Ex-PCA Pastor Awards Calvin a Dunce Cap

Rumor has it that when Pope Leo X read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, he said, “What drunken German wrote this?”

It is also rumored that when Martin Luther read Jason Stellman’s post on The Biblical Basis of Man-Made Liturgy, he said, “What drunken Ex-PCA pastor posted this?” I’m sure that’s just a rumor.

Nick’s article posted on the website of Jason Stellman, the self-described “drunk ex-pastor” who served as prosecutor in the Peter Leithart trial, awards Calvin a dunce cap for not realizing that his liturgy contradicted the Reformed doctrine of justification.

It’s not clear to me how the Confession of Sins and Prayer for Pardon [in Calvin’s liturgy] is compatible with the Reformed idea that man’s sins are completely forgiven at the moment of Justification and that God only views man in light of the Righteousness of Christ imputed to him. Why ask for forgiveness of sins every Sunday if you believe all your sins were already forgiven and that God never counts your sins against you?

It is true that Calvin’s liturgy—like the liturgies of Luther, Cranmer, Bucer, and Knox—included a Corporate Confession of Sin and Declaration of Pardon.

In Calvin’s Strasbourg service, after the Confession of Sin, Calvin would deliver “some word of Scripture to console the conscience”; then, he would pronounce “the Absolution in this manner:”

Let each of you truly acknowledge that he is a sinner, humbling himself before God, and believe that the heavenly Father wills to be gracious unto him in Jesus Christ. To all those that repent in this wise, and look to Jesus Christ for their salvation, I declare that the absolution of sins is effected, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Calvin’s Strasbourg service followed the pattern of Martin Bucer’s liturgy, which began with a Confession of Sin followed by a “Word of Comfort” from holy scripture (1 Tim. 1:15; or John 3:16; 3:35–36; Acts 10:43; 1 John 2:1–2; etc.) and the “Absolution.”

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Let everyone, with St. Paul, truly acknowledge this in his heart and believe in Christ. Thus, in His name, I proclaim unto you the forgiveness of all your sins, and declare you to be loosed of them on earth, that you be loosed of them also in heaven, in eternity. Amen.

Bucer’s liturgy makes it clear that the Absolution is an exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). As excommunication declares that the impenitent are bound by sins, absolution declares that the penitents are loosed from them.

We find a similar pattern of Confession of Sin followed by an Absolution in the liturgies of Luther, Cranmer and Knox.

How is it that Nick and Stellman can see so clearly what all these Reformers failed to see?

The Confession of Faith that Stellman at one time believed and defended clearly explains why praying for forgiveness of sins every Lord’s Day does not contradict the Reformed doctrine of justification.

God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance (WCF 11:5)

J. G. Vos explains,

The justified person still can and daily does commit sin in thought, word and deed…. These “daily failings” cannot cancel his standing as a justified person; they cannot bring him into condemnation. But they can offend his heavenly Father, and cause him to withdraw the light of his countenance from the person’s soul for a time. They cannot destroy the believer’s union with God, but they can interrupt and weaken his communion with God. Therefore, the believer is daily to confess his sins and to pray for God’s pardon for his daily failings.

It is not uncommon for a drunken man to believe that he has a brilliant idea that no one else has ever thought of. His sober buddies, of course, realize that he’s making a fool of himself.

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4 years ago

τὰ δ’ ἆρα πολεμικά ἔγραφες;


4 years ago

I’m not one to stick up for Stellman, but it’s not immediately clear to me Jason wrote the cited post. It’s attributed to “Nick.” Is this a pseudonym Jason uses?

Jared O

4 years ago

Except…what you attribute to Jason Stellman wasn’t written by Jason Stellman. I suppose it just makes for a nice title, but it certainly isn’t honoring the ninth commandment.


4 years ago

The article on Stellman’s website was written by Nick. By promoting it on his website without any disclaimer, Stellman is endorsing it and, thus, awarding Calvin a dunce cap. No violation of the 9th commandment there.

Ex-PCA Pastor Awards Calvin a Dunce Cap

4 years ago

[…] in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is the pastor of Providence OPC near Austin, Texas. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

Ex-PCA Pastor Awards Calvin a Dunce Cap -IKTHUS.NET

4 years ago

[…] in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is the pastor of Providence OPC near Austin, Texas. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

Roy Kerns

4 years ago

In the Bible’s record, whenever a person encountered God they were overwhelmed with an awareness of his holiness and their sinfulness. The same result shows up in the extra-biblical record of the church. Every instance of actual revival (in contrast to human-generated temporary excitement) happened in the context of sovereign grace teaching. And involved brokenness for and confession of sin. (Read, for example, Korean Pentecost, or More than Notion, or Dalimore’s biography of Whitefield.)

When I encounter/experience liturgies with Confession of Sin as a listed step, I find myself facing an agonizing struggle. Will that step better enable me to confess sin, repenting of it and hating it and forsaking it because it is displeasing to God. Or will it (three minutes of the liturgy and move on) aid concealment of the awfulness of not only sin, but my own sin, allowing me to minimize it, to bypass it rather than confront it?

member Christ PCA, Tulsa


4 years ago

As someone joining an LCMS church this Sunday from an OPC church I want to say two things. First, in my particular congregation it seemed the Pastor feared declaring the forgiveness of sins lest someone be comforted without warrent. He very much presented the forgiveness as very contingent upon the validity of our repentance as proven out by works, which in the end doesn’t point me to Christ, but inward on myself. 2nd, I just want to point out that in the standard Lutheran absolution it is stronger than announcement. It is actually pronouncement. By which I mean, the Pastor forgives me of my sins a la John 20:23. It’s something more than announcing God’s forgiveness somewhere out there in the ether. It is pronouncing it to me right here, right now. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.


