Shedd on Doctrine and Church membership

The following are my comments on Shedd’s comments taken from W.G.T. Shedd’s, “Calvinism: Pure and Mixed,” pages 8-11. Here’s Shedd (my comments interspersed):

==Revision is inexpedient, because the Westminster Standards already make full provision for those exceptional cases, on account of which revision is claimed by its advocates to be needed. It is said that there are some true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who cannot adopt all the Westminster statements, who yet should not be, and actually are not, excluded from the Presbyterian Church; that there are tender consciences of good men, whose scruples are to be respected. But these cases are referred by the Form of Government to the church session, and power is given to it to receive into membership any person who trusts in the blood of Christ for the remission of sin, although his doctrinal knowledge and belief may be unsatisfactory on some points. He may stumble at predestination, but if with the publican he cries, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’, he has the root of the matter in him, and is a regenerate child of God. But why should the whole Presbyterian Church revise its entire creed, so as to make it fit these exceptional cases?…These ‘babes in Christ’ need the education of the full and complete system of truth, and should gradually be led up to it, instead of bringing the system down to their level.==

Chris: The “tender consciences of good men” have scruples which cause them to stumble at predestination? Does a regenerate child of God say in one “blessedly” (or “felicitously”) inconsistent breath: “why does He yet find fault with what He has predestinated me to do” AND “God be merciful to me a sinner”?? No. The regenerate child of God does not play the rebellious role of Paul’s objector (Romans 9:19). He who does play this role certainly has the “root of the matter in him”–-the root of enmity, and the matter of rebellion that Paul rebukes with the following:

“You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the One forming it, Why did You make me like this? (Romans 9:19-20)

Chris: Now, is Paul rebuking a Christian with a tender conscience whose scruples he is certainly NOT respecting since he just rebuked them, contrary to the advice of Shedd? Or, rather, is Paul rebuking a guile-filled unbeliever whose “tender” conscience “will not have this Man to reign over him”, and who is confused about the clear-cut Creator/creature distinction? To ask the question is to answer it.

==There is sometimes a misconception at this point. We have seen it stated that the membership of the Presbyterian Church is not required or expected to hold the same doctrine with the officers; that the pastor, elders, and deacons must accept the Confession of Faith ‘as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures’, but that the congregation need not. [Machen held to said view–CD] But this error arises from confounding the toleration of a deficiency with the endorsement of it. Because a church session tolerates in a particular person, who gives evidence of faith in Christ, an error respecting foreordination, or even some abstruse point in the Trinity, or the incarnation, it does not thereby endorse the error. It does not sanction his opinion on these subjects, but only endures it, in view of his religious experience on the vital points of faith and repentance, and with the hope that his subsequent growth in knowledge will bring him to a final rejection of it. The Presbyterian Church tolerates theatre-going in some of its members: that is to say, it does not discipline them for it. But it does not formally approve of and sanction theatre-going. A proposition to revise the Confession by inserting a clause to this effect, in order to meet the wishes and practice of theatre-going church-members, would be voted down by the presbyteries.==

Chris: Shedd said, “But this error arises from confounding the toleration of a deficiency with the endorsement of it.” I suppose a TC (i.e., tolerant Calvinist) [1] could tolerate the Arminian version of universal atonement without actually endorsing it, since he has his own version of universal atonement which he heartily endorses. Yet, the TC’s toleration of the Arminian version of universal atonement, shows that it’s not that much different from his own version. Else why would the TC tolerate the Arminian version? Of course, some Calvinists who believe that God enables (through so-called “grace”) the elect to meet conditions think that their version is worlds apart from their Arminian brethren’s.

[1] TC’s are tolerant Calvinsts who profess to believe in an efficacious atonement while calling those who believe in a vitiated atonement, their spiritual brethren. Arminians–-those who believe that Christ equally died for everyone without exception–-think that the message of an atonement that actually atones is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). But to those who are saved, it is the power of God. The tolerant Calvinists deny the cross of Christ as the power of God to everyone believing when they call “saved” those whom the apostle Paul would call “perishing.”

==The position that the officers of a church may have one creed, and the membership another, is untenable. No church could live and thrive upon it. A Trinitarian clergy preaching to an Arian or Socinian membership, would preach to unwilling hearers. And although the difference is not so great and so vital, yet a Calvinistic clergy preaching to an Arminian membership, or an Arminian clergy to a Calvinistic membership, would on some points find unsympathetic auditors. Pastor and people, officers and members, must be homogenous in doctrine, in order to a vigorous church-life.==

Chris: All of the religionists mentioned above are essentially homogenous in doctrine: They all hold to varying degrees of salvation conditioned on the sinner’s efforts. And since they all believe in salvation conditioned on the sinner’s efforts, they also, in varying degrees of explicitness deny the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

To requote an interesting comment by Shedd:

==A Trinitarian clergy preaching to an Arian or Socinian membership, would preach to unwilling hearers. And although the difference is not so great and so vital, yet a Calvinistic clergy preaching to an Arminian membership, or an Arminian clergy to a Calvinistic membership, would on some points find unsympathetic auditors.==

Chris: The difference is not so great and so vital, he says. Right. And thus the lost Calvinists and Arminians are guilty of causing schism in their respective Synagogues (Revelation 2:9).

==…The revision of a denominational creed is a rare occurrence in ecclesiastical history. Commonly a denomination remains from first to last upon the base that was laid for it in the beginning by its fathers and founders. And when revision does occur, it is seldom in the direction of fullness and precision. Usually the alteration is in favor of vague and looser statements” (Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, pp. 8, 9, 10-11).==

Chris: Vague and looser statements, and a ton of equivocating and perverting the Biblical meaning of certain Biblical words and phrases. For instance: The Westminster Confession of faith professes to believe in “God.” But they say that God permitted the fall. The God of the Bible did NOT permit the fall; He ordained and actively caused the fall. Therefore the WCF denies the Godhood of God by denying that God has sovereign control over His own creation. The WCF Calvinists admit to a semi-deistic, semi-dualistic view when it comes to God’s sovereign causation of sin in order to glorify Himself through the work of Christ.