Confession vs. Confessionalists

Recently, the Reformed blogosphere heated up with significant discussion of pietism vs. confessionalism. Even if you aren’t up to date on the discussion, I recommend reading Mike Horton’s contribution to the discussion.

Over the past few years, I’ve appreciated the critiques of Darryl Hart and R. Scott Clark (formerly of Heidelblog). Neither has much respect for revivalism, evangelicalism, pietism, or Jonathan Edwards. They instead defend the ordinary means of grace played out in ordinary ecclesiastical settings. Moreover, these men seem to hold any sort of religious affection or emotion as contrary to the ordinary means of grace .

While neither would make such a claim, I’ve often thought that in their emphasis on weekly observance of the preaching, prayers, and sacraments on the Lord’s Day, they downplay and essential element of this participation: personal faith. I am increasingly skeptical of the priority give to pious activities (such as personal devotions, small groups, “worship songs” on the iPod, and most other things offered by Christian bookstores), but “diligent use of the outward and ordinary means” entails more than our physical presence in corporate worship.

No doubt, Hart and Clark agree, yet I’d like to see them emphasize it more. For example, our Shorter Catechism asks us “How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?”

That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

The word must not simply be heard. We must hear with faith. We must hear with diligence. We must lay it up in our hearts. We must practice it (daily) in our (daily) lives. This is not a passive activity. Pious.

Last night, I was reflecting on Larger Catechism 168-177 on the Lord’s Supper. (Incidentally, that is some of the best sacramental theology I’ve ever read. I read it. Dwell on it.) Question 174 asks, “What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in the time of the administration of it?” The answer shocked me:

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.

What’s that you say, Westminster? We are to have spiritual affections? We are to stir up in ourselves to a “vigorous exercise” of the graces of the Supper? We are to long for Christ earnestly? With emotion? Sounds very Edwardsian and pietistic. Sounds contrary to cold, solemn Calvinism. Sounds contrary to the anti-pietists who say we must stop with the introspection and look only outside of ourselves to Christ.

And yet this is what our Standards, following Scripture teach. We must attend on the means of grace with active, personal faith, believing in Christ crucified for sinners. Our faith must be accompanied by zeal and vigorous affection for the great mercy of Christ in the gospel and sacraments. When we look outward to Christ, we will inevitably be changed in the inner man with a deep, heart-felt love for Him and His Work.

I’m fine with Hart being critical of revival, pietism, and Edwardsian affections, but I fear he’s only presenting half the story. Believers must have true heavenly affections (LC 190), spiritual zeal (LC 104), spiritual begging (LC 175), and newness of life (LC 75).