The Nine Points and Schilder
It’s been an interesting week here with lots of lively discussion. Yesterday my colleague Bill DeJong weighed in with his perspective. In comment 8 under yesterday’s post The Nine Points and ’44: History Repeating Itself?, Bill wrote:
To the substance of what you wrote: I tend to think your interpretation of the nine points is naive on a couple of points.
1. The nine points demonstrate no particular sympathy for the theological emphases of Klaas Schilder. As you probably know, the primary author of the nine points is Scott Clark, an individual who routinely depicts Klaas Schilder’s theology as “idiosyncratic” as best. Scott was well aware that Schilder objected to dividing the covenant up into “external covenant” and “internal covenant.” The inclusion of the terms “outward” and “inward” in the nine points is likely a direct allusion to Schilder’s “idiosyncratic” theology.
Naive? Hmmm… So, Scott Clark was the “primary author” of the Nine Points. It’s not a big secret. It’s true that he has occasionally depicted Schilder’s theology in the way described. It is also true that Scott has helpfully written a lengthy exposition of the Nine Points. It’s a sort of commentary on the Nine Points. So, if Bill’s hypothesis is correct, we should expect to see Schilder under fire at these points in Scott’s exposition.
Schilder is mentioned twice. In the first mention, he is identified as one of those involved with a loss of “contact with the sources of classical Reformed (covenant) theology.” Through the efforts of Schilder and many others, ‘scholastic’ and ‘scholasticism’ became pejoratives. The second mention comes when Scott identifies those who, while not FV, speak of a “so-called covenant of works.” Schilder is one of those.
When I read Scott’s exposition, the target of the Nine Points is not Schilder or the Canadian Reformed Churches, but the FV. That also seems to hold true when he discusses points 5 and 6. There we find no mention of, nor even an allusion to (at least not that I can detect) to Schilder. Instead, Scott writes:
The answer to the problem created by the FV theology is to make a distinction which they consistently deny, minimize, or ignore, viz. to distinguish between the two ways of being in the covenant of grace. The great Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius spoke of a “double mode of communion” in the covenant of grace. This is exactly what Calvin taught both in his commentary on Romans 9, in his Institutes (3.21-24), and his sermons on election. All baptized Christians are in the covenant of grace. As Calvin said, to deny that is virtually blasphemy. It doesn’t help the problem to do as some have been tempted to do, i.e., to deny that unbelievers or reprobates have any relation to the covenant whatever. At the same time, it’s just as harmful to refuse to distinguish between ways of being in the one covenant of grace. From Calvin to Witsius (and after!) the Reformed sorted out this problem by saying that, though there is one covenant of grace, there are two ways of being in that one covenant of grace. All baptized persons are in the covenant of grace outwardly or externally but they are not all in the covenant of grace inwardly or internally.
Jacob and Esau were both in the covenant of grace. Both had received the sign and seal of the covenant, but the sign and seal were, as it were, fruitful for Jacob but not for Esau because they were not combined with faith (Heb 4:2). Though Jacob and Esau were both in they covenant of grace, they did not have, ultimately, the same relation to the one covenant of grace. They were both “in” the covenant of grace, but they weren’t both “of” the covenant of grace.
Why not? Paul says it was a matter of election.
In my estimation, that’s not substantially different from what Nelson Kloosterman asserts about Klaas Schilder. For him too, there were two ways of relating to the covenant of grace. I also discussed this in an earlier blog post. Schilder appealed to a prayer of Calvin to distinguish between belonging to the covenant and being a recipient of salvation. All baptized Christians are in the covenant of grace. But in the unfolding of history, not all relate to the covenant in the same way. Bill DeJong agrees, for he writes:
On the other hand, point # 6 can be rescued, and I think you’ve done a decent job elsewhere showing how. Baptized folk respond to covenant promises in one of two ways, and you’ve underscored that this point addresses the “two ways.” I think that’s fair. On the other hand, it needs to be emphasized that all baptized children are fully members of the covenant. I find this emphasis lacking in the nine points.
