Historical Theology (General)

The eight Important icons represent important explanations.

Introduction

People enter the faith via different traditions: it could come your parents, the radio, your culture, or even movies. You always have a tradition; the goal is to be explicit about it, and use it effectively so that you're not enslaved to it. The "I'm just Christian" approach doesn't last long in practice.

One may identify as "Reformed" and another as "Lutheran" while someone else spurns the label "Baptist", but objective reality has final say: your practical and doctrinal stances as well as your theological methodologies betray your tradition. Underlying your tradition is theological description that we call a creed.

Church Historian Carl Trueman gets to the point:

I do want to make the point here that Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true.1

Everyone has an overall creed, but some people just keep it unwritten and private in a way that deliberates isolates the person from the rest of human history. Trueman continues: "...all churches and all Christians have a functional confession, the difference being whether one writes it down and makes it public or not."2.

The irony is that the lack of an explicit creed is usually intended to be non-divisive; but, for a creed to be unifying, it needs to be explicitly shared between the uniting parties. Yes, being explicit creates walls, but those walls make rooms.

In addition to having a creed, everyone has a growing creed. Even if you claim to care about the "essentials" of the faith, you'll eventually be faced with issues with a theological backbone: Something as simple as a cultural misunderstanding of gender will force you to understand the image of God. Serious discussions of marriage must leads you to the 5th commandment, thus leading you to the inevitable issue of the unity and viability of the decalogue. Your responses will categorize you in a tradition without your explicit consent.

Furthermore, there must be a continual reassessment of doctrine in light of newer discoveries.

Evangelicals are fairly resistant to explicit traditions; if they weren't, they'd be better classifies as Reformed or Lutheran instead of the catch-all "evangelical" which have grown to be code for "just Christian, but Baptist".

Trueman boils is down even more:

All Protestant pastors, even the most fundamentalist, will, if they are remotely competent, prepare their sermons with the help of lexicons, commentaries, and books of theology. As soon as they take down one of these books from their bookcases and start to read it, of course, they are drawing positively on church tradition. They are not simply reading the Word of God; they are reading the thoughts and reflections on that Word offered by someone else and articulated using words, sentences, and paragraphs that are not found anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, as soon as one uses the word “Trinity” from the pulpit, one is drawing on tradition, not Scripture. In fact, tradition is not the issue; it is how one defines that tradition, and how one understands the way it connects to Scripture, which are really the points at issue.3

There's always a lens or framework through which you read Scripture. You may think that you're simply getting your theology from the Bible, you really do have your own implicit tradition. As I've written in my hermeneutics lesson, you need to control this or be controlled by it. You must make your theological framework and your tradition explicit4.

Keep in mind that this isn't something isolated in theology; the theological issue that arise with friends and family may, on the surface, seem like they're medical, political, environmental, or relational issues, but they have a theological dimension. This doesn't mean that we simply pray away issues. God uses means: pray for health, then eat right and see a doctor. Ultimately, trust in the Lord and pray for wisdom, while doing the work you're called to (Eph 2:10, Hebrews 8:24-25).

Furthermore, a blanket disregard for theological progress is in direct conflict for one of God's core wills for you life: John 17:1–3:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1–3)

How do you know the Father? Through Christ. How do you know Christ? By the Spirit revealing it to you. How so? In the Bible, yet, not the Bible alone, but the Bible connected to the bride of Christ, the Church. This is the point: you're not merely an individual having a private relationship with God. Yes, your salvation and your relationship is private and personal, but it's never that without the corporate. Not simply, visibly on Sunday, but historically back to the first century. Your understanding of theology and of your affinity within the Church relates to a different usage of the term tradition.

We use the term to speak of your specific theological tradition, but also to the overall tradition of the church. The former is where you're automatically placed regardless of how you "self-identity". The latter speaks the catholicity, to which we now turn.

Catholicity

Take a moment to review the Apostles' Creed:

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: I believe in the Holy Ghost: I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints: The forgiveness of sins: The resurrection of the body: And the life everlasting. Amen.

No one can rightfully be called a Christian without agreeing with this creed. Besides the fact at this states the basics of essential doctrine, notice the bold words "holy catholic church".

If you are a Christian, you are a member of the church catholic (universal) that Christ established just before his ascension (Matthew 16:18). Yes, to be a Christian is to be personally united to Christ, but it's equally about being a member in his universal (catholic) church. You are not personally the bride of Christ.

In addition to this creed, to be called a Christian, by definition, are must not actively disagree with theology of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. These documents form the absolute, base minimums of the Christian faith5. They set the basis for the overall Christian tradition.

Tradition

When speaking of overall Christian tradition, there are theoretically three ways we can look at it. The first two are simply tradition I and tradition II:

Regarding tradition I, Historian Heiko Oberman writes:

Tradition I, then, represents the sufficiency of Holy Scripture as understood by the Fathers and doctors of the Church. In the case of disagreement between these interpreters, Holy Scripture has the final authority. The horizontal concept of Tradition is by no means denied here, but rather understood as the mode of reception of the fides[faith] or veritas[truth] contained in Holy Scripture. Since the appeal to extrascriptural tradition is rejected, the validity of ecclesiastical traditions and consuetudines[customs] is not regarded as "self-supporting" but depends on its relation to the faith handed down by God in Holy Scripture.6

Regarding tradition II,

The second concept of tradition, Tradition II, refers to the written and unwritten part of the apostolic message as approved by the Church. Here it is not the function of the doctors of Holy Scripture but that of the bishops which is relatively more stressed. The hierarchy is seen to have its "own" oral tradition, to a certain undefined extent independent, not of the Apostles, but of what is recorded in the canonical books. Ecclesiastical traditions, including canon law, are invested with the same degree of authority as that of Holy Scripture.7

To summarize:

