The Protestant Reformed Deny the Need for Conversion

David Engelsma, in The STandardBearer (1/15/1991) writes:

“To the brash, presumptous question sometimes put to me by those of a revivalist, rather than covenantal, mentality, When were you converted?, I have answered in all seriousness, When was I not converted?”

“As a Reformed minister and parent, I have no interest whatever in conversion as the basis for viewing baptised children as God’s dear children, loved of him from eternity, redeemed by Jesus, and promised the Holy Spirit, the author of faith. None!”

By the way of preface, I want to say that I am not reformed. I believe that Jesus Christ was imputed with all the sins of all the elect in Christ, and that Christ died for all their sins, so that all these elect a. will not pay for their sins and b. will be converted from unbelief to belief in the true gospel. Because of Christ’s work, all the elect are entitled not only to the forgiveness of sins but also to receiving conversion (faith in the gospel)

But please don’t call me “Reformed” for believing this gospel. Many, even most,  “Reformed” people believe that Jesus Christ also died for the non-elect in some way so as to make their “free offer” sufficient to further condemn the non-elect.

Even some of those “Reformed” (like Englesma) who know that God loves nobody apart from election in Christ go on to deny the need for conversion to have assurance. Let not the Protestant Reformed congratulate himself on not being conditional like his Reformed colleagues. 

We must not follow the Protestant Reformed in their thinking about water baptism, even if it is a reaction to any idea of law-covenant.  One, the Mosaic covenant was a conditional covenant.  Two, even though God is one, God has more than one covenant and not all the covenants can be collapsed into one covenant.

Every time some who believe the gospel indicate that the elect were justified eternally, or that the elect were justified at the cross, they are adding to the confusion which denies the need for conversion.  The cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also  entitles the elect to conversion (even before they are converted). 

Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. What what does the application of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that God imputes that work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to the elect. Before the cross, God imputed the work to some of the elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the work to some of the elect. 

So there is a difference (not only in time) between the work and the imputation of the work. For example, Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of Christ.  There is a difference between the union of all the elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union of the elect with Christ when they are justified.

Second, the application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and thus now their inheritance) includes the conversion which immediately follows the imputation.  We could go to every text in the New Testament about the effectual calling into fellowship, but let us think now of only two.  Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

And here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and conversion immediately follow the imputation. Romans 8:10–“but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Because the work (righteousness) is imputed, the next result will not only be forensic life but also the life  the Holy Spirit gives by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and are converted.

As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final sin of unbelief of the gospel. Christ died to give every elect person faith in the gospel and conversion.

Christians do disbelieve even in their faith, and Christ died for all the sins of all Christians including all sins after they are converted. But no elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.

Romans 5: 17 speaks of “those who receive the free gift of righteousness” and how they reign in life through the one man Christ Jesus. This receiving is not the sinner believing. It is not an “exercise of faith” (if you check the commentaries, Murray is right here about the passive and Moo is wrong). It certainly is not “appropriating” (an ugly ambigous Arminian word which ought never to be used in any context).  The elect “receive” the righteousness by God’s imputation.

The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor do the elect impute Christ’s righteousness to themselves. God is the imputer. But the receiving of the righteousness is not the same as the righteousness.  The imputation is not at the same time as Christ earned the righteousness.  God declaring the elect to be joint-heirs with Christ in that righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. There is a difference  between imputation and righteousness.

Certainly the act of faith is not the righteousness. But neither is the imputation, nor the new birth which follows, the righteousness.  This is not the four-pointer double-talk about a difference between redemption and atonement.  Rather, it is a recognition of the biblical difference between the atonement and justification. The difference is not that the elect do something to get justified. The difference is that, in justification, God imputes the atonement to the elect. But the elect are not justified until God imputes the righteousness to them.

I do not now want to get into all the harmful consequences of watering infants.  I want to challenge the notion that the best way to counter salvation conditioned on the sinner is to teach eternal justification, so that conversion becomes only knowing that you were converted. In other words, the idea that  since I was always elect, I was always “saved”, I was never not converted.

The safest and best place to be is not the most extreme away from what the Arminians say. The safest and best place to be is what the texts of the Bible says.

I have no big problem with saying that the elect were “in some sense” always saved, but only if this “sense” is that they are elect. In other words, from God’s perspective, the elect are never in danger of perishing. The gospel does not tell anyone: you are elect. The gospel tells everyone: God loves the elect and Christ’s death will save the elect.  Where the Arminian wants to tell everyone that God loves them, some of “Reformed” want to tell some of the unconverted that God loves them. But the Bible does not encourage this idea.

I Thessalonians 1:4 “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to not only in word but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

To insist on the necessity of conversion is not to be a “revivalist”. I don’t want to see what goes by the name of revival. I do want to see conversions, in which sinners come to understand and believe the gospel, and repent of the false gospels.

Explore posts in the same categories: election, faith

Tags: , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

18 Comments on “The Protestant Reformed Deny the Need for Conversion”

  1. mark Says:

    I agree that there was a time when God was not incarnate. This is why it is silly for you to deny that there was a time when Abraham was justified.
    Romans 4 teaches that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Abraham was justified in time.

