Without the Visible “Church”, the Gospel is Not True?

The “federal vision” deconstructs any difference between water and union with Christ. They are also willing to reject any difference between a ritual Lord’s Supper and God’s “real or legal” means of union and communion. They will defend anything (slavery, the confederacy) “ancient” just so long as it is anti-liberal.

Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in a justification by works, those in the “federal vision” write essays against individualism and also against counter-cultures. The most consistent advocates (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. In the meanwhile they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence, and hope for a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

To get at the error of ritual Christendom, we need to do more than talk about Protestant associations with Romanism. That’s like criticizing Billy Graham for his associations instead of his false gospel. Graham works well with “others” because they all have the same false gospel.

Those who tell us that the gospel is not true without their “church” are trying to sell us a narrative in which the reality and visibility of Jesus Christ has to do with traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

With John Milbank, those in the “federal vision” tell us that the “pacifist” rejects power and effectiveness. They assume there can be no power without violence. Thus they tell us that the “pacifist” is a liberal who rejects even the power of the resurrection. They tell us there is no “church” without “kings” and no gospel without this “church” given by kings.

But God’s gospel does not depend on our power, not even on those of us who are Republicans. And Christianity is not necessary for the survival of the American empire.

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29 Comments on “Without the Visible “Church”, the Gospel is Not True?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    My practical suggestion would be to stop reading the Ten Commandments before the Confession and read the Sermon on the Mount instead. Of course that would disrupt “that which has come about with the passing of the time” in the Reformed tradition. But it would do much to put to rest this idea that the only problem with “the law” is “Jewish misunderstanding of the law”.

    Instead of looking at the six antitheses, and saying that Jesus is only the best teacher of “the law” clearing away “misinterpretation”, we need to see indeed that Jesus is our lawgiver. All divine law is “moral law”, but this does not mean that God cannot and does not change law when God changes covenants. Hebrews says that, but the Reformed tradition is not very good when it comes to seeing one covenant as different from another.

    21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.


    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into gehenna 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into gehenna.


    31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


    33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.


    38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

    Love Your Enemies

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? https://matthewtuininga.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/how-should-we-use-the-ten-commandments-in-worship/


    http://www.modernreformation.org secularization

    Horton: we need to let go of our idolatrous obsession with America. The early Christians didn’t have an empire to “win back”. They knew they were strangers.

    mark: and perhaps also our obsessive reaction to this distraction, which reaction is another distraction.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    One problem with identifying church and kingdom is locating churches that look anything like what our old life theory about churches teaches us we should find. While the world would be lost if Christ had not died on the cross to save elect sinners, would the world necessarily be lost if there were only friends who were Christians but no churches as we thought churches would be?….

    Do we change our theory about apostolic continuity of churches past and churches present? I have no desire to take sides with Harold Camping and say that the Holy Spirit has left the building. What Christ already got done is primary, and Christ Himself is first, but the organization of ecclesia still happens. Body still matters..

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Previous to the advent, the covenant and the kingdom of Christ, are spoken of as being in the future. In Ezekiel 16:60, Jehovah said, “I will establish unto an everlasting covenant.” In Daniel 2:44, “In the days of these kings will the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed…

    It may be instructive to mark the point where the churches of Christ become visible organizations. To do this, we must ascertain what it is that places a church in this visible state. It is not spirituality nor orthodoxy, nor both these together, but external form. Without spirituality and orthodoxy, there can certainly be no true church. They are essential. Yet these alone do not constitute their visibility, since in that case it would have been visible long before the days of Abraham.

