The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hic et Ille

Happy Birthday Your Majesty!

Congratulations to our divinely anointed and appointed, Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth II on the achievement of her ninetieth birthday. While I am not ordinarily in the habit of apologizing for things I am not personally responsible for – and indeed, consider it to be one of the most reprehensible and contemptible forms of the liberal virtue signaling that plagues the age in which we live – I nevertheless thought it appropriate on Facebook yesterday to offer Her Majesty an apology on behalf of my countrymen for “the narcissistic, empty-headed, megalomaniacal humunculus we elected to head her government in Ottawa last year, proving ourselves unworthy of the privilege of electing her ministers.” Of course, as I had voted neither for Justin Trudeau nor any of his underlings, it is other Canadians who truly owe Her Majesty this apology.

Good Riddance!

If my fellow Canadians proved themselves unworthy of the voting franchise last fall, those here in Manitoba partly redeemed themselves this past Tuesday. The NDP, which had governed the province since 1999, and disastrously mismanaged its affairs under Greg Selinger, has been tossed out on its backside. It was reduced to 14 seats, losing a number of seats that had been regarded as safe for the NDP for decades, while a majority of 40 seats were won by the Progressive Conservatives. It was a humiliating defeat that the socialist party had certainly earned. It had raised the Provincial Sales Tax by a percentage, ignoring the law that says that this could not be done without holding a referendum first, and despite this and other tax increases, ran massive deficits during each year that Selinger was premier, ignoring another law that required him and his cabinet to take pay cuts if they could not balance the provincial budget. Meanwhile the quality of government services, most noticeably in health care, declined all over the province. The most disappointing thing about the outcome of Tuesday night was that Selinger retained his own seat, leading us to ask what judgement impairing chemicals might be in the water supply of St. Boniface.

Meanwhile at the Federal Level…

Greg Selinger had inherited the leadership of the Manitoba NDP from Gary Doer after the latter, a much more popular and capable premier than his successor, stepped down in order to accept an ambassadorship to the United States. Thomas Mulcair, who had been the official Opposition Leader during the premiership of Stephen Harper, had also inherited his leadership of the federal NDP from a more popular leader, the charismatic Jack Layton. It was Layton who had led the NDP into the 2011 election, winning them a record number of seats, only to step down shortly after the election, and to die of cancer soon after. Mulcair lost over half of these seats in in the 2015 election, a sizeable chunk of which loss can be attributed to his decision to take up cudgels on behalf of the niqab, alienating much of his support base in Quebec. Earlier this month, at the NDP convention in Edmonton, the party voted to hold a new leadership race, essentially doing what the Manitoba NDP had attempted but failed to do to Selinger two years ago when the handwriting on the wall had become apparent and turfing him, although Mulcair will remain in the position until the new leader is chosen.

Duffy Exonerated

Apart from his boneheaded defence of the Islamic face veil, perhaps the stupidest thing Thomas Mulcair had done during the last federal election campaign was to make the abolition of the upper chamber of Parliament a key plank in his platform. Canada is very fortunate to have inherited the Westminster parliamentary system of government from Great Britain, a system of government that developed over centuries to be the very embodiment of the idea of the stable, balanced, constitution that is a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy that Aristotle theorized about twenty three centuries ago, and the Senate, as I have argued at length in the past, is an essential element of that system. Mulcair’s contempt for our constitution and traditional institutions is reason enough for any patriotic Canadian to rejoice that he will not be leading a federal party much longer, not that his successor is likely to be much better.

Mulcair’s attacks on the Senate had arisen in the context of the scandal surrounding Senator Mike Duffy. The initial accusation against Duffy, was that he, despite having been a television journalist in Ottawa for years before his appointment to the Senate, had falsely claimed his home in P.E.I., the province he represented in the Senate, as his primary residence in order to claim living expenses from the Senate. The scandal grew as the CBC and its echo chambers among the privately owned media stations, seeing in it a noose wherewith to lynch then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose office made things worse in a clumsy attempt to make the scandal disappear, piled on accusation after accusation. Other voices in the media sought to impugn the institution of the Senate itself. With an irony of which they themselves were undoubtedly ignorant, in many cases the same voices that could frequently be heard accusing Prime Minister Harper of trying to Americanize Canada, condemned the Senate for being unelected and undemocratic, implying that it was therefore also unaccountable and illegitimate, drawing upon the theory that the legitimacy and accountability of government institutions depends upon their being elected and democratic, a theory that belongs to the American tradition of republicanism and not to the Canadian tradition of parliamentary monarchy. It is also utter nonsense, as if the worst culprits for abusing expense accounts and fleecing the taxpayer have not always been our elected Members of Parliament, who recently voted themselves a significant salary increase.

