Tuesday, August 21, 2007

There has been a lot of back and forth between the Federal Vision men and those who are against the Federal Vision. The pro-FV side has often claimed they were never understood by the anti-FV men, and they have often claimed to have been wronged by all of the committees that put out reports and condemn the FV. They especially like to tout the idea that they were never contacted personally. In that respect, Jim Jordan’s rant on Douglas Wilson’s blog is nothing new. I have not read the article to which Dr. Jordan is primarily responding, but I do want to address his snarky comments about not being contacted personally. Here is how he puts it.

The worst aspect of this whole debacle is the fact that neither the OPC committee, nor the PCA committee, nor the MARS faculty ever made any contact with the "FV" people they criticize. Had they made even one phone call, they could have found out that we don't believe most of what they accuse us of believing. I find this behavior appalling.

I have three responses to this. First, Study Committees are designed to respond to what has been written, not what people may currently believer or the nuances of some particular writer’s phraseology. This is because the committee reports are meant to be used by the member churches to protect the people in the pew. That is why almost every report is usually followed by a recommendation that this report by covered in each church, or something to that effect. If a person writes in a book, “Baptism saves,” or “Baptism is not a picture of salvation, it is salvation”, but what they mean is “baptism, the rite of water, saves only in the sense that it connects us to the local church, which is the body of Christ, but does not decretally save one forever and ever, but rather it merely puts us in the right place to practice, live out, or experience salvation.” The author of said comment may be upset when a report comes out that attacks the first two comments, but does not mention the third. They may even say, ‘If they had just called me on the phone . . .” But the point is that the people in the pew are not going to call the author on the phone either and they need to know what is wrong with the first two statements (not that I am approving of the third comment), which is all they are going to ever see. I would have thought such things were obvious to all.

Second, the church has never held such an odd position as that people must be called prior to publication. Anything in the public domain is fair game. Did Irenaeus speak to the author of the Gospel of Judas, which he does attack and refute, to make sure he was reading the Gospel correctly? Was it wrong for him to write a book called Against Heresies if he did not contact each and every individual he would quote from? Augustine condemned the works of Pelagius without ever having met him after reading his Commentary on St. Paul. Was this wrong? Should have Augustine allowed the Pelagian error to circulate while he tried to reason face to face before writing his letters? Can the same not be said of Jerome, who also attacked Pelagianism? What about all those men who sat in judgment of Pelagius at the Council of Ephesus? Were they all wrong? This history of the church would look very different if no one ever spoke against a heresy without first checking with the author to make sure everything was in place. We have many heresies or view points today that bear the names of men who probably disagreed with those positions. I, as well as others, agree that the Memorialistic view of the sacraments commonly called Zwinglianism does not reflect the view of Zwingli himself. I, along with others, think that Nestorius did not agree with the heresy known as Nestorianism (Nestorius proclaimed the Tome of Leo the truth of the gospel). Does that mean Nestorianism is not a heresy? No, it is a heresy, and it rightly goes under his name. A heresy spread and formed with writings that bore his name, and they had to be refuted immediately. Thankfully they were. I seriously doubt that Dr. Jordan wants to decry all of these events in Christian history as wrong because they did not speak with the author first, rather they simply interacted with the written word.

Third, Dr. Jordan himself does not practice this policy, and thus his moaning and whining is nothing more than selfish, pompous, bombast. See the following quote from his letter:

And it's no surprise that the heirs of Kohlbruegge in the RCUS also dislike Norman Shepherd and the FV -- after all, if you are suspicious of the whole Reformed doctrine of sanctification, you are not going to welcome people who say that faithful Christians are obedient Christians.

