Friday, September 04, 2009

Rabbi Duncan was a catholic and so am I

In our Wednesday night Bible Studies we've been looking at the famous statement in the Nicene Creed (325 AD) regarding the Church:

"And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church."

I've been taking each adjective in turn 'one', 'holy' and this week we came to 'catholic'. Do Evangelical Protestants habitually think of themselves as belonging to the catholic Church? The 19th century Scottish Minister, Rabbi Duncan certainly did, saying,
"I'm first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order."
I'd want to change that somewhat and substitute 'Baptist' for 'paedobaptist', and 'Indepedent' for 'Presbyterian', but otherwise I could happily go along with Duncan's expression of his Christian identity. The Reformed churches, of whatever ecclesiological stamp are fully paid up members of the catholic or universal church - the people of God of all nations and times. We are catholics holding to the faith once delivered to the saints.
We explored the biblical basis for the catholicity of the church:
1) Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:3, 22:16-18)
2) Prophetic expectation (Isaiah 42:1, 6 & 49:6)
3) Messianic fulfilment (John 10:16, Matthew 28:18-20)
4) Church practice (1 Cor 1:2, Acts 15, Galatians 2:11-21 & 3:28-29)
5) Eschatological expectation (Rev. 7:9-10, 21:24)
And discussed how we might give expression to biblical catholicity:
1) We must welcome believers from all nations, ages and backgrounds and genders into the church.
2) We should not allow doctrinal distinctives that are not essential to the gospel to define who belongs to the catholic church. Sectarianism is the enemy of catholicity.
3) All believers with a credible profession of faith should be admitted to the Lord’s Table.
4) We should sing hymns composed by believers from all times and places.
5) We should engage in meaningful fellowship and co-operation with other gospel churches.
6) We should take an interest in the global church, and especially remember those who suffer for Jesus' sake. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.
7) We will not seek to target only one group or strata of society in our evangelism. The "homogeneous unit" principle of church growth is a denial of biblical catholicity.
Update: In the original version of this post I quoted Duncan as saying, "I'm first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth an evangelical, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order." A comment pointed out that the fourth designation should be 'peadobaptist' not 'evangelical' - see the Free Church of Scotland website here.

11 comments:

Gary Benfold said...

Hmm. Why 'Calvinist' BEFORE 'evangelical'? My word verification is 'dismal' which I guess is a comment of kinds!

Exiled Preacher said...

I don't know the thinking behind Duncan's ordering, but I am a Calvinist ie a believer in the doctrines of grace before I am a member of the wider Evangelical constituency that includes Arminians, Charismatics...

Gary Benfold said...

No, I couldn't go along with that. In fact, the more I look at Duncan's statement, the less sense it seems to make. 'Catholic' is fairly meaningless in this context, since it is impossible to be a Christian without being 'catholic'. Take that out, and his order is Christian, Calvinist, Evangelical, Presbyterian. Whatever his (and your) PREFERENCES or convictions about importance, it's not to do with that. It's to do with sets and subsets. It's possible (just!) to be a Christian without being Evangelical; and evangelical without being Calvinist. And Calvinist without being Presbyterian. So in logic alone, that has to be the order: Christian, Evangelical,Calvinist, Presbyterian.

Is it possible to be Calvinist without being Evangelical? How?

Exiled Preacher said...

As I say, Duncan's ordering makes sense to me.

I'm a catholic - a member of the universal church, holding to the historic Christian faith encapsulated the ancient creeds.

Then I'm a Calvinist - professing the evangelical faith in its purest expression in terms of the doctrines of grace.

I'm also a member of the wider Evangelical community, which, at least from the 18th century has included Calvinists and Arminians, although from the beginning it was not so.

Lastly I'm a Baptist.

I suppose the problem is partly one of definition. The original Calvinists saw themselves simply as evangelicals - gospel people. But nowadays 'Evangelical' has a broader connotation that includes Christians who are not Calvinistic in their theology.

Gary Benfold said...

But doesn't your Calvinism (in logic, anyway) derive from your Evangelicalism? That is - isn't it your doctrine of Scripture that leads you to accept election and particular redemption? It's impossible, isn't it, to be a Calvinist without being an evangelical? Isn't this why Lloyd-Jones insisted that EMW be open to non-Calvinists, and Spurgeon insisted that the Down-Grade controversy was not about Calvinism?

Or, to put it another way: my Christianity would survive (I think) if I became persuaded that particular redemption, or preservation of the saints, were wrong. But my Christianity would not survive if I came to the conclusion that the word had errors, or that God is not Trinity?

Don't want to argue about words so, while I look forward to your reply and hope it will resolve my perplexity, I'll drop it there. Blessings!

Exiled Preacher said...

In my previous comment I tried to set out what I mean and I don't really want to prolong discussion of this matter either.

Just to point out that if you stopped believing in the Trinity you not simply stop being an Evangelical, but also a catholic and a Calvinst!

Jake Belder said...

Guy, I just happened to pull up the Wikipedia entry on Duncan, and they have the same quote on the page, although instead of 'evangelical' they have 'paedobaptist.' Given Wikipedia's propensity to minor errors, I want to think they may have it wrong.

But it raises a question then: if the quote does actually replace evangelical with paedobaptist, does this change your agreement with his ordering (recognizing, of course, that you would want to put credo-baptist in that spot)?

And I'd post the question to Gary as well, then, does this change your perspective on Duncan's ording?

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Jake,

Thanks for that. My version of the quote may well be wrong. A quick Google brought up many more versions of Duncan's remarks with "paedobaptist" in the place of "evangelical". Bearing that in mind, the statement is less problematic and maybe Gary would not take exception to the ordering.

In that case I would want to say,

"I'm first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth an Baptist, and fifth an Independent. I cannot reverse this order."

Exiled Preacher said...

You were right, Jake. See updated post.

Looks like our little discussion was quite pointless, Gary. Seems that Duncan didn't put Calvinist before Evangelical anyway.

Jake Belder said...

I read the post from the Free Church. Thanks for the link. Additionally, I posted some additional thoughts on the line from Duncan on my own blog, which you can find here. Thanks for raising the topic, it's been an interesting discussion.

Exiled Preacher said...

Nice post, Jake. I like the cone illustration.