  • Tradition I - everything is subordinate to Scripture
  • Tradition II - Scripture and a living tradition are in parallel

Clear, type II isn't an option for protestants, or anyone claiming to be an evangelical. However, many people who think they're holding to Tradition 1, may be attempting to seek the third option, which Church Historian Alister McGrath refers to as Tradition 08. He describes it as follows:

"There is no place for tradition in the interpretation of the Bible. Every individual or community is free to interpret the Bible without reference to the Christian past." This view is characteristic of the radical Reformation, and partly reflects their view that the true church ceased to exist shortly after the period of the apostles. Why appeal to the views of past writers, when these either had tarnished credentials, or were not even proper Christians?9

Theologian Robert Letham explains the arrogance of this position as follows:

This [solo Scriptura] perspective values what the Holy Spirit putatively makes known to us at the expense of what he has made known to the church of Jesus Christ over the last two thousand years. Moreover, it is impossible to come to the Bible with a blank mind, unaffected by philosophical or cultural presuppositions, or previously received teaching. It is better to acknowledge these factors than to pretend that one's biblical interpretation is pure and unalloyed when it may be far from it.10

This methodological heresy, called solo Scriptura, turns to theological heresy when there's an attempt to take it consistently. However, as Letham mentioned, your presuppositions and previous teachings will guide you, and better to be upfront about it with yourself. Theologically, this may be good or bad.

Carl Trueman summarizes the three types of tradition:

While scripture has unique authority, the history of theology, especially as that history is embodied in the actions of the church, is to be taken very seriously. This represents neither a Catholic view of an authoritative church magisterium in matters of interpretation; nor a later, individualistic theological piety of the kind so often associated, rightly or wrongly, with later evangelicalism; rather, it is a typical Reformation approach to both history and the church, one which takes tradition seriously while yet striving to give final, decisive authority to scripture.11

He summarizes the issue well, and makes it personal:

I do want to make the point here that Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true.12

trueman/greatcloudwitnesses

The Lord has graciously provided us with a great cloud of witnesses throughout history who can help us to understand the Bible and to apply it to our present day. To ignore such might not be so much a sign of biblical humility as of overbearing hubris and confidence in our own abilities and the uniqueness of our own age.13

Thus, in addition to the arrogance of telling the Spirit that require new illuminations (not those He gave the Church), there's also the dishonesty factor relating to you denying that you have tradition, then there's inappropriate inability to allow your theology to be objectively checked. Trueman focused in on this last point:

When someone declares that they “just know in their heart” that the latest boy band is the greatest phenomenon of Western musical culture since Bach left the organ loft for the last time, you may know that they are talking arrant nonsense, but there is no way that you can refute this person’s claim because it is not a claim expressed using public criteria commonly known as words and logic. It is a purely personal, subjective judgment; and, in its claim to truth, it makes truth something mystical, something to be experienced, not something subject to normal criteria of public evaluation.14

We should avoid private unfalsifiable claims as much as possible. Nobody can judge your actual Christian experiences, so your status as a Christian is reviewed by your credible profession of faith (a statement of doctrine) and Christian lifestyle (including not disobeying the command to be baptized). These are public and falsifiable, and act as an example of the topic at hand: your creed must be made explicit so it can be falsifiable. The existing creeds, catechisms, and confessions help with this.

Dumbing down on the history and the theological language does ultimately dumb down the theology. Sadly, there are Christians who this as a good thing. The problem seems to be based on a practical misunderstanding: we're not talking about focusing on the essentials of the faith, we're talking about talking about focusing on the essentials of the faith correctly. When the term imputation disappeared, eventually so does the love it. Theological terminology is the spice that gives the meal the flavor you'll remember.

To reiterate: we may not spurn the past. We must understand that we exist in a long line of Christians in the church. We already do build out theology on that which came before us, we just need to be more explicit about it. Ignoring the past isn't possible, and attempting to do so is both foolish and perilous.

Sad Precedent

Spurning the past isn't just for contemporary American culture or the more radical branch of the Reformation, the Reformers themselves were affected by this. Historical Theologian Richard Muller writes:

Melanchthon was perhaps the most radical of the Reformers in his early willingness to exclude not only traditionary language but also older dogmas from the essentials of the faith. In the 1521 edition of his Loci communes, Melanchthon could polemicize against the introduction of non-biblical categories such as trinitarian vocabulary into the standard or basic loci of Christian theology... As subsequent editions of the Loci communes demonstrate, Melanchthon quickly recognized the need to offer an explicit and fully developed doctrines of the Trinity, grounded in examination of texts in both Testaments.15

We can see this same pattern in Luther. Carl Trueman points out that Luther, when asked how the Reformation was going, would respond with something to the effect of I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no price or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing' the Word did Everything"16

However, Trueman also that Luther 1525 and beyond had a different, less naive attitude:17

Muller generalizes this:

From the third or fourth decade of the sixteenth century onward, there was a development in Protestant approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity—on the one hand, the Reformers became more and more willing to accept the traditional terminology as normative, while, on the other, they distanced themselves from the increasingly loud, albeit never very large, chorus of antitrinitarianism. These two sides of the development were, of course, related.18

The naive belief that we can start over, that we don't need the help from the past, and the misapplication of the centrality of Scripture affect most everyone at some level. However, when history repeats itself, we're pushed beyond ourselves to revisit the solutions from when these problems arose previously.