Eventually, after the RCMP were hounded into an investigation, they charged Duffy with thirty one counts of fraud, bribery, and the like. Yesterday, he was acquitted of all charges. The verdict came as no surprise to anyone with better sense than to believe a word spoken on the CBC, but to the extent that this scandal contributed to Justin Trudeau's attaining power, the damage has already been done. Perhaps the RCMP should investigate the CBC over their role in imposing the madness of Trudeaumania on Canada a second time?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Abortion: Who is to Blame?

The campaign of entrepreneur and entertainer Donald Trump for the American presidency has had a most salubrious effect on public discourse in that topics which the liberal left has long attempted to exclude from the discussion, at least as far as opinions dissenting from the progressive consensus are concerned, have been placed back on the table. Similarly, we are now seeing attention being given to some interesting but seldom discussed facets of ongoing debates.

The abortion issue is a debate which the left considers to be closed and the right considers to be ongoing. Easy, affordable, safe and legal access to abortion had been one of the demands of the feminist movement when it was revived by Betty Friedan and others of her ilk in the 1960s, and activist judges on the Supreme Courts of the United States and Canada accommodated these demands by striking down all the laws against abortion in their respective countries in 1973 and 1988. The liberal left believes that this has settled the issue, that abortion is legal and should remain legal, and that discussion of the topic should be considered closed. The right believes, or at least professes to believe, to varying degrees, that the present status quo is unacceptable and that anti-abortion legislation ought to be reintroduced. Some seek criminalization only for late term, partial-birth, and/or sex selective abortions. Others, of whom this writer is one, would like to see a total ban on abortion reintroduced. Since abortion involves the deliberate termination of human lives, in circumstances and for reasons which do not meet the traditional criteria whereby the taking of human life can be justified or at least excused, it is by definition murder. In this, as in so many other ways, King Solomon’s words “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand: but a fool’s heart at his left” (1) prove true albeit in a different sense from that which their author intended.

Donald Trump, at one time a liberal on this issue, has declared himself to be on the pro-life side, and when asked by CNN’s Chris Matthews, last month, what exactly this entailed, he, said at first that if abortion were made to be illegal again, a woman who had an abortion would have to be punished. He later retracted this remark and said that it was the abortionists, the doctors who perform the procedure, who would have to be punished.

Trump’s initial declaration resembled that of the boy in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale about the “Emperor’s New Clothes” in that it was a blunt statement of something which was obvious but which the more politically savvy carefully avoided saying. Many spokesmen for the pro-life position were quick to denounce his remarks, to say that he had put little to no thought into the matter, and to declare that women were the victims of abortion too. With regards to Trump’s having put little to no thought into the abortion issue, that may very well be the case, but the implications of this are not necessarily those his detractors have in mind. They meant, of course, that because he had put little thought into the issue he therefore had little understanding of it. Another way of looking at it would be that because he had not thought the matter through, he lacked the blinders that inhibit most pro-lifers from seeing or asserting the plain and clear implication of the fact that abortion is murder, namely, that a woman who seeks an abortion is as much a murderess as the doctor who supplies the abortion is a murderer.

That a woman who seeks an abortion is a murderess is the real issue here beneath the surface question, interesting enough in itself, of whether she ought to be punished for it under law. Many, if not most, pro-lifers shy away from acknowledging this implication of their position. Perhaps they consider it to be unchivalrous, although I know of no part of the code of chivalry that forbids us from pointing out the murders committed by Queen Jezebel, Lucrezia Borgia, and Lizzie Borden and requires us to treat Medea as if she were the Virgin Mary. More likely it is due to the fact that they have been using the language of liberalism – universal human dignity and rights, etc. – to frame their arguments for so long, that they have lost the ability to think outside of the liberal paradigm of which feminism, in which women are the universal victims and men the universal oppressors, is an integral element. While they might argue that framing their arguments this way is a practical necessity in a political environment that is heavily steeped in liberalism this might very well prove to be fatal to the pro-life movement for it places them in the difficult position of having to try to argue that the ideals of liberalism support their side rather than that of their opponents.

