The Establishment Principle and its proponents

jnslance

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello All,

I recently called in to R. Scott Clark's most recent Q/A episode of the Heidelcast. I asked him whether or not he agreed with the Original 1646 WCF or the 1788 American Revision. Specifically I wanted to know his thoughts on the the Establishment Principle. I appreciated his thoroughness and thoughts. Something he mentioned in his reply to me however struck me as odd.

He stated in part of his response, “Gillespie and Rutherford believed that Christ was generally sovereign over the nations, but he’s the special mediatorial King over the church. I agree with Gillespie and Rutherford, not with the Covenanter position...” which he goes on outline as the opposite of his position (any by extension Gillespie and Rutherford).

My questions here is for any of my Covenanter Brethren or those who are not covenanter but versed and well read on the Establishment Principle. I have always understood Gillespie and Rutherford to be proponents of Christ's Mediatorial Kingship over the nations (not just the church) and many of my Covenanter friends appeal to both of them on this basis. Is there some nuance here that I am missing?

For those interested, here is a link to the podcast episode. My question and his response begin at about the 15:50 mark.

Heidelcast Episode 152



Thank you!
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I think this has been discussed here; by and large the Scottish ministers of the 2nd Reformation (Gillespie, Rutherford at Westminster but not prior so he changed at the assembly) took the position Dr. Clark noted (Dr. Clark rejects establishment as "Constantinism" so he would agree with the American changes I would think? this is by and large not a distinction that goes to the establishment question). Gillespie believed without that distinction it conceded Erastianism (this was the Erastian position) and is very clear in Aaron's Rod Blossoming on the two fold nature of Christ's Kingdom. Gillespie felt so strongly on this point that at the point the Westminster Assembly was passing final texts for the chapter on the civil magistrate, he made a motion to change three places saying "Christ" to read "God." It was so changed and a rare N.B. is in the minutes that this in no way was to decide or speak to the question one way or the other. After 1700 the Cameronians moved to and eventually codified as dogma the position rejecting that distinction. Some here can give the full run down. See Gillespie: Twofold nature of Christ's Kingdom.
 
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W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Freshman
You might find the teachings of the Free Church of Scotland Continuing helpful on this brother. Generally, the FCSC holds to the Establishment Principle but are not Covenanters. This is also the Rev. Todd Ruddell's (of Christ Covenant Reformed Presbyterian in Texas) view.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
The establishment principle is not contingent upon holding to one or other view of Christ's mediatorial kingship, which is something that Reformed theologians differed over while all adhering to the establishment principle. The RP view (not the Covenanter view, as Covenanter is a broader term) of mediatorial kingship may be the right one - and I believe that it is; nonetheless, it is a red-herring with respect to the establishment principle.
 

jnslance

Puritan Board Freshman
The establishment principle is not contingent upon holding to one or other view of Christ's mediatorial kingship, which is something that Reformed theologians differed over while all adhering to the establishment principle. The RP view (not the Covenanter view, as Covenanter is a broader term) of mediatorial kingship may be the right one - and I believe that it is; nonetheless, it is a red-herring with respect to the establishment principle.
I see. I always thought there was an interdependence between the two. I wonder if RSC was conflating the two or if perhaps I missed his nuance. Thank you for the follow up!
 

jnslance

Puritan Board Freshman
I think this has been discussed here; by and large the Scottish ministers of the 2nd Reformation (Gillespie, Rutherford at Westminster but not prior so he changed at the assembly) took the position Dr. Clark noted (Dr. Clark rejects establishment as "Constantinism" so he would agree with the American changes I would think? this is by and large not a distinction that goes to the establishment question). Gillespie believed without that distinction it conceded Erastianism (this was the Erastian position) and is very clear in Aaron's Rod Blossoming on the two fold nature of Christ's Kingdom. Gillespie felt so strongly on this point that at the point the Westminster Assembly was passing final texts for the chapter on the civil magistrate, he made a motion to change three places saying "Christ" to read "God." It was so changed and a rare N.B. is in the minutes that this in no way was to decide or speak to the question one way or the other. After 1700 the Cameronians moved to and eventually codified as dogma the position rejecting that distinction. Some here can give the full run down. See Gillespie: Twofold nature of Christ's Kingdom.
I think I would find the Historical Theological aspect of the principle compelling. RSC did mention that he wholeheartedly agrees with the revision and that he quite bluntly thinks the Divines were wrong on this point.

