Friday, May 23, 2008

A Succinct Reply to a Shallow Rebuttal

Revised 6/8/08.

[Not only is the Succint Rebuttal of the Neo-Steelite Thesis of interest in its own right, to see it on a RPCNA website - the denomination which other American Presbyterian bodies call "The Covenanters” - without any distinctions, qualifications or exceptions noted, is of even more interest. While one supposes that the RPCNA is still serious about their own American Covenant of 1871 (pp.281-6), one would have thought it would have balked at denying what is at least common historical Covenanter doctrine on the SL&C and the British Isles. In other words, if the Succinct Rebuttal is an attempt to rebut "Neo-Covenanting" doctrine, "Not-Covenanters" succinctly describes its own position.]

1. The SL&C espouses biblical principles, and so far as principles are concerned the SL&C should be highly esteemed.

[Answer. Respectfully this is to damn the SL&C with faint praise. Rather without the SL&C we would not have the Westminster Standards as we know them at all. The Assembly at Westminster was merely revising the Articles of the English Church and nothing like what resulted was intended when the Assembly was first called. The SL&C changed all that. One cannot honor the son, without honoring the father, but this is to call the father unnecessary and superseded by the son. Neither the SL&C or the West. Standards affirm this position though.
Further, are the WS principles? No.
And what is the principle of the SL&C specifically instead of just the vague and undefined “biblical principles?” For that matter, are those principles specifically spelled out in the WS? Could it be a national oath and covenant to establish and support biblical Protestant Christianity in a common confession, catechism, directory or worship and government, which the WS are a fulfillment of as a means to the further end of religious unity?]

2. The biblical principles of the SL&C are incorporated within the Westminster Standards, so that any person who subscribes the Westminster Standards should charitably be regarded as maintaining the principles of the SL&C.

[Again, this is disingenuous, if not downright dishonest. The SL&C was a solemn oath and covenant by all parties, public and private to establish and uphold Biblical Christianity - the true Protestant religion - in church and state in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland in a uniformity built on a common confession and catechisms, directory of worship, form of church government. Thus the Westminster Standards. Once having attained the actual standards and the subsequent religious uniformity built upon them, the parties were sworn to maintain the same - both the basis for uniformity and the resulting uniformity - in perpetuity.]

3. The SL&C also contains sworn obligations to particular parties within a specific situation. Those parties are the geo-political nations of Scotland, England, and Ireland. The sworn obligations pertain especially to the Church and State situation of Scotland and England of that time.

[Again, this is not the whole truth. Those who swore the SL&C did not mean to attain a common standard in doctrine, worship and government and a subsequent religious uniformity built on those standards, only to throw it all away and begin again as soon as the generation that first swore the SL&C passed away. Yes, some things and instances have passed away, but not the main thrust of the SL&C which the statement ignores.]

4. All parties who subscribed the SL&C, namely, those in Church and State in Scotland, England, and Ireland, were bound to fulfill the sworn obligations as stated in the SL&C. God is not a party to the covenant because He has not dictated the particular terms of it. He is, however, a witness to the covenant, and stands ready to avenge the quarrel that might arise from one earthly party failing to fulfill its promise to another earthly party.

[I do not think that this is the position of reformed presbyterian covenanting of that day. It was believed that God implicitly in his word had dictated the essential terms and that essentially the three kingdoms were renewing the covenant at Sinai. Very possibly though, there could be some merit to the distinction between God being a witness, instead of a party to the covenant.]

5. Only lawful authority was able to impose the covenants, and their imposition was restricted to the people over whom they exercised authority, namely, the people of Scotland, England, and Ireland. Whatever authority the Parliament and Convention acted with during the civil wars, it was only a provisional authority, and it required the sanction of the king before it could be regarded as an established law. 1

[While it could be argued that Parliament only had provisional authority, above and beyond that the SL&C was a good and Biblical oath that on the pains of unfaithfulness and erastianism the church was still bound to, regardless if the civil magistrate sanctioned it at all. That the king refused such a biblical oath hardly says good things about him and to suffer his example and authority to beg off the just ends of the SL&C is hardly commendable for the church.]

[What follows below is somewhat confusing. We will respond to what it seems to be saying for starters and follow up on any further clarifications.]

