[#] Why Doug Wilson is Wrong

Man. What a morning! This guy down the street would not shut his rooster up, but I finally found my industrial ear protection and was able to come back to the blog for a few minutes with you, the people who love me and whom I love so dearly. Group hug.

I’ve been trading bandwidth with said Rooster re: Doug Wilson in Credenda/Agenda on the church’s response to same-sex marriage. See: Rooster has his own opinions about the subject (I’m not sure we’ve heard his actual solution to the problem yet, btw), but his response so far is “Doug Wilson is wrong, for pete’s sake, because he says that we should just sit back and do nothing while the Goths storm the gates!” Or something like that.

Anyway, Doug Wilson is hardly living in a bunker or advocating that the church should live in a bunker. How could he? If he takes the Gospel even quasi-seriously (and I think he takes it much more seriously than that), he knows we must be in the world and not of the world. I would even offer that one of Wilson’s major themes – perhaps his strongest suit – is the matter of how we can be both “in the world” and not at all “of the world”. He takes the call to be aliens and sojourners so seriously that he rejects secular means at face value – and let’s be careful how we measure “secular”, shall we?

But all that said (over and over and over …), Pastor Wilson is still wrong in his essay, in my (I can’t even type “h^mble”, can I?) opinion. And it’s not a matter of being wrong about his call to action – because frankly I agree with him that the American church is in a miserable state brought on by a lot of things, but primarily by godlessness in the church. No, I have not gone Harold Camping here. The problem is that we do not do what the Bible tells us to do – and that, by definition, is godless.

We do not rule by elders; we do not offer discipleship, correction and discipline. There’s no doubt that we do not admonish people in adultery before marriage, or after. We simply wink out a tear at divorce – something that God says he hates! In that way, I think it is, um, not very perceptive to say that there’s not actually something wrong with the American church.

So what is Pastor Wilson so wrong about, anyway? Well, if we browse his Credenda site, we find a creed which tells us about what he believes. On the Gospel and Law: fine. Then we get to “On Justification”, and we come across this:
3. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ, an organic covenant body, is also justified, sanctified, regenerated, and elect. Because her sanctification, like ours, is not yet complete (Eph. 5:24-32), I believe that non-justified, non-elect, non-sanctified, and non-regenerated individuals can be covenant-breaking members of this covenant body for a time. But in the passage of time all such fruitless branches are removed (John 15:1-7; Rom. 11:20; Matt. 13:24-40). Non-elect warts are removed from the elect Bride (Eph. 5:27).
Now, in theory, I agree that there are those who are not actually saved who live together inside “the church” with some who are saved, and that in the final account these “warts are removed from the elect Bride”. But at this point in this creed, Wilson and his associates are tossing around a rather loaded word: covenant.

However, because they are rather bright fellows, they follow up with this:
4. I believe that God established two distinct covenants with mankind, one before the Fall, and one after. The first covenant was called a covenant of works in the Westminster Confession (7.2). I would prefer to call it a covenant of creational grace. The condition of covenant-keeping in this first covenant was to believe God’s grace, command, warnings, and promise. If Adam had avoided sin in this temptation, he would have had no grounds for boasting, but could only say that God had graciously preserved him. Perfect and personal obedience, even for an unfallen man, is not possible unless he trusts in God’s goodness and grace. Because God endued Adam with the power and ability to keep covenant with Him (WCF 19.1), Adam was a recipient of grace, and thus, the sin that plunged our race into death was a revolt against grace.
OK: we can split hairs about what “the first covenant” is, but the key matter here is that prior to the second covenant, man had an obligation to obey God. Romans 1 & 2 works that all out by saying that no man actually has the excuse that he “didn’t know” that God had rules to obey because man’s conscience and creation itself speaks sufficiently to man about those things.

There’s no great controversy there, though there might be a swarm of minor ones. I’m not interested in the minors today, just the majors – relating to the way point (3) handles the word “covenant” and the way point (5) actually fleshes that out:
5. The second covenant is a covenant of redemptive grace. The thing that the two covenants have in common is grace, not works. The condition for keeping this covenant is the same as the first, although the circumstances are different. The condition always is to believe God.
So it is this second covenant, we must suppose, (3) is talking about when we read that the church is a “covenant” body, and that those who are “covenant-breaking” members can be rightly considered members of that body.

That is amplified when we get to the section on Baptism, which says:
1. I believe that the phrase baptismal regeneration, when taken in a wooden ex opere operato sense, has been the source of much rank superstition and idolatry. Baptism in water is a sign and seal of the new covenant, and as with all covenants, the new covenant has attendant blessings and curses. The blessings are appropriated by faith, not by water, and the curses are brought down upon the head by unbelief, against which curses the water provides no protection whatever.

. . .

4. I believe that the phrase baptismal efficacy may be helpfully used to describe an ex opere operato connection to the new covenant, with its attendant and standing responsibility to repent and believe. Reprobate covenant members who refuse to do this are no less covenant members for all that.
As I offer this next piece of exposition, let me say first of all that this is a digested version of Wilson’s view, and if I do him injustice then I accept the blame for what I have omitted. That doesn’t mean I’m omitting anything I think is critical, but it is admitting I’m open to correction if I got it wrong.