Forgive my slowness, could you clarify your "distinction" point. I'm not following. Are you saying that The Establishment Principle without proper qualifications can lead to the Erastian position which is what Gillespie feared?

Thank you!
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I think I would find the Historical Theological aspect of the principle compelling. RSC did mention that he wholeheartedly agrees with the revision and that he quite bluntly thinks the Divines were wrong on this point.

Forgive my slowness, could you clarify your "distinction" point. I'm not following. Are you saying that The Establishment Principle without proper qualifications can lead to the Erastian position which is what Gillespie feared?

Thank you!
No; first, I agree with Daniel that the way this is stated either from Dr. Clark or your misunderstanding him, conflates two things not related. Both Gillespie's view and the Cameronian view held to establishment; and those who don't hold to it and agree with the American revision can hold to Gillespie or some form of the Cameronian (the modern Covenanters in this country essentially have the same view as the American Presbyterian revisions of 1788 on the magistrate). The point was that Gillespie believed his distinction was necessary to avoid supporting the claims of Erastianism. It's dense but read him yourself at the link I gave above.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Put simply, perhaps too simply, the original WCF is clearly, unequivocally an Establishment document.

I'll try to elaborate my understanding, even if this is not quite right. There were two distinct views within the Est. consensus, pertaining to Christ's mediatorial kingdom. To contend against the Erastian party--by which the church is regarded as a department within the state, and thus under the king--Gillespie wanted a Confessional witness to the unique (special) Headship if Christ over the church.

The question being: is Christ mediatorial king over the nations as well as the church, with the church (though now occupying national Israel's former place) as something akin to a separate nation beside and within the other nations? From what has already been set forth, both those who thought "yes" and "no" were able to reconcile with the adopted Confessional language. It can be argued, therefore, that the "compromise" terms of the Confession, allowing for two different Est. views (one where Christ is Mediator only for the church, while also ruling all the nations; the other where the mediatorial role is applied even to the nations) marks a crucial departure from the principles that undergird "Christendom."

That departure led over time--in the trans-oceanic context of the new USA where Est. (originally only at the Federal level) was being sloughed off, and where Presbyterians actually fought for the liberty (in places like New York and Virginia) to have free churches--to actual rewriting of relevant paragraphs of the WCF (and one change to the LC) so as to reflect just-as clearly and unequivocally the disestablishment estate of the church (nationally). It's worth remembering that half or more of the original 13Colonies had established churches, which the new nation and eventual Constitution did not (as first penned) challenge as individual State prerogative.

RSC argues that it was a positive move by the nascent PC in the new USA to render the Confession for this nationwide church a disestablishment document. They did this by removing what remained of the specified, confessed religious duties of a nation's leadership (leaving the natural-law expectation). Those specified, confessed religious duties once marked such leadership as accepting their positions being comparable to those "ordained" officers in the church, receiving their emblems of authority as if invested to them (the nation's rulers) by Christ the Mediator.

Such rulers do, in fact, bear their authority under Christ as Lord of the nations; but he rules the (rebellious) nations with a rod of iron. I argue: he is not those nations' Mediator, though he is their God and King. Secular authorities are not, in fact, "ordained" like church officers are, where the legitimacy of their rule and authority depends on their open fidelity to Christ and his Word. Secular authority is legitimate not only when it is "nursing father" to the church, but even when that authority is indifferent, ignorant, or antagonistic to Christ. Rebellion and removal of ungodly lords because they are ungodly, which is religious duty in a well-ordered church, is not recognized as religious duty relative to the state ever since the expiration of the Old Covenant. Jesus will take care of that himself if or when he sees fit, usually for the good of his church (as promised) and for little else that I can see.

At the original Assembly, the Erastians eventually abandoned the whole effort as inconsistent with their positions. So, one may fairly state the WCF as originally created is not amenable to Erastianism. But remaining at the Assembly were semi-Erastian and quasi-Erastian positions (as judged from the standpoint of almost 400yrs and another continent). The American version of the Confession is anti-Erastian in the extreme. And yes, some say it is gone too far (although, strictly speaking simply refusing to confess something as a basis for unity does not prevent anyone or any church from believing that something is true, biblical doctrine).