It's here that we can talk about historical theology. Theologian Kevin Giles summarizes:

The study of the Scriptures does not explain why a doctrine emerged, how it was developed or what problem or question it sought to resolve. The history of the doctrine provides this information.19

Despite the "Tradition II" mythology, the Church didn't start out pristine with a perfect understanding of doctrine which later decayed. The Church began in an infant stage, just as we all do individually. Just as the Scriptures were written by those speaking from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:2) during the accomplishment of revelation, others are carried along by the Holy Spirit in the application of revelation we call illumination.20

This means that students of the Apostles (e.g. Irenaeus, Polycarp) differ from the Apostles in that the latter had the power of the Spirit in inscripturation, while the former had His power in interpretation. This puts a qualitative break between the two groups. We're in the same group as the students of the Apostles, yet in a better position since we have 2000 years of the Spirit's guidance.

The Church has had to deal with a lot of problems in the past few millenia, and it was the Spirit who was the guide. Though sin prevented complete understanding or application, we can and must mine the understandings the Spirit gifted to our ecclesiastical ancestors. Scripture is not our only authority, it's our final authority.

As we ourselves are attached to and grow in the universal Church and share in a common catholicity, extending through the Puritans, Calvin, Augustine, Irenaeus, the Apostles, Isaiah, Moses, etc. This is the heart of historical theology. It's simply irresponsible to disregard the many centuries of development. We simply don't have the time required (centuries) to catch up with the developments in theology by ourselves.

Practical

With this foundational understanding in place, we can tie together the concepts: your tradition is a more specific version of the overall tradition. As you gain more theological skills, you'll be able to interpret both Scripture and reality better, but it also means that you're cutting off theological impossibilities. This is a good thing.

One corollary of this is that "just Christian" Bible studies are inherently very limited in their utility. At nearly every point, once a study dives into any level of depth, "agree to disagree" simply breaks down. Disagreeing on foundational topics leads to a shattering of the interpretive lens, causing further interpretation to be severely skewed. Differences in views on the continuity of God's people (dispensationalism), anthropology or sin (Arminianism), or Christology (Lutheranism) represent very early divergences which can only be sustained in a group setting by egregious theological compromise.

Additionally, much of what's taught in Christianity today is by the phone game. While teachers should couch explanation in contemporary language, unless we go back to the sources, the explanations given are expressions of expressions, not expressions of the truth. We must go back to the theological terminology. Yes, this usually means going back to the proper Latin terms. Most people don't need to acquire the language, but it's beyond question that legal and theological terms is in Latin. This means going beyond the basic "5 solas" into a deeper understanding of the pactum salutis and analogia fidei.

Beyond this, while it's important to be identity heresy from contemporary terminology, knowing the "-isms" and their history is vital to protecting a healthy catholicity. We share the same language as those centuries before us (though, yes... Latin and French don't use the same -ism suffix!) This means that we should raise an eyebrow when we hear about good works as being merely "thank you notes" to God or merely "evidence of your faith", while understanding that this is Antinomianism (and literally the exact accusations thrown at the 16th century Reformers and the 17th century Reformed!)22 When you hear "the Trinity is like how God can be a Father to one person and a brother to another", you should think "that's modalism".

The core heresy of Mormonism isn't new. It's tritheism, with a science fiction backstory. The Jehovah's Witnesses is Arianism. The saying attributed to Charles Spurgeon sums it up well: "Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right"23. There's no reason to go out alone, and there are many reason to gain the support of a structured, historical understanding instead of quickly reading the latest apologetics quick answers book. You need more than answers, you need to see that your situation isn't new.

You can see in the works of Paul, the author of Hebrews, and other Scriptural authors, a regular assumption of a shared Biblical-theological understanding. While knowing the audience of the Biblical book helps us understand the local context, first and foremost, that information told the author about their common Biblical-theological understanding.

Even the most shallow comparisons between Christ speaking to his future Apostles and Christ speaking to Pilate shows the importance of a Biblical-theological understanding: those who should know better are treated more harshly. This is the core of the indictment in John 5:30-47 and in Christ's harsh words later in the letters in Revelation.

By building on those who came before us we can:

  • benefit from the guidelines to avoid error
  • get a vital headset on theology
  • understand what theologies lead to practical heresy (sin)
  • gain a stronger unity toward general Christianity
  • gain an even stronger unity in our own specific tradition

To "gain a stronger unity toward general Christianity" is something we've already discussed, but to "gain an even stronger unity in our own specific tradition" is what we started out with: you're already in a tradition. By making this explicit you can have a stronger unity with those who share a common, deeper foundation.

Proper Methodology

Regarding Westminster Divine Anthony Tuckney (d. 1670), and the rest of the Reformed tradition, Pastor Youngchun Cho says:

...according to [Anthony] Tuckney, the creeds and confessions are indispensable if the church is to keep its soundness in doctrine and practice. The confessional standards as norma normata (a rule that is ruled) do not compete with Scripture, which is norma normans (the rule that rules), for the final authority on doctrinal matters. Rather, they uphold Scripture by providing a coherent and systematic understanding of the Word of God. Such a unified guidance does not undermine but rather promotes the communion of saints since it can prevent unnecessary conflicts caused by doctrinal ignorance or dissension. Additionally, the study of confessions strengthens one’s godliness and deepens one’s relationship with Christ. 25

Going to the primary sources, Tuckney himself wrote:

...ancient Creeds, Canons of Councils, and since the Confessions and Catechismes whither of whole Churches or of particular men, their Summes, Institutions, Systems, Syntagmes, Synopses, or by what ever other name you call such Modells of Divinity, as orderly lay down together such divine truths as are scattered up and down in the Scripture, or explain such as there seem to be something obscure, and so present them in a full and clear distinct view, for the better help, especially of a weaker eye against the fascinations of juggling Impostors.26

In other words, the creeds and all the other theological development that came before us help us understand "such divine truths as are scattered up and down in the Scripture", and help us keep from imposing fictions onto the text. This last point alone would burn a lot of "just Christian" Bible study videos.

Despite their initial upset, the Reformers, didn't ultimately trash 1500 years of theological development when they countered Rome and the biblicistic radicals who felt that all they needed was the Bible.

