The Sacramental Altar Call

I’ve recently been struck by similarities between the arguments made by champions of baptismal efficacy in Reformed circles and advocates of the altar call in Baptist and fundamentalist circles.

In my early years as a pastor I served a church where an altar call was expected at the conclusion of each sermon. When I questioned the need for the altar call I was told (by those who could provide any defense at all) that the altar call was simply a form which permitted obedience to Scripture’s command, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

No one denies that confession of Christ as Lord is a Scriptural hallmark of regenerate life. But what those who focus on the efficacy of baptism often seem to forget is that Scripture just as frequently and overtly ties salvation to verbal confession as to water baptism:

Romans 10:9-10 … if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

1 John 1:7-9 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 2:23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven…

When I would ask older parents in that church the spiritual state of their children they would routinely describe lives of tragic sin and rebellion against God: "Donald's had some trouble with alcohol. He's losing his license to practice law. He's about to get his third divorce...." Yet when I would go on to ask Mrs. Smith if she would like me to pray for Donald's salvation she would answer, “No, Donald's not an unbeliever. He went to the altar when he was eleven and I just know he’s a Christian.”

The ultimate problem with the altar call as I came to view it wasn’t its emphasis on publicly confessing Christ, it was the unstated assumption of its proponents that performance of this stipulated Biblical component of salvation was necessarily and integrally tied to saving faith.

Thus, when I listen to advocates of a higher view of the objective efficacy of baptism quote such passages as 1 Peter 3:21 (“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.”) I'm reminded of members of my church defending the centrality of the altar call by similar quotations from Scripture—only, in their case, verses tying salvation to acknowledgment of Christ before men rather than verses speaking of baptism.

The core error of sacramentalism isn’t exclusive to the sacraments. It’s equally possible to commit the root error of sacramentalism by over-emphasizing any act biblically linked to saving faith. Honestly, if we’re to permit passages which tie salvation to baptism to drive us toward sacramentalism we should listen with equal sympathy to those who advocate the walk to the altar as the confession “before men” necessary for salvation. After all, the biblical evidence for verbal confession as part of salvation is just as powerful as that tying baptism to salvation.

Comments

But there is (at least on paper...you know these things always get stickier in real life) a big difference in how baptismal efficacy proponents would respond were they in Donald's mother's shoes. Baptism brought him into the covenant, but his unrepentant sin has shown him to be a covenant-breaker.

If Donald were my son, and assuming he were a member of my congregation, I hope I'd say to my pastor, "I used to believe that my son was saved. I used to see fruit that pointed to his being a believer, but now I see only the fruit of rebellion against God, and I am in terror for his soul. Please bring charges against my son for his immoral behavior, and excommunicate him if necessary. And yes, please, please pray that God will have mercy on him."

I only have one difficulty with such a comparison: baptism is specifically instituted by Christ, and the altar call is an outright imposition and innovation in worship. Indeed, in each one of the services i lead, we confess Christ and confess our sins; we use the Apostles' or Nicene Creed to confess Christ Jesus as Lord, and we pray together a prayer of confession to confess our sins. This fulfills in every detail (and in a much more Scriptural, historical, and "catholic" way than the invention of the altar call).

So, my question is this: Unless you absolutely deny any kind of regulated worship at all and claim that Christians have the right to invent and add anything to worship that pleases them and can be contrived and twisted into being justified by some odd verse somewhere, how can you even compare the use of a sacrament Christ himself instituted to be used in his Church to confer grace and a man-made action that has nothing at all to do with biblical Christianity?

And, once again, you seem still to assume that those who advocate a higher view of baptismal efficacy do so by claiming that the grace exhibited and conferred in baptism is automatically or mechanically (ex opere operato) effectual. As i have clearly and repeatedly shown in this discussion, that is not the case, and every other Reformed person i have read or heard who argues for this higher view also repudiates such an automatic or mechanical efficacy as well. Why do you keep beating that straw man?

>When I would ask older parents in that church the spiritual state of their children they would routinely describe lives of tragic sin and rebellion against God: "Donald's had some trouble with alcohol. He's losing his license to practice law. He's about to get his third divorce...." Yet when I would go on to ask Mrs. Smith if she would like me to pray for Donald's salvation she would answer, “No, Donald's not an unbeliever. He went to the altar when he was eleven and I just know he’s a Christian.”