Point 6 doesn’t need to “be rescued,” because it was meant to be understood in exactly this way. I’m not sure what is naive about thinking that. You might not like the language of “external/internal,” but somehow we have to describe these two ways. Personally, I prefer the language of faith/unbelief, but I would be equally comfortable with Paul’s language in Romans 9:6, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.”
Finally, Bill would have liked to seen it emphasized that “all baptized children are fully members of the covenant.” However, as I understand them, the Nine Points were written to address particular errors associated with FV. As far as I know, no FV authors are arguing that baptized children are not fully members of the covenant. Also, as far as I know, Protestant Reformed theology does not have a meaningful home in the URCNA. I’m also not aware of anyone in the URCNA asserting that baptized children are not all full covenant members. So, I could understand why no one might think to include a statement like that in the Nine Points. Although, come to think of it, it would have saved us a lot of trouble and potential misunderstanding! For the record, I agree wholeheartedly with the statement, “All baptized children are fully members of the covenant.”
And folks, that wraps it up for me on this subject for the next while. Besides my regular sermon preparation, I have a lecture series to prepare for next week. So, the rest of this week and next will feature repeat posts from over the last few years. I’ll be back to regular blogging on Monday September 6.
Thanks again for dedicating so much time and energy to responding to some of my theses. I wish I had the same time and energy to dedicate to this project, but alas I don’t, so my response will be short and sweet.
It seems you’ve misread my post to say something it doesn’t. Nowhere did I allege that Schilder was the target of the nine points. I mentioned elsewhere in the same post from which you quoted that the delegates at synod were concerned with “federal vision” and “Norman Shepherd.” I’m sure Scott, when he wrote the initial copy of the nine points, had the same concerns.
What I said was that “the nine points demonstrate no particular sympathy for the theological emphases of Klaas Schilder.” These emphases would include matters like the objectivity and conditionality of the covenant. The nine points don’t particularly envision a doctrine of the covenant which is either objective or conditional.
Moreover, I wrote, “The inclusion of the terms ‘outward’ and ‘inward’ in the nine points is likely a direct allusion to Schilder’s ‘idiosyncratic’ theology.” I don’t recall any FV personality explicitly challenging that distinction; on the other hand, it is well-known that Schilder was not fond of distinguishing internal covenant from external covenant (read Looze Kalk). Therefore, it seems that Scott was alluding to Schilder’s protest of this distinction.
So there’s nothing in what I wrote that would dispute your claim that the target of the Nine of Points is FV. On the other hand, the nine points show no sympathy for the theological emphases in Schilder’s theology and there in fact seems to be a direct allusion to Schilder’s theological protest in point # 6.
Regarding your insistence that there are two ways of being in the covenant, I have a caution, but no substantial objection. Repeatedly emphasizing the two ways of being in covenant could in the end undermine the objectivity of the covenant promises and that would betray biblical and pastoral insensitivity. I refer your readers to:
Regarding Nelson Kloosterman’s construal of Schilder’s theology, I refer your readers to:
So again, it is naivete to think the nine points say nothing about Schilder and the Canadian Reformed
Incidentally, the way you talk about the covenant strikes me as similar to Berkhof. I would encourage you to read Jelle Faber’s _American Secession Theologians_ for a wholesome critique of Berkhof. For that matter, consider re-reading _Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church_ and Benne Holwerda’s _Populair Wetenschappelijke Bijdragen_. John Barach’s material on election is heavily dependent on Holwerda’s essay, “De Verkiezing in de Schrift.”
Thanks for giving me space on your blog to respond, Wes.
May God multiply His grace in your life,
You say it is naivete to think that the nine points say nothing about Schilder and the Canadian Reformed. But were the nine points (of Schererville) meant to speak to Schilder and the Canadian Reformed? This is where some folks begin to see a bit of ecclesiastical paranoia or, if you will, narcisssism.
In other words, . . . ” those people over there are discussing something. They’re probably talking about “us.” I think I heard them mention something about some of the kids “we” went to school with. Yep, I just know they’re saying all kinds of things about “us”. Everywhere I go, people are talking about “us”. . . .
