Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Confessing to a Problem

Traditionally, at least, my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a confessional church. We have a whole book of confessions we confess: The Second Helvetic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Westminster Confession, The Declaration of Barmen, and a good handful of others. We're even looking at accepting yet another at this year's General Assembly. We claim that these are faithful guides to what the Scripture leads us to believe and do.

Other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations subscribe to only one triad of faith affirmations: The Westminster Confession, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, and The Westminster Larger Catechism, collectively known as the Westminster Standards. Westminster Standard churches charge that with all our creeds, catechisms, and confessions, we of the PC(USA) really have no standards at all. They say that having so many symbols of faith (boy, that's a good, old-fashioned theological word!), we feel we're free to pick and choose, and end up thinking and believing whatever we jolly well please. Thus the rampant degenerate liberalism (which is no true, generous liberalism at all) of our denomination.

I'm all too aware of the evils of the drift of doctrine in my part of the Presbyterian Church, and I've felt a certain admiration for those Presbyterian Churches who steadfastly adhere to Westminster. They, at least, seem to know what they believe and why they believe it.

But something's happened lately that's made me wonder if "Westminster Only" is the holy grail it's said to be . . .
The past two Sundays I've attended Morning Instruction at the Orthodox Presbyterian church where I go when I'm not filling a pulpit somewhere. The OPC is a Westminster Standards only denomination.

The class, led by the pastor, begins with memorization work. First, the children and youth recite their Bible verses. Then, the adults repeat from memory the featured questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

The object these past two weeks has been Questions 58 through 61, on the Fourth Commandment, on keeping the Sabbath day. This past Sunday I brought in my copy of The Book of Confessions and thought maybe it'd be cool if I could memorize one or more of these answers for recitation myself.

But then, as the others were doing their recitations, I listened to and read and reread what the Westminster divines had written. I grew very disturbed in my soul, and decided, no, at this time, at least, I could not repeat back these words. For to repeat them aloud is to affirm and accept them, and as written, I'm not sure if I can accept these words as the best and most faithful guide to the meaning of this Commandment as given in Scripture.

My biggest problem is with Question and Answer 60:

Q. 60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

And even more with Question and Answer 61:

Q. 61. What is forbidden in the Fourth Commandment?

A. The Fourth Commandment forbiddeth the omission, or careless performance, of the duties required, and the profaning of the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

And with certain parts of Question and Answer 62 (which we haven't really gotten to, but it goes with this group):

Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment are: God's allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the Sabbath Day.

Confronted with Questions 60 and 61 in particular, I found myself thinking, what a gray, straitened, and depressing thing to do to the Lord's Sabbath! I can't help but get a picture of a family of dour, legalistic Puritans sitting at home or in their pew at church doing their dire best not to do anything recreational, not to do anything "unnecessary," not to be idle but at the same time avoiding anything that smacks of human work, not to talk about anything earthly, not even to think of anything that could be construed as untheological! Good grief, how could even the most sanctified Christian find joy in the Lord under those conditions?!

I examined myself: Was this my own sin talking? There could be some of that, yes. But like Job, I can't say that my own depravity is all there is to my reluctance to accept this full weight. I have some biblical objections as well.

But I'd better save them for a further post. This is getting long.

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