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Sunday, February 12, 2006 

Confessing A Confessional Church

Reading: Lectures on Calvinism by A. Kuyper
Listening: I recommend Further Seems Forever's mp3's available here. FSF has announced their immanent demise, which ends the group of guys largely composed since the mid-90's that included the East Coast thrash-metal band Strongarm, which is how I became familiar with these guys. On the link, you will find a smattering of their songs, but all good. (In the future, I will post some Strongarm songs)
Enjoying: the last few chocolate chip cookies

While you are enjoying the audible feast FSF puts on, I thought you might also benefit from some visual stimulation. (click on the picture for an enlarged view)

This is Peter Paul Ruben's classic, "The Descent From the Cross." I first encountered this painting through a former roommate, Eric, who was studying a history of art. I wish I could reproduce his insights into the painting for your sake's.


Rouault's "Christ"

This audacious and controversial painting is aptly entitled "The Menorah." Thoughts as to how this related the Christian hope with Jewish suffering would be greatly appreciated. Likewise, any thoughts regarding how Christ is portrayed and whether any of these would be inappropriate for 2nd Commandment reasons would be welcome in the comments. For those of you on dial-up, I apologize for the (excessive) pictures...

More art to be found throughout...

What is it to be a confessional church?
I have written in a few different places about wishing to reach some sort of categorizational coherence with regards to the term evangelical. (I don't know about you, but it seems to me that the under-30 generation was, is, and [hopefully not] will be obsessed with tags and labels, both for others and themselves. Most of the zeal, I guess, has derived from the desire to make sure I don't end up with certain tags, and that the right tags do find themselves to my circle. I wonder: 1) if other generations were as label-conscious as mine, and; 2) if there is any coincidence to the success of del.icio.us and Technorati in this zealous-to-be- known-on-my-terms era.) Usually, my critical suggestions revolve around some form of my suggesting abandoning the term "evangelical" in favor of advancing to "confessional churches." While this may create certain cozy feelings among some of us (and blank stares - no doubt - from others), what exactly is a confessional church?

Dr. G. I. Williamson, probaly best known for his phenomenal study guide and commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, has a terrific article getting at exactly what we are querying here. After asking our same question, Williamson begins with what a confessional church (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, in his case) is not. To begin with, a confessional church doesn't hijack you at the door and hold your wallet hostage until you sign on the theological dotted line. To quote Dr. Williamson,
It is for this reason that our church makes a clear distinction between the relatively simple vows that adult converts take when they are received as church members, and the more elaborate vows required of those men in our midst who are ordained. This does not mean that the two are out of harmony with each other... The reason is obvious: it is the faith summarized in the Westminster Standards which is taught in the Bible. So anyone who sincerely submits to the authority of the Bible will be able, in the end, to say of these standards what we as office-bearers say; namely, here is the system of doctrine which is taught in the Scriptures.

I'd like to highlight a point made here by Dr. Williamson that may not be manifestly evident to all. It is not enough anymore to simply say, "No Creed but Christ!" or, "We just believe the Bible," or something else close to such theological drivel. There was a day when (presumably) one knew what such a claim meant. In such a time as this, however, the question is, "Who's Christ? Who's Bible?" To claim having no creed but "Christ" is a sitting epistemological duck in today's relativistic, reductionistic, individualistic society. To say one is a confessional church is simply to say expressly "this Christ!" and "this Bible!" Having a creed or confession dictate a body of believers who willingly submit to it is to say, "We read the Bible this way." In a day and age in which all sorts of new doctrines are being submitted to the Pillar of Truth, this is a gem and unparalleled value.

