Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Confessing to a Problem, Part 2

Seems to me, if someone has a problem with one of the standard ways the Church traditionally has interpreted Scripture, he or she had better go to Scripture to define what the problem is. Just saying, "It's inconvenient for me" or "I just don't like it" won't cut it.

And when it comes to the way the Westminister Shorter Catechism expounds the Fourth Commandment, it bothers me how the Westminster Divines chose to defend their interpretation Biblically. The Catechism is written for Christians and presumeably is written with the people of the New Covenant in mind. In that case, why are the vast majority of Scripture supports taken from the Old Testament? Why cite random verses from the seventeenth chapter of the book of Jeremiah in favor of strict Sabbatarianism, when the promises appended there to such adherance clearly have to to do with the physical people of Israel. There I am told that if I keep the Sabbath as commanded, "then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this city with their officials." But the ultimate King from David's line has come, His name is Jesus Christ, and He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty in heaven. My Sabbath keeping (or lack thereof) isn't going to cause Him to rule and reign-- He already does!

They cite Isaiah 58:13b, "If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable . . . " So why not also mention what Jesus said in Mark 2:27, about how "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." What about the wonderful verses in Hebrews about the Sabbath rest waiting for the children of God? Why are Questions 60 through 62 all about what we have to do or not do, instead of focussing on what God has done for us? "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of slavery, out of the house of bondage. Therefore . . ." Whatever happened to the Third Use of the Law, to show Christians how to live in gratitude to Jesus Christ for the salvation He has given?

Seems to me, the Christian Sabbath should be a time of refuge and renewal. It should be a time gladly to lay down the burdens of the week and enjoy freedom in the Lord. This may be why the Westminster exclusion of "recreation" bothers me so much. Isn't re-creation what the Sabbath is for?

And how can Answer 62 say that "God has allowed us six days for our own employments"? We belong to Him in Christ, don't we? Doesn't all our time belong to Him now? Are we not to glorify Him fully seven days a week? What's with this (forgive me, this is how it seems!) petulant "I let you do what you want six days a week; you better pay attention to me on the seventh!" Do we really want to reduce God to the level of a nagging wife?

On the contrary, it seems to me that the Lord's Day should be like the date night reserved by happily married spouses: a time to pay attention to and delight in one another without the distractions of work and children and bills. And that that can include such recreations as make the individual more conscious of and grateful for who the Lord is and what He has done. For me, that can mean pottering in the garden or making bread. Or getting together with friends, as I already frequently do at the OPC parsonage after morning service-- where we assuredly do not restrict our conversation to theological topics only!

Does my disquiet with this part of the Westminister Shorter Catechism mean I would throw it out and totally reject what it has to say?

No. The strictures of the WSC, legalistic as they are, address a portion of sinful human nature that is the same now as it was in the days of Moses or the days ot the Westminster divines. They were addressing evils and abuses they were confronted with in their day and applied the Word of God to the question.

But this gets us back to the whole Westminster-only question. On this past May 4th the Fighting for the Faith Internet broadcast featured a talk by Ligon Duncan on Did the Fathers Know the Gospel? Dr. Duncan's answer is yes-- partially-- at least inasmuch as the challenges of their time moved them to write in its defense. More specifically, the question asked is "Is the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ represented and set forth clearly in the writings of the Church fathers?" And the answer has to be no. For faithful as those men where as individuals, their writings inevitably assumed and thus left out those parts of the Gospel not being attacked in their time. Their writings thus are guides for the pilgrim Christian, but not the last word.

Every Christian creed and confession (with the possible exception of the Apostles" Creed) was written in response to some contemporary onslaught against the faith. As such they are of their time, and to be applied in every time, since human sin manifests itself in similar ways throughout history. But no one creed or confession can claim to have to last word in guiding us into the knowledge of what the Scripture causes us to believe and do. Not even the Westminster Standards. That would be to elevate them to the status of the Bible itself, which we must never do.

This doesn't help me in the middle run, you know. The PC(USA) for a large part pays mere lip service to any of her many creeds and confessions and may be in danger of running aground and breaking up much sooner than later. If I would choose to flee to a denomination like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, how can I in honesty subscribe to Westminster only, knowing its limitations?

Well, I'll leave that to God and time. In the meantime, with the Westminster divines or in spite of them, I find it's good to set my mind and heart weekly to accept the gift that is God's holy Sabbath, preparing for it as I would that ideal Christmas Day. Because after all, it's first and foremost what He has done for me in His Son Jesus Christ, and only secondarily, what I do-- or don't do-- for myself or Him.

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