CONFESSIONAL CHANGE AMONG PRESBYTERIANS
The new “Confession of 1967” has been adopted by more than two-thirds of the presbyteries of the United Presbyterian Church USA. This was necessary in order for the Confession to come before the General Assembly for a final vote of approval. This final vote will take place at the General Assembly Meeting May 16-24, and needs only a simple majority to pass.
The “Confession of 1967” was not exactly intended to replace the present confessions of the United Presbyterian Church â”€ the Westminster Creeds. Rather, it will become a part of a doctrinal package which will be called a “Book of Confessions”, and will include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Shorter Catechism, but not the Larger Catechism composed by the Westminster divines.
However, none of the confessions will be binding upon the office bearers in the church. For, in connection with the adoption of this “book of confessions” a new ordination vow will also be adopted, in which office bearers merely pledge themselves to study the confessions and perform their duties under the guidance and instruction of these documents. In other words, it will presently be possible to believe anything one pleases within the United Presbyterian Church without worrying about disagreement with any creeds. All one need do is be guided and instructed by these creeds; i.e. give the same value to them as to any book in one’s library.
There is a necessity for this sort of action in a church such as the United Presbyterian Church â”€ and many other churches as well. That necessity arises, in the first place, out of the fact that there are within these denominations many ministers who have rejected the truth of Scripture to a greater or lesser degree. One would think that the solution to this problem would be to censure these ministers and expel-them from the church. But this has become impossible inasmuch as the church has lost the strength to exercise any form of Christian discipline. So their presence has to be recognized and dealt with. The solution is therefore, to leave them in the church and give official approval to their right to deny Scripture.
In the second place, this necessity arises out of the commitments to ecumenism which the United Presbyterian Church (like many other denominations) has made. It is impossible for a denomination to unite with other denominations of different beliefs as long as the creeds stand there as statements of faith. They are effective barriers on the road to ecclesiastical unity. Again the solution to the problem would be (obviously) to forget about these mergers which have nothing to do with the unity of the body of Christ. But, along with (and because of) the doctrinal apostasy in these denominations, goes the desire to form a worldwide church fashioned after the pattern of the World Council of Churches or the COCU (Conversations on Church Union) talks. And so again, the solution is simply to discard the creeds and make of them historical documents which have no more value than a dusty, archaic curiosity which we may consult if we are inclined to enjoy historical research. If you are interested in Egyptology, you will enjoy examining old mummies. If you are interested in church history, you can always pull these old creeds off the shelf and read in them from time to time.
But all this underscores precisely why the creeds were originally written; and what remains their abiding importance today.
Basic to our understanding of the creeds is the firm belief that they are statements of the Church of Jesus Christ in which that Church expresses what she believes to be the truth of the Word of God. Implicit in this statement are three corollaries. The first is that the Scriptures are the infallible record of the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. The second is that, because Scripture is the infallible record of the revelation of God in Christ, it is Truth (with a capital T), timeless and enduring. That is, the Church of 400 years ago was not simply confessing something which was truth in their time and for their time; but that with the changes of the ages this truth is no longer truth today. God’s truth is the truth of an eternal and unchangeable God. It is truth today as it was always and as it will be forever. In the third place, the Church was able to confess that she believed these things to be the truth of Scripture because she possessed the guidance of the Spirit of Truth which Christ promised His Church before His passion. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for, he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14:16-17. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.” John 16:13.
If all this is true (and it surely is), then the creeds serve a most important purpose in the life of the church â”€ a purpose which continues till today. Essentially, they are the basis for the unity of the church of Christ. The unity of the church of Christ, is a unity which she has only in Christ. Christ is the Head; the church constitutes the various members. But, as the apostle makes very clear, (Ephesians 4:1-16) this unity of the church in her relationship to Christ is a unity of the mind of Christ. That is, it is a unity of the truth of God which Christ reveals as the fulness of God’s revelation. And this unity is brought about by the Spirit of Christ â”€ the Spirit of Truth which dwells in the church in the entire New Dispensation.
This is the purpose of the creeds. They are an expression of the mind of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. And, as such, they form the basis of true union in Christ. The way to unity can never be the way of discarding the creeds and ceasing to be a creedal church. This is, in effect, the very opposite. It is a destruction of the unity of the church. It may be some sort of unity â”€ a unity of sin and untruth. But it is a counterfeit unity that bears no resemblance to the unity of the church.