I know many folks in the URCNA who have absolutely no idea who K. Schilder is/was. Most URC (U.S.) members have no idea what the Canadian Reformed Churches are. As Dr. Riddlebarger says, when they hear “1944” and “Liberation” they think “D-Day”. They’re not talking about “us”. “We” are not the center of their attention. Particularly as concerns the nine points.
When our URCNA brethren state that they are attempting to deal with the errors of Federal Vision, I believe them. I see no reason to ascribe to their efforts anything covertly anti-Canadian Reformed. Indeed, I see nothing in the nine points that contradicts anything in the Three Forms of Unity. If anything, the nine points are superfluous.
I was reminded immediately after I submitted my initial post of Scott’s eleventh question for the Canadian Reformed, which you find in the paragraph that follows:
“Schilder was known to say that everyone is in “the covenant” “head for head” and that “the covenant” is “all or nothing.” The effect of such formulations seems to deny the historic and confessional Reformed distinction between the two ways of being in the one covenant of grace, i.e., the distinction between the internal relation and the external relation to the covenant of grace. How widespread is the “head for head” and “all or nothing” view in the CanRCs?”
This demonstrates my point that Scott was/is well aware that the vocabulary of internal and external, in relation to the covenant, is an irritant to the heirs of Schilder’s theology.
For more, see:
Kind regards in Christ,
Thanks for engaging me about this. I think you are correct in alleging that most members of American URCNA churches have no idea who Schilder is. I also agree with you that the nine points can be reconciled with the confessions when put in the right light. It might be of interest to you to know that when I underwent my colloquium doctum at Classis Ontario West of the Canadian Reformed churches I explained and defended the nine points — which is to say, I put the nine points in the best possible light.
On the other hand, the adoption of the nine points, I believe, was intended to send a message to the Can Ref. I was a delegate at synod Schererville and a member of the synodical advisory committee that recommended the adoption of the nine points. The synod was characterized by the sense that the brakes needed to applied to the process of merger with the Can Ref. This is evident in, for example, the re-commissioning of the song book committee to produce not a common psalter-hymnal but one specifically for the URCNA. The concern about the Can Ref was largely theological. The Can Ref, in the minds of many leaders, seemed to be fond of Norman Shepherd and have affinities with Federal Vision.
These connections were being made especially by Scott Clark, the primary author of the nine points. Consider his questions to the CanRC on my website and see how they dovetail with the nine points. Aside from this, I have a thick folder of correspondence between Scott and me. If Scott permits me (I would never think to share it without his consent) I can show you what was brewing in the minds of Scott and others prior to Synod 2007.
Shortly before synod a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary informed me that he thought Schilder was a “latent Arminian.” For this reason he favored some distancing with the Can Ref. The URCNA colleagues of mine who wanted distance with the Can Ref were also the ones most vocal in support of the nine points. This is what the Can Ref needs to understand. This is why I’m blowing the whistle.
The trajectory of synod 2007 only continued in 2010 where the letter sent by the Can Ref synod was hardly respected, where the representatives from the Can Ref were asked disrespectful questions, where the nine points were re-affirmed (in spite of some protest from Can Ref circles) and where the anti-FV recommendations were adopted (in spite of warnings from Can Ref circles).
That’s why I want to say to you, Wes and others: the writing is on the wall. The URCNA does not want closer ties with the Can Ref especially for theological reasons!!! Don’t be naive!!!
Wishing you blessings in Christ,
I was unaware that you had defended the nine points before Classis Ontario West. No doubt you did your best to put the nine points in the best light possible before those brothers. And no doubt any URCNA visitors in attendance at that classis meeting were pleased to hear it.
You stated that your time and energy are scarce, so I’ll try to be brief. I have no illusions about the prospects for union within the next few years. Indeed, if the CanRC are unable to accomplish union with the URCNA anytime soon, I hope we do not hear any more talk of institutional union with any other federation. Using colors as an analogy: if we cannot reconcile purple and violet, what chance is there of reconciling violet and orange? Violet and green? Violet and yellow?
