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Visitors who are new to our church often ask about being a Presbyterian Church, Reformed, Confessional, etc. One of the first things I say is that we are tied to a Reformed confession, specifically the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is reasonable to then discuss why we are tied to this confession and how we use it. I would like to focus this post on the purpose of being tied to a confession. What is the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)? It can be generally stated that the WCF is the standard of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches around the world. Unfortunately, many churches have minimized its role and function so even some who have grown in Reformed and Presbyterian churches are not well acquainted with it or worse never even heard of it.
By name, the confession is a profession and confession of what we believe. We like to think of it as the codified understanding of the teachings of Scripture. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the history of the WCF (perhaps another post), but generally speaking, the writers of the WCF sought to articulate in more detail, the Christian faith in light of the historical creeds and confessions of the church. Originally, there were approximately 175 English and Scottish theologians and biblical scholars who gathered in Westminster Abbey, London. The WCF could be said to be their confession dating back to 17th century.
More generally the WCF belongs to a larger collection of confessions and creeds that belong to the church. Unfortunately, many Christians aren’t familiar with the historic creeds and so it contributes to an overall weakness in an understanding of both doctrine and worship. Creeds can be thought of as statements of beliefs from churches, communities, or larger bodies (ecumenical). Confessions and creeds are helpful because we need to clarify what we understand to be true and not-true.
Consider that Scriptures are a collection of diverse genres, numerous writers, over a period of thousands of years. Now that we have God’s Word they are left to be interpreted. When people interpret the text they bring their own presuppositions, influences, education, and biases into the process. This happens sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. It isn’t too difficult to understand that interpretations that are based on a partial understanding, absorbed in culture, and in a particular context may have a certain flavor. Thus we must interpret Scripture and we use the help of the collective whole (present and historic) Church and not simply our own biased, limited, fragmented, opinions.
AA Hodge wrote a technical but helpful commentary (available on Kindle), entitled A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith and another work, A Short History of Creeds and Confessions where he says,
Men must interpret to the best of their ability each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teachings upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. Every student of the Bible must do this, and all make it obvious that they do it by the terms they use in their prayers and religious discourse, whether they admit or deny the propriety of human creeds and confessions. If they refuse the assistance afforded by the statements of doctrine slowly elaborated and defined by the Church, they must make out their own creed by their own unaided wisdom. The real question is not, as often pretended, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.
You can understand that the issue is not between creed and no creed, but between recognition of a tried and proven creed, derived from a corporate representative body of the church, and your own creed derived from your limitations. We can affirm the importance of confessions and creeds while also recognizing their limitations. Even though they have the wisdom of generations of godly men, they can never come close the wisdom and infallibility of Scripture which is from God. Thus it is important that we study and be taught from the Scriptures as it is our privilege and duty as Christians. However, to suppose that we, individually, can put a comprehensive theology unaided is both arrogance and unsafe. Hodge again is helpful from his commentary
Creeds and confessions, as to form, bind those only who voluntarily profess them; and as to matter, they bind only so far as they affirm truly what the Bible teaches, and because the Bible does so teach.
The idea that God changes or doesn’t change has significant impact not only on our theology but in our life and discipleship. Scripture speaks of God’s Law as being fixed rooted in the God of Scripture, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The universe is sustained and fixed in a law of order and uniformity that makes science possible and intelligible. Scripture doesn’t speak of God as being capricious, arbitrary, or creating a world of chaos. Rather God brings order to chaos and order needs consistency and uniformity.
There is a theology (Process Theology) which claims that God changes over time. The Scripture of God is true during the time it was written but as the culture and science changes we are all changing. Therefore the church must change. This theology paints a picture of everything in motion and then points the finger at the conservative line of the church as now being out of sync with the world around them and more importantly, God. Process Theologians, in my view, have abandoned the authority of Scripture, perhaps not all together, but their position allows them to dismiss any parts that they believe are contrary to their claims. I will be the first to admit I have not read much of the theologians who align themselves with Process Theology. Frankly it sounds like nonsense as soon as I begin reading, listening to podcasts, watching their videos, etc. But I have gathered, what I believe, is the essence that I’ve briefly described above. That being said, If I’ve stated something false, I’m free to be corrected because I would not want to misrepresent a position. On the other hand if I’m correct I’d ask to have my questions responded to. (more…)
In 1.3.1 Francis Turretin, while discussing the subject of theology in general, answers the question “Whether natural theology may be granted?”
The question focuses on natural theology after the Fall not on the theology of Adam prior. Turretin asks if there is a natural faculty implanted in humanity that embraces the capability of understanding and the natural first principles of knowledge (which the Reformed maintain). He isn’t asking if this knowledge of God, which all humanity has, is perfect for saving, for we affirm that after the Fall, it was insufficient for salvation. Rather it is maintained that any knowledge of God, which remains in man, is sufficient to lead humanity to conclude that God exists and demands worship. (more…)
Jesus as revelation is the fulfillment of Scripture
The coming of Christ did not happen in a vacuum. In one sense, the Incarnation was the most important event in the history of Israel. In an other sense, a true Jew should not have been surprised by the appearance of Jesus. They were in possession of the Scriptures and therefore had a possession of the revelation of God. The nature of revelation is progressive. It builds on itself and continues to point forward. Jesus as revelation is climatic. Revelation is given by God in history progressively. Vos spoke of God’s revelation like rings in a tree. Each successive ring has grown out of the preceding one. God reveals and in doing so sets up another revelation. We are always looking forward for more revelation and more of God. (more…)
Gnosticism is ultimately dualism. This is often what the quick description can be as people speak of Gnosticism. However, Gnosticism is better understood to be dualism with a background of Monism. Monism the idea communicates that all is one essence. Ultimately there is no distinction between God nor Creation. All is One and One is all. It is very pantheistic in its essence and this is ulitmately what is coming on the horizon. Some have cast Gnosticism off as an ancient, mythical superstitious cult that died out long ago. However nothing could be further from the truth.
Gnosticism is beyond having a special knowledge that would lead to a salvific redemption. It also brings about a sharp contrast between the Biblical portrayal of God. While Gnosticism seeks to be delevered from the flesh and the creation. In the same breath Gnosticism is seen calling the God of the bible foolish. The concept of God inhabiting the flesh is of no interest to the Gnostics.
While the Gnostics seek to be delivered from the Creator and His work. In Christianity the God of the bible comes to redeem Creation and Man. The body in Christianity is special and not a filthy oppression in which man is trapped. It is however, a reminder of our blessed hope. Our bodies are not meant to degrade over time. They were never suppose to be feeling the effects of the Fall nor to be subject to death. Instead man who is created to live forever with the Sovereign Lord awaits anxiously for the day of their redemption.
Gnosticism however will present terms or phrases that would seem Orthodox. It may even present terms or ideas that seem utterly odd. However the reason it can even make these statements is that it is operating on a different level. Statements that would encourage the individual to leave the distinctions of creation and move towards their own divinization. Sexuality should be removed from the discussion. Women become like men and men then all become god-like. This is a simple reversal of the created order where God in the beginning made man and then from his side he creates woman.
Gnosticism is ultimately knocking on the door all around the church. It disguises itself in so many forms not on purpose. But because it is so influential and fluid. It looks innocent as Astrology or political movements but the ideas behind it can be very much influenced by those gnostic ancestors. In the end that which seems new, is really an old hat on a different head.