The following is the first paragraph from the Book of Confessions introduction to the Confession of 1967.
In approving the Confession of 1967, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America adopted its first new confession of faith in three centuries. The turbulent decade of the 1960s challenged churches everywhere to restate their faith. While the Second Vatican Council was reformulating Roman Catholic thought and practice, Presbyterians were developing the Confession of 1967.
I have read this Confession numerous times over the years. However, this is the first time that I have done so since beginning the journey documented in this blog. Given the theological debacle that has occurred in the case of same gender marriage (among other issues), I can’t help but be wary of the “first new confession of faith in three centuries.”
That is, this Confession was written well after the The Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy which occurred in the 1920s and ’30s (the Theological Declaration of Barman was written in the mid-1930’s, but addressed the specific issues associated with National Socialism’s attempt in Germany to conform Christianity to its totalitarian ideology). While a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that by the mid-1930’s the Mainline Presbyterian denomination (from which the PCUSA emerged) was securely in the modernist, liberal camp (the move from “modernist” to “post-modernist” theology has been one of bad to worse).
Therefore, the Confession of 1967 was written and approved by a denomination dominated by liberal Christians. Surely then we should carefully scrutinize it for theological discrepancies between this and the other Confessions that were written centuries prior to the ascendency of liberal Christianity.
Significant discrepancies were identified as the Confession of 1967 progressed towards passage. However, it appears that the “people in the pews” were satisfied at the time that this divergence from previous Confessions was evolutionary and of limited consequence to the overall doctrinal position of the denomination. However, events of the past 50 years have shown that these discrepancies were revolutionary and momentous. The full rancid fruit of these doctrinal deviations has been on display (see here, here, here and here) in the same-gender marriage debate.
If there’s only one thing that I’ve learned in this recent work, it’s this:
This statement will likely cause discomfort in some readers. However, given the PCUSA’s recent record, how can we possibly avoid such a conclusion?
The only real alternative is to go on pretending that all of the theological, social and spiritual destruction that has occurred in the PCUSA over the past 50 years mysteriously occurred in spite of a solid, true doctrinal foundation. I simply can’t say this because my conscience would rightly accuse me of telling a purposeful lie were I to do so.
It is indeed a humbling experience as I conduct the research associated with this blog. In particular, I regularly uncover analysis from generations past by people who clearly saw the approaching storm and had the courage to describe it clearly. What they foresaw I have only recently stumbled and bumbled into, after wasted years of inattention and cowardice. The most recent occurrence is a booklet on The Confession of 1967 by Dr. Van Til. What he wrote in 1967 better identifies and explains postmodern Christianity and its consequences than could I ever, even with my advantage of hindsight.
Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man.
Such is the case, we believe, with the new theology: It is an essentially humanistic theology which disguises itself as an up-to-date Christian theology. Of course, we are told that the new Confession is contemporary in its view of truth. We are also told that the Westminster Standards are outdated, being written in an age of absolutism. By contrast, today’s theological thinkers know that truth is relative to man and the human situation. Has not Immanuel Kant taught us that man can know nothing of God and of Christ in so far as Christ is said to be God as well as man? From Kant recent philosophers and theologians have learned that man’s conceptual knowledge is limited to the impersonal world of science and does not apply to the religious dimension.
Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity. There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.
Is this not “postmodern Christianity” foreseen? Should we not seriously consider past analysis that accurately predicted the theological and spiritual chaos that The Confession of 1967 precipitated? If you honestly believe that all is well in the PCUSA since 1967, then feel free to ignore all that follows (though I beg you to reconsider your belief). If you are concerned that something has gone terribly wrong, then perhaps there is reason to continue.
Finally, I’m well aware that for some Presbyterians this severe criticism of The Confession of 1967 is shocking. After all, it was approved by the denomination almost 50 years ago, and, it is now a settled part of our Book of Confessions. My responses are:
- I am only following to where the evidence appears to lead
- We are not bound to continue adherence to any human sourced statement if it is shown to be counter to Holy Scripture. As stated in the Scots Confession: “So if the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost, although councils, realms, and nations have approved and received it. We dare not receive or admit any interpretation which is contrary to any principal point of our faith, or to any other plain text of Scripture, or to the rule of love.”
In Part 2 I will address the Confession of 1967 as it relates to the Bible and interpretation thereof.