Yet this is where I come to the sticky place with Pastor Wilson. It is his view, as I read these passages, that all who are baptized are brought into the new covenant, but that those who are baptized into the covenant who do not, in the final account, have faith and have been faithful, are thereby condemned under the covenant. Which is to say (among other things), we can baptize infants in the promise of faith without (a) condemning them instantly because they do not have faith, and (b) with our hope in God who keeps his promises that the sign of baptism will be met with “fides salvifica”. Thus in baptism we enter into the covenant of redemptive grace, but apparently we are expected to keep the covenant of redemptive grace.

Well, maybe not. Point (6) under Justification does say this:
6. These points are made, not to smuggle works from the covenant of works into the covenant of grace, but rather the opposite. I believe we must insist that autonomous works be banished from every human realm and endeavor, whether fallen or unfallen (1 Cor. 1:31).{Emph Added}
So on the one hand, all who are baptized are under the obligation to keep the covenant (which they don’t actually keep unless God …) which comprises inclusion into the church, and all who are not baptized are called to keep a covenant (which the don’t actually keep unless God …) which does not comprise inclusion into the church.

The problem with all of this is that the Book of Hebrews says this about the second covenant:
    Heb 8: 6But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

    8For he finds fault with them when he says:

    "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
    9not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
    For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
    10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
    I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
    11And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
    for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
    12For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more." (ESV)
That is to say, those with whom God makes the second covenant are blameless in His sight, and will undoubtedly receive mercy. So “keeping” the second covenant is in God’s hands and not man’s hands – and in that way, calling any man a “covenant breaker” of the second covenant is meaningless.

So what does all of this have to do with objecting to Jones/Wilson’s essay on the church’s reaction to same-sex marriage? It is this issue of “covenantial dynamics” which Jones & Wilson use to make the point that God is calling down judgment on the church for being what it is – because I do not disagree with Wilson regarding the state of the church.

However, my first question to him (if he were reading) would be: “when was the church actually any better, my friend?” There is much made of the Medieval view of the church in Credenda/Agenda, but one of the problematic parts of the Medieval church was that it was trying to be both secular and spiritual authority in the face of what Tim Enloe has called the disintegration of society. If those who, today, seek to oppose same-sex marriage legislation are wrong for the “secular” argument, the Medieval church must stand-to for the same charge.

If the answer comes back (and I think it must) that “the church has always been full of sinners,” I would say first of all, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And second of all, if the church has always been a place where sin has, because of the nature of man, existed next to, because of the nature of God, grace-placed virtue, how can we say now, “bollix! The jig is up and God’s going to judge us now”?

I do not deny that it is God’s prerogative to judge – and that He cannot judge but rightly and justly. But it is His covenant that says “I will be merciful toward their iniquities and remember their sins no more.” And that covenant is a better covenant than the old, mediated by one who sits at His right hand and the sacrifice which seals that covenant once for all. And those inside that covenant will not be judged.

Now the massive question, really, is how do I take this conclusion that calling the homosexual revolution a judgment of God on the church “wrong” and then say, “well, I’m the same guy that’s just spent 10 hours refuting Rooster’s complaints about Doug Wilson”?

I think the answer is simple: it is possible that God is judging the nation and not the church for the sins of our secular state and theology. It is, in fact, right that God should judge our nation because we do not fear the Lord and we do not lift up His name. We are in fact frauds for the most part. In a nation where 85% of us profess to be Christians, 45% attend church on any given Sunday, 55% say they share their faith in the course of a year, 49% favor the distribution of pornography, 50% think truth is unchanging, 69% believe that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator that rules the world today, 41% think Christ sinned when He was here in His earthly incarnation, and 39% think there was no bodily resurrection. (thanks, Barna)

If there is a nation in the history of the world that could have heard the truth, has heard the Truth in the Gospel, and has actively rejected that truth, it is the United States. God has no covenant with this nation but that it serves His ultimate purpose.

So what to do? See: the irony is that I think Wilson got the “what to do” part right. The call of the church is not to crush the bones of sinners under foot as His Truth Is Marching On. The call of the Church is to preach the Gospel that some might repent – and that preaching doesn’t start on the street corner or on the radio or on TV or by passing a law: that preaching starts when we get on our knees and admit to ourselves and to God that we have failed Him. We. Us. The Church. You. Me.

We have failed what we ought to do – because if we were preaching the Gospel, the Word does not come back void. The Gospel is not about passing enough laws to keep the sinful and the evil at bey: The Gospel is about showing that God has changed us – who were and are sinful and evil – in grace and mercy so that we – by the power of the Holy Spirit – can now show grace and mercy. We should be better fathers and husbands; we should have better children and tighter families. Our churches should not be disorderly country clubs but houses of worship and fellowship with God. We should not abide in our own ranks the sin we are so quick to point a finger at in the midst of the world – but we should overcome evil with good. And “the good”, for those who have somehow missed it on my blog, is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. “the good” is the sacrificial love of Christ which we demonstrate to each other (in the church) and to those sinners we meet elsewhere.

That is orthodoxy, readers. That’s who the Apostles were. That’s who the Christians who converted the pagan world were.

Who and what are we?