Which is all to say, having a confession doesn't entail undermining the Bible in the life of a congregation. Of course, it is possible to do so. It is also equally as possible to come to Biblio-idolatry or to relegate the Scriptures to the all-glorious Dusty Shelf in The Corner. The beauty of having a confession is promising to read the Bible consistently, regardless of the sway of culture. And most creeds and confessions - the good ones, anyway - are built, brick by brick on Biblical texts. A brief perusal of the Westminster, Three Forms of Unity, or the Bethlehem Baptist Elder Affirmation of Faith shows how integral thousands of bible verses are to composing these man-made, errant documents. Nevertheless, their value lies in being forged in exegesis. We confessed the following yesterday morning in corporate worship as a congregation:
We believe that God, from all eternity, in order to display the full extent of His glory for the eternal and ever-increasing enjoyment of all who love Him, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His will, freely and unchangeably ordain and foreknow whatever comes to pass. We believe that God upholds and governs all things – from galaxies to subatomic particles, from the forces of nature to the movements of nations, and from the public plans of politicians to the secret acts of solitary persons – all in accord with His eternal, all-wise purposes to glorify Himself, yet in such a way that He never sins, nor ever condemns a person unjustly; but that His ordaining and governing all things is compatible with the moral accountability of all persons created in His image. We believe that God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace which was given through His Son Christ Jesus before the world began. By this act God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in His Son Christ Jesus.
BBC Elder Affirmation of Faith, 3.1 - 3
Such truths do not compromise biblical truth; rather, they establish the Scriptures.

The creeds themselves are aware of their sub-ordinate status. Filling out on the Westminster's admittance that it is not a rule of faith nor practice, but only to help these, Doug Wilson has written the scandalous Now You Tell Me:
One night, after having consumed far too much pizza, an old school Presbyterian minister retired to bed. About two in the morning, after much turning and splindling up in the covers, he awoke in a sweat, and there, hovering over the foot of his bed, in a nimbus cloud of glory, was the Westminster Confession, without the American revisions. He sat bolt upright, his eyes like a couple of shiny hubcaps.

"I didn't know you were an angel!" He exclaimed. "Who knew!"

"My son, my faithful son. I am no angel, but merely a system of sound doctrine. But as far as the seventeenth century goes, I have been told I won 'best in show.'"

"I should say! You're the best!"

"Nay, my son. For like all other synods and councils, whether general or particular, I may err, and have erred, and am not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but rather used as a help in both." The Confession arched her eyebrows, as much as to say that 'we have been over this before.'

"Not a rule of faith or practice?"

"Right. But just a help in both."

The minister was muttering into the covers, bunched up in both fists. "Beg pardon?" said the Confession. The minister lowered his hands. "Uh oh," he repeated.

Though fancifully highlighting what could happen to those subscribing to confessions, such as these are not - to play on the Apostle - using the confession "confessionally." Rather, the confessions act as a bulwark and fortress protecting the sacred text.

Finally, it is very possible that the confessions have errors in them that later generations come to understand. This is not a problem, though, since the Scriptures are the final arbiter. Though this may produce bitter debating over the truth of various passages, creedal fragments help to prevent this and keep the peace of the church.

While I have weighed in, the real value of this post is the following link to Dr. Williamson's post on why confessions are healthy and necessary for today's churches.
link here

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Excellent thoughts, Brian! Let me attempt to add to them. There are two things that I consider to be unfortunate in your post; I'm sure you will agree with me in this. 1)It is unfortunate that creeds and confessions are necessary. I have trouble saying that because the error of our present day and the sinfulness of my own flesh have made me happy to disagree, even vehemently, with Christian brothers. I don't want to sound like Wesley here, but I need more of a catholic spirit (NOT R.C.C.!). 2)It is unfortunate that you and the WCF must spell out the confession's inferiority to sacred Scripture. This one is much easier for me to say. On one hand, I think this is simply a waste of time. However, on the other hand, I see many pastors and scholars running to the confession faster than they run to Scripture and backing up their interpretations with the confession more than they employ the hermeneutical method of the confession by backing up their interpretation with Scripture itself. So I see the necessity of spelling out the limitations of the confession also, though my disdain for this is greater than my disdain for my first point. Perhaps it should be the other way around and I should desire catholicity more. I've got it! I have a greater disdain for myself than for either #1 or #2! Now I'm a good Reformed fellow!

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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