They didn't simply pull ideas from nowhere; they studied and quoted Augustine, Cyril, Gregory, Bonaventure, Bernard and many others. The Westminster Divines would quote them as well as Calvin, Luther, Bullinger, and other first and second reformers. Today, we have an even larger pool tap into.

One "all I need is my Bible" group eventually turned into full-scale rationalism27. Cho reminds of the forefathers of today's theological liberals: the Socinians.

Tuckney was particularly concerned about the threats of Socinians and Arminians. They were considered greater threats than previous heretics, not because of what they argued but due to how they developed their arguments. They claimed themselves to be Bible-believing Christians and cited Scripture explicitly in support of their theological agendas. For example, the Racovian Catechism, which was the official confession of Socinianism in the seventeenth century, begins with a strong affirmation of the divine authority, certainty, sufficiency, and perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures.28

This group, next to the antinomians and Arminians, were the bane of the Puritan's existence. They help remind us that rationalists, apostates, and biblicists are merely different expressions of the same underlying problems: the spurning of a healthy catholicity. They don't hold to sola scriptura, they hold to solo scriptura. This one subtle difference is the difference between water (H2O) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2).

Cho describes one particular Bible-only liberal from the 17th century:

Independent from Continental Socinianism, John Biddle, an Oxford tutor, developed ingenious arguments denying the deity of Christ through his own reading of the Bible. What made both Socinians and John Biddle more noxious was that they claimed themselves the true heirs of the sola Scriptura of the Reformation. They accused the early church of allowing Greek philosophical concepts and language to intrude into Christian theology and so developing many doctrines that compromised with heathen philosophy.29

This sounds exactly like any number of professors at Harvard, or multitudes of local independent congregations who take a distinctive pride in theory exclusive focus on the Bible, without interfere from Augustine or Calvin.

One of the reasons people run to liberalism from fundamentalism is because it's what they're most comfortable with. They've spent their entire lives without a healthy catholicity or an explicit structured Biblical-theological framework.

Misguided teachers like Steven Furtick and Joyce Meyer don't start ministries for the purposes of deceiving people. They truly believe they're being Biblical by going directly to the Bible without external interference. The majority of Christians want to be Biblical, and understand that everything must be tested by Scripture.

However, what they, and the liberals, are testing against is their own implicit tradition through the lens of their own implicit theological foundation.

Terminology and Concepts

There's a specific danger here that we need to clarify. Many of these heretical groups didn't start out attacking specific theologies, but rather specific terminology or overly complex explanations. Terms like trinity, imputation, and sanctification are core to understand the essentials of the faith

Beyond this, these and further theological terms act as guardrails. The tenets of truth and error behind the terms give us signals to look for. Loss of the terms usually leads to the completely forgetting about the associated error. In fact, while historical theology will help your Biblical understanding, an increase in properly contextualized terminology will help you with both.

You should train your earn to listen for heretical tenets hiding in general discourse. You should raise an eyebrow when we hear about good works as being merely "thank you notes" to God or merely "evidence of your faith"; you should immediately think "antinomianism"30. When you hear "the Trinity is like how God can be a Father to one person and a brother to another", you should think "that's modalism".

These are very basic examples. As you progress in your Christian life, you'll hit deeper theological issues, either in theological literature or by watching the news. The associated theological constructs are often complex, but irreducibly complex. Trueman summarizes:

history teaches that many Christian doctrines can only exist in a stable form within a relatively complex network of related doctrines. Christian theology, in other words, always has a certain ineradicable complexity, which has serious implications for the modern evangelical predilection for simple and very brief statements of faith.31

Scripture is perspicuous (easily understood; cf. WCF 1.732) in terms of the basic message, but claims that the whole God's truth is simple contradicts the fact that the Spirit is required to understand it. It also flies directly in the face of Scripture itself. Peter writes:

...just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. (2 Peter 3:15b-17)

The church has always had to deal with people who throw out terms, concepts, and tradition in favor of exclusive Bible reading. Muller writes:

Virtually all of the sixteenth century antitrinitarians were biblicists. They lacked not a reverence for the text as the norm of doctrine but rather a traditionary norm for the regulation of their exegesis. They believed quite strongly that they had simply taken the next logical step beyond that of the Reformers: they accepted the Reformers’ attack in the name of sola Scriptura on the doctrinal accretions characteristic of medieval theology and turned the new, non-allegorical, textual, and literal exegesis on a wider array of traditional dogmas, most notably, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity33

He continues:

Like the early Reformers, moreover, they were reluctant to use non-biblical language in the formulation of normative doctrine—although they invariably radicalized the point: whereas Calvin, for example, readily admitted that the trinitarian vocabulary was not strictly biblical while at the same time recognizing its usefulness against heresy, the antitrinitarian writers, from Servetus and Gentile to the Socini, were convinced that the non-biblical language was to be utterly excluded and, by way of extension of the point, that several of the early heresies were closer to the truth than Niceno-Constantinopolitan orthodoxy.34

Unity and Clarification

This leads to a critical point: the creeds, catechisms, and confessions ultimately play a dual role in the church in both unity and clarification.

Just as the early Church creeds and the fundamental Gospel agreements in the reformation unite the church against the world, our progressively more specific catechisms and confessions further the availability of deeper unity in the local church, while differentiating them from those in a different theological tradition down the street.

Summarizing Tuckey's view on the creeds, catechisms, and confessions, Cho says:

To believe and love Christ is the telos of the creeds and confessions. Given this, it is clear that the pursuit of doctrinal precision in seventeenth-century Reformed theology was not for the sake of doctrine itself but because orthodoxy is indispensable for orthopraxis.36

In other words, historical theology, both catholic and in terms of your specific theological tradition are for more than orthodoxy, but also orthopraxy (and of course orthopothathy!)

