2007May31, Thursday

Reformed Whining and Pining

Posted in The Church at 22:52 by Trey Austin

I have been carrying on a conversation on sacramental efficacy with a few folks over at the Bayly Blog. As you can see on my blogroll, i greatly respect these men, and i believe that they do great work for the Kingdom in many, many ways. That said, though, we have very different conceptions of a good number of things, no doubt, and the sacraments are an area in which we seem to greatly differ.

The discussion began herewhen someone, during a spill-over post and discussion of gender issues in the Church, made a seemingly disparaging comment about “salvation by baptism.” Of course, i have a way of disputing in a way that can cause controversy—not because i tryto be contentious, it just happens that way. Well, this case was no different. A somewhat involved discussion ensued, but id didn’t stop at this post.

A few posts later (Tim and David Bayly discuss all kinds of things from theological to current events), Reverend Tim Bayly wrote a very thought-provoking (and i would say needed in our day) post on ministerial sloth, on how many pastors make themselves very busy doing lots of different things so that they don’t have to get involved in actually doing the hard work of pastoring and nurturing souls. He said: “Like Sen. Ted Kennedy, such men typically claim their doctrine is orthodox. They’re personally opposed to abortion, sacramentalism, homosex, and feminism, of course. They believe in the holiness of God and the necessity of man’s repentance just as much as the next PCA pastor, but their church long ago decided they weren’t going to ‘lead with their chin.’ Rather, they committed themselves to focus on being approachable and engaging the surrounding culture on the issues it already cared about.” As i have a tendency to do, i picked up on that one point that i thought was so imbalanced and i, admittedly, picked a nit over it. I responded: “I know that i am *VERY* outspoken about sacramentalism. I advocate it every time i get a chance.” Now, i did go on to discuss the other main issues, but that comment on sacramentalism set off a chain-reaction of comments and posts on the nature of the sacraments.

On Pentecost Sunday, Reverend Tim Bayly again posted on the issue, quoting Calvin’s commentary on Peter’s Pentecost sermon, where Calvin, admittedly, emphasizes the cognitive and confirming aspect of the sacrament of baptism, which is the “lower” side of Calvin’s sacramental theology from what he presents elsewhere. Before i went to worship this past Sabbath, i felt the need to quote a couple other equally important paragraphs from that very same section of Calvin’s commentaries, but which balanced out the lower side of what Calvin said in what Tim had posted.

With the discussion building, Tim once again wrote a post making use of Calvin quotations to try and bolster a lower view of the sacraments. Of course, i continued to present my side of this issue in successive comments to these posts, and i attempted to show that i was not advocating an unhealthy understanding of the sacraments, but a balanced one, emphasizing both God’s freedom to use or not to use the sacraments as he pleases and standing against those who would take the sacraments in either unhealthy direction (whether empty and bare signs, or sacraments that work mechanistically).

Just this evening, Reverend David Bayly posted on what he saw as the connection between the altar call (a completely man-made and invented rite of worship) and the sacraments viewed in a high way (which are directly instituted by Christ himself for the purpose of signifying and sealing God’s Covenant and conferring the grace to which it points as God so chooses).

Now, i know it’s out of order, but in one of the earlier posts, but in a discussion that happened just today, there was an accusation made that many of the recent Romanist converts from the Reformed world are due to (guess who?)…the Federal Vision. To that assertion, i responded in part thusly: “So, to be most blunt, i believe the blame for those who have crossed the Tiber lies more with those who advocate the lowest possible view of the sacraments in reaction to Romanism, because those who react in the other direction do so when they see the vapidity of such a low view, both historically and biblically.”

Interestingly enough, after i posted that comment, i read in my email a similar blog posting that a friend of mine (wishing to remain out of the fray) who was lurking in that discussion read and sent to me by another man (Dan Edelen). It is actually very interesting and goes along the very same lines as i was thinking when i posted that response. Now, i don’t know Mr. (or Rev.?) Edelen, but i certainly recommend reading the post he authored: Modern Evangelicalism: An MAO Inhibitor? He offers some very good observations about how vacuous Evangelicalism and its over-familiarity with God (i can’t tell you the number of times in Evangelical worship services i have heard some moron, self-styled “worship leader” begin a prayer, “Dear Daddy!” or the number of songs i’ve heard led by other similarly deficient “worship-leaders” that were more like songs a young man might sing to a woman he wants to sleep with than would be sung by a disciple in the Kingdom of God worshiping his sovereign Lord and Master).