    And there are many in the present day, who despite their devotion to the true God, are not literally connected with a visible church; which could not be, if spiritual qualities only were necessary to that union. What more is required then, to make these Christian people members of a church? They must, I answer, be baptized with water and receive the Lord’s Supper. These ordinances mark the line of separation between churches and the world. R B C Howell

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin —As to riches and honors, when we have divested ourselves of attachment to them, we will be prepared, also, to renounce the things themselves, whenever the Lord will require this from us, and so it ought to be. It is not expressly necessary that you be a poor man, in order that you may be Christian; but if it please the Lord that it should be so, you ought to be prepared to endure poverty. In fine, it is not lawful for Christians to have anything apart from Christ. I consider as apart from Christ everything that hindes the way of Christ alone being our ground of glorying.

    For those who cast their merchandise and other things into the sea, that they may escape in safety, do not, therefore, despise riches, but act as persons prepared rather to live in want, than to be drowned along with their riches. They part with them, indeed, but it is with regret and with a sigh; and when they have escaped, they bewail the loss of them. Paul, however, declares, on the other hand, that he had not merely abandoned everything that he formerly reckoned precious, but that they were like dung, offensive to him, or were disesteemed like things that are thrown away in contempt.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin—Paul renounced everything that he had, in order to recover them in Christ; and this corresponds better with the word gain, for it means that it was no trivial or ordinary gain, inasmuch as Christ contains everything in himself. And, unquestionably, we lose nothing when we come to Christ naked and stripped of everything, of those things which we previously imagined, on false grounds, that we possessed. Paul accordingly shews more fully, how great the riches of Christ, because we obtain and find all things in him. . . .

    Paul places man’s merit in opposition to Christ’s grace; for while the law brings works, faith presents man before God as naked, that he may be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. When, therefore, he declares that the righteousness of faith is from God, it is not simply because faith is the gift of God, but because God justifies us by His righteousness which he has conferred upon us.

  7. markmcculley Says:


    SOLA ECCLESIA: The Lost Reformation Doctrine
    by Michael J. Glodo
    With which of the following statements are you in greater agreement?

    1. “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”

    2. “Away from [the church] one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.”

    For the average evangelical Christian the first statement may lack some balance, but the second sounds downright Romish. If this describes your reaction, then your ecclesiology is closer to the author of the first, Lenny Bruce, than to the author of the second, John Calvin (Institutes 4.1.1). Bruce, satirist of organized religion and nemesis to hypocrisy, a comedian notorious for his vulgarity and impiety, nevertheless expressed a common contemporary assessment of organized religion, while Calvin’s statement seemed to betray his role as one of the primary catalysts of the Protestant Reformation

    There is no invisible baptism,. The person who says, “I’m a member of the Kingdom of God, not organized religion” is inherently contradictory. How do we know that such a person is truly converted? For that matter, how does he or she know? They have refused Christ’s appointed administration of his Kingdom and, thus, stand apart from his kingship. For this reason, one cannot possess assurance of salvation indefinitely if he remains outside of the Church . He may have saving faith, but have none of Christ’s means of assuring him of it. Paul wrote, “But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother” (Galatians 4:26, NASV). Hence, Cyprian wrote, “No one has God as his father without the Church as his mother.”
    Ridderbos described that view, “liberal theology asserted that, as a visible gathering of believers with a certain amount of organization, the Church lay entirely outside Jesus’ vision.”

    mark: like the fundy slippery slope from no head covering to evolution and same-sex marriage, the sacramentalists accuse all who disagree with them of being “liberals”

  8. ndividualism’s Not the Problem–Community’s Not the Solution Jonathan Leeman

    In theology, too, the significance of relationships (the dialectic of I and Thou) reorients every category of systematic. (8) It’s observed that God’s very being is defined by three persons in community; that human persons bear a “relational analogy” to God’s trinitarian community; that sin is the breaking of community; that Christ brings reconciliation through his work and the embrace of the church community; and that the eschaton will sum up all things in our participation in the divine community.

    Some of the titles in this theological genre tell all: The Trinity and the Kingdom (1981 in English); Being As Communion(1985); After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (1998); The Social God and the Relational Self (2001); Like Father, Like Son: The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity (2005); Trinity in Human Community: Exploring Congregational Life in the Image of the Social Trinity (2006); and so on.