As the joke/accusation goes, many Sunday Christians are Monday Pagans, but most Sunday Chistians are Sunday Pagans too. Right practice (orthopraxy) isn't just about loving your neighbor in both word and deed, it's about loving God in word and deed. You do this by worshipping him only as he commands (the regulative principle), without going beyond it with your own additions. Sin is a practical heresy. Heresy is a theological sin.

This is where we can become the most specific in our own traditions: whereas the Catholic reformation was moral and the Lutheran reformation was theological, the Reformed reformation focused first on worship. For the Reformed, while changing congregations over carpet color is silly, not taking action over gross violating worship practice is far worse (cf. Numbers 25). Without this context, nothing about the English Reformation makes any sense.

While evangelicalism talks much about how "head knowledge" needs to affect the heart, the Reformed have always been oriented about the heart, causing one to run from the world to baptism, or in baptism to the Lord's table. We love our neighbors, not simply because of social contract, but because both we and they are the image of God, with us being restored from sin to the image of Christ, heightening our obligation to that law (WCF 19.5). Whereas the moral law is the shape of the Christian life39, the ordinary means of grace in our union and communion with Christ is its cadence (WLC 154, 155). Thus, there's no separation in doctrine and practice: our practice is an expression of our doctrine, which has inherent controls for worship (WLC 108-110) and the means of our growth (WLC 154ff), but our desire for doctrine stems from a desire for Christ (WCF 18.3). The heart drives the head (WLC 72, 75, 76).

While Lutheran worship is sacrilegious to the Reformed, we admire Luther's insistence that there be no unity on the matter of the Supper, despite our difference in underlying doctrine40. The Puritans had a very similar issue with the Church of England at the return of the monarchy. King Charles II's 1662 Act of Uniformity forced 2000 Church of England ministers (20%) to be unable to perform their pastoral duties. Conventicle Act 1664 banned religious assemblies of more than 5 people outside the Church of England. The 1665 Five Mile Act prevented any Pastor from going within five miles of their congregations. They simply needed to accept the Book of Common prayer, but false worship was not an option.

To avoid biblicism, just as we can't disregard nor change the Apostles' Creed because of the words "descended into hell", instead we seek to understand how our tradition understood it42. Likewise, instead of declaring "exceptions" to the Confessions because of our implicit, personal tradition and cultural lenses, we should seek to understand the underlying theology better. Reading the context, including sermons and the debates of the Puritans, will help you avoid reading Scripture without your exceptions as lenses.

For example, the Sabbath, after all, is core, to the Reformed faith. The Reformed means of grace are severly crippled when the weekly cadence of their expression is attacked. It would also be good to send the message to restaurant owners that your desire for mozzarella sticks isn't as strong as your desire to see the employees at worship44. It's worth the extra effort in order to avoid preaching against the confession that many in the congregation is using as a map of their sanctification45.

Per WCF 15.5, our prayers should be for our own continual repentance and that others pray for our repentance: first in worship, then in life. Unlawful worship is not only non-binding on Christians, it's the cause of much division. WCF 20.4 speaks of contrary practices "whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation" and "erroneous opinions or practices" immediately before WCF 21 which speaks of worship and the Sabbath: "the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself". While attacking musical instruments and musical style is fairly silly, there's no greater golden calf than a literal golden calf just as there's no unauthorized fire more offensive to God than unauthorized fire (e.g. advent candles).

Scottish Theologian John Murray (d. 1975), while making a good point, potentially overstates things when he says:

The persons subscribing to that creed are bound to adhere to its teachings as long as they enjoy the privileges accruing from that subscription and from the fellowship it entails. They must relinquish these privileges whenever they are no longer able to avow the tenets expressed in the creed. In this sense a creed may be said to be normative within the communion adopting it. For the Church concerned officially declares in the creed what it believes the teaching of Scripture to be. And so the person who has come to renounce the tenets of the creed to which he once subscribed has no right to continue to exercise the privileges contingent upon subscription. He may not in such a case protest his right to these privileges by appeal to Scripture as the supreme authority. It is entirely conceivable that the creed may be in error and his renunciation of it warranted and required by Scripture. But his resort in such a case must be to renounce subscription and with such renunciation the privileges incident to it. Then he may proceed to expose the falsity of the creedal position in the light of Scripture.46

This is an important topic in the Reformed faith, because of the claims of Anglicanism: the Church of English separated from Rome because of the proposal to Henry VIII that said that Peter founded the Church of English before the Church of England. This gave the King the pretense he needed to break from the church (to get his divorce). Beyond this, some in Anglicanism see the Church of England as true Reformed catholicity. We must disagree.

Though most American congregations don't care about this, the tradition more attune to Reformed catholicity has put force solid contributions over the years.

We should commit to ourselves to never use the term "Reformed" when we don't mean "Reformed Orthodoxy". There's an underlying unifying scripture to Reformed theology that prevents a chunk (Predestination) from being cut off and given the label "Reformed". Predestination merely speaks to the set of all human in God's overall eschatological plan, which is worked out in history via covenant. As one person jokingly said to a "reformed" evangelical: "You may be Calvinistic, but you ain't Calvintastic!"

[swain book, article, etc]

Potentials

People often say that we should keep a journal so we can look back to see what God had done. Catholicity is the same way. There's a comfort in seeing that these problems have come before. This is for more than just doctrinal concerns. While your Pastor is telling you that you're living in sin because you aren't experiencing the joy of God, you can look to the writing of Charles Spurgeon48, who likely suffered clinical depression.

