Hearts and Virgins



Geerhardus Vos famously said that “eschatology precedes soteriology.”  But does soteriology supercede ecclesiology?

The Second Great Awakening is often heavily criticized for its decidedly Arminian (even Pelagian) traits. And Calvinist-revivalists like George Whitfield are often held up as models of how to do revivalism well instead of reformation faithfully. Some aren’t exactly convinced.

But if to be Calvinist is to have an ecclesiology that utters the things Cavin did like,

There is no other entrance into life, save as she [the church] may conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us from her breasts, and embrace us in her loving care to the end…

then what do we make of Whitefield’s outlook pertaining to matters of church government, ordination and liturgy:

It was best to preach the new birth, and the power of godliness, and not to insist so much on the form: for people would never be brought to one mind as to that; nor did Jesus Christ ever intend it.

There is good reason holy writ uses physiological analogies. Human hearts don’t tend to last very long when removed from behind rib cages and set upon dusty Durham trails. Many Calvinists seem inclined to follow after Whitefield and dismiss these sorts of points about the organic relationship between form and content for the sake of soul-winning at the expense of nurturing. But maybe they haven’t heard my wife sing “Like A Virgin” in operatic. If ever a joke made a serious point, that would have to rank in the Top Ten.

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27 Responses to Hearts and Virgins

  1. John Yeazel says:


    Ever since reading this post this morning I’ve been singing “Like A Virgin” and trying to imagine it being sung in operatic. I’ve even been getting images of Madonna singing it in that mode. Not her modus operendi but humorous to say the least. Your point is well taken- form and content do matter and Revivalist and Arminian type Church’s, no matter what their denominational label, just do not get it.

  2. John Yeazel says:

    Maybe it’s just the seductiveness of the viprous little snake goddess (I’m referring to Calvin and his reference to newborn babies as “viprous little snakes”). The Catholic Church obviously was not able to disengage the viprous snake and make her more heavenly minded than earthly minded. We will see one day if her earthly success has any bearing in the Kingdom of God. She is truly the poster child for the post-modern woman. Unfortunately, one does have to admit she is quite attractive and “hot.” As Luther often stated the devil comes clothed in very attractive garments and even can carry around an heir of righteousness and morality. Although I do not think Madonna cares much about righteousness and morality except on her own subjective terms.

  3. John Yeazel says:

    I hope I did not sound sanctimonious in my previous post- I am just as much a viprous snake as Madonna, however, the forgiveness and sanctification (Christ sanctifies us through the truth of his word) offered in the Church keeps my mind centered on heavenly things and the things of this world take on a completely different perspective; they do not seem as important anymore. That is the point I was trying to make.

  4. Zrim says:


    My point is that Whitefield is way more dangerous to ecclesiology than Louise Veronica Ciccone (Ritchie) is to the kingdom of God, or even my daughters’ self image. Sorry if the post-pic distracted.

  5. John Yeazel says:


    That may be true but how come the Whitefield’s, Bill Hybels, and Rich Warren’s (or my brother who is an active memeber at Willow Creek but always seems to come out smelling like a moralistic rose) do not ever have to face Church discipline? I never could figure that one out.

  6. Zrim says:


    There has to be an ecclesiology in place that is cognizant of something like the third mark. In some sense, one really can’t blame revivalists for behaving like revivalists. Worse are (would be) confessionalists behaving like revivalists.

  7. John Yeazel says:

    Or how about this quote from Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity: “No longer threatened with hell or comforted with heaven, the new legalism is the upbeat and cheerful hum playing in the backround.” (Legalism Lite)

    I think that has something to do with what this post is all about. That is the difference between Whitefield and Hybels or Warren- instead of threatening with Hell and damnation we are spurned on to greater moral heights by the upbeat and cheerful hum which plays in the backround during the moralistic sermons. Form follows content and the deeds Church’s have their form because of the Legalism Lite.

    I am not so sure David Wells (or myself) would agree with you about the seductiveness of the post-modern culture (of whom Madonna is the poster child) and how dangerous it might be to a Church which is more like grits than salt. A healthy Church (salty ones) has an easier go with it than a gritty one but the Church is filled with sinner and saint combo’s that are easily led astray and prone to wander.

    Good luck with your daughter(s) as they get older. Hopefully, they will have a good grounding in their parents faith but I will be interested in hearing about it 10 years from now.

  8. John Yeazel says:

    I still struggle with this Church discipline issue because some of the more dangerous doctrines and behaviour (cloaked in a external moralism) are never dealt with properly. I guess that is probably an issue between my brother and I that I just have to let go and get over but it seems to want to linger in my consciousness and piss me off during the most inopportune times. Plus I have to work with him everyday.

