Why Preachers Should Stay Away From Legal Analysis, Too

This week’s example of preachers unwisely straying from their commission to preach what God has revealed in his Word comes to us from Wayne Grudem:

 This Sunday I have agreed to join nearly 1,500 pastors nationwide  and participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, sponsored by Alliance Defending  Freedom. In my sermon, I plan to recommend that people vote for one presidential  candidate and one political party that I will name. We will then all send our  sermons to the IRS.This action is in violation of the 1954 “Johnson Amendment” to the Internal  Revenue Code, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from  endorsing any candidate by name. But in our nation, a higher law than the IRS  code is the Constitution, which forbids laws “abridging freedom of speech” or  “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion (First Amendment).

I fully understand that many pastors might never want to endorse a candidate  from the pulpit (I have never done so before and I might never do so again). But  that should be the decision of the pastors and their churches, just as it was in  1860 when many pastors (rightly) decided they had to tell citizens to vote for  Abraham Lincoln in order to end the horrible evil of slavery. When the  government censors what pastors can preach, I think it is an unconstitutional  violation of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Because tax regulations cannot be challenged in court unless someone is first  found in violation by the IRS, it seems to me that intentionally disobeying for  the purpose of bringing the issue into the court system is a way of being  “subject to the governing authorities” as Rom. 13:1 tells us to do. This is the  only way under our “governing authorities” that a tax law can be challenged in  court for being in violation of our Constitution.

The first problem with Grudem’s analysis: the denial of a certain tax treatment is not the same as censoring. Any pastor can endorse a political candidate if he unwisely wishes to do so. The cost for doing so is not incarceration or a muzzle but a possible change in tax status.

The other problem is Grudem’s armchair lawyering.  Has Grudem read  Branch Ministries v. Rossotti? How about a law review article or two on the subject?  Both of these sources are against his position and suggest that it would be an uphill battle to establish a constitutional violation.  But if he hasn’t read these and doesn’t have a law degree, there’s a real issue as to his competence to say anything at all about the subject.  So I was wondering why he feels confident enough to do it. But then I forgot – if you have the right worldview, you can analyze anything, at least to the satisfaction of other worldview devotees.  (Google “Wayne Grudem” and “worldview.”)



Filed under Church and State, Courts, Religious rights, Worldview

163 responses to “Why Preachers Should Stay Away From Legal Analysis, Too

  1. TurturroFan


    To borrow from a recent Old Life post, Grudem pretty well muddles things from a legal point of view, as you point out.

    But far worse than that is the dereliction of duty. Is it just me or do these pastors take a very low view of preaching? Pretty low, it seems to me, if some pastor will put his his political opinion on par with the message of the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

    But Robert L. Dabney says it much better: “Now, questions of politics must ever divide the minds of men; for they are not decided by any recognized standards of truth, but by the competitions of interest and passion. Hence, it is inevitable that he who embarks publicly in the discussion of these questions must become the object of party animosities and obnoxious to those whom he opposes. How then can he successfully approach them as the messenger of redemption? By thus transcending his proper functions, he criminally prejudices his appointed work with half the community, for the whole of which he should affectionately labour.” (from “Preachers and Politics”)

    So, follow Dr. G’s advice and run chance of losing your church’s exempt status by announcing that, thus saith the Lord, faithful Christians shall vote Republican (or maybe also the Constitution Party). Nice.

  2. TurturroFan

    Sorry, but I’m still a little wound up having just re-read Dabney:

    “The importance of the soul’s redemption is transcendent. All social evils, all public and national ends, sink into trifles beside it. Hence God’s ministers owe this practical tribute and testimony at least to this great truth; to devote all the machinery and power of religious ordinances—that single domain into which the all-engrossing world does not intrude—to this one grand object. That minister is false to truth and to his Master who says by his conduct that there is anything on earth important enough to subtract one atom of sacred time or sacred ordinances from their one great object.” From “Preachers and Politics”

  3. T-Fan, I started off just wanting to do a spirituality of the church angle, but then I just couldn’t get past wondering why Grudem would so glibly give his legal opinion. When I looked at the potential suspects (the metaphorical reasons) through the one-way mirror, my eyes kept on looking toward Worldview. So, does he have a low view of preaching or does worldview infect its victims with a hubris about their personal opinions?

    Good stuff from Dabney.

  4. lja5v

    I am still utterly baffled why Christians would choose to protest their privileged tax exempt status. In effect, that’s what this protest is doing. It can just as easily backfire with the government saying “you want to preach about politics, have at it, but all religious institutions lose their tax exempt status.”

    • Think of it in historical context: Rosa Parks goes to the front of the bus, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn publishes The Gulag Archipelago, and now pastors protest a condition of their tax exemption. Makes me want to sing Dare to Be a Daniel.

  5. TurturroFan

    MM, “Hubris about their personal opinions” may well be part of the explanation. If your worldview leads you to believe that there is a biblical answer (or worse, “the” biblical answer) to every policy question (social, economic etc.), then you are likely to find that the Bible clearly addresses every issue that is near to your heart. There’s your open door as a pastor to inflict it on everybody else.

    Depending on how smart the pastor thinks he is there may be a high view of his own opinion, but there may also be foolishness, worldliness, and a desire for one’s own glory. It sounds like these guys are itching for a fight, and what a glory to be the one chosen (persecuted?) by the IRS for your courageous stand!

  6. TurturroFan

    lja5v, they’re deliberately provoking a confrontation, kind of like Operation Rescue, and the loss of exempt status is exactly what they are seeking. I think the plan would backfire if they didn’t achieve this! They want this to end up in the courts.

    It would be no injustice, in my opinion, if these churches lose their exempt status. But the loss would occur not because these preachers were faithfully preaching the whole counsel of God, but because they foolishly believe that their endorsements of political candidates are just as good as the Word of God, if not the Word of God itself.

    As MM points out, the legal analysis is flawed, as Grudem, et al confuse first amendment guarantees with the right to say and do whatever you what while receiving a tax subsidy, which is what exempt status amounts to. But the flawed theological understanding inherent in all of this may be even worse.

    • T-Fan, I’d like to see enforcement against a big church on the right and a big church on the left. That would be even-handed and wouldn’t threaten the existence of any particular church. But I’m not sure there will be the political will to do that, so these tax exemption heroes might have picked a battle they will win.

      • TurturroFan

        I like your solution.

        Also, this guy may be in hot demand, given the Grudem Gang’s activities:

        “IRS Manager David Fish brought the house down with his musical renditions of “Losing My Exemption” (a parody of REM’s Losing My Religion, referencing the consequences of private inurement, private benefit and excessive compensation) and “PACI Time Blues” (a parody of Summertime Blues, referencing the IRS Political Activity Compliance Initiative and the 501(c)(3) prohibition on political campaign activities).” (from the Nonprofit Law Blog)

        Who says the IRS doesn’t have a sense of humor?

      • I like it. I guess it would go “That’s me in the pulpit/That’s me preachin’ Rom – ney/ Losin’ my exemption…”

  7. TurturroFan

    MM, so hung up was I on SOTC that I barely read your last couple of sentences the first time through. “if you have the right worldview, you can analyze anything, at least to the satisfaction of other worldview devotees.” That may be right, because without a Biblical worldview (however defined), you really, truly don’t know anything – you are an epistemological ignoramus. But if you do, then woo-hoo! I actually know more about legal theory than the faculties of Harvard and Georgetown combined! How liberating and empowering is that?

  8. Kris D. Jones

    Thanks, MM, for this thread. And thanks also to T-Fan for the RLD quotes. I just posted them to my Facebook page so I hope they are accurate. I had no idea Dabney had spoken to these issues – so now I’m on the hunt for this book…
    I wonder if this isn’t some small fruit of Dispensationalism? Grudem said, I think I remember, in the intro to his Syst. Theology, that he was a sort of semi-dispensationalist (whatever that means). Then he was on the trail to giving his reformed, or Calvinistic Creds.
    So go figure.

  9. Kris D. Jones

    By the way, what is quoted is true – whether accurate or not. I’ve got Dabney, just not that Dabney. Still lookin’…

    • TurturroFan

      Kris, does everything always have to be “accurate” or “true”? Isn’t plausible or “sounds good” good enough? Well, if you must, you can find some good Dabney here:


      I like your hat. Reminds me of Sam Elliot.

      • Kris D. Jones

        >Well, if you must, you can find some good Dabney here:
        Yes I must. I love those guys. I’ve got Shedd, Thornwell, and some Dabney – Thanks for the link, it really helps.
        >Kris, does everything always have to be “accurate” or “true”?
        Yup: Sam Elliot once tried to steal my hat – ever notice how crooked the fingers on his left hand are?

  10. I am not in favor of pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit barring extraordinary unusual circumstances. We have an inerrant and infallible Word telling us what our position should be on certain issues, but we have no word from the Lord telling us that a specific candidate will actually do what he/she says he/she will do, or that he/she is the best person to do it.

    (Negative endorsements are a different matter. I don’t think many of us want to argue that the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Netherlands was wrong to oppose the Dutch Nazi Party on Christian grounds, or that the Gereformeerde Kerken was wrong to excommunicate Nazis. Also, it’s a pretty hard argument in today’s political context to say that some Reformed churches before the Civil War were wrong to ban slaveowners from membership. I wish they had all barred slaveowners from membership — the Southern Presbyterians were on the wrong side of the Bible and of history on the question of manstealing.)

    However, do we really think that Grudem hasn’t sought legal advice before saying something like this? I think it’s all but certain that he has lawyers backing up his position.

    Whether those lawyers will prevail in the courts of law (or, probably with more practical relevance, the court of public opinion) is a very different question, but it seems all but certain that he is acting on legal advice.

    • DTM, I’m inclined to take him at his word. He doesn’t say he was advised that it is unconstitutional. He says “I think it is an unconstitutional violation.” He’s also written about the courts in the past. I just don’t see anything to support your certainty that he is acting on legal advice.

      Continuing with the competence angle, I’m wondering why pastors think they are better able to decide on candidates than an engineer, a salesman, or a construction worker. There is nothing at all in their education or training that gives them an advantage in making political decisions. So what is the source of the arrogance that makes them tell others how to vote? I’m also wondering if there’s any uprising from their membership(s).

      • Mikelmann, I actually agree with you on the issue of pastoral competence in political questions, though I think I would take it in a direction different from yours. In general, I believe laymen, not ministers, are better equipped to be engaged in politics.

        Let’s just say too many ministers are too “nice” and too “pastoral” to be effective in politics.

        We can argue whether those are appropriate characteristics for ministers or if they indicate a pervasive problem with feminization of the clergy in American church life, but that’s beside the point. Knowing how to be nice and polite, or at least how to act that way, is a practical necessity for effective pastoral work in many churches, but niceness comes pretty close to being a disqualification for effective participation in politics.

        An additional problem is that detecting deception is easier for laymen than for the typical minister, for the simple reason that the average layman deals with a much higher percentage of unconverted people than the average minister. I don’t think most Reformed ministers are naive and believe in the inherent goodness of people who agree with them — conservative Calvinists generally are pretty good at understanding that even the most orthodox among us are still subject to total depravity — but those are very real problems for too many Arminian pastors. Naivete is not good in the pastorate or in politics, but it causes fewer problems in the church if a naive pastor has good elders.

        The bottom line is that the skills for the pastoral office and magisterial office do not typically get developed in the same person. Obviously there are exceptions — I can think of several effective ministers I’ve known who are former police officers, where the skill sets are even more radically different — but unless a minister has spent significant amounts of his adult life outside the pastoral ministry, he probably doesn’t fully understand how bad the average person on the street is.

        That goes double for leaders. While leaders in the church are supposed to be godly as a fundamental qualification for office, those who aspire to leadership roles in society are too often even worse than the average person in their base motivations and their ability to cover up those motivations with a deliberately deceptive smiling face.

        If all someone means by “Two Kingdoms” theology is saying the church as institute is not well-equipped to make political decisions, we do not disagree. We have only general principles in Scripture, not specific instructions, on the sorts of moral questions which are likely to arise for Christians in politics. The church can and should condemn abortion, for instance, but the specific political tactics to outlaw it are a question on which Christian politicians can legitimately disagree. Furthermore, for the reasons I’ve outlined above, politics is a profession for which the typical minister is singularly disqualified.

        Elders, however, are a whole different matter. A good elder can (and often does) have precisely the qualifications needed to be an effective civil magistrate.

        The reverse, however, is not necessarily true. King David’s adultery would have permanently disqualified him from the eldership or pastorate. Likewise, I can think of numerous modern people who make good Christian magistrates but do not the qualifications of I Timothy and Titus to be in church office. We risk very serious problems if we put people into the eldership merely because they hold prominent civil office, or for that matter, any other position of prominence in secular society.

      • Where to begin? First, I don’t want to this to come off as a generic slam on pastors. If someone who has been to seminary says something about theology, I’m listening. I’m also listening when my pastor is giving me spiritual counsel. OP pastors have all shown proficiency in Hebrew in Greek, and, although I’m not aware of the particulars, I’m guessing there are generally pretty high standards for pastors in all the NAPARC churches. So I’m saying nothing about raw intelligence.

        Having said that, a pastor discussing politics has no more inherent authority or expertise than a pastor discussing how the Red Sox should rebuild their roster in the offseason. So there’s a double whammy – politics being neither his calling nor his expertise. And the only thing that should come from the pulpit should be within the bounds of the pastor’s call even if he does have expertise in something else.

        You seem to be talking more about skill sets than anything else. As far as that goes, I suppose it would be a pastor-by-pastor evaluation. But the calling is a more important matter than skill sets, so even a politician-turned-pastor has no business merging his message with a political agenda. But I will agree that church members have different skill sets and interests such that some are both interested and skilled in doing good in the public realm while others don’t have the interest or skill. Let them each live according to their calling.

        If an elder wants to engage in party politics or a social cause, even he has to show some caution. What he does there shouldn’t be a staple of his conversation in the church, and should never bleed through into Sunday School classes, elder vistation or other functions associated with his office.

        As an aside, I wonder if pastors are as naive as you make them out to be. They see and hear some pretty salty/gritty stuff if they are truly being pastors and not just pulpiteers. (Yes, I just made that up.) Ruling elders see plenty of that, and I’m thinking pastors see much more.

        Anyway, if my pastor tells me how to vote, I might say something like “on a related question, should the Sox start the year with Iglesias at shortstop?”

      • Kris D. Jones

        MM –
        “on a related question, should the Sox start the year with Iglesias at shortstop?” I would say, if he’s on the active roster, then yes (but it probably won’t help). On a related question, is Mike Huckabee on the active roster now, when he’s making those insidious Anti-Obamacare Petition commercials, or before, when he was running for President? This goes beyond preaching/politicizing, but it’s not an irrational next step…

      • Mikelmann, I can assure you that I have no desire to bash pastors or the pastoral office. Scripture forbids that. Personal knowledge of many pastors would cause me to want to avoid it even if it were not forbidden by Scripture.

        Sometimes I forget, when dealing with people online who do not know me personally, that certain things which people who know me take for granted (i.e., respect for the ordained office) need to be said explicitly rather than me just assuming that people will know where I’m coming from.

        We live in an egalitarian, anti-ecclesiastical, and anti-clerical age. I have absolutely no desire to contribute to that, and have spent a lot of time fighting that in church circles.

        In that vein, I probably ought to add that while I’ve been a reporter for many years now, primarily covering crime, government, and (since 9/11) the military, I began my career in the church media. I have an undergraduate degree in theology, and I was several years into my seminary education before I decided it was an irrelevant waste of my time to drive an hour and a half, one way, several days per week for my part-time seminary studies, considering that I was serving my third church at the time in a tentmaking lay pastorate and I couldn’t say that adding “M.Div.” after my name would do any practical good for me at all.

        I chose to remain a lay preacher, turning down ordination two decades ago for a number of reasons which were relevant at the time but make no difference now, but I requested that my licensure exam follow the same procedures which would have been used in an ordination exam and be just as strict. As a practical matter, it was probably stricter than it would have been in more typical circumstances since there were serious and legitimate concerns by some people in the examination council about my own orthodoxy. My theological education came from Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, and that did not endear me to a number of people in the room, some of whom, even in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had bad experiences with or serious concerns about the Christian Reformed Church.