When RSC says he's philosophically an American, he's offering a value judgment on the longer, wider trajectory of history and church-history since the days of the Reformation. The Reformation sought to restore local church governance (away from Rome's centralization, especially). The Reformation sought (in the Genevan context clearly) to restore the independence of the church's government and affairs out from under the power of even local government control. And at first, in the historical context, given centuries of practice and expectation, all this reclaiming of church autonomy was carried out within the unquestioned assumptions of Christendom (broadly conceived) and national establishment.

Those assumptions have now almost completely dissolved. Now, the true church is both actually and practically (depending on the place) back to the position it began in the 1C A.D. I agree with RSC that in many important respects, the church is much better off living independent of the state, despite supposed benefits accrued from that arrangement. The price of dependence is loss of sovereignty, and what starts off small eventually grows. Establishment, which is favored-status for one religious body over others, (I must agree) tends toward corruption. The unqualified and unscrupulous want those favors.

:2cents:
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
The RP view (not the Covenanter view, as Covenanter is a broader term) of mediatorial kingship may be the right one - and I believe that it is;
Daniel, I was thinking you had moved away from this view because of the issue with voting. Can you consistently hold to the RP view of MK and vote for a non-Christian?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
Daniel, I was thinking you had moved away from this view because of the issue with voting. Can you consistently hold to the RP view of MK and vote for a non-Christian?
It is certainly a good question, Jeri, and I have been meaning to start a thread on a similar theme but never got around to it. When I say I agree with the RPs on MK, I only mean that I agree with them that Christ rules over the nations as mediator. (I have read George Gillespie and others on this point and do not agree with them on the basis that their exegesis is not convincing and is driven too much by a fear of Erastianism.)

Where I differ with the RPs is on their deductions from this principle to support their notion of political dissent, which I believe are a non-sequitur from an otherwise valid principle. And it is also worth remembering that the RP view is not simply that you should never vote for a non-Christian; it is that you should not vote for those who do not recognise Christ as the mediatorial king of the nation. As I previously pointed out, this view is so extreme that you could not even vote for George Gillespie if he was running against Chairman Mao. Such purity spiralling is so self-evidently ridiculous that it is scarcely necessary to say anything more against it.

Paul is quite clear in Romans 13 that a civil government is good insofar as it rules according to the light and law of nature. This point does not necessarily undermine MK, as grace perfects nature. Just as parental government does not have to be Christian in order to be legitimate, it is better if the parental government submits to the kingship of Christ. A civil government that rules both according to the light of nature and the light of Christian revelation is likewise the greater of two goods. But Paul's teaching does not accord with any theory of political dissent that assumes a government is illegitimate or immoral simply because it is not Christian.

Furthermore, there were plenty of Reformed divines who agreed with the view that Christ rules over the state as the mediator without following the RPs into political dissent. At a guess, I would say those who agreed with the RPs on MK but diverged with their view of political dissent did so because they may have had a higher view of natural law, or, at least, were more clear in recognising that civil government is primarily founded in nature even if it should be perfected by grace. I am not saying that the RPs have no concept of natural law, but there does seem to be a lack of emphasis on nature in their thinking on this point.
 
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Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
As I previously pointed out, this view is so extreme that you could not even vote for George Gillespie if he was running against Chairman Mao. Such purity spiralling is so self-evidently ridiculous that it is scarcely necessary to say anything more against it.
One further thing: The issue with political dissent in an American context is slightly different from the UK, as in the US the candidate has to take an oath in support of the Constitution. In other countries, this factor is not relevant.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
So, Daniel, you felt as a matter of principle you had to leave the RP church over this issue? Does the church in Northern Ireland discipline members who vote for unapproved candidates?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
So, Daniel, you felt as a matter of principle you had to leave the RP church over this issue? Does the church in Northern Ireland discipline members who vote for unapproved candidates?
No, I left or, more accurately, fled from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland for completely different reasons. Having been out of the RPs for five years now, I have questioned and ultimately rejected a couple of their extra-confessional positions on political dissent and prohibiting membership of the Orange Order (the latter is something meaningless to those outside Northern Ireland). But that was nothing to do with me leaving the RPs in 2015. I have really only come to a definite conclusion against these views over the last couple of years.

