How Church Rulings Do & Do Not Bind, & of Breaking Them

If the Church is not neglected today, it is often idolized; if Church authority is not disregarded, it is frequently turned absolute.

The Biblical and historically presbyterian position is that Church authority is conditional, and can only confirm the truth and what is good; it binds only insofar as God’s moral law binds antecedently within the situation itself.  To decline a positive order of Church government, apart from giving scandal and contempt of rightul authority, does not incur guilt.

Hence there is as much freedom in Christ’s House as God’s Law allows, and the Church’s government cannot with God’s authority turn into a capricious bear-trap.

Learn the ins and outs of when it is right to obey the Church, and when it is wrong; your welfare may depend on it.  You won’t find this essential subject for the Christian life treated in such solid detail anywhere else.

How Church Rulings Do & Do Not Bind, on Guilt & Innocence in Breaking Them, & on Contumacy

How Far the Church may Speak to Civil Issues

From Covid regulations to getting Woke with social justice and activism, this could not be a more needful question to have accurate, Biblical and solid answers to.  One ‘conservative’ reaction to the politicizing of the Church, in contrast also to the later full-blown liberal, social gospel, was the 1800’s, American, Southern presbyterian doctrine of the ‘spirituality of the Church’, which in fact was a reduction of preaching the whole counsel of God.  Today a similar mindset is held by much of fundamentalist baptist America, following in line with the Pietist and Anabaptist traditions.

Turn, however, to the Reformation and puritan eras, not because of the stature of those men, but because you will find that they hammered out this topic in more precise and accurate detail faithful to the Word of God than any other era in history.  The Rock of God’s Word does not move or change.

Find the Truth, and be steadfast in it for the rest of your life.  Start with Gillespie, who concisely outlines the puritan doctrine, reformed accoring to the Word of God, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

How Far the Church May Speak to Civil Issues

Seeking the Peace & Purity of the Church

One of the main aims of Church discipline, which should also be the aim of all Christians, is to seek the peace and purity of Christ’s Church.

It is not always readily clear however, what that principle calls for in particular situations; and the phrase is often readily misused by those who have little care for the purity of the Church, or her peace.  If all parties are seeking the peace of the Church in purity, and seeking the purity of the Church in peace, disputes and scandals can be resolved in a healthy manner.

Here are numerous historic resources that will help you and your Church in seeking the peace and purity of Christ’s Kingdom:

On the Peace & Purity of the Church

Calderwood Translation on Easter

In light of Easter coming up, we have translated a classic section from the Scottish presbyterian minister, David Calderwood, on this addition to God’s worship.

The observation of Easter was claimed to be indifferent by Scottish prelates (as it is often so claimed to be today by reformed ministers), it being imposed at the Perth Assembly in Scotland in 1618.  In 1623, Calderwood laid out these propositions in Latin on indifferent things and ceremonies about God’s worship, which precisely delineate the Biblical and classical presbyterian view on the subject.

As such, these propositions are timeless.  Please enjoy them and share them with your friends, and remember to keep the Lord’s Day holy.

Calderwood, David – ‘Propositions on Indifferent Things & Ceremonies in Worship’  trans. T. Fentiman  (1623; RBO, 2021)

On Scandal

The topic of scandal may seem obscure, until one finds oneself in the midst of dealing with one; scandals, in fact, are all around us.

Where does one go for help?  Until now there has not been an abundance of reformed resources on the topic.  These resources will be especially helpful for Church officers who not infrequently must handle and seek to heal these commotions.

Scandal is not simply displeasing people; it is any word or action, or lack thereof, which tends towards hindering others in the path of righteousness.

If you are committed to doing what is right and morally necessary in situations when it is not popular (as God calls and obliges us to do), you will need a thorough and detailed understanding of this topic in order to seek to maintain the line of righteousness in difficult situations.

On Scandal & Offenses

Podcast on Schizophrenia & Demonic Possession

Is some schizophrenia actually demonic possession?