        In other words, I might just know a little bit about both sides of the clergy-laity fence and I certainly don’t have any animosity toward ministers as a group.

        I realize this has little to do with the subject of preaching politics from the pulpit, but respect for the ordained offices of elder and pastor is fundamental to the Reformed faith and I do not in any way whatsoever want to give the idea to anyone that I disrespect the ordained offices which our Lord has established.

      • DTM: Sorry for the misunderstanding. I was being defensive on my own behalf rather than implying any kind of disrespect on your part. A faithful pastor has a tough job, and a job I could not do. I just wanted to be clear.

      • Thank you for the followup, Mikelmann.

        In our current situation in America, I want to avoid even the appearance of evil on issues involving disrespect to ordained office. Of course, that sometimes means respecting the office enough to remove someone from office who is unworthy according to biblical standards. Nevertheless, I see many things in Southern evangelical church culture which cannot be reconciled with any sort of biblical understanding of office and ordination.

        I do not wish to be a participant in or encourager of such things.

  11. Richard

    As a lawyer, I love your citation to the Branch Ministries case. The opinion was written by . . . Chief Judge Buckley, that would be James L. Buckley, the brother of William F. Buckley, Jr., and former Conservative Party Senator from New York. How rich is that?

  12. DTM, just to pick up on MM’s point that you seem to be making a point about skill set instead of calling: you realize that by doing so you make room for female ordination? Plenty of women have the ability to pastor, but they don’t have the authority.

    I’m not saying this is you, but maybe for those who tend to have at once very precise views on ministerial egalitarianism (no women, ever) but latitudinarian views on the spirituality of the church (there are times that the church may or even must intermeddle), the point about calling/authority/jurisdiction can come through better. If it really is a question of calling, the Bible seems just as clear about the sharp lines that keep the church speaking only spiritually and never politically as it is about only men having ministerial authority. If someone can see how plainly the Bible speaks about the latter, why is it so hard to see the former? Could it be that some are more rightist than conservative?

    • ZRim, I’m not saying that pastors need to have skill sets apart from those listed in the requirements for office under I Timothy and Titus, and other relevant passages. Doing so adds to the requirements for ordination and it’s wrong.

      Likewise, taking away from the requirements for ordination by saying “Sue Smith is so gifted and would make such a good preacher” is also wrong. Lots of women are very gifted and the Lord can use them in many places outside the ordained offices of elder and pastor, but they don’t belong in those special offices because God said “no” and that ends the issue.

      On the other hand, while you raise an interesting point about the pastoral calling, your post presumes what it should first seek to prove.

      Yes, ministers are called to preach. Calling, ordination and office are not minor matters. If we were talking about a minister getting involved in something utterly unrelated to his ministerial calling, I would agree with your point. Let’s say, for example, a minister (we’re talking about a full-time pastor, not a tentmaker) got involved in a side business to the point that it took significant time away from his ministry and forced him to get involved in all sorts of conflicts of interest that harmed his church work. I’ve read enough of ancient church history, post-Constantine (it wasn’t an problem under persecution) of bishops and priests getting involved in shipping and other lucrative activities to know my example isn’t just a modern problem.

      However, if you grant my point (which i realize you don’t) that Christianity has political implications and sometimes direct political imperatives, you would necessarily, as a matter of logical consequence, agree that there are times when ministers may and perhaps even must get directly involved in the political process as part of their calling.

      We’re not going to agree on that underlying issue, but I trust you can see that pastors getting involved in politics does not necessarily stem from a low view of office and ordination. On the contrary, it may come directly out of their view of their pastoral calling.

      If I think the gospel is largely unrelated to politics, I will logically oppose pastors getting involved in politics in most if not all circumstances. If I think the Scriptures have something to say about civil society, I will logically say pastors who address those issues are doing so as part of their pastoral calling.

      The underlying issue is what controls one’s position on political activity by pastors.

  13. DTM, usually we anti-egalitarians point to 1 Tim 2:12 to say that Paul speaks clearly and about women being silent. So why is it so hard to read 1 Cor 5:12-13 and not see that Paul speaks just as plainly and clearly about the church being silent?

    Yes, I understand that your view that pastors getting involved in politics does not necessarily stem from a low view of office and ordination. What I wonder is why it is so easy to see how Paul commands women to be silent, but when he tells the church to be concerned only for those inside her and let God judge those outside it leaves any room whatsoever for her officers to intermeddle?

  14. Perhaps because 1 Cor. 5:12-13 deals with church discipline, not the role of Christian civil magistrates?

    ZRim, context counts.

    The immediately preceding verses say this:

    “9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

    Surely you are not trying to say the civil government has no role in addressing questions of sexual morality. That’s a Second Table issue. Even those who don’t believe the state should enforce the First Table should be able to concur that the Bible has standards of morality on such issues as murder, stealing, adultery, and lying which should be enforced by the state.

    But given some of the recent debates in Two Kingdoms circles about the possible acceptability of homosexual civil unions, I’m no longer convinced I can take that for granted.

  15. DTM, sure it is. But the context of church discipline is ecclesiology.

    But if you don’t think 1 Cor 5 has anything to say about how to relate to outsiders then what about John 18:36 (my kingdom is not of this world)? You might think this is more 2k proof-texting, but it’s the verse WCF 31.5 cites to bolster the teaching that “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth…” So I still wonder where you get from the sharp language of WCF 31.5 any notion “that there are times when ministers may and perhaps even must get directly involved in the political process as part of their calling.” Before you go there, I take the exception clause about extraordinary circumstances to be only those where the state is compelling (or even potentially compelling) the church to violate her conscience. If that’s not happening, then zip it.

    You are correct that my point has nothing to do with what role the civil government has in addressing questions of sexual morality, nor with the tables.

    • ZRim, you cited WCF 31:5.

      Did you perhaps mean section 4 of chapter 31 the Westminster Confession, which in the American Revision held by the OPC reads as follows: “4. Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”

      If you really did mean WCF 31:5, then do you accept the deleted second section of the original version of that chapter, which reads as follows: “2. As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers, and other fit persons, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion; so, if magistrates be open enemies to the Church, the ministers of Christ, of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they, with other fit persons upon delegation from their Churches, may meet together in such assemblies.”

      My point here is not to call needless attention to a typo, but rather to ask how closely you’re actually paying attention to the text of the Westminster Confession.

      ZRim, we do not disagree that the church as institute needs to be very careful before proclaiming “thus saith the Lord” on a political issue, and even then needs to focus on things clearly taught in the Bible and not getting into the details of political strategy intended to implement those principles. Frankly, in most cases I care very little whether a general assembly or synod takes a position on a political issue, and very few people are listening anyway.

      My point is that Christians, acting as individual Christians, need to take Scriptural principles and apply them seven days per week, not just on one day inside the walls of the church.

      Again, context counts if you’re going to appeal to the Westminster Confession.

      You already know your views can’t be reconciled with the actions of John Knox, but maybe your view is that Knox couldn’t have subscribed to the Westminster Standards. If so, surely you also know your views can’t be reconciled with the actions of the Puritans who, while drafting the Westminster Standards, also supported the war of Parliament against the king and most eventually supported the overthrow of the monarchy entirely.

      Perhaps you’re going to argue your views based on the American Revision to the WCF. If so, you can’t consistently argue that the actions of the Rev. John Witherspoon during the American Revolution were somehow in violation of even the American revision of the Westminster Confession. He wrote those revisions!

      For those who may not be aware of Witherspoon’s background, he was a member of the Continental Congress, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, served twice in the New Jersey state legislature, and promoted the adoption of the United States Constitution, all in addition to his duties as an ordained Presbyterian minister, president of what is now Princeton, and moderator of the General Assembly.

      It’s pretty hard to say that the first moderator of the General Assembly who oversaw the American revisions to the Westminster Confession was somehow being unconfessional.

      It’s also hard to argue that his 1776 sermon “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men” would somehow have been repudiated by Presbyterians of his day — but I think it’s obvious, ZRim, that you would not have wanted to sit under that sermon.

      Now ZRim, you can argue that Witherspoon was wrong and that he never should have done any of those secular things, but you can’t argue that what he did was somehow prohibited by the confessions of the church that he served.

  16. DTM, technically, I subscribe only TFU. But I affirm the revised WCF (for the same reason I affirm the revised Belgic 36). So I meant WCF 31.5.

    But you’re dodging the question with all this talk of certain individuals and who wrote what. I’m not talking about Knox, the Purtians, Witherspoon, Continental Congresses, 1776 sermons, etc. I’m talking about you. So square for me how what WCF 31.5 says (Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth) with what you say (there are times when ministers may and perhaps even must get directly involved in the political process as part of their calling).

    • Okay, ZRim, that’s easy.

      Abortion is murder. The Bible condemns murder. Pastors should preach against murder, including murder of children. If Americans killing more babies under Roe v. Wade than Germans under Hitler killed Jewish people isn’t an extraordinary case under WCF standards, I don’t know what possibly could be.

      It is entirely appropriate for a pastor, from the pulpit, to go through all the various Scripture passages which make clear that murdering babies in the womb is just as bad as murdering them after they’re born. Significant numbers of people are confused and need to have Scripture explained to them on this issue.

      However, arguing for or against specific legislation to make abortion illegal is something on which Christians can and do disagree. That goes beyond what we can say based on the Bible and gets into the tricky matter of tactics. Baby killing needs to be illegal, but how to get from where we are today to making murder illegal is a complex matter that goes beyond matters on which we have a inerrant answer.

      • DTM, it sounds like you are making a distinction between the moral and political questions that surround abortion, and that pastors are obligated to address the former and avoid the latter. That is heartily agreed and exactly the point. You are agreeing with me. Why are you pushing back? And why don’t you see how this calls into question your own assertion that “there are times when ministers may and perhaps even must get directly involved in the political process as part of their calling”?

        And why are you running around the interwebs hyperventilating about 2k and some of its advocates?

      • ZRim, I’ve been reading what you write for a number of years. I comment far less than I read. I think it’s obvious that you have written more far things about 2K on more websites than me. You and maybe a half-dozen other people in the Reformed cyberworld are quite prolific in your internet advocacy. I hardly think you can deny that 2K is a major issue for you, and if you’re going to advocate it, you need to expect that those who disagree will push back.

        Definitions are important. Using your phrase, I suppose I could affirm that I am “making a distinction between the moral and political questions that surround abortion, and that pastors are obligated to address the former and avoid the latter.” However, I wouldn’t choose those words because I think there’s a lack of clarity on what it means for pastors to avoid “political issues,” and I don’t think we would be meaning the same thing by the same words.

        Let’s say, as was the case in several states in the late 1960s and early 1970 before Roe v. Wade, that there’s a state constitutional amendment on the ballot or a bill before the state legislature that would legalize abortion. Assuming this is a straight up-and-down vote without additional complicating issues attached to the question, I do not have a problem with a minister 1) preaching against that proposed change in the law, 2) telling his congregation that they need to vote against ballot language that would allow abortion, and 3) saying that any legislator who votes to change the law to allow abortion is committing sin.by voting to allow murder of babies.

        I strongly believe God will judge America, Americans, and the American church for sitting by quietly while abortionists commit mass murder on a scale that has exceeded Hitler’s murder of Jews.

        Christians can legitimately disagree on tactics to end the evil of abortion or other public sins of that type. Is a Human Life Amendment the best way to solve the problem? Is the best solution to focus on getting conservative Supreme Court justices appointed? Is it best to try to get abortion returned to the states and let each state legislature deal with the problem? Is it best to focus on criminalizing late-term abortion as a “wedge issue?” All of those are legitimate tactics (at least if they’re viewed as short-term tactics to accomplish the eventual goal of eliminating abortion entirely) and are best left to Christian politicians who are experts in the political process, not to public preaching from the pulpit by pastors who in most cases have theoretical rather than practical expertise on political questions.

        Things become even more complicated when we deal with endorsements of specific candidates (the original subject of this thread). I would have serious problems with pastors doing that from the pulpit in all but the most extreme cases. We have an inerrant and infallible Word of God telling us abortion is sin. We have no such word from the Lord that a specific candidate will actually do what he promises, or is the best choice to do it.

        To be even more pointed, sometimes there are two candidates who are pro-life and the question is which candidate would be more effective in advocating for a pro-life position. Sometimes, as I have repeatedly seen in the South, a local conservative Democratic Party incumbent is legitimately pro-life, is an evangelical Christian or traditional Roman Catholic, and has years of seniority in the legislature or Congress but has liberal stances on other issues where Scripture teaching is less clear. Should voters throw out an experienced incumbent who has a solid pro-life track record and replace him with an untested and inexperienced newcomer who says the right things but will take many years before he can actually accomplish much? I believe pastors are best advised not to take sides in doubtful cases.

        Caveats and qualifications are important when it comes to Christians getting involved in politics.

        However, when people argue that Christians should sit back quietly and not use their rights as American citizens to fight back against what evil people are doing in America in a number of areas like abortion and homosexuality which Scripture is crystal clear in calling sin, I’m going to push back, and push back strongly.

      • DTM, you said: “when people argue that Christians should sit back quietly and not use their rights as American citizens to fight back against what evil people are doing in America…”

        I try to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, but it’s difficult for me to believe that, after all your visits to 2k sites, you believe in this statement. No one anywhere is saying that Christians can’t use all their rights as American citizens to fight against perceived evil. What you haven’t been able to explain is why the Church, with the Pastor being the leader, is the way to way to do that. Why is it not enough for individual citizens, or citizens forming groups, to do that?

        And since we’re both Presbyterians, what should be the process whereby a Presbyterian pastor decides on what politics should be preached? Every pastor on his own, with different agendas in churches of the same denomination? Shall we regularly have synods and councils meddling in the affairs of the state? (hint: think of the WCF) I can allow that there may be extraordinary cases (again, see the WCF), but what I see out there is laundry list of causes that some would have the church take a stand on. Let the church preach the gospel and its binding ethics and let citizens be involved citizens the other six days if those are the battles they want to take on.

      • Mikelmann, one reason I distinguish between R2K (Radical Two Kingdoms) and Es2K (Escondido Two Kingdoms) viewpoints is precisely because of comments like yours here.

        I don’t have a huge problem with what you’ve just written, at least in theory. It sounds much like the old Southern Presbyterian view. I don’t agree but I can live with it.

        I’ve said many times that if all the 2K project is about is saying that politics ought to be done primarily by individual Christians, not by the institutional church, we’ve got no serious disagreement. As a practical matter, most Reformed churches are politically irrelevant anyway. Why waste lots of time getting a general assembly or general synod to stand up for some sort of political position when efforts will be more effective in actually convincing undecided voters to vote for biblical positions? (I’m assuming here that the assembly of the church has **ALREADY** affirmed the underlying biblical truth — a position statement on abortion, homosexuality, etc., is absolutely essential if those issues start getting called into question within a denomination.)

        But that’s not what I’m hearing from Two Kingdoms people.

        Some of them are arguing that we ought to avoid **ANY** question once it becomes politicized. (I’d like to post links, but the blog I’m thinking of has been taken down and then put back up in a different format with all the original comments deleted.) No way will I agree with that — secularists don’t get a veto right on what topics Christians can discuss.

        Secondly, and more of a theoretical issue, is that some seem to argue that we must make our case based on the usefulness of natural law or general revelation, not Scripture. In a Roman Catholic “natural law” context, that may be acceptable and I can tolerate that type of argument from a Roman Catholic. I did my senior thesis on John Henry Cardinal Newman, and I am not unaware of Roman Catholic “development of doctrine” theorizing, or the reasons why they elevate general revelation as a valid source of knowledge.

        For a Calvinist who believes in total depravity, that seems exceedingly problematic. Natural revelation is most certainly not clear and not sufficient to lead us to truth; it only leaves us without excuse.

        I hope that’s of some help.

      • DTM: “Secondly, and more of a theoretical issue, is that some seem to argue that we must make our [political] case on the usefulness of natural law or general revelation, not Scripture…For a Calvinist who believes in total depravity, that seems exceedingly problematic. Natural revelation is most certainly not clear and not sufficient to lead us to truth; it only leaves us without excuse.”