Now it is true that the RCUS was once dominated by Kohlbregge and his teachings. God used the teaching of Kohlbregge, mainly his high regard for the word of God, to preserve the church from liberalism and joining the church that eventually became the United Church of Christ. However, the modern day RCUS is far from the "heirs of Kohlbregge" nor are they "suspicious of the whole Reformed doctrine of sanctification". In fact, I will just point to the action of Synod of the RCUS a mere two years ago. A man wishing to publish works against the FV movement asked the RCUS for permission to publish some of Kohlbregge’s works. Kohlbregge being so far on the side of justification by faith alone without works that he diminishes sanctification, and that was seen by the person asking permission to be a good antidote to the FV teaching. The RCUS turned down this application because we do not approve of the Kohlbregge doctrine. Refuting one error with another is not an option, so we voted it down. Perhaps, if Dr. Jordan had just contacted any minister in the RCUS, he would know we are not Kohlbreggian any longer. Perhaps if Dr. Jordan would have followed his own advice he would not print this attack on the RCUS on a blog and in a Christian magazine. Perhaps, if he would have simply read our Synod abstract, he would know. If only he would have picked up the history of the RCUS in the You Shall be My People, he would understand the RCUS and the role and place of Kohlbregge. Alas, Dr. Jordan is full of venom and advice to his opponents, advice that he himself never intended to follow. That behavior is what I find appalling.


eileen~ said...

HI Lee,
I wonder if you know of any place online that I could visit, or any other literature that would give me some insight into what Kohlbregge believed and taught? I'm looking for my RCUS book, which I can't seem to find at the moment.


Anonymous said...

Dear Lee,

Your first two points are impeccable technically. However, Christian love surely must tell us that if we're going to have a public disagreement it's best to talk face-to-face to those with whom we disagree. Meeting face-to-face does cover a multitude of sins. It's like the guy who dumps the girl over the phone, or via SMS. It's been done, but not very graciously.

pduggie said...

Jordan ran a study committee and came out with a report on the RCUS and Kohlbrugge when?

Lane Keister said...

Paul, how do a study committee versus an off-hand comment differ, except in degree? "He who is faithful in little things..."

Reformed said...


Excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to set the record straight.

Andy said...


Hopefully the degree (of difference) between a study committee and an off-handed comment resembles something like 180 degrees.

Lee said...

Sadly, I do not know of any online places that are in English. There are a lot in Dutch, but nothing significant in English. Sorry. The RCUS book is a good place as they explain it quite well. I also think some of our older churches still have his works stored in their basements. If that interests you let me know. Kohlbrugge opposed the rationalism of his day, and strongly emphasized Justification by faith alone. He kept Calvinism alive in German and Eastern Europe in the late 19th century, which is where the German-Russians latched onto him. However, he so opposed rationalism and liberal ideas of work salvation that he downplayed sanctification too much. Many of his followers became anti-nomian. I wish I could help more, but there is not much out there on him.

I do not think the break up analogy works here because that is a one to one scenario. This is different. A book has been put in the hands of many RCUS members that contains false doctrine. The reports have to deal with that doctrine, not private conversations. It also has to be done rather quickly less the error take root. I do believe that the RCUS, and probably the others sent the reports to those who were mentioned in the report to give them a chance to respond. Only NT Wright has taken the time to respond.

Pduggie, Lane, and Andy,
Jordan did not do a study committee report on the RCUS, but the substance of his complaint is not the existence of study committees, but rather people publishing mischaracterizations due to misunderstandings of the FV. In fact the point of his letter to the editor is to reject the idea that paedocommunion is the focus of FV. Dr. Jordan has published a micharacterization due to a misunderstanding of the RCUS. While I agree with Andy that an off-hand comment is very different than a study committee report, I do not think a published letter is an off-hand comment. Dr. Jordan did the very thing he complains about. Simply because it is not a 'study committee' does not clear his contradiction.

Good comments, keep 'em coming!

eileen~ said...


I ordered the RCUS book so will start there but I would be really interested in any works that the RCUS has that he has written.

I would like to delve into the sanctification issue as he taught it. I often wonder about what a true anti-nomian would look like as I think of Eph 2:10 which tells us that every True believer will walk in good works because we have been ordained to do so. I just don't think we always know what those are and I have the same tendency then to downplay sanctification (perhaps as he did) and would rather use the language that is clear to me of growing in Grace and in Knowledge and being conformed to His image. Sometimes I believe semantics play a big role in this subject!

Maybe the book will address some of that. Thanks so much!

Lee said...

I will be going to Ashley on Labor Day for a Classis picnic, and I seem to remember someone saying that Ashley had some of his work around. So, I will see if I can pick some up for you because I was going to pick one up for myself anyway.

Matt Powell said...

