Results tagged “confessions” from Reformation21 Blog

Know When to Hold'em


As any poker player knows (and I am not a poker player--I tend to steer clear of competitions where the victor takes home a bracelet), the hand is over when all the cards have been dealt, all the bets have been called, the players' cards are turned over and they reveal who has won the pot.

The image of that poker moment came to mind in a discussion I once had with some church members about the role and value of ecclesial creeds for the Christian life, especially when it comes to meaningful theological exchange between two professing believers. I remembered a friend who resides in a church tradition that rejects any notion of creeds. He saw creeds as man's conscious or unconscious attempts to bend Scripture to suit his own desires. Indulging another metaphor, I assured my friend that, although the historic creeds of the church are not infallible, they provide a deep theological stream of carefully articulated doctrines that have contributed through the years to unity, health and honesty in the church. I told him he was in the current of that stream whenever he claims that God is triune, that Christ is divine, that justification is by grace alone through faith alone, or when he claims any other orthodox tenet of belief.  And I warned him that to claim "No creed but the Bible" would, itself, be creedal, but, by comparison to the historical creedal stream of the church, his would be but a shallow and muddy ditch. It would be to show only some of his cards.  It would identify the basis for what he believes, but it would not reveal what his beliefs are.

Creeds help us lay our theological cards on the table for all to see. They differentiate our hand from the hands of others around the theological table. They tell all who would look at our cards not only that our beliefs are grounded in the Bible, but that "these are the truths revealed in the Scriptures as the Word of God." They tether our confession of Scripture to the content of Scripture. They do not leave anyone wondering what we mean when we claim the Bible is God's very Word. Indeed, many through the ages, and even today, who call for creedal revisions deploy words like "inspiration" and "atonement" only to inject those words with unorthodox content. Poker, then, has an advantage over some of the theological hands being played today. In poker what the cards are and what they mean cannot be subverted.

At least two lessons are ready for the taking: First, holding to the enduring creeds that present the truths of Holy Scripture is akin to holding a royal flush. Second, should anyone entice us to abandon the historic creeds of the church, we should remember The Gambler's adage, "You've got to know when to hold'em...and when to walk away."

Rev. Dr. R. Carlton Wynne is assistant professor of systematic theology and apologetics. He has served as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, and has co-edited with Derek Thomas Zeal for Godliness: Devotional Meditations on Calvin's Institutes.

*This post is a slightly adapted version of a post originally published at Reformation21 on October 2, 2010. 

The Exception and the Rule

Over the years, many have approached me in order to ask what I believe the Bible teaches on some particular theological or ethical subject. In many cases, no sooner have I finished answering them that I'm met with the reply, "But what about...?" All of us are eager to find an exception to the rule. When I first started noticing this pattern among Christian, I mentioned it to our assistant pastor, who said, "Let's be honest. Most people love the idea of the exception and almost no one loves the idea of the rule. When I served in large evangelical churches, it was always about the exception. No one cared about the rule." Sadly, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not just endemic to those in large evangelical churches--it is a problem associated with fallen human nature. The love of the exception--as over against that of the rule--seems to be prevalent in Christian circles in our day, especially when discussing the moral law, God's requirements for worship, the government of the church and the means of salvation. 

Christians confess that Scripture is the only rule for life and godliness insomuch as it contains everything necessary for those things. God's will revealed in His moral law is unchangeable because He is unchangeable. On account of that fact, we must proceed with the utmost care and caution when insisting on the exception without necessarily emphasizing the rule. Granted, Pharisaism was founded on the idea of preserving the rule to such an extent that the Pharisees built an elaborate system of man-made rules and regulations around God's law in order to protect it from what they perceived to be lawless abuse. Ironically, they too were doing away with the rule by adding to it. While insisting on upholding the rule, the Pharisees offered man-made exceptions for themselves to make the rule more attainable. This was especially the case with regard to the Pharisaic emphasis on the fourth commandment. In a very real sense, the Pharisees set themselves up as the Sabbath police and set the other nine commandments on the fourth commandment and their subsequent additions and subtractions. This is one of the reasons why we find so much about the Sabbath in the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. The application of the fourth commandment serves as a prime example (and case study) of the exception/rule principle when seeking to understand what God requires of His people. 

