Rabbis and Grace

Speaking of first century Judaism:

Does this mean that the rabbis did not see the election of Israel as a gift of God’s grace? By no means. In an important series of articles, John Barclay has pointed out that ancient notions of gift giving consistently took into account the worthiness if the recipient(s). Gifts were still gifts, to be sure; they were not earned. But neither were they to be given indiscriminately; giving a gift to those who would not appreciate it, or would squander it, was wasted effort. Along these lines we may understand the rabbinic insistence on the merits of Israel, or of Israel’s forefathers, as a factor when God chose them for his covenant people: on nations that betrayed no interest in submitting to Gods will, the gift would have been wasted. Israel’s willingness to obey made them worthy recipients of what was nonetheless a divine gift, out of all proportion to their merits.

– Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered (Eerdmans, 2013) pp. 31,32


Church Planting is for Wimps by Mike McKinley

Enjoyable short book on author’s reflections after 4 years of church planting. The main points are, it seems to me:

  1. make preparing for and preaching the word the main focus of your ministry. Three dangers: misplaced pragmatism (thinking other practical matters will build a church); pride (you glorify yourself); lack of confidence in God’s word (everything else will fall into place).
  2. get structures sorted – confession, membership, elders, deacons. Don’t worry about mission statements, and vision statements.
  3. personal holiness. Mckinley goes into detail about his marital problems that were left unaddressed until he started to revitalise a church.
  4. Train men. this is necessary so that the church is able to minister to the needs of the church, not just the pastor.

The Need for a Pastor to Be Holy

Oh study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this. Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two – your life preaches all the week. Remember ministers are standard bearers. Satan aims his fiery darts at them. If he can only make you a covetous minister or a lover of pleasure or a lover of praise or a lover of good eating then he has ruined your ministry for ever.

Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew A Bonar (London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier 1868), p. 362

some notes on confessional subscription

R S Clark http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/more-on-bible-and-confession/

Someone who teaches at a presbyterian seminary such as WTS/P and has taken an oath that he believes the Westminster standards should teach presbyterian theology.

L Irons http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?p=149

argues that WTS/P calls teachers to adhere to the system contained in the Westminster Standards. This permits acceptance of a diverse collection of details over whch people will differ, while at the same time accepting the system. (examples – essential to the system? covenant theology. details? view of the Sabbath, creation days).

R S Clark http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/even-more-on-bible-and-confession/

The problem with Lee Irons’ view is: who gets to describe what is essential to the syatem and what is not? It is a recipe for anarchy. We are called to confess these confessions, not be “sympathetically critical” as we might be to an author of a systematic theology.

L Irons http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?p=150

Irons argues that Hodge, Warfield, Machen did not hold to the view that Clark does. Nor did Kline while at WSCal. We must hold to the system, while allowing the freedom that an individual’s study of scripture takes him.

R S Clark http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/03/06/confession-and-repristination/

Notes there is much that we have learned since the 17th century but there is much we need to relearn from then. The original intent of the writers of the confession is very important to avoid subjectivism. Critical of Hodge et al.

Matt Morgan http://beritolam.blogspot.com/2008/03/confessional-subscriptionredux.html

The tradition is not quite so clear on the question of subscription. The North American Presbyterians permitted limited subscription to “all essential and necessary articles” of the Confession of Faith and catechisms. (Adopting Act of 1729.)

Definitions – quote from Hodge:

Every minister at his ordination is required to declare that he adopts the Westminster Confession and Catechism, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the sacred Scriptures. There are three ways in which these words have been, and still are, interpreted. First, some understand them to mean that every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith is included in the profession made at ordination. Secondly, others say that they mean just what the words import. What is adopted is the ‘system of doctrine.’ The system of the Reformed Churches is a known and admitted scheme of doctrine, and that scheme, nothing more or less, we profess to adopt. The third view of the subject is, that by the system of doctrine contained in the Confession is meant the essential doctrines of Christianity and nothing more. (Discussions in Church Polity, 1878, p.335-36)

Some argue that the second and third are two shades of the same grey. The Princeton theologians held to the second but not the third. Morgan argues that this is a rational position and should not be dismissed because some want to make it similar to the third.

Historically it cannot be proved that strict subscription makes for a more unified church.

Machen quote:

Subscription to the Westminster Standards in the Presbyterian Church of America [e.g. the precursor to the OPC] is not to every word in those Standards, but only to the system of doctrine which the Standards contain. (The Presbyterian Guardian, October 1936, pg. 45)

The problem with strict subscription [if indeed that means ‘every word’] is that it elevates the confessions to plenary status alongside scripture. Morgan points out WCF 31.4 which allows for the fact that councils and assemblies err.

A test case if the Belgic Confession Art.4  which says that Hebrews was one of Paul’s letters. Few in URCNA believe this. So system subscription is in operation!

Scripture is the rule of faith. The confessions are a guide.

L Irons http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?p=151

Agrees with Morgan.

L Keister http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/different-kinds-of-confessional-subscription/

Keister lists the views on subscription:

  • strict
  • good faith
  • loose

They seem to correspond with Hodge’s three.