If there are men in the church who no longer subscribe to the creeds, nor confess their truth, the solution to the problem is not to dispose of the creeds; it is to cast out these men who have been “tossed about by every wind of doctrine” and preserve the unity of the church by expelling those who seek to destroy it by destroying the mind of Christ.
It is a sad day when not only in Presbyterian churches, but also in Reformed churches there is so much talk about ridding the church of the creeds. The cries are growing louder, at least to change them and rewrite what our fathers wrote. But in doing so the church in this age cuts herself off from the church in ages gone by. It destroys the unity which exists between the church today and the saints who have gone before us into glory. And in destroying this unity, unity in our present world becomes a spiritual impossibility. The men who advocate this detest the work of the Spirit of Truth, throw scorn upon the confession of saints who have sealed their faith oftentimes in blood, and then piously prate about seeking unity. This is, on the face of it, twaddle.
Our confessions, bases of true unity, must be retained exactly to keep out of the church those who (in the name of unity) destroy that unity by destroying the church.
But if our confessions are going to continue to mean anything to us, it is very important that these confessions continue to be living confessions of the saints. They must not remain on the back pages of the Psalter. They must live within the hearts of the faithful and become a confession by which their whole life is directed in the world.
There is a revision of the Apostle’s Creed which is presently in use in the Community Church of a suburb of Chicago which we quote from the Lutheran News.
I believe in one God, the Father, all loving; Maker of all that is; and in Jesus Christ, loveliest of His many sons, our friend; who was born of the Mother, Mary; moved by the Spirit of God; suffered under the systems of men; was crucified and died for the sake of truth and right. Yet He lives again in the lives made beautiful by His truth, ascending into the hearts of men, and working at the right hand of God, the Father, who works all that is good. I believe in the Holy Spirit of truth, beauty, and goodness; the ministering Christian Church; the communion and cooperation of good men with God and with each other; the destruction of sin by righteousness; the worth and beauty of human personality; and the everlastingness of the life that is in God. Amen.
It should not be too long before most churches will be able to subscribe without a gulp to these alterations in the creed.
TROUBLE AMONG ROMAN CATHOLICS FROM THE NETHERLANDS
The Second Vatican Council opened doors to change in the Roman Catholic Church which not even the Vatican can close. There are doctrinal disputes and discussions going on in Rome’s communion of churches which sound as if the Romish hierarchy is trying desperately to catch up with Protestant modernism. While this is more or less true in many countries with Romish Churches, it is especially true in the Netherlands, once considered almost as conservative as the church in Italy.
Among ideas openly discussed and maintained in the Netherlands is a denial of the virgin birth of Christ. Many now think that the perpetual virginity of Mary is a myth and that Christ is the son of Joseph as well as Mary, and therefore, not divine. The resurrection of Christ too is no longer accepted by many of the clergy. One theologian writes, “One generally likes to consider his Resurrection as being the impact of his personality on his disciples and his presence in the hearts of all Christians.” Original sin is claimed to be a symbolic means of expressing a state of imperfection in which we still live on our climb to perfection. Baptism of infants is consequently discarded. Heaven and hell are openly mocked. The doctrine of transubstantiation is criticized.
But this same spirit of change is present in the field of ethics. In the past three years almost 300 members of the clergy have left the church, many of them to marry. And there is strong agitation to end compulsory celibacy. Contraception is openly practiced and condoned by the hierarchy. And the “new morality” or “situation ethics” is welcomed as being more in keeping with the life we must live in our modern era. Sexual promiscuity is not considered to be sin.
All this brings Roman Catholicism much closer to Protestantism. The result is that there is more contact between Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Netherlands than anywhere else. Many combined services are held â”€ even to the point of joint celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is forgotten that our fathers called the mass “an accursed idolatry.” Marriages are performed with both protestant ministers and Romish priests presiding. And promises are no longer required to bring up children born in mixed marriages as Catholics.
When such things are going on, union cannot be far away â”€ even if the Pope is distressed by these things and issues warnings against them. The church will carry him (or any successor) along the road to union. And the time may not be too far away.