In what is arguably the greatest explanation of the fourth commandment, the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) states: 

"The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day."

Note the important parenthetical statement: "except so much of it as it to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy." According the members of the Westminster Assembly, the two exceptions to the rule of the fourth commandment are mercy and necessity. So, how are we to determine acceptable exceptions and how are we to view them in regard to a right understanding of the rule set out by God? 

The divines, no doubt, highlighted what they believed to be biblically defined exceptions to the rule of the fourth commandment based on their understanding of the accounts recorded in Matthew 12. There, we find Jesus walking through the grain fields and plucking heads of grain with his disciples on the Sabbath. When challenged by the self-appointed Sabbath police, Jesus referred them to the account of David and his mighty men in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, the fact that the priests had to work on the Sabbath day and the principle of mercy over sacrifice from Hosea 6:6. Jesus' appeals to the exceptions were based squarely on exegetical insight. 

Jesus knew that he was the great anti-type of David. As David had asked for the showbread for himself and his mighty men when they were hungry--though it was unlawful as far as the rule was concerned--Jesus and his disciples walked through the fields and plucked heads of grain on the Sabbath. In David's case, his action was an act of mercy and an act of necessity. In this sense, it served as the exception to the rule. In Jesus' case, the law allowed the poor and the sojourner to pluck heads of grain from the fields of strangers (Lev. 23:22). Nevertheless, he was guided by the principles of mercy and necessity on the day that typified the mercy and rest that he would himself provide through his atoning death on the cross. 

Jesus also understood that there were some who, by virtue of their vocations, had to work on the Sabbath day. Since worship is to take place on the Sabbath day, the priests had other option than to work on the Old Covenant Sabbath. Today, pastors have to work on the Lord's Day. Someone might make the case from the "ox in the ditch" principle that some doctors, nurses and law enforcement may also have occasions on which they have to work on the Lord's Day. Those are all biblically defined exceptions, however. As a rule, God commands His people not to engage in their regular weekly vocational labors on the Lord's Day. Instead, the rule is that we are to delight ourselves in Him in worship, rest and service throughout the entire day. 

Finally, Jesus corrected the Pharisaic misunderstanding regarding ceremonial commandments--explaining that God cared vastly more about His requirement of kindness and compassion as He did about outward religious adherence. Regarding Christ's appeal to Hosea 6:6, John Calvin explained: 

"God declares aloud, that He sets a higher value on mercy than on sacrifice, employing the word mercy, by a figure of speech, for offices of kindness, as sacrifices include the outward service of the Law. This statement Christ applies to his own time, and charges the Pharisees with wickedly torturing the Law of God out of its true meaning, with disregarding the second table, and being entirely occupied with ceremonies....

...External rites are of no value in themselves, and are demanded by God in so far only as they are directed to their proper object. Besides, God does not absolutely reject them, but, by a comparison with deeds of kindness, pronounces that they are inferior to the latter in actual value... believers, by practicing justice towards each other, prove that their service of God is sincere, it is not without reason that this subject is brought under the notice of hypocrites, who imitate piety by outward signs, and yet pervert it by confining their laborious efforts to the carnal worship alone"

Perhaps the chief reason why so many of us are drawn to exceptions rather than to rules is the fact that we know that none of us has ever kept the rule as we ought. All of us have fallen so very far short of the glory of God by transgressing every single one of His commandments many times. As the members of the Westminster Assembly so clearly state in Larger Catechism 149: "No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed." The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question, "Can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?" by stating, "No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience..." 