Ugh. I can't tell you how this sounds like so many members of my family because of the paltry churches we attended throughout my childhood. So many of my family are walking around completely lost, but because my parents or grandparents led them in the sinner's prayer when they were four, they continue to turn a blind eye to the way they are living. (Oh, the fireworks that threaten to ensue if one ever questions the condition of their souls!) I often wonder if a doctrine as the one quoted above is just about as dangerous as bold-faced heresy preached from the pulpit. (And then I would have to ask, is this very doctrine heresy itself?)

Dear Trey,

You say that you have a confession of faith in each service of your church, then you object to others doing the same? Their low-church innovation renders their confession false. You're catholic and biblical, therefore your confession is true?

Confession of faith is one of the few things almost everyone agrees on--even the most restrictive advocates of the regulative principle permit it. In fact, our own Book of Church Order requires both baptism and public confession of those entering membership.

Brother, unlike you perhaps, I know something about altar calls. I ended a century-long practice of weekly altar calls in my first church. I know their utility and I know their error. And if your opposition to altar calls extends even to the very idea of a call to commitment followed by public profession of faith and baptism, you don't understand baptism as it was practiced in Scripture. Faith is always declared and always in view at baptism. Even parents of covenant children must declare their faith before the baptism proceeds according to the BCO.

I'm afraid you don't like the comparison I draw because you don't like being compared with fundamentalists and Baptists, but brother, the danger you face in your attempt to "elevate" baptism is the same danger fundamentalists and Baptists fall into when they equate public profession with faith.

In Christ,

David Bayly

"The ultimate problem with the altar call as I came to view it wasn’t its emphasis on publicly confessing Christ, it was the unstated assumption of its proponents that performance of this stipulated Biblical component of salvation was necessarily and integrally tied to saving faith."

That's odd. I understand and agree with what you're saying about the sinner's prayer, but the altar call, or invitation, following a sermon isn't used solely as a tool for becoming saved. Maybe that's the most common use of it, but it's often also used for people who want to be baptised or become members of the church or just need to pray with or be counseled by someone about an issue the Holy Spirit has convicted them of through the preching of the Word. It's considered a way of dealing with God publicly. There's an assumption that, since the Holy Spirit works on one's conscience through preaching, we should be encouraged to respond appropriately when He does. I'm not sure it needs Biblical justification, and I don't think it's some nefarious confabulation, as Pastor Austin imagines it to be. Baptists don't adhere to the Regulative Principle, but I doubt even most Reformed churches really have the spontaneous, outspoken services of the type described in I Corinthians, either. The New Testament suggests a more informal, Pentecostal-style service than most of the evangelical ones I've been part of.

"Honestly, if we’re to permit passages which tie salvation to baptism to drive us toward sacramentalism we should listen with equal sympathy those who advocate the walk to the altar as the confession “before men” necessary for salvation."

So, since you're not a memorialist, and since there's Biblical warrant for the practice, do you practice altar calls now? Would you consider or allow them voluntarily, at least?

Thinking on such a comparison like David has done, it occurs to me that the presence of the Altar Call in Christian worship displays a marked absence of what should be there.

I have long heard (and fully believe) that, because our baptistic brothers inherently understand that they should be doing something to and for their children, they must invent a new rite of "dedication" and introduce a man-made part of worship. I am similarly convinced that the reason the Altar Call has gained acceptance in such a broad spectrum of Christianity is because people want some way to personally and tangibly respond to God's Word, and they also want to see God's power at work in their lives and be caught up in that powerful working of his grace.

So, instead of doing what God has called us to do (see our lives of faith as being marked by obedience to God's commandments) and partaking of what he has actually instituted to be done in his Church to be a visible display of his power and glory and our personal participation in it (the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist), they feel impelled to introduce man-made rite of the Altar Call, just like the man-made rite of infant dedication.

The answer to the Altar Call is not to impugn the sacraments, but to have a greater appreciation of them so that such a man-made act would be irrelevant, since God's power is visibly and powerfully displayed in the biblical and proper ways. If we would emphasize going out and doing good works (and so get rid of the antinomian strain of the modern Church), there would be no need invent some way to personally respond to God's Word. If we would reclaim the proper place of the Eucharist in our worship, there wouldn't be a felt need to see God's power and majesty visibly put on display and to allow our selves to be caught up in it.