        If you’re correct, the worldview Christian has the best access to not only redemptive truth but to truth in politics and numerous other areas of knowledge. It must be hard to continue to convince yourself of that. For myself, I got tired of the basic denial of what is plainly before my eyes. There are plenty of unbelievers with non-redemptive insight into politics, non-redemptive moral integrity, non-redemptive practical wisdom, etc. https://presbyterianblues.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/calvin-on-the-light-of-reason/ But if you want to show me that all the most effective politicians, the most astute scholars, and the best attorneys are Christian worldviewists, go for it.

      • Mikelmann, I’m not sure that this follows from my positions: “if you want to show me that all the most effective politicians, the most astute scholars, and the best attorneys are Christian worldviewists, go for it.”

        It should be patently obvious that unbelievers can be brilliant and Christians can be stupid. The Bible doesn’t address every issue under the sun, but when it does speak, we need to follow the Word of God and not the words of man, no matter how intelligent the men may be.

        Unlike some evangelicals, I don’t come from a Christian “hothouse” environment. I attended what would today be considered a magnet school within the public school system. Its teaching model was classical humanism, and I don’t mean that as an insult; the teachers viewed humanism as a good thing. At that time when I was not an evangelical, I didn’t have a problem with what might be considered classical Greco-Roman humanism. I then spent two years at an academically elite private college which was rather hostile to biblical Christianity before transferring to Calvin College, which has its own problems.

        I have zero doubt about the brilliance of many non-Christian scholars.

        The question is not whether non-Christians can be intelligent but rather to what purposes they put their intelligence.

  17. I think it needs to be said that the original Two Kingdoms approach had the INVISIBLE Church on one hand, and the Crown AND the VISIBLE Church on the other.

    Europe of 450 years ago had a near complete integration of Church and State (so much so that many Bishops were simultaneously secular rulers of lands) and a modern USA-style separation of Church and State was unthinkable. Therefore the two kingdoms envisioned by the Reformers was the government AND the official visible Church as the one Kingdom–of this world–and the true eternal Church of the elect–God’s Kingdom of this world and the next–on the other hand.

    Given this a godly ruler was always looking for the council of leaders of the Church–and godly Church leaders were always eager to give it–not artificially dividing the world into religious and non-religious spheres.

    Even to our US Founding Fathers the current official agnosticism and even hostility of the state–narrowing the constitutional protection to “freedom of worship” (a favorite term in this current administration)–of the free exercise of religion, would be unthinkable. Very clearly the first Ammendment religious freedom clauses only attempted avoiding one officially recognized Church; it was clearly NOT intended to push pastors out of the public square–as the ACLU and the Left in America does today.

    Preachers can and should incorporate ETHICS (which includes political ethics) into their biblical teachings. EVERY decision we make is to one degree or another–an ethical decision–and God is concerned with all aspects of our lives, not just our religious side.

    Restrictions by the government on what a minister of the Gospel can and cannot say, are in principle, unconstitutional–and even if it is unfashionable to the educated and legal elites in this country–should be fought.

    • Ralph, the free exercise clause is alive and well and has recently had the robust support of even the liberal judges. See https://presbyterianblues.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/a-time-to-clap-for-the-united-states-supreme-court/

      But I’m mostly interested in this part:
      Preachers can and should incorporate ETHICS (which includes political ethics) into their biblical teachings. EVERY decision we make is to one degree or another–an ethical decision–

      Let’s start with a constitutional amendment for the good cause of your choice. A consideration of such an amendment will involve, in part, a judgment on what powers are alloted to a government. It will then involve whether that particular expression of power is best exercised by a constitutional change or statute. It will also involve whether the state or federal government should be exercising that power. Then there will be a matter of drafting. Is the particular statute or constitutional amendment drafted well? Is there something about its drafting that will backfire or inadvertently cause other problems? Then, politically, is the particular proposal worth all the arm twisting that will be necessary to get it done, or are there better ways to spend political capital?

      There’s enough on a pastor’s plate without having to sort all this out, and there’s nothing about the pastor’s training that suggests any special expertise in sorting it out.

      • Okay, let’s consider a real-life example — a public statewide vote on a constitutional amendment in Michigan, back during its “progressive” era, to outlaw Christian schooling and require all children to attend public school under truancy laws.

        In that day, the push to promote the public school system came from secular liberals (Dewey, et al) and anti-Catholic sentiments. The support for private Christian day schooling came from Roman Catholic, Lutheran and about half of the Dutch Reformed churches. (In those days, the CRC was strongly supporting Christian schools and the RCA was often actively opposed to them.)

        Court cases have made something like this unconstitutional today, but back in the 1920s and 1930s it was a very real question whether this would be allowed.

        Do you believe that pastors of churches that support Christian schooling might have some theological expertise to bring to bear on how their church members should vote on a proposal to bar Christian schooling?

  18. No, DTM – I think the pewsitters had and continue to have as much competence as the pastors did. And they all have six days a week to involve themselves in such things.

    • Hmm. Mikelmann, your answer surprised me.

      I’ve heard a number of sermons over the years on the importance of Christian education for covenant children. I am anything but an uncritical advocate of Christian schools — I have a long track record of defending parental choice in this matter, and I have a **REALLY** major problem with forcing parents to spend lots of money they don’t have to send kids to a liberal CRC-related school where they get the same liberal worldview they’d get in the local public school — but I have zero problem with a pastor preaching on that subject.

      I do realize I’m speaking to someone in an OPC context, but there was a day when sending children to a public school in the CRC was viewed as utter abdication of parental responsibility, and preached against for that reason.

      We can dispute whether Christian day schools are mandatory or just a good idea, but I certainly grant that preaching about covenant education for children is a legitimate part of pulpit ministry, and in a church that is convinced that public schools are not an option, preaching on the need to fight an effort to shut down the Christian schools is entirely appropriate.

      • DTM1 says “I have a long track record of defending parental choice in this matter”
        DTM2 says: “I certainly grant that preaching about covenant education for children is a legitimate part of pulpit ministry”
        You two should talk to each other.

        But I’m not really understanding your criteria for what should be preached. You say “in a church that is convinced that public schools are not an option, preaching on the need to fight an effort to shut down the Christian schools is entirely appropriate.” So…if a church is convinced on an issue it is appropriate to preach on it?

        Then you seem to have a lack of confidence in the congregation. Why can’t a congregation ponder on how to vote and get it right without the pastor telling them God says so?

      • Okay, I wasn’t going to get into the weeds on this, but here’s my view.

        I believe that parents cannot biblically neglect the Christian education of their covenant children. I believe that is a legitimate subject for preaching.

        I believe that requiring every parent to choose Christian day schools for the education of their children is a violation of Christian freedom. Churches can and should teach on the subject, but it is fundamentally up to the parents, not the state or the church, to decide how their children will be educated. (Remember, I affirm sphere sovereignty, and that limits not only the state but also the church.)

        Even apart from sphere sovereignty, I think most Reformed people can concur that not everything which is a really good idea should be mandated by the church.

        But when the state steps in and tries to forbid Christian churches and Christian parents from establishing Christian schools, that is an overstepping of the bounds by the state and it should be fought against and preached against.

      • DTM1:I believe that requiring every parent to choose Christian day schools for the education of their children is a violation of Christian freedom….it is fundamentally up to the parents…
        DTM2: Churches can and should teach on the subject

        Again, how you can have these two opinions in the very same comment? You should have stopped with “up to the parents.”

        DTM1: “not everything which is a really good idea should be mandated by the church.”
        DTM2: “when the state steps in and tries to forbid Christian churches and Christian parents from establishing Christian schools, that is an overstepping of the bounds by the state and it should be fought against and preached against.”

        The last quote seems to be an enduring position of yours: if something is really really important, pastors should preach on it. Again, I’m just looking at an off-the-beaten path approach to this: is the church full of idiots who can’t work through political, legal and social issues? And why must the pastor also be the chief politician, and legal analyst?

      • Mikelmann, I realize I’m dealing with someone in an OPC context, not a Dutch Reformed context. However, my position on this matter is a somewhat “looser” version of the standard conservative Dutch Reformed position on Christian education.

        The overarching principle is that parents, not the church or the state, are responsible for the Christian nurture of their children. Traditionally in a North American context where the public schools cannot explicitly teach “sectarian” Reformed doctrine, the CRC has taken the position that public schools are not an acceptable option for Christian parents. In the modern world, that leaves Reformed Christian day schools or homeschooling with a Reformed curriculum as the only remaining options.

        Teaching the importance of Christian nurture is a legitimate role of the church. However, just as the elders of the church cannot execute the death penalty since that is the proper sphere of the state and all they can do is teach why it’s legitimate to execute offenders, the elders of the church cannot give orders to parents on how their children will be educated; the limit of the elder’s authority is to teach.

        My personal view, and on this I depart from the majority of the conservative Dutch Reformed tradition, is that public schools are a better option than a liberal Christian school.teaching false doctrine, though in an ideal world we wouldn’t be forced to make such choices. I would rather children be confronted with outright secularism than deal with baptized paganism in a so-called Christian school which is neither Reformed nor Christian.

        In saying that, I am knowingly and deliberately dissenting from the vast majority of conservative Dutch Reformed people. They would, of course, say I am in need of teaching from the church on this point, but most if not all Dutch Reformed conservatives would acknowledge my right, as a parent, to make my own decisions on the issue. Sending children to Christian school is not a term of communion required for membership, but sending children to a public school certainly would be a major barrier to holding any position of leadership in most Dutch Reformed churches.

  19. Tsk, tsk, DTM, just when I thought you had progressed in your understanding and rhetoric, you say “This nonsense needs to be stopped, and it can’t be stopped if we as Calvinists don’t learn about it, read as much as we can, and fight hard against it.” http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/2943397/posts

    • I believe that there are distinctions among the Two Kingdoms advocates.

      When I’m dealing with you, Mikelmann, I think you are carefully thinking through your positions. I don’t necessarily agree, but I think, given your presuppositions, what you are saying makes sense as a logical conclusion of those prior presuppositions.

      The context of my “nonsense” comment was this: “The modern ‘Two Kingdoms’ view has already led to a Westminster-West professor saying a Christian case can be made for homosexual civil unions. There is no way that kind of theology would be advocated by classical Southern Presbyterianism.”

      I do believe it is nonsense to think the Reformed faith can in any way lead to support for homosexual civil unions. That kind of thing must be stopped.

      I can think of “Two Kingdoms” viewpoints to which I would object considerably less strongly.

  20. DTM,

    1) I simply cannot see what the principled difference is between your affirmation of pastors publicly preaching in explicit tones about how their hearers should vote (upon pain of discipline for sin, holy moly) and the antics of Protestant liberalism. What it begins to look like here is that socio-political gospel is bad if it’s the other guy baptizing his politics, but it’s ok if it’s our politics getting dunked. What 2k is saying is that socio-political gospel is always bad no matter whose it is.

    2) Nobody is suggesting “that Christians should sit back quietly and not use their rights as American citizens to fight back.” The simple point is to use political means (not spiritual) to push back against political problems. This seems hardly controversial. If you don’t like a political situation then pull the “opposed” lever in the voting booth—don’t withhold the means of grace. Try a thought experiment: do you really want Jim Wallis disciplining you for not having his politics on immigration reform? Wouldn’t it be better just to pull the opposite lever than him and maintain Christian fellowship (assuming some things here for the sake of the point, bear with me) and not impugn one another’s piety based on politics when it should be over doctrine?

    3) You’re right about public speech. I stand behind mine, so feel free to re-post my words and name wherever you want and bluster as hard as you want. I just think it’s a little obnoxious is all.

    • My problem with Jim Wallis is not that he applies his understanding of the Bible to politics but rather that he’s wrong about what the Bible says.

      I wasn’t particularly thinking of church discipline on the abortion issue — I think virtually everybody in the OPC and most people in the PCA are strongly pro-life — but let me ask a question.

      Were the Covenanters right or wrong to say that slaveowners could not be church members? If not, why not?

      I see no way that the Two Kingdoms people can avoid taking the side of the old Southern Presbyterians to say the church should not get involved in the question of slavery. I trust, ZRim, you’re not a defender of slavery as practiced in the American South, but do you believe slaveowners should be allowed to be members of a Reformed church?

  21. DTM, I’m born-bred-and-buttered Yank. So, no, I’ve no interest in defending American-made slavery (with no apologies to Doug Wilson). And I’m opposed to legalized abortion. But even more than any of that, I don’t want my pastor baptizing my politics. A big part of the reason is that I don’t want him alienating from the gospel of Christ and him crucified those who don’t share particular political views.

    If your question is, Should those members of a Reformed church who unrepentantly break God’s law be disciplined then my answer is yes. But I’m wary of persecuting any ideology, legislation, or institution (past or present) under the pious guise of church discipline.

    • Okay, let’s ask a question.

      You’re a member of a confessionally Reformed church in a predominantly liberal area of the country. A lawyer who is an economic conservative but socially liberal has left the United Church of Christ and joined your congregation. He’s served in local and state offices and then unexpectedly gets elected to a much more important office that thrusts your church into the media limelight.

      He’s openly pro-choice and publicly argues against the standard pro-life positions of his own political party, which generally lets him get away with that knowing that a socially conservative pro-life candidate probably can’t be elected in that area.

      Is he unrepentantly breaking God’s law, to use your phrase?

      What do you do as a church now that you’re a position where, unlike in the past when you could ignore his pro-choice views, questions are now being asked about your own church’s stand? And what do you do about the fact that your church’s friends in the pro-life movement are asking tough questions, pointing out that if he were Roman Catholic, he could not partake of the sacraments based on his public pro-choice advocacy?

      Churches are known by what they tolerate. Tolerating a pro-choice politician is not good for a confessionally Reformed church.

      • DTM:
        “As a practical matter, most Reformed churches are politically irrelevant anyway. Why waste lots of time getting a general assembly or general synod to stand up for some sort of political position when efforts will be more effective in actually convincing undecided voters to vote for biblical positions?”

        Here’s a difference between us: it does seem like you’re a pragmatist on these matters. It seems that if the church was effective in fighting political battles, you’d have them engaging in those fights.

        I’m not inclined to engage in hypotheticals, but I can relay my big picture approach. Starting with “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary,” consistency would lead to a postion that pulpits should intermeddle with civil affairs only in cases extraordinary, and individuals should be sanctioned for political activity only in cases extraordinary.

  22. DTM, I’m not wild about hypotheticals either. But what I will say is that there seems to be an important distinction between one’s personal moral behavior and her political views. I am not convinced the church has moral jurisdiction over the latter the way it does over the former. So, it seems to me one thing for the church to claim moral jurisdiction over Christian Jane with regard to what she does with that unwanted pregnancy, another to make the same claim over what she does in the voting booth (privately or publicly).

    I find it interesting that you point to Roman ecclesiology, as well as suggest that the church owes something to the pro-life movement. On the former, we’re Protestants–since when do we embrace a Roman ecclesiology or at least point to it as a model? On the latter, this is exactly what has me worried about pro-lifery and the church–is the church really to be held captive by any moral or political activist movement? Look, I am both morally and politically opposed to legal abortion, I have views that my own choicers find more conservative than mainstream lifers (first states’ rights, then no exceptions except for life of mother). But conservatism should be consistent and apply every bit as much to Reformed ecclesiology, which means there are limitations on what kind of authority the church may exercise over her members, as well as on what she may say to the wider world. And when I listen to critics like you, I don’t hear conservative tones. I hear efforts to remove these limitations and retraints. And it sounds more liberal and Roman than conervative and Protestant.

  23. This is getting interesting.

    While I may be a pragmatist about some things, toleration of open public sin is not among them.

    My example was not hypothetical. I wanted to first see how you would answer without adding a name, but let’s add the name.

    U.S. Senator Scott Brown is a member of New England Chapel in Franklin, Mass., a congregation of the Christian Reformed Church.

    As a matter of pragmatic politics, I should be a supporter of Sen. Brown. The reality is that he’s probably about the best that can be asked for out of Massachusetts. If I lived in that state I’d probably gag and pull the lever for him since any realistic alternative will be far worse.

    In the ecclesiastical world, however, Brown’s support for homosexual civil unions, vote to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on homosexuals in the military, and declaration that he won’t use abortion as a test for nominees for Supreme Court positions make him unacceptable. In politics sometimes we have to make hard choices between lesser evils; in the church, we have to follow absolute principles regardless of the consequences.

    The result of tolerating people like Sen. Brown in church membership is that we get things like this written by National Review in its flattering profile of the senator soon after his election: “This new Calvinism is a development of the post-Great Awakening era, a religion that’s not afraid of sentimentality — yet it remains recognizably Calvinism, in its stress on the Bible and on the sovereignty of God.”

    Brown’s views are bad enough, but how about this comment from his church’s website: “I have found a home, a family, friends, and most importantly, begun the journey to a REAL relationship with God. It is not one based on guilt or fear, but rather love, hope, and mercy.”

    Apparently Brown’s church has not heard that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10, Ps. 111:10). Obviously it’s not the end of wisdom, but conviction of sin is central to the Christian experience. Total depravity isn’t the only point of Calvinism, but it is the first point.

    A church that tolerates views such as those expressed by Brown and posted on its website is not recognizably Calvinist at all. It’s not realistic to ask the Christian Reformed Church to discipline Sen. Brown or his consistory — after all, the church has two women elders and that makes it pretty much untouchable — but I hope the OPC or PCA would discipline someone who held or tolerated views such as those of Sen. Brown.

  24. DTM, so it’s open public sin to disagree with you politically? But I am willing to follow absolute biblical principles regardless of the consequences and draw the line at doctrine and life.

  25. Richard

    DTM, umm, no, as a ruling elder in the PCA, I would have no authority to discipline any member of my church who held or tolerated the views of Sen Scott Borwn. Sorry, his views do not constitute open public sin according to our Book of Church Order. Jeepers.

  26. Richard

    I’m thinking some of us writing in this post are in favor of this: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/2016-obamas-america-screen-at-378681

    • Kris D. Jones

      Maybe some of us are, Richard. Just not me. Not much into Swift Boat movies…

    • Kris D. Jones

      May we let the protagonists continue?

    • I don’t think it’s appropriate to show movies in the worship service, period.

      I would have significant problems with showing political movies on the Lord’s Day. Maybe I could be convinced, but it would be hard.

      I have no problem in principle with doing this in the church building on the other six days of the week. However, I’ve not seen the movie and that’s not an endorsement.

  27. ZRim and Richard, this is getting more and more interesting.

    Your answers are not at all what I expected. I thought I’d hear you saying some version of “don’t blame us for what a liberal CRC with women elders does — we would never tolerate someone like Sen. Brown in our church.”

    Apparently I need to get out more. I thought the answer was obvious and did not at all expect what you’re responding.

    I think I’m now beginning to understand why a Westminster-West professor can say he can see a case for homosexual civil unions, or why Misty Irons writes and speaks the way she does.

    Right now I feel like the reporter for Nederlands Dagblad who asked a Calvin Seminary professor, during the Rev. Jim Lucas uproar, shortly after he “came out” as a homosexual, whether the Calvin College faculty knew he was a homosexual when the seminary board of trustees recommended him for ordination. (Remember that unlike Presbyterianism where the decisions on candidacy and ordination are made by the presbyteries, in the Christian Reformed Church, the seminary faculty and board of trustees are primarily responsible for deciding who is allowed to become a candidate for the ministry; synod almost always rubber-stamps the seminary decision.)

    The Nederlands Dagblad reporter was amazed to find out that the faculty had known Lucas was homosexual and that the professors had informed the board without giving the name of the student involved, with the result that the seminary board, with no involvement whatsoever of the Christian Reformed synod, had taken it upon itself years earlier to decide it’s okay to be a homosexual minister in the Christian Reformed Church as long as the minister didn’t actually have same-gender sexual relations.

    Frankly, I never thought to ask that question, and the seminary professor’s answer blew the homosexual issue wide open in the CRC. Regardless of whether the seminary board’s position was right or wrong, the effect was that the seminary faculty and board had made a massively important decision without ever involving the synod.

    ZRim, I realize you do not speak for the URCNA, Mikelmann does not speak for the OPC, and Richard does not speak for the PCA. None of you have the same level of authority that seminary professor had.

    However, I am amazed to be seeing these answers.

    I guess I’d better ask some more questions — were the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland correct in barring membership in the Dutch Nazi Party? Were the Covenanters right to bar slaveowners from church membership?

    I certainly am not supporting slavery or Nazis, but I think a much better case can be made for being a Southern Presbyterian slaveowner treating his slaves decently despite them being stolen property, than for being pro-choice on baby killing.

    Even the Dutch Nazis didn’t yet know or understand what was going on in the death camps. Very conservative ministers including the main minister of the Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Netherlands Reformed Congregations) made a terrible bargain with the devil and cooperated with the Dutch Nazis out of a wrongheaded belief that they were supporting Christian values against Communism. The Dutch Nazis were wrong, but at least they weren’t openly saying in the Netherlands that it was okay to kill Jews. Most Dutch Jews had no idea what was waiting for them in the death camps and thought they were going to be put in work camps.

    I believe the Covenanters were well within their rights to bar slaveholders from church membership. I believe the Gereformeerde Gemeenten were definitely right to bar Dutch Nazis from church membership.

    If we believe what we say about abortion being killing of defenseless babies, abortion really is on the same level as killing Jews. It logically follows that anyone who is publicly advocating a pro-choice position on baby murder is worthy of church discipline.

    I thought until now that was something pretty much all conservative Calvinists agreed upon.

    Apparently not.

    • Typo alert: the reference to “Calvin College” faculty above should be “Calvin Seminary.” It’s the seminary faculty, not the college faculty, who make recommendations on declaring people candidates for the Christian Reformed ministry and made the recommendation on Jim Lucas’ candidacy. Considering that I graduated from the college and attended the seminary, I certainly know that.

  28. Richard

    I’m curious what exactly you would have us as elders do–demand our congregants reveal their political affiliation? And then–censure them if they vote Democrat?

    • Voting Democrat is not the problem. There are pro-life Democrats. One of our local high-profile conservative churches in this county had a member elected as a delegate to this year’s Democratic National Convention. Our former state senator was a member of the Missouri Democratic Party’s pro-life caucus. I don’t agree with then, obviously, but mere membership in the Democratic Party is not sinful.

      The main problem is voting for choice in baby-killing. Many other items on the Democratic Party agenda are items on which people of good will can disagree — a lot of things political questions involve implications of Scripture, not crystal clear teaching — but abortion and several other items such as homosexuality are no-go issues from a biblical perspective.

      Most of the time that comes up with elected officials, whose votes are public, but I certainly hope a conservative Reformed church would discipline somebody who was publicly advocating choice in baby killing, sodomy, and similar issues, even if they were not an elected official.

      With elected officials, it seems obvious to me that church discipline is required for people advocating abortion, homosexuality, etc. Until this weekend I didn’t know anybody in conservative Reformed circles disagreed on that point.

      • DTM, this is the problem with moralizing politics. Certain political conclusions aren’t necessarily about giving moral approval to particular behaviors. Is the political conclusion that false religionists should be able to practice freely their blasphemy and idolatry the same as morally approving it? If so, then maybe we need to discipline most conservative Calvinists who think that Mormons, Catholics, and Muslims should be so free.

      • ZRIm, it is also a biblical principle that one’s word, once given, must not be broken, even if a sworn oath is given to idolaters. That’s why the Roman Catholic decision to violate a safe-conduct and burn Jan Hus was wrong even if Hus was a heretic (which he wasn’t).

        As a nation, we made deliberate decisions to work with Roman Catholics in Maryland and significant numbers of Jewish merchants in New York and elsewhere. Both groups decided that they’d get better treatment from an independent American government than they would receive in England, and subsequent history proved them right.

        A similar decision was made with Mormons when Utah was admitted to statehood on condition of criminalizing polygamy.

        I may or may not like those decisions. Actually, I happen to agree with Oliver Cromwell that the decision with regard to Jewish people was precisely right, and given the political realities of the 1700s I probably would have agreed with the decision to seek help from Catholics in both Maryland and France. However, I’m bound by those decisions as an American citizen, just like the Israelites were bound by their decisions with regard to the Gibeonites.

        Personally I think the decision with regard to Mormons was seriously wrong and Mormonism should have been treated as a criminal problem, not a religion problem. In saying that I’m simply repeating the standard evangelical position of the late 1800s with regard to Utah, no matter how strange it may seem to some people today.

    • Just in case there’s any doubt about Sen. Scott Brown’s views, here’s an item in an article from the Washington Post. I’d include a link but I think this blog doesn’t accept links, or flags them for admin review. Here’s the headline and byline: “Scott Brown presses Republicans to be ‘more inclusive’ on abortion” Posted by Sean Sullivan on August 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      * Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) penned a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus urging more inclusiveness on the issue of abortion in the party’s 2012 platform. “Media reports indicate that the Platform Committee will consider draft language opposing a woman’s right to choose and supporting a constitutional amendment banning abortion. I believe this is a mistake because it fails to recognize the views of pro-choice Republicans like myself,” Brown wrote.

      Sen. Scott Brown is Christian Reformed. Today’s CRC will tolerate virtually anything except outspoken conservative Calvinism, but for Brown to be a member of the CRC does surprise me. Surely you don’t want someone like that as a member of an OPC or PCA congregation, do you?

      • Richard

        “Surely you don’t want someone like that as a member of an OPC or PCA congregation, do you?” You mean–a sinner, like you and me? Nah–we can’t have those in our congregation.

      • DTM, have you participated in church discipline as an elder? If so, you know it’s one thing to bluster about church discipline and another thing to do it. I’m wondering what scriptures would be the basis of your charges against Scott Brown. Off the top of my head I think you’re going to have to essentially prove it’s sin to be in favor of a societal structure that permits sin. If so the question will be if the charges could be used against virtually any politician that doesn’t attempt to enforce both tables of the law.

      • @ Richard, the issue is open advocacy of sin without any indications of being repentant. The issue is not admitting people to church membership who are guilty of grave sins who have repented of those sins.

        @ Mikelmann, I have served as a lay pastor of three churches. Every church discipline case in those churches with which I was personally involved was resolved without formal charges being necessary; either the person repented or left the church. None of those cases involved anything remotely resembling what we’re talking about here and all were issues on which pretty much any evangelical Christian would agree were issues of clear sin.

        Since then, I have assisted a church member in preparing his defense against church discipline charges which I considered unwarranted, and have observed several church discipline cases in which I didn’t have a formal role but was asked by elders for my advice.

        Perhaps more to the point, I also spent a decade dealing with numerous high-profile church discipline cases as a reporter and covered the cases as they moved from classis to synod, and in several cases was at the OPC General Assembly when it was processing the final appeal of some high-profile cases.

        I am very much aware of the painful attention to detail required to successfully prosecute a church discipline case if the person on the other side decides to appeal. At least from my experience, that almost never happens except 1) when a person’s main problem is an obnoxious personality, or 2) in high-profile cases where the person is charged with something which large numbers of people in his or her denomination don’t believe to be sin at all.

        Virtually all church discipline cases get dealt with by local elders, never generate a formal appeal, and probably don’t even lead to formal church action at the session/consistory level since the person either repents, shows openness to correction (in which church discipline is unwarranted), or gets mad and walks out of the church.

  29. DTM, you’ve already asked that question and I already answered it. Clearly you’re not listening to me, but now you’re not even listening to yourself. I’m getting bored, ask something new please.

  30. DTM, some may wonder if admitting Utah on condition of outlawing polygamy was a function or natural law sensibilities or orthodox Protestants wanting to stick it civilly to false religionists. Sure, it’s not tied to any particular religious expression, but with no known calls to kick New England states out of the union for legalizing gay marriage, it’s hard to tell.

    Still, most of Mormonism has been exorcised any of its anti-social elements, which is why it seems odd to people today to reckon Mormonism criminal. The question, then, still stands for you: is to politically conclude that the LDS should be able to openly practice all manner of false worship the same as morally approving it?

    • Zrim, I think there might be quite a few conservatives who would be very happy to kick not only the New England states but also California and a few other states out of the union if we thought they’d go away. It’s not going to happen, and for better or for worse, we’re stuck together. There is no point debating things that are politically beyond the remotest range of possibilities.

      The Mormon compromise was made more than a century ago and there’s nothing I can do about it. Just as Saul was blamed (correctly) for breaking the oath made centuries earlier by his forefathers with the Gibeonites, we’re stuck today as a nation with the consequences of decisions made by our forefathers.

      Likewise, when dealing with issues of the Christian foundations of the United States, we cannot draw a straight line from 1620 to 2012. I’m quite clear that we need to recognize that the Founders included not only men like Witherspoon but also men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. It is far too much to say the Founders were predominantly Deists, but it is accurate to say the Founders made room for not only a very wide variety of orthodox Protestant groups but also for Deism, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism. I’d point out to you that allowing toleration on the federal level is not the same as allowing toleration on the state level — three of the states continued to have tax-supported religious establishments into the early 1800s and the last one was not abolished until the 1830s — but I recognize that court decisions over the last century and a half have erased what was once an important distinction between federal toleration and state option of allowing stricter standards up to and including formal establishment of churches. (And no, I’m not calling for that, either — it was the orthodox party of New England Congregationalism who finally disestablished the churches of that state since all establishment was doing was making it easier for Unitarians to win legal battles when they were in the majority of a local parish but the minority of local church membership.)

      ZRim, a better question by you to me would be what should be done about Islam. If we lived in a better world, I would like to see Islam treated the way we treated Shinto temples during World War II — the religion and the politics were intertwined so closely that it was virtually impossible to distinguish the two.

      Realistically we’re not going to do that for reasons of pragmatic politics, but it would be biblically permissible. Whatever we do, the sooner we stop spouting nonsense about Islam being a “religion of peace,” the better off we’ll be in America since we’ll have wide-open eyes to see the dangers we face.

  31. Richard

    MLM is right. Trust us–we’re a couple of lawyers, and we have seen church discipline first hand, in my case according to our BCO, which was meticulously written. There isn’t a charge you could write against Scott Brown which would be sustained by any ecclesiastical court.

    • Richard, I know you’re both lawyers, and I understand that you care deeply about i-dotting and t-crossing, which is exactly what you should be doing.

      When you say “any ecclesiastical court,” I cannot concur, and I’m sure you concur that needs qualification. For example, if Brown were Roman Catholic he would be considered to automatically excommunicated. I have great difficulty imagining Sen. Scott Brown being able to remain in the RPCNA, the RCUS, the Canadian Reformed, or several other rather strict Reformed and Presbyterian denominations without being quickly excommunicated.

      Frankly, until this past weekend I didn’t know anyone disagreed with that in Reformed circles. I cannot think of any conservative Reformed church or pastor who I know personally who would tolerate a member in open and unrepentant defiance of the church’s pro-life position by being an elected official and advocating pro-abortion positions. I can think of some conservative Reformed ministers who have tolerated private members with seriously aberrant views on the abortion issue, but only so long as they kept their opinions quiet and did not discuss them with other church members or in a public context.

      I remember the explosion in the Christian Reformed Church nearly two decades ago when a Calvin Seminary professor, again in an interview with a Nederlands Dagblad reporter, was stupid enough to say that the issue of homosexuality is like abortion on which CRC ministers have different views. That professor very quickly backed down from his statement once it went public in the Netherlands and I had his article translated and reprinted in Christian Renewal — a lot of CRC liberals were quite upset and started to make it very clear that they opposed abortion. (Ironically, even Jim Lucas, the Christian Reformed homosexual minister who eventually lost his ordination, was pro-life at the time. I haven’t talked to Lucas in well over a decade and I have no idea what his views are now.)

      We all realize that most church discipline cases end with the person under discipline walking out of the church rather than waiting for the elders to finish their work and then appealing their decision, so it’s probably true that this has never come before the OPC or PCA general assemblies. However, would the PCA or OPC General Assemblies really overturn the decision of a local session to excommunicate an unrepentant advocate of abortion?

      I simply cannot see that happening.

      • DTM, you say over and over that everyone agrees with you, but the Church is not a matter of mob rule. The charges you write up have to credibly allege biblical sin. Really, I’m open to how that would go. I’ll even point to what seems like the most valid way of doing it. It wouldn’t be centered on the 6th commandment, because he is not having or causing an abortion. I’m thinking the strongest argument would be that he has sinned in his duty as a magistrate. So it would essentially be a charge that he has not used his powers as a magistrate (5th commandment) to attempt to make abortion (6th commandment) illegal.

        Some weaknesses jump out at me here. First, there is no credible evidence that it has ever been in Brown’s power to prohibit abortion. Moreover, it is likely that his position one way or another will not at all impact whether abortion will remain legal or become illegal. So basically, you would be charging Brown of promoting a policy that allows others to engage in a particular sin.

        In prosecuting Brown for holding the theory that this sin should be allowed, you are, of course, enforcing a different theory of how tightly the magistrate should regulate behavior. So then it’s somewhat back on you to prove that the Bible mandates a particular political philosophy and that Brown has violated that mandatory political philosophy. You see where this is headed, right? If you’re a reconstructionist, you at least have an easy response to this. But if you’re not, there are a lot of thorny questions for you to answer. Like, what other sins must a politician be in favor of outlawing? What is the full list of sins the politician must use the power of the state to discourage, detect, and prosecute? And you are going to prove that is the biblical position?

        So, if you can make out biblical charges, keep on beating the drum. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter what kind of consensus there is on the wrongheadedness of his position.

  32. DTM, no, my question to you is better than yours to you. I’m not sure what you’re avoiding. But my point is that advocating for a political arrangement in which the upshot is the potential breaking of God’s law isn’t the same as actually personally breaking God’s law. This actually raises the standard for discipline; to conflate the two would be to lower standards and invite ecclesiastical tyranny.

    You express bewilderment that anybody who has something less than a conservative view on reproductive legislation but presumably leads an upright moral life should be protected from discipline. But what I find surprising is how anyone who conceives himself as conservative would want to lower standards such that church authorities could be allowed to trample the political liberties of members.

    • Richard

      Zrim (Steve) is onto something–MLM pointed out in a blog post several months ago that there is a distinction in law concerning proximate cause. You are disciplining/punishing those who advocate in any way for a cause the same way you would punish those who commit the offense–say, that of abortion. The law does not work this way–but you expect church councils to track down those who advocate and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves. I’m not aware that, say, Nancy Pelosi has been excommunicated by the Catholic Church for her views.

      • Take a closer look at Roman Catholic doctrine. In the case of Nancy Pelosi, they teach automatic excommunication of pro-choice politicians regardless of whether or not the sentence has been formally pronounced by a bishop.

        I do not hold that view, obviously.

        Nor do i think that elders necessarily need to hunt down closet pro-aborts.

        The question is what to do when a member of a Reformed church publicly advocates a pro-choice position.

  33. Should Christ baptize our Politics? Should we baptize our politics? Where does the foundation lay for anything? It seems as if we are going back and forth and neglecting foundations. If Christ gives authority to a man and commands a man to confront the Civil and warn them to repent then that man has that duty!. He has nothing else to do in life but what Christ commands. He must teach every man every where that they are commanded to repent. Does that not also include Politicians if God commands every man everywhere? Sure Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world but that doesn’t mean that this world shouldn’t be subject to His Kingdom. In fact, because His Kingdom is not of this world but this World is of Him we should be submissive in all forms in my estimation.

    • RP, it gets a little more complicated than a few slogans. As a confessional matter, you have to account for:

      1. Yes, the moral law binds all: “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.”

      2. But God gave Israel, and no one else, a body of judicial laws: “To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.”

      3. Woe unto the person who enforces in the church what is not the law of God: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”

      • When Liberty of Conscience leads to the Libertine Doctrine we all have a lot of repenting to do. In my estimation abortion and homosexual issues are a lot worse than the practices of the Libertines and they were barred from communion. I believe I can account for the Confessional side of the issues. Yes, the Moral Law binds all. Are you suggesting that General Equity negates civil or church ecclesiastical authority from performing any disciplinary action? I know you aren’t. Either way, to claim that Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world as a reason to separate civil responsibility to God is misnomer in my estimation. As I noted His Kingdom is not of this world but ours is from His realm.. All of it.

      • RP, I’m trying to move away from sound bytes into how these things are actually applied to a politician, or to someone’s political philosophy. You don’t believe the magistrate should criminalize every jot and tittle of the moral law, right? Well, then someone who would criminalize all violations of the moral law would call you a libertine; not very productive, right?

        Who is your favorite politician? Don’t tell me, just think of who it is. Has he spearheaded a movement to criminalize all non-marital sex? If not, well, I guess he’s a libertine? There are decisions to be made about how exacting, how powerful, and how prying the magistrate should be, and those decisons will be based on what is more or less a philosophy of how our society should be structured. Do you see how allowing Mormonism is not the same as being a Mormon?

  34. Richard said…
    “You are disciplining/punishing those who advocate in any way for a cause the same way you would punish those who commit the offense–say, that of abortion. The law does not work this way–but you expect church councils to track down those who advocate and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves.”

    I am not so sure your equivocation is true. But the Church is to act according to His word and the Elders are to make distinctions and judge rightly as are any magistrate. I am not sure the Church needs to go track down anyone. Look at Misty Iron’s. There is no need to track her down. She openly defies God’s word.

    It seems that the problem isn’t that the Church is doing what you are saying but that the Church is doing nothing. In fact it is being rendered powerless by this dichotomization of law and gospel teaching. It is rendering discernment and judgment off limits even in the Church.

    In response to your equivocation I will post this passage of Scripture.

    (Mat 18:6) but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

    (Mat 18:7) “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

    (Mat 18:8) And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

    (Mat 18:9) And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

    (Mat 18:10) “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

  35. Richard

    Not an “equivocation,” but I’m telling you that the law is clear in defining “promixate cause” of a tort or crime. Is advocating for a cause the same as “causing you to sin”? Is this really the road we want to go down in disciplining church members? How about another verse–“first, take the log out of your own eye”?

  36. Richard,
    Please understand that I know the passage about the need to remove the log from my eye. Believe me Counselor, I have thrown my stones in glass warehouses and suffered the consequences. But that isn’t why I mentioned the passage I mentioned and find your rebuttal a little strange. That should be clear in light that it was a response to your post before. Do you think I have a log to remove before I respond with showing my point of reference? I know I have plenty of logs to remove and I am probably blind to more of them than I know about. Obviously or they wouldn’t be logs in my eye. But it does seem you are putting up a fence that isn’t there in my estimation. As I said, The Church doesn’t need to go looking for or track down anyone. Their sin goes before them and they reveal what they are openly. The Church doesn’t need to go crusading. It just needs to do what it is called to do. If prescription is followed mercy, grace, and justice are all friends and meet in one place, the Lord of Glory.

    Richard said…
    “You are disciplining/punishing those who advocate in any way for a cause the same way you would punish those who commit the offense–say, that of abortion. The law does not work this way–but you expect church councils to track down those who advocate and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves.”

    Back to me…
    Let me clarify what I am hearing you say. You seem to be saying that some are pushing for disciplinary action that is equivalent whether the sin be in action, propaganda, or in thought. If that is what you are communicating then I guess the severity of the situation may need to be considered. God is the ultimate Judge obviously but he has committed judgement to the Church also. Shouldn’t heresy be disciplined? It can lead to excommunication. It is something that is based upon ideology. Thus if someone is advocating that it is legal to murder then it should be reckoned with, don’t you think, on a more serious level then someone advocating a lesser offence. And you do seem to be indicating that there are levels of sin by your description of “advocating for a cause” in relationship to “those who commit the offense.” There are severity issues here. Even so I believe that it might be equivocation because, If I am not mistaken, there are channels to try to restore such a one and those levels must be met first. So the level of offence is probably considered by the Elders and the BCO of your denomination probably has prescription to deal with whatever the offence is. Correct me if I am incorrect, but he BCO probably puts a level of trust in the Leadership concerning judgment per prescription of the Bible also.

    Am I possibly seeing a strawman charge here. At least in a general way. I am wondering because I have been around the block and church for a while and I just am not getting the same point of reference to this situation you are. I could be incorrect. BTW, I too have been around the block a few times.

  37. Richard

    Let’s unravel this thread a little bit, then. How far would you go–how about voting for someone who in your words “advocates that it is legal to murder”? Should this be an offense which merits discipline? How about someone in my congregation who gives money to a Scott Brown–should this be an offense which merits discipline?

  38. Richard,

    Please back up. You aren’t answering my question, or are you? In all due respect brother, you made a claim and I asked you if I was understanding you correctly. Did I understand what you were saying? And Remember I did mention that the Church doesn’t need to go “tracking down.” Please remember that. You were the one making the accusations if I remember.

  39. Richard

    Umm . . . maybe you have me confused with someone else. As I recall, you have several times accused me of “equivocation.”

  40. “You are disciplining/punishing those who advocate in any way for a cause the same way you would punish those who commit the offense–say, that of abortion. The law does not work this way–but you expect church councils to track down those who advocate and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves.”

    You said the above right? You are not responding to my posts and what I have said concerning this. I guess we can do this all night long if you want but I would prefer it if you would reply to my posts so I can establish if we can even communicate on any level.

    I asked you if I was understanding your comment a few posts above. Can you reread it and tell me if I was understanding and interpreting your comment correctly?

  41. Mikelmann,

    The reply button under your last post isn’t showing up so that I may reply to your last question.

    • RP, just comment anywhere. I’ll find it.

      Sent from my iPhone

      • rpcnacovenanter

        I can be patient if someone can fix it so it can be read in sequence. Things done slowly and in order can be most beneficial. In fact if I respond slower I can usually eliminate a lot of my own misunderstandings. And I can misunderstand people quite easily. Slow is good.

      • RP I’m not sure if I can do that. You can always quote whatever you are responding to.

  42. Richard

    “Should Christ baptize our politics?” That question? I’m afraid you will get more equivocation from me. As MLM points out, these are slogans–without any coherent definition. The first rule of answering is to define our terms. “Should we baptize our politics?” Again, we can’t speak with sound bytes. What in plain English do you mean?

  43. Counselor, ie Richard,
    My response to you was outside of the question of whether Christ should baptize our Politics. It was specific and in relation to a response you made to Darrell (DTM). Now, I will ask you again as you seem to be good at avoiding my conversation with you, am I understanding your comment that you directed toward Darrell as I asked you a few posts above. Can you reread it and tell me if I was understanding and interpreting your comment correctly?

    This is the comment you made.
    “You are disciplining/punishing those who advocate in any way for a cause the same way you would punish those who commit the offense–say, that of abortion. The law does not work this way–but you expect church councils to track down those who advocate and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves.”

    This was my questioning and comment in trying to make sure I understood you.

    “Let me clarify what I am hearing you say. You seem to be saying that some are pushing for disciplinary action that is equivalent whether the sin be in action, propaganda, or in thought. If that is what you are communicating then I guess the severity of the situation may need to be considered. God is the ultimate Judge obviously but he has committed judgement to the Church also. Shouldn’t heresy be disciplined? It can lead to excommunication. It is something that is based upon ideology. Thus if someone is advocating that it is legal to murder then it should be reckoned with, don’t you think, on a more serious level then someone advocating a lesser offence. And you do seem to be indicating that there are levels of sin by your description of “advocating for a cause” in relationship to “those who commit the offense.” There are severity issues here. Even so I believe that it might be equivocation because, If I am not mistaken, there are channels to try to restore such a one and those levels must be met first. So the level of offence is probably considered by the Elders and the BCO of your denomination probably has prescription to deal with whatever the offence is. Correct me if I am incorrect, but he BCO probably puts a level of trust in the Leadership concerning judgment per prescription of the Bible also.”

    I can answer Mikelmann and will. I will and hopefully you will allow me the courtesy to do it in sequence. I also hope you will be patient with me as I hope to be with you all. Quick discussions can be rather flippant and terribly misunderstood. I don’t want to be misunderstood and I don’t want to misunderstand anyone.

    The “baptize our politics” comment was sort of in response to a previous post that was made. I agree with you that one must define terms to be understood. So here is where that phrase was first mentioned in this comment section. https://presbyterianblues.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/why-preachers-should-stay-away-from-legal-analyis-too/#comment-1014 .

    I was just responding to that contextually.

    My response to you was more precise and basically on a different matter. I have repeatedly asked you to help us understand your comment. You seem to be neglecting that. Will you help me now in my pursuit of trying to understand you. I have repeatedly asked you specific questions to help us understand what you are saying so that I am not making a mistake about your claim to Darrell but you seem to be in diversion mode.

    • Richard

      OK, RPC, I appreciate your graciousness. Now, please repeat your question–I got lost somewhere, probably my ADD due to computer over-use.

      • Counselor,
        Thanks for your patience. I really appreciate it. I might be slow at this since I have a lot on my plate. I helped host a Reformation Society meeting today. I also helped hosting a Study tonight. I also moderate a Theological Discussion forum. I hope that the slowness of the discussion doesn’t make you want to depart from it as I hope to learn from this.

        Richard said…
        “You are disciplining/punishing those who advocate in any way for a cause the same way you would punish those who commit the offense–say, that of abortion. The law does not work this way–but you expect church councils to track down those who advocate and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves.”

        Back to me…
        Let me clarify what I am hearing you say. You seem to be saying that some are pushing for disciplinary action that is equivalent whether the sin be in action, propaganda, or in thought. If that is what you are communicating then I guess the severity of the situation may need to be considered. God is the ultimate Judge obviously but he has committed judgement to the Church also. Shouldn’t heresy be disciplined? It can lead to excommunication. It is something that is based upon ideology. Thus if someone is advocating that it is legal to murder then it should be reckoned with, don’t you think, on a more serious level then someone advocating a lesser offence. And you do seem to be indicating that there are levels of sin by your description of “advocating for a cause” in relationship to “those who commit the offense.” There are severity issues here. Even so I believe that it might be equivocation because, If I am not mistaken, there are channels to try to restore such a one and those levels must be met first. So the level of offence is probably considered by the Elders and the BCO of your denomination probably has prescription to deal with whatever the offence is. Correct me if I am incorrect, but he BCO probably puts a level of trust in the Leadership concerning judgment per prescription of the Bible also.

        Am I hearing you say,..
        That some are pushing for disciplinary action that is equivalent whether the sin be in action, propaganda, or in thought.? You say the law doesn’t work this way. Are you sure this is true for all situations?

        You seem to be implying this is wrong if I am hearing you correctly. Would this be a wrong action to take in every situation? I am asking because I can state some laws in my state where you don’t have to commit the actual crime but you can be charged as if you did by your very presence and partial motive in a crime.

        2.)Can you tell me who is advocating for Church Councils to track down those who advocate (maybe issues of homosexuality or abortion) and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves?

        At the same time is it not profitable for the Church to bring up charges and perform discipline concerning heresy or gross immorality?

        I really don’t want to add too many questions here as it will get too lengthy and the discussion can rabbit trail and become totally unprofitable.

        Thanks Counselor.

  44. Mikelmann said….

    “RP, I’m trying to move away from sound bytes into how these things are actually applied to a politician, or to someone’s political philosophy. You don’t believe the magistrate should criminalize every jot and tittle of the moral law, right? Well, then someone who would criminalize all violations of the moral law would call you a libertine; not very productive, right?

    Who is your favorite politician? Don’t tell me, just think of who it is. Has he spearheaded a movement to criminalize all non-marital sex? If not, well, I guess he’s a libertine? There are decisions to be made about how exacting, how powerful, and how prying the magistrate should be, and those decisons will be based on what is more or less a philosophy of how our society should be structured. Do you see how allowing Mormonism is not the same as being a Mormon?”

    I can appreciate that brother. And it is hard to distinguish the lines sometimes. As a confessional matter we know where the WCF landed in 1647. It really doesn’t move that much in the Revision does it?

    My question and response is not a sound byte. I was responding (quite unclearly) to a previous post that stated, “I don’t want my pastor baptizing my politics.” All things will be judged and that warning should be made in the civil arena as well as the Church. Civil sin is still sin and men need to rule righteously.

    Now the Libertine dispute as you well probably know had to do with the Church and the behavior that the Sate (civil law) said was permissible. It was a problem of admittance to the Lord’s table and communion in the Covenant Community. The Church (ie. Calvin) rightly took his office serious and opposed the civil ruling and called sin what it was and wouldn’t allow the Lord’s table to be profaned. We are in a similar situation here as the Church is supposed to call sin what it is and clearly communicate what that communal life is supposed to be under the authority of Messiah the Prince. So the Libertine context is actually very applicable here in my estimation.

    I know I didn’t take the discussion to where you wanted me to take it and I can but I would appreciate it if I could remain in the context of where I placed it as I actually was responding to a context.

    • Quick comment — In fairness to the Two Kingdoms people commenting on this thread, I think they would disagree with your statement that “As a confessional matter we know where the WCF landed in 1647. It really doesn’t move that much in the Revision does it?”

      I cannot speak for ZRim, Mikelmann, or Richard; I don’t know precisely what they believe on this point and I don’t remember asking. However, in the minds of a fair number of Two Kingdoms advocates, this **IS** a key point of departure. Dr. R. Scott Clark, for example, says that while Reformed Christianity has never been theonomic (I agree with him), it was once theocratic but no longer is. He would point to the WCF revisions and comparable revisions in the Belgic Confession as examples of how Reformed Christianity changed in its view of church-state relations.

      My response is to look at the actual history of men like Witherspoon, the moderator of the First General Assembly, president of what is now Princeton, member of the New Jersey legislature, member of the Continental Congress, signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and advocate for ratification of the Constitution, and say that if this man was part of the American revision of the Westminster Confession, it’s pretty obvious there wasn’t a radical change from 1647 to the late 1700s in the views of Presbyterians on how they as Christians should be involved in the state, but rather what changed was their view of what invovlement the state should have in their churches.

      Virtually nobody today in the Reformed world wants the civil government calling synods or mandating unbelievers to pay taxes to the church. That’s a red herring.

      I think most of us would recoil with horror at the idea of President Bill Clinton or President Barack Obama (or even Mitt Romney) convening and setting the agenda for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church or the PCA. Even our better presidents such as Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes were members of local churches that could never join the PCA or OPC. The Southern Baptist Convention had enough trouble trying to figure out how to deal with the “messengers” (i.e., delegates) from Bill Clinton’s church, and they were able to avoid many of the problems because they don’t have a connectional form of church government. Imagine the PCA or OPC having to deal with an overture demanding that Nancy Reagan be subjected to church discipline for consulting astrologers, or a demand to deal with the misbehavior of Bush’s daughters.

      Apart from a soundly converted Christian magistrate and an ecclesiastical structure in its infancy, as was the case in the early days of the Reformation, having civil government involved in the affairs of the church is and ought to be unthinkable. Even then it creates major problems, as has been pointed out with regard to the Genevan controversy over who could control the communion table.

      The real issue is how involved Christians should be in the affairs of civil government, not how involved civil government should be in the affairs of the church.

      That is the question before us.

  45. RPC, do you distinguish between wisdom and morality? Would you agree that there is an important difference between acting unwisely and acting immorally?

    • I don’t understand where your question connects or what you are trying to get at Z. Can you help me? What in any of my previous posts causes you to ask this so I know how to respond?

      Thanks Darrell for the clarification.

  46. DTM, I’m confused. What do you mean you don’t hold that RCC view? The implication of your words here pretty clear that the answer to the question you pose about what to do with members of Reformed churches that have choice politics is discipline. What am I missing?

  47. What I meant was that sentences of excommunication are not automatically incurred — what Roman Catholics call “latae sententiae” excommunication, i.e., that the sentence has already been passed — but instead, excommunication must be determined by the courts of the church. I’m simplifying greatly here, but Catholic doctrine on this point is that people who commit certain types of sins incur automatic excommunication apart from any ecclesiastical action. Reformed doctrine is very different on how excommunication is to be done.

    Again, Catholic doctrine is complicated on this point and I’m not being entirely fair to the Catholics. I’m trying to point out how different their doctrine is on this point from ours without getting into details.

    The relevant canons 751, 1364, and 1398 in the code of canon law, together with their accepted interpretations in the Roman Catholic Church.

    The relevant canons read as follows:

    Canon 1398: “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

    Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

    Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

    Canon 1398 bars actual abortions. The Roman Catholic Church believes that to advocate women having a legal right to obtain abortions is heresy, which is where Canons 751 and 1364 come into play.

    If we want to get into the details of Roman Catholic doctrine on excommunication, we can do so, but I suspect it’s a side point not terribly relevant to the main discussion.

    Canon 1364 is the key to understanding the status of people like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, John Kerry, many in the Kennedy family, and others. They’re essentially in a “no man’s land” where they’ve been told they should consider themselves excommunicated but it’s up to the local parish priest to enforce it. Apart from a direct order from a bishop to the priests, it’s not that difficult to find sympathetic parish priests or friends in the clergy who will conduct private Masses.

    To repeat my point — automatic excommunication apart from ecclesiastical action is not Reformed and I do not advocate it. I do advocate excommunication of people who advocate legalization baby killing (and being pro-choice is in that category). Until this weekend I didn’t know anybody in the conservative Reformed world who disagreed on that point.

    • DTM we’re all in favor of appropriate discipline. But what should we read into your seeing no need to actually say what the biblical basis for charges is?

      • What we should read into that is that you’re a good lawyer and we don’t have a judge in the courtroom to demand that I answer your questions and nothing but your questions. 😉

        The biblical basis for the charges would, by necessity, depend on the specifics of the individual case — and that’s where ecclesiastical lawyers get involved, and the case gets nitpicked into the nanosphere at presbytery and general assembly. I strongly believe that defense counsel play a crucial role in assuring the integrity of the judicial process in both church and state, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t at times annoying to deal with in their superfluous objections and occasional valid points.

        The broad outlines of a general case, without respect to specific individuals, probably would include that teaching people that it is acceptable to commit murder of babies is teaching false doctrine. (By the way, anyone advocating vigilante murder of abortion clinic doctors should be excommunicated for the same reason. Even murderers ought not to be put to death without a trial.)

        In nearly all cases, contumacy probably needs to be added to the charges since I assume anyone publicly teaching a pro-choice position would have previously been rebuked numerous times by the local elders, and have persisted in publicly advocating false doctrine. On the other hand, if New England Chapel were not Christian Reformed but rather were a URC, OPC or PCA church with a member like Sen. Scott Brown, the entire consistory or session probably would need to be brought up on charges for failing to do its job, and in that case maybe Brown would not be charged with contumacy.

        In many cases, evidence could be brought that the person’s public advocacy of false doctrine was causing confusion. False teachers usually get believed by at least a few people, and that is a very serious consequence. If it could be shows that someone actually obtained an abortion as a result of the false teaching, that could be an additional charge.

        In the case of a civil magistrate, I think still more charges might be biblically warranted, and in some cases might be practically possible. Let’s say a pro-choice elected official who was a member of a PCA or OPC congregation decided to cast the final vote that prevented re-criminalization of abortion. That probably would be worthy of an additional charge. Practically speaking, however, I’d prefer to focus on showing the effects of the church member’s false and heretical teaching in people’s personal lives rather than the civil government. We can usually show specific cases where people were confused by false doctrine and heresy. It is much harder in most cases to show the consequences of a specific pro-choice vote, unless it is the initial vote to decriminalize abortion.

        I’ve given only a general outline here. Far more could be said, and in dealing with specific individuals usually would be said.

        My read of the situation is that Sen. Scott Brown is confused and he’s sitting in a local Christian Reformed church which is not exactly helping end his confusion.

        Pastoral realities may mean that a person could be advocating seriously aberrant doctrine and benefit more from private spiritual counsel than public church discipline. Repentance is, of course, the goal.

        I doubt very much that if Sen. Brown were regularly attending most OPC or PCA congregations, that his confusion would still be there. He would have been, I hope, confronted privately with the clear teaching of the gospel on murdering babies and would either have shown signs of repentance or walked out of the church.

        Much can be told by someone’s response to right doctrine.

      • DTM I’m writing as an elder. As an elder I need to distinguish my extra-biblical preferences from the law of God. So I don’t see it as nitpicking to show what scriptures have been violated

        To begin with an aside, I don’t believe in throwing contumacy onto a pile of charges. If contumacy is the central problem that’s another matter.

        Scott Brown is the accused. You seem to think charges are a no-brainer. The charge of false teaching is one step removed from being responsive. And if you can provide the scriptures I still wouldn’t think a political position reported to a newspaper is teaching.

        Sent from my iPhone

      • I’m sitting in a sewer board meeting right now so I can’t be fully responsive at the moment, and may not be able to respond adequately until later tonight. (County sewer board, followed by a municipal park board, followed by a school board — this county has had massive problems with sewer issues including tens of thousands of gallons of raw sewage spilling onto people’s property, and virtually the entire board’s membership has been replaced, so major problems can happen on this board with angry residents. I trust the issues at park boards and school boards are obvious.)

        Some quick points:

        1. Nitpicking is not necessarily a negative in my mind. I called the chairman of your presbytery’s committee to review presbytery records the presbytery’s “nitpicker in chief.” Nits turn into nasty lice, and getting rid of them when still in the egg is a good idea.

        2. One thing I appreciate about the OPC is your desire to be precise. I do not often see that in evangelical circles. In other Reformed denominations, process and procedure are often abused to defend heresy. In your denomination I think we can take such tactics at face value, namely, trying to prevent the sorts of abuse that led to Machen’s deposition.

        3. You’re correct that I thought until this last weekend this was obvious that a pro-choice politician would be disciplined by the OPC or the PCA or pretty much any other conservative Reformed denomination. To pursue this more I probably need to re-read the OPC and PCA position statements on abortion. I’m more familiar with the CRC fight on the issue.

        4. If, as I am assuming is the case, the OPC and PCA have both declared that abortion is murder, would it be permissible for an OPC or PCA member to run for office declaring as part of his platform that if elected he would support legalized murder of everybody over the age of 75 who couldn’t prove their ability to work and thus not be a burden on society? How about murder of infants up to age five who have handicaps likely to become a burden on society for the rest of their lives? More realistically, how about an OPC member who shot an abortionist and claimed his view of Reformed theology allowed him to act on his own if the civil magistrates failed to prosecute abortionists? (That last case is a real situation — the guy was excommunicated from a Reformed church before he fired the gun, fortunately.)

        I think it should be obvious that some political positions are worthy of church discipline because they violate the confessional standards. The question is whether a denomination is going to enforce the standards.

      • DTM, if this is something you don’t want to take up then, fine, maybe another day. To be clear, I don’t consider it a trick to actually think out how charges would be established. I think it clarifies whether certain actions actually are chargeable offenses. I could draw up charges against someone who has had an abortion or who has performed an abortion easy enough, but hypothetical charges against Scott Brown for what you have quoted here are not actually like those charges.

        The specification for Scott Brown would be something like “on such and such a date, Scott Brown promoted the idea that abortions should remain legal.” This specification is not like “…Scott Brown performed an abortion.” It is more like “on such and such a date, elected official Smith promoted the idea that nonmarital sex should remain legal.” And then the prosecution would have to think about why this specification is not like “on such and such a date, elected official Smith advocated that heresy should remain legal.” The prosecutor would have to make the case that the Bible definitively tells us that magistrates must take contrary positions.

        There’s another wrinkle that may have some relevance. Our elected officials in Washington take a vow to uphold the Constitution. Well, now it is settled law that the Constitution agrees with Scott Brown on abortion. So, if Scott Brown says that he must be in favor of legalized abortion because of that vow, what then? FWIW, I think Roe v. Wade is bad constitutional law, but my thoughts don’t overturn Roe v. Wade.

        So I hope you at least see that this is not a slam dunk charge directly from the 6th commandment, and it’s not a personal approval of abortion. It takes more than a fuzzy consenus to rightfully convict a man of sin.

      • I’m at the municipal park board and they’re discussing whether there are enough mops in the city-owned community center for an upcoming event, so I’m reading this thread and the new comments. Tape recorders are useful for paying perfect attention to things I don’t think require my full attention.

        I continue to be shocked that this issue of pro-choice politicians is even an issue under discussion.

        The issue, as I see it, is whether people can advocate something Monday through Saturday in the secular world which they can’t advocate inside the walls of the church on Sunday. A dualism in our lives inside and outside the church is not something we should desire.

        A closely related issue is whether someone can advocate publicly something defined by the church as heresy — but that presumes what I must first research, namely, the details of the official OPC position on abortion.

        I need to take the time to re-read the OPC’s official position on abortion before I say much else. If the position statement is anything like the comparable statements I’ve seen for other denominations, it will address at least some of the matters that are being discussed on this thread.

        The OPC is nothing if not precise when it comes to questions of theology, and I need to read the official position statement before I say much more on this matter.

      • DTM: Mops? Sounds like a blast.

        But you can save your time on looking up the OPC position on abortion. The OPC would not sustain charges based on an OPC report; charges have to be based on the scriptures, with secondary standards optional to support a certain understanding of those scriptures. I’m confident that an abortion (when the mother’s life is not threatened by the pregnancy) would be considered to be a sin at any level of the OPC.

        I don’t get much of a sense that you’re really reading my comments. If you’re just going to come back to say you are shocked and everyone agrees with you, it’s probably time for both of us to move on to other things.

      • Sitting in my car between meetings, can’t deal with this now.

        FWIW, I am reading the comments on this website closely. But you’re right that I need to demonstrate that better in my responses. I simply cannot do that now.

        I will follow up.

  48. DTM, thanks. Based on what you’ve provided, it’s not clear to me that the RCC automatically excommunicates based on political views—I see language only pertaining to personal behavior, not political views. I see you knitting some things together that I don’t see necessarily implied by your citations. Maybe they do, in which case I could still wonder why a Protestant would want to take ecclesiastical cues from Rome. Maybe because you think Rome gets it right on this one. I don’t, for the reasons I have stated.

    Not to open another can of worms, but you can have Rome on disciplining for political views. When it comes to another area liberty—education—I’ll take the RCC Catechism 2229 over the PRC’s efforts to bind the consciences of officers on the matter of day schooling (and even the language of URC CO Art. 14 to “promote godly schooling”):

    2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.

    • ZRim, you also need to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the the Fifth Commandment (they number the commandments differently), in paragraphs 2270-2275.

      Roman Catholic teaching makes some things into heresy that obviously we would not want to say are heresy, but the position that pro-choice politicians are excommunicated is pretty clear Catholic teaching. Spend some time looking at how the Catholic Church dealt with groups like “Catholics for a Free Choice.”

      These are not minor issues.

      Key citations:

      Paragraph 2273 : “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation,” which also refers to paragraph 1930: “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.”

      You also want to read the document Donum Vitae, key sections of which read as follows and are cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

      “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”

      “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined…. As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”

  49. Richard

    MLM is right about drafting charges. This isn’t a matter of “nitpicking,” but it requires careful drafting; I do this daily in my profession. Some of us in this post think we can just make it up as we go along–wrong. The offender must have been placed on notice that he has violated a portion of the law of God–and not that the church is generally angry at him because he has a different political view point than the majority of congregants. It doesn’t work this way in the common kingdom of man, and it shouldn’t in God’s redemptive kingdom.

    • We have no disagreement about the need to be specific and clear in drafting charges. The OPC is good about that in ways I rarely see in a church context. That’s a good thing.

      From what I see elsewhere, ecclesiastical charges are routinely drafted poorly and sometimes done so badly that any appeal would be virtually automatically affirmed, but generally by that time the parties involved are mad enough that they just walk out of the church unless they want to make a point and fight.

      We don’t know each other, but let’s just say I’m known as being very, very, very careful on details. A fair number of people have thought, incorrectly, that I went to law school. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told in church circles some version of, “Stop thinking like a lawyer, Darrell, and stop defending that jerk!” Trying to tell people that if they were in his shoes they’d want the protections of the church order often does not work.

      Drafting of municipal ordinances and legal documents is often not much better than what I see in church circles; sometimes even state legislation gets drafted by junior attorneys who don’t know what they’re doing and the language has to get cleaned up. (That’s a big argument against term limits for legislators, by the way — in the old days, committee chairmen, even if they weren’t lawyers, knew their committee’s subject area well enough to tell the lawyers that what they had drafted won’t work, or to explain why some strange language in a state law was written two decades ago to address a specific problem that would re-emerge if it got deleted or amended.) I get annoyed pointing out errors to municipal attorneys, both in language and in substance of documents, and asking to speak with lawyers outside of city council meetings to advise them that the city council they’re representing is about to do something violating state law that the lawyer hasn’t advised them is illegal.

      I have no time to deal with more now. I just want to affirm the importance of being detailed in charges and specification of error.

      When charges are drafted badly, really bad things can happen quickly.

  50. The OPC appears to have two official statements on this issue, both dating back to the early 1970s.



    I’m reading.

  51. RPC, I’m going to go old school and just carry on without the reply buttons. It’s just easier to keep track.

    As to my question, I asked whether you make a distinction between wisdom and morality as a general response as I read your comments. I can’t point to anything specific, but I might as well ask it of DTM. And it’s because it seems to me that those who assume that political views are the same as personal morality (and thus want certain politics disciplined in the same way personal morality is) tend also to be those who also don’t make much distinction between wisdom and morality, the latter swallowing up the former.

    And so I wonder if you recognize the important difference between behaving foolishly and behaving badly. Maybe you do. But if you did then I don’t see how the distinction I am trying to make between political views and personal behavior is such a problem. I’ll give you my favorite analogy (indulge me). What would you say to a friend who is a married man and is carrying on secretly but licitly with another woman? Is he behaving foolishly or immorally? Does his behavior require advice and warning or does it deserve judgment and discipline? It seems to me that if we really make the distinction between wisdom and morality we answer in the former. Turning to the question of political discernment and moral behavior, do our believing friends who hold choice politics deserve a push back aligning with wisdom or one aligned with morality? I’m saying the former, and what that looks like to me is a political or reasonable push back, not a moral or spiritual shove.

    I get that we on the anti-abortion side of the table find ourselves at the bottom of the social and political heap, and for many of us it can be frustrating. But I worry more about taking swings below the belt that end up morally and spiritually bullying those with whom we simply disagree politically. I worry about how it reflects an overestimation of politics and an underestimation of spiritual care.

    • ZRIM,

      I forgot about this and got sidetracked with other issues.
      I believe I understand the differences you are making between behaviour. My problem with what I understand you saying is that you are dichotomizing the situation to far apart. Let’s take your analogy of the man who is secretly involved with another woman. It seems you want to put wisdom and morality on different levels or in different categories as if one is separated from the other in totality. . It seems as if you are separating them far apart and that there is no cross relationship between moral behavior and wise or foolish behavior. After all orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. They are related to each other and are distinct but not dichotomized or opposed.. And this is one of the root problems as I see it with Modern Reformed Thought. I have written a bit on that topic and from what I see this dichotomization of law and grace (gospel) are a big problem and leading to all of this mess.

  52. Richard

    Please don’t call me “counselor,” it’s Richard, I’m overly sensitive about my vocation since I’ve heard all the lawyer jokes I can stand.
    Yes, “heresy” is an offense subject to discipline according to our BCO, although please I’m not a BCO expert compared to other elders. My recollection is the BCO distinguishes between private and public sins, but I can’t give you verbatim since I don’t have the BCO at hand right now.
    Yes, the level of offense is considered by us as a session (of elders), but, as MLM points out, we need to consider/frame charges which violate the moral law.
    Yes, you are correct the law generally states you can be charged with a crime as an aider or abettor. I’m not a criminal law expert, I practice employment law, so MLM can better explain this than I can since this is more his daily practice I expect.
    “Gross immorality” should be subject to discipline, although again I don’t have access to the BCO and my recollection is there is a divide between public and private sins. I’ll have to consult the BCO when I get home.

    • Actually Richard, I hold Lawyers in high esteem. So I was using the term Counselor in relationship to due respect. it was not a put down. A Counselor should be one who is revered because of the immense responsibility and accountability. Some of my best friends are Lawyers and they are good men whether they be liberal or conservative in my estimation. I have good friends who are very liberal to very conservative.

      My equivocation statement had to do with your accusations of tracking down and disciplining for sin without variance. It just seemed like a strawman argument that really didn’t paint the situation truthfully. I am sure I see things like that too sometimes. I have been guilty of equivocation when I shouldn’t have been. That is why I asked you if you could…. 2.)Can you tell me who is advocating for Church Councils to track down those who advocate (maybe issues of homosexuality or abortion) and discipline them for expressing their views as if they committed the actual offense themselves?

  53. My biggest question is why he is willing to fall on his sword for the sake of Mitt Romney.

  54. Reblogged this on Literate Comments and commented:
    My question is why is he willing to fall on his sword for the sake of Mitt Romney?

    • Maybe because the only realistic alternative is worse?

      I personally won’t criticize someone who can’t in good conscience vote for Romney. I cannot see how a Bible-believing Christian can vote for Obama.

      • DTM, I’m favoring Romney mostly for economic reasons, but I can see how a Christian could vote for Obama. One could say that the abortion issue is mostly a red herring because, no matter who we elect, there will still be a constiutional right to abortion in 4 years. That person could also say that the whole gay marriage issue is overstated in importance for the presidential election because there isn’t going to be a new federal law on that issue, and moreover, that should be an issue decided on a state level. That person might then express a belief that a Christian should be in favor of economic compassion that is expressed in Obama’s view of welfare. S/he could also say racism is a sin, and another 4 years of a black president will tend to undermine that sin.

        So I’m not going to tell my church-going secretary that she isn’t a Christian because she is voting for Obama.

      • heetderks

        Darrell, if a member in good standing of your church were to sport an Obama bumper sticker and when asked admitted he would be voting for Obama, would you expect your session to do something about it, i.e. discipline that person?

      • Heetdirks, I cannot imagine anyone in the church voting for Obama. I am definitely **NOT** a Ron Paul supporter, but there were more Ron Paul bumper stickers than for any other candidate. Several of the people consider me to be somewhat liberal because I’m willing to vote for Democrats under certain circumstances, and I’ve been challenged before for my belief that Christians can under some circumstances vote for a Democrat.

        (Full disclosure: I voted for Rick Santorum in the Missouri Republican Primary, and in my county caucus voted for the delegate slate which had the least number of Mitt Romney supporters, not because I believed Rick Santorum was the ideal candidate but rather because I believed he was the only candidate left by the time of the primary and caucus who had a realistic chance of stopping Mitt Romney.)

        I do, however, know an evangelical Christian in my county who is not only a local Democratic Party activist but also was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention this year. Since she is a black member of a mostly white charismatic church whose pastor is very active in politics, I think the church may giving her somewhat of a “free pass” on her support for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. It probably helps that she’s known as a pro-life activist and has been pretty insistent in Democratic Party circles that they remember that lots of black Democrats are Christians and pro-life.

        If you’re going to be a Democrat, I think being an aggressively pro-life Democrat is pretty much mandatory. Silence is acquiescence to abortion in the Democratic Party, and acquiescence to mass murder of babies is not an option for Christians.

  55. heetderks

    MM, those are some plausible reasons why a Christian might vote for Obama, even though I don’t agree. But I think we also need to allow for the fact that some of our brothers and sisters will vote for Obama for reasons of habit (“I’ve always been a Democrat”) or because they think the other candidate is personally offensive or who knows what else.

    What I think is potentially injurious in all this (among other things) is that our OPC or PCA congregations are seen as places where party affiliation matters as much as our identity in Christ. If anything that happens in our worship is going to offend an unbeliever (or us partially-sanctified saints), it needs to be the Gospel, not our digressions into politics.

    • I agree. See my earlier post When Political Shunning Becomes Ecclesiastical Shunning.

    • Okay, let me first say that in principle I agree with you. Party politics are different from ideological politics.

      Especially here in the South, cases do happen in which the Democrat is considerably more conservative than the Republican, or has a lot more demonstrated experience and competence in advocating for conservative Christian positions which both candidates say they uphold.

      If anyone doubts my sincerity on that point, I was a finalist for a national religion reporting award, along with reporters for major national news organizations such as CNN and the New York Times, for my coverage of the 2010 campaign of a Republican member of a Mennonite church who ran against the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Virtually nobody believed she had a chance against a 36-year incumbent until the last month of the campaign, and then my reporting on the race ended up being basically the only “road map” anyone had on the two candidates, and especially on the Republican’s views of what it meant to be a Christian politician, so my work ended up getting used by a lot of other national level reporters as a basis for their own stories.

      That happened because I had I spent I don’t know how much time reading her books, listening to tapes of her pastor’s sermons, reviewing the history of her church’s pretty aggressive involvement in local politics, reviewing comments by people who had attended her church, etc.

      It became clear that for her church, over an extended period of time going back at least a decade and probably longer, opposition to homosexuality had become a core issue more important than pacifism or other historic Mennonite doctrines. Her church’s opposition to homosexuality had led the church many years earlier to leave a mainline Mennonite denomination and join a smaller and much more conservative Mennonite group which had officially allowed churches and individuals to hold a variety of views on the legitimacy of serving in the military and law enforcement. Think of a church leaving the PC(USA) and joining the EPC or PCA rather than the OPC because it was strongly evangelical but not so committed to its historic doctrinal distinctives, and you’ll probably have a good parallel to what happened with this group of evangelical Mennonites.

      Bottom line — it became clear that while the Republican candidate clearly didn’t know very much about the military, she wasn’t just saying things to get elected, and as a former state legislator and key leader of the Missouri campaign to amend the state constitution to ban homosexual marriage, she had taken positions for many years that were at major variance from historic Mennonite views.

      Most Republicans understood I was just doing my job by doing some pretty extensive investigations into the Republican candidate’s views and those of her church. Being a finalist for a national religion reporting award made that pretty clear. However, two years later, I still have fellow conservatives who are furious with me for supposedly doing a “hatchet job” on a Republican to benefit a Democrat.

      But let’s change the issue a bit.

      Some issues which are clearly moral also have political implications. Just as what a church believes about “just war” theory will affect how its members act in elected office, what a church teaches about many other things will affect how their members act in their personal and business lives.

      I could easily imagine a Reformed pastor preaching on the importance of thrift and personal financial responsibility. (Frankly, in the modern era, if pastors aren’t preaching or at least teaching on those issues, they badly need to be.) Scripture has a great deal to say about finances and financial management, and the qualifications for eldership include ruling one’s household well which include financial affairs.

      However, preaching and teaching on those issues also has political implications.

      If someone gets offended by sermons or classes on those subjects, frankly, it’s not the pastor’s problem.

      Just because a topic has political implications and can offend people isn’t a reason to avoid preaching on the subject.

      • Darrell,

        From the statement “a particular passage of scripture has political implications” it does not necessarily follow that a preacher should wade into particular political implications, since that is the very thing that people often legitimately disagree on. For a preacher to give the impression that there is “the” Christian or Biblical political response to a matter (i.e. one that can be shown to be clearly taught by scripture and supported by our confessions to the exclusion of all other conclusions) is to make a serious error. Abortion is one thing (and even then a pastor has to be aware of the limits what he can legitimately say as “thus saith the Lord”), how much less so matters of economic policy, an area that can also tempt pastors into offering their own personal opinions as implications of the text.

        If a person leaves worship Sunday thinking “it sure seemed like the point of that sermon was to move me to adopt a particular political position or vote in a particular way” there may well be a problem, and it may be the fault of of the pastor.

  56. DTM, thanks for the background.
    To be clear, nothing I have said is based on trying to avoid offense.

    • No problem. I was responding mostly to Heetdirks.

      Side point — as a northerner who grew up in Michigan, it has been quite a shock to see just how conservative people are in the South, and that applies to both political parties.

      Furthermore, I’m well aware that although we may be living on the edge of the Bible Belt here in the Missouri Ozarks, we’re nowhere near the buckle. I can’t imagine how conservative things must be politically in places like Georgia or Mississippi.

      It’s a lot easier to be a conservative Democrat around here than it would be in most places in the United States — our local longtime State House member was one of the “dirty dozen” Democrats who switched sides to vote to override our former Democratic governor’s veto of an anti-abortion bill — and I need to respect that.

      Being a Democrat and being an Obama supporter are two very different things, however.

      Earlier this month, I was told in blunt terms by a local city official that he was upset that I was a “closet” Obama supporter and that he wouldn’t let me attend his committee meetings anymore if I support Obama. (He doesn’t have any legal right to do that, of course, but that shows just how mad he was at me.)

      I’m not and never have been an Obama supporter. When I dug into the rumor to track it down, it turned out that the root of the problem is that apparently long ago I clicked on a “like” button on a Facebook link someone sent me for “Veterans for Obama,” and a bunch of local people had gotten upset and were circulating a rumor that I am a “fake Republican.”

      Not true. Not only am I not an Obama supporter, I’m not a veteran, and I’m very clear about that. Serving as a civilian in Army Public Affairs is not the same as serving in uniform, I know the distinction, and I’m clear about it because I do not claim things I have not earned.

      But it shows just how angry people get about politics.

      We need to be aware of that in church contexts.

      • DTM, I tend to stay away from biography, but there’s a story that may relay something or other. It’s about my mother, who is from the south, and came from a tradition of stright-ballot Democrats. I used to joke with her “Mom,you would vote for Satan if he ran as a Democrat,” to which she replied with a smile “Well, maybe I would.” Well, over the years we would occasionally talk about the importance of abortion and some other issues, but never with the implication that she should question whether she is a Christian. Well, at age 80 she switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Independent, mostly over the abortion issue. My overall point in this discussion here may be subtle to some, but I think it’s valuable.

      • Mikelmann, that item of biography is useful.

        “Yellow Dog Democrats” were called that for a reason, namely, that they would vote for a Democrat even if the Democrat was a yellow dog.

        I don’t think in the modern world the older equivalent of “Rock Ribbed Republican” had the same meaning.

        People who vote straight-ticket Republican often do so for ideological reasons. That is not necessarily true for Democrats and I need to respect that.

        There is no other way to explain the old “Solid South,” or even today, the voting patterns of states like Arkansas and West Virginia, or local elections in many Southern states where people now consistently vote Republican on the national level but often vote Democrat for local races.

  57. Mikelmann, I’m dealing with business issues that are taking too much of my time. You are raising valid points, and I’m planning to respond to them here on this blog. I’m in discussion with a couple of other people on how to best frame my response on your main point, but rest assured that I’m not ignoring you. On the contrary, I believe your views deserve enough respect to be taken seriously, and that takes time.

    The issue, as I see it, is that you believe abortion is wrong, abortionists should be excommunicated, and women who procure abortions should be excommunicated. Presumably you would also agree that boyfriends and husbands who encourage their girlfriends and wives to get abortions should be excommunicated.

    However, for some reason that I don’t yet understand, you seem to believe that civil authorities, even though they have the chance by their votes to stop or at least reduce the number of abortions, should not be put under church discipline even though by their votes they are allowing thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of babies to be killed.

    How is that possibly compatible with a biblical view of church discipline, let alone a Reformed view? How is in not, in effect, becoming a respecter of persons by showing favoritism to the powerful while more severely punishing the powerless? I know that is not your intent, but is it not the effect?

    Just because the civil magistrate has a special office does not make him above rebuke by ecclesiastical authorities for his official actions in his secular role.

    If anything, the civil magistrate advocating mass murder is more deserving of church discipline than a desperate mother who kills her own child rather than seeking help from her church to deal with the consequences of her pregnancy.

  58. If anything, the civil magistrate advocating mass murder is more deserving of church discipline than a desperate mother who kills her own child rather than seeking help from her church to deal with the consequences of her pregnancy.

    DTM, my point is that it’s actually the reverse. But let’s also pause for a reality check. Excommunication is being tossed around like pez here. I would venture to say that when it comes to the situation where discipline makes most sense, most women who find themselves in certain unfortunate and even dire circumstances stand in just as much need of care as they might discipline (if not more).

  59. “Excommunication is being tossed around like pez here.”
    …and the men I know who have actually had to do it don’t toss it around like pez. Sometimes it has to be done, but if it isn’t done with stress and sorrow on behalf of the session there’s something wrong.

    It also occurs to me that a radical college prof would have a field day with the fact that the big sins that get all the attention – abortion and homosexuality – are sins that the men in power can’t commit.

  60. Bingo, M&M.

    DTM, if you’re still around, I’m curious: following the proximate cause reasoning,how far back are you willing to push the line? If Scott Brown in his political views is as guilty as the one who either has or provides an elective abortion in his/her own person, are those of us who hold back spiritual discipline from Brown guilty as well?

    • ZRim, I’m here.

      Are people who fail to discipline guilty as well? The marks of the true church are relevant here — a church which fails to discipline is no longer a true church, and individuals responsible for that failure do bear responsibility for the collapse of their denomination.

      As with all cases like this, the devil is in the details.

      Sen. Scott Brown’s congregation is Christian Reformed, and certainly does not appear to be a conservative church. As you know from firsthand experience as a deacon in a left-of-center Christian Reformed congregation, the marks of the true church are at best obscured in that denomination. A further complication is that concurrence by the classis is required before excommunicating anyone, so even if Brown’s elders do what they should be doing, the classis will get involved.

      Realistically, If anything is going to be done about Sen. Brown, the public face will have to come from pro-life feminists and moderate liberals in the CRC, not from the conservatives. Otherwise lots of people will rally to Brown’s support who otherwise would not be doing so. My guess is the most politically effective way to handle this would by way of an overture to the synod coming out of one of the moderate-to-liberal CRC classes, perhaps with a woman active in crisis pregnancy work as the key proponent.

      Something very similar happened on the homosexuality issue in the CRC. The denomination kept spinning its wheels on actually doing anything to deal with Jim Lucas until several left-of-center people who were well-known advocates of women’s ordination decided they needed to act to stop their women’s ordination agenda from being derailed by homosexual advocacy.

      These are considerations of ecclesiastical politics which should not be problems in the OPC, RCUS, URCNA, Canadian Reformed, RPCNA, and in most other conservative Reformed denominations.

      In the PCA, they may be a problem.

      The reality is that in many denominations, ecclesiastical politics are messy, and not noticeably cleaner than their secular equivalents.

  61. DTM, thanks. My question wasn’t so much whether failure to discipline is a problem. I agree that it is. And not to take anything away from my point about being a little too cavalier about the reality of discipline in these sorts of discussions, but its relative absence in communions like the CRC does not bode well.

    My question is whether those who would refuse to bring spiritual discipline upon a Scott Brown for his political views are themselves as guilty as Brown whose political views, evidently, make him as guilty as someone who has or provides an elective abortion in his/her own person (which is to say guilty of breaking the fifth commandment).

    • ZRim, Reformed churches have historically been careful to avoid Donatism. There are many reasons — some valid such as lack of biblically admissible evidence, but many others much less valid — why a person who should be disciplined may not be disciplined. The bottom line is that our goal must be a true church, not a pure church.

      Failure to discipline in a case of notorious public sin does not automatically make a church into a false church, otherwise the Corinthians would be condemned as apostates rather than addressed as a seriously erring church of Christ. That’s a big part of why J. Gresham Machen did not immediately secede from the PC(USA) after it failed to deal with the Auburn Affirmationists; on the contrary, he and the other founders of what eventually became the OPC waited until the PC(USA) decided in the highest court of the church to persecute the godly rather than merely failing to discipline the disobedient.

      Many things depend on how close the people are to the situation and how aware they are of the gross public nature of the sin involved. Especially under Christian Reformed polity where the authority of the consistories is original and that of the broader assemblies is only delegated, I believe it is much more of a problem for Scott Brown’s own consistory in Massachusetts and secondarily for Classis Atlantic Northeast than for the elders of some totally uninvolved church in Minnesota, for example. Corporate responsibility does not mean the same thing under CRC or URCNA polity is it does in the OPC or PCA.

      If I were a member of Sen. Scott Brown’s church I would be furious — but considering that the church already has women elders and lots of other things happening to which I would object, I would almost certainly have left long before matters reached this point.

      I would be very surprised if Sen. Brown is the first case of somebody problematic in New England Chapel CRC. His case is most likely a symptom of underlying problems which long predate him joining the church.

      If I were a pastor or elder in Classis Atlantic Northeast, due to Sen. Brown’s high-profile position in New England and the damage he is doing to the reputation of the Christian Reformed Church, I would believe myself conscience-bound to take some sort of action or resign my office and leave the CRC. My next steps would depend on how the consistory, classis and synod responded to my efforts to deal with the problem.

      If I were sitting in Classis Minnkota or some isolated Christian Reformed congregation in the hinterlands rather than in a nearby church in Massachusetts, I might decide that if I’ve stayed in the CRC through all the problems of synod during the decades of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, this is just one more example of Christian Reformed denominational garbage that is best dealt with by preaching and teaching against it rather than by formal overtures and protests. However, I’d certainly lend my vote to help those closer to the scene who wanted to act.

      Much of this is hypothetical since I live three hours away from the closest Christian Reformed congregation. The CRC is a seriously undisciplined church, and some of its congregations may in fact be false churches, and I certainly wouldn’t encourage people to join the CRC if there were another solid Reformed congregation in the area. However, the fact remains that God still has some of His people in the CRC, and those people need to take action to protect what is left of the truth under very difficult circumstances.

  62. DTM, I’m not sure what Donatism has to do with it, but it sounds as if you’re wanting to exercise some caution when it comes to what to do with a Scott Brown’s elders themselves. And that’s my point on what to do with a Brown himself.

    Whatever else could be said on the matter, I frankly think abortion has become something of a third rail—touch it the wrong way and zap-o. As politically opposed as I may be to legalized elective abortion, my personal opinion is that the pro-life movement has had a stranglehold on Christian mentality across denominations and traditions. The upshot is a form of political correctness self-proclaiming conservatives love to believe they are naturally immune to.

  63. In reference to the Donatists comment Darrell made this statement…..
    “The bottom line is that our goal must be a true church, not a pure church.”

    In relationship to this discussion some things seem to be conflated. While some want to mix politics and religious discipline into this situation, I believe that Darrell is primarily asking that the Church act like the Church. Does that have some run over into life outside of the Church? Well, yes, it does as we are not just supposed to leave God to a Sunday thing. Christ as King over all things having all authority over everyone and everything should make us look at this situation from a true Church perspective and not a pure Church perspective. I think I understand what Darrell is getting at.

  64. It seems you want to put wisdom and morality on different levels or in different categories as if one is separated from the other in totality. . It seems as if you are separating them far apart and that there is no cross relationship between moral behavior and wise or foolish behavior…from what I see this dichotomization of law and grace (gospel) are a big problem and leading to all of this mess.

    RPC, the point is actually about wisdom being the middle ground between the moral categories of right and wrong. It’s that middle area that most of life is actually lived. Law and gospel are indeed at loggerheads eternally (believers and unbelievers are as different as night and day), but to by-pass wisdom and split temporal life into black and white is what some call a form of fundamentalism.

  65. Z,
    It seems we are not communicating on the same level and I am not understanding why you have gone where you have. Believe me I am not a fundamentalist. LOL. It seems like we are coming from different understandings. If law and gospel are such loggerheads eternally how could Bavinck say this, “The Gospel is temporary, but the law is eternal and is restored precisely through the Gospel.”

  66. RPC, the reason for going this way is to make the case for a difference in political view and personal behavior. I’m saying that political view aligns with wisdom, not morality But if, as DTM & Co. want to suggest, political view corresponds as much to morality as it does wisdom then we should have no problem disciplining man who acts foolishly but not illicitly with another woman. But since I make the former distinction, I say our foolish friend only needs persuasion, not discipline. But as I understand DTM, he would have us not only persuade him but also say that his elders have grounds to go further and discipline (and maybe his wife grounds to claim some sort of new fangled definition of adultery and divorce).

  67. Z,
    I mentioned to Richard earlier that the BOC most likely entrusts Elders and Sessions with discernment to decide disciplinary measures. That includes the various levels of action also . I mention the BOC because you seem to be discussing discipline as full throttled punishment instead of seeing it as what it is supposed to be in persuading a person to examine their life under Messiah the Prince. If I am not mistaken Philippians 2:9-11 specifically states that because of His person and work God has highly exalted Christ and given Him a name that is above all and that they should all be subject to His rule. Wisdom and morality are not opposed to each other are they? I fear that maybe by your description some people are dichotomizing them just as others are dichotomizing law and grace too far. I fear I see others dichotomizing law and grace so far that they have erred and totally missed the boat when coming to know biblical grace. Instead of noting the distinctions and defining them aright some are nearly divorcing these two thus rendering the Gospel into something it isn’t. Are you suggesting that wisdom and morality are not connected in any way as some are saying that law of God always condemns and has no part grace or in the Gospel? It almost sounds like the civil realm is left to some form of situational ethics called wisdom and that this wisdom has little to do with morality by what I am hearing you say.

    When you mention Political view I am hearing civil relationship. Isn’t the whole earth is still to be subject to God’s Decalogue even though they are not regenerate? Aren’t they still required by God to heed the Decalogue according to the Word of God. Our Confessional Standard does note is of great benefit to all (regenerate and unregenerate). If you are OPC or PCA even one must acknowledge the Standards admonish and teach that all of mankind are to be subject to them for their benefit.

    Chapter XIX
    V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.

    VI. a) Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience.

    Just some application from the Standards are probably good exhortations here also..

    While the WCF adopted by the OPC doesn’t contain the many Establishment passages but the US standards still acknowledge and teach this:

    “Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?

    A. In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.”

    The Catechism on the 5th Commandment concerning superiors and inferiors is applicable to both the civil (Political) and Church in my understanding. Would you not agree? Should there be some wisdom vs. morality issue polarized at this point that I am unaware of? Am I being unfair in saying that this discussion is going toward a wisdom vs. morality issue?

    Question 129: What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?

    Answer: It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honor to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God has put upon them.

    I have to admit that I haven’t heard a discussion like your argument of wisdom vs. morality or Political view vs. Personal behavior. This almost sounds like someone is becoming schizophrenic. That maybe because I haven’t heard this kind of argument before. Your remarks intrigue me as they sound very similar in kind to discussions I have had concerning the dichotomous views of law and gospel with other prominent men of God. I have been discussing the Mosaic Covenant and Natural Law / Two Kingdoms quite a bit lately in light of Covenant Theology and its application. It seems that Meredith Kline and a certain view of the Mosaic Covenant also runs parallel with this type of thinking. I am finding a tight hermetical thought that seems to be very a similar running through all of these discussions. And that view says that the Old Covenant and New Covenant are not of the same substance as our Confessional Standards state in Chapter 7,5,6. .

    In fact I would say that much confusion concerning this matter would have been thwarted had disciplinary action been taken and noted on much lower levels and many many decades ago. Remember I am not saying discipline is punishment or something as harsh as you seem to identifying discipline as. But now the cancer has grown and instead of taking care of it in its preliminary stages we have a worse situation now.

    Does that make sense?

  68. I just reread my post Z. Please ask me for clarification if you don’t understand what I wrote because I was inept leaving out of words like “in” or “IT”. I didn’t proof read very well and I did it hastily.

  69. RPC, my point is not to set wisdom and morality at odds. It is to say that while there is some intersection between them, they are also distinct. Maybe it’s a sphere sovereignty point: home and school certainly intersect, but they follow different rules within themselves. And when I expect my girls to behave like students in school and daughters at home (and not vice versa) and you call it schizophrenic, I scratch my head—isn’t that how it works? Same thing when I apply wisdom to an ambiguous situation but morality to a clear one. How is that schizophrenic? Wisdom isn’t set against right and wrong—it lies in the middle, touching both at once. Think Venn diagram. But if you don’t like this then I don’t see how you make sense of most of life since most of life is a daily series of things that don’t involve only right or wrong. It’s not situational ethics, it’s just ordinary existence.

    Re the nature of discipline, see my remarks about stopping for a reality check. I understand the difference between punishment and discipline (the former aligns with law, the latter gospel), such that discipline is a way not to condemn but to heal. But the point here is about something rising to the level of being actionable. I do not think someone’s political views on abortion are ecclesiastically actionable in the same way his personal behavior is. Having an unwise view is simply not the same as behaving immorally.

  70. Well of course they are distinct as they are two different things. But it seems you are saying that wisdom varies between good and bad morality. Am I misunderstanding that issue.

    Your illustration of School and Home doesn’t hit the mark for me because the Decalogue is the same concerning both areas or spheres. The Decalogue is defined as the Moral Law as far as I can tell by definition. There is no variance between the two spheres when it comes to the Moral Law.

    I didn’t call your daughters or the way they behave schizophrenic. That is just a mishandling of what I am saying. When it comes to how one operates and views life morally from situation to situation shouldn’t change from sphere to sphere should it?. (ie. home or school) The Moral Law is the same from place to place and wisdom would direct us to fear the Lord in both situations and act accordingly. To say that wisdom would direct someone between moral good and bad or for someone to act and think differently from sphere to sphere seems double minded. Murder is murder. Adultery is Adultery. It doesn’t change from situation to situation. And Jesus addressed much of this concerning our thought life on the sermon of the Mount.

    In my understanding what we are discussing has specific moral comprehensive understanding. It is solidified by God’s word concerning its correctness and wrongness. There is not a gray area for individuals or a liberality in the two issues we are discussing. Homosexuality and Murder are to be viewed as gross sin in all areas of life and to advocate for the right of such sin as being acceptable in any sphere is not from Wisdom. It seems to me it would be Worldly Wiseman’s wisdom but it isn’t true wisdom from God who will judge every thought, intention, word, and action every man has had and performed. It isn’t the wisdom that comes from above and tells all men everywhere to repent. It shouldn’t be advocated especially from anyone in the church at any level.

    Maybe we need to recognize which kind of wisdom one is advocating for here. I do believe that there is ecclesiastical accountability that should be considered if a man of God is influential. Every time an opinion is expressed it influences someone. If someone wants to hold a view contra the scriptures and expresses them then it has ramifications. That is true for Inside the Church walls as well as outside of them. I for one am grateful that I have Elders who are concerned and hold me accountable for my beliefs inside and outside of the Church Walls. After all they are responsible for our souls and have to give an account according to Hebrews 13.

  71. I understand the difference between punishment and discipline (the former aligns with law, the latter gospel), such that discipline is a way not to condemn but to heal.

    Sometimes people conflate things too much. Sometimes they overly separate and misdefine things.

    Punishment is not always considered condemnation. It is retribution for wrong done to teach and sometimes to cause restitution. Restitution is Gospel also. Sometimes punishment is just the result of sin. Sin leads to death. It also removes liberty. The Gospel sometimes does punish and condemn actions performed in the flesh. Remember, God is not mocked, Whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. That is an admonition to remind believers that sin does bring death. Even in the life of a believer. It will not bring eternal death to us but it does reap death. In some cases on a level of mortality. The Consequences of deep sin reap mortal death sometimes. God knows how he wants to dish it out. There is still a justice of God in the life of the believer on this side that is punitive and a part of the Gospel. This is why I struggle so much with those who dichotomize law and Gospel so much. They miss that the Gospel of the Kingdom has a King and He is a ruler of His Kingdom. That encompasses a lot more than just justification.

    And before we proceed farther I want to cut off any suspicion that I hold to anything that looks like Federal Vision or the New Paul Perspective. I moderate the Puritanboard and those doctrines are flatly considered heretical in my estimation. But since I am not Klinean concerning the Mosaic Covenant and not Lutheran in my soteriology concerning the law and gospel I have been accused of both. I am classical Reformed.

  72. Woops I forgot to show the first sentence above was a quote you made. I was commenting in relation to it.

    ZRIM said…
    “I understand the difference between punishment and discipline (the former aligns with law, the latter gospel), such that discipline is a way not to condemn but to heal.”

  73. JimHeetderks


    Related to this topic, I wondered if you’ve seen http://secular.org/news/tax-day-secular-americans-congress-end-religious-privileging-tax-code. I find myself on some points in sympathy with the Secular Coalition.

    I hope all’s well in Iowa and am looking forward to future church/state/tax posts on the PB.


  74. Jim, I just posted on it. Tell me what you think.

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