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Archive for the ‘The Visible Church’ Category

The architects of the Reformed Churches in the 16th century were trans-generational thinkers. As those who rediscovered Covenant Theology, this should be expected. In reading the First Book of Discipline (1560), one will encounter explicit and repeated concern for future generations as justification for church policy decisions. For “the profite of the posterity to come.” Like good fathers, they wanted what was best for their bairns, and their bairns’ bairns as well!

Does this paternal, trans-generational concern shape the way we ‘do church’?  Is what we do in doctrine, worship, and government really in the best interests of the rising generations, or is it more candy to placate the over-indulged? Are we correcting and cultivating, or just coddling?

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More often than not, we identify Presbyterianism as a form of church government.  But recently, it occurred to me that a preacher’s exercise of looking at good commentaries after he has done his own firsthand exegesis is also an exercise in Presbyterianism.  It is a golden mean between exegetical Independency and Episcopacy.  Exegetical Independency says ‘no’ to the fruits of other men’s labors and an unequivocal ‘yes’ to one’s own.  It is idosyncratic, and in too many instances just plain idiotic.  On the other extreme, there is exegetical Episcopacy.  It makes too much of the gifts of some, becoming slavishly subservient to them.  The preacher who rushes to the commentaries before digesting God’s Word himself buries his talent in a napkin and exalts others to a lordly status – even over Scripture.  As in church government, so in exegesis.  Presbyterianism is the golden mean.

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The following quote from the First Book of Discipline (1560) illustrates how perceptive the Reformers were in the machinations of Satan – and human vulnerability.  Time and again, he has sought to draw the Church aside to the extremes of hyper-visibility (idolatry) and hyper-invisibility (profanity):

As Satan hath never ceased from the beginning to draw mankind into one of two extremities, to wit, that men should either be so ravished with gazing upon the risible creatures, that forgetting the cause wherefore they are ordained, they attribute unto them a virtue and power which God hath not granted unto them; or else that men should so contemn and despise God’s blessed ordinances and holy institutions, as if that neither in the right use of them there were any profit, neither yet in their profanation there were any danger: as this way, we say, Satan hath blinded the most part of mankind from the beginning; so doubt we not, but that he will strive to continue in his malice even to the end.

The Reformers sought to hold to a biblical via media in these matters.  There is a Visible Church.  Knox wished to alter the Creed from “I believe an holy kirk” to “I see (video) an holy kirk.”  Thus, the Reformers weren’t hyper-invisibilists like so many Anabaptist radicals.  But on the other hand, they were not hyper-visibilists calling believers to walk by sight and not by faith. 

We absolutely must retain this vital balance in the present climate of evangelical low-churchism.  And let us also be aware of the law of extremes.  Like the pendulum, one overreaction begets its opposite.  I’m sure Rome could become appealing to mystified followers of an eccentric old man who has to revise his end-time decrees every few years.

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