    Impact on Churches

    Several lessons for churches follow from the communitarian story, say its proponents. For starters, we must recover an understanding of the church as a community of people, not an impersonal institution. If relationships are what constitute the church’s essence, any structures that do exist should be organic, liquid, or natural (again, consider the titles: Organic Church, Organic Community, Liquid Church, or Natural Church Development).

    Also, preaching should not be a monologue but a dialogue. Congregations should be encouraged to speak and learn from a multiplicity of viewpoints. (10)

    Conversion should not so much be treated as a one-time event, because life within this community will lead to continual change and reformation. Better to speak of a conversation or at least a “continuing conversion,” which like a conversation implies a continual openness to new perspectives. (11)


    • markmcculley Says:

      Richard Muller—“Use of the language of personal relationship with Jesus often indicates a qualitative loss of the traditional Reformation language of being justified by grace alone through faith in Christ and being, therefore, adopted as children of God in and through our graciously given union with Christ. Personal relationships come about through mutual interaction and thrive because of common interests. They are never or virtually never grounded on a forensic act such as that indicated in the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works – in fact personal relationships rest on a reciprocity of works or acts. The problem here is not the language itself: The problem is the way in which it can lead those who emphasize it to ignore the Reformation insight into the nature of justification and the character of believer’s relationship with God in Christ.

      Such language of personal relationship all too easily lends itself to an Arminian view of salvation as something accomplished largely by the believer in cooperation with God. A personal relationship is, of its very nature, a mutual relation, dependent on the activity – the works – of both parties.

      • markmcculley Says:

        Rosaria Butterfield — The Romantic period is typified by an uncontested embrace of personal experience, not merely as self-expression but also as epistemology …Romanticism claimed that no objective opposition can challenge the primal wisdom of someones subjective frame of intelligibility. Solipsism is the belief that only one’s own mind and its properties are sure to exist. Romanticism took this one step further to declare personal feelings the most reliable means of discerning truth.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Mark McCulley
    1:44 PM (23 minutes ago)


    Rutherford—he commands all, whom he exhorts to repent, to be baptized

    mark—do you have to be baptized to be commanded? Are some sinners baptized into a conditional covenant?

    Rutherford—The word of the Covenant is preached to you, an offer of Christ is made in the preached Gospel to you. The promises are to all the Reprobate in the Visible Church whether they believe or not, for the promises of the Covenant are Preached to Judas and all the Hypocrites who stumble at the word.

    mark: And how are the promises to those externally in the covenant in any way different from the promises to those not externally in the covenant?

    Rutherford—But in the New Testament, it must have this meaning, I will be your God, 2. Cor. 6. 16. that is, you are all predestinate to life, and the sons, by promise, and the spiritual seed, to whom I say, I will be your God: But so it may well be said, there were no internal Covenanters in the Old Testament, and there be none but only internal Covenanters in the New Testament

    mark—The promise is not that anybody is already justified, because the promise of the gospel is that all those who believe the gospel will be justified. The promise is not that anybody will believe the gospel, because the promise of the gospel is that all those who believe will be justified, not because they believe, but when they believe.

    Rutherford—-If these words, The promise is to you, and to your Children, be limited, to as many as the Lord shall effectually call, either fathers or children, then there is no more a Covenant-favour to their children, then to the children of Pagans; because the children of Pagans, if God effectually call them, have the promises made to them.


    Rutherford—To these men external Covenant-holiness,ceremonial holiness is now out of date; to them external calling the only means of effectual calling.


    Rutherford—To them children not believing, though chosen to life, are excommunicated from visible Adoption, for there is no covenanting now under the New Testament, but only internal covenanting of the Elect.

    Mark–Amen, all visible Israel is now excommunicated, and visible NT churches are only for those who profess faith in the gospel.

