The Wedding was only a Naked Sign (Repost)

Originally I wrote this to defend Peter Leithart and his excellent book Against Chritianity from what I thought were some unfair accusations and characterizations. I’ve stripped out the link to the (long dead) blogpost I was responding to and replaced it with boldface.

I think I’ve decided that I was never married. The truth is, my mind was wondering. I wasn’t listening all that attentively to George’s solemn pronouncement. I certainly was not actively engaged in consciously receiving his declaration with faith. [Explanatory Note: George married us.]

So, obviously, I am not really married. Of course, that doesn’t mean the marriage ritual was unimportant. Oh no. Perhaps someday God will change me by the Spirit, make me a husband inwardly, make me married in my heart, in my heart, Lord. Wedding ceremonies are, obviously, outward signs of inward grace–grace with no connection to the ceremony at the time but to be hoped for in the future.

Jennifer should be praying for that day to come. But instead she just gets mad at me when I bring up these important concepts. I don’t know where a former Baptist girl could get such sacradotalist ideas, but she acts as if we were married by virtue of the ceremony. How strange is that? The Bible is clear that when a man and woman are married, it is God who has joined them together by covenant. Obviously God’s work is immediate in our souls. We should know that weddings don’t actually accomplish anything. We’re not ritualists, after all!

Peter Leithart has often been a great help to me. He gave me pastoral advice when I was a layman, and we have stayed in touch. I got to see him fairly often when I was in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery. But I must say his recent counsel to me has been rather disappointing!

Peter has basically taken my wife’s side. He says I’m married whether or not I consciously received the declaration that I was a husband. He says that George’s declaration was a “performative utterance.” He makes it sound like mere symbols have the power to change things! What is going on?

I accused him of denying God’s sovereignty, the need for a monergistic work of God in the heart. I must say that his reply was rather crafty. I do think Calvinists might need to rethink the idea that God ordains the means as well as the ends. B. B. Warfield’s wonderful book, The Plan of Salvation lays out a path to much needed extension of the Reformation insights. He allows us to see that the real essence of Calvinism (he might have improved the book some by explaining why Calvin himself never realized this) is that God works “immediately” on the soul without any instrumentalities involved.

And while I’m thinking of it, we seriously need to question terminology such as “means of grace” or (worse) “effectual means of salvation.” John Murray has tried to help by insisting on formulations such as, The sacraments are a means of grace but not a means of conferring grace, but such paradoxical statements only work with those of us who know the true Gospel. Among other folk they are simply sneered at as self-contradictions. Sadly, the Westminster Assembly explicitly uses not only the terminology of “means” but also of grace being “conferred.” I think we need to bite the bullet and reform our constitutional documents. After all, we know that the Westminster Assembly was trying to grope toward the pinnacle of all Christendom, late-nineteenth-century American Southern Presbyterianism. By clarifying their language (through a process of pure subtraction, admittedly) I think we would be doing these men a favor by purging their legacy.

But back to Peter Leithart: He insisted that I was a husband simply by being a lawful participant in a marriage. When I say that only God can change the heart, he promptly told me that he hoped God would change mine to believe in my God-given identity as a husband, lest I be condemned as an unfaithful husband. Peter treated faith as if it simply involved trusting God’s promises and actions in the world (which, of course, he alleges can take place through human means) rather than experiencing some sort of crisis work of God in the heart. When I pointed out to him that his warning made it sound as if a real husband could fall under judgment, he responded that believing in my God-given status as a husband conferred upon me at the wedding involved “trembling at the threatenings” that God had made against spouses who committed infidelity. He even had the nerve, despite being a Presbyterian minister, to warn me by using Hebrews 4.1. (This was when I started thinking about our need to clarify our doctrinal standards: When I said what any good sola fide-propositioning Presbyterian should say to such nonsense, he pointed out I was attacking the Westminster Confession of Faith’s language describing saving faith with the prooftext from Hebrews 4.1. This was quite embarrassing.)

Thankfully, I now have at least one pastor’s bald assertion of what the problem is. Peter must be an Anglo-Catholic. He must be a liberal mainliner. Somehow he must be both things at once and the contradiction, of course, has to be Peter’s own confusion, not a sign that anyone is grasping at straws and saying whatever will come into his head to destroy a PCA minister’s reputation.

Reading a bit on the web I now realize I was wrong to engage in doctrinal discussion with Peter. If I follow his way I’ll have to say my children are not bastards simply because of some ceremony I did as a young man too distracted to be engaged in true discernment and faith. What I should have done is immediately asked loaded questions, like “Peter, why haven’t you transferred to the PCUSA?” or “When are you going to take your vows to enter the priesthood?” (Remember both these questions are fine because Peter is obviously guilty of everything at once).

I think the key to dealing with this problem is to try to put as many characterizations on the internet as possible. I don’t mean disagreements in detail. I mean ruinous assaults on his reputation and gratuitous false assertions like, “Where is faith in Christ in all this?” I think a few ostensibly different sources might get all conversation shut down, which is the only way this is going to go away (unless we can start amending the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as suggested above). I got this idea for strategy by analogy from some place in Deuteronomy. Think of this as an attempt to set fire in brambles around Peter’s wheat field. A spark here, and a torch there, and we’ll have sealed off our communion from rational discourse in very little time.

In the meantime, since God hasn’t been please yet to marry me to Jennifer in my heart, I’ve been thinking about adopting my children so they won’t simply be bastards. But the problem is that Charis, being a baby, can’t possibly receive the word of her adoption by faith yet. She has no understanding.

And how am I to relate to Jennifer? Shouldn’t we sleep in separate rooms? Since I’ve allowed my children to pray the Lord’s Prayer from the time they could talk, that seems sort of inconsistent. But maybe I need to repent in both ways: sleep in the couch and tell my children they are no longer permitted to address God as father until they prove they possess a new heart.

This is all total sarcasm and was done without Peter’s knowledge, consent, or input. Or my wife’s–who is really married to me even if my mind did wonder a bit.

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