Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fall to grace: Aftermath, part 7

For the whole story, read this, beginning with Part 1. The condensed version can be found in Part 6. Links to the entire series can be found on the blog sidebar.

Part of the aftermath of my fall to grace was that my ensuing studies made me become more and more out of step with the OPC church we were members of. Eventually I felt compelled to write our pastor the following letter:

Dear [Pastor],

For the past few months, I’ve felt in something of a growing quandary in regards to my relationship with you and the church. I believe that God has changed me in some significant ways. I have been involved in diligent and earnest study that has caused me to adopt some theological beliefs, as well as personal practices, that I think differ significantly from the Westminster Confession of Faith and the teaching of [our church]. I’m not sure if this is really a problem or not. Because my membership vows require me to submit to our church government and heed its discipline should I be found delinquent in doctrine or in life, I feel compelled to let you know where I now stand theologically so that you may determine whether these differences are significant enough to warrant any sort of response or discipline.

Points of Disagreement

Of God’s Covenant with Man --- My beliefs now differ with the WCF and what is commonly taught as part of Reformed Theology. I do not believe that the two covenants emphasized in Scripture are the “covenant of works” with Adam and the “covenant of grace” since then. Furthermore, I do not believe that the “covenant of grace”, as the WCF states, “was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel”, nor do I believe that there “are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.” Instead I believe that the Bible clearly teaches and emphasizes two mutually exclusive covenants: the Old Covenant (Exodus 19:1 - 24:8) and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:6-13, Hebrews 9:11-15, 2 Corinthians 3:3-17, Galatians 4:21-31, Hebrews 12:18-24).

Of the Law of God --- This is probably the most significant area of disagreement, with the most far-reaching implications. I believe that the categorization of the Mosaic Law into moral, civil, and ceremonial is a manmade distinction found nowhere in Scripture. I no longer believe that the “moral law doth for ever bind all”, that it is our “duty”, that it “binds [us] to walk accordingly”, or that the WCF’s “aforementioned uses of the law” are not “contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it”. Instead, I believe that the clear teaching of Scripture, especially as taught in Galatians, is that Jesus Christ has set us free from the Mosaic Law in its entirety, not just from its penalty, but from its requirements. I found the following passages, among others, particularly compelling and convincing: Acts 15:25-41, Romans 6:14-15, Romans 7:1-6, Romans 10:4, Romans 11:5-6, Galatians 3:1-5,10,13,19,23-25, 4:9, 4:21-31, 5:18, 6:13-15, Ephesians 2:14-15. I now believe that I am a child of the free woman, not of the bondwoman (Galatians 4:21-31). My freedom was purchased by the shed blood of my Savior. He has set me free from the bondage of the Old Covenant, including the entire Mosaic Law, and now commands me to stand firm in that freedom---to obey the Law of Christ rather than the Law of Moses---and not to be entangled in the very yoke of bondage from which He freed me. Can I do any less?

Of the Sabbath Day --- As a result of what I have stated above, I no longer believe, as the WCF states, that we are obligated to keep a Christian Sabbath “by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages” and that this is “to be continued to the end of the world”. Instead, I believe that Christ is our Sabbath Rest and has specifically set us free from any requirement concerning Sabbath observance, since this was part of the Mosaic Covenant. (The Sabbath issue is mentioned specifically in Col. 2:13-17, Romans 14:4-6, Heb. 4:1-10) In light of that, my practices on Sunday are no longer in keeping with what the WCF teaches or with what has been taught here at Covenant Grace. Instead, I practice my complete freedom to regard Sunday as any other day, as long as I “do not forsake the assembling together”.

Of Baptism --- I believe that the Baptistic view of Baptism for believers only, by immersion, is more in keeping with the plain teaching of Scripture. Since we are under the New Covenant, and it is mutually exclusive to the Old, I believe we should not attempt to adapt the requirements of the Old Covenant and find a new counterpart to circumcision. Furthermore, I am beginning to believe more strongly in the priesthood of the believer to the point that I am not fully persuaded that only ordained ministers may administer baptism, as I do not find this requirement in Scripture.

Of the Lord’s Supper --- My beliefs in this area have become more Baptistic as well; I now hold to a Memorial view, rather than the Reformed view. [Note: I have since gone back and forth on this issue. Today, I'm probably more Lutheran on this issue than anything else. Sort of.] In addition, not only do I believe that Scripture does not teach that only ministers or elders may administer the Lord’s Supper, but I have partaken recently in a small communion service outside of a church setting that did not involve any church leadership. I do not believe that this was in violation of Scripture.