    Rutherford—Children of believing Parents have no more right than pagans to hear the preached Gospel, before they believe

    Mark: Amen. No sinner has any right to grace. No sinner has any right to hear the gospel.

    Rutherford—They can have no command of God to hear the Gospel, nor any covenant warrant, until they be believers, for if there were no conditional promise made to hearing and considering the word, if they shall believe, while as yet they believe not, and until they be effectually called, there can be no command, and no Law, to hear the Gospel and the covenant offer made in Christ. It shall then be no more sin for unconverted persons to turn away their ears from the Gospel.

    Mark—–The command to believe the gospel does not depend on any promise that a sinner will believe the gospel. The promise of the gospel is not that any will will believe the gospel, because the promise of the gospel is that those who believe will be justified, not because they believed, but not before and without believing the gospel. It is no more (and no less) sin for a sinner outside a visible church to not believe the gospel than it is for a sinner inside a visible church.

    Rutherford—-It were nonsense to say to men under the externally proposed covenant, repent, hear the Gospel, and yet you have no right to hear, nor have we any warrant to baptize you, until ye believe; for there is no promise made to you until first you believe.

    Mark–We don’t have rights, but there is no need to water a sinner before promising that sinner justification when they believe the gospel. Amen, there is no promise of grace made to those who do not believe the gospel.

    Rutherford. If there can be no baptism before faith, then there could be no threatening to Adam before he sinned, and no promise to Adam nor to any now, to do and live, until Adam first obeyed the covenant.

    Mark: Why not? Adam was under law before sin. The promise to keep living if Adam keeps from sinning is not a promise to immortality. The promise to keep living if Adam keeps from sinning is not a promise of time off probation for obedience.

    Rutherford—A conditional covenant agreed unto and accepted, is a covenant, and we ought to distinguish between a covenant broken or fulfilled, as Adam accepted the threatening, Gen. 2. 17. by silence, and Professors within the visible Church, by their receiving of the Seals are under the covenant of Grace, and engage themselves to obey commands, promises, threatenings, and therefore promises are as properly made to them, But the Anabaptists ignorantly confound the promise, and the thing promised; they confuse the covenant and the benefits covenanted.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Many legalists have no problem with God predestinating them to do enough works to be saved, and no problem with God not predestinating other sinners to do enough works. It’s just that business about “blessed only in Christ’s death and election decided for whom Christ would die” which pisses people off. The Jews who tried to push Jesus off the cliff in Luke 4 were not that angry about “opening up the covenant more people like gentiles and females”. What hacked them off was any idea that God was not going to accept their own religion and their own works and their own covenant children.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Larry Ball–The efficacy of baptism is not tied to the time of the administration of baptism, but it is tied to the administration of baptism itself. There is a huge difference. No Christian parent should expect that grace be “conferred” (Confessional language) on their children apart from their children being recipients of the sacrament of covenant (infant) baptism. The same can be said of adult baptisms. The grace promised in the ordinance of baptism is actually conferred in God’s appointed time “by the right use of this ordinance” (Confessional language). Grace is conferred because the ordinance is used. God uses means to accomplish his ends. This in no way conflicts with the sovereignty of God or the independent work of the Holy Spirit.

    Certainly, the grace is conferred to those to whom it belongs as the Confession clearly states. I am certainly not denying the doctrine of election. However, the doctrine of election was never given to negate the hope of the promises that are given to Christian parents. It is interesting to note that the doctrine of election taught in Romans 9 does not stand alone in the Bible. It exists because there was a need to explain the departure of Israel from the faith (Romans 9: 1-5). It was necessary to explain why there was unbelief among the covenant people of God. It was intended to be an explanation — not a qualification to the promises of God. Sadly, in some reformed circles it has become just that — a constant qualification.