Dear David,

Twice in the last six months I've asked those who would like to learn more about salvation--or those seeking the prayers of the elders for a particular need--to come forward at the close of the service.

I hadn't done this for probably a decade, but I'm not opposed to it in principle as long as the act of coming forward isn't invested with the significance of a decision for Christ.

You might want to ask Tim about the time he did an altar call in his PCUSA church in the mid-80s. I don't know if he ever did it again after that morning, but God made it a very interesting morning....

Finally, I've always been struck by the conversion of a son of my previous church. He was in the military in the south and he went to a big Baptist church on the outskirts of the military base. At the end of the service they called for repentance, asking those seeking salvation to come forward. Shortly after the end of the worship service a baptismal service was held in which those who had come forward professed faith and were baptized.

I'm troubled by the way response to an altar call often substitutes for baptism in many memorialist churches, but it was intriguing to think of a church immediately baptizing those who professed faith. It sounded to me a lot like hte events we read of in Scripture after Peter preached on the day of Pentecost.

Yours in Christ,

David

David Bayly wrote: "Brother, unlike you perhaps, I know something about altar calls."

My dear brother, i was an ordained Southern Baptist minister when God taught me the truth of sovereign salvation and his holy Covenant. I have led altar calls i can't remember how many times. I am intimately familiar with the practice that i grew up with (my father is still a Southern Baptist pastor) and practiced myself (as a Southern Baptist minister--even as a Calvinistic one), and even as a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, i ignorantly argued for the "utility" of the practice, claiming that the errors could be overcome. I was wrong, and so are you on this issue.

David again: "I ended a century-long practice of weekly altar calls in my first church. I know their utility and I know their error."

Praise the Lord that you ended it, but with all due respect, when it comes to "utility," i could say that throwing a pine cone in the fire at youth camp as a means of making a public profession of faith has "utility"--indeed, we could invent all kinds of things to do in worship that have seeming "utility" to ministry. But that's not really the issue, now is it? The issue is what Christ and the Holy Apostles (acting as agents in his stead) have instituted in his Church to be done. Apart from that, where do you get the warrant to add anything to God's worship?

David: "And if your opposition to altar calls extends even to the very idea of a call to commitment followed by public profession of faith and baptism, you don't understand baptism as it was practiced in Scripture."

It seems to me that you are simply backfilling a modern practice with ancient significance that cannot be found there. If your basis for suggesting we call for repentance and then invite people to "come forward" is the events of the day of Pentecost, you are on no different ground and provide no different basis than Baptists, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, or other inventive Christians who want to add such a practice to their worship services. Yet, there is no warrant in Acts 2 for adding to Christian worship, because (for one thing) that occasion was not corporate worship of the Church (at best, it was, after the disciples left the upper room, an example of open air or street preaching), and (for another) it was an extraordinary event in the history of the Church (after all, if you allow the Altar Call from that passage, what, logically and realisticly, can you say against the allowance of speaking in "unknown tongues" as "initial evidence of the Holy Spirit," which usually does follow closely on its heels, other than an empty argument that it's no longer valid because of the point in redemptive history we are today. And that answer in itself begs the question of why you are seeking to skip over 1970 years of Christian history and practice to latch onto that one act, otherwise unprecedented in Christian worship, and make it normative in the Church today?).

David: "Faith is always declared and always in view at baptism. Even parents of covenant children must declare their faith before the baptism proceeds according to the BCO."

Yes, you are correct: faith is always declared in baptism. In fact, in Scripture baptism itself *IS* the act of declaring one's faith publicly. Why add to that biblically sanctioned practice some *ADDITIONAL* and *EXTRANEOUS* act of profession? They professed faith once, and barring something that would impugn that profession (discipline), why question it? They confess their faith together with everyone else when we seak our faith together each Lord's Day.