    You can do a double talk about this only being a “subjective” justification, but that is not how the Bible explains it. The elect who are not yet justified are entitled to be justified because of Christ’s work done for them.

    A “subjective” justification is saying that the elect were never under the wrath of God, but only thought they were. And that would be very much like
    saying that the propitiation was subjective, so that Christ was never under sin or under the law for imputed sins, but only looked like he was. Romans
    6 is clear: He died to sin. By legal imputation (union by imputation), the elect are placed into that death.

    You write: There was a point (from a temporal perspective) before time existed (eternity).

    mark: do you have Bible texts which say any such thing, or is this only your Plato talking? What Bible word for “eternity” do you mean?

    you: This is not the same as saying that the elect will exist for the REST of eternity with Christ while the reprobate will exist for the REST of
    eternity suffering the torment of the lake of fire.

    mark: The God of the age to come is also the God of all ages. So I agree with the sentence above, since it is using a non-biblical concept (“eternity”). I certainly do not think that the non-elect will continue to sin after the second death, or that God will continue to torture them.

    you:God “sees” things in the eternal “now” -all things simultaneous.

    mark: Again, I have to ask for Bible for this way of saying it. God sees the past and the future. God does not think that the past is the same as
    the future. God does not think that the past is now. God does not think that the future is now.
    Unless you are God (or have Bible verses), you need to be careful how you explain how God thinks differently than you do.

    you: God IS eternal (no beginning–no end). This is the doctrine of immutability.

    mark: The antecedent of “this”? You have two doctrines at least here, but
    the equivalence you would need to explain.

    you:Time is a measurement of change; tell me–do you think God changed with his creation of time or is changing as time passes?

    mark: That’s a little like asking me if I changed when beating my wife. I deny that God “created time” in the way your platonic philosophy assumes.
    Or is it Gordon Clark that you got it from?

    I want to leave you with a verse to think about. See if you can explain it without saying it’s only subjective or that “it only looks that way”.

    I Cor 15:45–“The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam BECAME life-giving Spirit.”

  2. a j Says:

    The Sin of Unbelief
    “And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” [John 8:45-47] There is a faith which is commanded in the law. It is a duty in the law to believe the gospel when it is preached to you. Someone might deny that it is. The question that I would ask them is… How is this disbelief of the gospel not a sin? 1 John 3:4 says that sin is the transgression of the Law. How is this sin of unbelief not a deed and work of the law when sin is the transgression of the law? All should admit that it is a sin, that it is transgression of the law, that it is a work of the law, and that it is a deed of the law. “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” [Matthew 21:32] “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” [John 8:24] “Of sin, because they believe not on me.” [John 16:9] “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” [Acts 13:40-41] “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” [Titus 1:15-16

    • markmcculley Says:

      p79-80, Stillman, Dual Citizens–“In the evangelical mindset, the threshold through which a sinner-turned-saint passes is conversion, and this conversion is usually a cataclysmic and powerful experience. To believers from the Reformation tradition, on the other hand, this is not necessarily the case. While adults coming out of pagan backgrounds may indeed experience a seismic shift in loyalties, this is the exception rather than the rule. The Christian faith, normally speaking, is passed on from parent(s) to
      child(ren) by means of infant baptism…”

  3. markmcculley Says:

    the PRCA’s commitment to both an overarching covenant of grace consisting of numerous covenantal dispensations or administrations and to the concept of an unconditional covenant cannot account for the clear teaching of covenant breaking.

    They cannot ignore this teaching, so they deal with it as best they can: covenant breaking is only really covenant breaking from man’s perspective.

    There are some who have sought to harmonize the teaching of Scripture concerning the unbreakableness of God’s covenant with those passages of Scripture that speak of the sin of covenant breaking by teaching a conditional covenant. According to these people all of the children born to believing parents are in the covenant, possess the promise of the covenant, and receive covenant grace. But through their own sin, they fall out of the covenant, relinquish the promise of the covenant, and frustrate the operations of Gods covenant grace.

    This teaching of a conditional covenant, however, has serious difficulties, and raises more problems than it resolves. The teaching of a conditional covenant ought to go against the grain of every truly Reformed man or woman. It is a teaching that involves a denial of God’s sovereignty, at least in the salvation of the children of the covenant. It is a denial of the preservation of the saints, of the irresistibility of grace, and of the total depravity of the children of believers. This is not a teaching that harmonizes the unbreakableness of God’s covenant with covenant breaking, but throws out the window the unbreakableness of God’s everlasting covenant.

    Covenant breaking is the sin of someone within the sphere of the covenant. It is the sin of one who has been born into the covenant, born to believing, covenant parents.

    …Does this at all contradict the teaching of the unbreakableness of God’s covenant? Does this destroy the everlasting character of the covenant of grace? Does this in any way imply that these people were ever actually genuine members of God’s covenant? Not at all. Scripture describes the sin of these people from their point of view.