Taking Action

From a practical perspective, while many Christians start out their Christian lives with an extreme pacifism and a sense of simple purity, life naturally removes these obstacles to your theological growth. It could be that you'll get a heretic literally knocking on the door, it's more likely that your closest friends will come to you with a problem that can be explained and, through extended conversation, possibly even eventually resolved by a proper understanding of Scripture.

Sometimes people want to help people by simplifying everything for others; while Luther and Melanchthon snapped out of their naivety, others obstinately push through.

Denial of tradition can be seen in Church tradition. The church has always had to deal with people who throw out tradition in favor of exclusive Bible reading. Instead of listening to the Spirit guiding you in what he already told the church, you listen to yourself and your underlying cultural presuppositions.

Throwing the baby out with the baptism water is one of the hallmarks of the radicals (the anabaptists) during the reformation. The same idea expressed itself in the 17th century. Next to the antinomians and Arminians, the Socinians were the bane of the Puritan's existence.

The theological issue that arise with friends and family may, on the surface, seem like they're medical, political, environmental, or relational issues, but they have a theological dimension. This doesn't mean that we can simply pray away issues. God uses means. Yes, pray for health, but eat healthy and see a doctor. Ultimately, trust in the Lord and pray for wisdom, while searching the Scriptures and works of those who came before us.

Theology and practice always go together. Yes, theology is fun for us to study, but it's always practical. These are literally matters of eternal life and death. Speaking of the 17th century confessional tradition, Carl Trueman gets right to the point:49

People sometimes forget that the theological traditions are built by Pastors who need theology to comfort the suffering. Doctrine and piety (practice) may never be separated.

Richard Muller writes:

The proposal to give us piety without the niceties of dogmatic development and debate must also fail inasmuch as it falsely bifurcates the life of faith into things of the heart and things of the head—as if the Christian intellect cannot be faithful... The severing of piety from the debates of the era is also untrue to the historical case. The authors of scholastic theological systems were frequently persons of considerable piety and, more important, for the historical record, also wrote works intended to develop and support piety.50

You have no idea when God will put an opportunity in your lap, and you don't have the time and sinless perfection required to build the whole of your theology from scratch. You will encounter an issue where an understanding of justification will be critical51 and where you'll need need to explain why you think something is a sin52.

Most issues, will require a substantial underlying Biblical-theological framework from which can you explain complex arguments. Just because the core message of Scripture is simple, doesn't mean that the issues coming at you can simply be naively simplified to "just trust Jesus" without specifying which Jesus. Depending on a person's temperament, the means of problem solving often looks like or even feels like anxiety. It's easy to confuse diligence with impatience53 (2 Thess 3:9-11 and Matt 6:28 are meant to be understood together as written by the same divine Author!)

For further details on developing this Biblical-theological framework, read by lesson on Hermeneutics lesson.

Documents

At a bare minimum, the earliest Christian creeds unite us at a foundational level, and set us apart from outsiders. Doctrine always divides, but it also unites. It sets lines where we can identify a person's theological position. As we started out by saying, we can't simply declare "I'm Reformed" or "I'm not a Baptist", it's the theological positions which dictate this.

Beyond the creeds, the Reformed tradition has an incredible wealth of catechisms and creeds54. The Reformed tradition stems from the 16th Reformation and grew in specificity as issues forced the need for clarification with the Lutherans, Radicals, and Romanists. In the 17th century, the Reformed confessional tradition peaked with the Westminster Assembly, which produces the Larger Catechism, Shorter Catechism, and Confession of Faith.

For the Reformed, these documents, read through their original context and intent, set the greatest point of theological unity55. They're fundamentally compromising documents, but their so rich in theology that it takes a while to understand what's meant. Not that they're hard to understand; the author's simply have very rich Biblical-theological framework. We must share this understanding to grasp the final codified message.

Explicit Understanding

You're already standing on the shoulders of your predecessors (e.g. cultural presuppositions), but you need to work it into a coherent whole. You can't simply reach into your bucket of doctrines, you need a deeper structural understanding.

Studying historical theology often looks a lot like studying history, but it's closer to the theological details. When studying the early church, church history and historical theology overlap to a considerable degree. For example, while the early Church councils were about more than just theological controversies, that's how they're remembered.

For example, out of the rise of heresies such as Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Sabellianism, came theological correction codified in church documents like the the Athanasian Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Definition. In fact, controversies have produced a great many helpful documents, but have also given us an established set of term and very black-and-white heresies (e.g. Augustine vs Pelagius).

The church has always looked to previous precedent when examining doctrine. However, whereas sometimes this examination is in the form of looking for exact precedent, it's usually about examining the discussions themselves for two main reasons: 1) to understand how the Church handled that discussion previously and 2) to see what positions were being argued against so we know what we can easily shut the door on.

This final point is important to anyone who takes Paul's theology seriously. In Romans 9, Paul argues against against a party who wold deny the sovereignty of God in salvation. This should scare us from ever taking the position of that party. We don't want to be on the wrong side of the Spirit's words.

Post-inscripturation, specifically during the 17th century, we're not merely copy the words of our forefathers, but we still need to care take to not take the position that was being argued against. We're not copying the result, we're mimicing the pattern.

Nonetheless, as your understanding increases and your sanctification continues, you'll object less and less to various established church documents within your tradition56.

Works Cited

Cho, Youngchun, Anthony Tuckney, Theologian of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017)

Ferguson, Sinclair, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance: Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016)

Giles, Kevin, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012)

Jones, Mark, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburgs, New Jersey: PR Publishing, 2013)

Letham, Robert, Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019)

McGrath, Alister, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, Fourth Edition (West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012

Muller, A., Richard, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy: Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003)

———, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (Oxford University Press: New York, 2003)

Oberman, Heiko, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012)

Trueman, Carl, Lecture: 06 - Early Development of the Reformation II, The Reformation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2013

———, Lecture: 07 - 1520, The Reformation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2013

———, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012)

———, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2014)

Tuckney, Anthony, A Good Day Well Improved

Resources

The study of historical theology can be approached in myriad ways, but probably the easiest is to simply read church history and pay attention to the legal cases. The History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff mentions a great many of these cases, often associated with the defendant, which is usually the one classified as the heretic, but there are cases when history took a wrong like in the case of Lanfranc v. Berengar. Lanfranc was Anselm's predecessor and was instrumental in defending Transubstantiation. Some later important cases include Arminius v. Gomarus and Cocceius v. Voetius. Cases like these set the tone for an entire era.