Attempting to prove the pro-life position to be truer to liberalism than the pro-choice position is hard enough, but judging from some of the responses to Mr. Trump’s gaffe some are trying to go further and argue that the pro-life position is truer to feminism than the pro-choice position. If, however, the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy that she does not want flows naturally from the starting point of liberalism, the sovereignty of self over self, it is absolutely required by feminism which starts from the premise that women ought to have the same degree of sovereignty over self as men but that this has historically been denied them because society has been arranged to the benefit of men at the expense of women. It is true enough, as quasi-feminist pro-lifers argue, that women are not always the instigators of abortion but are often pressured into it by their boyfriends and family. The pressure to legalize abortion, however, came from basically two sources, the sexual liberation movement that sought to free sexual intercourse from both societal restriction and regulations on the one hand and personal consequences on the other and the feminist movement. Of these two, legal and accessible abortion was always more important to the latter than the former, because cheap and effective contraception and treatments for many STDs were already available when the sexual revolution began and indeed helped bring about the revolution by allowing liberals to argue that the practical reasons for the old rules were no longer valid. The true nature of abortion-on-demand has always been that of a weapon – a gun, held to the head of the next generation by a movement purporting to speak on behalf of one of the sexes, and holding that generation ransom to obtain its demands as it unilaterally renegotiates what Edmund Burke called “the great primaeval contract of eternal society.”

While it would be a gross mistake to blame women as an entire sex for the actions of feminism, neither is it reasonable to excuse our modern day Medeas (2) and to make them out to be as much victims as the children they have had killed. (3) Until the majority of women have repudiated feminism and the power of this movement has been broken forever, it is foolish in the extreme to do so.

(1) Ecclesiastes 10:2. The quotation is from the Authorized Bible. The English Standard Version renders the verse this way: “A wise man's heart inclines him to the right, but a fool's heart to the left”
(2) Ironically, the original Medea of myth actually was a victim of cruel treatment by her husband Jason.
(3) I subjected this claim to the ridicule it so richly deserves in my story “Justice for Minnie?”:

Friday, April 8, 2016

Justice for Minnie?

Justice Bob Baddecision of the Ontario Inferior Court was feeling pretty good about himself. After many years of hearing defamation cases, property disputes, and the like, he had finally achieved his life’s ambition and been reassigned to the court of criminal justice where all the important – and interesting – cases were heard. Murder, rape, robbery, extortion – Judge Baddecision licked his lips at the thought of it all.

His full enjoyment of his success was marred only by the disturbing possibility that his promotion might be due less to his merits as a judge than to the influence of a powerful entity in whose favour he had ruled years before. (1) Every three months or so he would receive a postcard from Lucy, on one side of which would be a colourful depiction of a picturesque scene from the landscape of the netherworld in which the souls of the damned were being tortured and a printed caption, which the judge always felt to be in bad taste, saying “Wishing you were here”. On the back was a handwritten message expressing Lucy’s heartfelt gratitude and vowing to repay him.

Despite the nagging thought that he owed his new position to some sort of tacit Faustian bargain, Judge Baddecision still felt a strong sense of satisfaction as he took his place on the bench that morning. The case he was about to hear was the Fettuccine case and the newspapers had been talking about nothing else for months. He sat back and reflected on the facts of the case as they had been reported.

Don Alfredo Fettuccine was the head of the largest organized crime syndicate in Ontario – unless one counted the governing Liberal Party. The Ontario Provincial Police had been after him for years but without much success. Time after time they had nabbed his smugglers, drug dealers, thugs, pimps, and loan sharks, but without being able to pin anything on Don Alfredo or any ranking member of the Fettuccine family. Then one day Minnie Stroney had disappeared.

Minnie Stroney was a waitress who worked in the Casa Delle Teste di Zucca, which gave every appearance of being an ordinary club and restaurant, but was owned by the Fettuccine family and suspected of being a front for their criminal activities. When Minnie did not return home after working the closing shift, one night, her family at first thought little of it. They assumed that, as on many previous occasions, she had been picked up by her boyfriend Jimmy the Creep, a muscle-man for the Fettuccines, and had stayed the night with him. When she did not come home the next day, however, her mother called Jimmy’s apartment but got no answer. That evening she tried the Casa Delle Teste di Zucca at seven in the evening, knowing that Minnie was supposed to have started a shift there at six, but was told that her daughter had not shown up. Worried, she called the police and notified them of the disappearance.