As i have mentioned before, even on this blog, this comes down to an issue of whether one admits of "New Measures" like the New School Presbyterians did, or whether one believes the Church, through her normal ministry of the "outward and ordinary means of grace," is sufficient for salvation and edification of the elect (i.e., "Old School" Presbyterians). To be quite blunt, you seem to be very committed to the "New School" side of the question, and that should not be surprising, since the PCA was formed from the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCCSA, later the PCUS), which, when the North/South division erupted, the Old/New School division took a backseat, and the Southern Church became defacto populated with a majority of New School Presbyterians simply because of the geographical layout of those participating in and advocating revivals and revivalism--which meansures included the Altar Call as a measure to bring people to the point of decision and closure with Christ and provide them with an opportunity to make that decision known publicly.

Even if all you take the Altar Call for is to give people an opportunity publicly to profess their faith and decision to follow Christ (which is what you seem to be saying--i don't want to impute more to your words than you have admitted), you've still gone down the New School road to allow those human innovations in worship, which have "utility" in ministry, to take their place alongside the God-ordained elements of corporate worship. But more to the heart of all these issues, i ask anyone who is intently following these debates to answer, even in this current discussion, "Who are those who are following the Reformed Tradition as it has been handed down to us, and who are those who are fiddling with it?" The fiddling with the Reformed Tradition began in the First Great Awakening and continued unabated through the Second Great Awakening and its continued innovations that perpetuated themselves even into the 20th century. It is no surprise that many Presbyterians began to associate those innovations with the Reformed Tradition itself and oppose those who would seek to take us back to before those innovations became ingrained in our collective religious life.

David: "I'm afraid you don't like the comparison I draw because you don't like being compared with fundamentalists and Baptists, but brother, the danger you face in your attempt to "elevate" baptism is the same danger fundamentalists and Baptists fall into when they equate public profession with faith."

I eschew the comparison not because i don't like being compared to revivalists of various stripes (we are, after all, inspite of what most them admit of it, and in spite of all of our difference, all part of "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"), but rather becasue the "confession" i advocate is the very kind of confession described and exemplified in Scripture, which is validated by the practice of the historical Church. I don't see anywhere in Scripture some kind of personal or individual profession or confession of Christ, either in public worship or as a condition of baptism; what i see is the "Jesus is Lord" *CREEDAL* affirmation that was, over time, expanded into the Apostles' Creed and then the Nicene Creed. Should we ignore what *ACTUALLY* happened in Church history and the way that the entire history of the Church understood such a confession, simply to accomodate a modern and innovative practice into which we want to backfill some kind of biblical warrant? The only way that is possible is if we claim that the entire history of the Church was wrong in the way it practice "confession with the mouth," and we had to wait until the invention of the Altar Call to correct it. I can't see that being the case.

But in the end, the only "danger" there is in what you describe concerning my "elevation" of baptism and the Eucharist is if i or anyone else advocating a higher sacramental view were actually advocating an automatic or mechanical efficacy of the sacraments. (Mind you the "higher," view we advocate is higher than that view of the sacraments currently understood and practiced in the PCA and other Reformed denominations--which view itself is abismally low.) I say again as i have said repeatedly: neither i nor any others under attack for their sacramental views in the current controversy advocate such an ex opere operato view of the sacraments, in spite of what is slanderously claimed by many against us. A good place to start in this discussion is actually to take us at our word instead of continuing on under the (false) assmption that we mean something different than what we actually say. Are you willing to admit, my brother, that i am not advocating an ex opere operato view of the sacraments? Until we actually clarify that (and until you and others stop implying it) i don't see how this discussion can reach anything like a resolution.

>The fiddling with the Reformed Tradition began in the First Great Awakening and continued unabated through the Second Great Awakening and its continued innovations that perpetuated themselves even into the 20th century. –Pastor Trey Austin

Yes, Pastor Austin, Mark Noll has found a warm home for this historical judgment. Where? Why, among the Roman Catholics of the University of Notre Dame, of course!

Is anyone surprised modern defenders of Old School sacerdotalists find Rome welcoming them?

Those reading this exchange need to understand that Pastor Austin and his cohorts are not just blowing smoke in their attack upon Jonathan Edwards and the other ministers of the Word and Sacrament with whom he labored during the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit historians call the Great Awakening. Noll, Austin, and Hart intend to right all the wrongs committed by men like Edwards, Whitfield, and the Tennents. If you want to know the subversive doctrines and practices these pastors were guilty of, read Edwards' own defense of this work of God after it was attacked by pastoral sophisticates such as Charles Chauncy—a thoroughgoing Arminian, by the way.