There is more than enough blame to go around, but instead of pointing fingers as “sacramentalism,” perhaps we should be looking at our own way of communicating it and seeing how we have failed to communicate the truths themselves properly because of all the over-zealous attempts to qualify everything we say to death. I am convinced that, if we as the Reformed Church could ever recapture that majesty and awe instead of being camped out in the rationalistic Puritan model of the Church, we would see many people with more vibrant spiritual lives, growing in their faith, and not so much chasing after ridiculous caricatures or true Christianity (like Rome)—but that will be impossible so long as practically the only one offering anything beyond pure rationalism and impudent familiarity is Rome herself.



  1. al said,

    Well said Trey…

    Too much hyperventilating going on in some of these discussions.

    al sends

  2. David Bayly said,

    Dear Trey,

    Thanks for your manly contributions to our discussion. Whether we differ as profoundly in this area as it may intially appear has yet to be determined. But your discussion has been direct and encouraging.

    Let me add that I have come from your position on worship to a rather different one over the years. I have increasingly found myself agreeing with John Frame in this area, and we have sought to make all our worship meaningful in the vernacular of our day.

    Yesterday at the Banner of Truth Pastor’s Conference I was told by a leader of the Banner of Truth movement that he had heard from a former elder who moved to southern Michigan and visited our church that we are shockingly informal in our worship and not entirely orthodox in our preaching.

    Well, so be it. But whether others agree or not, we view our commitment to worship as high–only its heights are joy, singing in the vernacular melodically and instrumentally, chapter-length readings from God’s Word, confession of sin, lifting holy hands to God, the Lord’s Table biblically fenced, etc.

    I’ve wondered without commenting on it at our blog whether your view of worship vests too much power in the particulars rather than the whole. While I appreciate your commitment to worship–Calvin, after all, viewed his primary goal the reformation of worship–I wonder if you’ll be as committed to partciculars in five or ten years time?

    Yours in Christ,


  3. DLE said,


    Thanks for featuring my post from Cerulean Sanctum on MAO. I pray it blesses your readers.

  4. Trey Austin said,

    Mr. Edelen, thanks for the post. It has much to commend it.

    Rev. Bayly, thank *YOU* for your candor and kindness, even in the midst of disagreement. Would that we had a Church full of your kind in the PCA! I think you would find, though, that our differences are ones of emphasis only. I am not an exclusive psalmist, nor am i one who claims that the only “style” of worship valid for Reformed Christians (or any Christian for that matter) is the stuffy and sluggish kind of worship that so marks many of our congregations (even my own!). I have tried to advocate for different instruments and a livlier style of music in our worship, to no avail, because of what folks have grown accustomed to doing. As i’m sure you well know, real reformation takes time—and in a locale like my own, where the great majority of Christians are either Pentecost/Charismatic or Free Will Baptist, ingrained assumptions and notions don’t get extracted without a fight. I have a feeling i would feel right at home in your worship sevices and those your brother leads, as well. My own fondness for John Frame is probably not unlike yours. I am often spoken of in my own presbytery as being “liberal” in alot of ways (of course, in Westminster Presbytery, that may or may not be a compliment!). I agree with you that we should have a holisic view of worship, but, as the debate over individual versus corporate notions of salvation rages, i think that the answer in that area is the same as the answer to individual verses holistic understandings of worship: we need to have a balance between the parts and whole, between individual and corporate. A high understanding of the corporate nature of salvation can obscure individual salvation at times (as i’m sure you’ll agree), but so will too much emphasis on the whole worship “experience” obscure the individual parts at times. My only desire in any discussions (and the sacraments are, as you have probably noticed, one of my favorite topics to discuss) is to help us all come to a better understanding of them. I will worship with and commune at the table with all different kinds of Christians (from highest to lowest). Yet, i would love for us to come to a better appreciation for the nature of the sacraments and recover them as being integral, not only for identifying who we are, but also integral for our very life in Christ Jesus, because it is in the Word, sacraments, and prayer that God has promised to meet us. Why seek him elsewhere, when he has so graciously pointed us to where he will be to offer us his grace?

    So, just know, i welcome you (and your dear brother) to my home, my church, and to my pulpit (if you were ever here). I read your blog and interact there because i believe we have much in common, and my highlighting our differences (as crudely as i do it) should only be seen as an occasion for iron to sharpen iron.

    Lord bless you and your house, brother.

  5. David Bayly said,

    Dear Trey,

    I’m forwarding this note to Tim. I think we have more in common than at first appears. It’s lonely being in the PCA when you’re the liberal among the conservatives and the conservative among the liberals. The problem is that being liberal among the conservatives also usually makes a liberal among the liberals but being conservative among the liberals gives you no street cred with the conservatives. It’s a hanged if you do, hanged if you don’t proposition.

    If you want to get to Banner some time let me know. We go more to hang out as a staff and with friends than for the specific content these days.

    Your brother in Christ,


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