Be this as it may, those who have been redeemed by Christ are called to be a people who love his commandments. Heidelberg Catechism 114 goes on to say, "Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God's commandments." Believers can now confess with the Apostle John that we do not "find his commandments to be burdensome." Christ has borne the heavy load for us by fulfilling the Law and by taking the curse of it in our place and for our good. Believers will neither be justified nor condemned by the Law (WLC 97). Jesus has died and risen to give us rest from the guilt and shame of our sin. He has satisfied God's justice and propitiated His wrath for us. Having forgiven us all of our trespasses, he has sent his Spirit to write his Law in our hearts and in our minds (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). With David, we cry out, "Oh, how I love Your law. It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). With the Apostle Paul, we affirm that "love is the fulfillment of the law"--the motive and animating principle by which any true Spirit-wrought obedience occurs in our lives. 

Believers are called to understand the nature and purpose of God's commandments. This certainly includes understanding what exceptions there are to the rule--while always recognizing that exceptions are what they are by virtue of the rule being what it is. We must refuse to turn the exception into the rule, without pressing the rule to such an extent that we exclude the exceptions. As we seek to walk in ways that are pleasing to our God, may He give us great care to know and love His rules as well as the exceptions that He has defined in His word. 

Private and Personal or Public and Ecclesial?


God calls His people to be truth-loving and truth-speaking people--which is why it's disheartening to see many self-professed Calvinistic and Reformed ministers downplay doctrinal teaching, preaching and transparency. Many years ago, a pastor of an Evangelical and Reformed Presbyterian Church intimated to me that the church he pastored reserved teaching on the doctrine of election for adult Sunday School classes. He said, "We believe that more mature Christians need to hear about those doctrines. The Worship service is for a much larger group of people, including a large number of new believers, seekers or unbelievers. We wouldn't want to run them off by teaching about doctrines that are for mature believers." Sadly, the doctrine of election was rarely--if ever--taught in an adult Sunday School class in that church. Not all that long ago, a pastor of a large community church--who professes to be a Calvinist--told me, "Our people don't need a sermon on limited atonement; they need to know how to have a better marriage." Statements like these reveal that for many pastors biblical doctrine is functionally a private and personal matter rather than a public and ecclesial matter. 

To be sure, there will always be stage-cage Calvinistic pastors who annoyingly manage to make almost ever sermon they preach fit a five point outline that follows the five points of Calvinism. There will always be those who, by the emphasis they place on the Westminster Confession of Faith and Heidelberg Catechism, functionally put them on par with Scripture. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is unfathomable that anyone who has spent any amount of time in any church anywhere on the planet could ever conclude that the great problem in most pulpits is that there is too much doctrinal teaching, preaching and transparency. I have never had a congregant visit another church while on vacation only to come back and say, "You know, they were just too doctrinal in their preaching there." In fact, the opposite has always been the case. 

In part, the phenomenon of a private and personal approach to Calvinistic doctrine belongs within the realm of what D.A. Carson calls "The Underbelly of Revival"--associated with the 'Young, Restless, Reformed' (YRR). Though a movement that gloriously helped fuel a God-centered view of the world, a Christocentric hermeneutic, Calvinistic and Reformed doctrine and the importance of local church membership, numerous dangers and undesirable consequences have accompanied the YRR movement. 

For many, the allure of the YRR movement and its related churches was the fact that "this isn't your grandpa's religion." The caricature that Calvinists were stogy old men in three-piece polyester suits who never evangelized went out the window. Myriads of hip young men with beards and flannel shirts--who had grown up in Arminian churches--zealously started flocking to professedly Calvinistic churches that had high energy, edgy praise bands. The YRR movement had as much a cultural draw as it had a doctrinal appeal. The problem? D.A. Carson has aptly noted, "when things seem to be going swimmingly, the church is likely to attract more people who want to go along for the ride." When that happens, there will always be numerous undesirable consequences. One such inescapable consequence is the relinquishing of widespread discernment. Many assume that if a pastor professes to be Calvinistic, his teaching and preaching must necessarily square with whatever others have defined as "biblically faithful preaching." Many rushed into church and put their imprimatur on self-professed Calvinistic pastors. They loved the pastor's personality and cultural normality; therefore, affinity and assumption started to cloud discernment. As Carson again concludes, "when people are eager to join the people of God and identify with them is precisely when more discernment is needed, not less." 