1. An awareness of the conciliar origin of parliamentary authority is important. After the Militia Ordinance of 1642 unto 1660, the English Westminster parliament ruled de facto by convention. Nevertheless, sworn obligations remained upon the people of the land as legislated via ordinances through the English Westminster Parliament, without the king’s assent. However, the English king, took residence and set up Parliament in Oxford. The Oxford Parliament was in direct competition with the Westminster Parliament. The struggle for supremacy ensued. Though we know who prevailed, at the time, and all the Statues of the Realm from the Oxford Parliament (bearing the assent and will of the king) were burned. [Yet] Even to this day, the Realm does not recognize the legal authority of the ordinances produced by the Westminster parliament during this period, having not the expression of the will of the king annexed to them, which if so expressed, would remain a legal Statue of the Realm. In Scotland, the legal implementation of the covenants ensued between the king and the Scottish Parliament. Therefore Scotland was legally bound to the covenants de jure.

[1. What the last means re. Scotland is not clear.
2. Granted in England, the letter of the law is that the SL&C is not law, but can anyone argue that the Recission of the Covenant in 1661 was anything other than formally legal; that the king was seriously justified in refusing a good and biblical oath? This is erastianism. i.e. that the throne has an unlimited right and power to determine any and all questions, i.e the Act and Oath of Supremacy again. ]

So, Scotland's covenant carried the full weight of law in Scotland. But, if the king’s sanction is required to give legislation the full weight of law, what is to be done with the ordinances of the English Parliament which were not ratified by the king’s sanction? These were called “ordinances” for the very reason that they required the king to pass them before they could be regarded as statutes. Having found that the work of the Westminster Assembly lacked full legal authority so far as England was concerned, we will find that the king’s dominions belonged to England, not Scotland. Now, if the Solemn League and Covenant lacked the full status of law in England, then, even if England’s laws applied to all of her dominions (which experts deny), the Solemn League and Covenant must be regarded as lacking full legal status in England’s dominions.

Furthermore, the commonly used historical argument of the neo-Covenanters—that Charles II swearing to own the SL&C and to prosecute and promote it in his kingdoms, lands, dominions, and plantations binds Americans to perpetual obligation to it—is selfdefeating. The authority by which the colonial charters were granted was an authority which neo-Covenanters disown (i.e. The Neo-Covenanters believe that the binding obligation of the covenants is via the English link and authority of the king). Therefore they are stuck on the horns of a dilemma.

[Again, the dilemma is confused. Does this mean that Charles II was only king of Scotland and so only affirmed the covenants for Scotland, but not for England? The Covenanters, never mind the Neo-covenanters, believed that in order for the king to lawfully hold the throne, he had to swear the covenants as did the rest of the country. Granted it was under duress. Charles I or II hardly cared for Biblical Christianity, the true reformed Protestant religion. But the legitimacy of the same hardly waits upon the king’s approval.]

(1.) If that authority was lawful, then they are bound to acknowledge that the charters were granted by an authority which rescinded the covenants; in which case, they defeat their own argument that the colonial constitution was bound to the covenants.

[Correction, an authority which unlawfully rescinded the covenants. The distinction is all the world to the argument, which falls to the ground without it.
The king cannot take the covenant in order to the throne, to then as king throw out the covenant in the Acts Recissory of 1661. Or was the covenant an unlawful and erroneous covenant, i.e. do figs grow on thornbushes?]

(2.) If that authority is unlawful, then they are bound to acknowledge that the charters do not carry the weight of law; in which case, they defeat their own argument that the colonies were bound to the constitution of England, which they consider to be obliged to the covenants.

[Some charters were before, some after the covenants, but all held in the king’s name. Again, the king was not lawfully king if he would not take the covenant. He did, however deceitfully and then unlawfully abrogated the covenant. The argument that the colonies are not then bound on those grounds is superficial and erroneous.]

These problems are easily removed by adopting the apostolic and Presbyterian view of civil magistracy: “the powers that be are ordained of God,” and “difference in religion doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority.”

[And this is the elementary error of mistaking a complex question for a simple one in order to evade the obvious. But the magistrates in this case have sworn to uphold Biblical Christianity as a condition to their just and legal authority. In other words, the just and legal authority of the magistrate ala WCF 23 is based on a just and legal oath and covenant ala WCF 22 in this particular instance with the SL&C, however diligently ignored. The Rebuttal only consults or applies the WCF on a piece meal basis and without any attempt to address the original intent of the document or references to it, such as that in the Directory for Ordination in the Form of Presbyterial Government which clearly sees the SL&C, after the West. Standards had been written, as the oath of subscription to them (West. Confess., FPP, '97, p.413), never mind the SL&C itself.

