Tag Archives: Nine Points

The Nine Points and Schilder

It’s been an interesting week here with lots of lively discussion.  Yesterday my colleague Bill DeJong weighed in with his perspective.  In comment 8 under yesterday’s post The Nine Points and ’44: History Repeating Itself?, Bill wrote:

To the substance of what you wrote: I tend to think your interpretation of the nine points is naive on a couple of points.

1. The nine points demonstrate no particular sympathy for the theological emphases of Klaas Schilder. As you probably know, the primary author of the nine points is Scott Clark, an individual who routinely depicts Klaas Schilder’s theology as “idiosyncratic” as best. Scott was well aware that Schilder objected to dividing the covenant up into “external covenant” and “internal covenant.” The inclusion of the terms “outward” and “inward” in the nine points is likely a direct allusion to Schilder’s “idiosyncratic” theology.

Naive?  Hmmm…  So, Scott Clark was the “primary author” of the Nine Points.  It’s not a big secret.  It’s true that he has occasionally depicted Schilder’s theology in the way described.  It is also true that Scott has helpfully written a lengthy exposition of the Nine Points.  It’s a sort of commentary on the Nine Points.  So, if Bill’s hypothesis is correct, we should expect to see Schilder under fire at these points in Scott’s exposition.

Schilder is mentioned twice.  In the first mention, he is identified as one of those involved with a loss of “contact with the sources of classical Reformed (covenant) theology.”  Through the efforts of Schilder and many others, ‘scholastic’ and ‘scholasticism’ became pejoratives.  The second mention comes when Scott identifies those who, while not FV, speak of a “so-called covenant of works.”  Schilder is one of those.

When I read Scott’s exposition, the target of the Nine Points is not Schilder or the Canadian Reformed Churches, but the FV.  That also seems to hold true when he discusses points 5 and 6.  There we find no mention of, nor even an allusion to (at least not that I can detect) to Schilder.  Instead, Scott writes:

The answer to the problem created by the FV theology is to make a distinction which they consistently deny, minimize, or ignore, viz. to distinguish between the two ways of being in the covenant of grace. The great Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius spoke of a “double mode of communion” in the covenant of grace. This is exactly what Calvin taught both in his commentary on Romans 9, in his Institutes (3.21-24), and his sermons on election. All baptized Christians are in the covenant of grace. As Calvin said, to deny that is virtually blasphemy. It doesn’t help the problem to do as some have been tempted to do, i.e., to deny that unbelievers or reprobates have any relation to the covenant whatever. At the same time, it’s just as harmful to refuse to distinguish between ways of being in the one covenant of grace. From Calvin to Witsius (and after!) the Reformed sorted out this problem by saying that, though there is one covenant of grace, there are two ways of being in that one covenant of grace. All baptized persons are in the covenant of grace outwardly or externally but they are not all in the covenant of grace inwardly or internally.

Jacob and Esau were both in the covenant of grace. Both had received the sign and seal of the covenant, but the sign and seal were, as it were, fruitful for Jacob but not for Esau because they were not combined with faith (Heb 4:2). Though Jacob and Esau were both in they covenant of grace, they did not have, ultimately, the same relation to the one covenant of grace. They were both “in” the covenant of grace, but they weren’t both “of” the covenant of grace.

Why not? Paul says it was a matter of election.

In my estimation, that’s not substantially different from what Nelson Kloosterman asserts about Klaas Schilder.  For him too, there were two ways of relating to the covenant of grace.  I also discussed this in an earlier blog post.  Schilder appealed to a prayer of Calvin to distinguish between belonging to the covenant and being a recipient of salvation.  All baptized Christians are in the covenant of grace.  But in the unfolding of history, not all relate to the covenant in the same way.  Bill DeJong agrees, for he writes:

On the other hand, point # 6 can be rescued, and I think you’ve done a decent job elsewhere showing how. Baptized folk respond to covenant promises in one of two ways, and you’ve underscored that this point addresses the “two ways.” I think that’s fair. On the other hand, it needs to be emphasized that all baptized children are fully members of the covenant. I find this emphasis lacking in the nine points.

Point 6 doesn’t need to “be rescued,” because it was meant to be understood in exactly this way.  I’m not sure what is naive about thinking that.  You might not like the language of “external/internal,” but somehow we have to describe these two ways.  Personally, I prefer the language of faith/unbelief, but I would be equally comfortable with Paul’s language in Romans 9:6, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.”

Finally, Bill would have liked to seen it emphasized that “all baptized children are fully members of the covenant.”  However, as I understand them, the Nine Points were written to address particular errors associated with FV.  As far as I know, no FV authors are arguing that baptized children are not fully members of the covenant.  Also, as far as I know, Protestant Reformed theology does not have a meaningful home in the URCNA.  I’m also not aware of anyone in the URCNA asserting that baptized children are not all full covenant members.  So, I could understand why no one might think to include a statement like that in the Nine Points.  Although, come to think of it, it would have saved us a lot of trouble and potential misunderstanding!  For the record, I agree wholeheartedly with the statement, “All baptized children are fully members of the covenant.”