On the other hand, don't bother. Just feed on Edwards' sermons and writings for the sanctification of your soul. And when your children graduate from high school, do as I did and give them the two volume set of Edwards published by Banner of Truth.

The attack upon Edwards is sickening.

Speaking of innovations, Pastor Austin, you likely don’t realize that our church follows the same order of worship followed by Knox’s English congregation in Geneva. Still, I’ll bet we have one innovation you’d hate: We raise our hands in prayer. It’s a New Testament principle of worship, and Calvin says it’s a universal posture of prayer.

So why don’t you require this of your own congregation? Don’t be surprised if someone less responsible than I accuses you of irregular innovations that repudiate the reformed tradition of worship.

Pastor Bayly (Tim),

With all due respect, and I should hope you know that I do respect you, you can do better than the reply above. It is pugnacious (not inherently bad) and avoids wrestling with Pastor Austin's points made above (bad in my eyes).

Mark Noll is a mixed bag but the fact he is currently employed by Notre Dame isn't very high on my list of flaws (nor his previous employment by Wheaton). I'd not have my son attend either institution at present but what does that have to do with the historic understanding and practice of Reformed Christians?

Also what is the basis for your idea that the Old School Presbyterians were sacerdotal? Were Hodge and Dabney sacerdotal?

Pastor Tim,

My dear brother, i never attacked Edwards in the least. I greatly admire and appreciate Edwards as a bright light in the Great Awakening, one who refused to go down the anti-ecclesiastical road of some of his contemporaries. Edwards didn't seek to set up "camp meetings" or "open air" preaching sessions within the presbytery, dicoese, and parish boundaries over which others had charge and without license or invitation to do so. Whitfield, the Tennets, and the Wesleys, though, did do those very things. Now, to share openly my views, i admire Whitfield as well (even his call to personally commit to Christ among those who are already baptized church members), though his work is, in my estimation, less admirable because of his failures in other areas. The Tennet brothers, on the other hand (vastly different from the Bayly brothers, i trust), deounced as unregenerate and ungodly their fellow ministers simply because they were critical of their innovations and attempts to subvert the authority and ministry of the Church. That is not a godly example i wish to follow, or would commend to any minister or candidate in my presbytery. You may disagree with me, but i just can't support it.

As to Dr. Noll's current academic venue, i can't comment. I don't know Dr. Noll, and i can't or won't try and guess his motives in the worst possible light. Why not impute the *BEST* possible motives for his ministry and teaching than to interpret his teaching at a Romanist college as undercutting his Reformed commitments. As you well know, seeing the case of Scott Hahn and Francis Beckwith, having no involvment in Romanist institutions is no innoculation against falling into the grave error of Romanism. Beckwith taught at a former Southern Baptist (but still decidedly baptistic in its Christian outlook, even if somewhat liberal) institution before his "reversion" to the Church of Rome. And Scott Hahn was a PCA pastor and professor at a Reformed seminary, with no connection to the Roman Church, when he began to consider his own return to the Roman Church. So, Dr. Noll's work and continued stand for the Reformation should speak for itself (especially since Notre Dame Univ. has had a long tradition of employing Protestants in their history and philosophy departments).

To answer your particulars, yes, i was aware that your congregation follows Knox's liturgy. Amen, and praise the Lord for it! I am not claiming that you are personally making innovations in your liturgy; my claim is that defending the Altar Call (or claiming that it is somehow less heinous than a higher [i.e., "balanced"] view of the sacraments) or other innovations as biblically justifiable is itself the way of New School Presbyterianism. And it is New School Presbyterianism, which has so become part of the fabric of the PCA especially (even among the so-called "TRs" in many ways), that it can't tell the difference between a properly Reformed and "catholic" understanding of the sacraments and the meager and sterile understandings that abounds among those who claim even to be Calvin's theological descendants. How did it happen that the Puritan and revivalist strains of Calvinism become so associated with Reformed Theology that other (especially more high Church) strains are seen as being mor Romanist than Calvinian (the same charge was waged against J.W. Nevin in his own day)?