While I appreciate your solicitous concern, I would not characterize myself as naive. What I find unfortunate in your posts (here and on your own blog) is an insistence upon characterizing this whole process (of interchurch relations, if you will) as something of a struggle for dominance. In other words, when you say “the writing is on the wall”, the image that immediately springs to mind is that of impending doom. Is this really the sense you have of what union would entail for the CanRC?
You seem quick to take offense at what would appear to most as quite benign. To prove your assertion that the URCNA was eager to apply the brakes to merging with the CanRC you mention that they (URCNA) have redirected their energies toward their own songbook. You seem offended by this. But is this not parallel to the CanRC synod busying itself (and all of the consistories/congregations) with the “Augment” and subsequent overhaul of the Psalm versifications? Do you also see these actions as applying the brakes? And does that likewise offend you?
On the other hand, you are quick to defend that which (to most) would be, at best, dangerous. On your blog, for instance, you have risen to defend a list of men who are laboring to re-fashion Reformed theology — most of whom are not associated with any church we hold close. Indeed, the more vocal among them are operating from within a loose confederation of their own making — and that not recognized by any of our sister churches. Some of these men have already run one plane into the ground (think “theonomy”). And now they seem intent on a sequel disaster (think “FV”). I think it is not unreasonable for our friends to be concerned that a CanRC minister would so eagerly rise to the defense of such men as you have.
I do not know Scott Clark, and no, I have no interest in acquiring someone else’s bulging correspondence file (but thank you for offering). Unless Mr. Clark were the URCNA stated clerk or occupied some other exalted spot at recent URCNA synods, I think you are either ascribing to him an undeserved degree of omnipotence or assuming of the many synod delegates an astoundingly uniform gullibility (or worse) — perhaps both. In either case, unwarranted (in my opinion).
I, for one, share in the concerns expressed by Rev. DeJong. It seems self evident that the CanRC do not have likemindedness with the URCNA on some crucial issues, the covenant being one of them. Our committees spent many days in meetings and formulating reports for synods but in the end there was a doctrinal inquiry on the covenant which should have been done at the beginning. Covenant theology ties into just about everything because it underlies biblical doctrine and practice. God deals with his people covenantally. Preaching in the CanRC has always emphasized that. Yes, members are called to personal faith and repentance, but even this message comes to us under the promises, demands, and threats of the covenant.
I think it is a fair assertion that there is not likemindedness between the two federations (URCNA and CanRC) — seminary and songbook spring to mind. However, is “likemindedness” a pre-condition for unity? I have often heard older CanRC members (talking about church membership) reminding others that the church is not simply a group of likeminded folk with similar interests (like a voetbal club, they say). No, they say, we are one in faith in Jesus Christ (viz a viz the Three Forms of Unity) — this is what unites us, in spite of all our other differences.
I’ve also heard many CanRC folk extolling the virtue of unity based on the TFU and nothing more: “nothing extra-confessional” they say.
But then it seems these are often the same people who subsequently make statements similar to yours (above) which imply that there is actually something larger, more critical, more vital if you will than the text of the Three Forms. And that usually involves the term “covenant”. By which is meant not just the concept that we are in covenant with God through our Mediator; but that a very specific formulation of covenantal doctrine is necessary before we can live together before the Lord.
In other words, CanRC folk like to say “unity based on the TFU”, but what is meant is something more like: TFU+Schilderian Covenantalism+federational seminary+Book of Praise+(fill-in-the-blank).
And when we find another federation that holds to TFU+SC+FS+BoP we would be delighted to unite with them. I’m not trying to be cynical. It just seems to me that this is the reality, and if it is, then let’s content ourselves with what is a realistic possiblity: being good neighbors.
The TFU “could” be sufficient for unity, but “federative” unity calls for more than confessional agreement. History bears this out (the CRC and PRC also have the TFU). Schilder did his utmost to unify with Hoeksema but in the end it didn’t happen (Schilder too believed that more than one covenant view could co-exist in a federation). If the TFU was sufficient then why did the URC members start a new federation when the CanRC already existed for 40 years? See what I mean? It is the URCNA that is responsible for the seperation that exists between us.