In relation to disciplining people for voting for unapproved candidates, I think that the RPCI modified its position in the 1980s (I will check that point later, as I do not have the relevant documents to hand). Originally, you could not vote in a Westminster election as that would involve incorporation into a Parliament that does not uphold the Solemn League and Covenant, the mediatorial kingship of Christ, and requires its members to take an oath of allegiance to the monarch. This position was subsequently modified to you could only vote for candidates who were willing to take a modified oath of allegiance and who would work for other principles with which the RPs agree.

In practice, however, this rule is honoured more in the breach rather than the observance. I was actually one of the few people in the denomination who never voted in Westminster or virtually any other elections. (Indeed, when I voted in our 2016 EU referendum, it was the first time that I had voted since 2001.) No one would ever be disciplined for voting nowadays. Most of the RPs will vote for unionist candidates. And I suspect that the context of the Northern Irish "Troubles" meant that many RPs, especially in certain localities, did not want to be seen as going against the unionist cause. (Their position on the Orange Order also created problems for them in this respect.) Some RPs, mostly in urban areas or constituencies with safe unionist seats, will even vote for the Alliance Party because they like to be seen as non-sectarian and opposed to Paisleyism. As the Alliance Party has grown increasingly socially liberal, I suspect the number of RPs who would vote for them now is very low.
 
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jnslance

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you very much!

Put simply, perhaps too simply, the original WCF is clearly, unequivocally an Establishment document.

I'll try to elaborate my understanding, even if this is not quite right. There were two distinct views within the Est. consensus, pertaining to Christ's mediatorial kingdom. To contend against the Erastian party--by which the church is regarded as a department within the state, and thus under the king--Gillespie wanted a Confessional witness to the unique (special) Headship if Christ over the church.

The question being: is Christ mediatorial king over the nations as well as the church, with the church (though now occupying national Israel's former place) as something akin to a separate nation beside and within the other nations? From what has already been set forth, both those who thought "yes" and "no" were able to reconcile with the adopted Confessional language. It can be argued, therefore, that the "compromise" terms of the Confession, allowing for two different Est. views (one where Christ is Mediator only for the church, while also ruling all the nations; the other where the mediatorial role is applied even to the nations) marks a crucial departure from the principles that undergird "Christendom."

That departure led over time--in the trans-oceanic context of the new USA where Est. (originally only at the Federal level) was being sloughed off, and where Presbyterians actually fought for the liberty (in places like New York and Virginia) to have free churches--to actual rewriting of relevant paragraphs of the WCF (and one change to the LC) so as to reflect just-as clearly and unequivocally the disestablishment estate of the church (nationally). It's worth remembering that half or more of the original 13Colonies had established churches, which the new nation and eventual Constitution did not (as first penned) challenge as individual State prerogative.

RSC argues that it was a positive move by the nascent PC in the new USA to render the Confession for this nationwide church a disestablishment document. They did this by removing what remained of the specified, confessed religious duties of a nation's leadership (leaving the natural-law expectation). Those specified, confessed religious duties once marked such leadership as accepting their positions being comparable to those "ordained" officers in the church, receiving their emblems of authority as if invested to them (the nation's rulers) by Christ the Mediator.

Such rulers do, in fact, bear their authority under Christ as Lord of the nations; but he rules the (rebellious) nations with a rod of iron. I argue: he is not those nations' Mediator, though he is their God and King. Secular authorities are not, in fact, "ordained" like church officers are, where the legitimacy of their rule and authority depends on their open fidelity to Christ and his Word. Secular authority is legitimate not only when it is "nursing father" to the church, but even when that authority is indifferent, ignorant, or antagonistic to Christ. Rebellion and removal of ungodly lords because they are ungodly, which is religious duty in a well-ordered church, is not recognized as religious duty relative to the state ever since the expiration of the Old Covenant. Jesus will take care of that himself if or when he sees fit, usually for the good of his church (as promised) and for little else that I can see.

At the original Assembly, the Erastians eventually abandoned the whole effort as inconsistent with their positions. So, one may fairly state the WCF as originally created is not amenable to Erastianism. But remaining at the Assembly were semi-Erastian and quasi-Erastian positions (as judged from the standpoint of almost 400yrs and another continent). The American version of the Confession is anti-Erastian in the extreme. And yes, some say it is gone too far (although, strictly speaking simply refusing to confess something as a basis for unity does not prevent anyone or any church from believing that something is true, biblical doctrine).