For many in YRR-related churches, a profession of belief in Calvinistic doctrine has begun to become more and more a private and personal matter and less and less a public and ecclesial matter. Add to this the fact that many of the YRR churches were associated with baptistic fellowships which were stridently opposed to Calvinistic doctrine. It has not been uncommon for Calvinistic ministers in these fellowships to convince their people that there was a need to be more careful about what doctrinal terminology was promoted from the pulpit. There was no need to "wear it on your sleeve when you can wear it in your underwear" (as one well known SBC pastor once told me). A culture of walking on doctrinal eggshells leaves the door wide open for pastors who keep most of their doctrine private and personal. In turn, many who think that they are sitting under Calvinistic and Reformed preaching and teaching are, in fact, sitting under preaching and teaching that is high on pragmatism and low on biblical doctrine. 

In many cases, those who have genuine concerns about the lack of doctrinal teaching and preaching in their church allow those concerns to be alleviated by the fact that their pastor claims to be Calvinistic or Reformed. I've repeatedly witnessed the process used to alleviate those concerns. Someone is bothered by the lack of doctrinal preaching in their local church. They talk with their pastor about it. He convinces them that they do not want to run out all the newer converts with hyper-intellectual preaching like that which occurs in tiny, confessionally Reformed churches. The concerned member then starts to think to himself or herself, "I really wish the preaching was more substantive, but the church is growing, people are being converted and we're not like those inbred, doctrinally nit picky churches full of homeschoolers and anti-vaccers." The metamorphosis from public and ecclesial doctrinal commitment to that of private and personal has begun. 

After one has begun to entertain the idea that the church's doctrine can be private and personal rather than public and ecclesial, they then become susceptible to being convinced that it is, in fact, actually charitable to keep doctrine a private and personal affair. It sounds sweet to the ear when someone insists that it is more important to be loving than to be right. It sounds warm-hearted to downplay what many see as "divisive" in favor of what seems to always makes for peace. However, Jesus wasn't crucified for downplaying doctrine. Everything that Jesus taught and did was doctrinal in nature--and was intended to be utilized for public and ecclesial purposes. When his opponents challenged him about his teaching, Jesus said, "I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret" (John 18:20). In what is arguably his greatest evangelistic sermon, Jesus boldly taught the doctrine of election (John 6:37, 39, 44). 

This is no license for ministers of the Gospel to be cold or brazenly mean-spirited in their presentation of biblical truth. A central teaching of Scripture is that pastors are to be "gentle to all," "forbearing," "patient," "nurturing" and "humble" in the way in which they propagate truth. However, this is not in opposition to the biblical call for ministers to be "sound," bold," "unwavering," "zealous," "unashamed" and "fervent" in their proclamation of the pattern of sound words that God has revealed in Scripture--especially in so much as it concerns the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. In fact, when the Apostle Paul was in prison, some were spitefully preaching Christ in order to "afflict him in his imprisonment" (Phil. 1:17). When he heard about their motives, he didn't say, "Guys, we need to be loving. Nobody cares about what you say about Christ. They just need to see how charitable you are." Instead, he wrote, "only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice" (Phil. 1:18). 

The best way for us to go forward in carrying out our doctrinal commitments in public and ecclesial ways is to go back to the Scripture and see the way in which God always calls His church to hold fast to the pattern of sound words in Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13). The consistent expositional, doctrinal and exegetical preaching of God's word in our pulpits is certainly one of the best ways for ministers to build into the minds and hearts of God's people the dire need that we have for public and ecclesial doctrinal commitment. This was the way of the Reformation and the Puritan movement of the 16th and 17th centuries. The great ecumenical Protestant Confessions and Catechisms (e.g. the Westminister Standards, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort, etc.) were the fruit of the prayerful and diligent biblical study and preaching of those men who were zealous to see the people of God holding fast to the pattern of sound doctrine taught in Scripture. What might God again do in the church if we would commit to such an unashamed adherence to His word? All of this, of course, must be fueled by deep and persistent love to Christ and love for his people. May God give us the grace to be a people who are deeply committed to a loving public and ecclesial--not simply private and personal--propagation of His truth. 

