Friday, March 28, 2008

Memory Lane, or First Impressions

You can’t host a fully documented anonymous attack blog (FDAAB) unless you’re an information hog, and since I host an FDAAB, I am an information hog. And one of the benefits of hogging information in the age of cyberspace is that sometimes you capture data that eventually gets lost.

For example, last year I grabbed the comment thread to Dr. Clark’s post “(Reformed) Christianity and (Quasi-Reformed) Revisionism” (which everyone really should read) because I believed that one day it may prove helpful, which it’s a good thing because you’ll notice that the comment-counter to the post states “READER COMMENTS 123,” whereas you’ll also notice that there’s only 20 comments to the thread. Cyberspace has black holes too.

This brings me to a recent post by Pastor Lane Keister of Green Baggins, where he compiled an “Index of RINE Posts” to help his readers glean through his review of “Reformed” Is Not Enough and the subsequent blog exchanges with the Fearless Leader. And if I’m not mistaken, I believe it’s possible that Pastor Lane met the Great Protector in this very thread on The Heidelblog, in a post where Dr. Clark called it quits.

So I present these exchanges to you on my FDAAB not because I care about the Fearless Leader’s then-stated position on the visible/invisible church; he will say anything at any time as long it will keep him in the center of attention. I present these exchanges because I want you to notice the personal dynamics at work between Lane and Wilson. More specifically, notice how Wilson misrepresents Lane to put Dr. Clark on the spot — to pit them against each other because Wilson had a vendetta against Dr. Clark (which, beware, remains to this day) and he needed to isolate him, much like a wolf isolates his prey before he pounces on it. Leave it to ol’ Beelzeblog, you can be sure he’s always sowing discord among the brethren. He does it because he loves God so much.

You also need to notice how casually Wilson misrepresented Lane in order to obtain his prey. Anyone reading this exchange can see that Lane is a hardcore WCF man who holds firmly to the divines’ exact words. Despite this, Wilson just lied, matter of factly, not because he respected Lane but because he thought of him as just another TR schmuck who didn’t have a clue. Or maybe I have this all wrong; maybe this was an instance where an FVist didn’t personally contact a TR before he represented him in public. No, I doubt it.

So, here it is, the fully documented introduction to Pastor Lane’s “Index of RINE Posts”:

Douglas Wilson, do you affirm the inner/outer distinction as, say, Clark would affirm it, or are you equating “militant/eschatological” with the inner/outer distinction?
January 3, 2007 | Lane Keister

Lane, perhaps you could tell me in what sense I am using the external/internal distinction. Here is a quote from “Reformed” Is Not Enough, which incidentally has quotation marks around the word Reformed.

This might be called regeneration, theologically considered. A man is either regenerate or he is not. When the word regeneration is being used in this sense, we are talking about an invisible operation performed by the Spirit of God, who does what He does when and how it pleases Him. And when we are talking about what might be called this “effectual-call-regeneration,” we have to repudiate every form of baptismal or decisional regeneration. We do not control the Spirit of God at the baptismal font any more than we control Him with our spiritual laws booklets. (p. 39)

I would add that I see a strong parallel between a true Jew, who is one inwardly, according to St. Paul, and a true Christian, who is right with God in the same way. I make that point on page 18.
January 3, 2007 | Douglas Wilson

Douglas Wilson, thanks for the courteous response. To be honest, I don’t have your book (actually I don’t have Mother Kirk either), and so was asking a genuine question. Right now, what’s in the back of my mind is your article in Federal Vision on the visible/invisible church distinction. In your opinion, is the distinction between the eternally elect and the eternally non-elect to be defined in merely “militant/eschatological” terms, or is there an ontological distinction with regard to regeneration? The quotation from your book would seem to favor the latter. However, the article in Federal Vision confuses me as to your position. Maybe another way to ask the question is this: how would you interpret John 15? What I’m getting at is that “militant/eschatological” is not the same thing one bit as the visible/invisible distinction. The former is a distinction based on time. The latter is a distinction based on the ontological difference between those in the church regenerated and those in the church not regenerated.

I have had a rather extensive conversation on John 15 over at my blog: “John 15 and the Federal Vision”
January 3, 2007 | Lane Keister

Lane, I hold that there is an ontological difference between a covenant member truly converted and one who is not, and that is what I was referring to in the quote. For more on this, you can check the archives of my blog under the heading Life in the Regeneration. And this ontological difference is not related (except obliquely) to the historical/eschatological distinction I made in the Federal Vision book. This is not something I have failed to say, but it something that many of my critics have refused to see. . . .
January 3, 2007 | Douglas Wilson

Mr. Wilson, thanks for the reply. My next question is this: if you do believe in an ontological distinction within the church, then why not call that distinction the visible/invisible church distinction as the WCF does?