And yes, as a matter of fact, i advocate the men raising their hands in worship. I raise my hands whenever i pray, pronounce the absolution and the benediction in corporate worship (and even when i give thanks before meals, for that matter). Do i view it as an unbiblical innovation to leave off from that? Yes, i do. My own congregation (the former charge of Dr. Frank Smith) has been entrenched in low-church "TR" Presbyterianism, and changes to return us to a more historically Reformed and "catholic" outlook are taking time. I've been here two years, and i have just this month been able to persuade the congregation and session to go from a quarterly to a monthly celebration of communion. But changes like you are talking about (as needed as they are, and i agree with you that they are) do take time.

So, Pastor Bayly, i have done my best to improve on both fronts (both posture in worship, especially the men raising their hands in prayer) *AND* a properly sacramental kind of piety that seeks to undercut low and inadequate views of the sacraments. Have you done the same? Or are you content with men raising hands to pray while retaining what is, for all intents and purposes, a Zwinglian view of the sacraments masquerading itself as Calvinian?

Dear Pastor Austin,

Please see my responses interspersed below:

>>>My dear brother, i never attacked Edwards in the least.

Thank you for this clarification. As you know, though, Mark Noll and others you sound much like do, in fact, attack Edwards with the rest of the Great Awakening. So I trust you’ll agree my mistake was honest.

>>>I greatly admire and appreciate Edwards as a bright light in the Great Awakening, one who refused to go down the anti-ecclesiastical road of some of his contemporaries.

Don’t you mean anti-clerical rather than anti-ecclesiastical? Really, it’s the perquisites and authority of the pastor that seem to be at the center of your, and others’, concerns. Holding to the excellence of reformed ecclesiology of the William Bannerman sort , I’m not willing to grant that the men attacking Edwards, Whitefield, and the Tennents were defenders of the church more than they were defenders of their own pastoral privileges.

>>>Edwards didn't seek to set up “camp meetings” or “open air” preaching sessions within the presbytery, dicoese, and parish boundaries over which others had charge and without license or invitation to do so.

Applying such ecclesiastical categories to Edwards’ time is a stretch. Whatever ecclesiastical borders existed were always somewhat permeable given the realities of colonial America. Look at the negotiations over who would sit on the council to adjudicate whether or not Edwards would depart Northampton for an example of how things actually worked. It was neither neat nor clean. Yes, there were excesses on the part of Edwards’ fellow preachers, but Chauncy and his fellow preachers resisted the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit going on around them, seeking to quench the Holy Spirit.

>>>The Tennet brothers… denounced as unregenerate and ungodly their fellow ministers simply because they were critical of their innovations and attempts to subvert the authority and ministry of the Church.

Both sides of the conflict leveled charges they later regretted. But it would not be accurate to lead people to believe that charges of unregeneracy were characteristic of the preachers of the Great Awakening.

Further, Chauncy and his fellow defenders of clerical privilege and authority were not “simply” “critical of …innovations and attempts to subvert the authority and ministry of the church.” Rather, they were inveterate in their opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit calling thousands of men out of dead orthodoxy into true faith in Jesus Christ. This historic fact must be faced squarely by anyone wanting to criticize Edwards and his fellow pastors.

As for the most frequently cited example of a lack of charity in the preaching of the Great Awakening, here’s a link to the sermon in question, Gilbert Tennent’s 1740 sermon, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry”:

http://www.sounddoctrine.net/Classic_Sermons/Gilbert%20Tennent/danger_of...

Later, Tennent apologized for the harshness and censoriousness of this sermon.

>>>As to Dr. Noll's current academic venue, i can't comment. I don't know Dr. Noll, and i can't or won't try and guess his motives in the worst possible light.

What’s all this talk about “guess(ing) motives in the worst possible light”? Actually, you’ve summarized what I’ve written in the worst possible light, brother. I’m pointing to Noll’s writing—not his motives.

And given Noll’s writing, critical of the men of the Great Awakening (including Edwards) and in defense of clerical privilege and authority, I observed that it makes sense he’d find a home among Roman Catholics. This has nothing to do with motives. It’s simple like-mindedness. Birds of a feather flock together.

