Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Federal Ignorance

Last week, during the so-called discussion of the Federal Vision controversy at De Regno Christi, Pastor Jeff Meyers of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in St. Louis, MO, wrote:

There was a time in my ministry when I believe that I encouraged Reformed snobbery. Many years ago, after an evening service, I walked out to the parking lot and joined a group of men who were talking about our church. They were praising our worship and our doctrine. At first I felt proud. Then they started to belittle the Lutheran church down the road. Crypto Arminians. They turned to the generic evangelical congregation in our neighborhood. Idiots. Dumb evangelicals. Before long it was, “I thank God that our church has such pure doctrine and preaches the Word so faithfully and that we are not like those stupid Lutherans and crazy evangelicals.” Well, I didn’t go home that night feeling all that justified.

These words convey a commendable attitude that all Christians should strive to maintain. If your faith breeds pride, contempt for the brethren, or any kind of strife, then be sure that it descends not from above. Pastor Meyers had good cause to lament this sin in his congregation and he had better cause to examine his own heart and repent of the haughtiness that spawned this outbreak of arrogance. Sadly, Pastor Meyers informs us that his improper understanding of the Westminster Confession of Faith fostered the problem and, even sadder, he appears oblivious to his ignorance:

That was something of a turning point in my ministry. I realized that I was a big part of the problem. My TRish kind of talk about the glories of the WCF had led to this.

Here we see that Meyers had “a turning point in his ministry” when he realized his “TRish kind of talk about the glories of the WCF” was “a big part of the problem.” Unfortunately, Meyers’ “turning point” turned him the wrong way, demonstrating that he really does not understand the truths communicated by the WCF. For example, Chapter VI, “Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the Punishment thereof,” sections III–VI should not incite pride in anyone who grasps the import of these words:

III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.

IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

V. This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.

VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Pastor Meyers, if the words “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil” stir you to get puffed, then you are twisted. And if “made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal” inflames you to strut before the congregation, then there is something terribly wrong with you.

But let’s move to election, which is usually the stumbler for Arminians, because it, like the fall, gives no cause for anyone to bluster, though those who don’t grasp it tend to act special, i.e. arrogant.

Years ago, while migrating from Dispensationalism to the Reformed faith, I read Lewis Sperry Chafer on election (for all his downsides, his presentation of Calvinism served as a great primer for me, for which I am grateful), and he wrote an outstanding rebuttal to the specious argument that states election breeds pride and arrogance in the elect because they deem themselves special in the eyes of God. Chafer quoted Augustus Strong, who wrote:

It inspires pride in those who think themselves elect. — Answer: this is possible only in the case of those who pervert the doctrine. On the contrary, its proper influence is to humble men. Those who exalt themselves above others, upon the ground that they are special favorites of God, have reason to question their election. . . . It discourages effort for the salvation of the impenitent, whether on their own part or on the part of others. — Answer: Since it is a secret decree, it cannot hinder or discourage such effort. On the other hand, it is a ground of encouragement, and so a stimulus to effort; for, without election, it is certain that all would be lost (cf. Acts 18:10). While it humbles the sinner, so that he is willing to cry for mercy, it encourages him also by showing him that some will be saved, and (since election and faith are inseparably connected) that he will be saved, if he will only believe. While it makes the Christian feel entirely dependent on God’s power, in his efforts for the impenitent, it leads him to say with Paul that he “endures all things for the elect’s sake, that they also may attain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). (Systematic Theology [Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1907] 788, 789).

I am TR, which instills humility rather than conceit because, in the end, the Reformed faith accentuates the wonders of Christ’s glory at the expense of man’s total depravity more than any other Christian system, whatever Jeff Meyers may say about it. And he may attribute the pride of his heart to the WCF, but I suggest he reread Mark 10:44, because somewhere along the line he missed this Sunday school lesson — “Whoever of you desires to be first shall be the servant of all.”