As our kind readers have undoubtedly noticed of late, I am spending a lot of time thinking about, and responding to, those who have decided that to be Reformed no longer means we have a clear, compelling knowledge of the gospel itself. While these men continue to call themselves “Reformed,” some cannot even any longer affirm the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, or the forensic nature of justification, as part and parcel of the gospel. It is hardly surprising, then, that the other issues most associated with “Reformed theology” (TULIP, for example), are hardly on the radar screen. It seems fairly obvious that if you can’t give a clear definition of what justification is or is not, that it follows that you are probably not in a good position to argue for particular redemption, as an example. Indeed, many of the arguments used within the various modern counter-reformation movements so strongly undercut the clarity and perspicuity of Scripture (resulting, inevitably, in the diminishment of its ultimate authority and the need to look to some kind of “tradition”) that one wonders how one holding those views can consistently argue for almost any distinctive theological position. Of course, the key word there is “consistently.”
Of course, those who seek to hi-jack the term “Reformed” while moving so far from its heart and soul reject the phrase “counter-reformation.” They selectively pull quotes from sources so as to make it appear they have a leg to stand on, when, in fact, it is painfully obvious that the Reformation brought clarity to the gospel. How anyone who seeks to deny that clarity can even desire to use the term is truly beyond me. Let them get their own term. This one is taken. 🙂
What happens when the gospel no longer defines the faith? Here is a glowing example from Dr. Paul Owen:
What I am saying is that Evangelicalism appears to be on the verge of collapse, and I suspect that one of the reasons God is not blessing us is because we have contributed to the schism of Christendom in our words and deeds. I include Presbyterians in this charge, because we have thrown our lot in with the children of the Radical Reformation who call the shots in our Evangelical culture. The best thing Presbyterians could do is to begin to distance themselves from cultural Evangelicalism, and return to their Reformational Catholic roots. If we do that, maybe God will bless us again. I guess I am calling upon Reformed people to come out from the midst of the Evangelical Babylon (Rev. 18:4-5).
In the article that prompted this comment, Owen had indicated that the ease with which some Presbyterians get along with Baptists is evidence of a problem in the church. Hence, “Evangelicalism” = Baptists = Anabaptist radicals, at least in his thinking. He has likewise said he would rather counsel a person to attend a Roman Catholic parish than a Baptist Church. Obviously, then, Rome’s gospel, for Paul Owen, is not only just as valid as that preached in a Baptist Church, but more so (unless he is fully consistent and it really doesn’t matter what is preached soteriologically in a church, as long as it is Trinitarian).
Consider for a moment what this means. While the London Baptist Confession of Faith is almost word-for-word identical to the WCF on soteriological issues, for some reason (related, as we have seen often, to sacramental theories), it is better to be in a place where you are taught that the death of Christ is re-presented in the “sacrifice of the altar”; where men who claim to be an “alter Christus” via sacramental ordination disseminate God’s grace and forgiveness through a penitential system including the concept of priestly confession; where justification and sanctification are made one so that one can grow in justification, or lose that justification, depending upon one’s actions; where one is taught to pray for, and to, the dead, to seek indulgences, pray for Mary’s mediation, and fear the spectre of a future purgatorial cleansing. Does this not strike the reader as just a bit odd?
And yet, once you replace the centrality of the gospel with the centrality of sacramentalism and tradition, this kind of thinking makes perfect sense. And this is what we are facing today.