    But is this true? Is Jeremiah 31:31-33 written from a human, covenant-breaker’s perspective? No. It is written from God’s perspective. God says Israel broke His covenant, not that they appeared to break His covenant.

    The PRCA cannot account for covenant breaking as described in the Bible.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Hoeksema attempted to soften the blow by saying that covenant breaking is really the same as law breaking (since the opposite is covenant keeping – ie law keeping), and does not mean the covenant bond was severed. But the real solution to this logical roadblock was on the tips of his fingers:

    Finally, let me point out that in the New Testament the expression is not found. I pointed out earlier that the Old Testament usage of this terminology stands connected undoubtedly with the fact that at Sinai the law was imposed upon the promise. But in the new dispensation we are not under the law, but under grace. Only once is the expression “covenant breakers” found in the New Testament, in Romans 1:31. But there the expression has nothing to do with the covenant of grace between God and His people, but rather with man-to-man relationships. (About Covenant Breakers in the New Dispensation)

    But because of his commitment to the one covenant of grace under multiple administrations view, he was unable to draw the obvious conclusion: the old covenant was breakable (and broken) while the new is not

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams: If Reformed folks were willing to abandon their commitment to the one substance multiple administrations view, all 3 of their problems would be resolved and they would retain the biblical teaching of the unconditional …. new covenant

    First, it removes the problem of covenant breaking. Scripture never says the New Covenant is or can be broken (though both the Abrahamic and Mosaic can).

    Second, it solves the irreconcilable difficulty of Ishmael. The covenant of circumcision is not the covenant of grace. Being circumcised was not a sign or seal or promise that the individual is sanctified in Christ. Ishmael was circumcised because he was the offspring of Abraham, not because he might be elect and therefore the promise of salvation might apply to him. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the New Covenant and circumcision is not baptism.

    But what are we to make of Romans 9 if the organic principle of an elect kernel and reprobate shell is rejected? Well, it’s not rejected. It’s refined. There are two Israels. One of the flesh, the other of the promise. Both are considered the people of God, but are so constituted on a different covenantal basis.

    Israel according to the flesh is constituted a people on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant – typical of the true Israel of God, constituted on the basis of the New Covenant. And both of these covenants and people flow out of the Abrahamic Covenant, as Galatians 4:21-31 says. Hoeksema was right. There is a two-fold seed. But he was wrong that the children of the flesh were outside of any covenant with God.

    Romans 9 would then be Paul applying a typological interpretation of the Old Testament, rather than just correcting a misreading of the Old Testament. When God says he will establish His covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, He is not commenting one way or the other on Ishmael’s salvation. He is simply saying that the Messiah will be born through the line of Isaac, not Ishmael.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams–The account in Genesis 17 and 21 refer to whom the promised seed will proceed through. When God says He will establish His covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, He is not commenting on the salvation of either because He is not talking about the covenant of grace, but the covenant of circumcision. Paul uses the example of God sovereignly choosing through whom the promised seed will come in the covenant of circumcision and applies it to the question of individual salvation…..

    It would be eisegesis to read Romans 9 and conclude that Paul is making a statement about distinctions between being in covenant and being in the sphere of the covenant. Nowhere does Paul ever say this. Paul is making distinctions between national Israel, to whom belong the covenants (they are/were actually in covenant with God), and true, spiritual Israel, to whom belong the ultimate fulfillment of those previous covenants. They are not all [spiritual] Israel (the church) who are descended from Israel (the nation).

  7. markmcculley Says:

    P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parents.
    P2 God promises to save the elect children not born of Christian parents
    (John 1:13; Gal 3:7-9; Rom 9:7-8, 11, 24-26; 10:11-13; 11:17; Eph 1:4-10,)
    C1 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
    P3 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
    P4 God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save the elect.
    C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenantal faithfulness. Brandon Adams, they are equivocating on what the promise is, precisely. Is it to the elect, or is it to all our children generally?
    P4 God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save those who he has promised to save.
    P5 God has promised to (among others) save the children of believers.
    C God shows His faithfulness (among other ways) when He saves (among others) the children of believers.
    In which case, there is nothing unique about the salvation of the children of believers since God’s faithfulness is also demonstrated (“among other ways”) when he saves the children of non-believers

  8. markmcculley Says:

    to one who teaches “born justified” —You say to unbelievers, you may already be justified, but just don’t know it. I say to unbelievers, if you do not believe the gospel, then you can know now that you are not yet justified. You are still in your sins. You can’t know if you are elect or not now, before believing the gospel. But if you do not yet believe the gospel, then you know for sure that you are now both unregenerate and not justified.

    Now we can debate about which one of us is correct. But the one thing we CAN’T SAY is that we have the same gospel, but just a different way of saying it.

    I say to unbelievers, God has an elect and all those people will become regenerate and believe the gospel, but this believing is not what causes them to become regenerate and this believing is not what causes God to impute to them Christ’s death.