    Some preachers are haunted by what I call the “if clause.” For example, it is often said to Christians that the promises of God are for you “if you are saved” or “if you are a true believer.” The very promises that give hope to Christians often die a slow death by a thousand qualifications. Covenant Baptism is not merely a symbol (Zwingli) or a “wet dedication service” where water is used. If anyone is dedicating himself in covenant baptism, it is God who is dedicating himself to keep the promises he has made to Christian parents.[


  12. markmcculley Says:


    Thus, those who willfully absent themselves from the true visible, institutional church (see Belgic Confession Art 29) have placed themselves in jeopardy. Think of it thus: if a man is willfully and impenitently committing murder and tells me “I am a Christian” I think I have a right to doubt his claim. Why? Because he’s an impenitent murderer! If a man tells me, “I don’t go to church, I belong to no church, I don’t need church. I have Jesus in my heart” and, if after instruction, he continues to persist in his abandonment of Christ’s church, then I doubt his claim to be a Christian.

    There is the strongest possible moral necessity for those who profess the Christian faith to join themselves to the true visible, institutional church. It’s not a second blessing for the illuminati. It’s not just a “good thing” to do. It’s not optional. It’s necessary.



  13. markmcculley Says:


    extra ecclesiam nulla salus

    WCF–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

    The Belgic Confession — We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, 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 the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the word of God, to separate themselves from all 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 were against it, yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those, who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God. (Belgic Confession, Article 28)

    Calvin book IV of the Institutes—The Visible Church as Mother of Believers
    But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels . Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation

  14. markmcculley Says:


    David N. Wiley, “The Church as the Elect in the Theology of Calvin, ” [Timothy George, ed. John Calvin and the Church (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990, 96-117

    of the church in the different editions of the Institutes and other writings. He identifies election as basic to Calvin’s understanding of the church with “an increasing tendency” to “stress the visible church” (p. 96). He notes Calvin’s preface to the King of France that the church need not be visible to exist:
    Our controversy turns on these hinges: first, they contend that the form of the church is always apparent and observable. Secondly, they set this form in the see of the Roman Church and its hierarchy. We, on the contrary, affirm that the church can exist without any visible appearance, and that its appearance is not contained within that outward magnificence which they foolishly admire. [Battles translations 74].
    Wiley notes that this sense of invisibility was later downplayed in later editions of the Institutes (p. 103). The author then demonstrates that Calvin came more and more to speak of the importance of the visible church, still with election as the foundation of the church. Wiley (p. 106) cites Calvin’s Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1542)
    Q100 M. Can this Church be known in any other way than when she is believed by faith?
    S. There is indeed also a visible Church of God, which he has described to us by certain signs and marks, but here we are properly speaking of the assemblage of those whom he has adopted to salvation, by his secret election. This is neither at all times visible to the eye nor discernible by signs.
    In regard to the visible church, the 1543 version of the Institutes is cited as stating we are “commanded to hold this visible church in honor and to keep ourselves in communion with it” (p. 108). Of the 1559 Institutes, Wiley views Calvin as saying in essence that the church is the ordinary means of bringing “the elect to their salvation” (p. 110). When Calvin appealed to extra ecclesiam nulla salus Wiley states, “properly speaking he means not outside the visible church but outside the church of the elect” (p. 110). Wiley makes such a statement (that appears to contradict what Calvin explicitly stated) because he argues the ultimate foundation of the church is election. .

  15. markmcculley Says:

    Dennis W. Jowers, “In What Sense Does Calvin Affirm ‘Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus’?” [Eddy Van der Borght, Garard Mannion, ed. John Calvin Ecclesiology (New York: T and T Clark, 2011) 50-68].