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?

One of my close friends was telling me about a recent interaction he had at a Reformed seminary with a student who was preparing to go into college ministry. In the course of their conversation, my friend and this seminarian entered in on the subject of sexual sin. This young man insisted that there is no sexual sin that is more heinous than another. My friend pushed back on that idea, explaining to him that the Scriptures and our Reformed Confessions teach otherwise. The young man then gave my friend the common rebuttal, "Jesus talked more about self-righteousness than sexual sin; and, he said that self-righteousness was worse than sexual sin." Ironically, this response only lends support to the idea that some sins are more heinous than others. However, it has sadly become the most common way in which many pastors have recently sought to downplay the severity of sexual sin. Contrary to the current narrative, the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions and principles of nature teach us that some sins are more reprehensible than others.

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus references Sodom and Gomorrah in order to teach varying degrees of condemnation for the unrepentant. When he first commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to the cities in Israel, Jesus told them, 

"Whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" 

Then, after the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum rejected His words and works, Jesus said to his disciples, 

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes...And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."

Commenting on Jesus' appeal to Sodom, John Calvin wrote: 

"Christ mentioned Sodom rather than other cities, not only because it went beyond them all in villainous crimes, but because God destroyed it in an extraordinary manner, that it might serve as an example to all ages, and that its very name might be held in abomination. And we need not wonder if Christ declares that they will be treated less severely than those who refuse to hear the gospel. When men deny the authority of Him who made and formed them, when they refuse to listen to his voice, nay, reject disdainfully his gentle invitations, and withhold the confidence which is due to his gracious promises, such impiety is the utmost accumulation, as it were, of all crimes. But if the rejection of that obscure preaching was followed by such dreadful vengeance, how awful must be the punishment that awaits those who reject Christ when he speaks openly!"1

The purpose of Jesus' appeal to Sodom and Gomorrah was not to lighten the sin of those cities. It was to heighten the sin of the cities in which he did his mighty works and wonders. When he wanted to find the most egregious example with which to draw a comparison, Christ appealed to those cities that were engaging in homosexual gang rape and violence. In Israel in Jesus' day, no civilizations were considered to be as far gone as those of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God spoke through the Old Testament prophets about the sin and judgment of Israel and the nations, He often did so by comparing them with Sodom (Isaiah 1:9, 10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer. 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 53, 55, 56; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9). 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 83 captures the essence of Jesus' teaching: 

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? 

A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. 

The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 151 explains that the aggravations of offense are based a number of different factors. The first of which has respect to the persons offending. When explaining what they meant when they spoke of "persons offending," the members of the Westminster Assembly wrote:

"If they be of riper (i.e. older) age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others." 

Certainly, no one would take issue with this explanation--at least, not in part. Our society unequivocally acknowledges that it is a heightened offense for men who hold positions of power to abuse that power in order to prey on women for sexual gratification. When God places men or women in positions of power or influence, such individuals have an increased responsibility to use that power for the glory of God and the well-being of others. When, instead, men or women chose to abuse that power for self-pleasing ends, God considers it to be a more heinous sin. This is just one small example of what the members of the Assembly mean when they refer "aggregations" and "aggravations" 

While there is a great deal more to unpack and glean from Westminster Larger Catechism 151, it is important for us to note what the members of the Assembly say in Larger Catechism 152