  9. RubeRad says:

    Calvin and his reference to newborn babies as “viprous little snakes”

    That must be the source from which the WHI crew modernized their phrase “Vipers in Diapers”

  10. Todd says:


    Whitefield at least preached a true gospel – which I’m not sure I could say about Warren or Hybels. And Whitefield was ordained. I’m not sure anything he did was worthy of dicsipline, though not too much worthy of adulation IMO.

  11. Zrim says:

    That’s where I draw the line, bucko. Modernity simply will not tolerate this “Vipers in Diapers” stuff. It just doesn’t help build the Good Society of Human Flourishing.

  12. John Yeazel says:


    In regards to your ecclesiology post- yes, that is the point, “confessionalists behaving like revivalists.” So, there should have been some kind of correction aimed at Warfield because he was changing the form of the Church. The same could be said of Edwards. Even though both had the Gospel right. I imagine it is very difficult to correct someone who seems to be so “successful” in attracting people to the faith. This is why Church discipline is such a difficult issue. Sometimes the major things seem like such minor issues. Especailly when good seems to be coming from the infraction.

    I have heard Rod Rosenbladt say that he has severe difficulties with Church discipline because no one seems to be able to pull it off properly. It often gets abused, misused and only applied to certain sins. Some of the major issues that cause severe problems down the road are never hadled properly. I think the cases of Whitefield and Edwards are a case in point.

  13. John Yeazel says:

    I said Warfield instead of Whitefield- must have been some kind of Fruedian slip.

  14. Zrim says:

    I have heard Rod Rosenbladt say that he has severe difficulties with Church discipline because no one seems to be able to pull it off properly.

    I’m never clear on why folks think a principle is questionable simply because its application often goes wrong. Reductio ad absurdum: I have severe problems with eating food because so many people have eating disorders. Well, to keep the physiology analogy going, bodies need food and churches need discipline.

    I think this sort of thinking is what can drive natural revelation hating theonomy: hey, natural law gave us the Third Reich, so let’s put special revelation into our civil hands and then nothing will go wrong (or at least wrongness will be greatly reduced). But sinners sin because they are sinners, not because they don’t have the right playbook.

  15. Todd says:


    What charge specifically would you have brought against Whitefield?

  16. John Yeazel says:


    That is not really the point of what I was saying. “Sinners sin because they are sinners, not because they don’t have the right playbook.” Sure enough-however, some sins which may not seem as serious often get overlooked without any kind of correction which makes Church discipline very problematic. I am not saying there should not be Church discipline, only that it is very difficult to implement it properly. Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church- they were abusing Church discipline. It is those who excommunicated Luther that should have been disciplined. I am not sure what Luther’s thinking on Church discipline was. I will have to look into to the Lutheran confessions on that subject. There is no way around the difficulty of it. Only a very healthy Church whose leadership is sound in doctrine and practice can pull it off. And the leadership are those who are still sinners and saints. Perhaps it is best to allow the Word and Sacrament (properly taught and implemented) to do its own disciplining- humans tend to muck things up.

  17. John Yeazel says:

    What kind of penalty can be imposed on someone who knows they are a sinner and wrong but keeps seeking forgiveness for sins they struggle with.
    That is the reason we go to Church.

  18. Zrim says:


    I am not saying there should not be Church discipline, only that it is very difficult to implement it properly.

    Ah. Agreed.

    Perhaps it is best to allow the Word and Sacrament (properly taught and implemented) to do its own disciplining- humans tend to muck things up.

    A little too idealistic for me. Seems a lot like telling spouses that “love will find a way.” Fact is, serious relationships take hard work, the kind of work most would prefer not to do. Love and duty are not mutually exclusive but are borne one from another. Something tells me you’ll agree.

  19. John Yeazel says:


    The arguments against Whitefield and Edwards have been covered by Scott Clark in Recovering the Reformed confessions and D.G. Hart in some of his books. They both veered off from confessional ecclesiology. I am sure Michael Hortons book on ecclessiology also covers the problems with revivalistic ecclesiology. It changes the form of the Church to appease the felt needs of sinners. It is more of the Church conforming to the culture rather than being the irrelevant cultural landmark that it shoud be. This caused severe problems in the Presbyterian Church which can be read about in Hart’s Seeking a Better Country.

  20. John Yeazel says:


    I am not sure you are confusing idealism with faith and trust. We do have to work hard at our relationships but in the final analysis we have to depend and trust in the working of the Holy Spirit through faithful attentiveness to Word and Sacrament. What we do seems to make a difference but it is a miracle of God which keeps husbands, wives, families and relationships together. I am not sure we can take too much credit for that either.

  21. Todd says:


    I am familiar with the criticisms of Whitefield, and agree with them. The problem is the general nature of the issue. You cannot discipline a minister for “conforming to the culture.” In what way? What did Whitefield do specifically that violated his church confession and calling?

  22. John Yeazel says:


    I would have to review the confessions- I know Hart goes through a lot of the meetings of the Presbyteers and some of the arguments against the form of revivalism in his book Seeking A Better Country. I am not sure ecclesiology is covered that thoroughly in the confessions of any denomination. Many are calling for a rewritting of confessions to cover some of the more current issues facing the Church today. So, I guess I cannot answer your question specifically as we speak. It certainly is something to look into considering the importance of the issue and how it has wrecked havoc in the Church in America.

  23. Zrim says:


    I’m a Calvinist, too. I appreciate the fact that the Spirit is responsible for things beyond our ability. At the same time, this cannot be used as a justification to “let things play out.” When covenant keepers break laws there have to be consequences.

    It’s a bit ironic to want to discipline someone like Whitefield for general, albeit, grave mistakes in judgment without any specific charge, yet hold out like this about discipline in general. I don’t get it.

  24. John Yeazel says:


    I guess it may be a faulty understanding due to struggles I have had with my brother which never has registered with me (or, perhaps, I am suppressing the truth in unrighteousness). I will have to think and reflect about that a bit more deeply. Thanks for pointing that out- that may be something I have to face and correct.

  25. John Yeazel says:

    Now I am not going to be able to stop thinking about this. I think there is a tension between Luther and Calvin on this subject of Law and Gospel too. Especially in how to dole out penalties for law breaking. The consequences of Law breaking are not well defined in how to dish out the penalties and what constitutes justice in regards to the consequences. Is it covenant breaking to not worship God in the way that is clearly instructed in the New Testament? If it is do those who continue to worship in ways that are clearly not biblical subject to some kind of discipline? I guess it depends on what the denomination you belong to believes about the issue. Do you see what I am getting at? The penalties are often dished out in a haphazard manner by those sinners and saints who have certain strengths and affinities which they may emphasize at the expense of things they do not really see. The penalties are the problem with the discipline. How do you do it properly? The Law will always condemn us and gives us no ability to do it even after it convicts us. Even as Christians we still have a love/hate relationship with the Law- we can love it one minute and the next minute find ourselves disobeying it. The problems this causes are mind-boggling. The Gospel energizes us to take steps to obey the law but we still have a tendency to screw up royally. I go into despair when that continually happens- others seem to be able to suppress the despair and convince themselves that they really are not that bad. I guess we are a combination of both depending on our particular propensity towards different sins. This stuff is easier to talk about then actually put into practice on a regular basis. I could go on but I think you get what I am trying to express. Needless to say, the problems become immense and it almost seems more realistic to let things ride themselves out and let God correct things on the way through proper instruction from the Word and implementation of the sacraments.

    I struggle with this because I have been severely penalized for my sins but my brother who is functioning under a bad theology and is sinning in a way which seems not to be that important to him does not suffer the same consequences. That is why I react to this issue. It hits close to home with me.

  26. Todd says:


    Though I understand how bad experiences can color our view of church discipline, a couple thoughts to your comments. First, the covenant of grace cannot be broken. We should not speak of Christians breaking covenant. That is impossible. A hypocrite in the church, an unbeliever, will be judged more severely for his knowledge and hypocrisy, true, but the covenant of grace cannot be broken by us. Of course, as a Lutheran you likely are not a five pointer, so that may be the difference.

    Secondly, we do not discipline because members break God’s law. We discipline when members do not demonstrate repentance for breaking God’s commandments. That is quite different. Most sins Paul dealt with in Corinthians, including fornication, did not call for church discipline simply because they were committed. Anyway, just some thoughts.

  27. John Yeazel says:

    That is very helpful Pastor Todd- I found out you were a Pastor through other posts. Yes, I have had a bad experience with Church discipline from a Arminian and revivalist type Church and have seen it abused and misused on others. It is a very difficult issue and I think those who have not undergone it would probably have different thoughts about it if they had to face it and go through it. You suddenly become very aware of others sins which seem to not get the attention that yours did. It all gets very complicated and that demonstration of repentance always becomes a prickly issue that never seems to satisfy anyone else. The repentance is never thorough enough and heaven forbid if you ever commit the sin again. You may really be repentant and not like yourself very much (self-loathing becomes a problem) but cannot seem to still get rid of it. I am probably stating too much on a public site so I will refrain from saying anymore. When I look back on it I realize that mistakes were made and it probably would have been handled better in a good and healthy confessional Church. I think having a good and sound theology from those who are administering the discipline would have made the experience less painful and more fruitful then what it turned out to be. It has to be handled in a firm but tender loving way. It is painful to even bring back memories of it.

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