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Archive for February 18th, 2009

Creedal idolatry

This was recently posted on a theological discussion blog:

“[I]f we confess that the Westminster Standards contain THE system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture (and not just A system), then we must equate our understanding of the Gospel with the Standards.”

Did you hear it? “We must equate our understanding of the Gospel with the Standards.” Amazing. From a “Reformed” minister. From a minister who subscribes to the Westminster Confession. The same confession that teaches in its first chapter that “The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture.” But now, we are told that we must equate our understanding of the Scripture with our confessional standards.

What we’re seeing here is this: just as the Roman Church has ceased to be catholic, so the Reformed Church is ceasing to be reformed. I was taught that being “reformed” meant “always conforming to the teaching of God’s Word (being re-formed by the Scriptures themselves)” AND that this was an on-going, never-ending process. Like sanctification. Now, more and more, being “reformed” merely means holding the teachings of the Westminster (or the Belgic) Confession and catechisms and reading those teachings into the texts of the Bible (seeing nothing more or less in the texts than what the Confessions teach). After all, if we believe our confession contains THE system of doctrine taught in the Scripture, then we MUST equate our understanding of the Scripture with the teaching of the Standards.

This is too easy. I thought the Reformed faith required examining all things by the Word of God, wrestling with difficult texts and realizing that we couldn’t always explain or define the things God has revealed. I was told that being reformed meant being willing to drop even our most cherished beliefs and practices if they contradicted the teachings of Scripture, so that we could be “re-formed” by the Word of God. But, apparently, I’ve been wrong. Nowadays “reformed” merely means a commitment to see nothing more in the Bible than the teachings of the Westminster Confession.

Honoring tradition never involves worshiping it. We must build upon the holy tradition that God has given us in our creeds and confessions, but we must never make them our permanent homes. Pastor John Robinson (pastor of the “Pilgrim Fathers”) exhorted those of his congregation in Leyden who were departing for a new life in the New World, “There are still treasures in the Scriptures, the knowledge of which have remained hidden to us. All the misery of the Presbyterian churches is owing to their striving to consider the Reformation as completed, and to allow no further development of what has been begun by the labor of the Reformers. The Lutherans stop at Luther, many Calvinists at Calvin. This is not right. Certainly, these men in their time were burning and shining lights; nevertheless, they did not possess an insight into the whole of God’s truth and if able to arise from their graves, they would be the first to accept gratefully all new light. It is absurd to believe that during the brief period of the Reformation all error has been banished, just as it is absurd to believe that Christian understanding has completed its task.”

Reformation does not mean going back in time to regain an idyllic past nor is reformation a matter of “freezing time” in order to protect an old formulation and making sure no one corrupts it by seeking to change it. Reformation always means going forward trusting in the Lord Christ, guided by the Spirit as He teaches us the Word, and by His grace and power, walking in the light of that Word. If our understanding of reformation is not future-oriented; if it does not anticipate growing in a more clear understanding of the truths revealed in God’s Word; if it doesn’t include seeing the shortcomings and errors of the past and dropping them, then we have ceased to be “Reformed” in any true sense of the word.

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