In response to my last post concerning the use of the words “reformed” and “calvinist,” Martin Downes asked a good question of me. After reading my post and, presumably, my About the author page, Martin asks:
I’ll admit to being a little confused. If you are a PCA elder how come you are a credobaptist? And are you saying that you have issues with “a single covenant of grace”? Isn’t that affirmed in the Westminster Confession?
I’ll admit that is probably a bit confusing, so let me attempt to explain.
When asked to be an elder, I expressed to the current elders my differences with the Westminster standards on several points. They chose to overlook those differences and make me an elder anyway. I have never hidden my views on such subjects from the elders, but I refrain from teaching or discussing matters in which my views are at odds with official PCA doctrine, when teaching at the church.
All my teaching is openly posted online, in full manuscript form, so that anyone who so chooses can read it.
I know that is small comfort to many within the PCA who would probably be horrified at having a credobaptist as an elder, and normally I would agree with them (that I shouldn’t be an elder at a PCA church). I wouldn’t have accepted the position under normal circumstances. The circumstances at this church are not normal however.
I felt it was healthier for the church that I accept the position and help lead the church toward a more healthy state, than to stand aside because of doctrinal differences while the church floundered spiritually.
I don’t want to go into details, but at the time there were four elders (including the pastor) and only the pastor and possibly one other could have been said to hold to the Westminster Standards, and that not completely. One of the elders wouldn’t even know what the standards teach, and the fourth wouldn’t agree with them anymore than I do, probably less so. Suffice it to say, it was an unhealthy situation and there was no one else qualified and no progress being made to train up qualified men.
The congregation was in an even sadder state than the elders. Many, if not most, of them would have had no idea what the PCA believed, and many would have been confused or offended had you told them.
My goal in being an elder has been to proclaim the majesty and sovereignty of Christ, and so prepare the people’s hearts for the teaching of sound doctrine (concerning soteriology at least). And to move the church toward training other men for leadership. We’re still not there, but I pray that by year end a training program will have begun and I will be able to step down from eldership.
All of this is made difficult because I am simply a “ruling elder,” which is PCA speak for lay leader. The pastor (“teaching elder”) should be leading this charge, but sadly he has not. If, by being in leadership, I can stir his, and the other elders’, affections for the local church to the point that they are concerned with seeking growth in knowledge of the Word among themselves and the members, I will gladly step aside when they get to the point that they realize my doctrinal beliefs concerning baptism and covenants do not match their own, or the stated doctrine of the PCA.
That only answers Martin’s first question concerning why I’m an elder at a PCA church if I’m a credobaptist. His second question was,
And are you saying that you have issues with “a single covenant of grace”? Isn’t that affirmed in the Westminster Confession?
Yes, to both those questions. I simply disagree with the Confession on this point. I do believe that God deals with his people through covenants and that grace has been the deciding factor in both the old and new covenants, but I do think they are distinct, and separate covenants. The New Covenant shares much in common with the Old, but is not simply a continuation of it, but rather a replacement for it. Believing that they are one and the same leads to such practices as infant baptism. If I believed in one covenant of grace and didn’t believe in paedobaptism, I would be inconsistent in my theology.
This is why I cannot claim the label of Reformed as defined by those who hold to covenant theology and paedobaptism.
I hope that clears up any confusion. I differ from the Westminster Confession on these points (and a few other, more minor ones), but I find unity at the foot of the cross knowing that my PCA brothers believe the Gospel and are faithful to what they believe the Bible teaches. I pray that my efforts as an elder will be Christ honoring, biblically faithful, and respectful of the theological system espoused by the denomination in which I serve, though I disagree with it at certain points. I don’t seek dissension or confusion in the church on these points, but rather unity in the Gospel in Jesus.