise, a garden, a temple. We were created in righteousness and true holiness. We were endowed with all needed to obey and to enter into blessedness. The Lord even instituted a sacrament of life, the tree of life, and a sacrament of death, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15–17). We were authorized to eat from the one and forbidden from the other.
Our first parents had fellowship with God even before the consummate state, which loomed before them. Their week was organized around the weekly Sabbath—remember this is before the fall and who knows how many years before the institution of the old (Mosaic) covenant (Gen. 2:2–3; Exod. 20:8). The Sabbath was a picture of future blessedness and fellowship with God and with one another (Heb. 4:9).
The marvels of modernity have given us the illusion that we can, through will and technology, conquer the consequences of sin—but it is just an illusion.
Spoiler alert: We did not obey God. At one point in our life in God’s paradise-temple we freely chose death and God kept his promise (Gen. 3:6–7). Death entered the world (Gen. 2:17; 3:19). We began to die and promised misery began to manifest itself everywhere, from food production to childbirth (e.g., Gen. 4:8). There has been man-made attempts to overcome finitude and the fall (e.g., Gen. 11:1–9), but those ended badly too. Eventually life became so horrible that the Lord, as it were, started it over. He destroyed “the world that then was” (2 Pet. 3:6).
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What Churches Can Do to Reconcile with Those Who Left

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
It is likely some pastors and elders, however few, erred and even sinned in their response to Covid and to the congregation. Where that happened they must confess those mistakes and sins and ask for forgiveness from their congregations. That act might be the most powerful sermon they preach to their congregations all year.

A few days ago I made an appeal to those who left their congregations over disagreements with church leadership about how the visible church responded to Covid. I asked for understanding and forgiveness. I also argued that, in most cases, those who left did so for the wrong reason: they were asking the visible church to be and do something that the visible church is neither called nor equipped to do. At least some of the comments published under that essay support that analysis. To the degree that is true, what happened was a case of conflicting expectations. The church leadership expected the church to manifest the marks of the true church: preach the gospel purely, administer the sacraments purely, and administer church discipline (Belgic Confession, art. 29) and some of those who left wanted the church to be an institutional advocate for civil liberties, to become, in effect, something like the American Center for Law and Justice, FIRE, or the Pacific Justice Institute. These are all fine organizations and they do good work in helping citizens secure their civil liberties. I have advocated for civil liberties consistently in this space but the visible church is not a civil liberties advocacy group. It is the embassy of King Jesus to the world. The message he has entrusted to her is the moral law and the good news of free salvation in Christ.
Further, during Covid, I was critical of some congregations not for practicing civil disobedience (I defended their right to follow their conscience and to obey God rather than man according to Acts 5:29), but for aligning the visible church with a political candidate and turning a worship service into a political rally and using it to score points in the culture war. Again, none of these things is in the church’s brief. One simply cannot find any evidence in the New Testament of that sort of response to civil authorities.
One response I have received, however, is cogent: What about the role of the visible church in the rupture of the relationship between members and the church? What I saw was pastors and elders trying to serve their congregations as best they could in a situation for which few of them were prepared. They did so in a time when the nation had become deeply fractured along cultural and political lines. Almost immediately, how one responded to Covid came to symbolize, regardless of whether one intended to send a cultural-political signal, a cultural-political stance. Again, see the comments on the original post. The discussion moved almost immediately to the question of who was right or wrong about “the science.” In other words, the discussion moved from grace (e.g., how to forgive one another) to nature (i.e., who was wrong about Covid).
Nevertheless, some critics have expressed a valid concern. What if the leadership of the visible church erred or sinned? We may not say a priori that it could not happen. Popes and councils do err. Every consistory and session (ministers and elders) is composed of sinners, and sinners sin. They violate the moral law of God. They fail to love God perfectly and they fail to love their neighbors as themselves.
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Grammar Guerrilla: Grammar Is For Everyone

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Sunday, April 3, 2022
Grammar is not racist, ableist, classist or any other —ist. Anyone can learn grammar. Everyone should learn good grammar. If you struggle with grammar, writing, or learning please do not let the virtue-signalling Rhiannon Giles’ of the world convince you that you cannot or should not learn. 