Constable Jones had duly been dispatched to investigate. After interviewing Minnie’s parent, and the staff at the Casa Delle Teste di Zucca, he went to Jimmy’s apartment and knocked on the door. While he was standing there knocking and demanding that Jimmy open the door, Jimmy himself showed up with a suitcase in hand. It turned out – and the American and Canadian border authorities both later confirmed his story – that he had gone down to Detroit to see his brother the previous Friday and had only now returned home.

This left the police, who had been operating under the assumption that if there had been any foul play in Minnie’s disappearance Jimmy would be behind it as their relationship had been known to be volatile, stumped, without a suspect, or any idea, for that matter, of what had happened to Minnie. They plastered her picture in “Missing” posters all over the province but for weeks no lead turned up.

Then came the discovery of the body. A young father, taking his son out fishing for the first time on Lake Ontario, to his horror and his son’s permanent trauma, landed more than a chinook or a rainbow trout, or even one of the more usual unwelcome catches such as a hypodermic needle or a chunk of industrial waste. His hook latched on to something heavy which, when finally reeled in, proved to be what was left of the body of Minnie Stroney.

Forensic analysis quickly showed that Minnie had not just decided to go out swimming in the middle of the night on a lark and ended up drowned. She had been shot, in what looked to be a very professional execution, and her corpse had been chained to weights, and tossed into the lake. It was now a case for the homicide department.

The homicide detectives went back over the facts of the case. Every employee and all the regular clientèle of the Casa Delle Teste di Zucca were interviewed and Jimmy the Creep was hauled in for questioning three times. The detectives had a hard time accepting his innocence, although his alibi was rock solid and, as Inspector Johnson reasonably argued, if Jimmy had wanted her dead he was the type to have done it himself.

It was Vinnie Formaggio Macaroni who finally, albeit inadvertently, gave them the clue they needed. A frequent patron of the club and a friend of its owner, Don Alfredo, when questioned, he said that he could think of no one, except perhaps that boyfriend of hers, who would have wanted to harm Minnie. She was very popular at the club and a very efficient waitress. There was only one time, Vinnie could recall, that she had ever gotten an order wrong. This was about a month prior to her disappearance. He was dining as the guest of Don Alfredo that night, and Minnie was serving their table as usual. After she had brought their pre-dinner drinks, Don Alfredo happened to mention that she had gotten his order wrong and had put the wrong brand of vermouth in his martini.

“I guess there is no such thing as a perfect waitress after all”, Vinnie remembered having said to the Don, “if even Minnie makes mistakes”, and the two laughed over it and went on to enjoy the rest of their dinner.

Well, it turned out, as the homicide detectives discovered, that Don Alfredo had not taken the matter as lightly as Vinnie had supposed. Later that night, in a meeting with his son and heir Sanguino and his consigliere Luigi Ravioli, he declared that Minnie would have to be rubbed out.

“Do you want me to get one of our boys to do the job?” Sanguino had asked.

“No”, Don Alfredo had answered, “I don’t want trouble in the family. It had better be an outsider”.

“I know just the man”, Ravioli then interjected. “They call him ‘The Doctor’. He specializes in the removal of unwanted human life and he is very professional. He has been at this work for decades. His hits last year alone amounted to almost one hundred thousand.”

“He sounds like just the guy we are looking for, “Don Alfredo replied. “Make it happen”.

So it happened that Ravioli contacted The Doctor on behalf of the Fettuccine family and arranged for the death of Minnie Stroney.

That the homicide detectives had been able to put together what had happened was nothing short of miraculous. Vinnie Macaroni’s anecdote about how Minnie had messed up Don Alfredo’s drink had set them wondering whether the Fettuccines had been involved, even though the motivation seemed rather weak. They started questioning known Fettuccine thugs, and eventually one, who had stood guard outside the secret meeting where Minnie’s murder had been arranged, told them what he had overheard, which had not been the entire conversation, but enough for the detectives to fill in the rest. They asked the forensics lab and what they had found matched what was known of The Doctor’s modus operandi. After this all the remaining pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place and soon they had enough evidence to persuade the Crown attorney to charge Don Alfredo Fettuccine with the murder of Minnie Stroney.

