Thursday, February 10, 2011

Always Reformed & Courageous Calvinism, IV

In my previous posts (here, here, and here) I have offered comment on Dr. Robert Godfrey's chapter from this book.  That chapter is the text of his inaugural address upon assuming the presidency of Westminster Seminary California in 1993. Today I'd like to explore his fourth point: Committed Calvinism.

Godfrey builds his case upon Acts 20 when the Apostle Paul gave his final words to the elders of Ephesus. There he spoke about not holding his own life dear and of staying the course.  He spoke about his own ministry in their midst where he served the Lord with great humility (including tears) while enduring numerous plots against him.  In spite of these challenges he did not shrink from the task of teaching those believers and grounding them in the faith. 

Godfrey asserts that the greatest danger we face as Calvinists is not being Committed Calvinists.  He writes:

That commitment was well expressed in a statement of one of the founding documents of Princeton and preserved in the Westminster By-Laws: the Seminary is committed "to develop in those who shall aspire to the ministerial office, both that piety of heart which is the fruit of the renewing and sanctifying grace of God, and solid learning, believing that zeal without knowledge or knowledge without zeal must ultimately prove injurious to the Church..."  Many traditions have a lot of zeal and not much learning.  But our besetting danger today is that we have great learning and not much zeal.  Our great danger is that we have become comfortable Calvinists, that life has become easy for us and we are contented with that ease.  Long gone are the days when someone like King Charles II could observe:   "Presbyterianism is no religion for gentlemen."  Those Scottish Presbyterians of whom King Charles spoke were anything but gentlemen.  They did not compromise for king or noblemen.  They were committed in the spirit of John Knox of whom the regent Morton said at his grave: "Here lies one who never feared any flesh."
Godfrey goes on to ask this question:
Do we still exhibit an appropriate lack of gentlemanliness, or have we fit in all too well?
And, as if to rub salt in the wound he cites an author from the New York Times Review whose opinion of Calvinists was that we are basically a "mild" and "recessive" group and then posts this comment from the William Butler Yeats poem, "The Second Coming": "The best of all lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

I don't know who Dr. Godfrey had in mind when he spoke these words nearly eighteen years ago, but they come uncomfortably close in accurately describing large swaths of my denomination, The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  In the last year I've been surprised about reports like this that decry the "mean-spirited" ways of bloggers who are stirring things up.  Similarly are the numerous attempts to employ the 9th Commandment as a way of shutting down discourse (described here). Our own denominational leadership employed a full court press to counter a wave of "misinformation" (read legitimate criticisms, many made by bloggers) of our denomination's Strategic Plan and the accompanying amendments to BCO Chapter 14.  Add to this the cries of "Foul" that ensued when a letter of concern was sent to Missouri Presbytery about the theological views of one of its ministers.  This situation was exacerbated by that presbytery's less than thorough investigation of that minister.  Added to these things are repeated calls for "moderation", the never-ending requests for "study committees", appeals to "Can't we all just get along?" I'm left wondering if the PCA has become a bunch of gentlemen or _____________ (insert your own term). 

I think Carl Trueman got it right when described the work of elders as "...fighting in the church courts, face to face, toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball, with those who would seek to take over session, presbyteries, synods, and General Assemblies for evil."  So did one of my ministerial colleagues who described the efforts to root Federal Vision theology out of the PCA as akin to our nation's battle to win the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima.  I fear that there aren't enough men in our denomination who want to see things this way and defend the church they have sworn to protect. 

Godfrey see this as evidence of 'religious professionalism', which he eschews.  He boldly writes,
I am convinced that in rejecting the idea of religious professionalism, we must all embrace the idea of being missionaries.  We must be missionaries who may be working in a culture that may not fully understand us, but with the commitment of missionaries who are willing to leave even family and home to teach the word of God.  We must be missionaries in the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ who, as we read in John 6, sought to make disciples by turning away those who would not hear the truth of the kingdom with disturbing clarity until He whittled a crowd of five thousand down to twelve and said even to them, "Will you also leave me?"
I'm not sure that there are many in the PCA with this conviction.  We are going with the flow, paddling with the current of broad evangelicalism seeking relevance, influence, and recognition.  And sadly, to the extent we pursue those things so do we distance ourselves from our heritage, from the piety that flows from our confessions, and our NAPARC brethren.  That was made readily apparent to all as the Strategic Plan was drafted, debated, and eventually adopted last summer. 

Godfrey ends his address with these inspiring words:
Our responsibility is not to produce great success in our strength.  Our responsibility is to be faithful and thereby to be instruments that God may use just as He will.  Our great concern should not be our success or our will, but our great concern should be God's will and God's success.  And as Calvinists, our confidence will be that God will acomplish His purpose.  He will not be thwarted.  And we can go forward in the marvelous words of Jonathan as he went out almost single-handed against the army of Philistines: "Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.  Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few" (I Sam. 14:6).  Perhaps the Lord will act for us, but we know that the Lord will save according to His good purpose whether by many or by few.
How refreshing it would've been to hear our leaders say something like this at last summer's General Assembly.         


Adam Parker said...

I'm one of your men, Pastor Dave! Lets do it!

Jack Miller said...

A hearty Amen and thank you for such a concise diagnosis, via Dr. Godfrey, of the inherent tendency in us to move towards Yeat's description. To help shake myself out of any such stupor, a favorite verse of mine over the last couple years as "niceness" has taken on confessional status among Christians is from Jude:
"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."