This tweet, which was published by Rhiannon Giles, who writes for the New York Times among other prestigious publications, appeared on March 3, 2022, National Grammar Day. There are three things to observe here. One has to do with grammar itself. The second has to do with fun and learning. The other has to do why she is fundamentally and even dangerously wrongheaded about who needs to learn grammar and why (or why virtue signaling is harmful).
First, her grammatical mistake. She wrote, “A good day to remember that while grammar can be fun…”. What she should have written is, “though grammar can be fun.” She was not signaling the passage of time. She was intending to signal a concessive: “Though x is the case, y is also the case.” She meant to concede the first clause while simultaneously asserting a complementary truth. Did you notice what I did there? I used while correctly. It signals the passage of time. “Joey whistled while he waited for the train to arrive.” While signals the passage of time. One thing is happening at the same time something else is happening. I understand that usage changes and that the abuse of while is widespread but that makes the abuse no less incorrect. That virtually no one, even academics, seem to know the meaning of “to beg the question,” does not make the abuse of that expression correct.
Second, grammar well taught can be fun but there are things to be learned that are hard work. Learning English well, especially as a second language, is hard work. One should not think that whatever is difficult is not to be attempted.
Third, her virtue signaling scold regard “ableism” etc should be repudiated by anyone who cares about the education of young people and the social mobility of those about whom she ostensibly cares. There is nothing  inherently ableist, racist, or classist about grammar. To suggest that good grammar belongs only to the able, the wealthy, or to any particular race (or that it is racist to learn or teach grammar) is nonsense and potentially damaging to the education of many young people. As a matter of fact and morals, good English does not belong to people who are able, of any particular race, class, or ability.
Her caveat is grounded in the unstated assumption that grammar is a mere convention, i.e., it is arbitrary and subject to deconstruction and therefore to insist on good grammar is the sign of privilege and potentially racist etc. This is not true. Sentences necessarily must have verbs, subjects, objects, and qualifiers. Languages vary in the way they express these relations but these relations are baked into the nature of things. Learning how to understand and express these relations well is what grammar helps us do.
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Hermeneutics Matter: Law and Gospel in Luke 18:18–30

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
The Bible distinguishes between the law and the gospel. The law demands perfect, exact, personal, and perpetual righteousness from us but the gospel gives to us salvation and life freely for the sake of Christ, who is our righteousness and freely through faith, which itself is a gift. 

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:18–30; ESV).
On Twitter, on February 18, 2022, a person hitherto unknown to me proposed, “I will never get over Jesus being asked how to get into heaven and basically says, ‘Don’t be rich.’” On what principle was our interlocutor operating? He announced, “Sorry, but the bible says, I believe it, that settles it” (sic). This is exactly the wrong interpretation of the story of the rich young ruler (hereafter RYR) because it follows a poor method of interpreting texts.
For orthodox Christians there is no question that whatever the Bible means to say is binding. That the Bible says something in Luke 18:18–30 is not question. What is question, however, is just what the Bible means to say and how do we know? These questions are relevant and pressing for those outside and inside the Reformed churches. I recall hearing this passage explained by a Reformed minister, who announced to his congregation, in effect, that our Lord really was calling the RYR to sell all he had. The implication seemed to be that, had the RYR done so, he would have received the benefit in question, i.e., eternal life.
Is this what Jesus says?
The RYR asks, “What must I do…”? As he asks that question he assumes that he can do something to inherit eternal life. It is the very assumption, our interlocutor also accepts, that Jesus is going to challenge. Jesus begins to question his premise when he says, “Why do you call me good?” The RYR assumes that he has goodness and that his good ness and Jesus’ goodness are on a continuum. They are not.
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All Over-Realized Eschatologies Are Attempts to Change the Rules of the Game

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
We are to be what we are: mere Christians redeemed and sanctified by grace alone, through faith alone, and seeking to live according to God’s moral law, in union with Christ, out of gratitude for God’s free favor in Christ—not in order to be justified and saved but because we have been justified and saved.