Given its foundational, yet neglected nature of medieval history, I've separated works relating to medieval history and theology. You can view those in the Church History (Medieval) section.

Similarly, due to how incredibly specific the topic of HT relating to the post-Reformation (including Puritan) era can be, I've separated those resources as well. You can view that topic in the Historical Theology (Post-Reformation) section.

Book The Unaccommodated Calvin (Richard Muller)

There are a lot of books about Calvin, and for good reason. This one is core to Calvin studies. Richard Muller explains Calvin and his works in his own context. You don't know Calvin prior to reading this book.

The sequel to this is After Calvin by the same author. See the note about it in the Historical Theology (Post-Reformation) section

Book Iustitia Dei (Alister McGrath)

This is basically the history of the doctrine of justification. It's fairly exhaustive. At times he interacts with and attempts to correct The Harvest of Medieval Theology by Heiko Oberman mentioned in the Church History (Medieval) section.


Footnotes and Star Notes

1

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 15

2

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative

3

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 16

4

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 93

5

Those paying close attention will notice that I didn't mention the updated Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed. While I think that's important to further a deeper theological structure, it's not appropriate to include it as what unites all Christians.

6

Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 372

7

Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 373

8

I've read this reference a few times, most recently in Robert Letham's Systematic Theology (2019), but I can't find McGrath using this term. The work cited in the 2nd edition of McGrath's Reformation Thought (1993), but I have the 4th edition. Nonetheless, he does nonetheless describe the concept.

9

Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, Fourth Edition

10

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 270

11

Carl Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2014), 11

12

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 15

13

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 107

14

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 78

15

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy: Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 64

16

Luther, Beer and 1522

17

Carl Trueman, 7 - 1520, The Reformation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2013

18

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy: Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 65

19

Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 1

20

cf. Richard Gaffin, Lecture 4 - Eschatalogical Structure: Part 2, Theology of Hebrews, Westminster Theological Seminary

21

Let's clear up a potential objection: "Isn't Roman Catholic an oxymoron? If it's Roman, it's not universal". Their usage of the term definitely is odd, since it's used to imply exclusivity. However, Williams Perkins (d. 1602) writes "By a Reformed Catholic, I understand anyone that holds the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church; yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine whereby the said religion is corrupted." Cf. Reformed Catholic.

22

Antinomianism is easily the greatest threat in the Reformed church. The Puritan even teamed up with the Arminians to push back Antinomianism. It's back today in full force everywhere. The most powerful example in recently history is Tullian Tchividjian. He's not even subtle in his heresy. For more information read Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburgs, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), Whitney G. Gamble, Christ and the Law: Antinomianian at the Westminster Assembly (Reformation Heritage Books: GrandRapids, MI, 2016), Jeffery Jue, "The Active Obedience of Christ and the Westminster Standards", in Scott Oliphint, ed., Justified in Christ (Great Britain: Mentor Imprint, 2007), and Alan Strange, "The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ", Drawn into controversie: reformed theological diversity and debates within seventeenth-century British Puritanism (Göttingen ;Oakville, Conn. : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), and A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 179.

23

I can only find people quoting this, but nobody ever cites a source. Discernment itself requires that we say that we have no idea who said this until a primary source is found.

24

Let's clear up a potential objection: "Isn't Roman Catholic an oxymoron? If it's Roman, it's not universal". Their usage of the term definitely is odd, since it's used to imply exclusivity. However, Williams Perkins (d. 1602) writes "By a Reformed Catholic, I understand anyone that holds the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church; yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine whereby the said religion is corrupted." Cf. Reformed Catholic.

25

Youngchun Cho, Anthony Tuckney, Theologian of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 91

26

Anthony Tuckney, A Good Day Well Improved, or Five Sermons pg. 247-248

27

Richard Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition

28

Youngchun Cho, Anthony Tuckney, Theologian of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 86

29

Youngchun Cho, Anthony Tuckney, Theologian of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 110

30

Antinomianism is easily the greatest threat in the Reformed church. The Puritan even teamed up with the Arminians to push back Antinomianism. It's back today in full force everywhere. The most powerful example in recently history is Tullian Tchividjian. He's not even subtle in his heresy. For more information read Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburgs, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), Whitney G. Gamble, Christ and the Law: Antinomianian at the Westminster Assembly (Reformation Heritage Books: GrandRapids, MI, 2016), Jeffery Jue, "The Active Obedience of Christ and the Westminster Standards", in Scott Oliphint, ed., Justified in Christ (Great Britain: Mentor Imprint, 2007), and Alan Strange, "The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ", Drawn into controversie: reformed theological diversity and debates within seventeenth-century British Puritanism (Göttingen ;Oakville, Conn. : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), and A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 179.

31

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 18

32

"All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them."

33

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy: Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 79

34

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy: Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 79

35

This is one reason the 20th century invention of dispensationalism is so devastating to the church: the theological divergences are so early that theological fellowship can exist only at the surface level, both in the contemporary church and when reading theology from before the 20th century. Worse, any view in line with the catholicity of the chruch in any sense is inevitably attacked as being anti-semitic by dispensationalists. Dispensationalism is an example of a system with a rich theological-framework; however, this framework is so flawed at every level that it effectively vaccinates itself against substantial catholicity. The fact that the control most Christian radio stations is deeply lamentable.