And folks, that wraps it up for me on this subject for the next while.  Besides my regular sermon preparation, I have a lecture series to prepare for next week.  So, the rest of this week and next will feature repeat posts from over the last few years.  I’ll be back to regular blogging on Monday September 6.

The Nine Points and ’44: History Repeating Itself?

Yesterday I described various views regarding the Liberation that happened in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in 1944.  In the CanRC community, ’44 is often held forth as an important lesson in what goes wrong when too much power gets invested in synods and when synods make binding doctrinal statements.  So, when Synod Schererville 2007 gave its “pastoral advice” on matters pertaining to Federal Vision, many alarm bells went off among CanRC folk.  The Nine Points were like 1944 Redivivus.  It’s time to start reassessing that.

In this regard, three important things happened at the URCNA Synod in London.  First, the Nine Points were reevaluated and reaffirmed.  The Nine Points stand.  Second, the Justification/Federal Vision study committee report was adopted received — apparently with unanimity.  The question is:  what is the status of these two items?  That’s where Overture 14 comes into play.  This overture sought clarification on the meaning and status of doctrinal affirmations, pastoral advice, and adopted received committee study reports.

From the reports I’ve read (here and here) there was extensive discussion about this matter, but no conclusion.  It appears that the matter was committed to the Synodical Rules Committee.  I assume that they will report back to the next Synod.  But let’s see what the advisory committee recommended regarding the definition of pastoral advice (which is what the Nine Points are):

2. Pastoral Advice: Pastoral Advice is the application of the Scriptures and the Confessions in response to particular circumstances in the churches.
2.1 Pastoral Advice expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care. It may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.
2.2 Pastoral Advice should be received with reverence and respect. It would be unwise to contradict or disregard Pastoral Advice in preaching or writing.
2.3 Pastoral Advice may be appealed as outlined in Church Order Articles 29 and 31. (Regulations for Synodical Procedure 3.4 and Appendix B)

I would especially call your attention to 2.1.  Pastoral advice (such as the Nine Points) “may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.”  That was the direction the advisory committee wished to move in — it was not adopted by Synod 2010 (at least not that I’ve seen reported).

Now that direction is something quite a bit different than what we saw yesterday with 1944 and the events leading up to it.  For instance, K. Schilder was deposed by a Synod for refusing to teach the Kuyperian doctrine that had been imposed on the Reformed churches.  Now aside from the question of a Synod carrying out discipline of office bearers, we can see that in that situation there was a binding that was regarded as grounds for discipline.  That’s something different than where we see the URCNA apparently going with “pastoral advice.”

Of course, it could happen that the URCNA Synodical Rules Committee turns around and recommends that “pastoral advice” should be grounds for matters of discipline.  Maybe the next Synod will even adopt it.  But I doubt it because, believe it or not, there are historical sensibilities in the URCNA.  It was evident in how the Synod chairman spoke in regards to Overture 14.  He warned that schism could result if this matter is not handled carefully.

Here’s the thing:  we in the CanRC can’t see the spectre of Abraham Kuyper and his epigones (I always wanted to use that word!) behind nearly everything the URCNA does.  When it comes to covenant theology and baptism, most of their (vocal) theologians are not drawing on Kuyper, but on sources far earlier.  I’ve heard no one arguing for baptism on the basis of presumed regeneration!  When it comes to church polity, the historical circumstances leading up to 1944 were entirely different, involving, for instance,  a world war.  As I recall, collaboration with the Nazis was a factor in the Liberation.  Schilder and those who became Liberated were entirely opposed to National Socialism and its anti-Christian agenda.  Some of those who opposed Schilder were less than stalwart in their opposition to Nazism.  That muddied the waters of church politics.  To see our URCNA brothers as the “synodicals” come back to life is not historically justifiable.

To be sure, there are some concerning trends in the URCNA and the way it does church polity.  I’ve written before about the length of URCNA Synods.  The idea of representatives rather than delegates who deliberate on behalf of the federation  is foreign to historical Dortian polity.  The notion of a permanent “stated clerk” could be seen as hierarchical.  We often see language that makes it sound as if the classis is some kind of permanent body in the URCNA (although that language is increasingly used in the CanRCs too).  I could go on.  They’re a young federation and still growing together and we can cut them some slack.  We don’t have it all together either — not anywhere close.  However, to see the Nine Points as 1944 all over again does not do justice either to the URCNA or to what our forefathers experienced in the Liberation.  The similarities are superficial at best.

Nine Points — Confessionally Binding Authority?

This is from the press release of Classis Niagara September 16, 2009 of the Canadian Reformed Churches:

An overture from the church at Lincoln regarding the nine points adopted by the URCNA Synod held in Schererville, IN is introduced. The overture asks that our next General Synod address the next General Synod of the URCNA and ask it to declare that the nine points do not have confessionally binding authority. After discussion, the overture is adopted by Classis and will be sent to the next Regional Synod East.