According to Perkins, a Reformed Catholic is “anyone that holds to the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church; yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine whereby the said religion is corrupted.” For Perkins, doctrines such as justification, sanctification, and the sacraments are clear points for paring, yet there are many other issues (e.g. the Trinity, the two natures of Christ) that we can find true agreement on. These are doctrines that have not been wrecked by Trent’s touch.
Reformed Catholicity. Depending on where you are in the Reformed-Evangelical world, this label may prompt songs of joy or cries of disdain. Those who adopt the term for themselves wish to retrieve the best of the catholic tradition, or perhaps seek to confess doctrinal truths with the Great Tradition. Against this view, some have begun to adopt the label of “Reformed Biblicism.” A Reformed Biblicist is typically suspicious of the Great Tradition and of men like Thomas Aquinas. To them, the theology of Thomas led to the Council of Trent, and therefore he must be rejected. Among those who count themselves as reformed Biblicists, there is a growing concern over the loss of sola scriptura and a fear of losing the truths recovered during the Reformation.
How should we approach Aquinas (and others like him) in light of Trent? It’s a fair question, and to answer it we need look no further than the father of Puritanism, William Perkins.
Perkins himself wrote polemically against Trent, recognizing just how much corruption had seeped into the Catholic church. Writing to Sir William Bowes, Perkins states that “it is a notable policy of the devil” to have men think that the church of Rome and the Protestant faith “are all one for substance; and that they may be reunited.” All throughout his works, Perkins goes to great lengths to show the various blasphemies and errors of Tridentine theology. This Puritan pulled no punches, declaring that the church of Rome had turned Jesus into a “pseudo-Christ and an idol of their own brain.”
Yet the purpose of his treatise was not just to show the errors of Rome, but also to show where there may be agreement.
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By Scott Clark — 9 months ago
We are all Romans 7:25 Christians. There is no other kind of Christian. Any Christian who pretends to have reached perfection (complete sanctification) in this life is deluded and has redefined sin out of existence. Discouragement about one’s sanctification is a tool of the Evil One, who wants us to give up but we should not give up the struggle of the new life because it is only those who have new life who struggle. It is only believers who cry out to God as Paul does in Romans 7 and it is only believers, free from condemnation, who are able to speak as Paul does in Romans chapters 6, 7, and 8.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, consequently, on the one hand, I myself serve the law of God with my mind but, on the other, with the flesh I serve the law of sin.1
“Certain are the faithful about final victory and full liberation.”2 These were the opening words of Caspar Olevianus (1536–87) on this verse but we might suspect that were this verse not in holy Scripture that one would find oneself in trouble for even uttering v. 25b. Nevertheless, this is just how, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul spoke about his struggle with sin as a Christian and about his assurance of his right standing with God (justification) and salvation despite his ongoing struggle with sin. In short, this is Paul’s doctrine of simul iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and sinner).
The perfectionists (e.g., Wesleyans and the Nazarenes), however, cannot speak this way and neither can the legalists or moralists. For the latter group our “final salvation” (as they say) is always in doubt and for the former, the struggle with sin has ostensibly ended. In the history of the Christian church, one of the first and most influential perfectionists and moralists was Pelagius, a British monk who appeared Melchizedek-like in the late fourth century. He was attracted to moralistic preaching, i.e., preaching that featured a great deal of emphasis on law and our obligations as Christians and very little talk of grace or God’s free acceptance of sinners. He was also deeply offended by Augustine’s prayer in his Confessions to God, “Give what you command and command what you will.”3
Like all perfectionists and moralists, however, Pelagius knew a priori that Paul could not have been speaking about his Christian experience. He knew a priori that Paul must have created a persona for the purposes of Romans chapter 7.
Augustine Versus The Pelagians On Romans 7
The Augustinian and historic Reformed understanding of Romans 7, however, is that Paul was speaking about his struggle, as a Christian, with sin. Against the Pelagians Augustine wrote,
And it had once appeared to me also that the apostle was in this argument of his describing a man under the law. But afterwards I was constrained to give up the idea by those words where he says, “Now, then, it is no more I that do it.” For to this belongs what he says subsequently also: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” And because I do not see how a man under the law should say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man;” since this very delight in good, by which, moreover, he does not consent to evil, not from fear of penalty, but from love of righteousness (for this is meant by “delighting”), can only be attributed to grace.4
Calvin took the same approach. In his commentary on Romans 7:25 he wrote,
“So I myself, &c.” A short epilogue, in which he teaches us, that the faithful never reach the goal of righteousness as long as they dwell in the flesh, but that they are running their course, until they put off the body. He again gives the name of mind, not to the rational part of the soul which philosophers extol, but to that which is illuminated by the Spirit of God, so that it understands and wills aright: for there is a mention made not of the understanding alone, but connected with it is the earnest desire of the heart. However, by the exception he makes, he confesses, that he was devoted to God in such a manner, that while creeping on the earth he was defiled with many corruptions. This is a suitable passage to disprove the most pernicious dogma of the Purists, (Catharorum,) which some turbulent spirits attempt to revive at the present day.5
In a footnote to the older translation of Calvin here, the editor reports that Theodore Beza wrote on this verse, “[t]his was suitable to what follows, by which one man seems to have been divided into two.” By the flesh, wrote Pareus, “is not meant physically the muscular substance, but theologically the depravity of nature,—not sensuality alone, but the unregenerated reason, will, and affections.” Pareus was reflecting the older Reformed way of using the term “regeneration,” meaning sanctified. E.g., Olevianus wrote that, even after we have been given new life by the Spirit, we are still only “partly regenerated,” i.e., partly sanctified.
The Structure Of Romans
In order to overcome the Pelagian presumption, which is surprisingly widespread in Presbyterian and Reformed circles, we need to understand the structure of Romans and where Romans chapter 7 falls in Paul’s argument and why it does.
Like the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Romans is in three parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. We may consider Romans 1:1–17 the prologue to the epistle. The guilt section runs from 1:18–3:20. Here Paul is preaching the law in its first use to convict the world of sin and its need for a Savior. Failure to understand how Paul has structured Romans and what this entire section is has led to serious confusion and misunderstanding about e.g., Romans 2:13, where, contra one popular modern misinterpretation, Paul was not offering eternal life to Christians, under a sort of legalized covenant of grace (were such a thing possible), who cooperate sufficiently with grace. He was re-stating the covenant of works: do this and live (Gen 2:17; Lev 18:5; Luke 10:28).
By Maurice Roberts — 9 months ago
A common reason why we cease to pray effectually or fervently is because we fall into a rut. When this happens we pray more by habit than in the Spirit. We do indeed go through a routine of words and lists but the fire is just not there in the soul. This is one reason why we must be careful not to be dictated to by our prayer-lists. They may have their place but they must never become our masters. At times–perhaps at frequent times–we must leave our prayer-lists aside and turn from our conventional patterns of prayer. There are times when the mould of our intercession is to be discarded entirely and we are to devote our whole minds and souls to the great task of calling on God for nothing less than revival.
It is a question worth pondering as to whether there is much serious prayer being offered up in our busy age. There is undoubtedly a welter of other things being attempted: files of paper are prepared on a host of topics; memoranda by the score are recorded; statistics are noted; committees are formed and then disbanded; agendas are drawn up and discussed; ideas are floated and debated; proposals are offered and turned this way and then that. But in the face of the massive onslaught of secular and spiritual forces hostile to the gospel of Christ there appears to be little agonising prayer. Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves if this is why nothing seems to get any better.
Behind this lack of real prayer–if the above observations are just–there would appear to lie just one basic explanation: prayer is extraordinarily difficult. At least prayer which involves wrestling is so. There is a common style of praying found in many places today which makes but little demand upon those who offer it up. We do not set ourselves up to be the judges of other men’s spirituality. But if our eyes and ears do not deceive us it would seem that a style of prayer is widespread which consists very much of saying thank you to God for a large number of things, yet never goes on to lay hold of the Almighty or to make massive demands upon his promises.
It is time to ask ourselves whether such praying is worthy of being called scriptural or evangelical. The prayers of the Bible concentrate on the great emergency and crisis of the times. Examples of this abound. The prayers of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel may be taken as notable examples. They grapple with the main issue of the day, which is that God should pardon his people and restore to them the power of his grace. No doubt these holy men were grateful to God for the mercies of life and thanked him no less than we do today. But their chief energies in prayer were spent, not in reference to the common mercies of life, but on those themes and subjects which most concerned Christ’s kingdom at that hour. So they contain the element of striving with God. They are hot and passionate. They amount to a spiritual wrestling and to a laying hold of God in downright earnest.
If anyone thinks that we go too far in so speaking of prayer in Bible times, let him recall the marvellous earnestness recorded for us concerning the prayers of our Lord in the garden. How deeply did he experience agony! There was immense conflict in his mind and soul. This was registered in his tears and in his sweat which dripped from his brow like clots of blood. Such intensity of prayer may perhaps be unique to our blessed Redeemer. But there are expressions elsewhere in the Bible to show that prayer is hard and demanding to man.
The Psalmist speaks of an experience which must be exceeding rare in our times. His knees were weak through fasting (Ps. 109:24). Intercessory prayer requires us to ‘afflict our souls’ (Lev. 16), to ‘watch’ and not to sleep (Matt. 26:38), to ‘labour fervently’ (Col. 4:12), to persevere (Eph. 6:18) and to engage in an exercise which is intensely spiritual (Rom. 8:26).