I could be mistaken, but I believe there were some CanRC officebearers who strongly urged CRC expats to first “find themselves” (i.e., federate) and then come find us.
Yes and I’m sure they had good intentions with that advice. However, is it conducive to federative unity? Hardly, because once they go through the process of “finding themselves” they are far less likely to unify with another federation. I believe history bears this out.
Given the historical context of the CanRC, it is not surprising that advice would be given to CRC expats to first “find themselves” and then seek union with an existing federation. My point was that to hold the URCNA responsible for the separation that exists between us (URCNA/CanRC) is a bit disingenuous, considering the advice they received to stay apart from us until they had “found themselves”. Much more charitable to say “we realize now that the advice we gave was bad. We regret that you heeded our advice, and consider ourselves at least somewhat responsible for the outcome. Let’s see what can be done to un-do the division that we helped to create.”
On a more practical note, this whole scenario really only affects the churches in Canada. I doubt there was ever any thought among CRC expats in the U.S. given to affiliating with local Canadian Reformed congregations, as there are only four (mostly small) such congregations in the U.S.
It seems the more practical route would have been seeking some form of institutional union within Canada — leaving the U.S. congregations in their own federation(s). Perhaps this will yet emerge from among the churches as an option.
While for the most part I agree with svandyken, I would hasten to add that if we do insist on unity based on TFU+SC+FS+BoP, then we truly don’t even have unity within our own federation. There are many Can Reffers who don’t even know who Schilder is, and what he taught about the covenant 60/70 years ago, or who don’t give a toot about the seminary, or the BoP. There are those sitting beside you in the pew who believe more about the church in the Westminster understanding than articles 27-29 of the Belgic Confession, and don’t get the differences or consequences of those differences either. So that argument doesn’t really hold true.
Besides it’s obviously not the leaders (ministers) of the CanRef churches who believe that we need unanimity in all areas. The CanRef leaders have shown themselves more than willing to talk about areas of disagreement. It’s the URC leadership that doesn’t want any part of it.
Thanks for engaging me with a well written and thoughtful response. I’m more than happy to explain myself further.
I agree with you about the colours!
I didn’t mean to characterize you as a person as naive, Shawn, but the notion that the nine points and the anti-FV recommendations don’t imply a negative judgment about, or a negative stance towards, the Can Ref. They do.
My language of “writing on the wall” is meant to suggest “impending doom.” Please understand, Shawn, I’m quite happy to serve alongside of men who embrace a more or less Westminster perspective. Wes himself seems to be of this bent. He’s quite happy to defend visible/invisible church, internal/external covenant, covenant of works, etc. Though I disagree sharply with Wes on these things, I’m quite pleased to have him as a colleague in the ministry.
The problem I see in the URCNA is that the rejection of these distinctions or theories is not being tolerated. That’s why unity cannot happen, at least for the moment.
Regarding the songbook, there is NO parallel whatsoever between what the URCNA and the Can Ref synods decided in terms of the songbook. The Can Ref wanted to work with the URCNA on a common songbook. The URCNA essentially said, “Not interested; we’re going to work on our own songbook.” That was never said by the Can Ref.
Regarding the men I defend, please understand:
(a) As I read through the Bible I’m struck by the fact that one of our most important callings as believers is to defend the unjustly accused. This is one theme that resounds throughout both Old and New Testaments. This is especially the calling of a friend — Prov.17:17; Prov.27:10.
(b) My friends are not limited to my particular federation or sister churches or even Christians. If my Muslim neighbor were unjustly accused, I would rise in his defense. The fact is: my FV friends are among the most godly men I know!
Scott Clark is a target for me, only because he is the primary author of the nine points and because he, like I, blogs his ideas. I know there are others who think like him and talk like him, but with Scott I can “prove” that my allegations are correct by appealing to his public writings. I also happen to know how Scott thinks about a lot of things because of a series of correspondence that’s been ongoing for some 13 or so years ago!!!