Reflecting on all of this, Judge Baddecision thought that this would be the simplest case he had ever had to hear and rule on. A quick conviction, a quick sentence, his picture in the papers, and he would be lauded for having serviced justice on that murderous villain Don Alfredo Fettuccine.

What he had not foreseen was the way in which the case was about to be politicized. Outside the courtroom crowds had gathered with picket signs, denouncing contract killings and mob hits, and demanding justice for Minnie Stroney. Wealthy Ontario entrepreneur Ronald Jump, the former host of the much watched TV reality show The Journeyman, who was at that time seeking the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party in the hopes of ousting the Liberals in the next election, weighed in on the matter, declaring that a government led by him would be tough on mob hits. In an interview with the CBC he was asked whether this meant harsh penalties for those, like Don Alfredo, who ordered the hits, or just those like The Doctor who carried them out. A man of common sense and plain speech, Jump answered that of course there would be penalties for both. He was surprised to see a smug look of “I gotcha” come over the interviewer’s face.

When the picketeers and protesters outside Judge Baddecision’s courtroom heard about his answer they were quick to turn on Jump.

“He doesn’t speak for us”, said one individual wearing a t-shirt sporting the slogan “mob hits are murder”, with accompanying button and baseball cap and carrying a placard that read “Justice for Minnie!”

Another individual, similarly attired, insisted that “Don Alfredo is a victim here too!”

A reporter, covering the demonstration and not quite able to follow this protestor’s train of reasoning asked for clarification.

“Don Alfredo is in many ways the real victim here. He had given his goddaughter, Minnie Stroney a job in his nightclub, and she repaid him by serving him an inferior martini. That’s gratitude for you. Granted, it was not exactly a crime worthy of death, but can Don Alfredo be blamed for what he did when there are monsters like The Doctor out there dangling the temptation before his eyes? If it were not for contract killers like The Doctor, there would be no mob hits. The supply creates the demand. Furthermore, Don Alfredo is the victim of a cultural stereotype. Society has generated this unfair image of the Mafia Godfather as a violent and sinister figure, who orders the death of anyone who crosses him. Having forced him into this mold of our own creation, how can we then turn around and punish him for acting accordingly. We are the true villains here. Don Alfredo is as much a victim as Minnie Stroney!”

The other demonstrators applauded this speech and several of them adjusted their signs to include the message “Don Alfredo is a victim too!”

Within his courtroom, Judge Baddecision, having been informed of all that was occurring, felt his sense of satisfaction wane. What he had hoped would be an easy and interesting case was now looking to be a huge headache. Calling a recess, he retired to his chambers to think things over.

As he reclined back in his chair, poured himself a glass of Scotch, and began to massage his temples, he caught a whiff of sulfur in the air.

“Hello Lucy”, he said.

“Judge Baddecision, my old friend”, remarked the man in an expensive looking suit, with a goatee, and a set of horns on his forehead, who stepped forth out of the shadows, “It is wonderful to see you again. I understand you are having a rough day.”

“I’m sure you know all about it”, the judge replied, “Bur for the life of me I don’t know what to do about it. Luigi Ravioli has retained Ima Lyon Shyster to represent the Don in court. Not only is he the best criminal defense attorney in Ontario, if not all of Canada, he is an expert at trying politically charged cases, as this has now become, in the media as well. He has already indicated that he will be making this ‘Don Alfredo is a victim too’ business part of his defense.”

“Yes, I have followed everything that has happened with close attention. That is why I am here, to offer you some good advice – go along with it.”

“What? You mean let Fettuccine walk?”

“Of course. He is the victim after all.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve bought into that…”

“Bought into it? My dear judge, I’m the one peddling. Surely you didn’t think that protestor could have come up with that on his own without my influence. Don Alfredo, like yourself, is an old friend of mine, and I like my friends to be friends of each other. I can’t have my house divided against itself, after all. Let him off on this silly charge, and I’ll see to it that one day he’ll return the favour.”

“I don’t know….”

“My dear judge”, Lucy said, as he leaned closer to Baddecision, giving the judge another whiff of brimstone and a dangerous glance of a flash of dark fire in his eyes, “Do you think you have a choice?”

Judge Baddecision sighed, shook his head, gulped down his Scotch, poured himself another one, and then offered what remained in the bottle to the devil.

“I suppose not. Here’s to Don Alfredo.”

“I knew you would come around to seeing things my way,” Lucy replied, accepting the proffered drink. “You always do.”