Some years ago, while explaining Heidelberg Catechism 114, on the moral law, I wrote, “Paul was not a Gnostic, a Valentinian, an Anabaptist, a Familist, nor an Antinomian. He was a sinner saved and justified freely through faith alone, a Christian living in union and communion with Christ, seeking to bring his life into conformity to all of God’s holy moral law.”
A reader wrote to ask what this paragraph means. It is a loaded with historical references that would take some time to explain but each of these represents some kind of over-realized eschatology. By that I mean someone who thinks that he has or can have heaven on earth right now. In order to have it each of these groups changed the rules of the game. In one way or another they got rid of God’s moral law, God’s grace, or God’s church.
The Gnostics (including the Valentinians) did by getting rid of God himself and by making themselves into gods. This is probably the dominant theology of our age. The Anabaptists certainly had an over-realized eschatology. They were not content to be mere Christians. They wanted to make themselves into apostles and fancied that they were super-spiritual—perhaps they were the Super Apostles of the sixteenth century?—who both mastered the law and were free from it. They did not need justification and salvation by grace alone, through faith alone and the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone—the first generation of the Anabaptists rejected the Reformation solas. They fancied that they had the apostolic gifts and powers including tongues, being slain in the Spirit, and continuing revelation. They were the true precursors of American evangelicalism from 1800 to today. The Familists was a movement founded in the 1540s, in Emden. They were precursors to the early Pietist movement of Jakob Boehme (1575–1624). They were radical subjectivists who rejected the sacraments. Their views were adopted by the Quakers. Again, this is a manifestation of an over-realized eschatology.
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What Is Figurative and What Is Literal in the Promise to Abraham in Genesis 17?

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Tuesday, February 15, 2022
Daily, mysteriously, the Holy Spirit uses the ministry of the Word and the prayers of believing parents to bring baptized covenant children to new life and true faith. More than a few covenant children never remember coming to faith because they have always believed. 

Jackson writes to ask, “As it relates to continuity with the Abrahamic covenant, for example, Abraham and his children get circumcised, therfore in the new administration, Jesus and his children (spiritual) get baptized. Do you think that someone can retain their Reformed confession of the WSC and still be Baptist if they use that kind of reasoning?”
The essence of the question is the nature of the continuity of between the new administration of the covenant of grace and the Abrahamic administration of the covenant of grace. Under Abraham the promise was to believers and to their children and it included the external administration of the sign of the covenant to believers and to their children. Genesis 17:1–14 says:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (ESV).
There are two aspects to the promise as it was articulated in Genesis 17: children and the gentile nations. In connection with this expression of the promise (see also Gen ch. 12 and 15) Yahweh changes Abram’s name to Abraham. He will be the father of a multitude of nations. In v. 9 Yahweh articulates the second aspect of the promise, to be Abraham’s God and a God to his children.
Yahweh gave a sign and seal of the promise: circumcision. It was a bloody, typological sign pointing forward to the death of Christ (Col 2:11–12) and he commanded that the sign be applied both to Abraham the believer (Gen 15:6) and to his sons. The external administration of the covenant of grace under Abraham included both believers and children. This is significant for New Covenant believers because Paul invokes the Abraham promise as the pattern for the New Covenant:
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom 4:13–17; ESV).
Abraham is the father of all Christians, both Jew and Gentile. Abraham believed before he was circumcised, when he was a Gentile and thus he is the father of all Gentile Christians, and he believed when he was circumcised and thus is the father of all Jewish Christians.
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The Use of Images Is an Indicator of the Functional Authority of the Standards in the PCA

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Has not the PCA already taken a clear and unequivocal position on the natures and person of Christ and on images of God? That this a live issue both theologically and practically tells us something about the role of the Standards in the life of the church. It seems to me that the future of the PCA hangs on this question as much as any other.

When the Westminster Assembly (1643–52), which was composed of Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, deliberated on the moral law of God, they agreed on with the church of all ages and times on the abiding validity of God’s moral law. In their Confession (19.5) they wrote: “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” The Larger Catechism (1647), which the assembly debated between April and October, 1647, explained the consensus of the ancient (pre-eighth century) church and of all the Reformed churches on the “good and necessary consequence” (WCF 1.6) of the second commandment:
You shall not make any graven images or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them: for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the sin of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those that hate me; and showing mercy to thousandth generation of those who love me, and keep my commandments (Exod 20:4–6).
They confessed:
The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
In the modern period, the divines have taken a good deal of abuse for their opposition to mental images of Christ, but about the Assembly’s opposition to representations of God the Son incarnate there can be no doubt.
Good Faith Subscription
In the history of American Presbyterianism since the early eighteenth century the trend has been toward subscribing the Standards (i.e., the Westminster Confession and catechisms) not because (quia) they are biblical but insofar as (quatenus) a candidate or minister believes them to be biblical. The Book of Church Order (BCO) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) permits exceptions to the Standards
only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion (BCO 21-4 (f).
It is this writer’s understanding that it is the practice of some PCA presbyteries, under their “good faith” (BCO 21-4(g)) approach to confessional subscription, to allow candidates for ministry to take exception to the Standards on the second commandment and specifically images of Christ. The material issues have been discussed here and elsewhere at length. On this see the resources below. It would, however, surprise our Reformed fathers (and our fathers in the ancient church) to no end to discover that Christians had decided in that images of God the Son incarnate are morally adiaphora. Nevertheless, under the PCAs BCO, it is apparently possible.
It is one thing to dissent from the Standards of the church. It is quite another to flaunt that exception to the Standards publicly and thereby to risk offending the consciences of those who hold the ancient Christian view and who agree without exception to the understanding of God’s Word as confessed by all the Reformed churches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Whether ministers (in the language of the PCA, Teaching Elders) may teach things that are contrary to the confession of the church is a matter of debate in the PCA. How this could be a debate is not exactly clear. When the church has confessed her understanding of God’s Word on a particular point, that is the church’s understanding. The church does not confess an interpretation of Scripture or conviction about every issue. Some things truly are morally indifferent (adiaphora). When the church has prayed, studied an issue, deliberated, debated, and finally confessed a view there should be little question oner what the church intends to impose upon her members.
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An Overlooked Aspect of the Story: PCA Influence on Acts 29 and Mars Hill

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
If you have not listened to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” you should. It helps us to understand the so-called New Calvinism or the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. It also helps us to understand the intersection between a part of the PCA and Acts 29 and that might help us understand some of the debates occurring today within the PCA.

Regular readers of the Heidelblog and listeners of the Heidelcast will know that considerable time has been spent here analyzing and interacting with the podcast series produced by Christianity Today and hosted by Mike Cosper (see the resources below).
In that interaction most of the time and attention has been spent on the nature and effects of Mark Driscoll’s Narcissism and abuse and on highlighting the differences between Reformed theology, piety, and practice and that of the so-called “New Calvinism” or the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement as represented by Driscoll and Mars Hill.
The most recent episode of the Presbycast (“Deconstructing 2021 and Big Eva with D G Hart”), however, hits on a very important aspect of the Acts 29/Mars Hill/Driscoll story that I overlooked: the role of the PCA, specifically the Church Planting Assessment Center (CPAC) in Atlanta, and Spanish River PCA in the formation of Acts 29 and Mars Hill.
In that regard it is interesting to note that this is the first thing one sees on the CPAC page:
Choosing and Retaining the right pastor is the key variable in planting a new mission.—Lyle Schaller
Was the Apostle Paul “the right pastor”? After all, the Corinthians were not much impressed with him. They were interested in “wisdom,” and “power,” and eloquence but Paul came to them with “foolishness,” “weakness,” and stumbling: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:3–5; ESV). They were much more taken with the self-proclaimed “Super Apostles” than they were with an actual apostle and they continued to be unimpressed with simple gospel ministry for, as far as church history knows, the rest of their history.
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