4 years ago

I’m the one who wrote that article (cross posted at my blog Nick’s Catholic Blog) and so I feel I should respond to this post.

To begin with, it seems like you missed the forest for the trees in that you missed the main case I presented and instead focused on one small piece of what I said. My main case was that the Regulative Principle of Worship is the Reformed notion that NOTHING should be done liturgically unless it is positively commanded by Scripture. This should mean that when a Reformed person gathers on Sunday to worship, that everything they do – from the start of their liturgy to the end – is expressly commanded to be done during worship in the Bible. But as I went through a typical Reformed liturgy (in this case Calvin’s own liturgy that he made up), there was no such format in Scripture from which he was drawing from. Anyone can take a verse or psalm from Scripture and make up their own liturgy, so it is not enough to simply say “this psalm I’m singing on Sunday is from Scripture”. So, what needs to be answered are questions such as: where does the Bible say a Confession of Sin is part of the typical Sunday Liturgy? If you can’t find a verse, you shoudln’t be doing it during Sunday Worship. Period.

Now onto the smaller point you touched upon. You never actually addressed the contradiction I had pointed out, you merely quoted the WCF and Vos who said Confession of Sins was to be done regularly. It makes no sense for the WCF to say God “continues to forgive sins” of those who are already saved because that means justification is not a one time event based on Christ’s finished work. If I fall into sin and God ‘sees’ me as a sinner, then that means I can’t be covered by Christ’s righteousness. It means God continues to judge me daily to see if I’m sinning or not. It is a contradiction to say a person who has Christ’s righteousness can fall under God’s displeasure, for God sees only the Blood and Righteousness of Jesus, NOT the believer’s sins.

All Vos and the Confession say is that ‘daily failings’ cannot affect their justification…BUT they don’t explain why this is so. They merely say it doesn’t affect their justification. And it is highly ironic that the notion of Venial Sin is anathema to Protestant ears, and yet Vos can go ahead and say daily failings “cannot destroy the believer’s union with God, but they can interrupt and weaken his communion with God”. That’s a textbook definition of venial sin.


4 years ago


You probably need to spend a little more time studying what we mean when we talk about the Regulative Principle of Worship. I am not in any way belittling you in this critique. I am simply trying to help you not misrepresent what we actually believe. I, for instance, cringe whenever a Protestant misrepresents Catholic teaching on worshipping Mary or the lack of grace in Catholic soteriology. If we are going to have profitable discussions we need to understand what each of us actually believe before we enter into a discussion of our very real disagreements. This lack of understanding also is reflected in your statement regarding Sola Scriptura. The teaching on Sola Scriptura nowhere allows for every Christian to be autonomous. Sola Scriptura has always been understood to mean that Scripture is our only infallible rule of faith and practice. It is not our only rule of faith and practice but it is the only one that is infallible. Other rules of faith and practice include the Church Father, the Church, other Christians, etc. All of those are included in the Reformed understanding of Sola Scriptura. What you are pointing out is a flawed practice of it. It would be similar to me stating that Catholics are taught to worship Mary since so many Catholics do it. It was wrong of me to state that when I used to because it was a misrepresentation of the actual teaching of the Catholic church which denounces the worship of any person. I understand the nuance in latria, dulia, and hyper-dulia. I understand only God is worthy of latria and that Mary is worthy of hyper-dulia which is less than latria. The fact that millions of Catholic have no idea what I just wrote about and that they actually worship Mary doesn’t mean that the teaching of Rome is that we must worship Mary. So your complaint about Sola Scriptura has to do with bad practice of Protestants in this area. Now that you know that you should never again state that Sola Scriptura stands for the idea that every individual believer is autonomous. The Reformers would reject that and I join you in denouncing Protestants who practice that just like I am sure you join me in denouncing Catholics who worship Mary.

Now, to help you understand the RPW better, nowhere in the normal teaching of the RPW will you find any statement such as “when a Reformed person gathers on Sunday to worship, that everything they do – from the start of their liturgy to the end – is expressly commanded to be done during worship in the Bible.” That is a misrepresentation of the teaching. I will, in Christian charity, presume your misrepresentation is from a person with a lack of knowledge on the topic. What the RPW requires is that anything done in worship must be sanctioned in Scripture. It is not that there must be an express command to “do this in worship”. That is simply a Catholic canard. If you want to see what I believe to be the best statement about the topic read this link to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) : http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_XXI.html

Now with regard to the specific issue of confession of sins in worship, there are two questions: (1) where is that sanctioned in Scripture? and (2) how is that consistent with the Reformed teaching of Justification?

With regard to the first question, you will notice in the WCF that it states that prayers are to be said in worship. There are many forms of prayer with confession being only one of them. We also see in OT worship time of confession. So this clearly provides those of us with the belief in the Regulative Principle with the scriptural foundation for confession in our liturgy.

With regard to the second question, if you do not understand how it is consistent for us to believe in the idea that being justified we are viewed by God as having no sin but at the same time needing to be repenting of our “particular sins particularly” then you don’t understand the idea of the Reformed understanding of the “already and not yet”. Luther used to use the phrase “simul justis et peccator”, at the same time saint and sinner. This is the Reformed understanding. We are saved and yet we are being saved. The being saved is where confession plays a role.

So, I would recommend that you study up some more on the topic, surround yourself with good Reformed people (not former Reformed people, I find many of them don’t understand their former faith that well which is one of the reasons why, I would argue, they left) and check with them to see if you get it. I would be glad to be one of those people. I am sure Glen would be glad to do so also. If you want us to take your criticisms of us seriously please try to understand our beliefs better than you have demonstrated in your article.



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