How would you respond to this blog entry of mine? “Methodology and Double-Speak”

What I’m getting at in that blog entry is that many FV guys *say* that they believe in the 5 points of Calvinism, the imputed righteousness of Christ, the visible/invisible church distinction, and other highlights of Reformed thought. But do they take away with one hand what they have given in the other? To me there is no question that most of these guys affirm Reformed thought in some place or other. That is not the question (something FV guys usually miss about the critics are saying). The question is whether or not the FV guys consistently hold to it. The critics are saying that they do not hold to Reformed teaching consistently, and that the “extras” wind up denying Reformed teaching implicitly. I am not necessarily accusing you of this, Mr. Wilson. But it is an issue with which all the FV guys need to wrestle.

I appreciate the fact that we cannot tell who is elect and who is not (though some people give off some fairly decent indications one way or the other). But does that mean that we shouldn’t use the language of election and distinction in talking about the church? It seems to me that the FV folks look at Eph 1 and similar passages and argue that Paul must be using that language in some kind of true fashion of everyone in the church. What about the judgment of charity? I have yet to see Wilkins deal with this, for instance. He just assumes his interpretation of Eph 1 is correct.
January 3, 2007 | Lane Keister

Lane, to answer your question, it seems to me to be a completely different issue. To affirm the ontological distinction between those who are truly regenerate and those who are not is not the same question of the visible/invisible church (a distinction which I accept, btw, but which I prefer to amplify with other distinctions, like historical/eschatological). Both of these distinctions go back to Augustine, but I don’t have a problem with either one, especially when they are taken in concert.

But the reason I think your question is confusing two things that should be kept distinct is this. The invisible church is composed of the entire company of the elect, throughout all history. That means that the atheist across the street, predestined to be converted next year, is a member of the invisible church. He is elect. But he is also ontologically unregenerate.

Look at it from another angle. The invisible church is made up of all those who are ontologically regenerate (at the eschaton). But if we try to draw a parallel, this makes the visible church . . . what? Unregenerate? I really think they are different but related issues.
January 3, 2007 | Douglas Wilson

Mr. Wilson, I appreciate the logic (though disagreeing with it) of your position. The logical end of your position, however, is having the (to my mind) unthinkable situation where a complete pagan, at enmity with God, and spitting on Christ and all His messengers, is *at the same time* a member of the invisible church. Where is the Scriptural support for this idea? The WCF emphasizes the fact that they are *gathered* at various times. From God’s perspective it is certainly true that the number of the elect neither augments nor diminishes. However, from our perspective, surely the church increases, even the invisible church. Is not faith the entrance into the invisible church? Are you doing justice to the divine/human perspective differences on the invisible church?
January 4, 2007 | Lane Keister


No, the invisible church “consists [right now] of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one.” In other words, the invisible church and the elect are coterminous, right? The invisible church includes now those who shall be gathered into the visible church. In short, Lane, the number of those in the invisible church cannot be increased or diminished. People are not gathered into the invisible church. They are gathered into the visible church. . . .
January 4, 2007 | Douglas Wilson

Mr. Wilson, you say “People are not gathered into the invisible church.” The WCF 25.1 says “The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be **gathered** into one.” Are you really saying that the WCF doesn’t say that the elect are gathered? This borders on the non-sensical. Mr. Wilson, you did not answer my argument about the two different perspectives, God’s and ours. This is how I explain the difficulty that has been pointed out by Mr. Wilson, and now by Xon. Yes, the elect and the invisible church are coterminous. I’m not disagreeing with that formulation at all. But the elect are not saved until they believe. Mr. Wilson, you also have not answered the absurdity I pointed out of having absolute pagans being simultaneously members of the invisible church.

Invisible church=/=the elect people in the Church at present.

This is Xon’s phrase, by the way, not Wilson’s. This definition contradicts what you said earlier, Xon. If it consists of those in the church at present, then, humanly, speaking, the invisible church increases, though from God’s perspective the number of the elect never changes. That my interpretation of the WCF is correct can be seen from the way in which “gathered” is used right alongside of the present tense “consists.” Wilkins, for one, denies that the invisible church exists right now at all. That is obviously out of accord with the WCF. However, to say (as Mr. Wilson and Xon are saying) that because the number of the elect neither increase nor diminish means that a total pagan is simultaneously a member of the church is utter absurdity. One must make allowances for the difference in perspective from God’s perspective to our own. Xon, until you acknowledge that this answers your objections to my position, you don’t have a leg upon which to stand.

There must be a difference in our understanding of how the decree works versus how that decree happens in history. This is the point I am trying to make here. From the perspective of God’s decree, everything is nailed down in stone. But in history, things change in a person’s life. By defining the invisible church the way you have, Mr. Wilson and Xon, you have effectively bereft the concept of any meaningful interaction with history. To quote Van Til, there is no transition from wrath to grace in your system. You are misinterpreting the WCF.
January 4, 2007 | Lane Keister

Lane, it is for the purpose of interacting meaningfully with history that I use the distinction of historical and eschatological church. And I agree that it is absurd to talk about total pagans being members of the invisible church — if that is the only thing you say. But the WCF definition of the invisible church includes millions not yet born, and many tens of thousands not yet converted. When these people are born and then born again, they are gathered into the visible church. But they are already in the invisible church, in the intent and decrees of God.

If you want to say that they are gathered into the invisible church, that the invisible church grows, this is out of accord with the Confession. The “were, are, and will be gathered” is referring to the outworking of God’s decrees in history, which is done through the visible church. But the invisible church is made up of the elect, and we agree that the Confession is using the word elect here decretally, right? That means that if there is an invisible church now, then all the members of it have to be in it now. All the elect are members of the invisible church. The invisible church consists (present tense) of those who will be gathered (future tense).

Scott Clark, I am genuinely curious if you agree with what Lane and Christaan have argued here — that the invisible church grows as people are gathered into it. Now, in 2007, does the invisible church only partially exist?
January 4, 2007 | Douglas Wilson

Mr. Wilson, you have misrepresented my position in your question to Dr. Clark. I do not believe that, from God’s perspective, the invisible church is only partially in existence today. In eternity, the invisible church is whole and wholly in the mind of God and in the decree. However, in history, the invisible church is not complete. It still has growing to do. I do not understand what is so difficult about this. We acknowledge a difference in perspective between God and man wrt God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility (acknowledging that God’s Sovereignty is primary, of course). But what does it look like to us? It looks like a choice. The same is true for how we view the invisible church as opposed to how God views the invisible church.

If you want to say that they are gathered into the invisible church, that the invisible church grows, this is out of accord with the Confession.

I am saying that this is true from a human perspective: in history, the invisible church grows. But to say that the invisible church is gathered is *explicitly* what the WCF says! It uses the very word. You have still not answered my logic here, Mr. Wilson. I will keep on hammering away at it until you answer, if necessary. To say that you are viewing the church as militant/eschatological is not the same thing as what I’m saying, since militant/eschatological is a diachronic distinction, and I am arguing for a synchronic distinction. So when a person comes to faith, although he was always a member of the invisible church in the mind of God, yet in time he becomes a member of the invisible church when he comes to faith. He makes a transition from wrath to grace. Otherwise, one has to assert that faith only makes you a member of the visible church. If that is true, then there is no guarantee of salvation, since one can then get out of the visible church. If the only thing that faith does is get us into the visible church, then we are in trouble. I cannot and will not accept that position.
January 4, 2007 | Lane Keister

Lane, if you want to have the invisible church existing “in history,” in a way that is distinct from the visible church, then you are out of accord with the Confession. That is because the invisible church “consists of the whole number of the elect.” A partial number of the elect is not the invisible church because it is not the whole number of them. It would make sense to speak of the whole number of the truly regenerate at this moment of 2007, but this is just a partial congregation within the invisible church. It is a subset of the invisible church, not the invisible church itself — just as Christ Church here in Moscow is a congregation within the visible church; we are a subset.

If the invisible church includes the whole number of the elect, then it exists right now in the mind of God. I affirm this, as does Wilkins. If you want it to exist right now in history, then you have to do something about the “whole number of the elect,” which includes current atheists who will be converted tomorrow and saints yet unborn. In short, you cannot have the invisible church, as the WCF defines it, in history. You can have a invisible congregation of the invisible church, but how helpful is that?
January 4, 2007 | Douglas Wilson

Mr. Wilson and Xon, I am going to let Rev. Wes White’s paper on the visible/invisible church be my last word on this debate. He says it quite as well as anyone: “The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Valid”
January 5, 2007 | Lane Keister

Mr. Wilson, I have addressed your blog entry in my comment here. It is the LC 64-67 with which your position cannot deal.
January 6, 2007 | Lane Keister

Things have changed now; the Fearless Leader has backed off Dr. Clark and he has nothing but hugs and kisses for Pastor Lane — at least in public. But I assure you that he disdains Lane no less today than that day in January 2007 when he twisted his words without hesitation in order to bag his prey.

Thank you.