Men are always inclined to be critical and misrepresentative when they haven't taken adequate time to understand the issues and study the works of those they are attacking. Mr. Bacon, as demonstrated in his Defense Departed, is such a man. It is one thing to read carefully and digest the arguments of one's opponent, and another thing to read one or two short articles for the purpose of drawing numerous inaccurate inferences from them (though the articles in this case are exceedingly clear and in no way support Mr. Bacon's misconstruals). Though there are obvious theological differences between Mr. Bacon and the PRCE, before continuing I must address the issues of fairness and integrity.
I contend that Mr. Bacon has so severely, either intentionally or ignorantly, overlooked the plain statements of David Steele, the Reformed Presbytery, and the PRCE, that he should be profoundly ashamed of himself. I have been involved in many debates over the years and I can honestly say that never has an opponent so blatantly ignored our plainest statements. Prejudice, in this form and intensity, must be directly answered by demonstrating that Mr. Bacon has possessed adequate information to leave him without excuse. I intend to do this by setting Mr. Bacon's statements directly against what Pastor Steele, the Reformed Presbytery and the PRCE have said.
We, as a session, sent Mr. Bacon many free books and articles to help him correctly determine what we believe. The careful reader will notice that in his Defense Departed he cites 2 or 3 small sources of information, whereas he had been given many volumes for his perusal. The point I am making is this: if Mr. Bacon really cared to honestly and fairly debate this issue with us he would never have been so foolish as to ignore our most explicit statements. I conclude that Mr. Bacon really did not want to debate, but rather wanted to slander and abuse the PRCE in retaliation for our efforts in dissociating from his pretended presbytery.
Considering that Mr. Bacon had been given free access to most of the cited works I am about to quote, I urge you, dear reader, to ask yourself these questions Has Mr. Bacon been fair to the position he is attacking? Has he clearly demonstrated his opponent's position from their own works? Has he done his homework? Are these acts of poor scholarship or malicious intent, or both? The following scripture characterizes the substance of our response to this current misrepresentation.
Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart (Nehemiah 6:8 AV).
A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow (Proverbs 25:18, AV).
As we survey the evidence in the next several pages, I think the reader will be amazed at how completely Mr. Bacon has mislead his readers. I certainly had anticipated something stronger from a man of his gifts than outright denial of our explicit statements. That he has risen no higher than this is quite telling as to the bankruptcy of his positive position. To prove that Mr. Bacon has totally ignored our explicit statements, while substituting his own fictitious fantasies in their place, please consider the following examples.
1. Mr. Bacon misrepresents how we view our own church standards when he says,
It must seem strange to some who are reading this to be faced with the fact that there are some who call themselves Protestants "yea, Reformed and Presbyterian Protestants who appear to place their own traditions as the constitution of the church rather than Scripture (Defense Departed).
The National Covenant (Confession of Faith) is to be sworn not because the church has required it, but because it is an accurate representation of the sense of God's law. It is not, as the Steelites claim, because the church's testimony tells us what to believe. The church's testimony must be judged according to the Word of God, and not vice versa (Defense Departed).
Do we, the socalled "Steelites,"claim that the church's testimony tells us what to believe? Has Mr. Bacon honestly represented our position?
The Reformed Presbytery of Scotland responds directly to this absurd notion.
Convinced of the selfevidencing power, intrinsic worth, and divine excellencies of the Holy Scriptures, we ever wish them to be considered as a complete and sufficient rule in themselves, independent of oral law, tradition of the fathers, or any human invention whatever; and in opposition to that absurd notion,"That the true sense depends upon the church." [Can it be stated more clearly than this? GB] At the same time, in our practical application of the inspired Oracles, we consider them to be a rule, as consistently understood, and properly applied. For though they be an absolutely perfect and sufficient rule in themselves, yet it is possible to mistake their true meaning; but this we endeavour to guard against the conduct of those who, while they pretend to believe in the divine authority of the Scriptures, do, meanwhile, evidently wrest them, imposing glosses which make one part of the Sacred Volume to contradict another, and which lead us away from the true scope and design of the whole (Reformed Presbytery, An Explanation and Defense of the Terms of Communion, 1801, p. 161, SWRB bound photocopy, emphases added).
Speaking of using Confessions of Faith and Covenants as a term of communion the Reformed Presbytery states:
It is only after mature deliberation, carefully comparing them with the Word of God, and receiving full conviction in our own minds of their being wholly founded upon it, that we consider the Confession and Catechisms, or any other human composure whatever, as properly entitled to our belief, and deserving to be ranked amongst the subordinate standards of our church. But after being convinced of their agreeableness to the infallible rule, we cheerfully receive them. It is not with the remotest intention of supplying a defect in the Oracles of truth, which we ever consider a complete rule in themselves; nor is it at all in the view of putting either the Confession, or any other book in the world, on a level with the Bible, that we adopt these explanatory standards; but purely to ascertain the true meaning of Scripture, help us to understand one another in our churchfellowship, and, through these mediums, to transmit a faithful testimony for truth from generation to generation (Reformed Presbytery, An Explanation and Defense of the Terms of Communion, 1801, p. 161, SWRB bound photocopy, emphases added).
A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape (Proverbs 19:5, AV).
2. Mr. Bacon says, "The Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton has adopted this entire line of thinking by the approach of 'first accept the doctrine, then you can understand it later.' But this is the very kind of implicit faith required by Rome and condemned by our confession (Defense Departed).
Is it true that David Steele, the Reformed Presbytery, and the PRCE require implicit faith?
In their Preface to the Auchensaugh Renovation, a committee of the Reformed Presbytery, made up of David Steele, Robert Alexander, and John Clyde state:
The reader may be assured that neither we nor the Reformed Presbytery, whose committee we are, claim Papal infallibility or Christian perfection; nor do we ask implicit faith in our documents. But we sincerely believe ourselves that the Auchensaugh Renovation and the Bond, to which the foregoing statements are prefixed, will be found on examination to be sound, faithful and in nothing, "contrary to the Word of God"(Auschensagh Renovation, SWRB reprint, 1995, emphases added).
Beware of acting implicit faith. It is long since the error falsely imputed to us, was broached among professing Covenanters. For example we heard from the mouth of a minister in that body, more than a quarter of a century ago, the declaration in the pulpit: "The first [term of communion GB] is the only proper term of communion in the church, and the time is not distant, we trust, when she will have no more:" that is, when all the displays of a covenant God's justice, mercy, faithfulness, etc., in dealing with the Church and her Antichristian opposers, shall have passed into oblivion an unbelieving and ungrateful hope, or desire. The Protestant world is so denominated because simply of a solemn protest against Rome's impious claim to infallibility and cognate invasions of Messiah's prerogatives. Attach the attribute of infallibility to any of the subordinate standards of our Christian profession, and we are instantly deprived of them all, as a near and necessary consequence. We sincerely hope the Covenanter [James M. Willson] will arrive at clearer light on the general subject of creeds and confessions; and, if so, we are sure he will come to a better temper. It is part of the known character of the two witnesses that they contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, as the nearest and surest way to victory. Again, we would say to the reader, beware of exercising implicit faith in human authority as well as testimony; and hold in dread all assumptions of infallibility by Pope, Prelate or Presbyterian; and especially Reformed Presbyterian, standing by the exclusive supremacy of Zion's King (David Steele, The Two Witnesses, 1859, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 41, emphases added).
David Steele adds:
Let no one imagine that I defend symbols of faith from force of habit, or because they are old, perfect, immutable, or infallible; for I have for many years repeatedly said the contrary: that no document framed by wisdom, learning, or piety of any uninspired man, or body of such, is either perfect or immutable, and much less infallible.... No, I plead not for immutability, but for the faithfulness of subordinate standards, both of doctrine and practice (David Steele, Reminiscences, 1883, SWRB, 1997, pp. 135, 136).
Now, does David Steele or other socalled "Steelites" even remotely resemble Mr. Bacon's caricature? Do we teach implicit faith? If the reader had access to this information, as did Mr. Bacon, would he have written what Mr. Bacon wrote? All he had to do was read the books we provided, or listen to Pastor Price's set of tapes on our Terms of Communion (19 cassettes, available at Still Waters Revival Books) to be forever convinced of the contrary. Instead, he ignored the evidence and printed his vain imaginations. This, clearly, shows a serious lack of scholarship and integrity!
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren (Proverbs 6:1619, AV).
3. Speaking of the Solemn League and Covenant as a term of communion, Mr. Bacon says:
So the Steelite turns that which was good and useful and lawful for the church of Scotland to use in time of national and ecclesiastical distress to that which is nothing more than the imposition of traditions upon the conscience (Defense Departed).
On December 18, 1996 (email), Mr. Bacon writes:
Necessity implies some rule other than Scripture which binds the conscience. If you wish to take the Solemn League and Covenant (which I assume you have done), no bother to me. However, the term "necessity" implies precisely the position that y'all have now taken which I believe to be directly contrary to the doctrine of sola Scriptura.
Does the PRCE impose the traditions of men upon others when they require the Solemn League and Covenant as a term of communion? Is this a denial of "sola scriptura"?
The Reformed Presbytery responds:
Concerning these covenants, some have proposed the query, "In what sense can they be said, as they are in our Testimony, to be of divine authority or obligation?" We reply, The divine authority of heaven's great Sovereign is, evidently, interposed, in requiring us to enter into such covenants, "Vow unto the Lord your God." And when once we have entered into them, the same divine authority binds us to performance, "Pay that which thou hast vowed." Add to these, that the great and dreadful name, THE LORD OUR GOD is invoked in the solemn transaction, while his declarative glory among men is deeply concerned in the faithful fulfilment of our engagements. So that, besides the intrinsic obligation of the covenants, viewed simply as human deeds, whereby men bind their souls, there is, in all such covenants, an obligation of divine authority, requiring first to make, and then to perform our covenants; from the invocation of the divine name, considering JEHOVAH as witness and avenger, and from the interfering with the divine glory, in the keeping or violating of our oath. Hence, in the Scripture, the same oath is, in one respect, considered as the covenant of the man giving his hand; and, in another respect, as the Lord's covenant, whose glory is concerned in it [cf. Ezek. 17: 1121 GB]. Our Testimony, if properly attended to, explains itself; telling us, the covenants "are of divine authority, or obligation, as having their foundation upon the Word of God" (Reformed Presbytery, An Explanation and Defense of the Terms of Communion, SWRB reprint, 1995, p. 161, emphases added).
David Steele adds:
Even the doctrinal propositions of our Confessions and Catechisms are received, not because they are inspired or infallible; but simply because they are in the apprehension of the Christian, "agreeable to the holy Scriptures." Much more does this obviously apply to our solemn covenants as embodying the heroic achievements of our martyred and witnessing fathers. Add to these, all the real attainments of those who survived the overthrow of the "Second Reformation" (Pastor Steele's Printed Communications with the Editor of the Covenanter [James M. Willson], appended to Notes on the Apocalypse, in the forthcoming edition from Covenanted Reformed Presbyterian Publishing, pp. 400, 401, emphases added [or in Apostasy in the RPCNA, SWRB reprint, 1997]).
The evidence thus far is compelling and clear. Mr. Bacon was not even trying to accurately represent David Steele, the Reformed Presbytery or the PRCE. Though this should be enough to convince those who are open to hard evidence, I intend to belabour this point so that Mr. Bacon's dishonesty and irresponsibility will become abundantly evident, and so that none will ever have any justifiable reason for concluding that the socalled "Steelites" teach anything but historic, Reformed doctrine. What more can be done than to prove that the Covenanters have, for hundreds of years, been saying the exact opposite of what Mr. Bacon represents them to say? If our public and explicit statements will not be accepted as our statement of belief, then what can be done to convince the gainsayer?
Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy precepts. Let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies (Psalms 119:7879, AV).
4. Mr. Bacon writes:
But one must remember that the Steelites invest a similar meaning in the term historical testimony that the Romanist does with his inspired tradition of the fathers (Defense Departed).
Pastor David Steele aptly answers Mr. Bacon, rightly dividing that which is our alone infallible standard in matters relating to salvation from the fallible standards which are to be included in terms of communion.
No symbols of faith and order framed by uninspired men are faultless much less infallible, either in substance or form: otherwise they would not be subordinate. Divine truth is the sole ground of saving faith, and is not to be confounded with Terms of Communion, as ignorance and presumption commonly do [and as Mr. Bacon has overtly done GB]. Again, the testimony of Christ's witnesses in all its integral parts, is always and necessarily progressive until it shall have been finished. Even their statements of doctrine, their abstract and distinctive principles may, and often must be restated in diversified language, to meet the ever shifting position and subtile sophisms of adversaries. Also our Covenants, National and Solemn League may and ought to be renewed not that they have become old, as many say; but that they are to be owned as obligatory upon us, and a sense of their permanent obligation deepened upon our own souls, and exhibited to others by the solemnity of an Oath (The Reformed Presbytery, A Short Vindication of the Covenanted Reformation, 1879, SWRB reprint, 1996, p. 19, emphases added).
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth (Revelation 11:3, AV).
Commenting on the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3 Pastor Steele says:
Consider the number of these witnesses; they are two, as this is the smallest number that can establish truth, Deut.17:6; 19:15. The Lawgiver himself, addressing the Jews, says: "It is written in your law that the testimony of two men is true," John 8:17. Not that we are to receive the testimony of every two men. The experience of all men is that "a false witness will utter lies;" and it is sometimes found that two may "agree together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord," Acts 5:9. But on the supposition that the witnesses are competent and credible; then it is the decision of Christ, endorsed by the common sentiment of mankind, that "we receive the witness of such men," 1 John 5:9. And although "the witness of God is greater" than that of any number of men; still, human witnesses do not need to be inspired to render their testimony credible; for then [if the witnesses are inspired GB], as the reader will perceive, the testimony is that of God, and of course ceases to be human testimony. This point is of the greatest moment, since not one word uttered by these two witnesses is inspired in the proper and formal sense of inspiration! This is too great an honour to confer upon the very chiefest of our covenanted confessors or martyrs. It savours too much of Rome (David Steele, The Two Witnesses, 1859, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 7, emphases added).
Human witnesses do not need to be inspired to render their testimony credible. When did right testimony ever oppose one jot or tittle of the Word of God? Is all human testimony to be rejected because some men lie? Will we throw away the gold because its mixed with the dross? We do not plead for an infallible testimony, since that is both unscriptural and impossible for mere men. That which we plead for is a faithful testimony which is in agreement with the alone infallible standard for faith and practice the Word of God. That does not mean, however, that we cannot use credible testimony, subordinate to the Word of God, to aid us in determining agreement in doctrine, worship, discipline and government.
The Reformed Presbytery explains:
Meanwhile, in exhibiting our testimony, we make no pretensions to infallibility or perfection. Our design, we hope, is good, but we are very sensible that human weakness and infirmity must always be discernible in our best performances. We do not assert, either with respect to our own, or the other testimonies which we approve, that there are no incautious expressions in these compositions. Considering the time, and the peculiarly trying circumstances, in which the compilers of them existed, and considering that they were men of like passions with others, it would, perhaps, be rather unreasonable to expect so much. But if none of the precious truths, stated and vindicated in these testimonies, be given up; if none of the errors or immoralities which they condemn be countenanced; or, in other words, if the whole substance be conscientiously retained; we mean not to differ with those who may plead that some particular modes of expression might be altered for the better.
Let it also be carefully observed here, that, with regard to the Deeds of which we speak [the Scriptural testimonies and earnest contendings of Christ's faithful witnesses GB], we wish to be understood in the same sense as before, concerning the Confession of Faith and the Covenants. It is only after diligently perusing, pondering, and comparing these testimonies with the Word of God, and after finding them to be founded upon, and agreeable unto it, that we mean to rank them among the subordinate standards of our church. But, as two, or more, cannot consistently walk together in churchfellowship, unless they be agreed in sentiment concerning the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the church, and concerning the proper way of glorifying God upon earth, we reckon it exceedingly requisite that this agreement should be properly ascertained. For that important purpose, amongst others, these testimonies seem to be very much calculated. And it is only to such of them as truly deserve the characteristic epithets of SCRIPTURAL AND FAITHFUL, that we require the assent of our church members. If any are disposed to question the propriety of applying these designations, either to our own, or to the rest which we approve, we are always ready, as opportunity offers, to reason the matter with them. If we can agree, it is well; "Let us strive together for the faith of the Gospel, and continue steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." If we cannot agree, we must part in peace. For we never entertained the remotest thought that these matters were to be adjusted by any other weapons than those of Scripture and reason, under the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit (The Reformed Presbytery, An Explanation and Defense of the Terms of Communion, SWRB reprint, 1995, pp. 188189, emphases added).
Now, compare the above statements of the socalled "Steelites," who plead for fallible historical testimony, subordinate to God's Word, with the doctrine of Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church, who pleads for oral and Papal infallibility equal to God's Word.
Lorraine Boettner defines the doctrine of Roman Catholic Tradition as follows:
We have said that the most controversial issue between Protestants and Roman Catholics is the question of authority What is the final seat of authority in religion? and that Protestants hold that the Bible alone is the final rule of faith and practice, while Roman Catholics hold that it is the Bible and tradition as interpreted by the church. In actual practice the Roman Church, since the infallibility decree of 1870, holds that the final seat of authority is the pope speaking for the church (Lorraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962, p. 89).
Steele, to the contrary, comments:
Let no one, however, imagine that we consider our Testimony infallible. No, it still ranks among the subordinate standards of our covenanted profession; and for years we have asked cooperation in its readjustment cooperation, by those possessing Scriptural and covenant qualification (The Reformation Advocate, edited by David Steele, Vol. 1, No. 9, March 1876, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 259).
Has Mr. Bacon been fair? Has he made an honest and accurate comparison between us and the Papists? As the reader examines the statements produced by faithful Covenanters (the socalled "Steelites"), is it his impression that we want to put the Bible on par with anything? In contrast to Mr. Bacon, how does the reader interpret our first term of communion, "An acknowledgement of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and the alone infallible rule of faith and practice"? What does the phrase "alone infallible" mean to him? Does it mean one among many infallible rules?
Mr. Bacon is either guilty of wilful ignorance or malicious intent. Perhaps his intellect is so clouded with anger and emotion that he has abandoned all desire to argue with integrity. Dear reader, can anyone fail to see how Mr. Bacon has grossly misrepresented the position of the PRCE, the Reformed Presbytery, and our faithful covenanted forefathers.
If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you (Deuteronomy 19:1619, AV).
Consider the testimony for which the faithful and honorable martyr James Renwick suffered and died (and note the similarity between his dying testimony and our terms of communion) and ask yourself Has Mr. Bacon faithfully represented Renwick's position?
Dear Friends, I die a Presbyterian Protestant; I own the Word of God as the rule of faith and manners; I own the Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Sum of Saving Knowledge, Directory for Public and Family Worship, Covenants, National and Solemn League, Acts of General Assemblies, and all the faithful contendings that have been for the Covenanted Reformation. I leave my testimony approving the preaching in the field, and defending the same by arms. I adjoin my testimony against Popery, Prelacy, Erastianism, against all profanity, and everything contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness; particularly against all usurpation and encroachments made upon Christ's right, the Prince of the kings of this earth, who alone must bear the glory of ruling his own kingdom the Church; and in particular against the absolute power affected by his usurper, that belongs to no mortal, but is the incommunicable prerogative of Jehovah, and against his Toleration flowing from his absolute power (John Howie, The Scots Worthies, 1781, p. 547).
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3, AV).
"The Bible is my creed," shouts the untutored professor. But such a principle is false. The Bible is no mans creed. It is the very truth itself (Rev. J. M. Foster, Distinctive Principles of the Covenanters, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 3).
Since nearly every man who exhibits his intention to join the church of Christ will make a claim to believe the Bible we must expect that something more than the express words of Scripture are necessary to determine with whom we agree. Terms of communion are terms of agreement in doctrine, principle, and practice (i.e. in doctrine, worship, discipline and government). They are statements and explanations of the doctrine and principles necessary for harmonious association. They are not a substitute for Scripture but rather a summary explanation of what we understand Scripture to mean. By this means we testify as to why we have a separate existence from other churches within the nation. If our terms of communion were the same as those of any other known church in our nation we would be duty bound to immediately seek to unite into one body. It is by means of explicitly stated terms of communion that we may glorify God, and honestly try to obey his commandment "to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3, emphasis added).
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10, AV).
Using terms of communion to secure harmony and cooperation within the membership of the church of Christ is an inescapable concept. Whether implicitly or explicitly, every church has terms that extend beyond the express proclamations of the Word of God. Those who are deluded into thinking that no further explanation of Scripture is necessary to establish and maintain harmony in the church will be found among those groups who allow persons of diametrically opposed faith and practice to break down all distinction between truth and error. Such pretence is satisfied with a mere worshipping together, and sitting within the same building, whether or not union of sentiment exists to any significant degree. The aim of such pretended union is finding a way to teach those with few fixed beliefs that true unity consists in learning how to "agree to disagree".
The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace (Isa. 59:8, AV).
The Reformed Presbytery comments:
The doctrine of modern forbearance among persons of opposite belief, inducing them to form a compromise in which they mutually agree to differ, and never more to mention discording tenets, leads, in its native tendency, to the suppression of the truth, and the lasting concealment of so many articles of faith, as the jarring sentiments may happen to hinge upon. And what is the amount of this, but to banish forever from the faith of the Church, a great number of precious truths contained in the Word of God, and designed by him for the spiritual comfort and edification of the people? And all this to obtain a Catholic union amongst professing Christians, at the expense of losing sacred truth. An agreement to divide, in matter of faith and practice, sounds ill with the injunction, "be perfectly joined together in the same mind" (The Reformed Presbytery, An Explanation and Defense of the Terms of Communion, SWRB reprint, 1995, p. 152).
On the other hand, those who understand that an honest and explicit expression of the meaning of God's word, both stated and applied, is a necessary mean to accomplishing the end of promoting God's glory through unity of doctrine and uniformity of practice, will be found insisting that distinct and clear testimony be asserted prior to any membership or association.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42, AV).
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:14, AV).
Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (Philippians 3:16, AV).
Our testimony is framed in statements of doctrine, argument, and application of principle to the facts of history. Doctrinal statements such as creeds and confessions exhibit and confirm our agreement in doctrine, worship, discipline and government.
John Anderson explains:
It is vain to say that the confession of a particular church is a human thing: for, candidly interpreted, it may be found to contain nothing but the undoubted truth of God's word. It is either possible for men to express these truths in their own words or it is not. If it is not possible, then his words cannot be understood: and all attempts to state, explain, illustrate or apply them, as in public preaching or writing, are vain; a supposition grossly absurd. But if it be possible for men to express the truths of scripture in their own words, then the doctrines or instructions contained in a confession, may be no other than the truths of God's word; and if they are actually no other, then a church may warrantably require of her members, and of such as desire admission to her communion, a public assent to her whole confession, nor can that assent be refused without impiety. No church has a right to require her members to receive any of the doctrines or commandments of men; but her Divine Head authorises her to exact of her members an adherence to all his truths and institutions. In this case he is saying, "he that receiveth you, receiveth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me" (John Anderson, Alexander and Rufus, 1862, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 36, emphases added).
David Steele comments:
Even our doctrinal standards we received from our fathers through history alone. Now, I desire the reader to see with his own mental eye, that our faith in the genuineness of these doctrinal standards rests solely on human testimony: that is, we believe on the evidence of the generations who have lived before us, that our Confessions, Covenants, etc., are true copies of those documents. But our belief so far is not saving faith "the faith of God's elect." Having these documents handed down to us through history alone, then we compare them with the Bible. Can we perceive their agreement or disagreement without reasoning? No, surely. Well now, if two persons at first sight take different views of any doctrine, will they not at once enter into discussion, and their future agreement result from honest argument; yet neither their agreement in believing the symbols of their profession to be true copies; no, nor even their belief that a certain doctrine is scriptural, constitutes "the faith of God's elect;" but it does constitute that kind of faith or agreement by which they can "walk together." I hope the reader can now perceive that "the faith of God's elect" is not the condition of fellowship in the visible church, and that the visible is distinct from the invisible church. There are few delusions more prevalent and popular than the old error revived, that "assurance of grace and salvation is essential to saving faith;" and that it is, or ought to be one of the terms, or in fact the only condition of fellowship in the visible church.
The first judicial Testimony sanctioned by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, in 1761, at Ploughlandhead, Scotland, is the only one that has the formal nature and possesses the essential parts of such a document. These parts are three: history to supply facts, arguments to test the character of the facts, and doctrinal statement as the rule of trial.
Is it not the function of a witness to state facts? Yes, certainly. And what is history but a statement of facts? These may be true or false. The character and competence of the witness is to be considered. The function of the judge is to state and apply the law, and in the application of the law he is assisted by others called jurors or associates. Arguments are addressed, by advocates, to judge and jury. Now, I hope the reader will see that the greatest, the most important cause in the universe, the conflict between truth and error, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between Christ and Belial, which has been on trial since the time of Cain and Abel, cannot be conducted without history, argument and doctrinal declaration. All testimonybearing which lacks any of these three cardinal and essential elements is not merely defective, but decidedly pretentious and unfaithful (David Steele, Reminiscences, 1883, SWRB reprint, 1997, pp. 202205, emphases added).
Furthermore, Pastor Steele adds:
History is a record of past events, and to deserve the name of history the events recorded must be authentic, for "cunningly devised fables" are not history. Authentic history is of the essential nature of testimony. A witness on the stand gives a statement of facts, evidence, testimony. So true is it that not only minor matters of litigation, but even "death and life are in the power of the tongue"(Prov. 18:21). A very large portion of the Bible is historical. The first words in it announce one of the most important of historical facts: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," The great importance of this statement appears from the speculations of heathen philosophers, and selfstyled scientists in our own age.
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water (2 Peter 3:5, AV).
Also many of the Psalms are historical, epitomizing the previous facts recorded in the Old Testament, that these might be more indelibly impressed upon the mind and heart of God's people, and that they "might not forget his works;" for then they "forget God their Saviour" (Ps. 16:13,21).
Moreover, the origin and progress of the visible church in the world, under different dispensations of mercy, is matter of historical record. She is on earth the only immortal corporation; and since the canon of inspired Scripture closed, she has had no one infallible historian. Many, indeed, have undertaken "to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among the disciples of Christ;" but "their witness agreed not together" (Luke 1:1; Mark 14:56). Those who take as guides in searching the history of the church, Mosheim, Milner, or many others, are following false guides, whose delineations portray the features of the "scarlet lady" rather than the "Lamb's wife." In this historical fact the almost universal misrepresentations of the spouse of Christ, the intelligent reader may discover the reason for a select class, whom the Lord Jesus expressly distinguishes from all others as "his witnesses," (Rev. 11:3), and the necessity for their testimony. These and these only are "children that will not lie" (Isa. 63:8); "and in their mouth is found no guile" (Rev.14:5). Hence, the necessity of historical testimony.