When RSC says he's philosophically an American, he's offering a value judgment on the longer, wider trajectory of history and church-history since the days of the Reformation. The Reformation sought to restore local church governance (away from Rome's centralization, especially). The Reformation sought (in the Genevan context clearly) to restore the independence of the church's government and affairs out from under the power of even local government control. And at first, in the historical context, given centuries of practice and expectation, all this reclaiming of church autonomy was carried out within the unquestioned assumptions of Christendom (broadly conceived) and national establishment.

Those assumptions have now almost completely dissolved. Now, the true church is both actually and practically (depending on the place) back to the position it began in the 1C A.D. I agree with RSC that in many important respects, the church is much better off living independent of the state, despite supposed benefits accrued from that arrangement. The price of dependence is loss of sovereignty, and what starts off small eventually grows. Establishment, which is favored-status for one religious body over others, (I must agree) tends toward corruption. The unqualified and unscrupulous want those favors.

:2cents:
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
One further thing: The issue with political dissent in an American context is slightly different from the UK, as in the US the candidate has to take an oath in support of the Constitution. In other countries, this factor is not relevant.
So forgive my ignorance but in European countries magistrates don't have to do that?
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
enerally, the FCSC holds to the Establishment Principle but are not Covenanters.
I think this was sort of addressed in a response, but I did want to make the statement that the FC(C) (and a few other small Presbyterian denominations) are as much from the Covenanter heritage as are the RP churches. A couple of good Scottish church histories are the one by Thomas McCrie, and also a book called Our Covenant Heritage by Edwin Nisbet Moore, both riveting.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
Furthermore, there were plenty of Reformed divines who agreed with the view that Christ rules over the state as the mediator without following the RPs into political dissent. At a guess, I would say those who agreed with the RPs on MK but diverged with their view of political dissent did so because they may have had a higher view of natural law, or, at least, were more clear in recognising that civil government is primarily founded in nature even if it should be perfected by grace. I am not saying that the RPs have no concept of natural law, but there does seem to be a lack of emphasis on nature in their thinking on this point.
I only wanted to add one note concerning Political Dissent. My recollection (hazy as it is) is that the practice of political dissent actually originated in the American Reformed Presbyterian Church prior to the Scottish and Irish. While we had no love for the Constitution, the primary practical application concerning dissent (voting, taking office, jury service, military) came due to the nature of oath taking (WCF 22) and whether taking an Oath to Jehovah to serve in accordance to unjust laws is something that would be proper (consider jury service for instance) - or in the case of voting, to send someone to take an oath you yourself would not take. The United States has historically required taking an oath, which the American Covenanters saw as religious and so the contents of the oath must in accordance to the will of Jehovah (WCF 22.3). Also, historically speaking, this development of dissent came about in a nation where the Word of God was well known.

I do not wish to dispute in this thread whether they were right or wrong - though, I am still a dissenter - just to say sometimes people miss this aspect of the North American RPs drive toward political dissent. Our Synod has become "looser" on dissent over the years due to the explanatory declaration being considered valid for military service as well as the government allowing affirmations in lieu of oaths.

As far as Mediatorial Kingship, you are 100% correct - you don't need to be a dissenter to believe in Christ's Mediatorial Kingship over the nations.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
He
So forgive my ignorance but in European countries magistrates don't have to do that?
He's referring to the US Constitution, which forbids the establishment of religion. Many countries don't have that problem.

To clarify: I couldn't vow to uphold the US Constitution because I believe that it forbids what God requires with respect the the establishment of religion, and I cannot vote for a man to take such a vow as my representative. Therefore, I don't vote.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
He

He's referring to the US Constitution, which forbids the establishment of religion. Many countries don't have that problem.

To clarify: I couldn't vow to uphold the US Constitution because I believe that it forbids what God requires with respect the the establishment of religion, and I cannot vote for a man to take such a vow as my representative. Therefore, I don't vote.
Oh the quote that I quoted implied that in other countries the leader doesn't have to vow to uphold and defend whatever their equivalent is to the constitution. Which seems counterintuitive.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Freshman
Oh the quote that I quoted implied that in other countries the leader doesn't have to vow to uphold and defend whatever their equivalent is to the constitution. Which seems counterintuitive.
From what I understand it depends on the vow. For example, magistrates of any kind in the U.K. take a vow to bear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II. Anyone who holds to the establishment principle could vow that. Mr. Daniel knows more about that than I do however.
 
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