    What do you say to unbelievers? I don’t know if you tell them they might already be regenerate. You shouldn’t. But it seems to me that you must say to them what I say about election–you already are or are not. You say, you are already justified or you are not, but you just don’t know which. But I say, if you are justified already now, then you know it already now. If you know that you now believe the gospel, then you know that you are now justified. On the other hand, if you know that you now don’t believe the gospel, then you know now that you are not justified.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Westminster does not teach that the sacraments are signs and seals of grace to and for everyone who uses the sacraments. They signify the same truth to all, but they do not signify that the truth of the sacrament–grace–is for all who use the sacrament.

    David J. Engelsma

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Those who hold to this false doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to the elect in eternity do not deny the necessity of God not only purposing a thing but also actually accomplishing this purpose by Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection. But logically their position on the eternal justification of elect sinners should also teach the eternal justification of Christ Himself. If indeed elect sinners were never under the wrath of God, then how could it e said that Christ was ever under the wrath of God for the sins of the elect imputed. If elect sinners were justified in eternity, then these elect never needed to be placed into Christ’s death. And if Christ Himself was eternally justified, and never came under God’s wrath, then Christ Himself never needed to die under the law.

    Eternal purpose was not enough. Christ took into union with His Divine nature that perfect, sinless humanity. Christ became incarnate in time, not in some timeless eternity. Christ in time came under the condemnation of the law for sins imputed. Christ in time by His death and resurrection was justified in time, not only in God’s purpose or God’s timeless eternity.

    God’s imputation is so real and legal , that when the Father imputed the elects sins to Christ He Who was innocent was accounted GUILTY, and the Father was JUST and RIGHT to punish Christ as their SUBSTITUTE and pay Christ the wages of their sins i and make the PROPITIATION to God’s justice for their sins, so much so that none for whom Christ died can perish.

    Romans 6: 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death NO LONGER has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died HE DIED TO SIN once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

    Christ was never under grace and is still not under grace. Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s condemnation by the law and His death as satisfaction of that law. Christ after His resurrection is no longer under law. Christ’s elect, after their legal identification with Christ’s death, are no longer under law.

    The death of the justified elect is the SAME legal death that Christ died. The “definitive resurrection” of the elect in Romans 6 is the result of being set apart with Christ (and His death) from being under law.

    Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin. Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was legally transferred by God to Christ. Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with His death, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin. Romans 6:7: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Here are the possible implications of this unscriptural doctrine of righteousness imputed to the elect in a timeless eternity

    1. It makes the incarnation and death of Christ unnecessary.At best the death of Christ becomes a teaching event, merely to make people aware of something which has always been. Instead of a historical accomplishment which results in “objective merit” when can be legally transferred to elect sinners, it becomes only a demonstration of timeless truth. But the Bible teaches that there is a before and after to Christ’s great priestly work, and that Christ once for all time offered and fnished a sacrifice on earth before ever ascending back into heaven.

    2. Eternal renders understanding and assenting to the form of the doctrine of the Gospel (the power unto salvation) unnecessary for justification and only something needed for the new birth. it says that we can have justified sinners who do not know or agree with the gospel. It says that righteousness can be imputed to a sinner for a very long time before that sinner ever has the spiritual life and understanding and will to believe which comes with life.
    JOHN 5:2424 Verily, verily, I say unto you*, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passedom death unto life.

    Glorious passing, a one time trip from death to life! ALL because of the imputation of the Righteousness of ONE, the LAST ADAM, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Father, the Just Judge of all, is the Imputer of God the Son’s Righteousness God gives one of His elect faith when He imputes Christ’s Righteousness to his or her person. Before this act of imputation occurs that sinner is in a “STATE OF CONDEMNATION” a “servant of sin” (Rom. 6:17-23)

    17 But God be thanked, that ye werethe servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine whereto ye were delivered
    18 Being THEN made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

    “BEING THEN” not “BEFORE THEN!” Under that form of doctrine God imputed His Sons Righteousness to your person and your STATE WAS FOREVER CHANGED from a state of condemnation (servant of sin) having sin imputed to you, to a glorious STATE OF JUSTIFICATION, NOT GUILTY, JUSTIFIED BY GOD-GIVEN FAITH in Christ’s Righteousness IMPUTED TO YOU THEN. Sin never again being imputed to you, your STATE was forever changed BY GOD.

  13. markmcculley Says:

    2 Peter 1: 1 To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege with ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ
    Romans 8:10–”Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin,the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
    Galatians 4:– And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    Ursinus: At first view it seems absurd that we should be justified by anything without us, or by something that belongs to another. We explain how the satisfaction of Christ becomes ours. Unless Christ’s righteousness be applied unto us, we cannot be justified by it, . God himself applies Christ’s righteousness unto us, that is, God makes the righteousness of Christ over unto us, and accepts of us as righteous on account of Christ’s righteousness.

    A. A. Hodge–In Protestant Soteriology, there is– 1st. clear distinction between the change of relation signalized by justification, and the change of character signalized by regeneration. . 2nd. The change of relation, the remission of penalty, and the restoration to favor involved in justification, necessarily precedes, and makes certain the change expressed by regeneration. The continuance of judicial condemnation precludes the exercise of grace. Remission of punishment must precede the work of the Holy Spirit. We are pardoned in order to be good, never made good in order to be pardoned.