Again, history interprets prophecy, which is an ever increasing evidence that the Holy Scriptures are from God. How could it be known when the canon was settled but mainly by history? Or how can antichrist be identified, or the witnesses themselves but by history? For the doctrines, the worship, government and discipline of the church have all been misrepresented, counterfeited, and even the church herself (Rev. 17:18)! Thus it is apparent that the only way by which the witnesses can identify the true church is by comparing doctrine and order with the alone infallible rule, the Bible; and this comparing involves reasoning argument; history and argument do, therefore, constitute the church's testimony and supply her Terms of Communion, by which she is distinguished from the "flocks of the companions."
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions (Song of Solomon 1:7, AV, emphases added)?
Reader, where did you get all the subordinate standards of your published faith, your confession, catechisms, &c.? You will probably say from Westminster, England, and from Scotland; but how do you know? For about fortysix years ago, had you been a member in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, this question might have puzzled you. About that time we received new light on that matter, when the following startling statements were first published by professing Covenanters: "Even the fact of the existence of the Westminster Assembly has been for several generations a matter merely of human history. . . . Such a faith" (in the existence of the Westminster Assembly) "could not be the faith of God's elect." Again, "That such covenants were ever entered into has no other evidence than mere historical record, and consequently ought not to be made an article of the believer's faith" a term of communion.
We have often said, and we now repeat, that there are two kinds of faith by which society is held together. Faith and belief are convertible terms. The kind of testimony in any case determines the kind of faith. Divine faith is founded and rests on divine testimony alone; whereas human faith needs as a foundation only human testimony. All human relations in this world are grounded on human evidence testimony. Does a husband identify his wife, or the wife her husband by divine testimony? Can the parents know their child, or the child the parents by the Bible? We insist upon this point, "giving precept upon precept," simple though it be; because we know with absolute certainty that even learned divines, including many theological professors, Doctors of Divinity even, of the Covenanting name, have forsaken the covenant cause of Christ through their sinful and shameful ignorance of this matter. Our reformed ancestors thoroughly understood this point before there ever was a D.D. known among them. Why did they attach the word infallible to the first Term of Communion? Because it, and it alone, demands divine faith; all the rest requiring human faith only, because they are falliblesubordinate to the first term. Did our truly learned and godly progenitors stultify themselves by contradicting their own Confession?
All synods or councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both (Westminster Confession of Faith, 31:4).
To make this topic in theology and faithful testimonybearing so plain that "he may run that readeth it," and to render those who prefer to continue "willingly ignorant" inexcusable, we give an illustration adapted, we hope, to the capacity of even babes in Christ: Question, Do you believe there is such a place as Scotland? Answer, I think I do, for it is laid down on the schoolatlas, and whoever made the atlas must have believed in its existence. Q. Do you find Scotland named in the Bible? A. No. Q. Do you believe that Richard Cameron, Donald Cargill, James Renwick, and many others associated with them, lived in Scotland in the latter half of the seventeenth century? A. I do, for I have both heard and read about those ministers. Q. But you do not read of them in the Bible, do you? A. No. Q. Well, have you read of the principles they held, and how they applied their principles? A. Yes, I know the principles they propagated, and also the way they applied them. Q. Now, were they malefactors, as most of their countrymen charged, or were they indeed martyrs of Jesus Christ? A. I believe they were martyrs. So you believe in human testimony, that there is such a place on the earth as Scotland; that Richard Cameron, &c. once lived in Scotland; that they taught certain doctrines and applied them, and for such teaching and practice they suffered a violent death, martyrdom; and yet you find nothing of this in the Bible. "Human records" alone supply these facts, from which, comparing them with the Word of God, you argue and conclude with certainty that those people were witnesses for Christ. Now, if you reject the history of their principles, practice and sufferings, how can you honestly or rationally claim identity with them? You thereby sever the only link of connection. You may be pious a Christian, but not a Covenanted Presbyterian. And if your supreme end is your own salvation, you have mistaken the end of your being (Rev. 4:11), and come short of that type of patriotism which the example of the martyrs supplies. Hence
1. The British Covenants are manifestly historical documents.
2. The peculiarity of the National Covenant, that it was framed, sworn, and often renewed in Scotland, does not destroy its moral character, or affect the permanency of its obligation; and the same is true of the Solemn League and Covenant.
3. The very names of these covenants yes, and the principles incorporated in them, which have given Christian liberty and liberty of conscience to many millions, come to us through the medium of history alone.
4. All who have adhered to these covenants have been known for centuries by historic names, and can be identified in no other way; as "Cameronians, Cargillites, Society People, Mountainmen, Covenanters," &c. And by near and necessary consequence
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents (Song of Solomon 1:8, AV).
5. All who reject history from their conditions of fellowship, and yet claim kindred with the Reformed Covenanted Church, are "deceiving and being deceived." In this matter they are false witnesses; but "we wot that through ignorance they do it" (The Original Covenanter, Vol. 2, No. 12, December 1879, SWRB reprint, 1997, pp. 353357).
History alone supplies the facts, and argument ascertains the validity of these historical facts by applying doctrinal principles and taking both to the law of God to pass judgment upon them (Acts of General Assembly and Judicial Testimony). By agreeing that these historical judgments are consistent and agreeable with God's holy word, we bear witness of the faithful contendings of our forefathers and exhibit the uniformity of doctrine and practice intended by the Covenant of God. This agreement in doctrine and practice, both presently and historically, forms our mutual bond of fellowship and communion and is the means by which we as brethren voluntarily and honestly resolve to walk together in peace and sit together in communion.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed (Amos 3:3, AV)?
Pastor Steele continues:
Among consistent Reformed Presbyterians, unity in the faith, and uniformity in its application, have ever been the terms of their fellowship. And this unity and uniformity are mutually pledged, not only as required by the Word of God, but as the subordinate standards of both their faith and practice, "were received by the Church of Scotland." Of course the avowed faith that is, the principles of our covenant fathers, and their Christian practice are known to us only by evidence of uninspired history; and while we view neither their system of faith nor their known practice as infallible, we nevertheless own their principle and engage to follow their footsteps and both, if need be, with all the solemnity of the oath of God. All this is implied and carried out in covenant renovation (Pastor Steele's Printed Communications with the Editor of the Covenanter [James M. Willson], appended to Notes on the Apocalypse, in the forthcoming edition from Covenanted Reformed Presbyterian Publishing, p. 413, emphases added [or in Apostasy in the RPCNA, SWRB, 1997]).
Francis Turretin adds:
As we have said before, this is the natural right of all wellregulated societies that they can separate from their own flock unfit and injurious men and the impurities, disgraces and cancers of their assembly. For the same power by which they have the right of gathering themselves together gives to them the authority to make laws and constitutions for the preservation of the body and for the expulsions of those who will not obey those laws and who, by their rebellion, could taint or corrupt the whole body. And it is a necessity of such a kind that without it no society can long exist. Now if this is granted to other societies, far more ought it to belong to the church, which is both holier and better regulated. Nor can they with whom we now argue deny this, who acknowledge (the magistrate not being a believer or neglecting his duty in restraining and punishing the wicked) that each assembly by associated discipline and mutual covenant can assume for itself a certain power of the magistrate, reduce the disorderly (ataktous) to order, drive the impious and unbelievers from itself (and cause them to keep by themselves), and provide for other things conducing to its own conservation. Now it makes little difference whether this is called a right of nature or authority flowing from Christ, since the right of nature is derived from no other source than God himself. Nay, since the church is a sacred and religious society instituted by Christ, no one can deny that she has received from Christ himself whatever power she has, as all other things. For the same one who wished to establish her in the world furnished her also with all things which are necessary for her conservation (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Vol. 3, p. 296, emphases added).
Pastor Steele explains the broad purpose and progressive nature of terms of communion:
As the primary object of terms of communion in the church is to exhibit the law and covenant of God, and then agreement of persons in their apprehension of these, together with their joint and declared resolution to walk accordingly; it would appear that they are a rational expedient to reach the proposed end. Those who oppose creeds, etc., are apt to forget that the acknowledgment of the Holy Scriptures does not itself secure union of sentiment and concert in action. Besides, the witnesses of Christ, in preserving the integrity of their testimony, and their own moral identity, are necessitated to know and expose the errors and ungodliness which prevail under the name of religion. Hence they are obliged so to direct their testimony as to meet the evershifting forms and phases of error and immorality. And as their testimony thus progresses toward its consummation, there is a correspondent bearing given to her terms of communion. In case of defection she must ascertain from history, the footsteps of the flock whereto she attained in time past; that she may obey the divine direction, "walk by the same rule and mind the same thing" (David Steele, The Two Witnesses, 1859, Appendix Note C, appended to Notes on the Apocalypse, in the forthcoming edition from Covenanted Reformed Presbyterian Publishing, pp. 388389, emphases added [or in SWRB's separate printing of Steele's The Two Witnesses).
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (Philippians 3:1516, AV).
The Reformed Presbytery comments,
This Presbytery believes firmly, that the testimony of Christ's witnesses is necessarily progressive, and that it will assuredly advance in the face of all opposition until it be "finished." There is no such anomalous document recognized among the faithful witnesses as a "Standing Testimony." All such measures of compromise they must repudiate (Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery, North Union, September 30th, 1875, cited from The Reformation Advocate, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 233).
1. Terms of communion pertain to the external communion of the visible church and not to the internal communion of the invisible church.
2. Terms of communion are intended to exhibit the law and covenant of God, so that members of Christ's visible body can determine whether or not they walk together in unity and uniformity. They are an aid to promoting, preserving and maintaining the peace and purity of the Church, and are based solely upon the infallible Word of God.
3. Terms of communion are composed of abstract doctrinal statements such as creeds and confessions, forms and directories. Though agreeable to God's word, these standards are all deduced from the Word of God and thus understood to be historical and fallible.
4. Terms of communion also include intrinsically and perpetually binding Covenants. Faith without works is dead, as is abstract doctrine without covenanted obligation. Covenants are deduced from God's word and thus are subordinate and fallible.
5. Terms of communion include facts of history judged by the Word of God according to the argument of faithful witnesses and judicatories. Historical acts of General Assemblies, governments, and notable individuals are identified and judged according to the principles of God's Word. Faithful contendings are separated from unfaithful contendings and martyrs are remembered and honoured for their "faithful works created in Christ Jesus from the foundation of the world." These Acts of General Assembly judging history according to scripture are all fallible and subordinate to the Word of God.
6. All of these terms are progressive and may be restated (by qualified Assemblies) to meet the ever shifting forms and phases of error and immorality. Consequently, a standing testimony is not sufficient due to the fact that it does not testify against the current sins and the errors of the times.
Now having laid this foundation, let's examine Mr. Bacon's principles according to the words of his own mouth.
Mr. Bacon's misrepresentations stem from something far more than overwrought emotion, shoddy scholarship and open lies. False doctrine begets bad manners. It is he who has adopted the popish position of infallibility and I will now proceed to prove it out of his own mouth.
To do this we must first distinguish between the bond of communion in the invisible church, viz., saving faith, and the bond of communion in the visible church, viz., doctrine, argument and history. These are not the same thing, and, like Rome, Mr. Bacon ignorantly confounds the two.
I will begin by demonstrating how 140 years ago Mr. James M. Willson [herein called the Covenanter GB] employed the same sinful tactics as Mr. Bacon.
Pastor Steele says:
...the "Covenanter" made free to charge to us the "damnable heresy" of infallibility avowed by the Romish church. Take the charge in some of his select phraseology: "A great error"; "this writer's great error"; "a strange delusion"; "human history on a par with Bible truth"; "the worst form of the Popish doctrine"; "the radical and most dangerous error"; "fearful error"; "putting human compositions on a par with the Bible." These are but some of the charitable and complimentary terms and phrases by which the "Covenanter" [socalled GB] "cast dust" in the eyes of the credulous, and eluded the point in argument which he could not meet. And it is to be deplored that a spirit of deep sleep has closed the eyes of many professing witnesses for a covenanted testimony. It is certain that if scripture light and sound reasoning do not prevail to awaken sinners in Zion judgments must follow. Then woe to blind seers, and to those who say to the seers, see not (David Steele, The Two Witnesses, 1859, SWRB, 1997, p. 39).
To these outlandish charges Pastor Steele replies:
We are constrained, however, to roll off the odium attached to a claim of infallibility; and show the reader to whom this fearful error belongs, praying that he who originated it, may be brought to renounce the error and repent of former rashness. We should reflect that a real disciple may, for a time, resist the truth fundamental truth in the plan of redemption, while his heart is biased by a clouded intellect, Matt. 16:2123. Such reflection would contribute to the right direction of our charity. But to our present purpose
1. Distinguish between the ground of saving faith and terms of communion in the visible church. These are not identical. Rome's error results from confounding these. Her reasoning (if it may be called reasoning) is this: The Church receives none to communion but believers: all beyond her pale are unbelievers heretics: there is no salvation but in her communion; therefore, saving faith, or the grounds of saving faith, should alone constitute the bond of fellowship in the church. In the time of the First Reformation, both in Europe and England, enthusiasts would receive none but "true believers." Luther himself was troubled perplexed for about three years in dealing with this question, after he had obtained clear views of the grounds of saving faith! The "Covenanter" is entangled in the same difficulty (David Steele, The Two Witnesses, 1859, SWRB reprint, 1997, pp. 39, 40, emphases added).
But it will be asked,"Does not saving faith rest on divine testimony?" Of course it does. But while saving faith is the single term of communion for the invisible church, where does the Scripture teach that saving faith is a term, and especially the only term, of communion in the visible church of Christ?
Pastor Steele continues,
2. Distinguish between the visible Church and the Church invisible. Saving faith, or the ground of saving faith, is the bond of communion in the invisible church; notso in the visible church, otherwise hypocrites could not be there. The doctrines, arguments and history of the visible church are all her own deductions from Scripture. None of these has the attribute of infallibility, because the church is not infallible. An effect cannot be greater than its cause the stream rise higher than its source (David Steele, The Two Witnesses, 1859, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 40, emphases added).
Mr. Bacon says,
The difference between the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton and the RPC is not over creedal subscription. We subscribe fully and without reservation to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. In fact, our officers are required to declare that we "do sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith, approven by former General Assemblies of this Church to be the truths of God; and I do own the same as the confession of my faith." This formula, in full, is to be subscribed by probationers before receiving license, and by all ministers, elders, and deacons at the time of their admission. There should be no question at all about the strictness with which we hold the Confession. Any who have known either First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett or the RPC should have no question in that regard (Defense Departed).
Here Mr. Bacon declares insistently how strictly he requires the officers of his church to swear to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. By this he undeniably asserts that he is willing to swear to the truth of fallible doctrine.
Next he says:
But one must remember that the Steelites invest a similar meaning in the term "historical testimony" that the Romanist does with his "inspired tradition of the fathers" (Defense Departed).
Here Mr. Bacon further argues, however, that we must never swear to historical testimony because we would place it in the same category of infallibility as the papists do with their tradition. Mr. Bacon's position is this we may swear to the confessions and catechisms (truth of doctrine) but we may not swear to historical testimony. Why?
David Steele, fittingly provides the devastating response:
But if we, "cannot swear to the truth of history," what is the reason? We assume that the only reason having the shadow of plausibility is this, we cannot be sure that the history is infallibly true. Well, then, if we can swear to the truth of doctrine, the reason must be, because we are sure of its infallibility. We shall not call this the "worst form of popish error," preferring that the reader pronounce upon it according to his own judgment (The Covenanter, pp. 73, 74).
Hence, the popish error of Mr. Bacon and all who follow in his footsteps is exposed. He, like James M. Willson, admits that he will swear to uphold fallible, humanly composed confessions, but he won't swear to uphold fallible, humanly composed historical testimony. While he maintains that swearing to uphold historical testimony is popish we wonder why he won't say the same for fallible, humanly composed confessions. Are confessions and historical testimony not equally fallible? Are they not both humanly composed? Are they not the doctrinal form of historical testimony? The only rational explanation for Mr. Bacon's position is this that he really believes that his Confession of Faith and its humanly deduced doctrine are infallible. Thus, it is he who implicitly promotes the infallibility of human compositions. It is he who invests a similar meaning to his confession of faith that the Romanist does with his "inspired tradition of the fathers." He has condemned himself out of the words of his own mouth.
Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth (Proverbs 6:2, AV).
Pastor Steele had the same contention with James M. Willson 140 years ago, and the argument concluded with with the same result:
Now we have tested the "Covenanter's" orthodoxy here on this very point Popish infallibility. We have supposed that the reason "why he can swear to the truth of doctrine is, because he is sure of its infallibility." (Covenanter, Vol. 12; pp. 7374). Now let the reader mark the reply: "Certainly, 'infallible' because Bible truth." But how shall it be ascertained that the deductions are Bible truth infallible? Do we receive this infallibility by tradition from our fathers of Scotland or Westminster? No, indignantly we say, no. In the very body of the doctrinal standards which they framed, they tell us, "All synods and councils, since the apostles' times, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice," etc. Surely the Assembly at Westminster were not so impious or stupid as to claim an infallibility which they so explicitly denied to all uninspired predecessors. The Covenanter "wonders we do not see, that if we show we have a history with our Testimony, it must be infallible." Besides separating here between history and testimony, we wonder at his persistence in asserting, by plain implication, the infallibility of a human Testimony! We deny, before the world, the infallibility of our own testimony, the "Covenanter's" Testimony every other uninspired testimony; and, moreover, humbly suggest to the "Covenanter" the danger of encroaching upon the divine prerogatives, and charging such impiety on his neighbours. It is amazing, amidst perpetual displays of supercilious contempt, dogmatic assertion, etc., that such palpable evidence occurs in almost every paragraph, that the "Covenanter" has yet much to learn of the nature, substance and arrangement of the terms of communion and the Testimony of the Reformed Covenanted Church (The Two Witnesses, 1859, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 40).
Evidently, Mr. Bacon also has much to learn about about the nature, substance and arrangement of the terms of communion, as well as the proper use of his tongue.
Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:27, AV).
In Defense Departed Mr. Bacon states:
Let it simply be recorded that the Act, Declaration and Testimony is itself a book over 200 pages and expatiates in Steelite terms the Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland From the Year 1638 to the Year 1649, Inclusive. That book contains an additional 500 plus pages of historical rulings, acts and testimonies. Of course, that material contains references to still other material, etc. If that amount of reading seems to our readers like a tremendous overhead to require of Christians before admitting them to the Lord's Table, then our readers agree with us (Defense Departed, emphases added).
Contrary to what he asserts in Defense Departed, in his forgotten letter (fully cited in Appendix A) Mr. Bacon says that he requires the following of his officers as terms of ministerial communion:
We the undersigned Ministers and Elders of the Free Church of Scotland considering that the constitution of the said church as settled in 1843 is contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647, the First and Second Books of Discipline, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Claim Declaration and Protest of 1842, the Protest of 1843, the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission executed in the last mentioned year, the formula appointed to be subscribed by probationers before receiving license, and by all office bearers at the time of their admission, together with the Questions appointed to be put to the same parties at ordination and admission, and the Acts of the Assembly of the Church of Scotland prior to 1843 (Deed of Separation cited from A Manual of Practice of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland based on the Practice of the Church of Scotland in her Several Courts, 4th edition as revised in 1886, pp. 116117).
Is it not abundantly evident that Mr. Bacon requires even more explicit historical testimony of his ministers, elders, deacons and probationers than the socalled Steelites? Are these not terms of ministerial communion? Are his elders and deacons not members of his congregation? How does he explain requiring historical testimony as a term of communion for his officers while excluding his congregation from the same standard (while at the same time vilifying faithful Covenanters for practicing the same principle what hypocrisy!)? Dear reader, this again is a gross oversight on his part. He has again condemned himself and undone most of his own argument in Defense Departed with this one glaring inconsistency. Sadly, it gets worse.
Contradicting himself again Mr. Bacon sets forth yet another standard of communion (this time apparently for nonofficers) when he says:
This point in the six terms of communion seems like a reasonable place to put something about a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. After all, in Acts 8:37, that was the only term of communion that Philip the evangelist seemed concerned to enforce (Defence Departed).
Which is it Mr. Bacon? On the one hand you call for a simple profession of faith as the only term of communion for your members, and on the other you require your officers to swear ordination vows that include hundreds of pages of historical testimony. Let the reader note that Mr. Bacon is clearly speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Again I ask Are his elders and deacons not members of his church? Do they have some special status and requirement for admittance to the Lord's Table that his members do not share? Clearly, Mr. Bacon requires historical testimony for his ministerial terms of communion, but simple profession for the rest of his members and visitors. Are the substance of the RPC's ordination vows not the same as his terms of communion? What would happen to an officer of the FPCR if they obstinately and wilfully opposed the Acts of General Assembly, FPCR Session, or any of the historical deeds cited above? What would happen if they obstinately broke any one of their ordination vows? Would they not be judged scandalous and barred from communion until such time as they repented? Therefore the substance of the RPC's ordination vows are clearly terms of communion (although Mr. Bacon doesn't seem to realize it yet).
Next, if a minister, elder or deacon could not come to the communion table in the FPCR because of obstinately speaking against one of the above mentioned articles, why would it be alright for a member of the church to do so? Does Mr. Bacon advocate one standard of faith for his elders and a different standard of faith for his members? Are there two or three different moral standards in the Reformation Presbyterian Church? It appears so. The members of the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett are not even required to swear to "endeavour" to uphold their own church standards before coming to communion. This triple standard, such as is commonly practiced in the Christian churches of our nation, makes a popish distinction between the clergy and laity. The same terms of communion ought to apply to officers and members alike.
May members of the FPCR come to the communion table if they obstinately teach premillenialism to others? How about if they teach others that singing exclusively psalms (in public worship) is wrong and singing hymns with instrumental accompaniment in public worship is right? Apparently these people can come to Mr. Bacon's communion table, since according to Mr. Bacon a simple profession of faith, like the Ethiopian eunuch, is the only term of agreement necessary. How does Mr. Bacon reconcile that with the fact that he believes that teaching such doctrines are scandalous? Will he allow those who are openly scandalous (doctrinally) to his communion table? Yes, it appears so, since he desires to be so "generous" (more "generous" than Scripture) as to allow a simple profession of faith to be his only term of communion. Furthermore, not only is there a Romish distinction made between the clergy and the laity, but in reality, visitors who come to Rowlett are judged with one standard while the congregation is judged with another. The members of the congregation of FPCR would be censured for obstinately and publicly promoting such doctrine as Dispensationalism, Arminianism, Independency, etc., while a visitor from a Baptist, Arminian or Independent church would be welcomed at the communion table based upon their simple profession of faith. Why shouldn't Arminian ministers and visitors be allowed to come to the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett if a simple profession of faith is all that is required? And if they are not welcomed to the communion table of the FPCR then we must ask why not? Surely most Arminians will say as much as the Ethiopian eunuch. As you can see, false doctrine breeds confusion and tyranny in the discipline of the church. True liberty of conscience is destroyed by Popish practice lurking under the cloak of tolerance and pretended unity. Ministers have communion on one standard, members on another, and finally visitors on yet another. Each descending standard becomes more latitudinarian and more damaging to the preservation of sound doctrine and uniform practice.
Does Mr. Bacon really require the simple profession of faith of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:3537)? Does Mr. Bacon only have one simple term of Communion? His terms of communion are never explicitly stated, though I will attempt to infer what he requires from his Defense Departed. His practice so contradicts his principle that it is hard to tell what he believes. Nevertheless, it will become clear as we proceed, that Mr. Bacon's thinking is so far off that, even if we give him every benefit of the doubt, he will still be left holding to Papist principles.
Mr. Bacon's system of toleration can be deduced from the words of his own mouth when he says:
1. In quoting the 1560 confession in defense of the PRCE's status as a true church of Christ, we do not mean that we agree with the terms of communion of the PRCE or that everyone the session of PRCE has barred from the communion table has been justly so barred. We believe their view of closed communion to be an error, but we do not believe it is an error that prevents them rightly being called a true church of Christ (Defense Departed).
2. Note also what a far cry Steele's position regarding the necessity of uninspired history as part of the terms of communion is from the simple profession of faith of the Ethiopian eunuch and of Peter (Defense Departed).
3. This point in the six terms of communion seems like a reasonable place to put something about a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. After all, in Acts 8:37, that was the only term of communion that Philip the evangelist seemed concerned to enforce (Defense Departed).
4. Finally Paul teaches that females who have been baptized into Christ are also communicant members of the Church (Richard Bacon, What Mean Ye By This Service, Appendix A).
5. Like Paul, I fear that these human additions to the requirements of the Lord's table are corrupting minds from the simplicity that is in Christ (Defense Departed).
From these quotes we can deduce that Mr. Bacon holds the following position regarding terms of communion.
a. He does not agree with the six terms of communion of the PRCE and believes our view of close communion to be in error.
a. A personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ was all that Phillip required as a term of communion. "And he [the eunuch GB] answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (Acts 8:37)
b. Though Mr. Bacon does not explicitly say which profession of Peter he was referring to, I think it is reasonable to infer that he meant Peter's simple profession of faith found in Matthew 16:16: "And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
c. All who are baptized are to be admitted to communion (except of course, infants and children who have not made a profession of faith). This is significant in that (except as it applies to covenant children) Mr. Bacon is equating the qualifications necessary for both Baptism and the Lord's Supper. As the reader shall see in the following examination this is a serious error.
d. Human additions to the requirements of the Lord's Table are corrupting minds from the simplicity of Christ.
First, I would note that the Ethiopian eunuch did not receive communion, but was simply baptized in Acts 8:3638. The reader is asked to consult the passage to see if this has anything to do with admission to the Lord's Supper. The only reason Mr. Bacon would cite this in regard to terms of communion would be because he equates the qualifications for Baptism and Communion.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him (Acts 8:3638, AV).
Naphtali press has done an excellent job of republishing the classic book entitled Jus Divinum Regiminus Ecclesiastici, and therein we are furnished with an applicable commentary to undo Mr. Bacon's ill conceived notions regarding the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. One would hope that in the future Mr. Bacon's publisher would instruct him more clearly in what his republished books contain.
Besides, by the Ordinance of Baptism, we are all admitted into one body, the General visible church (1Cor. 12:12) and some were baptized into the general body that thereby were not admitted into any particular church, as the Eunuch in Acts 8 (Jus Divinum Regiminus Ecclesiastici, p. 69, Naphtali Press, emphases added).
How do terms of communion apply to someone who has yet to be admitted to a particular church? How would the Eunuch partake of communion outside of a particular church? Furthermore, Peter's profession (Matt. 16:16) is entirely unrelated to a communion service. Neither of these instances provide Mr. Bacon with any proof of his position.
Second, I would point out that, by his own words, Mr. Bacon appears to require nothing more than a simple profession of faith to admit someone to the Lord's Table. A simple profession of which "particular statements" of faith, he doesn't say. I assume that this profession would have to include at least some of socalled simple fundamentals of the faith. One would hope that he would at least enquire as to whether someone is Trinitarian, believes the Bible is God's Word, or whether the prospective communicant believes in the bodily return of our Lord and Saviour. Whatever his minimal standard is, we can by his own words (as cited above) reasonably infer that Mr. Bacon is promoting an extreme form of latitudinarian communion, and conversely that he unabashedly denounces the idea of a close communion.