It’s quite possible, Shawn, that I’m blowing things out of proportion or that I’m uber-sensitive or that I’m completely misreading things. I’m not inclined to think so since I’ve had three URCNA colleagues/friends who’ve essentially confirmed my thesis.
Thank you for giving of your time, Shawn, to challenge me! It is important to rethink the things we say, and you’ve provided me the occasion to do so.
Wishing you every blessing in Christ!!
You characterize the visible/invisible church doctrine as a Westminster perspective. The doctrine of the church which uses the visible/invisible church framework was not created by Presbyterians, and I am certain you know this. Why then imply that it is something other than true-blue Reformed to hold to something taught by such men as Calvin, Ursinus, et al?
This is not “a Westminster bent”, but Calvinism 101.
My apologies for my amnesia about this debate. The visible/invisible church distinction is a Westminster perspective in the sense that it is found in the Westminster standards and not in the Three Forms of Unity. You are correct to note that many in the Reformed tradition utilized the distinction; I didn’t mean to deny that. If you are familiar with the theological tradition of the Can Ref you will know that this distinction was repeatedly critiqued by our forebears. I don’t know whether you are Can Ref, but one of the former professors at the Can Ref seminary wrote a Master’s thesis on the distinction alleging that it was more Platonic than biblical. Calvinism 101 isn’t always Bible 101.
Wishing you the very best in our Savior!!!
I think Dr. Bredenhof has already pointed out that there is no tangible reason to suspect that the Nine Points are aimed at the CanRC. It is no secret that they are aimed at those who hold to views propagated / held by men associated with the Federal Vision. That you see something others do not see is not necessarily evidence of others’ poor vision. That you make connections where others say there are none is not necessarily evidence of others’ poor faculties. I appreciate your willingness to consider that you might be misreading things. I think you are. I would characterize your stance as “uber-sensitive”. Given what you have written, I can understand why you might be so.
You say you would defend your Muslim neighbor who was unjustly accused. But that is a poor analogy. If your Muslim neighbor were being accused of not being Reformed (while claiming that he was, in fact, Reformed), then that is not an unjust accusation. The object of the nine points seems to be to state clearly that anyone espousing doctrines which conflict with Reformed confessions cannot rightly claim to be Reformed.
I have no doubt you are more familiar than I am with FV and its proponents, so it’s not my intent to provide instruction on that. Other than to say that if the churches consider the confessions defective or inadequate it up to the churches to debate and formulate — not self-appointed men operating outside the churches.
Hi Shawn – if you read the post, “questions for the CanRC” at http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/questions-for-the-canrc/ you’ll see the tangible reason why point 6 may have been aimed at the CanRC. Schilder is being blamed for sowing the seed of the FV movement. By reading the blog you will see that there was quite a bit of suspicion of the CanRC by the author of the 9 points – but I think much of that would have been alleviated by meetings held between CanRC & URC representatives since that post.
No doubt there are individuals in both the URCNA and the CanRC who might intend/perceive the 9 Points as aimed at the CanRC. But it seems to me that one can only ascribe to synods such covert objectives if, as mentioned earlier, one considers Scott Clark to be a URCNA potentate — or the numerous delegates to URCNA synods to be nothing but remote-controlled automatons. I see no tangible evidence that either is the case.
The URCNA has made it abundantly clear that the Nine Points are meant as a clear defense against the errors of what is called Federal Vision. Those who have not (materially) suffered from these errors could understandably say they are not a threat. On the other hand, those who have witnessed up-close the harm caused by these errors are within their rights to take up arms against those who promote them (i.e., FV errors). Our friends are taking aim and firing. If we are reluctant to join them in the battle, we had better stand aside than to put ourselves in the line of fire.
I agree with you that formal meetings between official church representatives / assemblies are what will calm the waters. And that must be the focus, not the private/publicized opinions of a few vocal individuals.
[…] seems to support what I have written previously on this topic. Theologically, the Canadian Reformed have nothing to fear from the Nine Points. They’re […]