Thursday, January 9, 2014

Supralapsarianism - A Brief Historical Background, part 2

Before we proceed, a couple of important remarks should be made. First of all, the aforementioned list of illustrious theologians has not been supplied in order to coerce anyone into acquiescence. Anyone who claims the moniker, Reformed, should know better. On the other hand it does serve to illustrate that this is a position which does not lack intellectual integrity. Secondly, this should serve the brakes on the inane statement that only 5% of Reformed theologians have adhered to Supralapsarianism. It is asserted that Loraine Boettner claimed that no major Reformed theologians are/were Supralapsarian. I do not profess to know what Boettner meant by that statement, but I do know how people take it. You will notice that the first names I listed were the Magisterial Reformers themselves. If Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Beza held to Supralapsarianism, and their works are the theological framework for the Reformation, then it is not incumbent upon the 5% to prove their position, but upon the 95%. The burden of proof lies with them to demonstrate biblically why they are correct to not toe the line of their Reformed forebears.

Just as an aside, before we proceed any further, perhaps it would be good to demonstrate that Calvin was a Supralapsarian. Here is a very representative quote from his Institutes. Calvin writes, "As the Lord, by His effectual calling of the elect, completes the salvation to which He predestinated them in His eternal counsel, so He has His judgments against the reprobate, by which He executes His counsel respecting them. Those, therefore, whom He has created to a life of shame and a death of destruction, that they might be instruments of His wrath, and examples of His severity, He causes to reach their appointed end, sometimes depriving them of the opportunity of hearing the Word, sometimes, by the preaching of it, increasing their blindness and stupidity" (3.24.12).

Note carefully the words, "Those, therefore, whom He has created to a life of shame and a death of destruction, that they might be instruments of His wrath, and examples of His severity." This is clearly a Supralapsarian construction of the decree of Predestination. Calvin makes reprobation active; He doesn’t simply say "passed by" or "decreed to leave" or something similar. He says, "created to ...', which means the end of destruction. That is considerably stronger language than Belgic Confession 16 or Canons of Dordt 1:10, 15.

A 2nd historical fact needs to be addressed as well. Several of the important figures, make that, most important figures, at the Synod of Dort were Supralapsarians – such as the president Johannes Bogerman, Francisus Gomarus, Gijsbert Voetius. In fact one of the issues which the Synod dealt with was the “Maccovius” affair. Maccovius, professor of theology at Franeker, had been charged with heresy for teaching, among other things, Supralapsarianism. The charges were brought by his colleague, Lubertus. Maccovius appealed to the Synod. On the committee which heard his case were Bogerman and Gomarus, both Supralapsarians. The Synod did not condemn his Supralapsarianism, but it did warn him to not make his language too strong.

The Arminians attempted to exploit this in-house disagreement as an opportunity to draw attention away from their own heresy as if it were merely their intention to fight against Supralapsarianism, which they demanded be condemned. Synod president Bogerman refused to satisfy their demands and found a formula that could be accepted by both parties (Supra and Infra), since it only stated that predestination is an act of God’s sovereignty.

Two and a half decades later, the Westminster Assembly (1643 – 1648) left the question undecided. This is historically significant because the assembly was held 25 years after the Synod of Dort, which means that the English theologian’s new all about the controversy. Furthermore, the Prolocutor of the Assembly (i.e. moderator) William Twisse, was a Supralapsarian. A stauncher Supralapsarian has probably never lived.

It is frequently argued that the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Standards are expressly Infralapsarian. That is a highly problematic assertion since it requires that men such as Bogerman, Gomarus, Voetius and Twisse all assigned creeds against their own convictions.

Having said that, we must hasten to add that both positions can certainly forbear each other because both parties clearly maintain the sovereignty of God’s decree, and neither denies man’s responsibility for his acts. Neither position can be condemned as un-Reformed. A simple proof of this can be found in the ultimate primer for Supralapsariansism, William Twisse's "The Riches of God's Love Unto the Vessells of Mercy, Consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reprobation on the Vessells of Wrath." Twisse spends the first 30+ pages defining and defending the Supralapsarian position, but most of the rest of the book defending Infralapsarianism from Arminian cavils.

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