John Anderson comments on this latitudinarian scheme,
In the first place, it is a sectarian communion. Its existence supposes that there are sects and parties in the catholic [i.e. universal GB] church; and that the variety of men's opinions, habits and feelings, is sufficient to justify the continuance of them. Scriptural, sacramental communion [close communion GB] admits of no sects; requiring all partakers of it to be one bread, one body; perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
In the second place, it is an unfaithful and dishonest scheme. It is unfaithful to the Lord Jesus; for under the pretext of expressing love to him at his table, it regards the denial of some of his truths or institutions, however openly or obstinately persisted in, as a trivial matter, deserving no church censure. When the advocates for this scheme represent the truths and institutions of Christ, that are publicly opposed by corrupt churches as sectarian and local peculiarities, they are chargeable with great unfaithfulness to the Lord Christ, to these churches and to the whole catholic church. They are chargeable with attempting to heal the wound of God's people slightly, saying peace, peace while there is no peace.
Thirdly, it is a backsliding scheme. There is nothing more incumbent on a particular church than steadfastness in maintaining all the articles of Divine truth stated in her confession and testimony. But as soon as the practice obtains in any particular church of having sacramental communion with the open and obstinate opposers of any of these articles, that church, thereby, falls from her steadfastness, and is chargeable, in some measure, with apostasy (John Anderson, Alexander and Rufus, 1862, SWRB reprint, 1997, pp. 9394, emphases added).
Hence, we teach that all churches which do not base their communion upon faithful and explicit terms of agreement are to be avoided and withdrawn from.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them (Romans 16:17, AV).
Sadly, Mr. Bacon says, "We believe their view of closed communion to be an error." Therefore, I, without any reservation maintain that Mr. Bacon is a minister who ought to be avoided and withdrawn from. His scheme is unfaithful and leads the children of God into backsliding and sectarian sin. It is an inherently schismatic view, and we will not, and cannot, countenance such ministers who are dividing and wounding the church of Jesus Christ.
Third, we in the PRCE teach that the ground of the church's profession is based upon God's word alone, though we recognize that the acts and modes of preserving and maintaining the true religion in the visible church (as to wellbeing) are necessarily human. Mr. Bacon, in his arrogance and ignorance, labels us a "Popes" and "Pharisees" for adhering to human constitutions that are agreeable to the Word of God. By means of our terms of communion we are simply explaining and applying our alone infallible rule of faith while neither adding nor detracting from its authority. Why does Mr. Bacon deride us for that which is unavoidable especially when he clearly does the same thing?
Thomas M'Crie powerfully explains,
But while the matter, as well as the ground, of the church's profession is properly speaking divine, the acts and modes of professing and maintaining it are necessarily human. When false and corrupt views of Christianity become general, it is necessary that confessions of the truth in opposition to them be embodied in formal and written documents, which may be known and read by all men. Vox emissa perit: litera scripta manet (a voice sent forth disappears: a written letter remains). It is not enough that Christians confess their faith individually: to comply with divine commands, to answer to their character as church members, and the better to gain the ends in view, it is requisite that they make a joint and common confession. When the truths contained in the Word of God have been explicitly stated and declared, in opposition to existing errors, by the proper authority in a church, an approbation of such statements and declarations may be required as a test of soundness in the faith and Christian fidelity, without any unwarrantable imposition on conscience, or the most distant reflection on the perfection of Scripture. The same arguments which justify the use of creeds and confessions will also justify particular declarations or testimonies directed against errors and corruptions prevailing in churches which still retain scriptural formularies. Those who allow the former cannot consistently condemn the latter. It is not sufficient to entitle persons to the character of faithful witnesses of Christ, that they profess a general adherence to the Bible or a sound confession of faith, provided they refuse or decline to direct and apply these seasonably against present evils. It might as well be said that the soldier has acquitted himself well in a battle, because he had excellent armor lying in a magazine, or a sword hanging by his side, although he never brought forth the armor nor drew his sword from is scabbard. The means alluded to are the unsheathing of the sword and the wielding of the armor of the Church. So far from setting aside the authority of Scripture, they are necessary for keeping a sense of it alive on the spirits of men, and for declaring the joint views and animating the combined endeavors of those who adhere to it. By explaining and applying a rule, we do not add to it, nor do we detract from its authority (Thomas M'Crie, Unity of the Church, 1821, reprinted in 1989 by Presbyterian Heritage Publications, pp. 135137, emphases added).
Mr. Bacon charges us with requiring implicit faith when he says:
The PRCE has adopted this entire line of thinking by the approach of "first accept the doctrine, then you can understand it later." But this is the very kind of implicit faith required by Rome and condemned by our confession, where in 202 it states, "the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also" (Defense Departed).
In reality, it is Mr. Bacon's latitudinarian communion that is founded in ignorance, delusion and blind obedience. Consequently, it is his pretended unity that attacks true liberty of conscience. Mr. Bacon's solution is one in which Christians are to attend the Lord's Supper based upon "simple profession" or "fundamentals" only. The distinction between what is fundamental and nonfundamental is not made in the Word of God, and thus remains vague and arbitrary in the minds of church officers. This emphasis upon the "necessary" truths of Scripture, while helpful to didactic theology, is not useful indeed, it is dangerous in this connection. When applied to the communion table, the tendency of this emphasis is to lead others to consider that some truths of Scripture are of little or no importance. Consequently, these "little" truths are considered too minute to be contended for, and they are relegated to the realms of indifferency and minutia. Those who promote this unscriptural emphasis constantly whine about conscientious Christians being overly concerned with socalled minutia such as singing psalms, Sabbath keeping, and instrumental music in public worship. Under the cloak of charity, forbearance and peace the socalled neutral principle of upholding the fundamentals only becomes a law by which the tolerance of all others is judged. The law of "communion by fundamentals only", not being founded upon, nor determinable by Scripture, becomes a law to be believed upon the authority of the Church only and thus a certain degree of blind obedience is required to observe it. This is the scheme proposed by Mr. Bacon and as we have observed repeatedly, his own accusations are continually recoiling upon his own head. According to his principles and to his law of "communion by fundamentals only," he should be holding communion with the Church of Rome. He makes the supposed state of an individual profession "the rule" by which one is received or rejected and denies that the communion table is fenced by the doctrinal and practical testimony of the church corporate. When a Roman Catholic comes to his communion table and professes personal faith like the Ethiopian eunuch, Mr. Bacon should, if he were to be consistent with his doctrine, receive this Roman Catholic professor. If he allows a Roman Catholic to partake individually I cannot see what would stop him from proceeding to the logical conclusion of actually partaking with the Church of Rome herself. This law of simple profession is simply a dangerous error which shifts the ground of external church communion from a corporate agreement in faith and practice to a law requiring the toleration of sectarian, individual doctrine and practice. The concealment of truth for the sake of peace is certainly as dangerous as an outright propagation of lies. Latitudinarian schemes of communion, though often coupled with the best intentions, are direct assaults upon the Christian liberty of God's people and the purity of the visible church.
Thomas M'Crie further explains:
Mournful as the divisions of the Church are, and anxious as all its genuine friends must be to see them cured, it is their duty to examine carefully the plans which may be proposed for attaining this desirable end. We must not do evil that good may come; and there are sacrifices too costly to be made for the procuring of peace with fellow Christians.
Is it necessary to remind you, that unity and peace are not always good, nor a sure and infallible mark of a true and pure church? We know that there is a church which has long boasted of her catholic unity notwithstanding all the corruptions which pollute her communion; and that within her pale the whole world called Christian once enjoyed a profound repose, and it could be said, "Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language" (Gen. 11:6). It was a union and peace founded in ignorance, delusion, implicit faith, and a base subjection to human authority; and supported by the arts of compulsion and terror.
But there are other methods by which Christians may be deceived, and the interests of religion deeply injured, under the pretext or with the view of uniting its friends. Among these I know none more imposing, nor from which greater danger is to be apprehended in the present time, than that which proceeds on the scheme of principles usually styled latitudinarian.
It has obtained this name because it proclaims an undue latitude in matters of religion, which persons may take to themselves or give to others. Its abettors make light of the differences which subsist among religious parties, and propose to unite them on the common principles on which they are already agreed, in the way of burying the rest in silence, or of stipulating mutual forbearance and charity with respect to everything about which they may differ in opinion or in practice.
Some plead for this on the ground that the several professions of religion differ very little from one another, and are all conducive to the happiness of mankind and the honor of God, who is pleased with the various diversified modes in which men profess their regard to him, provided only they are sincere in their professions a principle of difformity which, however congenial to the system of polytheism, is utterly eversive of a religion founded on the unity of the divine nature and will, and on a revelation which teaches us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty he requires of us.
But the ground on which this plan is ordinarily made to rest is a distinction made among the articles of religion. Some of these are called essential, or fundamental, or necessary, or principal; others circumstantial, or nonfundamental, or unnecessary, or less important. The former, it is pleaded, are embraced by all true Christians; the latter form the subjects of difference among them, and ought not to enter into the terms of ecclesiastical fellowship. On this principle some of them would conciliate and unite all the Christian denominations, not excepting Papists, Arians, and Socinians; while others restrict their plan to those called evangelical, who differ mainly in their views and practice as to the worship, order, and discipline of the Church.
The distinction on which this scheme rests is itself liable to objections which appear insuperable. It is not warranted by the Word of God; and the most acute of its defenders have never been able to state it in a manner that is satisfactory, or which renders it subservient to any practical use. The Scripture, indeed, speaks of certain truths which may be called the foundation, because they are first laid, and others depend on them first principles, or elementary truths, which are to be taught before others. But their priority or posteriority in point of order, in conception or instruction, does not determine the relative importance of doctrines, or their necessity in order to salvation. Far less does it determine the propriety of their being made to enter into the religious profession of Christians and Christian churches.
There are doctrines, too, which intrinsically, and on different accounts, may be said to have a peculiar and superior degree of importance; and this, so far as known, may properly be urged as a motive for our giving the more earnest heed to them. It is not, however, their comparative importance or utility, but their truth and the authority of him who has revealed them, which is the formal and proper reason of our receiving, professing, and maintaining them. And this applies equally to all the contents of a divine revelation. The relations of truths, especially those of a supernatural kind, are manifold and incomprehensible to us; it is not our part to pronounce a judgment on them; and if we could see them as God does, in all their extent and at once, we would behold the lesser joined to the greater, the most remote connected with the primary, by necessary and indissoluble links, and all together conspiring to form one beautiful and harmonious and indivisible whole.
Whatever God has revealed we are bound to receive and hold fast; whatever he has enjoined we are bound to obey; and the liberty which we dare not arrogate to ourselves we cannot give to others. It is not, indeed, necessary that the confession or testimony of the Church (meaning by this that which is explicitly made by her, as distinguished from her declared adherence to the whole Word of God) should contain all truths. But then any of them may come to be included in it, when opposed and endangered; and it is no sufficient reason for excluding any of them that they are less important than others, or that they have been doubted and denied by good and learned men. Whatever forbearance may be exercised to persons, "the Word of the Lord," in all its extent, "must have free course and be glorified" (cf. 2 Thess. 3:1). And any act of men call it forbearance or what you will which serves as a screen and protection to error or sin, and prevents it from being opposed and removed by any proper means, is contrary to the divine law, and consequently is destitute of all intrinsic force and validity.
There are truths also which are more immediately connected with salvation. But who will pretend to fix those propositions which are absolutely necessary to be known in order to salvation, by all persons, of all capacities, and in all situations; or say how low a God of grace and salvation may descend in dealing with particular individuals? Or, if we could determine this extreme point, who would say that it ought to fix the rule of our dealing with others, or the extent of a church's profession of faith? Is nothing else to be kept in view in settling articles of faith and fellowship, but what may be necessary to the salvation of sinners? Do we not owe a paramount regard to the glory of God in the highest, to the edifying of the body of Christ, to the advancing of the general interests of religion, and to the preserving, in purity, of those external means, by which, in the economy of providence and grace, the salvation of men, both initial and progressive, may be promoted to an incalculable extent from age to age?
In fine, there is reason for complaining that the criteria or marks given for determining these fundamental or necessary articles are uncertain or contradictory. It is alleged that "they are clearly taught in Scripture?" This is true of the others also. "That they are few and simple?" This is contradicted by their own attempts to state them. "That they are such as the Scripture has declared to be necessary?" Why then have we not yet been furnished with a catalogue of them? "That they are such as embraced by all true Christians?" Have they a secret tact by which they are able to discover such characters? If not, can they avoid running into a vicious circle in reasoning, by first determining who are true Christians by their embracing certain doctrines, and then determining that these doctrines are fundamental because they are embraced by persons of that description?
Many who have contributed to give currency to this scheme have been actuated, I have no doubt, by motives which are in themselves highly commendable. They wished to fix the attention of men on matters confessedly of great importance, and were anxious to put an end to the dissensions of Christians by discovering a mean point in which the views of all might harmoniously meet. But surely those who cherish a supreme regard for divine authority will be afraid of contemning or of teaching others to think lightly of anything which bears its sacred impress. They will be disposed carefully to reconsider an opinion, or an interpretation of any part of Scripture, which seems to imply in it that God has given men a power to dispense with some of his own laws. And they will be cautious of originating or countenancing plans of communion that may involve a principle of such a complexion.
These plans are more or less dangerous according to the extent to which they are carried, and the errors or abuses which may prevail among the parties which they embrace. But however limited they may be, they set an example which may be carried to any extent. So far as it is agreed and stipulated that any truth or duty shall be sacrificed or neglected, and that any error or sin shall be treated as indifferent or trivial, the essence of latitudinarianism is adopted, room is made for further advancements, and the way is prepared for ascending, through successive generations, to the very highest degree in the scale.
Another plan of communion, apparently opposite to the former, but proceeding on the same general principle, has been zealously recommended, and in some instances reduced to practice, in the present day. According to it, the several religious parties are allowed to remain separate, and to preserve their distinct constitution and peculiarities, while a species of partial or occasional communion is established among them. This plan is liable to all the objections which lie against the former, with the addition of another that is peculiar to itself. It is inconsistent and selfcontradictory. It strikes against the radical principles of the unity of the Church, and confirms schism by law: while it provides that the parties shall remain separate, at the same time that it proceeds on the supposition that there is no scriptural or conscientious ground of difference between them. [Note that this is Mr. Bacon's plan of communion GB]
By defending such occasional conformity, English Dissenters at a former period contradicted the reasons of their dissent from the establishment, and exposed themselves to their opponents: for where communion is lawful, it will not be easy to vindicate separation from the charge of schism. The world has for some time beheld annually the spectacle of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Independents, Methodists, and Seceders, sitting down together at the Lord's Table, and then going away and maintaining communion, through the remainder of the year, on their own separate and contradictory professions. Nay, it has of late become the practice to keep, in the same church, an open communion table for Christians of different denominations on one part of the day, and a close one for those of a particular sect on the other part of the day; while the same ministers officiate, and many individuals communicate, on both these occasions. And all this is cried up as a proof of liberality, and a mind that has freed itself from the trammels of party.
It is difficult to say which of these plans is most objectionable. By the former, that church which is most faithful, and has made the greatest progress in reformation, must always be the loser, without having the satisfaction to think that she has conveyed any benefit to her new associates. It behoves her profession and managements to yield, and be reduced to the standard of those societies which are defective and less reformed. And thus, by a process opposite to that mentioned by the Apostle, those who have built on the foundation "gold, silver, precious stones," are the persons who shall "suffer loss" (1 Cor. 3:12, 15). By the latter, all the good effects which might be expected from warrantable and necessary separations are lost, without the compensation of a rational and effective conjunction; purity of communion is endangered; persons are encouraged to continue in connection with the most corrupt churches; and a faithful testimony against errors and abuses, with all consistent attempts to have them removed or prevented, is held up to odium and reproach, as dictated by bigotry, and as tending to revive old dissensions, and to defeat the delightful prospect of those halcyon days of peace which are anticipated under the reign of mutual forbearance and charity (Thomas M'Crie, Unity of the Church, 1821, reprinted 1989 by Presbyterian Heritage Publications, pp.106118, or free on Still Waters Revival Books web page at: http://www.swrb.com, emphases added).
As you can see, it is not necessary to quote a Covenanter to expose Mr. Bacon's latitudinarian tendencies. Those who boast of liberal forbearance are typically most liberal in spewing out severe accusations upon those who plead for true liberty of conscience. It is an undoubted maxim of our tolerant age that there are none so violently intolerant as the soprofessedly tolerant man who contends with those who are steadfast in the true religion. Their harshest criticism and sharpest intolerance is reserved for those who have the courage to tell them they are wrong. It is one thing to recognize the relative importance of fundamental and nonfundamental truth, and quite another to say that the former are the only truths which the Church of Christ is bound to confess and require as a profession at her communion table. Mr. Bacon must recognize that truth is no enemy to peace and that human constitutions when agreeable to God's word are no enemy to liberty of conscience.
All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies (Psalms 25:10, AV).
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith on worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also (Westminster Confession of Faith, 20:2).
For the sake of further discussion, let us conjecture that all Mr. Bacon requires for a term of communion is a simple profession and understanding of the Apostle's Creed. Isn't that an historical document which is both fallible and uninspired? It sets forth the fundamental doctrines of the Church of Christ in beautiful order and brevity, but is it inspired? Would Mr. Bacon actually use a fallible historical document as a term of communion? If he can use the Apostle's Creed, then all his objections against our terms of communion fall to the ground and all his accusations recoil upon his own head. This historical creed teaches things agreeable to God's Word though in every case they are uninspired deductions from Scripture. This one fact the fact that the Apostle's Creed is not inspired completely overthrows Mr. Bacon's slanderous arguments. Where can he run? Does he plead for a deduction from Scripture even more simple than the Apostle's Creed? Whatever he chooses can be said to be uninspired and fallible, short of repeating the Scriptures word for word.
What should we ask if Mr. Bacon used the Apostle's Creed (or something like it) as his sole subordinate standard for admission to the communion table?
Is it humanly composed? Yes, man accurately deduced it from Scripture. Does it qualify as a human addition and composition? Yes it was written by man. In its present form it is of no later date than the fourth century. Is it historical and uninspired? Yes. Thus even the Apostle's Creed could not qualify as a subordinate standard for examination to come to the Lord's Supper. In fact, to be absolutely consistent with Mr. Bacon's notions, no profession of faith in the fallible uninspired words of men could be used to examine one who comes to the Lord's Supper. Is the Apostle's Creed the standard Mr. Bacon uses for his terms of communion? It is difficult to tell given his present state of confusion and inherent selfcontradiction. His officers have one standard, his members another, and sadly, his visitors have yet another.
For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered (Jeremiah 10:21, AV).
Again, for Mr. Bacon to use the Apostle's Creed or any other humanly deduced creed, and then to reject our terms of communion because they are fallible is to imply that his deduction and his creed is infallible. No matter which way he turns he finds himself in the Popish camp and supping with the whore of Babylon. Whether he has failed to distinguish between the visible and the invisible church or whether he lifts his own scriptural deductions to a level of infallibility, he sits on the beast. Either way his argument is proved entirely erroneous. Mr. Bacon's error lies in the fact that he cannot seem to understand that uninspired deductions are binding when they agree with the Word of God. If history is judged correctly, and is agreeable to the truth of God's word, then it is reasonable and fair to require it as a bond of agreement and a term of communion. The same goes for any uninspired and true deduction from Scripture. Truth is a binding term of communion in whatever form it comes.
Mr. Bacon writes,
The Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton has adopted this entire line of thinking by the approach of "first accept the doctrine, then you can understand it later." But this is the very kind of implicit faith required by Rome and condemned by our confession.... They [the Steelites GB] assure us that we must simply agree to it [all their subordinate standards GB] and they will explain to us later what it says. This is no difference in principle from the Papist who explains to the Protestant, "Just come home to mother church and accept her historic footprints based on history and argument as conditions of fellowship. We will explain all that this entails as we think you have a need to know" (Defense Departed).
Here the PRCE is slanderously portrayed as requiring implicit faith by requiring people to agree to doctrine they don't yet understand. Is this true? First accept the doctrine then understand it later simply agree to it and we will explain it later that is what Mr. Bacon represents as our view. We have neither required nor asked such an unlawful thing from any prospective member of our church. Membership in the PRCE is based upon a simple, voluntary, sincere, profession of faith and this is not to be confused with an examination based upon our terms of communion. Simple profession of faith precedes examination for communion and Mr. Bacon entirely confounds the long standing order of the Reformed Churches when he attempts to connect the two. New converts are brought into the schoolhouse of Christ (the visible church), to receive feeding and instruction from good shepherds who make them ready to partake worthily of the Lord's Table. These babes join the church and are baptized in their simplicity, but must have their ignorance removed so that they might be given the understanding to communicate properly, and worthily "remember and discern the body and blood of the Lord". This is done to protect them from their own ignorance and to protect the congregation from tolerating error and false doctrine around the Lord's Table.
Samuel Rutherford describes the three primary prerequisites of becoming member of the PRCE:
... though the church have not a positive certainty of the judgment of charity, that they are regenerated, so they be known 1. To be baptized. 2. That they be free of gross scandal.
3. And profess that they be willing hearers of the Doctrine of the Gospel. Such a profession, as giveth evidences to the positive certainty of the judgment of charity, of sound conversion, is not required to make and constitute a true visible church. (Samuel Rutherford, The Due Right of Presbyteries, 1644, p. 251, SWRB bound photocopy reprint, 1995, emphases added).
In addition to these three prerequisites, we require that prospective members agree not to speak publicly or act scandalously contrary to the publicly professed standards of the Church, and we ask if they are willing to abide by all lawful rulings of the Session of the PRCE. This is all that is required to become a member of the PRCE a simple profession of faith combined with a life free of gross scandal and an agreement to endeavour not to be publicly scandalous in the future. We have had people become members of the church within 1 or 2 weeks of their professed conversion. These babes are baptized (if necessary), brought under the oversight of the session, and nurtured by the sound preaching of the Word of God. We have never asked anyone to agree to something they do not yet understand, nor would we ever counsel someone to accept a doctrine before explaining it to them, and giving them a chance to compare our teaching to the Word of God. By representing us in this light, Mr. Bacon has shown how unacquainted he is with our profession and practice. As seems to be his practice, it appears that he would rather not be confused by the facts so he simply invents his own version of the story. It is much easier to dupe the general public with contrived stories than actually deal with the reality of the situation, and Mr. Bacon has evidently chosen this shortsighted approach. His scandalous lies and distortions would have worked well had we chosen not to answer. Notwithstanding Mr. Bacon's own lack of integrity, I would like to ask the reader another question In the PRCE membership process described above (which typically takes 30 minutes or less), where did we ask someone to agree to something or to affirm something that they didn't believe? We ask for a simple profession of faith and an agreement to endeavour not to speak or act contrary to the truths of God's word as found in our subordinate standards. Where do we require implicit faith? On the contrary, we counsel all of our members not to believe anything until they have confirmed it by the alone infallible rule of faith and practice, viz., God's Word.
Francis Turretin comments,
Our opinion has nothing in common with papal tyranny because as it gives the power to command to pastors, so it ascribes to believers the power of proving all things and holding fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21); wishes to call forth the judgment of believers themselves (1 Cor. 10:15; 1 Jn. 4:1); and rejects the blind obedience of the Romanists. On account of the abuse of a thing, its use is not to be given up. Nor if the pontifical tyranny should be avoided, should we on that account pass over to the other extreme of the confusion and anarchy of the Anabaptists. Rather we must hold the mean of lawful ecclesiastical and ministerial power between these two extremes (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, P&R, 1997, Vol. 3, p. 281, emphases added).
When we indicate that prospective members must not speak or act contrary to the infallible Word of God and the fallible and subordinate standards of our church, we are simply requiring them to walk obediently up to their present degree of light. If someone should ignorantly, through inexperience or misunderstanding, say or do something contrary to our standards, they would be patiently taught the nature of their error from God's holy Word. The membership requirements of the PRCE are exceedingly simple, and can be attested to by any present member of our congregation. Our membership requirements are no different than that required of the Ethiopian eunuch, viz., simple profession of faith, baptism and freedom from gross scandal. Mr. Bacon, again, through failure to do his homework, has misrepresented both our belief and practice. One phone call would have kept Mr. Bacon from his folly. It seems he would rather assert his own imagination than investigate our practice.
Next, each person who makes a simple profession of faith has a right to the signs and the seals of the Covenant of Grace, viz., Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Because someone has a right to the signs and seals of the covenant doesn't mean that they are automatically qualified to enjoy those privileges. God requires all professing Christians to meet certain qualifications before they may lawfully partake of His ordinances.
To illustrate In Canada (assuming that a legitimate government was ruling), each child who is born within Canadian boundaries has a right to vote. Though they "possess" the right to vote, they cannot "exercise" that right until they meet the qualifications of Canadian law. When they turn 18 years old they may then "exercise" their right. Thus a distinction is made between "possessing" a right and "exercising" a right. While little qualification is needed to possess a right, more is required for its lawful exercise.
In the visible church of Christ, membership involves different privileges for which one must be duly qualified. To hear the Word regularly preached does not automatically qualify a person for baptism, nor does being baptized automatically qualify a person to attend the Lord's Table. Each privilege of the church has its own distinctive prerequisites.
Samuel Rutherford explains,
Some be members of the visible church properly and strictly, such as are admitted to all the seals of the covenant and holy things of God. Others are less properly, or in an inferior degree, members of the visible church, such as are baptized and are ordinary hearers of the Word, but not admitted to the Lord's Supper, of old the Catechumenoi were such. As their are degrees of citizens, some having all the privileges of the city and some only right to some privileges, but not to all three. Some have right to all and are most properly in the visible church (Samuel Rutherford, The Due Right of Presbyteries, SWRB reprint, 1995, p. 268).
What Rutherford just finished saying gives us an important summary of the privileges of church membership. He explains that all members do not have equal access to the signs and seals of the covenant. Some have a right to all privileges while others have a right to exercise all privileges. I am saying the same thing as Rutherford but in slightly different terms. Though we may "possess" the right to all the privileges of the visible church, by virtue of our profession of faith, visible interest in the covenant of grace, and freedom from visible scandal, we are only entitled to "exercise" those rights after we have met the visible qualifications set down in the Word of God.
George Gillespie makes the same distinction (remote right vs. proxime [nearest GB] right):
There is jus ad rem, and jus in re. There is a remote right, or right in actu primo; that is such a right, relation or habitude, as entitleth a person to such a privilege or benefit, to be enjoyed and possessed by him when he shall be capable and fit to enjoy it. Such is the right of a minor to his inheritance. Such was the right of lepers of old to their tents houses and goods, when themselves were put out of the camp, and might not (during their leprosy) actually enjoy their own habitations.... There is again a proxime right, or a right in actuo secundo, which rendereth a person actually and presently capable of that thing which he is entitled to (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, Sprinkle Publications, 1985 reprint, p. 225)
Qualification #1: Profession of Faith
When a person becomes a member of the church he does so by simple profession of faith.
The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel, (not confined to one nation as before under the law,) consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation(Westminster Confession of Faith, 25: 2).
