Thursday, January 29, 2009

How do we go from defending to discipling?

I have been reading Scott Clark's, Recovering the Reformed Confession and have been enjoying it. In it Clark makes his case for recovering the biblical and historical understanding of Reformed theology, piety and practice (RTPP) in the life of a Reformed church.

The basic problem as Clark sees it is as a class of churches, which profess allegiance to reformed theology, piety and practice (RTPP), as revealed in the Word, and summarized in the Refomred confessions, we have drifted from our moorings. Some have become confused about what it means to be reformed, while others have lost their confidence that RTPP is correct or effective.

One of the specific ways in which this problem has reared its ugly head is what Clark calls the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). QIRE finds its roots in the "new measures" of Finney and the Second Great Awakening, and found its way into Reformed Presbyterian church life through New Side Presbyterians who thought they could borrow the forms of the new measures while maintaining the theology of the Westminster Standards. As such, this new piety and practice desires "to achieve an unmediated encounter with God. It also describes religious subjectivism (often part of that quest) and even religious enthusiasm," (p. 74). This subjectivism is "alien to the Reformed confession," (p. 82).

Clark argues that this is not historic, biblical RPP, which John Williamson Nevin referred to as the system of the catechism, or what the Old Side Presbyterians referred to as the outward and ordinary means of grace. RPP is not focused on experience above all else, but upon the objective divine promises of scripture first, and then on one's awareness of the Spririt's presence (p. 74).

Clark is clear that this does not mean that RPP is opposed to genuine religious experience. RPP is strongly in favor of a vital religious life (p. 89), and confesses a "living religion that is organized around the means of grace," (p. 114), which according to the WCF 21.5 are:

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God.

Clark summarizes the perpective of RPP as being confessional, "Christ-centered, grounded in the gospel of Christ's obedience, death, and resurrection for sinners, and in the operation of the Holy Spirit through the ordained means of grace: the preaching of the gospel and the aministration of the sacraments. According to the Reformed churches, Christ has promised to use these means to bring his people to maturity and sanctity,"(p. 116).

Before I read Clark's chapter on QIRE I was already in agreement. But this caused me to think. It is one thing for me to agree. It is one thing to defend RPP and to call myself and the church to pursue them by faith, and faithfully. But what is the most effective way to communicate this to the church? What is the best way to postiviely present RPP to the layman without appearing defensive and reactionary?

What does RPP look like in the day in and day out Christian pilgrimage? Jonathan Edwards gave us a portrait of his religious affections in The Life of David Brainerd. No thank you Mr. Edwards. The pietistic spirituality crowd has flooded the market with books and helps promoting their unbiblical version of spirituality for day to day living.

What have we provided our folks? How do we promote and disciple our people in RPP?

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