The Reformation At 500 Conference

This year I attended a different conference than the one I usually attend in October. The conference was sponsored by the Trinity Foundation Ministry held in Johnson City Tennessee. For those who have never heard of the Trinity Foundation it is an apologetic ministry devoted to promoting the philosophy of Gordon Clark known as Scriptural Presuppositionalism. Most Christians have at some point heard of the word presuppositionalism. The word itself seems to be rather evident as to its meaning. As Christians we suppose God and His word to be true before entertaining any arguments regarding their defense. The question is why do we presuppose this to be true? This is what presuppositionalism purports to answer.

There are also two types or schools of Presuppositional thought, one associated with Cornelius Van Til and the other with Gordon Clark. Van Tilian Presuppositionalism is by far and away the most widely known and accepted form of this apologetic method. Clark’s thought is far less known and accepted for reasons we will refrain from engaging in at the moment. Clark’s apologetic incorporates the word Scripturalism in its title, due to the fact that it is intimately connected to what is supposed about the Scripture, something not true of Van Til’s approach. To put it in the most straightforward way possible, the Presuppostionalism of Gordon Clark asserts the Scripture as the word of God to be truth alone, as opposed to any other form of knowledge that might be argued. It is a philosophy that focuses first and foremost on epistemology, and therefore, is consistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith which begins with Scripture as its first article.

A philosophy that begins with a definition of what constitutes knowledge first before proceeding to the question of God seems to me to be a vitally important thing to do in defending the Christian faith. For this reason, attacks upon the Christian God by atheists have always involved an attack upon the Scripture. Believe it or not there are relatively few atheists today in America, although you would not know it in light of their undue influence on society. Certainly they seem to command full control of the academic system. There are by far more of what are called agnostics who do not necessarily deny the possibility of theism altogether, but rather assert that they do not know or have proof of God that convinces them one way or the other. Of the two the agnostic is more difficult to deal with. This is because the Scripture which we who believe suppose to be the word of God states that every person knows that God exists and that “The fool has said in his heart, ” There is no God. ” (Ps. 14:1a). The atheist is a fool to deny what he says does not exist. And not only that, to assert that science disproves theism is just as foolish for the reason that it is impossible to prove a negative.

This is perhaps the reason that far more people subscribe to the notion of agnosticism rather than atheism. They suppose themselves to be avoiding the obvious irrationality of the atheist. However, they (agnostics) are actually no better off, for in not accepting the Being of God revealed in Scripture they are actually atheists too. Mere theism will be of little consequence to anyone on the day of judgement. And everyone knows that a judgement day lays ahead of them, whether they try to deny God completely, or rationalize unbelief through doubt. The agnostic is simply intellectually dishonest about the matter. The fact that the agnostic does not want to deny theism outright as the atheist does, only proves that he knows God does exist. The basic problem then of the agnostic is he does not know what God is. This is what Scriptural epistemology seeks to address. It is the revelation of God about Himself; His nature; His attributes; His works; His law; His judgements; His Son; His salvation.

Sadly, much of Christianity so called today, discounts the importance of revelation. Instead, religious experience is taught in most church circles as the way to salvation. Instead of faith in propositional revelation about a historic event involving a historical Person, we are told that the gospel is some sort of subjective mystical experience of Jesus and His love. Certainly this is true in Pentecostal churches where signs and wonders are looked to for authentication of faith. But it goes way beyond the fringes of Pentecostalism into not only mainstream Neo Evangelicalism, but what is claimed to be historic Reformed orthodoxy as well. We have the specter in the Reformed church today of Neo Orthodoxy; Redemptive Historical Theology; New Covenant Theology; New Perspective on Paul’s teaching of Justification; New Perspective on Calvin’s teaching of Union with Christ; Future Grace Theology; Federal Visionism; Theonomy; Neo Calvinism, all are aberrant forms of Protestant orthodoxy when examined in the light of Scripture. All of these ideas extol the virtues of subjective experience as authoritative and salvific in value the same as Roman Catholic theology.

The Reformation At 500 Conference focused on the need to return to the principles of the Reformation, as set forth in the Bible by the Reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Farel and Huldrych Zwingli. The revelation of God in the Scriptures is the only source of authority and teaching for faith and salvation in the truly Christian church. Salvation is accomplished in history through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is applied by God to His people when effectually called to faith in the propositional revelation of the cross by God’s Holy Spirit. Salvation is not an experience wrought by some personal work or use of a sacrament. It is the renovation of human nature by regeneration of the Holy Spirit, something quiet and mysterious that is not felt, but discerned by its fruit (John 3:3-8). Its fruit is a change of world view from unbelief to faith in the word of God. God justifies those whom He regenerates, declaring they are saved by the death and merits of Jesus Christ. This was what was at issue in the Reformation.

The church of the middle ages had lost its way to God when the Scriptures were wrested from the peoples hands by a corrupt clergy and an arrogant Pope claiming infallibility for himself. Even though it was not until the nineteenth century that the Roman Catholic church adopted this designation of infallibility for papal authority, it was certainly claimed and therefore, exercised over the people who were under its domination for fifteen hundred years prior to it. For this reason, corruption of doctrine and practice permeated the church in the sixteenth century when the Protestant Reformers lived. Their attempt to bring it back to the confines of the infallible word of God was met with vile opposition and persecution by the Roman Bishops who condemned them as heretics.

Yet, today we have forgotten all of this by embracing the apostate Roman church through various associations and cooperative agreements with them by various Protestant authorities and organizations. And all of this has led to many Protestants who have imbibed in beliefs that at their core are actually Roman Catholic to one extent or another. All of the heretical movements listed above carry elements of false teaching associated with the Roman Catholic idea of sacerdotal salvation in one way or another. Sacerdotalism is pure and simple salvation by experience, it is a salvation by works that they teach. They do this by combining faith and works together in a process of theological dialecticism, or, diapraxis for short. Faith and works are mixed together to produce some sort of inherent personal holiness within to recommend the sinner to God. Of course Romanists believe in grace, but this is what the experience of good works is to them. The grace of God to them is received by an infused righteousness through the use of church sacraments which when performed are supposed to merit acceptance with God, something which is absolutely foreign to the Scripture. Any theology current within Protestantism today which says that works are necessary either to obtain, or to retain salvation is simply another variation on the theme of Roman Catholicism.

The Reformation At 500 Conference hosted four speakers which were Tom Juodaitis, President of the Trinity Foundation, Chris Pinto, Writer/Director of Addulam Christian film Ministries, Mark Evans, Pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church of Greenville, SC, and Dr. Paul Elliot, Author and President of Teaching the Word Ministries. The focus of the combined Conference messages was to highlight the recovery of biblical salvation in the gospel as expressed in the five great principles of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The five principles of Protestantism are the authority of Scripture alone, justification by faith alone, salvation by grace alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Also, there was a focus given on the past and present activity of the Roman Catholic church to bring the Protestant church back under their rule. At one time this was done through the violence of the inquisition. The Jesuit order was formed in order to carry out this very task through the means of a counter reformation. Today, the Roman church is not able to carry out its plan by way of the inquisition as it once did. However, the Jesuits are still active in carrying out the counter reformation in a multitude of various ways, seeking to draw uninformed professing Christians back into their fold. This they have done through enticing Protestants to engage in various cooperative agreements in which sound doctrine is formally compromised. The Christian church must beware of their ultimate goal to reverse five hundred years of Reformation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, not only for the lectures, but in meeting others who subscribe to the Scripturalist apologetic method of Gordon Clark, many who came like me from across the country to attend. I’m told the audio messages will soon be posted on the Trinity Foundation website.


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