Those born within the church have, by their birth, interest in the covenant and therefore ought to be baptized. Visible profession of faith gives a visible interest in the covenant of grace.
Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 28:4)
Qualification #2: Freedom from obstinate scandal (doctrinal or practical)
Larger Catechism question #166 asks,
Question 166: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered?
Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.
Those who "possess" a visible right to the covenant seal of Baptism may, immediately, by virtue of their (or their parents) visible, credible profession, and visible freedom from scandal (doctrinal and practical), "exercise" that right and have the sign of the covenant administered (see Appendix F for an important qualification to this statement). Any known to be wolves, apostates, or heretics do not qualify for this ordinance while those who, in their simplicity, profess "obedience to Christ," may proceed.
In Aaron's Rod Blossoming, George Gillespie summarizes his opponent's (Mr. Prynne) argument as follows:
Such as in all ages, yea, by the very Apostles themselves, have been deemed fit to receive and could not be denied, the sacrament of baptism, ought to be (being baptized and unexcommunicated, and willing to communicate) admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But in all churches from Christ's time to the present, all external professors of Christ, even carnal persons, "only upon a bare external profession of faith and repentance," were deemed fit to receive, and were never denied, the sacrament of baptism (yea saith he, "we read in the very Apostle's times, that a mere slight confession of sin, and profession of the Christian faith was sufficient to enable sinners to be baptized"); therefore all external professors of Christ ought to be admitted to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications 1985, p. 226).
Note that Mr. Prynne's argument is also Mr. Bacon's argument when he says:
Finally Paul teaches that females who have been baptized into Christ are also communicant members of the Church. (What Mean Ye By This Service, Appendix A).
Both Prynne and Bacon contend that all who are baptised (adults) are entitled and qualified, by virtue of their membership in the visible church, to attend the Lord's Supper. George Gillespie responds to Mr. Prynne, and consequently to Mr. Bacon as well:
I retort the argument thus: Such as have been deemed by the Apostles, and by all well constituted churches, unworthy to be admitted to baptism, ought also to be deemed unworthy, though baptized, to be admitted to the Lord's Table. But all known wicked and prophane livers, how able and willing soever to make confession of the true Christian faith, have been, by the Apostles and all well constituted churches, deemed unworthy to be admitted to baptism; therefore all known and wicked, &c. [ and profane livers, though baptized, ought to be deemed unworthy to come to the Lord's Table GB] (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 226, emphases added)
We see that Gillespie does not appreciate the argument of Mr. Prynne (or Mr. Bacon). If simple profession of faith does not, in and of itself, qualify a person for baptism, then it certainly does not qualify a person for the Lord's Supper. Known heretics, wolves and apostates are to be kept from both ordinances, and elders are responsible not to profane the covenant of God by promoting or participating in a promiscuous admission to either of its signs and seals.
Baptism differs from the Lord's Supper due to the fact that a participant receives baptism passively while at the table the participant eats, drinks and examines himself actively. In the forthcoming section we shall see that this difference necessitates an enlargement of the qualifications necessary for worthy participation at the Lord's Table.
Like Baptism, we "possess" the right to the Lord's Supper by virtue of a visible, credible profession of faith (giving us a visible interest in the covenant of grace) and visible freedom from scandal (both doctrinal, and practical). As in baptism, so also in the Lord's Supper, any known to be wolves, apostates, or heretics do not qualify for this ordinance. The difference in qualification between the two ordinances is due to the amount of knowledge required to accomplish the necessary duties associated with worthily partaking of the bread and wine. The key difference between these two ordinances is one of positive knowledge. To exercise our right to attend the Lord's Table we must meet the necessary qualifications as they are set down in Scripture and summarized in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
In addition to requiring all the qualifications of Baptism, the additional qualifications necessary to attend the Lord's Table can be broken into positive and negative categories.
Qualification 1. Age and ability to examine themselves.
We are explicitly taught in the Larger Catechism how God's two sacraments differ.
Question 177: Wherein do the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper differ?
Answer: The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper differ, in that Baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord's Supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves (emphases added).
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:28, 31, AV).
Those who are not old enough to examine and judge themselves obviously cannot meet the knowledge requirements necessary to worthily partake. If, as our Larger Catechism states, only such as are of years and ability to examine themselves may partake of the Lord's Supper, then more than simple profession is required. Very young children may make a simple, visible, and credible profession of faith while remaining unable sufficiently to examine themselves or to discern the Lord's body to any significant degree. God may reveal himself to a child well before he can articulate an accurate understanding of the true religion. Until he is able to visibly demonstrate his understanding of the truth, no mere man ought to presume what lies in his thoughts and intentions. This argument alone should eliminate the foolish practice of the paedocommunion camp. Those who contend for a simple profession, if they were consistent (God forbid), should be serving the bread and wine to any child who has made a simple profession of faith. Sadly, there are many unfaithful church officers foolish enough to abuse their children by admitting them to this ordinance based upon a consistent application of this deceptive principle. Faithful officers, who take their Confession seriously would, of course, more carefully attend to their duty.
George Gillespie mentions the three necessary categories (profession, knowledge and practice) to be examined by the elders of the church.
... and that they who are the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God, ought to admit none to this sacrament except such as are qualified and fit (so far as can be judged by their profession, knowledge and practice, observed and examined by the eldership, according to the rules of the word, no human court being infallible) to have part and portion in the communion of saints, and to receive the seals of the covenant of grace (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 236, emphases added).
The eldership judgeth of words and works, professions and practices. "By their fruits ye shall know them" (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 227).
Unless somebody desires to assert that an infant can be judged by his profession, knowledge and practice, prior to being able to speak or understand human language, we can be assured that Mr. Gillespie and the writers of our church standards were not proponents of paedocommunion. Additionally, unless the reader wishes to equate Mr. Bacon's direction to judge by simple profession of the Ethiopian eunuch with Gillespie's direction to judge by profession, knowledge and practice, we can rest assured that Mr. Bacon is not teaching the same thing as Mr. Gillespie.
Ability can be broken into two categories.
1. Ability To Properly Prepare for the Lord's Supper.
Ruling officers of the church have a sworn duty to uphold their Confession of Faith and Catechisms by judging whether a prospective communicant can properly prepare themselves to partake worthily. If a person does not have the tools to prepare for the job, how will they ever get the task completed? If a new convert cannot properly understand how to make the proper preparations, how can we as elders allow them to partake? Love does not allow others to recklessly harm themselves. Should we allow our "babes" to use the stove prior to proper instruction and examination? How much more will our "babes" in Christ be burnt by improper preparation at the Lord's Table.
In regard to such preparation necessary to come to the Lord's Supper, the Larger Catechism states:
Question 171: How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?
Answer: They that receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.
These requirements lay no small task upon any believer, never mind a new convert or young adult. The rulers of the church have been ordained to decide whether a prospective communicant is ready to worthily partake or whether more preparation is required. This duty, so seriously neglected in our present day, is not optional, and God will surely inquire of the lazy elders who shirk their responsibilities. Those elders reading this, who have become ensnared in sessions that overtly shirk their sworn, and ordained responsibilities should fall to their knees in fear and repentance for so poorly ruling the little ones of the Lord.
It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones (Luke 17:2, AV).
2. Ability to Discern the Lord's Body.
The Larger Catechism further elaborates concerning those who come to the Lord's Supper:
Question 174: What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the time of the administration of it?
Answer: It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord's body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.
Question 175: What is the duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper?
Answer: The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, is seriously to consider: How they have behaved themselves therein, and with: What success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfil their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance: but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament; in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time: but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.
We see immediately upon reading the above cited Catechism that, according to the divines who wrote it, an accurate discerning of the Lord's body is a task quite beyond the ability of a novice, though well within reach of a diligent seeker of truth. According to Larger Catechism #174, and #175, simple profession of faith is definitely not enough. Here Mr. Bacon's assertions regarding the simple profession of the Ethiopian eunuch violate his professed commitment to uphold the Westminster standards. Prospective communicants who examine themselves worthily must possess, at least, some knowledge of God's law and the ability to make application of it to their daily lives. If they would "hunger and thirst after Christ," they must not hunger for a Christ of their own devising thus, they must be instructed in the doctrine of His person and work. If they would "feed on Christ by faith," they must understand what faith is. Those who trust in "Christ's merit" must understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Those who rejoice in God's love must have an orthodox concept of the Trinity. Those who are to "renew their covenant with God, giving thanks for His grace," must understand something of the covenants of redemption, works and grace. One must come to the schoolhouse of Christ to be nurtured upon the sincere milk of the Word before they can reasonably expect to be ready to attend His table. If an elder is to take the instruction of the Westminster Larger Catechism seriously he must realize that these requirements are not simply suggestions. Those who have sworn an oath to uphold these standards, "as being agreeable to God's word," will be called to account for the violation of their promise unless they repent and begin faithfully to examine their flock, judging whether or not their beloved sheep are ready to partake worthily. Failure to examine diligently the profession, knowledge and practice of all prospective communicants displays neither love nor watchfulness for their souls. To, "leaveit to the people to decide for themselves," is an abdication of duty, a direct violation of ordination vows, and a profaning of the covenant of God. God will not hold him guiltless who is found to be slothful in this regard.
Mr. Bacon writes:
This point in the six terms of communion seems like a reasonable place to put something about a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. After all, in Acts 8:37, that was the only term of communion that Philip the evangelist seemed concerned to enforce (Defence Departed, emphases added).
Again, I would note that the Ethiopian eunuch did not receive communion but was simply baptized in Acts 8:3638. Does Mr. Bacon's doctrine accord with the Larger Catechism he so strenuously insists he upholds? Should everybody who professes faith in Jesus Christ, and is baptized, be automatically admitted to the Lord's Table? Was Phillip the Evangelist concerned with enforcing a personal profession of faith as the "only" term of communion? As we have seen, the answer to all three questions is a resounding NO!
Furthermore Mr. Bacon's confusion continues when he states:
Paul teaches that females who have been baptized into Christ are also communicant members of the Church (Richard Bacon, What Mean Ye By This Service, Appendix A).
This sentiment is both absurd and irresponsible. A woman could theoretically be baptized within hours after conversion, and yet be in a state of ignorance comparable to a very young covenant child. To allow her to come to the Lord's Table in this relatively high degree of ignorance is contrary to Scripture, the Confession of Faith, and the light of nature. Significant knowledge and preparation are required to partake worthily of the Lord's Table, and baptism is but one element of the prepatory qualification. If the Ethiopian eunuch possessed the ability to judge himself, and properly discern the Lord's body, he would then be examined (after joining a particular church) by the elders administering the Lord's Supper. Following a successful examination he would be allowed to partake. The Scripture is silent about whether the eunuch was ready or whether he ever partook of the Lord's Table. Mr. Bacon's comments upon the communion principles of Phillip the Evangelist are based upon no discernible evidence, and as such, I judge them to be nonsense.
Regarding Negative Qualifications.
Freedom from natural or sinful ignorance in doctrine, and freedom from scandal in doctrine or practice.
Larger Catechism #173 asks:
Question 173: May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord's Supper, be kept from it?
Answer: Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord's Supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ has left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.
Westminster Confession of Faith 30:8 states:
Wherefore all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's Table, and can not, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.
According to our church standards, those who are too ignorant to properly judge themselves or discern the Lord's body, as well as those who obstinately violate God's law, are to be kept from the communion table. Therefore, those, like Mr. Bacon, who teach that a simple profession of faith is all that is required to come to communion do not believe the same doctrine as the men who wrote our standards.
George Gillespie states,
1. Are persons grossly ignorant able to examine themselves? 2. Are drunken persons able to examine themselves? 3. Are men of corrupt minds, and erroneous, yea, prophane principles, who call evil good, and pervert Scripture to the defending of some gross sins, are these able to examine themselves? 4. Are those who are known that they had never any work of the law upon their conscience to convince or humble them ("for by the law is the knowledge of sin"), able to examine themselves? If the answers be affirmative, then surely this self examination is not rightly apprehended what it is. If the answers be negative, then those who, in their addresses to the Lord's Table, are found ignorant, or presumptuous and unconvinced, and do manifestly appear such, though they be NOT excommunicated and being professed Christians and desiring the sacrament, yet ought NOT to be admitted (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 225, emphases added)
Additionally, Gillespie more clearly makes the distinction between natural and sinful disability:
But where there is no disability in the natural faculties, may not a sinful disability, which a man hath drawn upon himself (as ignorance, drunkenness, corrupt and atheistical opinions, presumptuous excusing or defending of sin), make him unable to examine himself? Shall men that are unable to examine themselves be admitted to the sacrament, because not disabled by any natural disability? Sure this was far from Paul's thoughts, when he delivered that rule concerning examining ourselves before the sacrament. Whoever they be who are unable to examine themselves, whether naturally or sinfully, much more they who manifestly appear unwilling to examine themselves, if they be admitted and allowed to come to the Lord's Supper, it is a high and heinous profanation of that ordinance. (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 256, emphases added).
Earlier, when Mr. Bacon directly implied that the Ethiopian eunuch's scandal free profession of faith (which qualified him for baptism) was also enough to qualify him for communion, he ignored the scriptural and catechetical requirements that bar those who are too ignorant from partaking worthily of the Lord's Table. If a simple profession of faith and freedom from scandal are all that's required, then what could our standards possibly mean by the word "ignorant"? What do the Scripture, Confession, and Catechisms mean when they instruct elders to keep the ignorant person from sinning against the body and blood of Christ? Has the PRCE required more than than the Word of God, or is Mr. Bacon unfaithfully requiring far less?
If we as elders intend to take our Confession of Faith and Catechism seriously (and who would dare say that we should not take our vows seriously), we must come to an historical and contextual understanding about what the writers of our standards originally meant by the word "ignorant." To ascertain the true meaning, and original intent of these writers, we must examine the history of their doctrine and practice. Only then can we shed much needed light upon the original meaning of this concept.
1. Alexander Henderson, Scottish Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly writes:
All baptized persons, when they come to age and discretion are not admitted to the Lord's Table; but such only as either upon examination are found to have a competent measure of knowledge in the principles of religion, do profess that they are believers and do live unblameably, or coming from another congregation bring with them sufficient testimony that they are such or are otherwise well known and approved (Alexander Henderson, The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland, 1641, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 39, emphases added).
We glean from this that the Scottish Church of the Second Reformation required what Henderson called "a competent measure of knowledge in the principles of religion," and that even those who have come to age and discretion are not to be automatically allowed to come to the Lord's Table. Unless Mr. Bacon wishes to call a "simple profession" a "competent measure of knowledge in the principles of religion" he must admit that he and Henderson believed different things regarding terms of communion.
2. In the winter of 164445 the Westminster Assembly was occupied with the issues relating to The Directory for Church Government. The matter of the jurisdiction of church courts and the extent of their respective powers developed into a debate which resulted in the direct discussion of our present question. What did the Westminster Assembly deem to be "competent knowledge," or to put it another way, how did they define the terms "ignorant and scandalous" in relation to a prospective communicants admission to the Lord's Table?
William Beveridge explains:
Just before the Directory [The Directory for Church Government GB] was completed the Assembly resolved to petition Parliament. The result of this first petition was that the House of Commons required a detailed enumeration of everything included under the terms "ignorant and scandalous." The Assembly in reply declared that no one should be admitted to communion without a competent understanding of the doctrines of the Trinity, of the Deity, of the state of man by his creation and by his fall, of redemption by Jesus Christ, and the means to apply Christ and his benefits; of the necessity of faith, repentance, and a godly life; of the nature and use of the Sacraments, and of the condition of man after this life. Upon this, the House of Commons wished to know what was meant by "a competent understanding." The Assembly at once replied (William Beveridge, A Short History Of The Westminster Assembly, Greenville, South Carolina: Reformed Academic Press, p. 76, emphases added).
On March 27th, 1645, the House of Commons made their request to the Westminster Assembly as follows:
Resolved, &c. That it be referred to the Assembly of Divines, to set down, in particular, What they conceive to be such a competent Measure of Understanding, concerning the State of Man by Creation, and by his Fall; the Redemption by Jesus Christ; the Way and Means to apply Christ, and his Benefits; the Nature and Necessity of Faith, Repentance, and a godly Life; the Nature and Use of the Sacraments; and the Condition of Man after this Life; without which, none shall be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Journal of the House of Commons, Vol. 4, p. 95, emphases added).
Alexander Mitchell adds an interesting historical account of what followed the House of Commons request.
This they [the Westminster Divines GB] did without delay, and brought up on the 1st April [1645 GB] that terse statement which on the 17th [April, 1645 GB] was substantially passed by the Houses and embodied in their subsequent ordinance [Oct. 20, 1645, cited below GB], and soon after made the basis of various catechisms intended to prepare the catechumens for Communion (Alexander Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly, Its History and Standards, 1883, reprinted by SWRB in 1992, p. 291).
What follows is substantially the advice given by the Westminster Assembly in answer to the question of what knowledge is necessary to constitute a competent understanding for prospective communicants to be admitted to the Lord's Table. This is the clearest extant commentary of what the Assembly of Divines meant by the term "ignorant" as it is used in the Westminster standards.
Die Jovis, April 17, 1645.
According to former Order, the Grand Committee of the whole House proceeded to the further Consideration of the Business concerning such as are not to be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Mr. Whittacre called to the Chair.
Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair.
Ordered, That the Report concerning the Prince Elector be made on Tuesday next.- Mr. Whittacre reports from the Grand Committee, the Votes passed the Committee, concerning such ignorant and scandalous Persons as are not to be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's supper.
Resolved, &c. That an incestuous Person, appearing to be such, upon just Proof, shall not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
That an Adulterer: appearing to be such, upon just Proof, shall not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
That a Fornicator: appearing to be such, upon just Proof, shall not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
That a Drunkard: appearing to be such, upon just Proof, shall not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
That a Profane Swearer or Curser: appearing to be such, upon just Proof, shall not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
That One that hath taken away the Life of any Person maliciously: appearing to be such, upon just Proof, shall not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Resolved, &c. That whosoever shall blasphemously speak, or write, any thing of God his Holy Word or Sacraments, shall, upon just Proof thereof, not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of Understanding, concerning the State of Man by Creation, and by his Fall, who do not know, That God created Man after his own Image, in Knowledge, Righteousness, and True Holiness: That, by one Man, Sin came into the World, and Death by Sin; and so Death passed upon all Men, for that all have sinned: That thereby they are all dead in Trespasses and Sins; and are, by Nature, the Children of Wrath; and so are liable to eternal Death the Wages of every Sin.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of Understanding, concerning the Redemption by Jesus Christ, who do not know, That there is but One Mediator between God and Man, the Man Christ Jesus, who is also, over all, God blessed forever; neither is there Salvation in any other: That he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary: That he died upon the Cross, to save his People from their Sins: That he rose again the Third Day from the Dead; ascended into Heaven; sits at the Right Hand of God; and makes continual Intercession for us; of whose Fulness we receive all Grace necessary to Salvation.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of Understanding, concerning the Way and Means to apply Christ, and his Benefits, who do not know, That Christ, and his Benefits, are applied only by Faith: That Faith is the Gift of God; and that we have it not of ourselves; but it is wrought in us by the Word and Spirit of God.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of Understanding in the Nature and Necessity of Faith, who do not know, That Faith is that Grace, whereby we believe and trust in Christ for Remission of Sins, and Life everlasting, according to the Promises of the Gospel:-That whosoever believes not on the Son of God, Shall not see Life, but shall perish eternally.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of the Knowledge of Repentance, who do not know, That they who truly repent of their Sins, do see them, sorrow for them, and turn from them to the Lord; and that, except Men repent, they shall surely perish.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of Knowledge concerning a godly Life, who do not know, That a godly Life is a Life conscionably ordered according to the Word of God, in Holiness and Righteousness, without which no Man shall see God.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of Understanding in the Nature and Use of the Sacrament, who know not, That the Sacraments are Seals of the Covenant of Grace in the Blood of Christ: That the Sacraments of the New Testament are Baptism, and the Lord's Supper: That the outward Elements in the Lord's Supper are Bread and Wine, and do signify the body and Blood of Christ crucified; which the worthy Receiver by Faith doth partake of in this Sacrament; which Christ hath likewise ordained for a Remembrance of his Death: That whosoever eats and drinks unworthily, is guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord: And therefore, That every one is to examine himself, lest he eat and drink Judgment to himself; not discerning the Lord's Body.
Resolved, &c. That they have not a competent Measure of Understanding, concerning the condition of Man after this Life, who do not know, That the Souls of the Faithful, after Death, do immediately live with Christ in Blessedness; and that the Souls of the Wicked do immediately go into Hell Torments: That there shall be a Resurrection of the Bodies, both of the Just and the Unjust, at the last Day; at which Time All shall appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, to receive according to what they have done in the Body, whether it be Good or Evil: And that the Righteous shall go into Life eternal; and the Wicked into everlasting Punishment.
Resolved. &c. That those who have a competent Measure of Understanding, concerning the Matters contained in these Eight Articles, Shall not be kept back from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, for Ignorance (Journal of the House of Commons, Vol. 4, pp. 113, 114).
J. R. DeWitt explains that the outcome of these resolutions resulted in a Parliamentary ordinance issued six months later:
At long last the first parliamentary ordinance for scandal appeared on 20 October, 1645, under the title: An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons Assembled in Parliament Together with the Rules and Directions concerning Suspension from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper In cases of Ignorance and Scandal. Here was given a statement of what constituted sufficiently competent understanding of the Christian religion so as to admit one to the Lord's Table, a statement which in fact amounted to a careful summary of the Reformed and Protestant faith. There was no difficulty about that, and indeed it had been ready since the preceding April. But the Ordinance also contained a list of scandalous sins; and a list of that sort cannot in the very nature of the case, as both Parliament and Assembly perfectly well knew, be anything like complete. A great many things were proscribed: no blasphemers, incestuous persons, adulterers, drunkards, swearers, worshippers of images, crosses, or relics, portrayers of the Trinity or any person thereof, duellers, dancers, gamers, or breakers in any other way of the Lord's Day, brothelkeepers, parents consenting to a child's marrying a papist, any such child, frequenters of witchcraft, insubordinate persons, etc., were not to be admitted to the sacrament (J. R. DeWitt, Th.D., Jus Divinum, p. 188, emphases added).
This ordinance was recorded in the Journal of the House of Lord's, Vol. 7, Oct. 20,
1645, pp. 649, 650, and the relevant portions of this ordinance read as follows:
Die Lunae, 20 die Octobris An Ordinance of the Lord's and Commons assembled in Parliament; together with Rules and Directions concerning Suspension from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, in Cases of Ignorance and Scandal; also the Names of such Ministers and such others that are appointed Triers and Judges of the Ability of Elders in the Twelve Classis within the province of London.
Rules and Directions concerning Suspension from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, in Case of Ignorance.
All such Persons who shall be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper ought to know, that there is a God; that there is but One Ever-living and True God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and Governor of all Things; that this only True God is the God whom we worship; that this God is but One yet Three distinct Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, all equally God.
That God created Man after His own Image, in Knowledge, Righteousness, and true Holiness; that by One Man Sin entered into the World, and Death by Sin, and so Death passed upon all Men, for that all have sinned; that thereby they are all dead in Trespasses and Sins, and are by Nature the Children of Wrath, and so liable to Eternal Death, the Wages of every Sin.
That there is but One Mediator between God and Man, the Man Christ Jesus, who is also over all, God blessed forever, neither is there Salvation in any other; that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary; that He died upon the Cross, to save His People from their Sins; that He rose again the Third Day from the Dead, ascended into Heaven, sits at the Right Hand of God and makes continual Intercession for us, of whose fulness we receive all Grace necessary to Salvation.
That Christ and His Benefits are applied only by Faith; that Faith is the Gift of God; and that we have it not of ourselves, but it is wrought in us by the Word and Spirit of God.
That Faith is that Grace, whereby we believe and trust in Christ for Remission of Sins and Life everlasting, according to the Promise of the Gospel, That whosoever believes not on the Son of God shall no see Life, but shall perish eternally.
That they who truly repent of their Sins, do see them, sorrow for them, and turn from them to the Lord; and that, except Men repent, they shall surely perish.
That a godly Life is conscionably ordered, according to the Word of God, in Holiness and Righteousness, without which no Man shall see God.
That the Sacraments are Seals of the Covenant of Grace in the Blood of Christ; that the Sacraments of the New Testament are Baptism and the Lord's Supper; that the outward Elements in the Lord's Supper are Bread and Wine, and do signify the body and Blood of Christ crucified, which the worthy Receiver by Faith doth partake of in this Sacrament, which Christ hath likewise ordained for a Remembrance of His Death; that whosoever eats and drinks unworthily, is guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord; and therefore that every One is to examine himself, lest he eat and drink Judgment to himself not discerning the Lord's Body.
That the Souls of the Faithful after Death do immediately live with Christ in Blessedness; and that the Souls of the Wicked do immediately go into Hell Torments.
That there shall be a Resurrection of the Bodies both of the Just and Unjust, at the Last Day; at which Time all shall appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, to receive according to what they have done in the Body, whether it be Good or Evil and that the Righteous shall go into Life Eternal, and the Wicked into Everlasting Punishment.
And it is further Ordained, by the Lords and Commons, That those who have a competent Measure of Understanding concerning the Matters contained in these Articles shall not be kept back from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for Ignorance; and that the Examination and Judgment of such Persons as shall, for their Ignorance of the aforesaid Points of Religion, not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, is to be in the Power of the Eldership of every Congregation.
Rules and Directions concerning Suspension from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, in Cases of Scandal.
The several and respective Elderships shall have Power to suspend from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper all scandalous Persons hereafter mentioned, appearing to be such upon just Proof thereof made, in such Manner as is by this present Ordinance hereafter appointed, and not otherwise, until it be otherwise declared, by both Houses of Parliament, how notoriously-scandalous Persons, other than such as are herein expressed, shall be kept from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper; that is to say, all Persons that shall blasphemously speak or write any thing of God, His Holy Word or Sacraments; an incestuous Person; an Adulterer; a Fornicator; a Drunkard; a prophane Swearer or Curser; one that hath taken away the Life of any Person maliciously; all Worshippers of Images, Crosses, Crucifixes, or Relics; all that shall make any Images of the Trinity, or of any Person thereof; all Religious Worshippers of Saints, Angels, or any mere Creature; any Person that shall profess himself not to be in Charity with his Neighbour; any Person that shall challenge any other Person, by Word, Message, or Writing, to fight, or that shall accept such Challenge, and agree thereto; any Person that shall knowingly carry any such Challenge, by Word, Message, or Writing; any Person that shall, upon the Lord's-day, use any Dancing, playing at Dice or Cards, or any other Game, Masking, Wake, Shooting, Bowling, playing at Foot-ball or Stool-ball, Wrestling; or that shall make or resort unto any Plays, Interludes, Fencing, Bull-baiting, or Bear-baiting; or that shall use Hawking, Hunting, or Coursing, Fishing, or Fowling; or that shall publicly expose any wares to Sale, otherwise than as is provided by an Ordinance of Parliament of the 6 of April, 1644; any Person that shall travel upon the Lord's-day without reasonable Cause; any Person that keepeth a known Stews or Brothel-house, or that shall solicit the Chastity of any Person for himself or any other; any Person, Father or Mother, that shall consent to the Marriage of their Child to a Papist, or any Person that shall marry a Papist; any Person that shall repair for any Advice unto any Witch, Wizard, or fortune-teller; any Person that shall assault his Parents, or any Magistrate, Minister, or Elder, in the Execution of his Office; any Person that shall be legally attained of Barretry, Forgery, Extortion, or Bribery: And the several and respective Elderships shall have Power likewise to suspend from the Sacrament of the Lord's supper all Ministers that shall be duly proved to be guilty of any of the Crimes aforesaid, from giving or receiving the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Journal of the House of Lords, Vol. 7, 1644, pp. 649, 650).
Based upon this overwhelmingly clear evidence, any unbiased reader can readily determine that the Westminster Assembly substantially authored and agreed with this portion of the ordinance of Parliament. Notice that the degree of knowledge required for admission to the Lord's Table far exceeded the "simple profession of faith" espoused by Mr. Bacon. Also observe the multiplicity of items listed as terms of communion (i.e. uninspired beliefs and practices deduced from Scripture for which wilful or obstinate violation would result in admonition, suspension from the Lord's Table, and excommunication).
Contrary to the judgment of the Westminster Divines, Mr. Bacon says:
This point in the six terms of communion seems like a reasonable place to put something about a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. After all, in Acts 8:37, that was the only term of communion that Philip the evangelist seemed concerned to enforce (Defense Departed).
Finally Paul teaches that females who have been baptized into Christ are also communicant members of the Church (Richard Bacon, What Mean Ye By This Service, Appendix A).
How does Mr. Bacon account for the difference between his position and that of the Westminster Divines?
3. Furthermore, the following list (for a more complete list see Alexander Mitchell's, Catechisms of the Second Reformation, pp. lxxiiixci) of Catechism titles (15801648) serves an instructive purpose, allowing us to accurately determine the intent of the ministers of the First and Second Reformations who originated these documents. Notice the emphasis of the various authors upon the necessity of understanding the principal heads of religion prior to being admitted to the Lord's Table. From the titles cited below it should be abundantly clear that these ministers required much more than a simple profession of faith for admission to communion.
A Catechism and plain instruction for children which prepare themselves to communicate in the Holy Supper, yielding therein openly a reason of their faith according to the order of the French Church at London. Written in French by Monsieur Fountain, minister of the same church there, and lately translated into English by t.w. London, 1579. It has at the end an "Advertisement we are accustomed to give the Saturday going before the Supper at the prayers, to the end that every one may prepare himself as he ought to the worthy communicating and partaking thereof.
The Foundation of Christian Religion, gathered into six Principles. And it is to be learned of ignorant people that they may be fit to hear sermons with profit, and receive the Lord's Supper with comfort. Psalm 119.30. London, 1595. One of the earliest editions of Perkins' Catechism, whose name is signed at end of Preface.
A Short Catechism, being a brief instruction of the ignorant before the receiving of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper by Mr. Obadiah Sedgwick. London.
A Brief Catechism so necessary and easy to be learned even by the simple sort that whosoever cannot or will not attain to the same is not to be accounted a good Christian, much less to be admitted to the Supper of the Lord. London, 1582.
A Preparation unto the way of Life with a direction unto the right use of the Lord's Supper, gathered by William Hopkinson, Preacher of the Word of God. Imprinted at London, 1583.
Certain Short Questions and answers, very profitable and necessary for all young Children and such as are desirous to be instructed in the principles of the Christian Faith. Imprinted at London, 1584.
An Abridgment of the former treatise for the help of such as are desirous "to learn by heart the chief principles of Christian Religion." Certain Necessary Instructions meet to be taught the younger sort before they come to be partakers of the Holy Communion. To this is appended Certain Articles very necessary to be known of all young Scholars of Christ's School. The first is, "that the end of our creation is to glorify God."
A Short Catechism for examination of Communicants, etc. Like No. 6, modelled on Parliament's Ordinance. London, 1646.
E. 1185.-1. A New Catechism, etc., written by William Good, Minister at Denton in Norfolk (one of the added members of the Westminster Assembly). London, 1644. Like Larger Catechism, explains what communicants must do before receiving the Communion, what after he has received, and what at the time of receiving.
A Short Catechism necessary to be learned by all such as come to the Holy Communion, according to the late Ordinance of Parliament. . . Humbly commended by the author for uniformity's sake to all the Churches of England, by J. Mayer. D.D. London, 1646.
A Short and Fruitful Treatise of the profit and necessity of catechising, that is, of instructing the youth and ignorant persons in the principles and grounds of Christian Religion, by Robert Caudrey, one of the ministers and preachers of the Word of God in the County of Rutland. London, 1580. At the end of Caudrey's Treatise is a copy of the injunction of the High Commissioners, headed by Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury, and bearing the date of 1576, "that no youth be admitted to the Lord's table, or to be married, or to be godfather or godmother for any child except they can answer the Little Catechism with additions."
A Fruitful Treatise of Baptism and the Lord's Supper: of the use and effect of them; of the worthy and unworthy receivers of the same supper; very necessary for all such as are to be admitted to the Lord's table. Wogran, London.
A Short Catechism, very necessary for the plain understanding of the principal points of Christian Religion meet to be practised of all Christians before they be admitted to the Lord's Supper. Richard Cox, London, 1620.
A Catechism in brief questions and answers, containing such things as are to be known or had by all such as would partake of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper with comfort, by John Geree, sometime minister of the Word in Tewxbury, now pastor of St. Faith's. London 1647.
The Principles of Christian religion briefly set down in questions and answers, very necessary and profitable for all persons before they be admitted to the Lord's Supper, by William Attersol. London, 1635.
Th. 8vo, m. 56. Motives to Godly knowledge, with a brief instruction very necessary to be learned and understood of every one before he be admitted to partake of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, also a sweet comfort for a Christian being tempted. London, 1613.
A Light from Christ leading unto Christ by the star of his word, or A Divine Directory to self-examination, the better to prepare for a trial and approbation of knowledge and their graces in such as by the minister and elders are to be admitted into a Reformed Church Communion to partake of soul-cherishing virtue from Christ at the Lord's table; profitable for persons and families in private, or congregations in public; by Immanuel Bourne, M.A., of Asheover, in the County of Darby, Preacher of the Gospel to the congregation of St. Sepulchre's Church, London.
A short Catechism: Wherein are briefly handled the fundamental principles of the Christian Religion. Needful to be known by all Christians before they be admitted to the Lord's Table. William Gouge, 1635.
The Parliaments Rules and Directions concerning Sacramental Knowledge: Contained in an ordinance of the Lord's of Commons of the 20th of October 1645. Drawn into questions and answers. By Robert Austin D.D.
(All 19 references cited from Alexander Mitchell, Catechisms of the Second Reformation, 1886, SWRB reprint, 1996, pp. lxxiiixci., emphases added).
4. Next, I refer the reader to the Westminster Annotations and Commentary on the Whole Bible, where commenting upon the self examination required by God in
1 Corinthians 11:18, 28 they say:
V.18. [that there be no divisions among you] Or schisms. To celebrate the Lord's Supper aright, it is requisite that there be not only consent of doctrine, but also of discipline and affections, that it be not profaned.
V. 28. [examine himself ] Both concerning his spiritual state in general; whether he be a true member of Christ's mystical body. For none but such may eat his body, and drink his blood. And in special, whether he be a fit guest for so holy and heavenly a Table, whether he truly repent him of his sins, have a lively faith in Christ, be in charity with his neighbors, and is endued with a competent measure of knowledge to discern this heavenly food from other meat. This examination of mans self, is of necessity required in all that intend to receive communion, and therefore they ought not to be admitted to it, which cannot examine themselves as children, idiots, and madmen, and all such as either have no knowledge of Christ, or no competent measure thereof, though they profess the Christian Religion (The Westminster Annotations and Commentary on the Whole Bible  by some of the Westminster Divines and other Puritans, Gouge, Gataker, et al., cited from SWRB photocopy edition, Vol. 6 of 6, "Annotations on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians," SWRB reprint, 1997, double emphases added).
Again note, that even though one professes the Christian Religion, these divines require a "competent measure of knowledge" and "a consent of doctrine, discipline and affections" prior to admitting one to the Lord's Table. Mere profession is not enough. It is also interesting to further observe that the comments of the Westminster Annotations were identical to the notes of the Geneva Bible upon this point. Evidently, the Genevan commentators also do not agree with Mr. Bacon's position.
5. The First Book of Discipline was one of the primary documents of reformation in Scotland. Approved by the General Assembly in 1560, this statement of church policy and discipline was designed to guide the Scottish reformation of manners and practice to an ever increasing uniformity. This early statement of reformation principles exhibits the keen intellect and godly sincerity of its writers as they speak to the issue of ignorance at the Lord's Table.
All ministers must be admonished to be more careful to instruct the ignorant than ready to satisfy their appetites; and more sharp in examination than indulgent, in admitting to that great mystery such as are ignorant of the use and virtue of the same. And therefore we think that the administration of the Table ought never to be without that examination pass before, especially of those whose knowledge is suspect. We think that none are apt to be admitted to that mystery who cannot formally say the Lord's Prayer, the articles of the belief, and declare the sum of the law (First and Second Books Discipline, p. 94, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, emphases added).
This gives us a specific list of what the Church of Scotland required at the early stages of Reformation. This godly exhortation to be "more sharp in examination than indulgent" speaks directly to the tendency of lax ministers, who are more ready to satisfy the appetites of the people than instruct and protect the ignorant. To formally say the Lord's Prayer, the articles of belief, and declare the sum of the law is far more than a simple profession of faith and even at this earliest stage of reformation we can see that these men were entirely at variance with the principles of Mr. Bacon. Not even the most general statements of the First Book of Discipline will allow for the same doctrine as Mr. Bacon promotes.
6. Further specific evidence of the practice and understanding of the men of the Second Reformation regarding admission to the Lord's Table comes from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Session 10, Penult Maii [May GB], 1592:
Forasmuch as at the special desire of the Kirk, a form of examination before communion was penned and formed by their brother Mr. John Craig, which is now imprinted and allowed by the voice of the Assembly; Therefore, it is thought needful that every Pastor travail with his flock, that they might buy the same book and read it in their families, whereby they may be better instructed, and that the same be read and learned in doctor's schools in place of the little catechism (Alexander Peterkin, The Booke of the Universal Kirk of Scotland, 1839, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 359, emphases added).
David Calderwood adds:
This form of Examination before the Communion, penned by Mr. Craig, was allowed by this Assembly; and ministers willed to recommend it to their flocks, and to families, and to be learned in LectureSchools instead of catechism (David Calderwood, The True History of the Church of Scotland, 1678, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 268, emphases added).
The full text of this "form of examination before communion" can be found in Appendix D ( it is also available for free on the Still Waters Revival Books web page). A careful reading of this examination reveals what a far cry Mr. Bacon's doctrine is from that of John Knox, John Craig, Robert Bruce [Moderator of the General Assembly of 1592 GB], Andrew Melville, Robert Rollock among many other early Scottish reformers. Notice also, how much these men differ from requiring a simple profession of faith (such as that of the Ethiopian eunuch) as the only term of communion. As the reader examines the headings of the communion exam, and considers the extensive knowledge required by these 96 questions (Appendix D), he will see that the doctrine of Mr. Bacon is a far cry, not only from the doctrine of the Church of Scotland, but also from the truth of God's word which they faithfully upheld.
The Heads of the Form of Examination before Communion 96 questions
I. Of Our Miserable Bondage Through Adam 6 questions.
2. Of Our Redemption by Christ 9 questions.
3. Of Our Participation with Christ 11 questions.
4. Of the Word 7 questions.
5. Of Our Liberty to Serve God 12 questions.
6. Of the Sacraments 11 questions.
7. Of Baptism 10 questions.
8. Of the Supper 9 questions.
9. Of Discipline 5 questions.
10. Of the Magistrate 1 question.
11. Of the Table in Special 9 questions.
12. The End of Our Redemption 2 questions.
Mr. Bacon arrogantly says he requires, "the simple profession of faith of the Ethiopian eunuch and of Peter," while the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1592) requires a form of examination that has 96 questions upon the major heads of doctrine. This is hard evidence that cannot be ignored or explained away. Unless Mr. Bacon wishes to equate a simple profession of faith with this 96 question examination before communion, he must admit that he and our Scottish reformers believe different things regarding terms of communion. The practice of our modern churches, in allowing almost anyone who makes a simple profession of faith to come to the Lord's Table, is a grievous sin against Him who instituted this means of grace. Our modern malignants who, like Mr. Bacon, upon pretence of superior wisdom and toleration, teach that true communion can exist apart from the truth itself, forget that the wisdom that comes from above is first pure and then peaceable. We must protect ourselves from those who, for the sake of peace and unity, assault us by their willingness to reduce the just requirements of God's word to the lowest common denominator.
John Calvin comments:
Teachers who discharge their duties honestly and sincerely are like builders, who, if they see a breach in a wall, instantly and carefully repair it.... For God, indeed, offers us peace, and invites us to reconciliation by his own prophets; but on this condition, that they make war with their own lusts. This then, is one way of being at peace with God by becoming enemies to ourselves, and fighting earnestly against the depraved and vicious desires of the flesh. But how do false prophets preach peace? Why! so that miserable and abandoned men may sleep in the midst of their sins. We must diligently attend, then, to this difference, that we may safely embrace the peace which is offered us by true prophets, and be on guard against the snares of those who fallaciously flatter us with peace, because under promise of reconciliation they foment hostilities between God and ourselves (Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12, pp. 20, 21, Baker Book House, emphases added)
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (James 3:17, AV).
7. A commission of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in October of 1651 to write an article entitled, Causes of the Lord's Wrath Against Scotland (the primary author being James Guthrie). Therein they explain the causes why the Lord was contending with the land, and they offer advice on how to properly deal with Scotland's significant guilt. In the following section they point out that a major cause of God's wrath upon the land stemmed from a unfaithful latitudinarian admission to the Lord's Table.
As to the other, how the rule of the word and constitutions of this kirk are kept in this particular, it needs not much be spoken, the transgression being so palpable and common, that they who run may read. These particular faults may be taken notice of in order to this point:
1. To say nothing that, in some places, few or none are at all excluded for ignorance, but that persons being once come to such an age are admitted, and, being once admitted, are never again excluded, there is, in many congregations, little or no care to examine, or take any notice of the knowledge of all persons indifferently, something being done in reference to servants and those of the poorer sort, but masters of families and those of the richer sort for the most part neglected, taking it for granted (as it were) that they have knowledge, when indeed many of them are grossly ignorant, and ought because of their ignorance to be debarred.
2. That the bare repeating of the Lord's prayer, the belief [The Apostle's Creed GB], or ten commandments, or answering a question or two of the catechism by rotetime (as we say) when nothing of the meaning is understood, is by many taken for knowledge sufficient (The Causes of the Lord's Wrath Against Scotland, 1653, cited in The Works of George Gillespie, 1846 edition, Still Waters Revival Books, reprinted 1991, Vol. 2, p. 16, emphases added).
Notice the similarity in language between the passages cited in Causes of the Lord's Wrath, and The First Book of Discipline. In 1560, the Church of Scotland says, "We think that none are apt to be admitted to that mystery who cannot formally say the Lord's Prayer, the articles of the belief, and declare the sum of the law." In 1651 this commission to the General Assembly further defines what was meant by this statement affirming that the bare repeating of the Lord's prayer, the belief, or ten commandments, or answering a question or two of the catechism by rotetime when nothing of the meaning is understood is not considered adequate and is rather deemed a lamentable cause of God's wrath in Scotland. Again, we see that the knowledge requirements of the Church of Scotland are far more than what Mr. Bacon (or the majority of backslidden churches in the world today) plead.
By means of these proofs I have completed that which I had intended to establish. By an examination of historical evidence the original intent of the framers of the Westminster standards, as it pertains to the meaning of the word "ignorance," has been clearly revealed. From the documents of the First and Second Reformations we may reasonably conclude the following:
1. The attitude of all faithful elders ought to be "be more careful to instruct the ignorant than ready to satisfy their appetites; and more sharp in examination than indulgent" (First Book of Discipline).
2. All baptized persons, when they come to age and discretion are not admitted to the Lord's Table; but such only as either upon examination are found to have a competent measure of knowledge in the principles of religion (Alexander Henderson, The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 39, emphases added).
3. The bare repeating of the Lord's prayer, the [articles of GB] belief, or ten commandments, or answering a question or two of the catechism by rotetime when nothing of the meaning is understood is not considered adequate (The Causes of the Lord's Wrath Against Scotland, cited from The Works of George Gillespie, p. 16, Still Waters Revival Books, emphases added).
4. Forasmuch as at the special desire of the Kirk, a [96 question GB] form of examination before communion was penned and formed by their brother Mr. John Craig, which is now imprinted and allowed by the voice of the Assembly (Alexander Peterkin,The Booke of the Universal Kirk of Scotland, 1839, p. 359, emphases added).
5. The Westminster Assembly undoubtedly defined what they meant by the term "ignorant" when they answered the question of Parliament as to what constituted a "competent measure of knowledge" necessary to worthily attend the Lord's Table. Their answer displays their mutual agreement upon the need for elders to carefully examine the basic knowledge of prospective communicants prior to admitting them to communion.
6. An examination of the titles of the Short Catechisms of the First and Second Reformation unquestionably indicates that their author's intended purpose was to use them as a means of instruction, and a test of competent knowledge for the members of the church prior to admitting them to the Lord's Supper.
7. According to the writers of the Westminster Annotations (Mr. Ley, Dr. Gouge, Meric Casaubon, Francis Taylor, Dr, Reynolds, Mr. Smallwood, Mr. Gataker, Mr. Pemberton, Dr. D. Featly etc.), even though one professes the Christian Religion, it is requisite that a "competent measure of knowledge" and "a consent of doctrine, discipline and affections" be ascertained by the eldership prior to admitting one to the Lord's Table. Mere profession is not enough.
Mr. Bacon says:
This point in the six terms of communion seems like a reasonable place to put something about a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. After all, in Acts 8:37, that was the only term of communion that Philip the evangelist seemed concerned to enforce (Defense Departed, emphases added).
Those who profess to uphold the Westminster standards while promoting a lax definition of the word "ignorance" are either ignorant themselves, or blatantly dishonest about their commitment to their own profession. Men who have taken vows to rule in the house of the Lord, while failing to honor their commitment with integrity, should be withdrawn from until such time as they manifest their repentance. Mr. Bacon is such a man.
Mr. Bacon's latitudinarian scheme falls directly under the definition of heresy penned by numerous Orthodox Divines.
I find the most Learned Orthodox Divines hold, That there are substantial Articles of Faith, that are not so great Articles, as the Author's Fundamentals; And yet the maintaining and teaching Errors contrary to any of these substantial Articles, is HERESY, and brings Damnation, as the Learned Mr. Rutherford in his Examen. Arminianismi Page 12. says Tho' an Article of Faith be but suprafundamental, that is, by evident necessary Consequence Deduced from the Fundamental, as a Doctrine from a Text, an Error that is maintained and taught contrary to this consequential Article of Faith; is Damnable. i.e. brings Damnation; because whoever denieth the evident necessary Consequent, by the same Reason he denys the Antecedent, which is a Fundamental Article beyond all Controversie. And Turretin holds the same, in Theolog. Elenct. Part 1. Page 56: in arguing against Papists. Mr. Gillespie in his Miscellany Questions Chap. 9. Page: 111, 112. saith, Heresy is not so far to be taken at large, as to be extended to every Error which may be confuted by Scripture; altho' happily such an Error to be too tenaciously maintained: Nor yet is it to be so far restricted, as that no Error shall be accounted Heretical; but that which is Destructive to some Fundamental Article of the Christian Faith; If by Fundamental Article you understand a Truth, without the Knowledge and Faith whereof 'tis impossible to get Salvation: But if you understand by Fundamental Truths, all the chief Substantial Truths. I mean not, saith he, the A. B. C. of a Catechism [this most likely is a reference to The A. B. C. or A Catechism for Young Children appointed by the Act of the Church and Council of Scotland to be learned in all families and Lector Schools in the said Kingdom, 1644 GB) which we first of all put to New Beginners; but I mean all such Truths as are commonly put in the Confessions of Faith, and in the more full and large Catechisms of the Reformed Churches, or all such Truths as all and every one who live in a true Christian Reformed Church, are commanded and required to learn and know, as they expect in the ordinary Dispensation of GOD to be saved, in this sense I may yield, says he, that Heresie is always contrary to some Fundamental Truth: And in the 112 Page he Cites Wallaeus, Tom. 1. Page 57. Calvin: Institute: Lib. 4. cap. 2. Sect. 5. and Peter Martyr, Loc. commun: Class 2.cap. 4. Sect. 60. who all hold the same. And Augustin and Cyprian did thus understand Heresy, as Calvin in his Institutions Lib. 4 cap. 2. Observes. And Learned Ravanel in his Bibliotheca Sacra, Part 1. Page 702. Saith, An Heretick is one who having been instructed in the Principles of Faith, not only erreth in some Article or Head of true Faith, but also pertinaciously insists in his Error, breaks the Peace of the Church, and produceth Scandals against the Doctrine we have learned, and is to be avoided, Rom. 16:17. Thus he. By all which it is plain, both by Scripture and the Judgment of Orthodox Divines; That Men who teach and pertinaciously maintain an Error, contrary to any Substantial Article of true Faith, are Hereticks to be avoided, and shunned as Wolves among Christ's Sheep (Protestors Vindicated, 1716, Still Waters Revival Books, 1997, p. 105, emphases added).
I have now proved that Mr. Bacon's doctrine regarding admission to the Lord's Table is a subversion of a fundamental truth. His teaching differs so significantly from the Larger Catechism (as well as numerous other faithful standards) that we must judge his departure from the truth as a serious and notable heresy which has the effect of undermining and destroying the very confessional standards he professes to own. Accordingly, he should be withdrawn from and avoided until such time as he manifests both repentance and restitution.
Earlier, I stated that each person who makes a simple, credible profession of faith and is free of gross scandal is a member of the universal visible church.
Samuel Rutherford comments:
...if the profession be not grossly and knowingly hypocritical and their coming in be not for byends and to betray the cause, but morally ingenuous and negatively sincere the church is to receive such, and is not forbidden to admit them as members (Samuel Rutherford, Survey of the Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline, 1658, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 14)
Visible church members possess a visible right to the signs and the seals of the Covenant of Grace, viz., Baptism and the Lord's Supper. I also stated that simple possession of the "right" doesn't automatically qualify one to exercise it lawfully. Those who "possess" the right to the covenant seal of Baptism may, immediately, by virtue of their simple profession and freedom from scandal, "exercise" their right and have that seal administered. As we have already observed, those who "possess" the right to the Lord's Table must pass further examination regarding both knowledge and practice before being admitted.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ (Ephesians 4:11-15, AV, emphases added).
1. Positive agreement As formerly noted and unquestionably manifested, the short catechisms authored during the period of the First and Second Reformations served as an extensive form of examination which surveyed a prospective communicants knowledge of the major heads of religion. Though these Catechitical examinations were practically applied to greater and lesser degrees (depending upon the faithfulness of individual elders), they nevertheless, exemplify the emphasis placed upon the requisite positive agreement (in doctrine and practice) necessary for admission to communion. If we as elders would hold fast the form of sound words, adhere to the godly example set by faithful reformers of the past, and uphold our sworn duties, many would lawfully enjoy this means of grace while keeping themselves free from the condemnation associated with eating and drinking unworthily. On the other hand, if we as elders desert our calling and put on the garment of slothfulness, we will lead our beloved flocks into a sin where, "many are weak and sickly among us, and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:30). To positively determine that someone is too ignorant to come to the Lord's Table is an act of love that displays a godly watchfulness for souls. To fail to do so will bring the sword of God down upon both unfaithful leaders and their congregations.
But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand (Ezekiel 33:6, AV).
George Gillespie explains:
Now, that the admission of scandalous and notorious sinners to the sacrament, in a reformed and constituted church, is a profanation or pollution of that ordinance, may be thus proved First, Paraeus upon question 82 in the Heidelberg Catechism, where it is affirmed, that by the admission of scandalous sinners to the sacrament, the covenant of God is profaned, giveth this reason for it: Because, as they who, having no faith nor repentance, if they take the seals of the covenant, do thereby profane the covenant; so they who consent to known wicked and scandalous persons' taking of the seals, or to their coming to the sacrament, do, by such consenting, make themselves guilty of profaning the covenant of God (for the doer and the consenter fall under the same breach of law) (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 254, emphases added).
He [Mr. Prynne GB] tells us, that the minister only gives the sacrament, and the unworthy receiving is the receiver's own personal act and sin. [Gillespie answers GB] 1. He begs again and again what is in question. 2. There is an unworthy giving, as well as an unworthy receiving. The unworthy giving is a sinful act of the minister, which makes him also accessory to the sin of unworthy receiving, and so partake of other mens sins (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 229, emphases added).
... for if the saying of God speed to a false teacher, make us partakers of his evil deed, 2 John 10, how much more doth the admitting of such or the like scandalous sinners to the Lord's Table, make (I say not all who communicate then and there, but) all who consent to their admission, to be partakers of their evil deeds (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 53).
Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger (Proverbs 19:15, AV).
Undeniably, these are serious considerations which no faithful elder of God will want to take lightly. What then should be chosen by faithful elders? How much positive agreement is enough?
John Calvin eloquently sets forth the importance of formal positive agreement as he writes about the relationship between catechisms and communion in his dedication to the Catechism of the Church of Geneva written to the faithful ministers of Christ throughout East Friesland.
Writings of a different class will show what were our views on all subjects in religion, but the agreement which our churches had in doctrine cannot be seen with clearer evidence than from catechisms. For therein will appear, not only what one man or other once taught, but with what rudiments learned and unlearned alike amongst us, were constantly imbued from childhood, all the faithful holding them as their formal symbol of Christian communion. This was indeed my principal reason for publishing this catechism (John Calvin, Calvin's Selected Works, Vol.2, Tracts, Part 2, p. 35, emphases added).
Furthermore, if we have vowed to uphold the Westminster Standards then faithfulness and honesty dictate that we must interpret them as they were originally intended. Alexander Mitchell has accurately explained that the advise of the Westminster Assembly regarding "a competent measure of knowledge" was embodied in the ordinance of parliament [Oct. 20, 1645] and was "soon after made the basis of various catechisms intended to prepare the catechumens for Communion" (Alexander Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly, Its History and Standards, 1883, reprinted 1992, p. 291, emphases added). Knowing that our faithful forefathers prepared catechumens for communion through the use of various catechisms agreeable to the Word of God and based upon the godly advise and practice of the Westminster Assembly we may reasonably determine that their best Short Catechism would be our wisest choice for use in preparing and examining catechumens in our present circumstances.