I've heard a lot of positive things about Kohlbruegge (I think that's the right spelling) himself, including that he was one of the few in the Reformed faith on the continent standing up for Biblical inerrancy against the liberals. Not having studied him personally, I don't know (and hear mixed things) about to what degree his views are well-represented by the "Kohlbrueggian" view.

All that being said, I don't think we would have a denomination today had our spiritual fathers not rejected that view and drew the RCUS in another direction. That low view of sanctification is clearly opposed to Scripture and a dead end in terms of the life of the church. Jesus' instructions to us in John 14 and 15 clearly show us that love for the brethren, which is the heart of the law, is essential to discipleship and fellowship. Sanctification and obedience is therefore necessary to discipleship and fellowship.

eileen~ said...


My interest would be to understand HOW he downplayed sanctification because as I said a True believer WILL be 'sanctified' because it is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is God who works in us to will and to do.

I wonder if was in his words only or did he actually say that we can sin, sin, sin all we want to and we know a True believer WILL NOT think that way to begin with.

I guess in other words, what does everyone mean by a LOW view of sanctification and I think that is what comes into play with words and with our focus. I wonder if he pointed to Christ and what He did instead of what we do and many people claim that is a low view of sanctification, our focus.

Anyway, it will be interesting to read what he taught.

Matt Powell said...

I haven't read Kohlbruegge personally so I couldn't answer those questions with regard to him. But in general, the Kohlbrueggian view that dominated our denomination in the old day is that we are really unable to accomplish much sanctification at all in this life (whether with Christ's help or not). Pastors simply would not preach or teach from the third part of the catechism, believing that any exhortation to good works would only work despair at people's inability to respond. Please correct me, anyone, if my understanding is faulty. This was a reaction especially to the rationalism and dominionism of Reformed denominations of the day, which focused entirely on doing good, living a good life, being kind to others, etc, to the complete neglect of the gospel. But the result was too often that the faithful life of a disciple was simply not talked about, that the only real change that happened to the believer at salvation was the change in his legal status before God, and the change in his actual nature was largely not taught or talked about.

While I understand the desire to give full weight to the corrupting effects of sin, and while I definitely agree with the focus on complete dependence on Christ, the simple reality is that when we open our Bibles, we run into a whole book full of imperatives to do good works in response to our salvation. We are new creatures in Christ and are told to start acting like it. Our text from last Sunday in John 15 is a very good example of that, where we see clearly Jesus' exhortation to us to obey his commandments, which will result in us fully abiding in the benefits of His love. Full joy in the Christian life comes only when we begin to live the way Christ has freed us to live. And if this sanctification is simply passively worked in us by the Holy Spirit without our active involvement, then all of these exhortations throughout Scripture to strive for righteousness don't make any sense.

Hope this helps!

Lee said...

I think we are all saying the same thing here. The bible clearly gives me commands and I am active in my sanctification. The bible also gives 'passive imperatives' such as "Be ye not conformed, but be ye transformed" (Rom 12:1), and teaches that the Spirit is active in my sanctification. To say that I was passive or that the Holy Spirit was passive would make me squirmy.

Like Eileen, I am interested in what Kohlbruegge (I have seen it with the 'e' and without depending on the little marks above the 'u') actually said. It seems to me that there is some historical debate about his actual position. In the RCUS book, Hoeflinger seems to imply Kohlbruegge was to blame and Peter Grossmann implies the followers were to blame. Historically, it appears that Berkof blamed Kohlbruegge and Kuyper blamed only the followers. So it is an interesting historical question for those of you interested in that sort of thing.

pdeblois said...


I have many works of Kohlbruegge in English. You can contact me if you would like to know more.

I am however looking for Kohlbruegge's exposition of Matthew 1 which was supposedly translated by the Eureka Classis. This is mentioned in the preface to Kohlbruegge's Romans 7 exposition.

Lee: If you can find this in the old RCUS churches I would be very greatful and would pay whatever the cost to have a photocophy or, even better, original. I have tried to contact people in the RCUS with little success...

Best Regards,

Philippe deBlois said...

also... I believe I am the one that is mentioned in the article as having requested permission to reprint a work of Kohlbruegge. The Synod ultimately denied my request.