36

Youngchun Cho, Anthony Tuckney, Theologian of the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 91

37

The difference between secular and Christian counseling is Christ. The difference between shallow and serious Christian counseling is a proper understanding of Christ and His revelation to us. The Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) excels in this area by applying counseling in the context of true Reformed theology. Their Journal of Biblical Counseling profounds excellent articles helping people do exactly that.

38

This can be seen by Calvin's disagreements with the city council, Knox' zeal for the purity of Scotish worship, and the fact that it was Laudian worship practices in English which sparked the existing tinder (e.g. regal-parliamentary disagreements, Antinomianism) leading to the English Civil War and the Westminster Assembly. More on this in a bit.

39

Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance: Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 120-121

40

John Gerstner makes this point in Handout Church History: Colloquy of Marburg

41

The term conformist comes up in the puritan context a lot. This word has two main contexts: first, Queen Elizabeth's reigh and second, during King Clarles II's reign Conformists in the first context simply means adherence to a milder, almost-reformed Book of Common Prayer. Here we have William Perkins (d. 1602) and Richard Sibbes (d. 1635), the founders of Puritanism. In the second context, we have true Anglicanism with Edward Leigh and Richard Vines as examples. These men would be like J. I. Packer: we Reformed love most of their works, but we probably couldn't sit in their worship. R.C. Sproul, in speaking of Packer's signature on the ECT document, once said "Jim has a foot in protestantism and another in Rome"

42

In Samuel Renihan's Crux, Mors, Inferi (2021), the author, a confessional 1689 Reformed Baptist, tries to make the case against his own tradition that we should go to an earlier understanding of the clause. In chapter 6 he lays out the case of his own tradition, then quotes more obscure theologians to attack it. His exegesis in chapter 2 he tries to tease out the physics of the spiritual realms from parables. It's incredibly odd. In Defense of the Descent: A Response to Contemporary Critics (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013) by Daniel Hyde presents understanding of the clause in a manner more in line with the Reformed tradition (the tradition Renihan is writing against).

43

The following are a great place to start (the first one should be referenced weekly throughout your entire life!): A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012); Whitney G. Gamble, Christ and the Law: Antinomianian at the Westminster Assembly (Reformation Heritage Books: GrandRapids, MI, 2016); Stephen Casselli, Divine Law Maintained: Anthony Burgess, Covenant Theology, and the Place of the Law in Reformed Scholasticism (Reformation Heritage Books: GrandRapids, MI, 2016); Chad Van Dixhoorn, God’s Ambassadors: The Westminster Assembly and the Reformation of the English Pulpit, 1643-1653 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017); William S. Barker, Puritan Profiles: 54 Puritan Personalities Drawn Together by the Westminster Assembly (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus/Mentor, 1996)

44

This is all to say that the Westminster confession must be read contextually: it's a bare-minimum document, allowing for a huge range of theological variation. You can't simply critique the wording, since we need their context to understand them. We also can't simply look to the original intent, since there's no concensus on the intent: the author's disagreed with each other often. Robert Lethem, for example, says of 6-day creation: "Even if a majority of the Assembly supported days of twenty-four hours, this no more made it confessionally binding than its clear infralapsarianism (WCF 111:6-7) bound supralapsarians such as Rutherford and the prolocutor Twisse.", in "In the Space of Six Days", WTJ 61, 1999), 174. Because this document was meant to extend from England to the whole world, care was taken to not deliberately exclude acceptable Reformed positions. Church polity is an obvious exception as there simply is no "Puritan polity". The congregationalists and the Dutch would need variants, exactly how the US version had to update the section on the civil magistrate. However, the concepts core to Reformed need to be understood, not taken exception to. Modifying anything in the moral law is fairly serious.

45

cf. Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative

46

John Murray, Tradition Romish and Protestant, Collected Writings of John Murray: Volume 4 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 272

47

One example is Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain's book Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015). Ryan Field's article ["Reformed and Catholic?: Assessing Nevin and Bavinck as Resources for Reformed Catholicity", Westminster Theological Journal, 82 (2020), 77-94] adds to the Allan-Swain book by putting forth Herman Bavinck as probably the best representative of Reformed Catholicity in the 19th century. He mentions Nevin too, but Field reminds the reader of Nevin's dipping his tow into the Tiber.

48

CCEF: How do I overcome my depression when I don’t know why I’m depressed?. The same can be said when your Pastor is calling you to "repent" of your anxiety disorder. The same cane be said for inactive sexual disorientation . These are physical disabilities that will be fixed by the bodily resurrection, not immediately your salvation. You can't pray these away entirely any more than you can pray away Alzheimer's. We treat, pray, and assist.

49

Carl Trueman, 06 - Early Development of the Reformation II, The Reformation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 2013

50

Richard Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (Oxford University Press: New York, 2003), 46

51

Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance: Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 219-220

52

Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburgs, New Jersey: PR Publishing, 2013), 131

53

cf. Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance: Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 219-220

54

James T. Dennison Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: 1523–1693, vols. 1-4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008–2014).

55

It's hard to overstate the damage done by people taking "exceptions" to confessional standards. While everyone trusts that they're agreeing on the common foundations of the faith, disunity is propagated by some actively working against the Reformed in a particular area. We need to be careful to avoid theologies which take crass exceptions to the Reformed confessions. The Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, is already a bare-minimum compromising document, as the debates of the Assembly show. Cf. Opponents and Errors. Cf. Confessional Integrity in the PCA

56

In my case, it took 20 years to go from English confessional subscription with dozens of exceptions to full ex animo subscription. I faught against so many parts of it, including the Sabbath. A deeper understanding of theology, including prolegomena, the image of God, and eschatology to understand why the Westmister divines wrote what they did.