That is the subject of a new podcast at the Holy Happy Hour (#60), featuring Travis Fentiman, MDiv, LPN, the webmaster of ReformedBooksOnline.  The discussion reflects Fentiman’s recent article on the subject from his experience in psychiatric nursing, which answers the question in the affirmative.

If you desire to learn more about this interesting and important subject, or desire to get to know the webmaster more, have a listen!

The Simplicity of Worship

Anyone who reads the book of Acts will be struck with how simple that standard of apostolic worship was, which is forever a rule to the Christian Church.

The more simple the worship is, the more spiritual it will be shown to be, when persons have nothing else to cling to in it but the Word of God laid bare, in the praying, the singing, the reading and the preaching of the Word.

The simplicity and spirituality of Christian worship, in contradistinction to most evangelical and even reformed worship today, used to be a well-known doctrine of the Reformation and of presbyterians.  Recover a heart for Biblical worship by studying the resources on this page:

On the Simplicity & Spirituality of Worship

George Gillespie:

“That the [Anglican] Ceremonies are a great hinderance to edification appears, first, in that they obscure the substance of religion and weaken the life of godliness by outward glory and splendor, which draws away the minds of people so after it that they forget the substance of the service which they are about…  departing from the apostolical and most ancient simplicity, and for adding ceremonies unto ceremonies in a worldly splendor and spectability, whereas the worship of God ought to be pure and simple…

Secondly, the Ceremonies are impediments to the inward and spiritual worship, because they are fleshly and external…” – English Popish Ceremonies (1637), pp. 19-20

Demonic Possession Today

This is a personal topic for myself, Travis Fentiman, MDiv., LPN.  Until I became a nurse, I never had any first-hand experience with demonic possession.

But since then, after talking to and observing many persons who hear ‘voices’ in their head, I have become persuaded that most schizophrenics, who hear such malevolent voices, are demon possessed.  This means that more people than we have imagined today are possessed by demons, and are around us in some number in society (about 1%).

These webpages were born out of need.  When a person is being tormented in front of you in tears and despair, how does one help them?  Can one deliver them?

I have written a personal account of my experience and clinical observations with these things, and hope it may be helpful and eye-opening.  See the Introduction on this new page:

On Demonic Possession

I wish I had time to write an introduction to the following page as well, giving the results of my investigations into Scripture, reformed theology and history, but I have not.  Nonetheless, this might be the only collection of historic, reformed resouces available on the topic:

On Exorcism

Polemical Theologies

Polemical Theology is Scriptural theology that is organized around refuting false doctrines and religions.  The brilliance of the light is often most clearly seen in contrast to the darkness of error.

Little is it known that nearly every single theological or practical question about Christianity today has already been hammered out by the reformed in near exhaustive detail and length during the 1500’s & 1600’s.

If one can find out which erroneous sect erred on the issue during that time, then you will find a wealth of literature proving the Scriptural position in detail in the many reformed, polemical writings against that sect.

Hence, as a gateway into this literature, we have compiled all the important reformed handbooks of polemical theology since the Reformation that we could find.  Most of them are in Latin.

Polemical Theologies

This is just a beginning.  We hope to fill out the webpages against the sects in much greater detail in the future, and hope, if the Lord wills, to build a system of literature, reformed according to the Word of God, on every last aspect of Christianity.  May the Lord see it through.

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“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”

Jn. 17:17

What Constitutes the Fundamentals of Christianity & How Bad are Errors Beyond Them?

What precisely must one believe to be saved?  Given the variety of people’s background, understanding and what is told them of Christianity, even as exampled in Scripture, that is not an easy question to answer.

If people profess serious errors that seem to overturn the fundamentals of Christianity, though they yet profess to believe in those fundamental teachings of the True Faith, will they be saved?  Are they professing Christians?  May we have fellowship with such a Church?