Further, in principle it reminds one of the excuses used to justify the schism that resulted from the Lord MacKay case in the Free Presbyterian church, in which one might as well claim that the Westminster Standards contradict themselves. It is no matter that the Conf. in Chapt. 29:2 says that” the Popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect,” much more that the Larger Catechism in the duties of the Second Commandment inveighs against tolerating idolatry.
Yet supposedly the confessional doctrines of Christian liberty and conscience, as well the communion of the saints (which might seem to assume a like faith between protestantism and romanism) categorically overrule and disqualify the plain statements of the WS on popery and idolatry and we are told that Christian liberty and conscience were violated by the Free Presbyterian church in reproving Lord MacKay’s attendance. Go figure.

For that matter, Lord MacKay would not even have had the opportunity to attend a Roman funeral of a colleague on the bench if the thrust of the SL&C had not been further thwarted in the Act of 1829 which allowed papists to hold public office, if not the abolition of the penal statutes against papists in 1778, if not the Act Recissory of 1661 which unlawfully threw out the SL&C in the first place. That is never mentioned even by the Free Presbyterian Church which supposedly upholds the SL&C.

Likewise again, the magistrates have a just and legal authority, but it is to uphold the good and punish evil. Further in this case, they are covenanted magistrates. That qualification the argument entirely ignores. Not only that, only erastians and the compromised church insists that Rom. 13 applies to any and all magistrates never mind the tenor of their administrations and actions - whether they are upholding the good and punishing evil or not. Paul is hardly/categorically approving of Nero in his day or Hitler, Stalin and Mao in ours. For reformed presbyterians of all people to rake this chestnut out of the dungheap and to present it in all seriousness is to insult Scripture, the confessions and history.]

6. With the alteration of the situation to which a covenant directs itself, the sworn obligation is no longer binding. In Ezek. 17, the covenant obligation was, “that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up,” v. 14, i.e. Israel would be subject to Babylonian rule and were not permitted to rebel against the sovereignty of Babylon. But Zedekiah seeks help from Egypt, and thereby transgresses the explicit terms of the covenant. Because God is a witness to the covenant, He owns it as His covenant, v. 19, and must avenge the quarrel of it. All of which is fulfilled in the captivity. But when Babylon ceased to exercise sovereignty over Israel, the people could return to their own land in freedom. God indeed has borne witness to the covenant, but because the circumstances to which the covenant directed itself have ceased to exist, the people are no longer obliged to be subject to Babylon.

[All well and good, but immaterial to the case at hand.]

7. The situation in Scotland, England, and Ireland of the 1640s has most certainly ceased to exist. That being the case, the sworn obligation between these nations ceases to exist. New treaties have been constituted between these nations, to which God is a witness, and for which he will bring transgression into judgment. With the making of a new covenant, the old ceases. Otherwise we are still obliged to the temple and its services.

[And why has the situation changed? In as much as it has, it is still immaterial. The righteous and biblical SL&C to establish and maintain the true reformed Protestant faith as confessed and set forth in the Westminster Standards in the three kingdoms has yet to be accomplished. To argue that the passage of time has negated it, much more other treaties or covenants is pathetic. To attempt to compare the temple and its ceremonies, which were superseded by their fulfillment in Christ, to the SL&C and argue that the SL&C is fulfilled by being denied by new treaties is a non sequitur, if not an absolutely ridiculous proposition.]

8. Covenant renewal can only be undertaken by the original parties which subscribed the covenant, else it is fraudulent. The Convention of Estates in Scotland and the Parliament of England are the only lawful authorities which can impose a renewal of the terms of the SL&C. They can only impose such a renewal within the territories over which they exercise authority. Failing that, the SL&C of the three kingdoms, like the civil law of Israel, “expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.”

[The Convention of Estates and the Parliament of England are arguably the only lawful civil authorities which can impose a renewal of the SL&C. That these civil bodies are competent to dictate or tell the church what to do though, after the church has sworn a lawful oath is truly the erastian doctrine of Revolution Settlement presbyterianism. Further the general equity of the SL&C has yet to be accomplished and one can therefore only conclude that it remains binding on - at the very least - the ecclesiastical bodies represented by their forbears in the SL&C, if not also the civil bodies - at the very least again as regards the three kingdoms, if not also the colonies and commonwealth. One can argue about the last, but for England, Scotland and Ireland there is no question.

If the Succint Rebuttal wants to be taken seriously, it might at least try to make a case that the SL&C was wrong from the very start and that the civil magistrate has no business being involved with upholding the true Protestant religion (as indeed most modern confessional churches teach these days), not that the SL&C has been fulfilled or superseded. It is impossible to intelligently argue that.]