When we study the practice of Old Testament saints we find not a little to humble and inspire us. Elijah’s prayers stopped heaven and brought a drought on the land. Again, his prayers opened heaven and poured forth rain on the parched earth. What prayers these biblical men and women offered up and with what effect upon the world! They stormed Zion in their fervour to be heard. They petitioned the throne of heaven and laid siege to its walls. They would scarcely take No for an answer. In so praying they stopped the sun in its course; they called down fire from above; they opened prisons; they overturned the schemes of armies; they raised the dead; they toppled thrones; they wrought mighty deeds of victory.
It cannot escape our attention that such wrestlers with God seem to be few today. We are grateful for those who serve Christ in whatever capacity. We value highly all who walk with God and are true to his Word and sound in their faith. But it would be good for our land and for our churches if there were a larger army of wrestlers, all taking God at his Word and pleading relentlessly the promises which he has made to his people in a dark day. In a word, we need an army of men and women who are so devoted to praying for the Spirit to come down that they give God no rest (Isa. 62:7).
Too many prayers lack steam. Too many prayers are predictable. Too many prayers are marked by sameness and tameness. But prayers which are ordinary are not sufficient to turn the tide of evil in these days. What is called for in such a dark day is for men and women of exceptional dedication to God who will plead for a mighty change in the state of things. Perhaps this is the main reason why there has been a recovery of much truth but little public manifestation of it. We are all guilty in that we have not waited with sufficient seriousness on God to give the church the power of preaching and the unction of spiritual energy.
It is a fault to treat prayer as the Cinderella of our spiritual duties. To read and to preach is essential. But the oil of divine blessing must needs be poured on the means of grace if they are to be effectual. Too many of our services to Christ are performed with little water on the mill. It is the way of God that he will have us beg for our blessings. Little prayer usually means little unction. There are exceptions but we must not take advantage of God’s kindness. At times we get unusual help in our work with but little intercession beforehand. But it is presumptuous of us to take this as our rule of action.
A common reason why we cease to pray effectually or fervently is because we fall into a rut. When this happens we pray more by habit than in the Spirit. We do indeed go through a routine of words and lists but the fire is just not there in the soul. This is one reason why we must be careful not to be dictated to by our prayer-lists. They may have their place but they must never become our masters. At times–perhaps at frequent times–we must leave our prayer-lists aside and turn from our conventional patterns of prayer. There are times when the mould of our intercession is to be discarded entirely and we are to devote our whole minds and souls to the great task of calling on God for nothing less than revival. Let the soul pour itself out to its Maker in anguished groans. Let the heart within us feel free to roam up and down the land in its search for a way to give vent to our burden and to our grief that Christ’s cause is so low.
We shall probably seldom if ever pray in the manner of the saints of the Bible if we are not full of the knowledge of the Scriptures. This is clear from a perusal of the great prayers of the Bible itself. The Bible-characters whom we referred to as great in prayer were themselves men who were full of Scripture. Their prayers are often a tissue of biblical language. They quote not only the ideas of the Bible but also its very text. Of course there is a danger even in this. It is possible to use the Bible as mere padding in our prayers. It is sometimes the case that men who have little to say in prayer fill out their prayers by reciting texts of Scripture which may be only partially what they are trying to say. We have all been guilty, no doubt. This is an abuse. Real prayer shoots upwards, being impelled by the inward fire and animation of the soul. No one needs to be told when we have offered up a real prayer. It is something which all feel who have any spiritual life in them.
By Anne Stych — 9 months ago
The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that 14 parishes that left the Episcopal Church in 2012 to join the Anglican Church in North America must return their property to the Episcopal Church. The parishes had left the denomination over its acceptance of same-sex marriage and its policy that allowed the ordination of gay clergy.
The court ruled April 20 that the churches had agreed to an Episcopal Church tenet that places all parish properties in a trust belonging to the national church—meaning the properties, including the St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on Seabrook Island, belong to the diocese, Episcopal News Service reported.
The court also found that 15 of the total 29 parishes that left did not agree to such a trust and will retain title to their real estate.
Churches that must forfeit their property include Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant; Good Shepherd, Charleston; Holy Comforter, Sumter; Holy Cross, Stateburg; Holy Trinity, Charleston; St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville; St. David’s, Cheraw; St. Luke’s, Hilton Head; St. Matthew’s, Fort Motte; St. James, Charleston; St. John’s, Johns Island; St. Jude’s, Walterboro; Trinity, Myrtle Beach; and Old St. Andrew’s, Charleston.
The Rt. Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, said that while the decision will “no doubt bring joy to many in our diocese…there will be grief in the possible finality of a loss they have been feeling for nearly 10 years.”
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina was one of the nine original dioceses that formed The Episcopal Church in America in 1785.