(1) These events are told in “Lucy’s Day in Court

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Orthodoxy and/or Calvinism: A Question of Priority

In a previous essay (1) I showed how popular, Calvinist, evangelical theologian R. C. Sproul, out of concern that speaking of God dying in the crucifixion, as Charles Wesley does in his well-loved song “And Can It Be”, might lead people to think that in the death of Christ, God perished in His eternal being, went too far in his efforts to avoid this heretical pitfall and landed himself in another one, that of Nestorianism, the ancient heresy condemned by the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Dr. Sproul denied that the Second Person of the Trinity died on the cross and asserted that it was Christ’s human nature that made the atonement. This is a version of the Nestorian heresy, and one specifically condemned in the twelfth of the twelve anathemas which St. Cyril of Alexandria had proposed in a letter addressed to Nestorius and which were accepted by the Council of Ephesus. (2)

This illustrates something that I have long observed about certain Calvinist theologians, namely the tendency, in practice if not in theory, to rank the teachings of the Synod of Dort as being of greater importance than those of the early councils of the Church. They also, for that matter, tend to place the doctrines of the canons of Dort, collectively referred to as the “Doctrine of Grace”, above the Pauline-Augustinian doctrines of justification which had been the basis of the Reformation. In other words, for these theologians, Calvinism is more important than either the orthodoxy of the Apostolic Christianity of the early undivided Church or the teachings of the early Reformers, including John Calvin himself. More than one such Calvinist has followed C. H. Spurgeon in equating the doctrines of Calvinism with the gospel itself. The gospel, however, is not a set of doctrines about predestination and the sovereignty of God, but the basic Christian message of "good news" addressed to the world, the content of which is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again as attested by the Scriptures and witnesses of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15), and which functions as an invitation for all people to trust the Saviour so proclaimed.

If you will allow me to give another example, in the late 1980s a book came out which accused, with a great deal of justification, contemporary evangelicalism of having watered down the gospel and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Entitled The Gospel According to Jesus, it’s author was John F. MacArthur Jr., popular radio Bible teacher, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California and president of The Master's College and Seminary. It was heavily endorsed by Calvinist theologians such as John Piper, R. C. Sproul, John H. Gerstner, James Montgomery Boice and J. I. Packer. Packer and Boice even contributed forwards to the book.

This endorsement of The Gospel According to Jesus was bad enough, when the book is evaluated on its own merits. (3) My point, however, is that at the time MacArthur wrote this book – he has subsequently recanted, or at least changed his mind (4) – he denied the Eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ. (5) He had taught since at least 1983 that Jesus Christ, while eternally the Word of God, only became the Son of God in the Incarnation. This placed him outside the bounds of the orthodox Trinitarian faith. When the first ecumenical council of the Church was convened in Nicaea in 325 AD to address the heresy of Arius, the Alexandrian priest who taught that Jesus is neither eternal nor equal to God the Father, but the first created being, it asserted that Jesus Christ as the Son of God was of “one substance” with God the Father, that He was “begotten not made”, and that His having been begotten of the Father describes not an event in time before which He was not, but His eternal relationship with the Father for He was “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” That MacArthur did not accept Nicene orthodoxy did not appear to faze any of these Calvinist theologians who wrote glowing endorsements of his book. That MacArthur taught the canons of Dort and the Puritan doctrine of assurance through introspective fruit inspection was more important to them than that he could not honestly recite the Nicene Creed as a statement of his own faith.

There are at least three things wrong with the rather appalling failure to prioritize that this demonstrates: it places a regional, sectarian, synod above the councils of the early, undivided, church, it makes the doctrine of predestination, a secondary doctrine at best, if not tertiary, more important than sound Trinitarianism and Christology, and it places the emphasis on doctrines, such as particular redemption, the soundness of which is rather dubious.

The First Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 AD respectively, and the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon in 431 and 451 AD, were ecumenical (6) councils, that is to say, councils in which representatives from the entire church throughout the world had been invited to participate, at a time when this was still possible as the major schisms had yet to take place (6) Their conciliar authority, as such, is therefore considerably greater than that of the Synod of Dort, which was a national council of the Dutch Reformed Church, although a number of representatives from the German Reformed Churches and the Church of England also participated by invitation.