    Dennis Jowers tackles Calvin and extra ecclesiam nulla salus head on. His basic argument is that “Calvin does teach that faith in Christ and membership of the visible church are prerequisites of salvation” but “he does so with considerable nuance and disowns some of the most harshly exclusivistic conceptions of the impossibility of salvation outside the church” (p. 50). Jowers presents an argument alluded to by Wiley, that the visible church is the normal means of bringing the elect to salvation. On the other hand, there are exceptional cases: “unbaptized infants, children who die in their infancy and adults on the margins of the visible church” (p. 54). These may not use the normal means. There are those though who are not included as obtaining salvation outside the church: “Calvin, then, is no advocate of the ‘wider hope’ as to the salvation of the unevangelized, which became fashionable in the nineteenth century” (p. 64).
    Calvin articulates a version of the classic Christian conviction, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, then, that neither closes the kingdom of God to those who lack access to the church’s sacraments nor expands the sense of ecclesia so radically as to render persons who have never heard the gospel, intra ecclasiam for the purpose of salvation. Calvin charts something of a via media: allowing for the salvation of persons relatively isolated from the visible church without blunting the radicality of Reformation Christianity’s exclusive claims. (p. 65)


  16. markmcculley Says:

    Norman Shepherd commands us to view election by means of “covenant”, so that there is only kind of membership.


    Shepherd writes that “The prophets and apostles viewed election from the perspective of the covenant of grace, whereas Reformed theologians of a later day have tended to view the covenant of grace from the perspective of election”(p 60). The result of this, it is argued, is that the reformed preacher no longer says “Christ died for you” – but, when these words are construed, not from the point of view of election, but of the covenant, then “The Reformed evangelist can and must say on the basis of John 3:16, Christ died for you.”

    mark: Does this mean that Shepherd was saying “for you” to the church, but not to those outside the church? If so, was Shepherd making the church the object of evangelism?

    Sinclair Ferguson: First, Shepherd appears to adopt the view of the prevailing academic critique of the covenant theology of the seventeenth century (forcefully presented decades ago by Perry Miller), which suggests that the doctrine of covenant somehow makes God’s secret counsels less harsh. We ought therefore to look at covenant, and not at election. This analysis, both historically and biblically we reject… To use Shepherd’s own citation – the fact is that some passages, e.g. Ephesians 1:1-14, do employ the mode of looking at covenant from the viewpoint of election. Indeed, in that passage it is necessary for the reader to look for covenant in the context of election..”

    Guy Prentiss Waters, “The Theology of Norman Shepherd: A Study in Development, 1963–2006,” in Robert L. Penny, ed., The Hope Fulfilled: Essays in Honor of O. Palmer Robertson ( P&R Publishing, 2008), 207–231.

    In the 1974 article Shepherd argues that the first resurrection does not refer to conversion but rather to “the experience of baptism,” which, he writes, “is even more properly resurrection than is the resurrection of the body.”

    “Shepherd is undoubtedly driven by a biblicistic concern to limit modern theological vocabulary strictly to the biblical incidences of those words. It is clear, however, that Shepherd’s understand of what happens at an individual’s baptism is what Reformed theology has historically called “regeneration.”

    For Shepherd, we ought to speak to people “not in terms of decretal election or reprobation” but rather “in terms of their covenant faithfulness.”

    “The decree has no meaning full connection with or relationship to Shepherd’s covenantal perspective.”

    Norman Shepherd, “The Resurrections of Revelation 20,” Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974–75)


  17. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams — historic Presbyterianism was very different than modern Presbyterianism. Modern Presbyterianism will consider a non-communicant member who has reached the “age of discretion” and does not profess saving faith in Christ to be a covenant breaker and thus excommunicated. That was not the historic position. Instead, non-communicant members could remain members of the church without making any credible profession of saving faith. That was only required for communicant membership (access to the Lord’s table). Thus everyone in a nation was required by law to profess the true religion (known as “historic faith”) but they were not required by law to profess saving faith. Therefore the covenanters did not see themselves as judging “the world” with these laws. They were judging the church.