Alexander Mitchell comments:
The Shorter Catechism contains, as I have already explained, more of the materials of the catechism partially passed by the Assembly in 1646, but not in a shape which brings them nearer to the form of Palmer's original work. On the contrary, it is a thoroughly Calvinistic and Puritan catechism, the ripest fruit of the Assembly's thought and experience, maturing and finally fixing the definitions of theological terms to which Puritanism for half a century had been leading up and gradually coming closer and closer in its legion of catechisms (Alexander Mitchell, Catechisms of the Second Reformation, 1886, p. xxvii., SWRB bound photocopy, emphases added).
Add to this the further testimony of the guiding principle used by the Assembly in constructing this "ripest fruit of the Assemblies thought and experience":
The guiding principle of the [Westminster GB] Assembly and its Committee in its composition [of the Shorter Catechism GB] was that announced by Dr. Seaman in one of the earliest debates about it, viz., "That the greatest care should be taken to frame the answer not according to the model of the knowledge the child hath, but according to that the child ought to have" (Alexander Mitchell, Catechisms of the Second Reformation, 1886, p. xxx., SWRB bound photocopy, emphases added).
Guided by the collective wisdom of the Westminster Assembly and seeing that their desire was to prepare a Catechism "according to the model of knowledge a child ought to have" considering the fact that the previous legions of short catechisms
had been penned for the purpose of instruction and examination so that the weak and ignorant would be made ready to worthily partake of the Lord's Table observing that this subordinate standard is agreeable to the Word of God and consistent with the vows we have sworn to uphold we may reasonablby conclude that the Shorter Catechism is our wisest choice for use in preparing, examining, and admitting others to partake of the Lord's Supper. Accordingly, the session of the PRCE determined to positively require people to have a competent knowledge of the Shorter Catechism before coming to the Lord's Table. By this means, we require communicants to have enough knowledge, upon the principal heads of religion, to adequately prepare for communion and discern the Lord's body. In addition to a competent understanding of the principal heads of the Shorter Catechism we require a general understanding of the nature, substance, and use of our terms of communion (this will more fully described in the following sections [on negative agreement] where I will demonstrate that these additional requirements were commonly acknowledged and practiced by the faithful ministers of the First and Second Reformation). By these means, communicants are required to be aware of their Covenant obligations and the terms by which the church is ruled. Is this requiring more than the Word of God requires? Is this asking more than the faithful standards of the First and Second Reformation? No, we believe that what the reformers required children to understand before attending the Lord's Table may necessarily be required of new converts and every member of the visible church. We have no desire to see anyone fail this examination, neither do we desire to have anyone pass who is not yet ready. We desire only to be faithful to the Word of God in executing our duties, and honoring the trust which God has committed to the officers of the Church.
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean (Leviticus 10:10, AV).
Therefore thus saith the LORD, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them (Jeremiah 15:19, AV).
The huge majority of the Reformed Churches across North America ignore the requirements of the Confession and Catechisms they profess to uphold. When was the last time you heard of a session refusing anyone access to the Lord's Table for lack of sufficient knowledge?
Dear reader, carefully consider the testimony of George Gillespie as he describes his own ministry and that of the faithful ministry of the Church of Scotland at the time of the Second Reformation:
I dare say divers thousands have been kept off from the sacrament in Scotland, as unworthy to be admitted. Where I myself have excercised my ministry there have been some hundreds kept off; partly for ignorance, and partly for scandal. The order of the Church of Scotland, and the Acts of General Assemblies, are for keeping off all scandalous persons; which every godly and faithful minister doth conscientiously and effectually endeavour. And if, here or there, it be too much neglected by some Archippus, who takes not heed to fulfil the ministry which he hath received of the Lord, let him and his eldership bear the blame and answer for it (George Gillespie, The Works of George Gillespie, Nihil Respodes, 1642, reprinted in 1991 [SWRB] from the 1846 edition, Vol. 1, p.12, emphases added).
When was the last time you heard of someone being barred from the communion table for promoting a scandalous doctrine or living in a scandalous sin? Have you ever had communion with professing believers who openly deny articles of faith contained within faithful Reformed Confessions or Catechisms of the Church? Have you ever wondered why visitors are permitted to come to the Lord's Supper with little or no examination of their profession (in word or deed) of the truth.
Those elders who allow this are in reality saying, "peace, peace" when there is no peace; they say, "we are one in the Lord," when in reality they are "many in the Lord." Ignorance abounds, and those who contradict one another in the church foyer over matters of confessional orthodoxy, come 30 minutes later to jointly profess their "agreement in Christ" at the Lord's Table. Reformed, Catholics, Baptists, Charismatics, etc., each making a simple profession of faith, join together at the Lord's Table, professing before God and the world that they, "all speak the same thing," and are "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1Cor. 1:10) when in reality they are testifying before both God and man to a lie. That is not honest! How can they glorify God at the Lord's Table when they are simultaneously involved in a high handed violation of the ninth commandment? Bearing a true witness for Christ does not involve "agreeing to disagree" on points of confessional orthodoxy. The Larger Catechism states that the ninth commandment requires, "the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice." How can those who "agree to disagree in matters of confessional orthodoxy," glorify God when they profane His ordinance and offend Him to his face at His own table?
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands (Ecclesiastes 5:46, AV)?
Has the PRCE gone too far? Are our knowledge requirements too high and unreasonable for professing Christians? No, on the contrary, these requirements are precisely what we have covenanted to uphold. When we in the PRCE subscribe our Confession of Faith and Catechisms as being subordinate rules of faith, agreeable to the Word of God, we vow to bar the ignorant and scandalous from the Lord's Table. Those who fail to uphold their ordination vows are perjured, timeserving watchmen. Those, like Mr. Bacon, who teach that a simple profession of faith is all that is required to come to the Lord's Table, fill the people of God with vain imaginations and seduce them into a false sense of security amidst a great deal of danger.
Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered morter: Say unto them which daub it with untempered morter, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it (Ezekiel 13: 10,11, AV).
John Calvin judiciously comments upon this passage:
Here the Spirit signifies that the false prophets should be subject to the greatest ridicule, when they shall be convicted by the event, and their lies shall be proved by clear proof. Hence, also, we may gather the utility of the doctrine which Paul teaches, that we must stand bravely when God gives the reins to impostors to disturb or disperse the Church (Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12, p. 21, Baker Book House).
Please read carefully as J. A. Wylie describes how John Calvin was willing to practice what he preached, setting a godly example for all elders and ministers to follow.
The customary hour of public worship was now come [the Lord's Day, September 3, 1553 GB]. The great bell Clemence had tolled its summons. The throng of worshippers on their way to the cathedral had rolled past, and now the streets, which had resounded with their tread, were empty and silent. Over city, plain, and lake there brooded a deep stillness. It was around the pulpit of St. Peter's, and the man with pale face, commanding eye, and kingly brow who occupied it, that the heart of Geneva palpitated. The church was filled with an uneasy crowd. On the benches of the Consistory sat, unmoved, the pastors and elders, resolved to bear the greatest violence rather than not do their duty. A confused noise was heard within the temple. The congregation opened with difficulty, and a numerous band of men, of all ranks, their hands upon their swordhilts, force their way in presence of the holy table. The elite of the Libertines had decided to communicate. Berthier did not appear as yet. He reserved himself till the last moment. Calvin, calm as ever, rose to begin the service. He could not but see the Libertines in the vast congregation before him but he seemed as if he saw them not. He preached on the state of mind with which the Lord's Supper ought to be received. At the close, raising his voice, he said, "As for me, so long as God shall leave me here, since he hath given me fortitude, and I have relieved it from him, I will employ it, whatever betide; and I will guide myself by my Master's rule, which is to me clear and well known. As we are now to receive the Holy Supper of the Lord Jesus Christ, if anyone who has been debarred by the Consistory shall approach this table, though it should cost my life, I will show myself such as I ought to be." When the liturgies were concluded, Calvin came down from the pulpit and took his stand before the table. Lifting up the white napkin he displayed the symbols of Christ's body and blood, the food destined for believing souls. Having blessed the bread and the wine, he was about to distribute them to the congregation. At that moment their was a movement among the Libertines as if they would seize the bread and the cup. The Reformer, covering the sacred symbols with his hands, exclaimed in a voice that rang through the edifice, "These hands you may crush; and these arms you may lop off; my life you may take; my blood is yours you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profane, and dishonor the table of my God." These words broke like a thunder peal over the Libertines. As if an invisible power had flung back the ungodly host, they slunk away unabashed, the congregation opening a passage for their retreat. A deep calm succeeded and the, "sacred ordinance," says Beza, "was celebrated with profound silence, and under a solemn awe in all present, as if the Deity himself had been visible among them (J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, 1878, Vol. 2, p. 327, emphases added).
Are your elders committed to saying, "These hands you may crush; and these arms you may lop off; my life you may take; my blood is yours you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profane, and dishonor the table of my God?" Is that the norm in the PCA, OPC, RPCNA, and First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett? We, as elders and members, must pray that we are not found among those who promiscuously offer the Lord's Supper to the ignorant and scandalous.
Thomas M'Crie comments,
A vague and erratic charity, which soars above fixed principles of belief, looks down with neglect on external ordinances, and spurns the restraint of ordinary rules, whether it seeks to include all Christians within its catholic embrace, or confines itself to those of a favorite class, is a very feeble and precarious bond of union. True Christian charity is the daughter of truth, and fixes her objects "for the truth's sake which dwells in them" (cf. 2 John 2). (Thomas M'Crie, Unity of the Church, 1821, reprinted in 1989 by Presbyterian Heritage Publications, p. 25).
2. Negative agreement
While it is impossible to understand all that is included in either God's Word or the Church's subordinate standards, it is necessary, to both communion and church membership, that an agreement be obtained in which the prospective member consents to being ruled by the Church's standards.
Thomas M'Crie explains that such agreement is necessary to the stability and preservation of any society:
The exercise of authority and government is necessary as a bond of union and a basis of stability, in all societies. By means of it, the largest communities, and even many nations, may be made to coalesce and become one, under the same political government. And can any good reason be assigned for supposing that the Church of Christ should be destitute of this bond, or that it should not be necessary to her union as a visible society? If every family has its economy and discipline, if every kingdom has its form of government and laws, shall we suppose that the most perfect of all societies, "the house of the living God" (1 Tim. 3:15), and "the kingdom of heaven," should be left by her divine Head without that which so evidently tends to the maintenance of her faith, the purity and regularity of her administrations, and the order, subordination, unity, and peace which ought to reign among all her members? Whatever is necessary to her government, and the preserving of her order and purity, either is expressly enjoined in Scripture, or may be deduced, by native inference, from the general rules and the particular examples which are recorded in it (Thomas M'Crie, Unity of the Church, 1821, reprinted in 1989 by Presbyterian Heritage Publications, p. 24)
Opposition to church standards is the greatest source of strife and division in the church, and as M'Crie just pointed out, standards are necessary for the preservation and orderly government of God's people. Without securing agreement to abstain (negative agreement) from obstinately and wilfully opposing the standards of the church how can we expect peace or preserve order? Should we invite those to membership or communion who overtly declare the opposite of our principles? Should we say to them, "Since you are relatively ignorant about what our church teaches, you may speak against our articles of faith at will; you may teach our children whatever you please. Since our standards contain too much for you to understand, you may ignore them, oppose us at any point or teach contrary to their meaning and we will be happy to have communion with you?" This, of course, is absurd, and I would not even mention it were it not for the fact that most of our nation's churches commune together on similar principles. "Let's keep to the fundamentals" is the slogan of the day and "let's agree to disagree on everything else" appears to have become the only commandment these churches are seriously willing to enforce. Anybody who speaks up against these modern day "cliches" are habitually judged as schismatic and divisive. Never committing to what the fundamentals are, this system of toleration degenerates into an indefinite system of arbitrary tyranny. Instead of the "whole counsel of God" we are left with the "half counsel of men." Under the pretence of genuine concern for their fellow brethren, these schismatics slither their way into sessions, and set out to fundamentally neutralise the standards of faith that have faithfully served the Church of Christ for hundreds of years thus they subvert the unity of the church and sin against the body of Christ.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1, AV).
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God (Psalms 78:5-8, AV).
Mr. Bacon says,
Let it simply be recorded that the Act, Declaration and Testimony is itself a book over 200 pages and expatiates in Steelite terms the Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland From the Year 1638 to the Year 1649, Inclusive. That book contains an additional 500 plus pages of historical rulings, acts and testimonies. Of course, that material contains references to still other material, etc.
If that amount of reading seems to our readers like a tremendous overhead to require of Christians before admitting them to the Lord's Table, then our readers agree with us (Defense Departed, emphases added).
While total familiarity with these documents is not required, general familiarity with their substance, nature and use is. Those who are unfamiliar with God's Word, or our church's standards (which agree with God's Word) may be likened to those who are unfamiliar with the laws and practices of the nation. Whether the people of the land are familiar with all the civil law or not, they are ruled according to its statutes, and are required to obey its precepts. Those, like Mr. Bacon, who would attempt to misrepresent us by implying that we require people to read and understand hundreds of pages of documents are simply being irresponsible. This foolish argument could be used even if an acknowledgement of the Word of God to be the alone infallible rule of faith and practice were our only term of communion. I can almost hear Mr. Bacon saying, "How dare you require an acknowledgement of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and the alone infallible rule of faith and practice. You are requiring people to read and understand hundreds of pages to be able to come to the Lord's Table. If that amount of reading seems to our readers like a tremendous overhead to require of Christians before admitting them to the Lord's Table, then our readers agree with us." This sentiment practically refutes itself, but for the sake of those swayed by such sophomoric babble I will continue with an explanation.
Let us assume that we live in a land with a legitimate civil government and that we are ruled by common law and precedent (which is true of most western nations) which are, in effect, civil terms of communion. These civil terms of communion fill whole libraries. These terms externally bind us to obedience whether each of us has read every book in the whole law library or not. Those accused of civil crimes are brought before a judge who is intimately familiar with the "civil terms of communion" in the land. After listening to the historical testimony of two or three witness, who previously were "covenanted" to tell the whole truth, the judge proceeds to examine other "historical testimony" (precedent), comparing it with the fundamental laws of the land (confession of faith). If found guilty, these criminals are excluded from communion with others, separated from society, and put into prison until such time as restitution and hopefully repentance occur. Are we required to know every law in the land to be able to commune with our fellow man in civil society? No, of course not. Those, however, who are called to rule over us are expected to rule according to the laws of the land and are expected to judge equitably based upon those standards. These "terms of civil communion" are not laid aside simply because they are too much for each man to know. Each individual in society must be acquainted with enough law to coexist peacefully with others. They are expected to negatively comply with the laws of the land that they have not yet read nor yet fully understand. If at any time they study the law and are convinced of its error they are obliged to bring about reform by orderly change.
Similarly, in the church, we find that over the course of history our confession and testimony for truth has grown larger.
The truth does not change. But the Church's understanding of the truth enlarges. And hence the creed of the fourth century will not meet the wants of the nineteenth century, any more than the coat worn by the boy of six years, will fit a full grown man (Rev. J. M. Foster, Distinctive Principles of the Covenanters, 1892, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 4).
The Acts of General Assembly, and judicial testimonies of the church do not fill whole libraries, but they are over a thousand pages long. Is it required that everybody who comes to the communion table read and understand everything in all of those documents? Of course not. Is that any excuse to set aside all the just rulings of past assemblies? Is that any reason to throw away their lawful historical judgments and faithful practical testimony? No! Our elders are constantly studying these documents in order to apply them consistently throughout our congregations. We do not believe we have to throw out hundreds of years of faithful testimony simply because it's a lot to understand. Our communicants are required to have a general knowledge of what is contained in these documents, and they must understand why these documents in all their faithful judgments still bind them. Like civil court judges, our elders are expected to judge consistently with former judicial acts, declarations, and testimonies, provided they are agreeable to God's Word. Mr. Bacon is again "up to his old tricks" of misrepresentation. He wishes to make it appear that we require everybody to have the same level of understanding as our judges. That is both unrealistic and absurd. We require each communicant to understand enough doctrine (a competent understanding of theShorter Catechism) to meet the communion qualifications set down in Scripture, and have a general understanding of each of our church standards so that we may peacefully study and pursue agreement in the truth. Prospective members are informed before joining that they will be ruled according to all that has been explicitly published, and they are encouraged to grow in understanding of all this faithful testimony. This has proved to be both edifying and attainable for all who have presently come for examination. While we encourage our members to grow in a better understanding of all these things, we have never counselled anyone to implicitly accept something with which they disagree. Although new members of the PRCE have varying degrees of knowledge of our terms of communion, they are encouraged to compare our subordinate standards at every point with our supreme standard the Word of God. If questions or doubts arise along the way, the elders are always available to instruct patiently such earnest sheep.
Not only do we encourage all prospective members to thoroughly examine our church standards by God's Word, but additionally we caution them against blindly accepting the opinion of the pastors or elders of this or any church. In regard to this, the substance of what we tell our prospective members is recorded in the book entitled, Protesters no Subverters, and is well summarized in the following statements:
Whatsoever reverence or dignity is by the Spirit of God in the Scriptures given, whether to the Priests, or Prophets, or Apostles, or their Successors, all of it is given, not properly to Men themselves, but to the Ministry wherewith they are clothed, or to speak more expeditly, the Ministry whereof is committed unto them, Exod. 3:4. and 14: 31. Deut. 17: 9,10. Mal 2: 4,6. Ezek. 3:17. Jer. 23:28. and 1:6. Matth. 28:19. Acts.15:10.
2ndly, That as their Authority is founded upon, and wholly derived from the Word of God; so in the Administration and Exercise thereof, they are in all things to walk according to this Rule, Isa. 8:19, 20. Mal. 2:6,7. Matth. 28:19.
3rdly, That Churchpower is not a Lordly and Magistratical Power, but a lowly and Ministerial Power, and not an absolute Autocratorick, but a limited and hyperetick Power; and that Church Decrees and Sentences are all of the REGULAE REGULATAE, Rules that are Subordinated, and do not bind but in the Lord, and so far as they are conform to that first inflexible and unerring Rule prescribed by himself, Luke 22:25,26,27. 1 Pet. 5:2,3. 2 Tim. 3:15, 16, 17. 1 Thess. 5:12. Eph. 6:1. (and Pag. 96).
4thly. That all Church Judicatures whether Congregational Elderships, or Presbyteries or Synods, Provincial, National or Ecumenical, being constituted of Men, that are weak frail and ignorant in Part, are in their Determinations fallible and subject to Error, Isa. 40:6,7,8. Rom. 3:4 1 Cor. 13:9,12.
5thly. That in so far as any of these do actually err and decline they do in so far act without Power and Authority from Jesus Christ, they may do nothing by his Commission against the Truth, but for the Truth, 2 Cor. 13:8. The power that he hath given is to Edification and not to Destruction.
6thly. That sad Experience almost in every Generation doth teach us, That church Guides and Church Judicatures do often times decline from the straight Ways of the LORD and decree unrighteous Decrees, and write grievous things, which they have prescribed, Isa. 9:15,16. Jer 8:8,9. Mal 2:8,9. Jer 2:8. And that whilest they are boasting of the Authority given to them of GOD, and of their Skill in the Law, and professing to walk according thereto, they are perverting the precious Truths of GOD, and persecuting these who adhere thereto, Jer 18:18. Isa 66:5. Job 7:48, 49.
7thly. (in Pag. 97) The same LORD who hath commanded us not to despise Prophesying, 1Thess 5:19. hath also commanded us, to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. Ver. 20. And not to believe every Spirit, but to try the Spirits whether they be of God, because many false Prophets are gone forth into the World. Job 4:1. And that whatsoever is not of Faith is Sin, Rom 14:15. And that we ought not to be Servants of Men. 1 Cor 7:23. That is, to do things, especially in the Matters of GOD, for which we have no other Warrant, but the mere pleasure and Will of Men, which the Apostle calls living to the Lusts of Men, and not to the Will of God, 1 Pet. 4:2. And it is therefore both the Duty and privilege of every Church Member to examine by the Judgment of Discretion every thing that the Church Judicatory injoineth, whether it be agreeable or repugnant to the Rule or the Word; and if, after a diligent and impartial Search, it be found repugnant, they are not to bring their Conscience in Bondage thereto. Protestant Divines, (de Judice Controversiarum), have shewed us, That this doth not make a private Man, or an inferior, Judge of the Sentences of his Superiors, but only of his own Actions (Pag. 98.99) (Protesters no Subverters, p. 95, cited from Protestors Vindicated, 1716, SWRB reprint, 1997, pp. 9395, emphases added).
When we come to the communion table we do so in one mind and one faith. We come because we are convinced by the Word of God that it is the right thing to do. That does not mean that everybody knows as much as our elders, but rather that we agree positively on the doctrine of the Shorter Catechism, and we agree in our general understanding of the substance, nature and purpose of our terms of communion. When we sit down together to profess jointly our faith to God at the Lord's Table we do so knowing that those who sit with us have been examined and approved by elders, weak and fallible as they may be, who are endeavoring by God's grace to be faithful in preparing the sheep to commune with their Shepherd
Mr. Bacon says,
Based upon the history of the Reformed Presbytery, David Steele concluded that it is necessary to the true and proper constitution of a church that it swear the 1638 National Covenant of Scotland, the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant, and the 1712 Auchensaugh Renovation. Further, acceptance of "the Judicial Testimony emitted by the Reformed Presbytery in North Britain 1761 with supplements" is required in order to come to the Lord's Supper. Like Paul, I fear that these human additions to the requirements of the Lord's Table are corrupting minds from the simplicity that is in Christ.
The PRCE has adopted this entire line of thinking by the approach of "first accept the doctrine, then you can understand it later." But this is the very kind of implicit faith required by Rome and condemned by our confession, where in 202 it states, "the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also" (Defense Departed).
To require members not to speak or act contrary to the subordinate standards of our church is not at all to require implicit faith. Although elders in a church cannot require members to own as true what they believe to be false, nevertheless, faithful elders must require of members an outward conformity to the subordinate standards if their is to be any peace or order at all within a church. This is as much of a necessity in the church Mr. Bacon pastors as is true of the PRCE. It is inescapable in all the churches having subordinate standards. To allow members promiscuously to attack and demean the subordinate standards of a church would obviously lead to those standards serving no purpose and having no meaning in that church.
This being true, are all the members of the church that Mr. Bacon pastors required to exercise implicit faith because they are expected (whether explicitly or implicitly) not to speak or act contrary to the subordinate standards of the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett? To require an outward conformity is NOT to require implicit faith. Implicit faith requires members to believe articles of faith on the sole authority of a mere human being (whether he be pope or priest, minister or elder, or even one's mere conscience). All articles of faith must be owned to be true upon the supreme authority of God speaking by His Spirit in His Word.
Did the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland require implicit faith when they penned the following term of communion?
The Assembly constitutes and ordains that from henceforth no sort of person of whatsoever quality or degree be permitted to speak or write against the said Confession, this Assembly or any Act of this Assembly, and that under the pain of incurring the censures of this Kirk? (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland , [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 51).
Doesn't the phrase, "under the pain of incurring the censures of this Kirk," make this a term of membership and ecclesiastical communion? Would a new convert with relatively little understanding of the Confession, or Acts of General Assembly be required to abide by this ruling? Yes, necessarily, since the Assembly stated that, "from henceforth no sort of person of whatsoever quality or degree be permitted to speak or write against the said Confession." Obviously that includes everybody.
Contradicting this faithful act of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Mr. Bacon says,
Let it simply be recorded that the Act, Declaration and Testimony is itself a book over 200 pages and expatiates in Steelite terms the Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland From the Year 1638 to the Year 1649, Inclusive. That book contains an additional 500 plus pages of historical rulings, acts and testimonies. Of course, that material contains references to still other material, etc.
If that amount of reading seems to our readers like a tremendous overhead to require of Christians before admitting them to the Lord's table, then our readers agree with us. (Defense Departed).
Of course, if the reader agrees with Mr. Bacon they must immediately see that they cannot agree with the Scottish General Assembly. Is it not evident that Mr. Bacon's principles are entirely contrary to that of the Second Reformation? Did not the Scottish General Assembly require, under the pain of censure that, "no sort of person of whatsoever quality or degree be permitted to speak or write against the said Confession, this Assembly or any Act of this Assembly?" Does it not closely follow that the General Assembly required all their members to externally comply with these documents if they wanted to remain free from censure? Thus, it is foolish to complain that being ruled by a large body of knowledge is to require implicit faith. Mr. Bacon's complaint that the PRCE requires too much is again exposed for what it is, viz., nonsense.
Was the Scottish General Assembly saying, "first accept the doctrine and we'll explain it later?" Of course not! Mr. Bacon doesn't seem to understand that every time he accuses us he accuses the men of the Second Reformation. Is requiring external conformity to church standards to be equated with compelling others to believe something against their will? Is requiring external compliance with terms of communion forcing others to trust in a standard other than Scripture? God forbid! I am truly amazed that Mr. Bacon would substitute such railing for argument. We do not require the ignorant to affirm what they don't understand, nor are we encouraging an unthinking acceptance of our church standards. On the contrary, we urge all who join with us to become as familiar as possible with the standards of our church. Like the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, we simply require those who wish to join with us to not speak, write or act contrary to our standards, while they profess to be members of our church. If one of our brethren comes to a studied and settled disagreement with something in our standards, we then patiently work together to find out if the issue can be resolved. If he obstinately promotes a doctrine or practice contrary to that which our standards teach, we will not pretend to have familiar fellowship or close communion until we can come to an honest agreement in the truth. To proceed otherwise is sectarian, dishonest and sinful. Why does Mr. Bacon fight with us for governing the church by the same principles as the General Assembly of Scotland (16381649)? Why does he call us Popes and Pharisees for upholding the standards of the Second Reformation? Why does he rail so violently against the Covenanter cause? Why? Because the whole drift of his erroneous system of latitudinarian toleration drives him through this mire. He cannot tolerate those who speak up against his errors. His erring principles lead him to false practice and his false practice leads him to fight against those who contend for the truth.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:1012, AV).
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (Mark 13:13, AV).
Next, so as to establish the extensive nature of faithful terms of Communion, I will employ the Acts of the General Assembly of Scotland to expose Mr. Bacon's vain imagination that the Church of Scotland (16381649) required (for admission to the Lord's Table) a simple profession of faith as displayed by the Ethiopian eunuch in the book of Acts. I will assume from what has been said thus far that I may dispense with proving that the Acts of General Assembly require, "An acknowledgement of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and the alone infallible rule of faith and practice," as a legitimate term of communion. Consequently I will begin with our second term of communion That the whole doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, are agreeable unto, and founded upon the Scriptures.
Did the General Assembly require negative agreement with the Confession of Faith, and Catechisms, before allowing people to the Lord's Table? Was it necessary to refrain from speaking or writing against these standards if one wished to come to their communion table? Yes.
March 26, Session 7, 1638.
The Assembly alloweth this article.
Whereas the Confession of Faith in this Kirk concerning both doctrine and discipline so often called in question by the corrupt judgment and tyrannous authority of the pretended Prelates, is now clearly explained, and by this whole Kirk represented by this General Assembly concluded, ordained also to be subscribed by all sorts of persons within this said Kirk and Kingdom: The Assembly constitutes and ordains that from henceforth no sort of person of whatsoever quality or degree be permitted to speak or write against the said Confession, this Assembly or any Act of this Assembly, and that under the pain of incurring the censures of this Kirk (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland , [16381649 inclusive], p. 51, emphases added).
Here we find that all who would obstinately speak or write against the Confession of Faith, the General Assembly or any Act of General Assembly would incur the censures of the church (i.e. would expose themselves to all censures of the church including suspension from the Lord's Table or excommunication if obstinate and scandalous). Is this binding one's conscience with the unlawful use of ecclesiastical power?
Notice in the following quote that the Church of Geneva agrees with the socalled Steelites that faithful creeds and confessions (i.e. fallible human compositions that are agreeable to the Word of God) may lawfully bind the conscience, and be used as terms of ecclesiastical communion.
Francis Turretin states,
We treat here of the first part or the power concerning articles of faith.... This power is properly to be attended to in the judgment which the church ought to make concerning doctrine; also in the creeds and confessions which she ought to compose for the conservation of doctrine and the bond of ecclesiastical communion (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Vol. 3, p. 282, emphases added).
Turretin clearly states that the church is to compose uninspired creeds and confessions (agreeable to God's Word), and is to use them as a bond of ecclesiastical communion. Notice what a far cry Mr. Bacon's simple profession of faith is from the doctrine of the Church of Geneva. Perhaps Mr. Bacon would say Turretin also is "elevating human constitutions to the level of absolute necessity" (Defense Departed).
With Turretin I would respond,
However, two things can be asked about these confessions: first, their necessity; then, their authority. As to the necessity, we say that it is not absolute, as if the church could not do without them. For there was a time when she was without them, being content with ecumenical creeds alone or even without these, content with the formula of Scripture alone; but hypothetical on the hypothesis of a divine command and of the condition of the church, from the time when heresies, the danger of contagion, the calumnies of adversaries and intestine discords in religion began to disturb her, that the necessity and justice of our secession from the church might be manifested, that they might be held together in one body and so all distractions, dangerous dissents and schisms, wounding the truth and unity of the church, might be shunned.
Their authority ought indeed to be great with the pious in the churches, but still sinking below the authority of the Scripture. For the latter is a rule, they the thing ruled. It [the Scripture GB] alone is selfcredible (autopistos) with respect to words as well as to things, divine and infallible; they, as divine in things, still in words and manner of treatment are human writings. Faith is immediately and absolutely due to it [the Scripture GB]; to them an examination is due and that having been made, if they agree with the word, faith. It [the Scripture GB] is the constant and immutable canon of faith; while they are subject to revision and new examination, in which it is right not only to explain and amplify them, but also to correct whatever fault should be found in them and reform according to the rule of the word. Hence it is evident that they err here in excess who hold such confessions as the rule of the truth itself and make them equal to the Word of God. They are at best secondary rules, not of truth, but of the doctrine received in any church, since from them can be seen and decided what agrees with or what differs from the doctrine of the church.
Therefore, their true authority consists in this that they are obligatory upon those who are subject to them in the court of external communion because they were written by the churches or in the name of the churches, to which individual members in the external communion are responsible (1 Cor. 14:32). Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly (ataktos) and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the Word of God (which alone has power to bind the conscience).
Therefore, they err in defect who acknowledge no authority or a very slight authority in confessions; such are the neutrals and Libertines, who, to consult their own interests, profess nothing certain and determinate, but amid the conflicts of contradictions are undecided and fluctuate and, falling in with the winds of fortune, bend their sails to their influence. Their religion, consequently, you would properly call (if they have any) a monthly faith; nay, even a daily (hemerobion) or hourly. Unorthodox persons and heretics are such who, seeing that they are checked by such formulas as by a bridle that they may not scatter their errors to the winds, endeavor in every way, either openly, or secretly and by cunning, to destroy their authority. As was done by the Arminians, who frequently (in considerationibus suis in Confess. et Catech. Belgi. +) have calumniously charged us with ascribing to these formulas an authority canonical and equal to the Scriptures, when they were read and explained in the public assembly, as if they were considered as the very Word of God. But the groundlessness of this accusation appears from the acknowledged difference between confessions and the Word of God (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Vol. 3, pp. 284, 285, emphases added).
We ask the reader to notice that Turretin charges those like Mr. Bacon of being guilty of using the tactics of the Arminians when they unjustly and calumniously attack others and charge them with making faithful subordinate standards equal to the Word of God.
Mr. Bacon applies these Arminian tactics when he says:
The National Covenant (Confession of Faith) is to be sworn not because the church has required it, but because it is an accurate representation of the sense of God's law. It is not, as the Steelites claim, because the church's testimony tells us what to believe (Defense Departed).
We praise God for his grace that the Apostles did not multiply burdens and lay them on the backs of God's people as did the Pharisees and Rome and now these newest children of the Pharisees, the Steelites (Defense Departed).
The Steelites are at a significant disadvantage here in that they do not have a Pope. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they have too many popes (Defense Departed).
Notice how Mr. Bacon will label us with the odious names of "Popes" and "Pharisees" in the vain hope of convincing the simpleminded by the use of disparaging language. Before I continue, and to restrain evil thoughts from rising up from within those who agree with my sentiments, I will quote from James Pierce's, Vindication of Dissenters (1718, SWRB reprint, 1997):
Bear patiently, my brethren, the indignity offered you; and the less you see there is of respect, and civility in their treatment, the more cheerfully accept our friendship (cited from the dedication).
Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile (Psalms 34:13, AV).
Mr. Bacon seems to think it is warrantable to accuse the PRCE of making her Confession of Faith equal to the Word of God simply because we use it as a bond or term of communion for all our members. Like Turretin, we respond by saying,
This power [of preserving and vindicating articles of faith GB] is properly to be attended to in the judgment which the church ought to make concerning doctrine; also in the creeds and confessions which she ought to compose for the conservation of doctrine and the bond of ecclesiastical communion... their true authority consists in this that they are obligatory upon those who are subject to them in the court of external communion because they were written by the churches or in the name of the churches, to which individual members in the external communion are responsible (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1696, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997, Vol. 3, pp. 284, 285, emphases added).
Not only does Mr. Bacon's slander fly against the PRCE and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, but now we have seen that he wishes to accuse the Church of Geneva as well. While I do not conclude that Mr. Bacon is an Arminian, nevertheless, he has spoken like one for the second time. Rutherford rebuked him the first time and Turretin the second First Scotland and then Geneva! I pray that he will recognize his folly and that there will be no need for a third rebuke.
He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly (Proverbs 14:29, AV).
1. The determination of superior courts are authoritative and obligatory and NOT consultatory only.
Our unanimous judgment and uniform practice, is, that according to the order of the Reformed Kirks, and the ordinance of God in his Word, not only the solemn execution of Ecclesiastical power and authority, but the whole acts and exercise thereof, do properly belong unto the Officers of the Kirk; yet so that in matters of chiefest importance, the tacit consent of the Congregation be had, before their decrees and sentences receive final execution, and that the Officers of a particular Congregation, may not exercise this power independently, but with subordination unto greater Presbyteries and Synods, Provincial and National: Which as they are representative of the particular Kirks conjoined together in one under their government; so their determination, when they proceed orderly, whether in causes common to all, or many of the Kirks, or in causes brought before them by appelations or references from the inferior, in the case of aberration of the inferior, is to the several Congregations authoritative and obligatory and not consultatory only (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 108, emphases added).
I note this letter from the General Assembly to show that they especially detested the false doctrine of the Independents who vainly believed that superior courts were consultatory only. May the Lord's people pray earnestly for an end to this gross delusion brought into the church by the promoters of anarchy.
2. A list of dangerous errors
Nevertheless, we also very sensible of the great and imminent dangers into which this common cause of religion is now brought by the growing and spreading of most dangerous errors in England to the obstructing and hindering of the begun Reformation, as namely (beside many others) Socinianisme, Arminianisme, Anabaptisme, Antinomianisme, Brownisme, Erastianism, Independency, and that which is called (by abuse of the word) Liberty of Conscience, being indeed Liberty of Error, Scandal, Schisme, Heresy, dishonouring God, opposing the Truth, hindering Reformation; and seducing others (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 333).
Notice that the General Assembly faithfully included Independency as a dangerous error. As discussed earlier in this book, this is one error that deceives the majority of the professing Reformed churches in the United States and Canada. Independent denominationalism and Independent congregationalism equally drink from the foul well of Independency. Presbyterianism as promoted by the Westminster standards defends neither Independent denominationalism nor Independent congregationalism, but rather promotes the establishment of one church in each nation a covenanted Presbyterian church. It is notable that the General Assembly included Independency in the same list with other gross heresies.
3. Those who hold opinions contrary to Form of Government or Directory for Worship are Schismatic and Sectarian.
Whosoever brings in any opinion or practice in this Kirk contrary to the Confession of Faith, Directory of Worship, or Presbyterian Government may be justly esteemed to be opening the door to schism and sects (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 396).
Knowing that the General Assembly would censure anyone who was opening the door to schism and sects, we may safely infer that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland believed that the Presbyterial Church Government and manner of worship are alone of divine right and unalterable; and that the most perfect model of these as yet attained, is exhibited in the Form of Government and Directory for Worship, adopted by the Church of Scotland in the Second Reformation. These things were undoubtedly made terms of communion by the Scottish General Assembly.
Term #4 That public, social covenanting is an ordinance of God, obligatory on churches and nations under the New Testament; that the National Covenant and the Solemn League are an exemplification of this divine institution; and that these Deeds are of continued obligation upon the moral person; and in consistency with this, that the Renovation of these Covenants at Auchensaugh, Scotland, 1712 was agreeable to the Word of God.
Act for Taking the Covenant at the first receiving of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
The General Assembly according to former recommendations, Doth ordain that all young students take the Covenant at their first entry into colleges; and that hereafter all persons whatsoever take the Covenant at their first receiving of the Lords Supper: Requiring hereby Provincial Assemblies, Presbyteries and Universities to be careful that this Act be observed, an account thereof taken in the visitation of Universities and particular Kirks, and in the trial of Presbyteries (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], p. 422, emphases added).
That all students of Philosophy at their first entry and at their lawreation, be holden to subscribe the [Solemn GB] League and Covenant and be urged thereto, and all other persons as they come to age and discretion before their first receiving the Sacrament of the Lords Supper (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 368, emphases added).
Why would the General Assembly ordain that "all persons whatsoever take the Covenant at their first receiving of the Lord's Supper," or that, "all other persons as they come to age and discretion [must take the Covenant GB] before their first receiving of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper," if knowledge of the Solemn League and Covenant was not a prerequisite term of communion? Those who were ignorant of the Covenant or who wouldn't take it were clearly to be kept from the Lord's Supper until such time as they were prepared. How do these actions of the General Assembly square with Mr. Bacon's notions? Does he say to the Scottish General Assembly, "Note also what a far cry Steele's [read: the General Assembly's GB] position regarding the necessity of uninspired history [read: Covenants GB] as part of the terms of communion is from the simple profession of faith of the Ethiopian eunuch and of Peter (Defense Departed).
From this we learn that knowledge of and compliance with the Covenant was required as a term of communion. Failure to take the Covenant was clearly judged as a public scandal and such refusers were barred from the Lord's Supper.
August 20,Session 15, 1647
And if by the declaration of both kingdoms [Scotland and England GB] joined in arms, Anno 1643, such as would not take the Covenant were declared to be public enemies to their Religion and Country and that they be censured and punished as professed adversaries and malignant (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 335).
George Gillespie, Scottish commissioner to the Westminster Assembly writes,
That which is not only sinful in itself, but a great dishonor to God, a great scandal to the church, and withal a disobedience to the lawful ordinance of authority, may and ought to be punished by this Christian and reforming parliament. But their offence which still refuse to take the covenant is not only sinful in itself, but a great dishonor to God, a great scandal to the church [therefore a term of communion GB] and withal a disobedience to the lawful ordinance of authority. Therefore the offense of those who still refuse to take the covenant, may and ought to be punished by this Christian and reforming parliament.
It is no tyranny over men's consciences to punish a great and scandalous sin (such as the refusing and opposing of the covenant or a dividing from it), although the offender in his conscience believe it to be no sin, yea, peradventure, believe it to be a duty, otherwise it had been tyranny over the conscience to punish those who killed the Apostles, because they thought they were doing God service, John 16:23 (George Gillespie, The Works of George Gillespie, A Treatise of Micellany Questions, 1642, SWRB reprint, 1991, Vol. 2, p. 87, cf. pp. 8081, emphases added).
As Gillespie unequivocally states, barring people from the Lord's Table for refusing to take the Covenant is not imposing tradition upon the conscience of men, but rather it is consistent with, and agreeable to, the Word of God and our subordinate standards. Those, like George Gillespie, who drew up our subordinate standards understood their obligations, and so does the PRCE. Mr. Bacon, on the other hand, is again clearly out of sync with the doctrine and practice of our reformed and covenanted forefathers.
Term #5 An approbation of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus, especially in Scotland, against Paganism, Popery, Prelacy, Malignancy and Sectarianism; immoral civil governments; Erastian tolerations and persecutions which flow from them; and of the Judicial Testimony emitted by the Reformed Presbytery in North Britain, 1761 with supplements from the Reformed Presbyterian Church; as containing a noble example to be followed, in contending for all divine truth, and in testifying against all corruptions embodied in the constitutions of either churches or states.
Finally, what about historical testimony as a term of communion? This is by far the most maligned and least understood term. Mr. Bacon makes his most foolish comments in regard to this particular term.
But one must remember that the Steelites invest a similar meaning in the term "historical testimony" that the Romanist does with his "inspired tradition of the fathers" (Defense Departed).
The Reformed Presbytery registers their protest against those who would palm off upon a credulous world a confession instead of a testimony when they state:
1. The Bible, both Old and New Testament, is largely historical the books of Genesis and Matthew beginning with narrative, the wonderful works of God. It is thus adapted to the rational nature of man, and equally to the spiritual nature of the new man (Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery, Sept. 100, 1875, The Reformation Advocate, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 250).
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God. (Psalms 78:58, AV, Scripture proof added, emphases added).
2. [Without the use of uninspired history GB] The church cannot ascertain the fulfilment of prophecy the cumulating external evidence of its divine original: especially can Christ's witnesses no otherwise than by history identify her confederated enemies the man of sin and son of perdition, his paramour the well favoured harlot, and her harlot daughters the offspring of her fornication with the kings of the earth (Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery, Sept. 100, 1875, The Reformation Advocate, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 250).
Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer
(Luke 21:1014, AV, Scripture proof added, emphases added).
3. The present cannot in faith confess the sins, or express thanks to God for the mercies, of a former generation, except on the credibility of human history (Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery, Sept. 100, 1875, The Reformation Advocate, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 250).
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers (Nehemiah 9:2, AV, Scripture proof added, emphases added).
4. No otherwise can a Christian know the time or place of his birth, or the persons whom God commands him to honour as his father and mother, than by uninspired testimony; and the same is true of his covenant obligation, if baptized in infancy. Against all who ignorantly or recklessly reject or oppose history as a bond of fellowship, in the family, in the state, but especially in the church, we thus enter our solemn and uncompromising protest (Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery, Sept. 100, 1875, The Reformation Advocate, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 250).
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother (Proverbs 1:8, AV, Scripture proof added).
Did the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (16381649) include history as as a term of Communion?
1. Robert McWard, amanuensis to Samuel Rutherford at the Westminster Assembly, was a zealous minister and Protester against the faction calling herself the Church of Scotland. This protege of Rutherford collected and edited Rutherford's Letters and is notable for many of his faithfully written works, not the least of which is his excellent book entitled, Earnest Contendings for the Faith.
Citing a letter from John Welch to Robert Bruce, Robert M'Ward comments upon the importance of judicial history to the Church of Jesus Christ:
But whether I have reason to deny what is so confidently asserted, let the following Testimony be considered, that it may decide. Great Mr. Welch in his letter to Mr. Bruce writes thus, "What my Mind is (saith he) concerning the Root of these Branches, the Bearer will show you more fully. They are no more to be accounted ORTHODOX, but APOSTATES. They have fallen from their CALLINGS, by receiving an Antichristian, and bringing in of Idolatry, to make the Kingdom culpable, and to expose it to fearful judgments, for such an high Perfidy, against an Oath so solemnly exacted and given; and are no more to be accounted Christians; but Strangers and Apostates and Persecuters; and therefore not to be heard any more either in Publick or in Consistories, Colleges, or Synods. For what Fellowship hath Light with Darkness? &c. Calderwood's Hist: Page 743. Now, Sir, here is not only a Testimony of one of the greatest Lights that ever shined in our Church, directly contradicting what you assert; but considering, how carefully this History was Revised by our General Assembly, we are to look upon it as the Judgment of our whole Church; that Letter being therein insert, as a Commendation and Vindication of that eminent Man of God (Robert McWard, Earnest Contendings for the Faith, 1723, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 127, emphases added).
As a second witness I quote from, the preface to the reader in the eighth book of Calderwood's History of the Kirk of Scotland:
As, therefore, we are hopeful, that this notable history, compiled and written by such an accomplished and credit worthy author, thereunto appointed and authorised by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; several times revised, amended, and at length approved, (as could be evidenced by the Acts of our Assembly, which herewith had been published for verification, if our church registers had not been seized,) will be the more commended and endeared unto thee, that it is almost the only monument left (all the public Registers of the Church of Scotland having (as was hinted) by Divine permission, for our farther trial and affliction, lately fallen into the hands of the Prelates, and their partners, the known enemies of her true liberties) (David Calderwood, History of the Kirk of Scotland, Vol. 8, p. 21, emphases added).
Especially notice these words, "...but considering how carefully this History [Calderwood's history GB] was Revised by our General Assembly, we are to look upon it as the judgment of our whole church." Why would Robert McWard say such a thing? Imagine! History being looked upon as the judgment of the whole church. Would such a statement come out of Mr. Bacon's mouth? I doubt it. Considering that Robert McWard was a close friend of Samuel Rutherford, and of John Brown of Wamphray, this is quite a statement to hear him make. Consider that the General Assembly was pouring their resources into, and carefully revising Calderwood's history. Why would the General Assembly of 1648 allow David Calderwood an annual pension while he laboured upon this massive task of writing The True History of the Church of Scotland? Because this history was written and, "thereunto appointed and authorised by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; several times revised, amended, and at length approved, as could be evidenced by the Acts of our Assembly, which herewith had been published for verification, if our church registers had not been seized" for the purpose of passing on an authentic judicial and historical testimony to posterity. It was entered into the Registers of the Church of Scotland to show that with one voice the General Assembly concurred with its contents, and that it could be considered a credible testimony of the application of their principles and subordinate standards to their history. They knew that history is not neutral and that the uninterpreted facts of history do not speak for themselves. They would not rely upon the godless world to testify against the faith of their forefathers. They understood that they must come to an agreement about who contended for the truth and who contended against it they understood that they had a duty to extinguish the remembrance of the wicked, and to exalt the mighty works of the Lord through his children. Like Israel of old, they would write it for a memorial and rehearse it to their children; they would remember the covenant of their ancestors and pass it on from generation to generation. Why? Because God is the creator of time and history, and he is glorified when we rehearse his mighty works. Our agreement upon the mighty deeds of God is essential to our communion with one another. The General Assembly knew this and so did the faithful Covenanters who followed in their footsteps. Sadly, Mr. Bacon seems to imply that communion and agreement in the truth has little to do with the history of our forefathers or their mighty victories in Christ Jesus. Do not be fooled by his false argumentation. He opposes himself and the testimony of the faithful when he speaks against history as a term of communion. Under the disguise of Christian tolerance he teaches that which would steal away our Covenanted inheritance.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (Exodus 17:14, AV).
They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates (Judges 5:11, AV).
Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; O ye seed of Israel his servant, ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones. He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth. Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations; Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac; And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant (1 Chronicles 16:1217, AV).
We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly. Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea (Psalms 106:67, AV).
15 That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past (Ecclesiastes 3:15, AV).
2. What does the General Assembly of Scotland say about all the General Assemblies that preceded them? How do they view their own history? Do they make compliance with former Acts of General Assembly a term of communion?
The Assembly constitutes and ordains that from henceforth no sort of person of whatsoever quality or degree be permitted to speak or write against the said Confession, this Assembly or any Act of this Assembly, and that under the pain of incurring the censures of this Kirk (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 51, emphases added)?
And likewise in case they acknowledge not this Assembly, reverence not the constitutions thereof, and obey not the sentence, and make not their repentance, conform to the order prescribed in this Assembly, ordains them to be excommunicated and declared to be of these whom Christ commanded to be holden by all and everyone of the faithful as Ethnics and Publicans (The Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 22, emphases added).
Who would believe that a faithful General Assembly would not expect their rulings to be implemented year after year? As soon as these Acts are determined they become historical, judicial testimony which bind the church in so far as the human constitution itself agrees with the Word of God. As is standard Presbyterian practice, those who wilfully and obstinately refuse to abide by the faithful rulings of General Assembly are excommunicated. This makes their historical testimony the application of their principles in history binding upon subsequent generations and a term of communion.
Dear reader, consider the Presbyterian position of the Scottish General Assembly, and ask yourself Are they using historical testimony as a term of communion?
a. The General Assembly censures (bars people from the Lord's Table) people for ignorance and scandal year after year.
b. Each censure that sets a new precedent becomes a historic testimony for truth and against error.
c. Over the years the record of church censures grow into a body of judicial testimony.
d. These provide subsequent generations with a record of judgment that bind posterity inasmuch as these judgments are agreeable to God's Word.
e. This record of censures becomes a basis for terms of communion since they are an historical and judicial record of scandalous sins and errors for which professing Christians have been barred from the Lord's Supper by a faithful General Assembly from the past.
Therefore, historical and judicial testimony in the form of historical church censure is a direct statement of their terms of communion.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2, AV).
Does Mr. Bacon object to this kind of historical testimony? Will he also fight against the censures of our faithful forefathers? Are the faithful Acts of General Assembly too much for him to read? Perhaps our forefathers held their principles too strictly and needed Mr. Bacon to temper their harsh judgment. I speak this to his shame.
Next, let us proceed to some concrete examples of the use of historical testimony.
1. Pretended assemblies and their pretended policies were censured.
First, I contend that a clear example of the use of historical testimony as a term of Communion is exemplified by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1638 where they declared the Prelatical General Assemblies to be pretended assemblies, pronouncing all their Acts null and void in the years 1606, 1608, 1610, 1616 and 1618.
December 4, 1638, Session 12.
The Assembly with universal consent of all, after the serious examination of the reasons against every one of these six pretended Assemblies apart, being often urged by the moderator, to inform themselves thoroughly, that without doubting they might give their voices, declared all these six assemblies of Linlithgow 1606 and 1608, Glasgow 1610, Aberdeen 1616, St. Andrews 1617, Perth 1618, And every one of them to have been from the beginning unfree, unlawful, and null Assemblies, and never to have had, nor hereafter to have any Ecclesiastical authority, and their conclusions to have been, and to be of no force, vigour, nor efficacy: Prohibited all defence and observance of them, and ordained the reasons of their nullity to be inserted in the books of the Assembly (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], p. 9).
The General Assembly realized that historical testimony of all faithful preceding Scottish General Assemblies set precedent for them to follow. Upon retaking power from the Prelates, they immediately declared the Prelatical Assemblies and all their Acts null and void to distinguish between those historical testimonies that were unscriptural, pretended, and of no authority from those historical testimonies that were scriptural, faithful, and authoritative. Thus they dissociated themselves from these Pretended Assemblies and judged them and all their pretended Acts to be null and void. In effect they declared themselves to have no agreement or communion with those who countenanced, obeyed or defended the authority of those Assemblies. The entire policy of the Prelates and all their pretended authority was wiped away with one act, and from henceforth this Act became a term of communion in the Church of Scotland. This is nothing less than a judicial testimony against an historical body being used as a term of communion.
2. False principle and practice is censured.
On December 10, 1638, Session 17, the General Assembly of Scotland declared the Five Articles of Perth to be abjured and removed.
The matter was put to voicing, in these words: Whether the five articles of Perth, by the confession of Faith, as it was meant and professed in the year 1580, 1581, 1590, 1591, ought to be removed out of this Kirk: The whole Assembly all in one consent, one only excepted, did voice that the five articles above specified were abjured by this Kirk, in that Confession, and so ought to be removed out of it: And therefore prohibits and discharges all disputing for them, or observing of them, or any of them in all time coming, and ordains Presbyteries to proceed with the censures of the Kirk against all transgressors (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, [16381649 inclusive], 1682, SWRB reprint, 1997, p. 36).
Can you find the Five Articles of Perth listed in your Bible or must you look to uninspired history alone to know for what cause the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland would censure the people of Scotland? The Assembly plainly tells us that they would censure anyone, who would dispute for, or observe these five articles of Perth. The General Assembly applied their Scriptural principles to the historic circumstances of their time and set precedents, agreeable to God's Word, that bind us (their ecclesiastical descendants) even today to the same moral principles. Should we observe and promote the Five Articles of Perth in 1997? Of course not, and if anyone does so obstinately, they should be censured and barred from the communion table. History alone records these Five Articles of Perth, and we acknowledge them as heresy in our testimony and include them among the our terms of communion. As we rehearse to our posterity God's mighty work of overthrowing the wicked, we must teach them that these Five Articles of Perth are heresy and that those who love and defend them them must be considered scandalous. This was clearly the practice of the Church of Scotland in the Second Reformation, is identical to the practice of the faithful Covenanters of Scotland and America in later years, and continues as the practice of the PRCE today.
3. Schisms from the past were censured, and association or agreement with them were made terms of communion in all "time coming."
Not only was promoting and defending the pretended authority, the unbiblical principles and practices of the Prelates censurable (and thus a faithful term of communion), but even presently associating with and promoting these historically censured groups is a faithful term of communion. While the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (16381649) would maintain that the Episcopal church was a true church as to its being or essence, they would not recognize the authority of the Prelates pretended judicatories, and they sternly warned all professors of the true religion in Scotland that censure would certainly follow anyone who accepted, defended or obeyed their pretended authority.
Act of the Assembly at Glasgow, Session 16, December 8, 1638.
It was also cleared that Episcopacy was condemned in these words of the Confession, HIS WICKED HIERARCHY.... We have in the book of Policy or Second Book of Discipline, in the end of the second chapter this conclusion agreed upon. Therefore all the ambitious titles invented in the Kingdom of Antichrist, and his usurped hierarchy which are not one of these four sorts, To wit, Pastors, Doctors, Elders, and Deacons, together with offices depending thereupon, in one word ought to be rejected....The whole Assembly most unanimously, without contradiction of any one (and with the hesitation of one allanerly) professing full persuasion of mind, did voice, That all Episcopacy different from that of a Pastor over, a particular flock, was abjured in this Kirk, and to be removed out of it. And therefore prohibits under ecclesiastical censure any to usurp, accept, defend, or obey the pretended authority thereof in time coming (The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland [16381649 inclusive], p. 34, emphases added).
Do you think that these men intended their posterity to continue to censure those who obeyed the Episcopalian daughter of Antichrist? Their historical testimony was, and is to be upheld, published and promoted in "time coming," and all who fail to recognize that is agreeable to God's word are to be kept from the Lord's Table. Again we see in the Acts of the General Assembly a judicial testimony binding subsequent generations to obedience, and censuring all who will not comply for all "time coming."
Each of these attainments are not to be receded from. We must gratefully receive the faithful judgment of past General Assemblies and compare their rulings with the Word of God.
Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (Philippians 3:16, AV).
Once we confirm that their ruling was agreeable to holy Scripture we may continue to apply their judgment to the present day. Not only are we to adhere to faithful attainments of the past, but we are duty bound to testify against the prevalent sins of our times. Again, the General Assembly recognized the need for constant vigilance in this regard and they protected the church from the contagion of backsliding ministers by framing yet another needful term of communion.
Act for censuring Ministers for their silence, and not speaking to the corruption of the time. August 10, 1648. Ante Meridiem. Session 26.
The General Assembly, taking to their serious consideration, the great scandals which have lately increased, partly through some Ministers their reserving and not declaring of themselves against the prevalent sins of the times, partly through the spite, Malignity, and insolency of others against such Ministers as have faithfully and freely reproved the Sins of the times without respect of persons, Do therefore for preventing and removing such scandals hereafter, Appoint and Ordain, that every Minister do by the word of Wisdom apply his Doctrine faithfully against the publick Sins and Corruptions of these times, and particularly against the Sins and Scandals in the Congregation wherein he lives, according to the Act of the General Assembly 1596, revived by the Assembly at Glasgow 1638. Appointing that such as shall be found not applying their Doctrine to corruptions, which is the Pastoral gift, cold, and wanting of Spiritual zeal, flatterers and dissembling of publick sins, and especially of great Personages in their Congregations, that all such persons be censured according to the degree of their faults and continuing therein be deprived; And according to the Act of General Assembly 1646, Sess. 10, That beside all other scandals, silence, or ambiguous speaking in the public cause, much more detracting and disaffected speeches be seasonably censured (The Records of the Church of Scotland, p. 509, emphases added).
These Acts of General Assembly contain hundreds of pages of judicial testimony which declare the things censured and why they were censured. Every precedentsetting censure adds to their list of terms of communion. Every new heresy and every new enemy testified against is added to a growing list of those things that will bar someone from the Lord's Supper. Every time an authoritative judicatory rules correctly (i.e. in accordance with Scripture) and precedentially, they make a new judicial testimony for the truth and against error. Is Mr. Bacon also against the authority of General Assemblies? As a professed Presbyterian he should recognize that historical testimony and judicial testimony are terms of communion in every church court that has a history. What does Mr. Bacon call judicial precedent? Is this not binding historical testimony? Why does he rail at us for doing what is unavoidable? The Acts of faithful General Assemblies provide us with a record of historical terms of communion and are the single most important source we have in determining the footsteps of the flock at that period of time. Though these documents are fallible, they nevertheless, once confirmed to be agreeable to God's word, may be considered faithful until proved otherwise. Though they are subordinate, they may be considered authoritative until proved otherwise and adjusted. Because mere men have pronounced judgment upon the events of history does not necessarily mean they have done so incorrectly. These testimonies serve their intended purpose in promoting peace and uniformity in the church.
David Steele comments:
Whether in the light of God's word, history and argument are to be inseparably joined with doctrine in the Testimony of the church, is the question. The affirmative we maintain, the negative is asserted in the "Preface" to Reformation Principles Exhibited [formerly the "Testimony" of the RPCNA GB], and urged by the Covenanter [the magazine GB]. "What saith Scripture?" The case of Stephen the protomartyr under the Christian dispensation, will serve for both proof and illustration, (Acts 7:1, etc). This witness begins his testimony with history, commencing with the call of Abraham, and ending at his own time. From the 51st to the 53rd verse, he applies the facts of history and doctrines declared to the case in hand; and this he does in argumentative form. Take the case of the blind man restored to sight, (John 9:1334). The former of these witnesses was stoned to death [i.e. Stephen GB]; the latter excommunicated [i.e. the blind man restored GB], for stating facts, and arguing from them. These two examples are deemed sufficient at present for proof and illustration. But it may be said "These are inspired records scriptural examples." True, and just because they are inspired instances of testimonybearing we adduce them, to establish and illustrate our position, which they irrefragably do. "But what has this to do with uninspired, mere human history, as a part of testimony?" "Much every way," chiefly with reference to Covenanting. Their very designation, COVENANTERS, one would suppose sufficient, if received in its historical import, to establish the truth of our position. But we waive that for the present. There are two kinds of faith distinct, but inseparable; and, as already stated, the kind of faith is determined by the kind of testimony, while both are required by God's word and by the condition of human society. The one, for the sake of a distinction, is called divine faith; the other, human. "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater," I John 5:9. Christ said to the Pharisees "It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true," John 8:17. See also Matt. 18:16. Now it is obvious that facts, rather than principles, constitute testimony. And it is undeniable that the holy Scriptures sustain the credibility of human testimony, though uninspired. Still, "the witness (testimony) of God is greater." Hence I reason thus The Lord Jesus, whose name is the Word of God, the faithful and true Witness, having it in charge to reveal and execute the purposes of God; and the devil, the father of lies, who sinneth from the beginning, being assiduously engaged in falsifying the revealed will, and resisting the execution of the purposes of Jehovah, (Rev. 5:9; 12:7); both these leaders are accompanied by their respective partisans of the human family. Protestants generally agree that Popery is a diabolical organization against Christ and truth. That Christ is a divine person, is a doctrine of Scripture, (John 1:1); but this is questioned by the devil, (Matt. 4:6), though admitted by the church of Rome. Christ, being divine, is the object of worship. To this Popery assents. But Christ is also Mediator between God and man. Well, Popery admits this also, and resists only the exclusive mediation of Christ; which office the Romish church distributes among Christ, Mary, angels, etc. And we know both the errors and idolatries as FACTS in the history of Popery. True, we may and ought to try both by God's word. On the other hand, we know that Christ is the Son of God, and that we ought to "honor the Son, even as we honor the Father," we know these things, I say, not only as doctrinally declared, but also as exemplified in the faith and practice of the church of God in all ages. Of the three men who visited Abraham, (Gen. 18:2), the patriarch worships one only (v. 22). The unbelieving Jews claim Abraham as their father, but refused to do the works of Abraham, and so falsified their claim, (John 8:33,39). We claim to be the seed of Christ's covenanted witnesses in Britain and Ireland; but unless we "walk in the steps of their faith," our professed attachment to that faith will avail us nothing.
But it may be said, Who denies all this, or what has this to do with the matter of a testimony? Everything. That many of our former brethren are aiming to copy their "noble example," including the Covenanter, is matter of our joy and thanksgiving to God. But how? As individuals? as congregations? as judicatories? If so, it is all right, so far as they followed Christ. Still Christ enjoins it upon us to "go forth by the footsteps of the flock," (Song 1:8). These footsteps are Christian practices; that is, they are the application of principle, scriptural principle, to individual and social life. Let it be noticed that Christ counsels inquirers to follow the footsteps of the flock; thus making those footsteps at once directive and authoritative. We can know the footsteps, the Christian and social practice of our Covenanted fathers, only by HISTORY; and through the same medium alone do we come to ascertain the very arguments by which they defended both their faith and practice.
My faith may be designated human; or, if you will, even Popish; still I am not ashamed to own that the practice of Cameron, Cargill, Renwick, and those with whom the martyrs were associated, is directive to me and authoritative also! Indeed, I am bound to bring even their principles and arguments to the "law and to the testimony," but history alone will supply me with these; which, that it may do, I must have it in an authenticated form. In this matter the Lord Jesus will not allow us to walk at random. "Go thy way... by the footsteps of the flock." The great outlines of the Mediator's special providence, and of the church's faithful contendings must ever be before her children, sanctioned by her authority in a judicial form, that posterity may see how she has walked with God in the wilderness; as also wherein she may have acted perfidiously in view of her solemn covenant engagement (The Covenanter, May 1856, p. 303, emphases added).
Again, our 5th term of communion reads,
An approbation of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus, especially in Scotland, against Paganism, Popery, Prelacy, Malignancy and Sectarianism; immoral civil governments; Erastian tolerations and persecutions which flow from them; and of the Judicial Testimony emitted by the Reformed Presbytery in North Britain, 1761 with supplements from the Reformed Presbyterian Church; as containing a noble example to be followed, in contending for all divine truth, and in testifying against all corruptions embodied in the constitutions of either churches or states.
We in the PRCE approbate the "faithful" contendings of the martyrs and uphold their judicial testimonies as "noble examples" (which could not be called noble if they were contrary to God's Word) to be followed in contending for all divine truth. This is a testimony for the truth and against error which any Christian who desires to come to the communion table should be more than willing to make. What sin are we committing by requiring that people approbate the faithful contendings of the martyrs? For someone not to approbate their faithful contendings implies either ignorance of, or opposition to these. I have already demonstrated that those who come to the communion table must "all speak the same thing," having no divisions, and "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." This is not fulfilled in the case of opposition to noble and faithful contendings. Those who cannot take the time to enquire about the covenants and contendings of our ancestors, or those who are too busy to remember and rehearse the mighty acts of God done through his servants are simply not yet ready to come to communion. Neither are those who oppose the conscientious approving of such faithful historical deeds. Failure to attend to these important aspects of our Christian duty is scandalous and we would have to inquire as to what is so time consuming that these things cannot properly be considered. Additionally, we do not ask for a perfect understanding, nor do we require agreement with every minute sentiment contained in our judicial documents. These are "noble examples" in contending for all divine truth and not "infallible examples." We seek an honest effort and professed agreement to our standards. By reasonable examination we determine whether we can walk together, and jointly profess our faith before our Saviour, each other, and the world as one bread and one body. If someone is not willing to sacrifice enough time and energy to seek an honest estimate of our agreement in the truth, then I fear that they are not redeeming the time, or they have seriously confused their priorities in life.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:1516, AV).
Are our terms of communion too lengthy?
Mr. Bacon says,
Let it simply be recorded that the Act, Declaration and Testimony is itself a book over 200 pages and expatiates in Steelite terms the Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland From the Year 1638 to the Year 1649, Inclusive. That book contains an additional 500 plus pages of historical rulings, acts and testimonies. Of course, that material contains references to still other material, etc. If that amount of reading seems to our readers like a tremendous overhead to require of Christians before admitting them to the Lord's Table, then our readers agree with us.
I respond with the words of the Reformed Presbytery:
Ministers who sought popularity affected the favour of the unlearned, by representing the testimony as too profound for the comprehension of the common people. It was, moreover, too prolix [lengthy GB]; so that few could find time to examine it thoroughly. But the greatest objection was, that it was too severe against other churches; and this last objection is, in truth, the only one. Aspiring ministers felt ashamed of "sackcloth;" they longed to get out of the "wilderness" and get nearer to "king's palaces" (The Reformation Advocate, March 1876, SWRB, 1997, Vol.1, p. 260, emphases added).
He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him (Proverbs 11:27, AV).
What is required is not too hard for those who wish to turn off their televisions and use that time for study. Video rental shops may suffer a drop in profits but the congregation of the Lord will rejoice in agreement. This objection "I don't have time" is the same used by those who will not pray in secret, worship daily with their families, or honor the Lord's Day.
O hearken to this all ye that live quietly in the omission of closet or family prayer, of solemn fasting, or communion in the blessed Supper of the Lord. Hath God abated you of the price that others must give? Hath he granted a new way of heaven for you? Must others make religion their business, and you neglect it where you please (Richard Steele, A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship, 1673, Sprinkle, reprinted 1988, p. 225)?
The objections that "its too hard" and "I don't have time" are typically spoken by the same people who can sing along with the television commercials and name every actor and actress in Hollywood. Who is Harrison Ford? "No problem!" they say, "If that was on the communion exam, we could study all day." What is the doctrine of justification by faith? "Come on" they say, "now you're asking too much." Is it asking too much to become acquainted with the standards of truth that our martyred forefathers died to uphold? To those who won't be "inconvenienced," and to those who might be convinced by Mr. Bacon's arguments, I plead with you to look forward to the day of judgment and see if you will then say "I didn't have time."
"Ephraim compasseth me about with lies." Hos. 11:12. Oh how often may the Lord say over us, These people compass me about with lies. What a generation of vipers are here! like the viper that is speckled without, and poisonous within! Moses took a veil when he spake to Israel, and put it off when he spake to God; but the hypocrite doth quite contrary; he shews his best to men, his worst to God, but the Lord sees the veil and the face; and it is hard to say, whether he hates more the veil of dissimulation or the face of wickedness (Richard Steele, A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship, 1673, Sprinkle Publications, reprinted 1988, p. 153, emphases added).
Do not deceive yourself, you do have time to read what is required for preparation to come to the communion table and in most cases you have already been given more than enough time. Mr. Bacon may want to accommodate his practice to the lax sentiments of the modern man, but God's requirements are still the same. Mr. Bacon may wish to find the lowest common denominator (simple profession) so that everybody who visits his church in Rowlett can participate in communion, but thankfully we know that this Romish view will be judged and destroyed forever. Until then, we will continue to pray against this latitudinarian view and pray for the repentance of all who seduce God's people with these lies.
The holy Lord of hosts will not allow it. If you will not sanctify him, he will sanctify himself. If you that worship him, will not bear witness of your serious attendance to his holiness, he must bear witness to it by his judgments on you; which, indeed, are not always visible, but ever certain; not a man in the congregation, but the holy God is sanctified by him or upon him. Little do we know what invisible dreadful effects there are of this daily in our congregations. And if our dear Redeemer did not stand as a screen between us and his wrath, the best of us would quickly feel the effects of his displeasure (Richard Steele, A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship, p. 34).
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee (Revelation 3:13, AV).
We ask no more than Scripture requires.
1. Scripture is our alone infallible foundation; subordinate standards are used to promote purity and agreement.
2. We subscribe our Confession of Faith and Catechisms because they agree with God's word.
3. Our Form of Government and Directory for Worship are identical to the Scottish Church in her best and purest times, and we uphold them because they agree with God's Word.
4. Our perpetually binding covenants are remembered and renewed, again, because they agree with God's Word.
5. The testimony of the faithful contending of the martyrs is not forgotten, and historical testimony is observed in so far as it agrees with the Word of God.
O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer (Psalms 31:23, AV).
1. The last major insult that Mr. Bacon has levelled against us regards our last term of communion. I have separated it from the others to draw special attention to the absurdity of this attack.
Our sixth term of communion reads, "Practically adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour by walking in all His commandments and ordinances blamelessly."
Mr. Bacon says,
But this brings us to the sixth term of communion, "Practically [i.e. in practice] adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour, by walking in all his commandments and ordinances blamelessly." We should carefully examine this term of communion. It is not promised, "as God gives me grace," or "I shall endeavor." Rather the promise is simply to do it (Defense Departed).
This ridiculous allegation is really too childish and mean spirited to dignify with a response, but I have been given the task, and I will attempt to carry it faithfully to completion.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour (Exodus 20:16, AV).
Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness (Exodus 23:1, AV).
Mr. Bacon, in his sinful effort to try to attack and misrepresent every term he can, has taken this to the ultimate extreme.
The Solemn League and Covenant states:
That we shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of GOD, endeavor, in our several places and callings, the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, against our common enemies; the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of God, and the example of the best reformed Churches; and shall endeavour to bring the Churches of GOD in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising; that we, and our posterity after us, may, as brethren, live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us (The Solemn League and Covenant, emphases added).
How many time does Mr. Bacon want us to say endeavour? Would 100 be enough? Does he not possess a copy of the Solemn League and Covenant? He reminds me of the Calvinist who is ready to call you an Arminian if you do not put "by grace" at the end of every sentence. It is not hard to see that Mr. Bacon will go to any length to misrepresent our position. When a person is called upon to interpret a document, is it fair to dissociate all the previous articles from the last one? Is that the scholarship of a man of integrity?
2. We now proceed from bad to worse.
Mr. Bacon says,
Additionally, we must remember that this promise is coming from one who has not been required anywhere in the terms of communion to confess his own sinfulness, his own inability, his own profession of faith in Christ, or his own dependence upon the mercy of God and his Spirit (Defense Departed).
a. "A Solemn Acknowledgment of Public Sins and the Breaches of the Covenant" is two pages long and is included in our terms of communion under term #4.
b. "The Acknowledgement of Sin" in the Auchensaugh Renovation (term #4) is 42 pages long.
c. "The Confession of Public Sins" penned by the Reformed Presbytery of America, October 8, 1880, is five pages long these are included in the 5th term of communion by the phrase, "with supplements from the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
That makes a total of 49 pages of confession of sin in our terms of communion alone and Mr. Bacon says it is not required anywhere. When we own these confessions of sin we do so with humility, and an understanding that we, too, are guilty of the sins mentioned.
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers (Nehemiah 9:2, AV).
O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us (Daniel 9:16, AV, emphases added).
Does Mr. Bacon require confession of private and personal sins before he allows his people to communion? Is that what he is asking for? If he is, then he is more Romish than I feared. If 49 pages of confession of sin are not enough for Mr. Bacon, I doubt that 50 pages would make any difference. How can he explain his failure to mention 49 pages of confession of sin?
3. Next, Mr. Bacon says that we do not confess our own inability before God since it is nowhere mentioned in our terms of communion.
Our own inability is mentioned in our Confession of Faith (term #2)
a. Westminster Confession of Faith 9:3 states:
Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
b. Our inability is is also mentioned in Larger Catechism #149 and Shorter Catechism #82 which we own in our second term of communion.
When we own the Westminster Confession of Faith with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms what does Mr. Bacon think we are saying about our own ability before God? Does he think we are saying that we own everybody else's inability but it doesn't apply to us? I must attribute this accusation to malicious intent since even the dullest of ministers would not conclude such a thing. I know that Mr. Bacon is smarter than that, and I cannot conceive of an adequate excuse that would justify his slander.
4. Next, Mr. Bacon charges us with failing to include a profession of faith in our terms of communion.
Though it can easily be proved that this is implied in the previous five terms of communion I would remind the reader that we ask for a profession of faith before baptism. Since it is already accomplished when one becomes a member the church, it is inappropriate and unnecessary to ask again at the examination for communion. Again, this clearly reveals Mr. Bacon's confusion as to the nature of terms of communion, and the difference between membership in the visible church, and admission to the Lord's Table.
5. Next, we are charged with failing to confess our own dependence upon the mercy of God and His Spirit.
We own the Directory for the Public Worship of God (term #3), which instructs us to pray in the following manner:
To acknowledge and confess, that, as we are convinced of our guilt, so, out of a deep sense thereof, we judge ourselves unworthy of the smallest benefits, most worthy of God's fiercest wrath, and of all the curses of the law, and heaviest judgments inflicted upon the most rebellious sinners; and that he might most justly take his kingdom and gospel from us, plague us with all sorts of spiritual and temporal judgments in this life, and after cast us into utter darkness, in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth for evermore.
Notwithstanding all which, to draw near to the throne of grace, encouraging ourselves with hope of a gracious answer of our prayers, in riches and all sufficiency of that only one oblation, the satisfaction and intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ at the right hand of his Father and our Father and in confidence of the exceeding great and precious promises of mercy and grace in the new covenant, through the same Mediator thereof, to deprecate the heavy wrath of God, which we are not able to avoid, or bear; and humbly and earnestly to supplicate for mercy, in a full and free remission of all our sins, and that only for the bitter sufferings and precious merits of that our only Saviour Jesus Christ (The Directory for Public Worship, "Of Public Prayer Before the Sermon").
Have we then, as Mr. Bacon argues, failed to confess our own dependence upon the mercy of God and His Spirit, and failed to mention such things in our terms of communion? Perhaps, if one wishes to ignore all the documents we own in terms one through five. On the one hand, Mr. Bacon slanders us for having too much in our terms of communion and now he argues that we have too little. What a mockery of common sense and judgment from one in the office of a minister of Jesus Christ.
But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by him shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped (Psalms 63:11, AV).
6. Finally, upon the weight (or weightlessness?) of the rest of his accusations he leads up to his big conclusion. Mr. Bacon insinuates that our sixth term of communion, "takes on sinister proportions," and that the PRCE is really teaching "righteousness by works" and "legalism" like the Pharisees.
If it be objected that this is not a promise to sinful [sic] perfection, I must reply that it would be a simple thing to add "in the Lord." Why did the covenanted attainment never attain to so simple a thing as that? But if it is the case that the entire Steelite error can be reduced to the same legalism and self righteousness found in the Pharisees, then the sixth term of communion takes on sinister proportions (Defense Departed).
Mr. Bacon's insinuation and implication is that the PRCE is really attempting to bind people to a doctrine of works righteousness. Does he really believe that we have abandoned the doctrine of justification by faith alone? Does he really believe that we have adopted the doctrine of works righteousness?
I could quote a hundred and possibly a thousand places in our doctrinal and historical standards that would deny such an absurd conclusion. Herein, we see to what lengths Mr. Bacon will go to attack the PRCE. He denies to us precisely those things that we explicitly own; he plugs his ears when we speak and he closes his eyes to obvious and rational proof. Based upon everything that has been said up to this point, I can only respond by saying that "there is none so blind as he who will not see." If he cannot receive our plainest statements in the context they were intended, then I fear that he will never hear what we are saying. For him to separate the sixth term of communion from all the others, ignore the testimony of the multiple standards mentioned in the first five terms, and then draw conclusions like he has, is perhaps the single worst display of scholarship and integrity I have ever encountered. He should be embarrassed and ashamed for what he has done and we will continue to pray that God will grant him repentance.
When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom (Proverbs 11:2, AV).
Judge me, O LORD my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me. Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not say, We have swallowed him up. Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me. Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant. And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long (Psalms 35:2428, AV).
I have surveyed Mr. Bacon's Defense Departed and spent as much time upon it as I could afford. I realize that I have not addressed every issue, but I have attempted to deal with his major objections. Mr. Bacon clearly desires to champion the cause of the independent denomination he calls the Reformation Presbyterian Church; and I maintain that in so doing, he greatly errs.
Does he teach the doctrine of the Reformation? No!
He pours contempt upon its martyrs and libels those who remember and uphold their faithful contendings. He misinterprets the writings of our reformed forefathers to reflect deformed halftruths, and imports his malignant neopresbyterianism upon their tried and true orthodoxy. Disparaging himself, his ministry, and most importantly, the cause of Christ, he dogmatically teaches a confused mix of Papistical, Prelatical, and Independent error, while scandalously hindering the cause of reformation in our land. Behind him lies a wake of sincere children of God who have honestly and sometimes gullibly, received the bread of life from his pulpit; only to find upon more careful inspection that the leaven of error had permeated the whole, and what was once fit for consumption has been transformed into that which is harmful to the whole body. A faithful minister of Christ is commissioned to edify not destroy; he is sent to faithfully witness as a humble servant not proudly misrepresent the humble servants. Mr. Bacon's doctrine and manners are not those of a minister of Reformation truth, but rather those of a minister of error and compromise. As such, he is a minister of deformation, and those who would be careful to watch over their own souls would be well advised to steer clear of his unfaithful feeding.
Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD (Jeremiah 23:2, AV).
Is Mr. Bacon a Presbyterian?
While the outside of his cup glistens with Presbyterian platitudes, the inside is full of the poison and contradiction of Popery and Independency. He attempts to pour out his fatal toxin to Presbyterianism by disparaging the Covenants, and fundamentally striking at the root of fellowship and Christian unity. Those bodies who have drunk of his cup have been subtlety inebriated as the doctrine of schism courses through their members. Sadly, some will ever remain in the stupor of error until such time as this mingled fruit of the vine will find its way to deliver a fatal blow to both the heart and mind of the body. What Mr.Bacon promotes is anything but Presbyterianism. What he promotes is nothing less than sectarian sin.
Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us (Isaiah 8:9, 10, AV).
Does Mr. Bacon belong to a true church? Yes, in essence.
Though he feeds his members with the leaven of error, and many are stumbled from the cup that he serves, the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett still retains the title of a true church (as to being). Everything taught in this body is not wrong, nor is every ordinance adulterated; though church discipline is severely compromised, and the communion table openly latitudinarian, fair judgment is not altogether wanting. While retaining the single mark of a true church (as to being), viz., the profession of the truth, the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett lacks the marks of a faithful Church of Jesus Christ, and consequently should be avoided and withdrawn from until such time as they manifest repentance and restitution.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us (2 Thessalonians 3:6, AV).
He does not faithfully teach Reformation doctrine nor does he maintain Reformation practice; he is Presbyterian in word but not in deed, and the Church which he champions is Christian, though woefully unfaithful.
Mr. Bacon has neither honestly read, nor properly represented the Covenanter position regarding the nature, substance, and use of our Covenants or terms of communion. In the midst of his emotional rhetoric, he has demeaned himself and the office of a minister of Jesus Christ. It should be abundantly clear to the reader at this point that Mr. Bacon's doctrine seriously deviates from the truth of God's Word, from many Acts of General Assembly, as well as the abundantly clear testimonies of the faithful men of the past. Such serious defections from the standards and practice of faithful Presbyterian Churches of the past would place him before their judicial courts to give account of his perjury, schism, gross misrepresentation and malignancy toward covenanted Presbyterianism.
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15, AV).
Many times throughout this response I have called for Mr. Bacon's repentance and I will continue to plead with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that my petition will be granted in due time. Should Mr. Bacon fail to respond satisfactorily I can assure the reader that any further attacks will be duly rebutted.
George Gillespie has spoken so wisely and appropriately to the opponents of his day that I wish to apply his godly and judicious words to our current controversy with Mr. Bacon.
I shall leave every man to his Judge, and shall judge nothing before the time; and I wish every man to consider sadly and seriously, by what spirit and principles he is led, and whether he be seeking the things of Christ, or his own things; whether he be pleasing Christ; whether sin be more shamed and holiness more advanced, this way or that way; which way is the most agreeable to the Word of God, to the example of the best reformed churches, and so to the Solemn League and Covenant. The controversy is now hot: every faithful servant of Christ will be careful to deliver his own soul by his faithfulness, and let the Lord do what seemeth him good. The cause is not ours, but Christ's; it stands him upon his honour, his crown, his laws, his kingdom. Our eyes are towards the Lord, and we will wait for a divine decision of the business: "For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king, he will save us" (George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming, 1646, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1985, p. 78).
Finally, I close this response with the sobering words of John Calvin:
These things which I set before you are not those which I have meditated with myself in my shady nook, but those which the invincible martyrs of God realized amid gibbets, and flames, and ravenous beasts! Had not their courage been thus whetted, they would in an instant have perfidiously abjured the eternal truth, which they intrepidly sealed with their blood. They did not set us an example of constancy in asserting the truth that we should now desert it, when handed down to us so signed and sealed; but they taught us the art by which, trusting in the Divine protection, we stand invincible by all powers of death, hell, the world, and Satan! Farewell ("On Shunning the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly,"Calvin's Selected Works, SWRB reprint, 1997, vol. 3, p. 411; also in booklet form as published by Presbyterian Heritage Publications).
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