Jesus Christ had warned His disciples that false Christs would arise, meaning people who falsely claimed to be the Messiah, and before the writings recognized by the Church as the Christian Scriptures were completed, another kind of false Christ had arisen in that false teachers had arisen in the Church, challenging the authority and doctrine of the Apostle, and denying in particular the Incarnation of Christ. St. John wrote of these in his first and second epistles, calling these false teachers “antichrists”. They rejected the Incarnation because in their philosophy the material world was irredeemably corrupt, whereas the spiritual world was immaculately pure, so the idea of the divine Christ becoming flesh seemed an abomination to them. For the same reason they could not accept that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, Who created the material world, was the supreme and good God. Known to history as the Gnostics, these would plague the orthodox, Apostolic faith for centuries, but they were not the only heretics. If they rejected the humanity of Christ, that He was “come in the flesh”, others, such as Arius of Alexandria, stumbled over His deity.

It was against heresies of this type and for what St. John called “the doctrine of Christ” that the Church contended in these early ecumenical councils. This doctrine is the very essence of Christianity – that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, come in the flesh, fully God, fully Man in One Person. The councils did not invent this doctrine, which is found in the Apostolic Scriptures and Ante-Nicene Patristic writings, but they issued a clear and authoritative statement of the doctrine, and condemned the heretical deviations from it.

This required that similar clear and authoritative statements be made as to what orthodox Christianity teaches about the nature of God. The orthodox and Apostolic doctrine was that the God of the Old Testament was the same God Who is Father of Jesus Christ, as Christ Himself had said (Jn. 8:54) but the Gnostics denied, and so the Creed of the Council of Nicaea began by declaring that God, the Father Almighty, is “Maker of all things visible and invisible”, which the Council of Constantinople expanded to “Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisble.” The God of the Old Testament is notably One, (Deut. 6:4), but in the New Testament He has a Son Who is also God, and on the night prior to His crucifixion that Son promised His disciples that when He returned to His Father, the Father would send them a Comforter, the Holy Ghost, in His name (Jn. 14:16-26). Some took this as meaning that there were three Gods, others, such as the heretic Sabellius, that “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Ghost” were just titles or offices. The Church, therefore, had to defend the essential unity of God against the former, and the distinction between the Divine Persons against the latter, clarifying that God is One in His essential being, but Three in Person.

By contrast, when the Dutch Reformed Church called together its Synod in Dordrecht in 1618 AD, it was to deal with a matter which is best understood as being itself a footnote – or at most, a parenthesis - to one of the secondary doctrines dealt with by the ecumenical councils. When the Council of Ephesus convened to address the heresy of Nestorius of Constantinople in 431 AD it also confirmed the condemnation of the heresy of Pelagius by the Council of Carthage, a North African regional synod, in 418 AD. Pelagius, a lay monk, born somewhere in the British Isles, but who taught first in Rome, then in North Africa, and later in the Middle East, had denied the doctrine of Original Sin, i.e., that in Adam the entire human race fell as Adam’s sin and fallen nature has been passed down to us, and rejected the absolute necessity of God’s grace for salvation and good works. It was St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who had led the opposition to the heresy of Pelagianism, arguing in several works for the doctrine of Original Sin and that salvation only comes through the grace of God.

In the course of his combatting the heresies of Pelagius and his disciple Caelestus, St. Augustine developed a strong view of predestination, in which God decided whom He would give His saving grace to in eternity past before the creation of the world. While the Augustinian view of Original Sin and salvation only by the grace of God had been ruled to be orthodox by the Council of Ephesus, with the authority of the undivided Church, the same cannot be said of his later doctrine of predestination and whether this doctrine of predestination is logically required by Original Sin and salvation by grace has been a divisive subject. The Reformers, including the Lutherans and the English Reformers as well as the Calvinists, held to the Augustinian view of predestination, but whereas the Lutherans and the Anglicans insisted on contextualizing the doctrine, (8) the followers of Calvin prioritized it, and having done so, took it to extremes that invited the formation of opposite extremes. Thus, when Calvin’s disciple Theodore Beza, whose theology was as horrible as his politics (9), developed the harshest version of predestination possible in supralapsarianism (10), it met with resistance, and, unsurprisingly, when the young Reformed pastor at Amsterdam, newly appointed to his post, Jacob Arminius, was asked to defend this doctrine, he found himself reconsidering the entire idea of predestination. God, Arminius argued, had given men sufficient grace in Christ, for the entire world to be saved, and predestinated men in accordance with His foreknowledge of whether they would respond to the Gospel in faith or not.