  18. markmcculley Says:

    1. The question concerning the parts of the church. Do reprobates also belong to it?

    II. First it is inquired whether besides those called elect, reprobates and infidels also (whether secret or open) are to be considered as true members of the church. Bellarmine with others pretends this is so (“De Ecclesia Militante,” 3.2, 7, 9 Opera [1857], 2:74–75, 81–83, 85–89 and the following) when he teaches that in the definition of the church, pagans, heretics, the excommunicated and schismatics are excepted: “All others are included, even if they are reprobates, wicked and impious” because, as he immediately adds, “that a person may be said to be absolutely a part of the true church, of which the Scriptures speak, we do not think there is required any internal virtue, but only an external, especially a communion of faith and of the sacraments, which is perceived by the sense itself.” The design is that no other church may be acknowledged except that of which the Roman bishop is head. And because they clearly saw (if they restrict it to the elect and believers) the pope might possibly not belong to it, therefore they wished to extend it even to the reprobate, provided they were embraced under the one visible head. Hence in the Council of Constance, this proposition of John Hus was condemned as heretical: “The holy universal church is the universality of the predestinated” (Mansi 27:754). The importance of the controversy is such that on its decision depend all the others which are agitated concerning the church between us and the Romanists. Hence we must treat it the more accurately.

    —Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 18.3.2.

  19. markmcculley Says:

    Mike Horton—” God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. … The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response, but we don’t enjoy the blessings apart from receiving Christ with all of his benefits. …..To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? ”


  20. markmcculley Says:




    Bannerman — Mere formal profession devoid of saving faith (what is known as “historical faith”) is all that is required for membership in the visible church.

    The formal professor may not possess that faith UNFEIGNED and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the INTERNAL and saving blessing which the REAL believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession… This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union. There is such a relationship, involving both real RESPONSIBILITIES and real privileges…

  21. markmcculley Says:

    Samuel Rutherford—“Nothing more is required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents, as concerning any REAL union of faith, be plain strangers to the covenant, and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body. Otherwise, God would not have commanded Joshua to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness. To profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him even when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deuteronomy 29:4). “


  22. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus is not merely the way to life, but the life and we don’t need no doctrine—Salvation is Christ, not one of his benefits.
    —we don’t want teaching and explanation, we want Him, we want preaching
    —we don’t receive merely His righteousness or His death, we receive Him–
    –Jesus is not merely the giver of life, because Jesus is the life

    Mark Mcculley–there are some preachers who confuse their preaching with God’s sovereignty, but preaching is not election, and election is not calling–God’s effectual calling may or may not come using preaching and a visible church, but be sure of this—God is not still electing sinners, the election of grace already happene

  23. markmcculley Says:

    The confined eschatology of the Roman Church postulates that the Kingdom of God is wholly, if not completely, realised within the confines of the visible Church. In the visible Church alone, defined around a clergy, could be found the divine action and presence. If the Church is the sole locus of God’s agency then by implication God could not act anywhere else except via his ecclesiastical agents. This highly exaggerated role of the Church however gives it a burden to which it is simply not equal.

  24. markmcculley Says:

    Marilynne Robinson–Two terrible scandals mar Luther’s life. One was his response to the Peasants’ War, in which he urged extreme violence against the rebels. The other was his writing against the Jews, whom he assailed in very similar, very violent terms. There is no excuse to be made for this, but a reason for it might have been that the existence of communities considered heretical was tenuous. Whole villages of Waldensians had been slaughtered. Wittenberg, where Luther lived most of his life, was protected by important German princes, but to tip it in the slightest degree toward association with any disfavored population would be to put it at risk.

    The Peace of Augsburg, signed in 1555, which for a while established a truce between Catholics and Lutherans within the Holy Roman Empire, did not acknowledge other Protestant groups, who had little or nothing in the way of princely protection and who remained liable to prosecution as heretics by both Catholics and Lutherans. Luther was no longer alive, but his readiness to dissociate himself from vulnerable groups seems to have survived him. https://newrepublic.com/article/145925/luther-legend?

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