Thursday, March 13, 2014

Supralapsarianism, Gomarus, Westminster, and Dort

Over on the CARM boards I was led into an interesting investigation on Franciscus Gomarus (1563-1641). The post (from a Lutheran) which provoked my interest can be found here. The main assertion appears to be that Reformed theology, particularly Reformed creeds, are inherently supralapsarian. It was argued that Gomarus (a supralapsarian), because of his condemnation of Arminius, had some sort super-influence over the history of Reformed theology, particularly the Canons of Dort and then the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was stated:
Despite what modern Calvinist have been taught, at least the Baptist ones, the foundation of their documents was written on double predestination. Not only does it extend to the WCoF, which they deny, it also extends to the three Forms of Unity, which I'm sure they'll deny as well.
It was also suggested that the Reformed should expunge this from their creeds:
Instead of using historical confessions to bolster their case, which they can't do, modern reformed should revise their standards eliminating those doctrines that are so troubling to their new systematics. This has been done before by many Presbyterian churches so their is plenty of precedent to do so. If one of their mantras is "the reformed are always reforming" then it should be perfectly logical to reform their standard to reflect their new doctrine.
I took a little time to explore why Gomarus appears to be a supralapsarian and why the Synod of Dort produced what appears to be a declaration with infralapsarian underpinnings. The most helpful source I came across was Drawn Into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism. Starting on page 116, it's pointed out that Gomarus was outnumbered by the infralapsarians, and those that drafted the statement were infralapsarians. Next it's pointed out that the other supralapsarians present did not come to the aid of Gomarus during the debate on this issue. Third, Gomarus attempted to use the Thirty-Nine Articles to prove his position, but he was shown to be misrepresenting this document.

As to the Westminster Confession, some Reformed scholars think that the confession is purposefully vague. B.B. Warfield notes that the majority present were infralapsarians, but that some of the ablest thinkers were supralapsarians, and that it was "set down in the Confession only what was common ground to both, leaving the whole region which was in dispute between them entirely untouched." John Murray states, “The Confession is non-committal on the debate between the Supralapsarians and the Infralapsarians and intentionally so, as both the terms of the section and the debate in the Assembly clearly show."

One thing though does appear to me to be the case as I did this cursory invesitgation, that at both Dort and Westminster the majority were infralapsarian. Any notion (as such implied in the CARM post), that the Westminster Confession is decidedly supralapsarian, or that Gomarus had some sort of prevailing supralapsarian impact on the Westminster Assembly, or that the Three forms of Unity were unequivocally supralapsarian, is unjustified, and not supported by the historical record. By extension, it does not follow that the "modern reformed" need to "revise their standards" to expunge supralapsarianism since the major Reformed creeds do not necessarily teach it.

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