The topic of the fundamental and secondary teachings of Christianity is at once a profoundly basic issue, and yet it is incredibly complex with many real world implications.  Should a baptist be allowed to be a member of a church reformed according to the Word of God?  Should an Arminian?

Little is it known that there was a large, reformed consensus in these issues amongst the presbyterians in the puritan era, even in the minute details, and that not simply from human agreement, but as it was proved by the Word of God and the light of nature.

You will learn a lot.  See especially Witsius.  And, as usual, git wrekt by Rutherford:

Of Fundamental, Secondary & Tertiary Matters of Christianity, of Errors Therein & of Communion, Discipline & Separation Thereabout

More Writings of the Westminster Divines

Around Thanksgiving we had over 890 online writings of the Westminster divines collected on our site.  Realizing there were some that we had missed, we kept digging, searching and scurrying.

We are glad to announce that, by the blessing of God, we have been able to cull together for you 1,118 volumes of the divines that are freely available online, for a total of 1,260 referenced on our page:

All of the Writings of the Westminster Divines in English Online

This is currently the largest collection (by far) on the net.  You may be wondering why we do this: it is not an antiquarian interest; it is our livelihood.

We hope within several months to add all of the sermons of the divines to our Sermon & Textual Index (which is currently the largest print, textual index with links on the net).

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“For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.”

Isa. 11:9

On Political Theology

How can politics be reformed according to the Word of God?  Christians more than ever need to gain a more thorough understanding of what Christianity says about politics and law.  To say that political theology has been neglected in modern times is an understatement.

We have collected all of the webpages related to political theology on ReformedBooksOnline onto one page:

On Political Theology

The Westminster Assembly Against God being the Author of Sin

The following piece may be the least known, but most important, short document of the Westminster Assembly.  A book was circulated in London arguing that God is the Author even of Sin, this being purportedly for the benefit of saints taking comfort in this in their trials.

The Westminster Assembly requested the English civil Parliament to suppress this blasphemous book.  The Parliament ordered the burning of the book, and that the Westminster Assembly draw up a declaration in order “to declare to the people the abominableness of it.”  The declaration, unanimously approved by the Assembly, with none dissenting, very helpfully and carefully condemns the sentiments of the book that go too far, as many do today, and precisely defines how God orders sin for good, while not being the efficient cause of it, sin coming solely from the creature at God’s effective permission.

In this short piece, see a model example of how the civil government and the Church ought to cooperate between their distinct jurisdictions unto godly purposes, and how censorship of that which is immoral (it violating God’s Law) is good and necessary.

The Westminster Assembly – ‘A Short Declaration of the Westminster Assembly, by Way of Detestation of the Doctrine that God is the Author of Sin’  (London, 1645)  6 pp.

For Thanksgiving: The Works of the Westminster Divines

We are so thankful to God that we are able to give you this Thanksgiving gift:

A few months ago Phase II of Early English Books Online, which contains over 35,000 volumes, became freely open to the public online.

Hence, we have been able to add several hundred volumes to:

All of the Writings of the Westminster Divines in English Online

which now contains over 890 works by the Westminster divines, at your fingertips.  This is the largest collection online.

May all thanks be unto God, the source of every good gift (James 1:17).

Twisse on God Willing the Salvation of All Men Indiscriminately

William Twisse, a moderator of the Westminster Assembly, has been known as a very ‘high’ Calvinist; so high, in fact, that many persons have used his very strong and continual language about God’s purposed destruction of reprobates against the notion that God wills their good or salvation in any way.  In fact, we long ago gave up trying to find in Twisse anything of the latter.

However, sure enough, we happened upon some places in Twisse where, in qualifying himself, he does, as Scripture, affirm God’s end of leading all men indiscriminately to repentance and salvation.

William Twisse on How God Wills the Salvation of Men Indiscriminately

There was a diversity of language and categories that the reformed used in the 1600’s on this subject, as is evident in Twisse here arguing against John Cotton, who used a stronger paradigm and language than Twisse.

On Jurisprudence

Rulers are to rule in equity (Ps. 99:4; Prov. 17:26).  While even the humblest believer can recognize the rightness or wrongness of a case laid before him (1 Cor. 6), yet we are to exercise our senses in order to be able to discern good and evil in greater maturity (Heb. 5:14), especially as we are called to as mothers and fathers, elders and those who hold offices in business or the civil government.

History has bequeathed to us an extensive and profound collection of writings elaborating on what constitutes equity according to Natural Law.  This is a field in which believers can learn a lot in from natural men.

Many books of Church order are surprisingly sparse with respect to guidance in many particulars.  Rather than making things up as one goes, expand your awareness of the principles of equity and justice:

On Jurisprudence

Specifically, we have been happily surprised with how much profit, spiritual as well as natural, we have found in collections of Legal Maxims.

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“He loveth righteousness and judgment…”

Ps. 33:5

A New Translation of Rollock

There is a short tract in Latin on God’s decree of predestination by Robert Rollock, the early and formative Scottish theologian, which was left untranslated in his two volume Select Works.  It has now been translated and made publicly available for the first time.

Rollock here treats of the important distinctions to be recognized within God’s decree of predestination, especially as it comes to be variously executed through time in providence.  Of special interest is his formulations relating to what would be later known as the sincere free offer of the Gospel:

“Approval without the decree belongs to all good things with respect to themselves, though they are not at any time realized, of which sort are the conversion, faith, and salvation of reprobates; which God surely approves of simply, but does not decree to come about…  1 Tim. 2:4, ‘Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’”

Rollock’s early paradigm appears to have been influential through later reformed thought as reflections of it occur in later reformed scholastics, including in the Metaphysical Disquisitions of Samuel Rutherford at the end of his Latin treatise on Providence.

Treat yourself to some of the best reformed theology extant:

Rollock, Robert – A Brief Instruction on the Eternal Approval & Disapproval of the Divine Mind  1593/4  6 pp.  trans. Charles Johnson & Travis Fentiman

How does One Distinguish Between Legitimate & Illegitimate Authority?

Authority is not well understood by Christian people today.  For some it means, ‘You are required to obey what we determine.’  Right authority, however, is, ‘You are required to obey what God has determined.’

Many people can recognize authorities arbitrarily tyrannizing.  But that is only a negative recognition.  What is the positive side that characterizes, and is requisite for all legitimate authority?

Learn the Scriptural answer from our reformed forefathers, and let it re-form you, deeply:

That the Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & that Authorities are Never to Act or Require Something without a Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reason, & that Manifest to Consciences

An Extraordinary Calling

Sometimes persons claim to have an extraordinary calling to the ministry, not being under any Church government.  Is this legitimate?

Interestingly, this difficult, but Biblical topic of an extraordinary calling was well hammered out in the Reformation and puritan eras.  Rutherford, thankfully, seemed to treat every in and out of the topic in his controverting with congregationalists.

To be able to wrap one’s mind around the issues surrounding a Biblical and divine extraordinary calling is truly profound, coming to grips with the most foundational elements of ecclesiology and the will of God.

May this new page of resources be a great help to being able to carefully discern the Lord’s will in these matters:

On an Extraordinary Calling

Classifications & Degrees of Sin

Not all sins are the same, nor affect the believer, and God’s grace in them, the same.  Exploring the reformed material and distinctions on this new page of resources will help you to become much more acquainted with the nuances of our Lord’s will in these things.

Specifically, the Romanists distinguished between venial (light) sins, which need not to be forgiven, and mortal (deadly) sins, which extinguish the work of grace in the Christian.  While the reformed outright rejected the distinction in the Romanist sense, as all sins are worthy of condemnation, yet they not infrequently used the distinction nonetheless in Biblical and reformed senses.

On the Classifications & Degrees of Sin, & the Distinction Between Venial & Mortal Sin

A big thanks to Rev. Andrés Eduardo Garcia Gonzalez of Venezuela who provided most of the materials on the page.