Fisking an idea on how to treat Confessional Documents

In a recent denomination magazine someone wrote a op-ed piece. This is my attempt to find the humor in it.

December 5, 2015 — Discussions about our denomination’s confessions, also known as the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—are ongoing.

Some believe that we should preserve these confessions as they were written. Others argue that we should adapt them to contemporary times but continue to affirm their authority. Still others argue that we should do away with these confessions altogether and start anew. And some have proposed that we add a fourth document to the Three Forms of Unity, such as the Belhar Confession, to make our testimony more complete.

I propose that we refer to the Three Forms of Unity as the “historical confessions” of the CRC. This implies, of course, that the exact language of each confession be minutely preserved. After all, they are historical documents that reflect the precise spirit of their time. These documents should never be altered, and for that reason should always be referred to as “the historical confessions of the Christian Reformed Church.” Further, these historical confessions should never be considered normative for our times because their normativity for today would violate their historicity of yesterday.

Bret responds,

Great idea. Lets apply this reasoning to other historical documents.

1.) I propose that we refer to my wedding vows as the “historical wedding vows.”  This implies, of course, that the exact language of the wedding vow would be minutely preserved. After all, those vows are a historical document that reflect the precise spirit when I was married. This document should never be altered, and for that reason should always be referred to as “the historical wedding vows of Mr. & Mrs. Bret L. McAtee.” Further, this historical wedding vow should never be considered normative for our times because its normativity for today would violate its historicity of yesterday.

II.) I propose that we refer to the membership vows that our members take as their “historical vows” to the local church. This implies, of course, that the exact language of each membership vow be minutely preserved. After all, they are historical vows that reflect the precise spirit of their time. These vows should never be altered, and for that reason should always be referred to as “the historical vows of the members of sundry Christian Reformed Churches.” Further, these historical vows should never be considered normative for our times because their normativity for today would violate their historicity of yesterday.

III.) I propose that we refer to the  Scriptures as “historical Scripture” of the CRC. This implies, of course, that the exact language of each Scripture be minutely preserved. After all, the Scriptures are a historical document that reflects the precise spirit of their time. This document should never be altered, and for that reason should always be referred to as “the historical  Scripture of the Christian Church.” Further, these historical Scriptures should never be considered normative for our times because their normativity for today would violate their historicity of yesterday.

Except for assorted 5 year olds, closed head injury patients, and adult post-moderns who “reasons” like this?

How is it that Historicity is put into antithesis with normativity?

With this kind of methodology how is it possible to still believe that true truth is timeless?

“Yes Aunt Agnes, I know in your time serial adultery was wrong, according to the historic Confessions, but today the normative confessions say that God is pleased with serial adultery.”

What would be normative, however, is a Contemporary Confession. Such a new document would be similar to the CRC’s Contemporary Testimony Our World Belongs to God, but not necessarily identical to it. This Contemporary Confession would be drawn up by the CRC synod. From then on, a synodically appointed standing committee would, upon the instruction of the annual synod, recommend certain modifications, alterations, or additions to the Contemporary Confession as needed.

This process would be repeated at the commencement of each subsequent synod, at which time all the synodical delegates would also subscribe to the Contemporary Confession. The document would then be normative throughout the entire year. Newly elected or appointed office-bearers would also be expected to subscribe to it.

Something to think about!

 

 

Wasn’t this tried before? Some guy, wearing a pointy hat speaks ex-cathedra from the synod (whoops… I mean “The Chair”) and then all of Christendom knows what is true and what they should think. After all, if Synod says it is true then  why would anyone disagree? Didn’t Luther have something to say about this idea.

“I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils or CRC Synods, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning.”

I can just see it now.

“My only comfort in life and death (until next years synod meets) is that I am not my own …”

This year the Heidelberg gives us “Sin and Misery,” “Our Redemption,” and “Gratitude.” Next year the Heidelberg could  be divided into, “Low Self Esteem,” “Our Self Actualization,” and “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough,  and doggone it, people like me,” categories.

Really, I fail to understand how any thinking person could reason like this.

 

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Kinist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture . Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

5 thoughts on “Fisking an idea on how to treat Confessional Documents”

  1. I agree, the historic forms of unity should remain normative for confessional Protestant churches.

    OTOH, an altered document is not the historic document. The 1788 “Westminster Confession of Faith” is not really the Westminster Confession of Faith. More accurately, should be called the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, the confession adopted by the newly established Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

    Perhaps the solution is for each confessional body to adopt original documents entire and exact, thus showing proper respect to the historic forms. Then, additional forms should be adopted to qualify, amend, add, or revoke articles of faith as circumstances require.

    1. Andrew,

      As far as I’m concerned, substantive changes in the Confessional documents should require new denominations. Men should be honest enough to say, “We no longer subscribe to the WCF, we know subscribe to the “modified WCF,” and as such we name ourselves a different denomination than what our Father’s were.

  2. It’s a difficult issue. Aside from translation into new languages for non-English speaking churches, it would seem any change to a confession would be substantive in effect. Truth forms a system; and every proposition logically relates to other propositions in a given system. Even a supposedly “non-fundamental” article on the periphery has an effect on more central articles, and they in turn have an effect on more central articles still.

    We see this with R2K. The changes began with a re-orientation of the relation between church and state in the confessions. This baneful influence progressed to where the graciousness of the Sinaitic covenant has been jeopardized, the Decalogue denied as a normative instrument, and the power & authority conferred on Christ at his Resurrection degraded.

    The apparent motivation behind all this is to eliminate any implication or suggestion that the end of every human endeavor is obliged to be subordinated to God’s glory, in order to deny that the LORD is to be acknowledged collectively in all our ways.

    R2K does not and cannot preach that all men everywhere are commanded to repent and submit to Christ’s Lordship. This has affected even non R2K preaching, so that the requirement of repentance is being suppressed.

    Furthermore, the bifurcation of Christ’s redemptive and providential reigns destroys the supreme office, dividing the Messiahship into separate kingly and priestly offices, corresponding to separate natures in the Son. Christologically, this is a dangerous move.

    Granted, these innovations haven’t been formally implemented. However, the relevant confessional articles are practically a dead letter already. They do not function as originally intended by the Presbyterian and Reformed fathers. A new religion is emerging.

    I’d think Reformed and Presbyterian bodies who desire to preserve their patrimonies would maintain the historic confessions in their original forms while adding new forms as circumstances require. The founding documents would exercise theological control over later documents. Besides making necessary clarifications or fleshing out what is already implicit, later documents would only add new formularies perfectly consistent with the old doctrine.

    Honesty would dictate, as you say, that substantial confessional alteration should initiate reconstitution of the body as a new denomination.

    1. Andrew wrote,

      “A new religion is emerging.”

      There can be no doubt that this is what is taking place. The Reformed thought of the Historic Confessions and the Reformed thought of R2K are two different religions. Eventually people are going to quit avoiding that inescapable truth.

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