    Election is not the Atonement, but God’s election decided for whom Christ Atoned. (God does not love the elect because of Christ’s death, Christ’s death for the elect was because of God’s love). The atoning death is not the justification, but all for whom Christ died have been or will be justified.

    Romans 4: Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up because of our trespasses and raised because of our justification.

    ”Raised” is not the cause of the justification of the last elect person to be justified, but the justification of that last elect sinner is the cause of “raised”. Abraham’s justification while he was not yet circumcised is also the cause of “raised”

    One point of clarification. I deny that anybody is justified before God without believing the gospel, as I deny that any non-elect are in the new covenant. The elect are not born justified. The elect are not “eternally justified”. Christ’s righteousness is not justification. God’s imputation of righteousness results in faith. Nobody is justified (logically or temporally) before faith in the gospel. I do not teach two kinds of justification.

    Bavinck–Under the influence of…. Amyraldianism, there developed the neonomiam representation of the order of redemption which made forgiveness of sins and eternal life dependent on faith and obedience which man had to perform in accordance with the new law of the gospel. Parallel with this development, Pietism and Methodism arose which, with all their differences, also shifted the emphasis to the subject, and which either demanded a long experience or a sudden conversion as a condition for obtaining salvation.

    Bavinck–As a reaction against this came the development of anti-neonomianism, which had justification precede faith, and antinomianism which reduced justification to God’s eternal love. Reformed theologians usually tried to avoid both extremes, and for that purpose soon made use of the distinction between “active” and “passive justification.” This distinction is not found in the reformers; as a rule they speak of justification in a “concrete sense.” They do not treat of a justification from eternity, or of justification in the resurrection of Christ, or in the gospel, or before or after faith, but combine everything in a single concept.

    Bavinck–Efforts were made to keep both elements as close together as possible, while accepting only a logical and not a temporal distinction. However, even then, there were those who objected to this distinction inasmuch as the gospel mentions no names and does not say to anyone, personally: Your sins have been forgiven. Therefore it is not proper for any man to take as his starting point the belief that his sins have been forgiven.

    Bavinck– There is no reason to recommend speaking of eternal justification. If one says that “justification as an act immanent in God” must of necessity be eternal, then it should be remembered that taken in that sense everything, including creation, incarnation, atonement, calling, regeneration, is eternal. Whoever would speak of an eternal creation would give cause for great misunderstanding. Besides, the proponents of this view back off themselves, when, out of the fear of antinomianism, they assert strongly that eternal justification is not the only, full, and complete justification, but that it has a tendency and purpose to realise itself outwardly. This amounts really to the usual distinction between the decree and its execution. The counsel of God and all decrees contained therein as a unit are without doubt eternal “immanent acts”, but the external works of God, creation, preservation, governing, redemption, justification, etc., are in the nature of the case “transient acts.” As works they do not belong to the plan of God’s ordering but to the execution of it

  14. markmcculley Says:

    As Scott Price teaches so well, simply being an enemy of “lordship salvation” does not mean you know the gospel. Most of the enemies of Lordship salvation are Arminians, and other enemies of “lordsship assurance” are people like Engelsma who find assurance in being born children of Chrsitians or in swallowing the sacrament so that their jesus outside of them gets inside of them on a regular basis in a regular church which is a true church because its clergy have been ordained to distribute the means of grace

    Arminian—One of the distinctions you draw in the booklet is between believing that Jesus justifies people, and believing that Jesus justified me, that He died for me. Would you say that it is the “for me” that distinguishes saving faith from other kinds of faith?

    David Engelsma. In the Reformed tradition we call it historical faith. Satan knows that Jesus Christ died for sinners, but he doesn’t have saving faith. Likewise, the Puritans taught that you can have faith that Jesus Christ is the Savior, that He saved people from their sins, but that you can go for years and years (and even die) uncertain that Jesus died for oneself personally. And I react against that with a certain amount of anger, because it is a denial of the gospel.

    David Engelsma–Assertion that assurance is of the essence of faith is weakened, however, if not negated, by defense of the
    dubious distinction regarding assurance between “the direct and the reflex acts of faith” and by his contention that assurance is “the fruit of faith” Ferguson seems to be content with faith’s essentially being only the assurance that Christ is the savior of sinners. That He is my savior does not belong to the essence of faith. That He is my savior is a certainty that comes, or may not come, later, as faith develops. However, when Reformed orthodoxy holds, with John Calvin, that faith essentially is personal assurance of salvation, the meaning is not that a believer is certain that Jesus is the savior of sinners. The meaning is, rather, that the believer is certain that Jesus is his or her savior.

  15. markmcculley Says:

    The Scottish Confession states matters in very graphic terms:

    [I]t is a thing most requisite that the true kirk be discerned from the filthy synagogue, by clear and perfect notes, lest we, being deceived, receive and embrace to our own condemnation the one for the other. The notes, signs, and assured tokens whereby the immaculate spouse of Christ Jesus is known from that horrible harlot, the kirk malignant; we affirm are neither antiquity, title usurped, lineal descent, place appointed, nor multitude of men approving an error….

    The notes, therefore, of the true kirk of God we believe, confess, and avow to be: first, the true preaching of the word of God, into the which God has revealed himself to us, as the writings of the prophets and apostles do declare; secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, which must be annexed unto the word and promise of God, to seal and confirm the same in our hearts; last, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed, and virtue nourished. Wheresoever then these former notes are seen, and of any time continue (be the number [of persons] never so few, about two or three) there, without all doubt, is the true kirk of Christ: who, according to his promise is in the midst of them: not that universal kirk (of which we have before spoken) but particular; such as were in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, and other places in which the ministry was planted by Paul, and were of himself named the kirks of God. (SC, chapter 18)

    There are two aspects of this statement worthy of emphasis: first, the stress is upon Christ’s presence with his people in local (“particular”) congregations, showing that this is the focal point of applying the marks. A second important detail is the reality that the true church of Christ might be found if there are but “two or three” persons maintaining the marks. (The marginal Scripture reference to Matthew 18[:19-20] underscores the point being made here.)

    We might wonder how a church with a mere handful of people can actually maintain the marks. Unless one among them is a pastor, how can the preaching of the Word and the sacraments be upheld, much less discipline administered without regular officers? The answer lies in seeing the historic context of this confession. Many underground Reformed churches (the “privy kirks” in Scotland) may have been lacking a regular pastor; their opportunities for observing the sacraments may have been limited. Nevertheless, they had these marks, in clear contrast to the popish assemblies surrounding them. Such small congregations of Protestants may have waited many weeks (or in some cases months) between visits of itinerant preachers. Or in some cases, a small congregation may have developed to choose its own officers, after recognizing the gifts and graces of God among men in their midst.

    Regarding such self-organization by a church, William Cunningham remarks, “the absence of a regular ministry, appointed in the ordinary prescribed way, or even the absence of a ministry al-together for a time, is not necessarily, and in all circumstances, a sufficient proof of itself that a society of professing Christians is not a church of Christ: and secondly, that any company of faithful or believing men is entitled to a ministry, since Christ has given the ministry to the church; and if they are so placed in providence that they cannot have a ministry in the ordinary, regular, prescribed way, are entitled to make a ministry for themselves, and that that ministry, though not a regular, is a valid one.” (35)

    There is an accessory truth that should be kept in mind: the Reformed creeds were written at a time of religious turmoil and persecution; they exhibit a very strong pastoral perspective. People were troubled. They needed guidance on how to discern a sound church. They also needed reassurance and comfort, that if they aligned with the Protestant cause, it was for the good of their souls, regardless of any hardship or persecution that might come.

    In this context, then, the Reformed creeds set forth the marks of a true church, as both rebuttal to Rome, and as a means of pastoral guidance for the people. Are you troubled about which church to join? Then look for these “marks”: the truth of the Gospel, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline properly exercised. If you find these characteristics, you can rest in good conscience, knowing that you have found a genuine congregation of Christ’s people (with Christ in their midst), and not a counterfeit assembly.

    The Belgic Confession reflects this pastoral outlook regarding the marks of the church:

    We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church….

    The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.(36)

    Based on the foregoing theology and pastoral outlook, the Reformed creeds draw out the implications regarding church membership in the stark relief of black and white. Faced with the competing claims between Rome and the Reformed churches, there simply is no middle ground. It is the sacred duty of Christians, in confessing Christ, to separate from the false church, and join the true church. (Of course, joining the true church infers associating with a local congregation, or laboring to form one, since that is where the visible church finds its most basic manifestation.)

    Article 26 of the French Confession adds: “We believe that no one ought to seclude himself and be contented to be alone; but that all jointly should keep and maintain the union of the Church, and submit to the public teaching, and to the yoke of Jesus Christ, wherever God shall have established a true order of the Church, even if the magistrates and their edicts are contrary to it. For if they do not take part in it, or if they separate themselves from it, they do contrary to the Word of God.” This declaration is combined with the section from chapter 28, quoted earlier, that condemns the papal assemblies, saying “that all who take part in these acts, and commune in that Church, separate and cut themselves off from the body of Christ.”

    Moreover, as Professor Engelsma reminds us in his book, the Belgic Confession (article 28), echoing the French Confession, teaches

    that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them. And that this may be better observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes be against it; yea, though they should suffer death or bodily punishment.

    Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.

    There is a further aspect of the Reformed confessions that should not be ignored. In rejecting Rome, these creeds espouse a Reformed view of the sacraments, quite distinct from Lutheranism. Moreover, the general teachings of the Reformed confessions on worship and discipline constitute a rejection of Anglican practices of worship and government. By setting forth measures that scrutinize right worship and discipline, the Reformed creeds, by implication at the very least, call into question the status of the Lutheran and Anglican churches (as well as the Anabaptists and Eastern Orthodox). Thus, while the contrast between the Reformed and Rome is absolute (when distinguish-ing between the true and false churches), the Reformed differences with the Lutherans and Anglicans were less severe.

    Professor Engelsma acknowledges this fact by raising the subject of “erring” churches, saying “[T]he Reformed faith and theologians regarded the Lutheran churches as true churches of Christ, although erring seriously in a vitally important aspect of the faith and life of the Christian religion. Their refusal to judge the Lutheran churches as false churches did not betray any minimizing of the seriousness of false doctrine on the part of the Reformed churches. Such was the gravity of the Lutheran error, in the judgment of the Reformed theologians, that it necessitated separate Reformed churches at the cost of much struggle, sacrifice, and even persecution – persecution by the Lutherans” (31).

    Indeed, these historic facts, by Engelsma’s own admission, “must be taken into account in one’s understanding of the seemingly absolute distinction of Article 29 of the Belgic Confession between the true church and the false church.”(37) Elsewhere, the professor is dismissive of nuances (see 123ff), but this is one nuance that is undeniable.

    Here Professor Engelsma has alluded to an issue treated in chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession, “Of the Church.” The chapter begins by distinguishing between the universal church of the elect, and the visible church, defining the visible church as “all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children….”

    As we saw earlier, the marks of the church are related to the visibility of the church. If a church clearly bears the marks, then it is to be regarded as an assembly of Christ’s people. But what if those marks are somewhat obscured?(38) What about churches that are “erring” in some important way, as Professor Engelsma characterized the Lutheran assemblies?

    The Westminster Confession speaks to such nuances in the following language: “This catholic church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.”

    Note, when the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of churches “more or less pure,” it measures them “according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them” (25:4). This emphasis on the Gos-pel and worshipis but a continuation of the keynote themes we observed previously in the writings of the Reformers and the Reformed creeds. Less pure churches are not specifically named here, but the general principles surely apply to such bodies as the Lutherans and Anglicans, thus reflecting the same historic reality acknowledged by Professor Engelsma. Later in his book, Professor Engelsma actually cites this section of the Westminster Confession (96).

    Once we recognize the reality that a particular true church may be “less pure” than another true church, the question of church membership becomes more complex. For example, contemporary churches (including some professing to be Reformed) use elaborate liturgies and ceremonies, sanction crucifixes and “pictures of Jesus,” and employ a variety of man-made “aids” to worship. Services may be led by ministers sporting clerical collars and other priestly attire. Other congregations are content to display plain crosses or additional Romish symbols at church buildings, retain Romish festival days or holy-days, include musical instruments in worship, and permit the singing of uninspired songs in worship.(39) To what degree might some of these practices be an indicator of a “less pure” church? For a serious Christian, wrestling with a question of church affiliation, a preeminent concern for right worship (as reflected in Calvin and the Reformed creeds) might lead them to affiliate with a church demonstrating a “more pure” regard for worship.

    If the proper exercise of discipline is a mark of the church, what happens when a supposedly Reformed denomination begins to impose restrictions on its members or officers that go beyond the requirements of Scripture? Is this not an ominous abuse of church power, borrowing a characteristic of the false church that “ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God”? (Belgic Confession, article 32). For example, there have been Presbyterian denominations that required members or church officers to take a (man-made) vow of total abstinence from alcoholic beverages. Recently, Professor Engelsma’s own denomination imposed restrictions on office-bearers regarding the homeschooling of their children – an action that exhibits entirely wrong notions about ecclesiastical authority.(40) Thus we ask: At what point do the errors of a church furnish grounds for believers to avoid (or leave) such assemblies?

    Professor Engelsma disclaims a “nuanced” approach in his book. To be sure, some men may use the label of “nuancing” as a cover for apostasy (Engelsma, 123ff). But a failure to deal more thoroughly with true nuances, including principles manifest in Reformation history and the creeds, seem to indicate a critical weakness in the professor’s basic paradigm. Additionally, Engelsma’s failure to deal more fully with genuine creedal and historical nuances allows him to neglect other ecclesiastical options, under the assumption (not stated directly, but certainly implied) that his denomination is the purest of them all.

  16. markmcculley Says:

    rofessor Engelsma applies this passage in the Belgic Confession to the church institute and waxes fervently:

    [T]he article states that “all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it.” One reason is that “out of it there is no salvation.”

    …This is how important church membership is. The ground for this statement in the Belgic Confession is that the means of grace and salvation have been given by Christ to the instituted congregation and are enjoyed only by members within the church. Christ, the living, life-giving Christ, is in the church as the savior. As there was salvation only in the ark, so there is salvation only in the instituted church. [4]

    These comments are likely to cause great misunderstanding. Given such bold assertions, terms need to be carefully defined, and, again, the historic context of the creeds needs to be kept in mind.

    The Scottish Confession, chapter 16, applies exclusive language to the universal church: that is, “the elect of all ages, all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jews, or be they of the Gentiles; who have communion and society with God the Father, and with his Son Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of his Holy Spirit….” This body is called the communion of the saints, “who, as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, have the fruition of the most inestimable benefits: to wit, of one God, one Lord Jesus, one faith, and of one baptism; out of the which kirk there is neither life, nor eternal felicity” (emphasis added). The Confession then adds the following statement, asserting unmistakably that no one is saved who is outside of Christ, and thus outside the church of the elect (that is, the invisible church):

    [T]herefore we utterly abhor the blasphemy of them that affirm that men which live according to equity and justice shall be saved, what religion that ever they have professed. For as without Christ Jesus there is neither life nor salvation, so shall there none be participant thereof, but such as the Father has given unto his Son Christ Jesus, and those [that] in time come unto him, avow his doctrine, and believe into him (we comprehend the children with the faithful parents). This kirk is invisible, known only to God, who alone knows whom he has chosen, and comprehends as well (as said is) the elect that are departed (commonly called the kirk triumphant), as those that yet live and fight against sin and Satan as shall live hereafter.

    Nicolaas H. Gootjes traces the language used in the Belgic Confession (article 28) to a modification of the language previously employed in the French Confession. Gootjes notes: “This article is an expanded version of article 26 of the Gallican Confession. The similarity can be seen, for example in the striking expression, ‘the yoke of Christ,’ which occurs in both confessions. At the beginning of the article, however, an expression is used that did not occur in the Gallican Confession but was probably occasioned by Beza’s confession.”

    Gootjes then cites the following statement from Beza’s confession: “Finally, we must necessarily confess, since outside of Jesus Christ there is no salvation at all, that anyone who dies without being a member of this assembly is excluded from Jesus Christ and from salvation, for the power to save which is in Jesus Christ belongs only to those who recognize him as their God and Saviour (V, 1).”

    Gootjes concludes that the wording of the Belgic Confession is an elliptical construction based on both Beza and the church fathers: “Since Beza used the expression that there is no salvation “out-side of Christ” in a statement on the church, he had to include involved reasoning to make the connection with the church again. The Belgic Confession avoided this problem by using the traditional expression ‘outside the church no salvation,’ which can already be found in the writings of Cyprian and Augustine. It is probably de Bres’ familiarity with the church fathers that allowed him to use the original expression for his confession.”(41)

    Beza’s confession expresses essentially the same doctrine found in the Scottish Confession, that outside of Christ there is no salvation, and thus only the elect (the members of Christ’s universal, invisible church) are saved. If Gootjes is correct, that the Belgic Confession alludes to the church fathers, then the Confession certainly uses the patristic language in a manner distinct from the Romanists whom the Reformers were opposing. From the language of Cyprian, the papists had developed their doctrine that outside the institutional Roman Church there is no salvation. Of course, the Belgic Confession gives no quarter to such Romish notions, having classified the Roman church as the false church.

    We should recall that it was Cyprian who likened the church (embodied in her bishops) to the ark of Noah, asserting that outside the church there is no salvation. “The difference at this point between Cyprian and earlier Christians was not that he asserted that no one could be saved apart from the church, for upon this there was general agreement from primitive days, but that he identified the church with a particular institution, the Catholic church, which was founded upon and had its existence in those bishops who held their office in regular succession from the Apostles. This church alone, he claimed, was in possession of saving grace and apart from it there was no salvation.”(42)

    Professor Engelsma takes up the ark analogy on page 4 of his book and applies it to “the instituted church.” Now, we trust that Professor Engelsma does not believe in apostolic succession. Nevertheless, his designation of the ark as a representation of the church institute smacks of a Cyprianic error, in contrast to general Reformed ecclesiology which speaks in absolute terms only of the invisible, universal church.

    Cyprian’s principal error was based upon a con-founding of the visible church with the invisible, and that led to the fundamental errors of Romish ecclesiology.(43) Professor Engelsma’s confusion on this matter is similarly apparent because, immediately after using the ark analogy on page 4, he is forced to qualify it on page 5, when he states: “I understand the Belgic Confession, which only echoes the teaching of the early church, to teach that there is no salvation outside the institute ordinarily. God himself may prevent membership, at least active membership, if, for example, by his mysterious providence he has one of his own wickedly confined to a dungeon or prison by the foes of his saints.”

    This qualification (a happy inconsistency on the Professor’s part) negates the ark analogy for the instituted church, for at the time of Noah, there were only two places – inside or outside of the ark. The professor’s reasoning cannot be sound, so long as he puts the church institute into the place of the invisible church. Moreover, if the Belgic Confession bears the construction Professor Engelsma places on it, then the Belgic Confession stands in contrast or contradiction to other Reformed creeds, which speak in absolute terms only with respect to the church of the elect.

    What really seems to be troubling the professor here is the modern tendency to denigrate the role of the true (visible) church, which does indeed have a vital role in bringing salvation to mankind. After all, unto the church are committed the “oracles of God” in the Word. The Gospel is generally brought to men through the agency of the reading and preaching of the Word. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Romans 10:14-15). As the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 89) says: “The Spirit of God maketh the reading,(44) but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

    the Westminster Confession (25:2) says: “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

    It is one thing to deny the ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church; it is another to cast it in the absolute form, by the analogy of the ark. The fact that the professor is forced to abandon his initial analogy of the ark, and adopt language similar the Westminster Confession reflects an element of confusion in his thinking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: