Presbyterian Proverbs

Presbyterian Blues

aesops Greek Fables (close enough)

An advantage of being in the same church for a long time is that you have an opportunity to see things play out.  You can observe parenting and then watch the “parented” children grow up.  You can see folks go from young parents to empty nesters.  You can see all sorts of people just passing through. In short, you’re around long enough for time to tell its story.  And if it told proverbs about Presbyterian church life, they might sound like this.

  1. One who speaketh in his first Sunday School class will evaporate like the morning dew.   It’s uncanny – visitors who enter by sharing their brilliance in their first Sunday School class won’t be around for long.  And, really, you don’t want them around for very long.
  2. Better an early grave than the sneer of an alpha church lady.  Thinking of confronting her? Just…

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Sainthood of believers, not papacy of believers.

Let me put the question differently: Why do most of us intuitively recognize that celebrity pastors are a problem — even that “celebrity” itself is a problem — yet celebrate the uber-celebrity pastor, the one Vicar of Christ in Rome? And why do we venerate a virtual handful of canonized saints out of global Christianity, when the standard apostolic practice recorded throughout the New Testament church is to greet every baptized Christian as a saint, and to thank God for their holiness?

My hunch is that there is a deep — and not necessarily healthy — desire to religiously venerate our fellow man. His holiness Bergoglio from Buenos Aires is endearing and warm; His holiness Yahweh of Sinai is a consuming fire.

A church called to suffer in the world, like it’s Savior did, needs some encouragement.
This is precisely why the argument from tradition for the veneration of saints is so strong and compelling. It appeals to a deep human desire to elevate the best in us all, to identify a champion and leader of our tribe. It is quite frankly entirely natural, and laudable, for a religious community to hold in awe a martyr, one who would rather die than betray his Lord. I know I do. It is natural to remember them and lift them up as role models and examples to emulate when the next wave of persecution roles over the church.  A church called to suffer in the world, like it’s Savior did, needs some encouragement. 

However, for a Reformed Christian such as myself, the Roman Catholic teaching about the canonization of saints goes far beyond such recognition. Indeed, it is one of the most offensive doctrines promulgated by the church, the Reformation in a nutshell. And not just because it is profoundly unbiblical, unseemly, and often at the lay level, rankly superstitious. Rather, and far worse, because it reflects a fundamentally human, not divine, perspective on holiness, both the holiness of man, and the holiness of God.

-Dr. Brian Lee; Pope Francis, TMZ, and Sainthood 

Out with the new, in with the old.

Carl Trueman is his usual self about the latest in Driscoll-gate.  The article is not available, but I was able to capture one of the (many) money quotes. The article is now back up on First Things:

Mark Driscoll is one person, a uniquely talented individual. Yet he is also a function of structural problems within the new Reformed movement itself. Despite its distinct and in many ways sophisticated theology, the “young, restless, and reformed” movement has always been in some respects simply the latest manifestation of the weakest aspects of American Evangelicalism. It was, and is, a movement built on the power of a self-selected band of dynamic personalities, wonderful communicators, and talented preachers who have been marketed in a very attractive manner. Those things can all be great goods but when there is no real accountability involved, when financial arrangements are opaque in the extreme, and when personalities start to supplant the message, serious problems are never far away. 

The overall picture is one of disaster. Within the church, I suspect most pastors look on with horror at the amount of money involved in some of these projects and will turn away in disgust. Outside the church, people know sharp practice when they see it, no matter what the strict legality of such might be. The reputation of the church suffers, and sadly it does not suffer in this case unjustly.

As a former New Calvinist, I benefited greatly from men like Driscoll who gave me an entry level to Reformed theology, broadly understood.  I imagine there are many like me who were swayed from the siren calls of liberalism to a more firm doctrinal understanding of the Christian faith.  I am thankful for this.

But as the Reformed tradition began to encompass not just my theology but my worldview as well, I found that I was leaving behind (New) Calvinism through the Driscoll lens.  Now a confessional Presbyterian, I find myself at odds with some of the very teachings I would have defended not just a few years before.  Some of the church governance structures in congregations today just makes me shake my head, or worse.  The reformation of the church according to the Word of God was just for the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  As Reformed Protestants, this same principal matters just as much today.

Rather than defending “New” Calvinism, a movement which I fear will burn over far more than expected, I’ve run to the OLD Calvinism.  Where congregations may not flare up to thousands, but will faithfully preach the Word and administer the sacraments to the tens or dozens present.  Movements come and go, but the Church endures by the grace of God.

So like I said in the title, out with the new and in with the old.  Semper reformanda.

03/14/14 update: Added strike-through, link to First Things.

Others are saying "no", and so can you.

Packiam is endemic of how most Lent-adopters talk about church history: They denigrate (explicitly or implicitly) their low-church Evangelicalism as unmoored from tradition and underscore how adopting the liturgical practice connects them to the historic church. But what if the best way to express trans-generational solidarity with the millions of believers who have walked before you is by eschewing Lent? That’s the argument I want to support… 


Christians are called to suffer as Christ suffered, that is, with the same purpose. We are called to suffer not for ourselves, but for others. When we engage in fasting in his image, but for the purpose of purifying ourselves, we invert that image. Such penitence is ultimately focused on self, not on the other.
Jesus’s passion was an act of love for us: “We love, because he first loved us.” We needn’t invent any obligation not laid upon us by the Lord, who summarized all the Law and Prophets (and ceremonies and fasts) of the Old Testament with this simple command: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The most powerful reminders and signs and seals of that love, are the ones Jesus gave us: The preaching of Christ crucified, and the water and bread and wine of his holy sacraments.
You are free indeed to fast, or not to fast. This year, consider repenting of Lent. Prepare for Easter by loving your neighbor until it hurts, and embracing the love — and forgiveness — of Christ at Calvary. Trust me, you’ll need it.


As much as I appreciate Rome’s attention to sin and its consequences — something that doesn’t come through when leaders speak of Christ’s self-sacrificial love as a model for social justice and the dignity of the human person — Lent has significance for Roman Catholics that it cannot have for Protestants. After all, Protestants don’t have a history of self-inflicted pain to merit spiritual rewards. If as the gospel allies would have it that Lent is to remind us of Christ, then we should also be reminded that nothing we do to attack sin can compare with what Christ accomplished in his own suffering and death. If Protestants deny themselves, it is part of sanctification, the mortification of the self, that comes daily and year round through the means of grace and the armor of God (Eph. 6). We don’t spend forty days a year denying self. 

Seriously enough to disagree about them

Throughout the history of American revivalism (and its historical precedents), the clever and successful evangelist proclaims traditional churches ineffective or apostate. There are the usual declamations against “clericalism”—in other words, a trained and ordained ministry. And then, eventually, the movement becomes a sect and the leader becomes a lord.

Even in “Young, Restless, Reformed” circles, crucial teachings in Scripture are put on the back burner or even silenced by the line, “It’s not a gospel issue.” But in the Great Commission our Lord called the apostles not only to preach the gospel but to baptize and to “teach them everything that I have commanded you.” And that “everything” includes what he taught through the apostles concerning the ordained ministry.There are many things that may not be “gospel issues” that we are nevertheless commanded in Scripture to embrace and practice. Furthermore, how can one say that baptism and the public offices are not gospel issues, when Christ applies his gospel to us in Word and Sacrament? 

I miss the good old days when paedobaptists and Baptists used to hold baptism and the Supper as well as the offices seriously enough to disagree about them. Today it seems that they have become silly trifles. If that’s what unity in the gospel means, then it is a far cry from the gospel according to Jesus.

– Dr. Michael Horton; The Ministry IS A Gospel Issue 

Has not been the case since.

In 2011 I came the closest I ever have to becoming liberal in both theology and ideology.

As a result of God’s providence in putting the right books in my hands and leading me to a wholehearted embracing of the Reformed tradition of theology and faith, that has not been the case since.

Let me say that theologically speaking, I don’t have a liberal bone in my body. In college I read J. Gresham Machen’s great book, Christianity and Liberalism, and saw liberalism up close and at its worst, in the university and in the church. That was my vaccination; since my sophomore year in college, I have never since had the slightest temptation to be a liberal. The whole idea of adjusting or rewriting the gospel to make it acceptable to modern man is an idea which I view with supreme contempt. I have always insisted that Christianity is entirely pointless unless it is a revelation from the true God; and if God has revealed it, then we are emphatically not free to pick and choose, or to make adjustments to suit our tastes.

Equally, I despise the idea, not uncommon in evangelical circles, that Christians have to follow all the intellectual, ethical, and political fashions: egalitarianism, pluralism, liberal divorce, abortion, gay rights, evolution, secular psychology, or whatever.

– Dr. John Frame; A Theology of Opportunity: Sola Scriptura and the Great Commission 

Scripture forms the church, not the reverse

This brings us to sola Scriptura. Sometimes this great slogan is quoted as if to mean, “I believe in sola Scriptura, this is my interpretation, therefore if you disagree, you are denying Scripture.” To disagree with an interpretation of Scripture is not necessarily the same thing as disagreeing with Scripture itself. To be sure, it is possible to deny Scripture; this is why we have a Confession and Consistories, to prevent and correct mistakes in Biblical interpretation. It does not follow, however, that because one believes in the unique and primary authority of Scripture, that therefore one’s interpretation of a given passage is necessarily correct.  

 By sola Scriptura our Reformed fathers meant to teach that Scripture alone is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, not the traditions of men or even the Church. Scripture is that “norm which norms all other norms.” We confess that the Scripture forms the church, not the reverse. We must then reject those radical Bible interpreters who teach that the Bible has no fixed meaning or that the reader controls the meaning of the text.

– Dr. R. Scott Clark, Hermeneutics and the Creation Wars