Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You Can't Have Both Johns

"The abandonment of liturgical forms for heartfelt experience, so characteristic of low-church Presbyterianism, is a significant departure from the genius of the Protestant Reformation, and thus puts Presbyterians in the awkward position of trying to accommodate John Calvin and John Wesley. What many contemporary Presbyterians seem to forget is that the Reformation was just that, a reformation, not a revival.

You can tell the difference between the two, according to the Belgic Confession, Article 29, by determining whether the church uses the correct forms—namely, is the Word being faithfully preached, are the Sacraments being faithfully administered, and is discipline being properly administered? The Belgic Confession, along with the rest of the Reformed creeds from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, has nothing to say about the typical way we spot a revival, that is, by a large number of new conversions and greater earnestness on the part of believers. So for Protestant Reformers, the issue was not whether a church was dead or alive.

The Evangelical concept of dead orthodoxy was virtually unknown prior to the revivals of the eighteenth century. For the Reformers, the issue was whether a church was false or true. For Luther, Calvin, and Cramner, the way to distinguish the true Church was by looking above all at the forms used in worship and the ways in which ordination took place. These were matters that were unambiguous—either a prayer, sermon, or service of ordination conformed to the teaching of Scripture or it did not (conceding that Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Reformed Christians read the Bible in different ways at times on these points).

But to tell whether a church or person was spiritually alive, revived, or dead was not so certain. And unfortunately, ever since the First Great Awakening, Presbyterians have been more attentive to the invisible work of the Spirit rather than the visible work of the Church, an alertness that is doomed to frustration because of the Spirit’s mysterious movements."

D.G. Hart, Rediscovering Mother Kirk


  1. Those who insist that the two Johns can't shake hands are either blinded by "Calvinism" or blinded by "Methodism." Perhaps, reformation is indeed different from revival. But the question is: Are they exclusive from each other? Hart needs to establish the error that you cannot have reformation and revival at the same time. Sir Wawi, can't you have reformation and revival at the same time?

  2. Bernard,

    I can also claim that those who insist on heterogeneity are blinded by subjectivism. And in fact, the subjectivism that undergirds revivalism is essentially at odds with Reformed piety and therefore incompatible.

    One thing you need to understand about revivalism is its roots in the Enlightenment, with its denial of the Creator-creature distinctive. Revivalism does not differentiate between the kind of knowledge that God has and the kind that finite man possesses. It seeks immediacy and in fact its Neo-platonism is averse to the Reformed concept of "means of grace."

    Bottom-line, you can't mix truth and error.

  3. Check your semper reformanda.

    That's the problem with you. You insist that the proper definition of virtually EVERYTHING is only found in your own self-authored dictionaries. You have not changed since Christianster times. You have ceased reforming. You have become reformed-ed.

  4. I'm sorry that you feel that way but it seems you have a grave misunderstanding of what "semper reformanda" means. Obviously, it does not mean a mutation into error, as what your proposal suggests.

    Perhaps this article by Michael Horton can steer you in the right understanding of the phrase:

  5. Underdog Theology said:
    "One thing you need to understand about revivalism is its roots in the Enlightenment..."

    My Reply:

    That is untrue. The Methodist Revival was a Counter-Enlightenment.

    The Enlightenment was "an intellectual movement that emerged in the seventeenth century and sought to base knowledge on an empiricist foundation rather than on an external authority, such as revelation or church dogma." (John D. Hannah, History of Doctrine)

    Methodists believe in Sola Scriptura and their gospel was based on the word of God so to say that it is "rooted" in the Enlightenment is actually absurd.

    I also believe in what Hannah said that:
    "The need of the hour is not for revival; it is for something even more fundamental. It is time for a reformation in the church. Revival has to do with the extension of the gospel; the greatest need in the contemporary church is to rediscover the gospel, its glory, and its power. It is time to return to the fundamentals of the faith and be refreshed in its truths, to gain anew a love and respect for the Holy Scriptures. Revival without reformation is religious fervor at best; revival out of reformation is the only hope of the church." (p.20)

    Reformation and Revival is not incompatible.

  6. Your textbook definition of the Enlightenment is quite narrow and lacking in deep insight.

    The Enlightenment, essentially, was about exalting human reason as the greatest good. It would not be a far leap to trace the connection between the Enlightenment's humanism and rationalism to Wesleyanism's exaltation of the role of man in salvation, both prior to and after. Wesleyan synergism and perfectionism are byproducts of Enlightenment thought.

    And Methodists do not subscribe to Sola Scriptura. But they do indeed subscribe to Solo or Nuda Scriptura. Research the difference.

    Revivalism with its emphasis on subjectivism, experience, and extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit are also byproducts of Enlightenment thought, putting emphasis on subjective judgment of valid religious experience as opposed to the Reformed category of the objective and mediated means of grace.

    Again, truth and error cannot mix.


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