A Startling catholicity

As one becomes more familiar with the Reformed Tradition, their particularly pernicious form of irenicism and catholicity is not so “startling” after all.  For instance, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) — the Luther of Switzerland some say — exhibited a rather startling degree of candor in his contempt for Romans 1:16 and 10:1-4. Zwingli:

“I certainly, if the choice were given me, should prefer to choose the lot of Socrates or Seneca, who, though they knew not the one Deity, yet busied themselves with serving Him in purity of heart, than that of the Roman pontiff who would offer himself as God if there were only a bidder at hand, or the lot of any king, emperor or prince, who serves as defender of such a little tin god. For though those heathen knew not religion in the letter of it and in what pertains to the sacraments, yet as far as the real thing is concerned, I say, they were holier and more religious than all the little Dominicans and Franciscans that ever lived. These for a long time have been so far from humbling themselves and giving God the glory for their holiness that there is no need of the touchstone of the Word of God to detect their hypocrisy. Their boldness, luxury, unrestrained recklessness, unbelief and cruelty show that their hearts are without God so completely that no one is so ignorant and boorish as to fail to see it clearly.” (Zwingli)

Ulrich Zwingli enunciates what is commonly referred to as “inclusivism” which is quite prevalent in Theologically-Reformed history.

In a 2015 blog post, Mark Jones wrote the following (all underlining mine):

“Here’s the irony: to be truly Reformed, in my view, is to be a Reformed catholic.  To be truly Reformed means you can freely quote men who are Papists or Arminians. Our Reformed forefathers didn’t have to worry about people freaking out when they quoted Arminius approvingly.”

It depends on what is meant by “quote approvingly.” For a hypothetical example, I may quote Plato, Socrates, or W.G.T. Shedd “approvingly” — and the all-important context would determine whether this ad hominem  approval was approval of a Christ-hating unbeliever or a “confused”  or “muddled” believer. And as seen in the case of Zwingli’s “startling catholicity” he believed that the Socrateses of the world would be seen in glory despite ignorance of the true and living God.

[In Acts 17:28 Paul quotes a certain poet for the purpose of highlighting and accentuating the heathen idolatry (the phrase “For we are also his offspring” contained a different meaning to Paul than that of his hearers and the original author (who many say was Aratus).]

In view of certain Reformed Standards of judging, would it be possible for, say, Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) to be approvingly quoted as a “dear muddled brother” blanketed by layers of tradition? Would any “Reformed catholic” be “freaked out” if someone of their same Confessional Standard (e.g., WCF, 2nd Helvetic) thought that Bellarmine was a spiritual brother?

Jones writes:

“Today, the Reformed catholic can quote N.T. Wright approvingly, but he must be prepared to pay the price (personally, I am not much of a fan of Wright, but the example is still useful).  It was Thomas Goodwin, a Westminster divine, who called Estius an ‘ingenious Papist’ and a ‘learned expositor.’ “

I’m not familiar with Estius, but in certain respects I would say that John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger are learned, ingenious, and wise expositors according to flesh (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26) What of it? I also discern these two learned mens’ doctrines of demons that state that Christ died for everyone without exception and that God is not completely and absolutely sovereign over His creatures.

More from Jones:

“So much theology online today reflects a party-spirit:  if my friend says certain things it is okay, but if someone I don’t like says the same things he is creating confusion and we need to send emails warning people about their heterodoxy.”

I do not know if Mark Jones has (or had) anyone specific in mind when he wrote that, but it calls to mind how, several years ago, Douglas Wilson got into trouble with some of the Calvinist-Reformed Sanhedrin when he said (among other things) something about

“looking back to one’s baptism.”

Except that this “Wilson line” comes from an old Reformed document called The Directory Of The Publick [sic] Worship of God (underlining mine):

“He is also to admonish all that are present,

‘To look back to their baptism; to repent of their sins against their covenant with God; to stir up their faith; to improve and make right use of their baptism, and of the covenant sealed thereby betwixt God and their souls.'” [SOURCE]

My point here being that those subscribing to the Wicked Westminster Standards were evidently ignorant (or just forgetful) regarding their friend the Directory of Publick Worship saying “the same things” as Douglas Wilson.

Jones writes:

“Charles Hodge spent a lot of time with Schleiermacher. Consider this rather startling catholicity from Hodge:

‘When in Berlin the writer often attended Schleiermacher’s church. The hymns to be sung were printed on slips of paper and distributed at the door. They were always evangelical and spiritual to an eminent degree, filled with praise and gratitude to the Redeemer. Tholuck said that Schleiermacher, when sitting in the evening with his family, would often say ‘Hush, children; let us sing a hymn of praise to Christ.’ Can we doubt that he is singing those praises now? To whomsoever Christ is God, St. John assures us, Christ is a Saviour.’ (II. 440 footnote).

Maybe spending time with Schleiermacher was the difference. We tend to be more forgiving towards people with whom we’ve spent time.”

Mark Jones says that Charles Hodge’s catholicity is “rather startling.” Why “startling”? According to the Reformed Confessional lights and standards, is Charles Hodge’s “rather startling catholicity” a good thing or a bad thing? If good, why? And if bad, why? Or is a possible response more nuanced, complicated, and messy than that (e.g., “good” or “bad” in this sense or up to that point, etc.)?

If this is “rather startling” in a good sense, then Charles Hodge appears to be the gold standard for a “charitable” catholicity and Reformed Irenicism. Not truly and Biblically charitable, of course, since Hodge is spiritually-fornicating with a clear and obvious hater of Jesus Christ in Schleiermacher.

In his Systematic Theology Charles Hodge spills a fair amount of ink addressing the various views of Schleiermacher. Hodge represents Schleiermacher as denying the personality of God (Systematic Theology, Volume 1, p. 439) and then has the meretricious audacity to state that

“[to] whomsoever Christ is God, St. John assures us, Christ is a Saviour.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 440 footnote)

Charles Hodge twists and mangles the meaning of  Schleiermacher’s words. It seems to be customary, traditional, and fashionable for the tolerant Reformed to expend “imaginative” and “creative” energy in committing spiritual fornication with God-haters. This is NOT true Scriptural love, irenicism (peace); this is antichristian hatred that speaks “love” and “peace” apart from the only ground of peace.

Gresham Machen commit the same spiritual whoredom with another obvious God-hater in Wilhelm Herrmann. 

I was thinking of the concept or idea of a “Reformed distinctive.” Throughout the Bible we see how spiritual fornication is commonplace; it is prevalent; it is everywhere. The book of Revelation mentions the Great Whore with whom the world fornicates. This sort of fornication is not limited to those adhering or subscribing to Reformed Confessions, Catechisms, or Standards. John Wesley and John Milton are reported to have “made room” for those ignorant of God’s righteousness revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 10:1-4).  Thus, Reformed and non-Reformed alike like to speak peace, peace, when there is no peace.

The warnings in the Old Testament against committing spiritual fornication are pervasive. In Ezekiel 13:9-16 God not only destroyed the wall, He also destroyed those who plastered the wall. In Jeremiah 14:11-16 the false prophets and those to whom they spoke peace were consumed in judgment. This inextricable link that is established in the Old Testament is reaffirmed in the New Testament: If you share in her sins, you WILL receive of her plagues (Revelation 18:4; cf. 2 John 9-11). The immediate & inevitable result of God’s regenerating His people is NOT to dally with, but to come out of the Great Harlot. And since they come out of her by true faith & repentance (https://agrammatos.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/gospel-repentance/) they do NOT speak false visions of peace to themselves back upon their former times of ignorance (cf. Romans 10:2-3; Philippians 3:8).