Q. 152. What does every sin deserve at the hands of God? 

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Though some sins are most certainly more abhorent than others--and deserve greater judgment than others--"every sin, even the least...deserves the wrath and curse" of God and "cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ." There are no grounds for anyone to think that he or she is in a better spiritual position than others by nature. We are all, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God (Eph. 2:1-4). Just because we may not have fallen into some particular sin doesn't mean that we are, by nature, more righteous than others. The Scriptures level the playing field, so to speak, at this point. All of us are condemned by the Law of God, by nature, because of our natural depravity (Rom. 3:19; Gal. 3:22). Neither does this, in any way whatsoever, give us a license to make light of what we may deem to be "less heinous sin." We cannot, because of Jesus' teaching on varying degrees of judgment, downplay even the least sin in our lives. The same Jesus that teaches us that there are varying degrees of judgment teaches us that if we so much as look at someone to lust after them we have already committed adultery with them in our hearts; and are, therefore, liable to judgment--unless we repent (Matt. 5:28-30). Additionally, we must acknowledge that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover the sins of any, no matter what sins they have committed or what sinful lifestyles they have embraced. If men and women will repent and turn to Christ, trusting only in His blood and righteousness, they will be forgiven and redeemed. The blood of Jesus is of such infinite and eternal value that it covers every sin of those for whom it was shed, no matter how atrocious that sin. 

The Alliance has a growing list of scholars and contributors leading our efforts to proclaim historic confessional doctrine for a modern reformation. One of those contributors is Dr. Scott Redd on

In order to keep you in the loop about what our contributors are doing, we alert you to an exciting conference next week in DC. Reformed Theological Seminary, where Redd is President, invites you to join the third annual ReForum: Confessing Christianity: Yesterday's Reformation for Today's Public Life.

The event will include a message from Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn, followed by a panel discussion with Scott Redd and other faculty members. Dr. Van Dixhoorn's recently published Confessing the Faith: A Reader's Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith will be the springboard for discussion.

The event is Thursday, November 13, 2014, 7pm-9pm at Foley & Lardner LLP, located at 3000 K Street, N.W., Suite 600 Washington, D.C. 20007. If you would like to attend, RSVP to This is not an Alliance event, so be sure to interact with RTS.

And if you attend, be sure to stop Scott and let him know you heard about this from the Alliance!

Confessors and confessions

I wonder if I might draw your attention to a series of volumes that ought to be known to church historians and historical theologians, and those who are interested in the same? The series is published by Reformation Heritage Books, and each volume so far has been compiled and introduced by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Professor of Church History and Biblical Theology and Academic Dean at Northwest Theological Seminary). The series is entitled, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. The volumes are not cheap, but serious historians and those interested in the confessional heritage of the church will certainly appreciate them.

Volume 1 ( / / Westminster / RHB) covers the years 1525 to 1552. Several of the thirty-three texts included are here in English for the first time. Each is simply and clearly set out, preceded by a brief introduction. If nothing else, it gives a rich and encouraging sense of one's inheritance as a Christian confessor. This volume carries us from Zwingli's Sixty-Seven Articles of 1523 through to the Consensus Genevensis of 1552.

Volume 2 ( / / Westminster / RHB), covering the years 1552 to 1566, provides a further 35 confessions, each with a lucid and brief introduction. This volumes includes both the Forty-Two and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, the Heidelberg Catechism, and such lesser-known works as the Geneva Students' Confession (1559), Beza's Confession (1560), productions from Tarcal and Torda and Enyedi, and the delightfully named Synod of Gönc (1566). Particularly fascinating are those truths which our forefathers thought primary (and therefore worthy of confessing), and which today are often discounted as secondary (and vice versa). One of the values of such a study is to send us back to our Bibles to recalibrate our sensitivities, informed both by the necessities of the present and the instruction of the past.

Volume 3 ( / / Westminster / RHB) surveys the years 1567 to 1599. Again, while the price of this volume cannot be denied, it is a worthwhile investment, especially for seminaries and scholars. Several features stand out here: one is catholicity, for here we are roaming through Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, Germany, Scotland, England and Holland, yet tracing patterns that are often familiar from the first volumes and which stretch across vast distances. At the same time, we see that unity and uniformity are not the same thing, for - while there is no doubting the common causes evident in this material - we can also see how they are adapted for and expressed in concrete situations. Here the introductions come into their own, showing the fires in which these documents were forged. Then we see the brilliant thoroughness of these various confessors. These are no lightweight constructs built of shoddy materials, but masterpieces of theological reflection and conviction. Such collections as this push us out of our own time and place and bring scriptural truth before us with a freshness and liveliness that belies the suggestion of dry and musty academia that might lurk around such volumes.