The Spiritual Gifts --- This is an area where I am still studying. I do not believe that the office of apostle still exists today. I do not yet have any firm position concerning the gift of prophecy. However, the conclusions of the report of the General Assembly in 1978 concerning the spiritual gifts do not persuade me. I believe that tongues are still valid for today, although I have not personally spoken in tongues. I have, however, recently observed the speaking in tongues along with their interpretation. I believe this was valid and of God. In fact, I find it problematic that too many churches are willing to violate the Biblical injunction not to forbid the speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39) without what I find as a Scriptural warrant to do so. Furthermore, at my own request, a minister has laid hands on me and prayed that I might no longer resist the ministry and gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe that I had previously and erroneously quenched the working of the Holy Spirit in my own life and have purposed to do so no longer.

If I haven’t been clear about what I now believe, or if you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to discuss any of this with you. Both you and [your wife] are a blessing to me; I don’t want theological disagreement to cause any division, dissension, or hard feelings.

I’ve written this letter with some measure of fear and trembling, as well as sadness. The reevaluation of my Reformed Faith has not been an easy process, especially since I have become fully persuaded by Scripture to abandon a number of my firmly held and cherished beliefs. It is also a sad thing to me to feel that I am now out of step with the church body here at [church]. At the same time, I am experiencing a depth of joy that I never thought possible: God’s grace and love have become more real and personal to me than ever before. I do not know if these areas of disagreement will be viewed by the you or the Session as problematic or as constituting a serious offense. If so, I want to state my willingness to submit, as humbly, graciously, and lovingly as God’s grace enables me, to any discipline or course of action the Session would deem appropriate.


What happened next? We met with the Session and discussed some of the issues raised in my letter/position paper to the pastor. In addition to the issues that I had raised, my husband had some theological differences over progressive sanctification.

Our elders asked us if we wanted to leave the church. If not, they would have no choice but to put us under church discipline and attempt to dissuade us from our error.

We prayed together. We wept together. We hugged each other and parted. It was not easy. I am so grateful for the godly way in which our elders handled this entire situation. It was clear that our pastor was deeply concerned for our spiritual well-being and that he acted only in love for us.

Since then, I had the joyous privilege of attending a baby shower to celebrate the joyously anticipated --- and long awaited and prayed for --- birth of their son Samuel.

May we all be like this precious pastor and his family. May love cover even our theological differences. May the fellowship we share with one another as Believers extend beyond our church walls.


  1. Wow. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been for you. I like how you clearly stated all your beliefs (or at least those in which you differed with your church). That must have been a good exercise to go through. I can only imagine the pain of having to leave that church.

    I have a question, though, coming from this patriarchy movement! Why didn't your husband write the letter? Was he in full agreement with you? From reading your previous installments, it seems as if he believed this along, so why were you members of that church to begin with, if he didn't agree with their theology? Did he support you in both sending the letter and in leaving? Did he blame you at all?

    Sorry for all the questions!

  2. Jen, you raised some interesting questions. Why were we members of that church to begin with? It's kind of a long story, beyond the scope of this series, but the short answer has to do with friends attending there and with the fact that we had a great deal of respect for the pastor and his teaching. My husband never really agreed with much of Reform theology; however, he didn't realize how much he disagreed because, in many respects, he didn't fully understand what exactly was being taught. He has a tendency to put a more "positive spin" on things. Thus, for example, when he would hear about "means of grace", he would think to himself, "Surely they don't really mean that receiving communion is a way of receiving God's grace. What they must mean is..."

    I had to drag out our theology books and thrust them under his nose and get him to read them before he would believe me about what the OPC really taught.

    He was in agreement with my letter. However, his hot button issue --- and the reason the still gives for leaving the OPC church --- is progressive sanctification. Frankly, I've never been able to get my mind around this issue at all, and I couldn't tell you how he differed from the OPC in his beliefs.

    Because he was still trying to figure out what Reformed theology was all about, and was kind of reeling with shock over the fact that he had unwittingly joined a church whose beliefs he didn't share, he thought I was the best person to write the letter. He's never been all that patriarchal anyway.