The Synod of Dort was the Dutch Reformed Church’s response to Arminius, or, to be more precise, to the Five Articles of Remonstance against their own Calvinist view of predestination that his followers had published the year after his death in 1609 AD. While the Synod attempted, in the articles and catalogues of “errors” it put forth arguing for its own five points, to pin the charge of Pelagianism on its opponents, the matters in question were not those over which the early church condemned the teachings of Pelagius. The original condemnation of Pelagius at the Council of Carthage, later upheld by the ecumenical Council of Ephesus, found him in error on the following points: that death was the consequence of Adam’s fall, that new born infants possess Original Sin and so ought to be baptized, that God’s grace provides both forgiveness for past sins and fortification against future sins as well as strength to obey God’s commandments and not merely knowledge of them, that it is impossible rather than just difficult to please God apart from grace, and that the faithful speak out of truth and not just humility when confessing themselves to be sinners and praying “forgive us our trespasses”, which includes their own personal trespasses. Pelagius’ denial of all of these points was condemned as heresy, but none of these points was an issue in the controversy between the Calvinists and Arminians, only the way the Calvinist tradition had interpreted John Calvin’s interpretation of St. Augustine’s later teachings on predestination.

Yet, to hear many of the Calvinist theologians who winked at John F. MacArthur Jr.’s denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ in the 1980s and 1990s and turn a blind eye to R. C. Sproul’s Nestorianism, you would think that the greatest plague afflicting the Christian church today is a revival of Pelagianism (11), to be found in the rejection of one or more of the petals of the TULIP of Dort.

(2) The anathema reads “Whosoever shall not recognize that the Word of God suffered in the flesh, that he was crucified in the flesh, and that likewise in that same flesh he tasted death and that he has become the first-begotten of the dead, for, as he is God, he is the life and it is he that gives life: let him be anathema.”
(3) The problem MacArthur was addressing in the book was real enough – the way, many evangelical churches were making shallow converts, many of whom either fell away or showed little interest in the things of God thereafter. Unfortunately, MacArthur misdiagnosed the problem and so prescribed a cure that was as bad if not worse than the actual ailment. The correct diagnosis would be that much of the contemporary evangelical church often treats the gospel as an instrument for talking people into “praying the sinner’s prayer” and tells those who do so that they have by doing so ensured their place in heaven. Proclaimed properly, the gospel is a message of good news about God and what He has done in giving us His Son, Who died for us on the cross, was buried, and rose again, which invites people to believe the good news and trust the Saviour. Instead, MacArthur’s solution was to substitute a harder decision for “praying the sinner’s prayer” and to tell people they needed to be constantly looking for evidence of their regeneration in their daily lives.
(5) I explained and defended the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship at length here:
(6) Ecumenical comes from a Greek word meaning “the entire world”. An “ecumenical” council, therefore, was a council of the church throughout “the entire world” rather than a local or regional synod. It had a different set of connotations in the early centuries of Christianity than it does today. Since the early twentieth century it has been used by the movement to restore Christian unity which, unfortunately, has often demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice truth and orthodoxy for the sake of unity. In the early centuries, the ecumenical councils sought unity through the means of clarifying the truth and condemning heresy.
(7) Although one of those schisms was in response to the Council of Chalcedon, the decisions of which the Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, and several other ancient near east churches refused to accept.
(8) The Church of England, for example, addresses the matter in Article VII of the Articles of Religion, eight articles after the one affirming Augustinian orthodoxy on the matter of Original Sin, having affirmed such matters as the Holy Trinity (Article I), the eternal Sonship of Christ and the unity of His “Godhead and Manhood” in “one Person, never to be divided” (Article II) at the very beginning. In Article VII, it is made plain that the doctrine of predestination, so affirmed, is “full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons” but that for “carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ” for it to be “continually before their eyes” is “a most dangerous downfall” that serves the purposes of the Devil.
(9) Beza was an antimonarchist republican.
(10) Basically, the idea that God decided to allow sin to enter into the world in order to be able to damn people to Hell.
(11) The charge is not entirely baseless. Pelagianism has certainly influenced North American evangelicalism, but this was more through nineteenth century revivalist Charles G. Finney, ironically a Presbyterian minister, than through Arminius, Arminianism, or Wesleyism. I discussed this here: