The Practical Theology of 1689 Federalism

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
One question I have:

A few years ago Reformed Baptists began to focus on the doctrine of divine impassibility. They adopted one view and demanded adherence to this view in order to stay within ARBCA. As a result, many churches left (including the majority of their missions committee).

It all seemed needlessly divisive; a splitting of good brothers over a secondary point of theology proper. And I think it also hurt outreach and missions.

I am afraid if RBs begin to adopt 1689 Federalism wholesale, they will again try to force adherence or divide up into little camps once again such that it is not enough merely to be a calvinistic baptist or RB, but one must also fully agree on all of these hard-to-understand secondary points as well. And of course, just like the impassibility issue, some brothers will say, "covenant theology is NOT a secondary point...it is central, and therefore we must be agreed on it or else we cannot fellowship together." That is my worry. Another wedge issue dividing up brethren.

Do you think this will happen?
 

jomawh

Puritan Board Freshman
It all seemed needlessly divisive; a splitting of good brothers over a secondary point of theology proper. And I think it also hurt outreach and missions.

Fundamentally the point of associationalism is that independent, yet like-minded churches would cooperate together for mutual benefit, to accomplish ends that individual assemblies would find difficult alone (financial giving to poorer churches to support ministers, missions, the training of ministers, etc), and all without an horizontal delegation of each assemblys' rights or powers. The common thread in this case is adherence to the confessional standard of the 1689, fundamentally setting Reformed Particular Baptists apart from the merely Calvinistic or Sovereign Grace Baptist associations or conventions, and which articulates the position, in common with other historic Reformed confessions of faith, of God as being "without passions."

Associationalism is unlike denominationalism in this regard. Each church remains free to associate or even be apart of another association, convention, or denomination if desired. "Splitting the brethren" assumes a stronger tie in associationalism than is truly present or which is intended to be.

When congregations are no longer like-minded in agreeing upon a common confession it makes little sense to remain in association, for why would churches agree to contribute to a common missions pool knowing that the ministers they would be supporting, no hard feelings, do not share in their confessional adherence? Why not just dissolve ARBCA and join the SBC? Are Reformed Baptists merely Baptists who've stumbled into Calvinism and Covenantalism or are we thorough-going Puritan and Reformed credobaptists? There is a huge divide between the two.

And make no mistake, the doctrine of impassability is no secondary point of doctrine, but is part and parcel to the transcendent nature of Jehovah Himself. An analogous situation would be to also deny association with those who hold to New Covenant Theology, the Eternal Subordination of the Son, or those who don't hold to literal, six-day creation. Again, no hard feelings- we can't associate.

If the ARBCA general assembly votes and concludes that 1689 Federalism is the view of the 1689 that is entirely its prerogative, as member churches are made aware when joining in association. As highly sympathetic as I am to 1689 Federalism, I would find this to be a mistake, but that's, again, their prerogative- we can still grab a beer together at my house in-between services.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Fundamentally the point of associationalism is that independent, yet like-minded churches would cooperate together for mutual benefit, to accomplish ends that individual assemblies would find difficult alone (financial giving to poorer churches to support ministers, missions, the training of ministers, etc), and all without an horizontal delegation of each assemblys' rights or powers. The common thread in this case is adherence to the confessional standard of the 1689, fundamentally setting Reformed Particular Baptists apart from the merely Calvinistic or Sovereign Grace Baptist associations or conventions, and which articulates the position, in common with other historic Reformed confessions of faith, of God as being "without passions."

Associationalism is unlike denominationalism in this regard. Each church remains free to associate or even be apart of another association, convention, or denomination if desired. "Splitting the brethren" assumes a stronger tie in associationalism than is truly present or which is intended to be.

When congregations are no longer like-minded in agreeing upon a common confession it makes little sense to remain in association, for why would churches agree to contribute to a common missions pool knowing that the ministers they would be supporting, no hard feelings, do not share in their confessional adherence? Why not just dissolve ARBCA and join the SBC?

And make no mistake, the doctrine of impassability is no secondary point of doctrine, but is part and parcel to the transcendent nature of Jehovah Himself. An analogous situation would be to also deny association with those who hold to New Covenant Theology, the Eternal Subordination of the Son, or those who don't hold to literal, six-day creation. Again, no hard feelings- we can't associate.

If the ARBCA general assembly votes and concludes that 1689 Federalism is the view of the 1689 that is entirely its prerogative, as member churches are made aware when joining in association. As highly sympathetic as I am to 1689 Federalism, I would find this to be a mistake, but that's, again, their prerogative- we can still grab a beer together at my house in-between services.

The way you put it, almost ANY doctrine could be seen as vital enough to split over. 1689 Federalism is about God's plan of salvation, after all,..and therefore it is no secondary point of doctrine, but a doctrine to divide over. Therefore, you have confirmed my fear that, yes, some Reformed Baptists may, indeed, divide over 1689 Federalism. This is no secondary issue, after all.

Regarding the impassibility issue, in the end, the 1689 Confession was not enough. Churches were additionally required to adhere to a confession-level document drafted by a few men interpreting what the 1689 actually meant.

ARBCA's two main achievements in recent years has been to embrace a divisive revisionist history book by a man who is probably going to be convicted as a pedophile (and a man who ARBCA investigated but did not turn over the findings to the police)....and ARBCA then saw many churches leave over a fine theological point when that split did not have to happen. Not a good legacy.
 
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jomawh

Puritan Board Freshman
The way you put it, almost ANY doctrine could be seen as vital enough to split over. 1689 Federalism is about God's plan of salvation..and therefore it is no secondary point of doctrine, but a doctrine to divide over.
Again, if the ARBCA general assembly decides that the 1689 LBCF requires 1689 Federalism that is that body's prerogative. I could not be farther from saying any doctrine is worth splitting over- that's what confessions of faith are for, to serve not as an exhaustive, but rather as a comprehensive, list of doctrinal standards. Millennial positions, specific translations of scripture, etc are not included within the purview of the 1689 because they are not doctrines to split over. Covenantalism, ecclesiological polity, and Theology proper very much are.

Analogue: Most, if not all, of the conservative Reformed and Presbyterian general assemblies have agreed that Federal Vision is incompatible with, and even hostile to, the standards of the Westminster and the Three Forms of Unity. Hence, no association with or allowing the teaching of FV within these bodies. The confessions did their job, the general assemblies did theirs.

ARBCA's two main achievements in recent years has been to embrace a divisive revisionist history book by a man who is probably going to be convicted as a pedophile (and a man who ARBCA investigated but did not turn over the findings to the police)....Not a good legacy.
Not in the mood for Red Herring, Brother. Irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
 
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Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Is the nature of God a minor issue? No. Is the error of passibility such a threat to ARBCA members that a position paper needed to be written? I cannot speak to that. Will 1689 Federalism rise to the same level of concern with ARBCA members? Possibly. Should it? I do not believe so. No cardinal doctrine is threatened by 1689 Federalism. The only thing being rejected is a form of Presbyterianism that has been modified to fit a Baptist distinctive.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Is the nature of God a minor issue? No. Is the error of passibility such a threat to ARBCA members that a position paper needed to be written? I cannot speak to that. Will 1689 Federalism rise to the same level of concern with ARBCA members? Possibly. Should it? I do not believe so. No cardinal doctrine is threatened by 1689 Federalism. The only thing being rejected is a form of Presbyterianism that has been modified to fit a Baptist distinctive.
Nobody on either side denied impassibility and they all affirmed the confession on that point. Nobody affirmed passibility. Every single issue a person feels strongly enough about can be said to be a cardinal issue. I'd hate for 1689 Federalism to become a (another) wedge issue.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
The Historical premil viewpoint would include the restoration of national Israel unto the Lord at the Second Coming event then, correct?

It seems that that's what the older covenant premils believed. (Maybe roughly up until about 1950, give or take, although the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony continues, and I know of some Sovereign Grace Baptists in the USA who appear to hold similar views.)

When people use the term "historic premil" today, it generally precludes such a restoration, especially if you're talking about a restoration of national ethnic Israel to the promised land, which is what I assume you're talking about. George Ladd and those that have followed (Grudem, etc.) have generally denied the latter and interpret OT prophecy (i.e. what Dispensationalists and the older type or premil would term unfulfilled prophecy) in much the same way that amils do, and largely differ from amils in their interpretation of Rev. 20 and often little else.

An "end times revival" or conversion of the Jews is compatible with postmil, amil or premil, although some do reject it. But affirmation of it certainly doesn't put one in the premil camp. My guess is that the type of "historic premil" that we've seen since the 1950s generally affirms such a conversion even as it denies a restoration to the land.
 

jomawh

Puritan Board Freshman
Somewhere around 2008-2009 I watched a series of lectures of Dr. Waldron's on eschatology that were live streamed from MCTS. The result was that I was basically confirmed in my premil stance. I guess there's no hope for me. :lol:
It's funny because I watched those lectures and turned from Postmillennialism to Amillennialism. Funny how these things happen. :)
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
It seems that that's what the older covenant premils believed. (Maybe roughly up until about 1950, give or take, although the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony continues, and I know of some Sovereign Grace Baptists in the USA who appear to hold similar views.)

When people use the term "historic premil" today, it generally precludes such a restoration, especially if you're talking about a restoration of national ethnic Israel to the promised land, which is what I assume you're talking about. George Ladd and those that have followed (Grudem, etc.) have generally denied the latter and interpret OT prophecy (i.e. what Dispensationalists and the older type or premil would term unfulfilled prophecy) in much the same way that amils do, and largely differ from amils in their interpretation of Rev. 20 and often little else.

An "end times revival" or conversion of the Jews is compatible with postmil, amil or premil, although some do reject it. But affirmation of it certainly doesn't put one in the premil camp. My guess is that the type of "historic premil" that we've seen since the 1950s generally affirms such a conversion even as it denies a restoration to the land.
So even with a historical premil position, there are some who would hold to God dealing with national Israel as in them restored to Land and under God, and others holding to the Jewish race getting saved in the end apart from any promised land restoration?
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
So even with a historical premil position, there are some who would hold to God dealing with national Israel as in them restored to Land and under God, and others holding to the Jewish race getting saved in the end apart from any promised land restoration?
Yes, with the latter being much more common today.

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Timotheos

Puritan Board Freshman
One question I have:

A few years ago Reformed Baptists began to focus on the doctrine of divine impassibility. They adopted one view and demanded adherence to this view in order to stay within ARBCA. As a result, many churches left (including the majority of their missions committee).

It all seemed needlessly divisive; a splitting of good brothers over a secondary point of theology proper. And I think it also hurt outreach and missions.

...

Do you think this will happen?
From what I've observed, the issue of divine impassibility (whether you believe it to be a minor or major issue) was one of confessional adherence. Full subscription to the 1689 LBC is required to be members of the ARBCA. And divine impassibility is in the confession (2:1, "The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions,"). My speculation is that it wasn't a split just b/c there was disagreement to a doctrine. There was a split b/c there was not confessional adherence. Again, speculation.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
From what I've observed, the issue of divine impassibility (whether you believe it to be a minor or major issue) was one of confessional adherence. Full subscription to the 1689 LBC is required to be members of the ARBCA. And divine impassibility is in the confession (2:1, "The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions,"). My speculation is that it wasn't a split just b/c there was disagreement to a doctrine. There was a split b/c there was not confessional adherence. Again, speculation.
What would be the area where there might be a disagreement on this issue?
 

Timotheos

Puritan Board Freshman
What would be the area where there might be a disagreement on this issue?
Again, speculation. But I am saying that in order to be a part of the ARBCA, one must fully subscribe to the LBC. If a group of churches disagreed w/ a view that is found in the confession, then that might cause people to part ways. I don't think they split b/c of a theological disagreement per se, but rather they split b/c the disagreement was creedally related. Speculation. I don't feel comfortable speculating more since I have no first hand info.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Again, speculation. But I am saying that in order to be a part of the ARBCA, one must fully subscribe to the LBC. If a group of churches disagreed w/ a view that is found in the confession, then that might cause people to part ways. I don't think they split b/c of a theological disagreement per se, but rather they split b/c the disagreement was creedally related. Speculation. I don't feel comfortable speculating more since I have no first hand info.
So it would not be like one side teaching heresy, but more that one side was disagreeing with the views expressed in the Confession?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Again, speculation. But I am saying that in order to be a part of the ARBCA, one must fully subscribe to the LBC. If a group of churches disagreed w/ a view that is found in the confession, then that might cause people to part ways. I don't think they split b/c of a theological disagreement per se, but rather they split b/c the disagreement was creedally related. Speculation. I don't feel comfortable speculating more since I have no first hand info.
We are getting off-topic. Sorry I introduced this side-issue. But all parties believed in the impassibility of God (just as much as Presbyterians have agreed on this). But a further confessional-level document was written defining it further and churches had to adhere to it to remain. All parties believed that God was without body, parts, or passions.
 

Timotheos

Puritan Board Freshman
We are getting off-topic. Sorry I introduced this side-issue. But all parties believed in the impassibility of God (just as much as Presbyterians have agreed on this). But a further confessional-level document was written defining it further and churches had to adhere to it to remain. All parties believed that God was without body, parts, or passions.
Sounds like you are more in the know. Thanks for the clarification.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
We are getting off-topic. Sorry I introduced this side-issue. But all parties believed in the impassibility of God (just as much as Presbyterians have agreed on this). But a further confessional-level document was written defining it further and churches had to adhere to it to remain. All parties believed that God was without body, parts, or passions.
What was the main contention point here then?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The main reason this was brought up was that it was an example of Reformed Baptists needlessly splitting. I am afraid these different covenantal views will further divide up Reformed Baptists into smaller camps. If 1689 Federalist's make a strong case that "This is THE Baptist view" and "this is the view that the writers of the confession meant, therefore to be 'confessional' one must believe as we do or else be labeled as 'unconfessional' then this might happen.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
One of the challanges I see in Reformed Baptist circles is the fine line between a weak confessionalism and hair-splitting re different doctrines. Eg, I cannot see how one can hold to New Covenant Theology or John Frames denial of the Regulative Principle and call yourself Reformed. On the other hand I agree one can hold some disagreement over covenant theology and still hold to the concept of covenant theology itself.