>>>As you well know… having no involvement in Romanist institutions is no inoculation against falling into the grave error of Romanism…

While for some men, “having no involvement in Romanist institutions (was) no inoculation against falling into the grave error of Romanism,” it doesn’t follow that moving from the faculty of a Protestant to a Roman Catholic college has no implication for one’s theological commitments. You think not. I think so. Time will tell with Hatch, Marsden, Noll, and their students.

>>>I am not claiming that you are personally making innovations in your liturgy; my claim is that defending the Altar Call…

Actually, I understood my brother to be making an argument that there are significant parallels between sacramentalism and altarcallism—not that he was trying to get reformed pastors to start practicing the latter any more than the former.

>>>It is New School Presbyterianism, which has so become part of the fabric of the PCA especially (even among the so-called “TRs” in many ways), that it can't tell the difference between a properly Reformed and “catholic” understanding of the sacraments and the meager and sterile understandings that abounds among those who claim even to be Calvin’s theological descendants.

After all the words you’ve written here about the proper reformed view of the Sacraments, I’m still very uneasy with your position because I see you reacting against every citation of our fathers opposing ex opere operato that gets posted here. To you, it seems as if any caution against a superstitious understanding of the Sacraments is itself proof positive that the one doing the cautioning holds to a less-than-reformed view of the Sacraments.

Having said that, I must admit that you’d find David and me in agreement with you concerning many of your concerns, including a memorial-only view of the Sacraments and an egalitarian and rebellious denial of ecclesiastical authority, specifically as that authority has been delegated by God to church officers and councils.

>>>And yes, as a matter of fact, i advocate the men raising their hands in worship. I raise my hands whenever i pray, pronounce the absolution and the benediction in corporate worship (and even when i give thanks before meals, for that matter). Do i view it as an unbiblical innovation to leave off from that? Yes, i do. My own congregation (the former charge of Dr. Frank Smith) has been entrenched in low-church "TR" Presbyterianism, and changes to return us to a more historically Reformed and "catholic" outlook are taking time. I've been here two years, and i have just this month been able to persuade the congregation and session to go from a quarterly to a monthly celebration of communion. But changes like you are talking about (as needed as they are, and i agree with you that they are) do take time.

It was a long shot. I didn’t know your practice and took a wild guess, and I lost. I apologize.

I’m impressed by your leadership in this area and do appreciate it. To some it may seem insignificant, but I think not.

>>>So, Pastor Bayly, i have done my best to improve on both fronts (both posture in worship, especially the men raising their hands in prayer) *AND* a properly sacramental kind of piety that seeks to undercut low and inadequate views of the sacraments. Have you done the same? Or are you content with men raising hands to pray while retaining what is, for all intents and purposes, a Zwinglian view of the sacraments masquerading itself as Calvinian?

Actually, I don’t hold to a Zwinglian view, nor do our elders. The last time one articulated such a view during his examination for ordination, we delayed his ordination until he changed his view.

Tim,

As i told your brother in a comment on my blog, i appreciate your demeanor in our current disagreement. We likely do have more in common than it may appear at the outset.

I tell you what: i won't assume that your quoting of cautions against ex opere operato views of the sacraments are crypto-Zwinglian efforts if you won't assume that my quoting of strongly instrumental and objective views of the sacraments are crypto-Romanist efforts. How's that?

I suppose that my difficulty has been that, aside from those quotations from Calvin advocating the cognitive side of the sacraments (which is, in my estimation no farther than Zwingli himself went), i saw nothing in either your or David's expression that would give any clue of what you believed the sacraments did *BEYOND* being a kind of object-lesson and thought-provoking reminder of what Christ had done. What seemed to confirm this was your seeming disagreement with the plain language of the Confession and Calvin himself of "exhibit," "present," and "confer," referring to the thing signified as it comes to the faithful recipient of the sign. Those words are, in my estimation, the heart and soul of the *DIFFERENCE* between Calvinian and Zwinglian understandings of the sacrament. So, in your view, what do the sacraments do, when the Spirit makes them effectual? Do they actually do what they signify (as the WCF says)? Do they actually confer the grace of the thing signified? Do you have a problem viewing the sacraments as instruments through which God accomplishes the thing signified?