Volume 4 is just being published ( / / Westminster / RHB) and completes the series. It brings us from 1600 to 1693. If I am able, once I set my eyes on it, I will add a few words here. I can suggest that, if it maintains the standard of scholarship as well as the quality of production of the previous volumes, it will be equally worthwhile. Dennison is doing those who love the Reformed heritage a rich service, and I hope it is being properly valued.

Say it with confessions

BoT confessions.JPGFor those persuaded beyond all reasoned argument that Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year (and, indeed, for those who are not), might I draw your attention to a couple of new volumes from the Banner of Truth? Just published are two gift edition confessions of faith in the Pocket Puritan series.

The Westminster Confession is that approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647, with chapters 20, 23 and 31 as altered, amended and adopted as the Doctrinal Part of the Constitution of the PCA in 1788, with footnotes to identify other alterations by the OPC and PCA.

The gents at the Banner have gone with the popular title for The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, which saves the hassle of writing "The (Second London) Baptist Confession of Faith 1677/1689" every time you want to refer to it. It includes the all-too-often-overlooked epistle to the judicious and impartial reader (hooray!) but sadly omits the appendix on baptism (understandable, but boo!). The text has been lightly edited for the modern reader.

They are both in a soft cover edition (that durable leather-lite feel) at £10 or $14 each. Small enough to slide into a common or garden pocket, these are ideal editions for those who want to learn or to refresh their understanding of these gems from the past.

All in all, I sincerely hope that these small but rich volumes will get these time-honoured testimonies to Biblical truths into the hands and hearts of more people. Buy one for the Baptist/Presbyterian in your life, whack it in the Crimbo knitted footgear, and get ready for the whoops of joy untrammelled on that morning that hordes of you will be celebrating with all manner of vim and excitement.

Confessionalism and Male Oppression!

In preparing for the time of Bible-empowered sharing at my usual Sunday gig at St Olaf the Sublime, I came upon this outrageous piece of androcentric oppression from one of those dead white males who's gruesome shadow lies so long and dark across the bloody centuries of brutal male oppression of women in the church.  He's talking about the Westminster Confession -- or the WestMANster Confession as my good friend, Hysteria Snaptwig, DPhil wittily calls it!:

The Churches that sincerely hold to the Confession of Faith do not credit it with inerrancy; but they do regard it as a formulation of doctrine that is thoroughly in agreement with the teaching of Holy Scripture, and they are entitled to continue doing so until and unless the contrary be proved. But it is a significant fact that critics of the Confession have never seriously challenged its teaching at any specific point as being inconsistent with the doctrine of Holy Scripture.  Their quarrel with the Confession really is that, in times of doctrinal laxity, it binds them too closely to Biblical teaching and denies them the right to propagate doctrine that is at variance with Holy Scripture.

G.N.M. Collins [Professor of Church History, Free Church of Scotland]

Well, MISTER Collins (and I don't mean that as a compliment!), I don't know who you are; but if you think that saying what you mean and meaning what you say is a Christian way to behave, then all I can say is you've never grappled with the kind of thealogy which I have so graciously and narrativally articulated over the years in a jouissance-inducing, non-elitist, non-objectifying, thoroughly empowering of `the Other' kind of way.  Take your oppressive, logocentric, demonic view of words, confessions and integrity and put them where they belong -- in the uncreative dustbin of andrarchical dustbin of male-dominated but now thankfully in the past history.  All men are evil; but confessional men are more evil than others.  Thank goodness I have arrrived and the age of enlightenment (in a post-foundationalist, post-enlightenment, post-Friends sense) can truly begin.  After all, if you had listened to me then you would hardly have.... (continues for another 98 pages)