My personal view is the the Regulative Principle is a more weighty issue than baptism.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
One of the challanges I see in Reformed Baptist circles is the fine line between a weak confessionalism and hair-splitting re different doctrines. Eg, I cannot see how one can hold to New Covenant Theology or John Frames denial of the Regulative Principle and call yourself Reformed. On the other hand I agree one can hold some disagreement over covenant theology and still hold to the concept of covenant theology itself.
The NCT viewpoint regarding the Law would indeed place it outside any reformed theology, but isn't the question on regulatory principle more of a debate with reformed circles?
My personal view is the the Regulative Principle is a more weighty issue than baptism.

The NCT viewpoint regarding the Law would indeed place it outside any reformed theology, but isn't the question on regulatory principle more of a debate within reformed circles?
 

jomawh

Puritan Board Freshman
The NCT viewpoint regarding the Law would indeed place it outside any reformed theology, but isn't the question on regulatory principle more of a debate within reformed circles?
Historically what has definitionally set the Reformed apart from say, Lutherans, was the Regulative Principle of Worship. The change we have seen in Reformed circles, which is quite recent in Church history, is either the abandonment of the Regulative Principle or an attempt to redefine what it means to accommodate elements into worship that would have been historically unacceptable. I've heard the excuse of "well, it depends on how Regulative you are," which as I further consider it makes no sense- you're either regulating worship according to scripture or you're not and, ultimately, it's a question of how seriously you take confessional adherence.

There is a slippery slope in the Norminative Principle that eventually leaves one defenseless against arguments for fog machines, laser lights, etc common in so many "worship services." I recall a church I visited in North Platte, Nebraska that actually had synth boards and which sounded more like a Daft Punk concert than a Sunday gathering. It all ends in subjectivity and will-worship.
 
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Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Historically what has definitionally set the Reformed apart from say, Lutherans, was the Regulative Principle of Worship. The change we have seen in Reformed circles, which is quite recent in Church history, is either the abandonment of the Regulative Principle or an attempt to redefine what it means to accommodate elements into worship that would have been historically unacceptable. I've heard the excuse of "well, it depends on how Regulative you are," which as I further consider it makes no sense- you're either regulating worship according to scripture or you're not and, ultimately, it's a question of how seriously you take confessional adherence.

There is a slippery slope in the Norminative Principle that eventually leaves one defenseless against arguments for fog machines, laser lights, etc common in so many "worship services." I recall a church I visited in North Platte, Nebraska that actually had synth boards and which sounded more like a Daft Punk concert than a Sunday gathering. It all ends in subjectivity and will-worship.
I am attending a non Confessing Baptist church that would tend to see worship as allowing for what God has not forbidden, so we do have some services where we sing hymns, and others contemporary music, just depends upon the worship leader and their preferences.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
The only thing being rejected is a form of Presbyterianism that has been modified to fit a Baptist distinctive.

Bill,
It seems I keep hearing this accusation but am finding it suspect. Can you give me some more input on what has been modified and by whom? I am asking because I can point to men and their writings like John Tombe, Coxe, Owen, Keach Samuel Bolton, Johannes Cocceius, Cameron, Petto, who all held to various forms of doctrine that Particular Baptists understood and agreed with. I am not so sure they had to modify anything when it came to Covenant Theology. There wasn't necessarily a modification as I understand some things. In fact Federalism holds Owen in high esteem when it comes to understanding Covenant Theology.

I do remember in my studies that the 1644 LBCF was a document set up to point out that these Churches shouldn't be numbered with Anabaptists. It was a charge being leveled at them and it was not a good thing to be labeled an Anabaptist.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Bill,
It seems I keep hearing this accusation but am finding it suspect. Can you give me some more input on what has been modified and by whom? I am asking because I can point to men and their writings like John Tombe, Coxe, Owen, Keach Samuel Bolton, Johannes Cocceius, Cameron, Petto, who all held to various forms of doctrine that Particular Baptists understood and agreed with. I am not so sure they had to modify anything when it came to Covenant Theology. There wasn't necessarily a modification as I understand some things. In fact Federalism holds Owen in high esteem when it comes to understanding Covenant Theology.

I do remember in my studies that the 1644 LBCF was a document set up to point out that these Churches shouldn't be numbered with Anabaptists. It was a charge being leveled at them and it was not a good thing to be labeled an Anabaptist.
John Owen seems to be quoted and sourced by both Presbyterians and RB on this board.
 
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