I'm having dinner with a few of those whom i affectionately refer to as "my little sheeps" (one of the families in my congregation), so i'll have to go now and deal with the other aspects of your post later. Until then, grace abundant be multiplied to you and your family.

David Bayly

"I hadn't done this for probably a decade, but I'm not opposed to it in principle as long as the act of coming forward isn't invested with the significance of a decision for Christ."

At the risk of seeming completely ignorant, what is the problem with a decision for Christ occuring as a result of an altar call? I understand that it's problematic if the response is purely emotional, but if the decision to respond to an altar call is driven by the Holy Spirit, then what is the problem?

Kevin,

Can a person get to Los Angeles from New York by way of Caracas? Sure, it's possible. And if the person gets where he's supposed to go, great. But just because it can happen doesn't mean it's right and proper.

Sure, it's possible that a person can make a real and credible profession of faith by means of an altar call (i have seen it done many, many times), but if we are asking the question of how the Bible calls for things to be done (even if we make provision to be done in an "irregular" way), we are asking what is right and proper for a person coming to faith in Christ. This is compounded by the fact that what often happens is that many believers in such an environment tend to expect from their children what they saw from others in their professions of faith in the altar call. In other words, it becomes not only something that *HAPPENS*, but normative for Christian experience. That means that many Christians under such an influence treat their children as unbelievers until and unless they make some kind of overt action like walking an aisle, when what they should be doing is treating them like a Christian who has a high calling as a member of Christ's Covenant, and then teaching those children how to live out that Covenant in their lives (i.e., by trusting in Christ and repenting of sin). Doing those things doesn't necessarily come in "one fell swoop," as we say in SC, but it comes gradually, with training and nurture. That's how we should bring up our children.

So, basically, i'm saying: that's the wrong question. The question isn't, "Well, *IF* it happens that way, what's wrong with that?" The question *SHOULD* be, "How does God's Word tell us we should work in order ordinarily to bring it about, and how should we look for it to take place if we do it God's way?" If that's the question, the altar call doesn't even enter the picture.

The irony is that sacramentarians make the same errors as the Arminians. Instead of our free choice of accepting Christ being the "one good work" we do to procure forgiveness of sins, baptism is that one good work.

Protestant sacramentarians have had the most difficult time squaring up their superstitious views of baptismal efficacy with sola fide, but historically we've called these people Lutherans or Anglicans. Sad to see some corners of the Reformed world get caught up in it.

>Instead of our free choice of accepting Christ being the "one good work" we do to procure forgiveness of sins, baptism is that one good work.

Odd thing is nobody here has advocated that. Go figure...

Pastor Bayly(s):

Can you point me to a decent primer on the dangers of a memorial-only view of the Sacraments? Thanks.

A good overview of Calvin's view of the supper would be Keith Mathison's "Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper" which also has a good overview of the other views of the supper such as RC, Lutheran, and Zwinglian.

David Gray said "Odd thing is nobody here has advocated that. Go figure..."

First, I wasn't referring to anyone who advocated that *here*.

Second, it is obvious that no one would come right out and explicitly say or advocate such a thing, even if that is the net effect of their theology. No Arminian would claim that their free-will decision is a "work", but what else is it if it is not a sovereignly-granted gift from God?

Likewise, many sacramentalists are too busy inflating their sacramentologies as much as they can, never feeling obligated to explain how they have not made baptism a co-instrument of justification along with faith.

>First, I wasn't referring to anyone who advocated that *here*.

Are you the same David Gadbois who posts on that board "Puritanboard" where some Reformed Christians team up with Baptists to attack Presbyterian ministers without those ministers being permitted an opportunity to respond?

Yes, I do indeed post to the Puritanboard. I suppose you are alluding to the fact that the Board does not allow Federal Vision advocates to post there. Well, sorry, it is not my policy. Since the RPCGA has declared FV to be outside the bounds, they have the right to institute such a rule on a board their ministers own, operate, and moderate.

>Since the RPCGA has declared FV to be outside the bounds, they have the right to institute such a rule on a board their ministers own, operate, and moderate.

Given that they forbid ministers who accept the WCF and permit Baptists to come and take pot shots at them the RPCGA doesn't command much respect in this regard. You might want to consider keeping your distance from people who are conducting themselves in that fashion.

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