How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 5)

WHOHowJCThe Confession of 1967 (1 of 2)

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:

Don’t take what is said by the PCUSA elite at face value.  Rather, look for the inconsistencies and omissions that can, over time, be leveraged to smuggle false, foreign ideas into Christianity.

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:

  1. I am only following to where the evidence appears to lead
  2. 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.

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How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 4)

WHOHowJCThe Westminster Confession of Faith

This Confession was developed by an assembly of 151 members from 1640’s.  In 1647 the Scottish General Assembly adopted the Westminster Standards.  They have served as foundational Presbyterian theology for centuries.  The Book of Confessions summarizes them as follows.

The Westminster Standards represent the fruits of a Protestant scholasticism that refined and systematized the teachings of the Reformation. The standards lift up the truth and authority of the Scriptures, as immediately inspired in Hebrew and Greek, kept pure in all ages, and known through the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures

The stunning situation with regard to the Westminster Confession is the extent to which I have already documented the PCUSA elite’s utter abandonment of these standards.  The following brief comments contain links to some of the posts in which these betrayals are discussed.  This subversion is made all the more appalling due to the historic central place of the Westminster Confessions in Presbyterian theology.

6. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

I have argued elsewhere that the PCUSA elite are destroying the denomination through claims of “new revelations of the spirit,” and adherence to the ” traditions of men.”

9. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

They have also completely rejected any responsibility to search out and find in Scripture “places that speak more clearly” regarding Biblical interpretation.

10. The Supreme Judge, by whichg 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.

Note that it is NOT the “Holy Sprit” speaking OUTSIDE of Scripture that is the source of correct Biblical interpretation, but rather “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ Is? (Part 3)

WHOHowJCThe Second Helvetic Confession

The second Confession from which we will seek guidance on Biblical interpretation is the Second Helvetic, which was written in 1561 by Heinrich Bullinger.

The following excerpt from the Book of Confessions provides background.

The word “Helvetic” is Latin for “Swiss.” The setting of the Second Helvetic Confession is Swiss-German Reformed Protestantism.  …

Reflecting the theological maturity of the Reformed churches, the Second Helvetic Confession is moderate in tone and catholic in spirit. From the opening paragraphs it emphasizes the church and its life and affirms the authority of the Scriptures for the church’s government and reformation. By including an article on predestination, the confession asks the church to trust in God’s free and gracious election of its membership in Jesus Christ. At the same time, the confession addresses the practical life of the gathered community, detailing matters of worship, church order and conflict, ministry, the sacraments, and marriage.

As in the previous post, indented text indicated commentary on the previous Confessional text.  I will do my best to avoid unnecessary repetition, but some points are so important that they bear repeating.

Chapter I:  Of the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God

CANONICAL SCRIPTURE. We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men.

For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.  And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.

Note that neither of the two Testaments is given precedence.  It was by the Old Testament that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached to the Jewish and Pagan populations in the Roman Empire.  The New Testament as we know it today didn’t come into existence until centuries later.  Thus, at a time in which the Christian Church was at it’s smallest the Old Testament was more than sufficient to bring many thousands into saving faith.  Jesus Christ Himself  clearly considered the Old Testament to be God’s Word, and treated it as such (as did the Apostles). So, when a Christian claims spiritual superiority because they follow only the New Testament they are turning their back on Christ’s actual teaching.  What a sad commentary on the state of Biblical knowledge.

Chapter II: Of Interpreting the Holy Scriptures; and of Fathers, Councils, and Traditions

Emphasis added.

THE TRUE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE. The apostle Peter has said that the Holy Scriptures are not of private interpretation (II Peter 1:20), and thus we do not allow all possible interpretations. … But we hold that interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of like and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages) and which agree with the rule of faith and love, and contributes much to the glory of God and man’s salvation.

The first bolded phrase is in direct contradiction to the post-modern understanding of Scriptural interpretation, where each individual is free to conclude whatever they wish.

The second bolded passage makes clear that Scripture is interpreted by Scripture itself.  That is, we must search for answers within the bounds of Scripture while taking into account contextual issues.

The third bolded phrase means that, prior to stating an opinion on the meaning of Scripture, we must search out all of the related passages, compare them and only then attempt to derive an answer.  Thus, were many relevant passages of Scripture ignored in order to reach a conclusion then the credibility of the interpretative process must be rejected.

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ Is? (Part 2)

WHOHowJCThe Scots Confession

This confession was written in 1560 by John Knox and five other members of the clergy.  The Book of Confessions summarizes this Confession as follows.

The Scots Confession sets forth three marks of the true and faithful church: “the true preaching of the Word of God,” “the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus,” and “ecclesiastical discipline . . . whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished.”

“Cleave, serve, worship, trust” are key words in this document. As a call to action in a turbulent time, the Scots Confession reflects a spirit of trust and a commitment to the God whose miraculous deliverance the Scots had experienced firsthand.

Following text represents my commentary on the previously quoted passage.

Chapter XVIII

… contained in the written Word of God, that is, the Old and New Testaments, in those books which were originally reckoned canonical.

Here and in the Ordination Vows “The Word of God” is defined to consist of the Old and New Testaments.  Note that neither Testament is given any sort of preference, clearly indication equality.

One of the tragedies of post-modern Christianity is the purposeful demotion of the Old Testament.  Many contemporary Christians boldly claim that the New Testament is superior to the Old Testament.  In fact, some continue on into pseudo-Gnosticism by claiming that the God of the Old Testament is different from that of the New Testament.  These beliefs rest on the assumption that Jesus Christ’s ministry represents a break with rather than a continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament.  This assumption is utterly false (for example, see Christianity Today here and here).

Jesus Christ taught that the Old Testament is God’s Word and clearly treated it as such.  The primitive Christian church converted a pagan world using the Old Testament as God’s Word.  The Christian church throughout history has embraced the Old Testament as equally God’s Word with the New Testament.  And yet, today, Christians in utter ignorance of these truths treat the Old Testament like something unpleasant and dangerous that needs to be disregarded if not entirely discarded.  Make no mistake.  The elite movers behind this attitude have an agenda that they are aggressively pushing by encouragement of this falsehood.

We affirm that in these all things necessary to be believed for the salvation of man are sufficiently expressed.  The interpretation of Scripture, we confess, does not belong to any private or public person, nor yet to any Kirk [Church] for pre-eminence or precedence, personal or local, which it has above others, but pertains to the Spirit of God by whom the Scriptures were written.  When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture, or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much to ask what men have said or done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded. For it is agreed by all that the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself.  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.

What this section teaches is that the Word of God is not flawed or contradictory.  Yes, it may indeed be unclear in some areas regarding what it calls us to believe and do.  However, the assumption is that this difficulty is due to our limitations in interpretation, not to Scripture’s limitations as God’s Word.

A logical consequence of this understanding is that if an “interpretation or opinion … 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.”  Note that the purpose of the Holy Ghost (Spirit) is not to validate any opinion about Scripture by a Christian, but rather is to ensure that Scripture itself is noncontradictory and conveys God’s truth.  Current PCUSA elites have thus falsified the doctrine of the Holy Spirit to enable their apostasy.

CHAPTER XIX

As we believe and confess the Scriptures of God sufficient to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow their authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels. We affirm, therefore, that those who say the Scriptures have no other authority save that which they have received from the Kirk are blasphemous against God and injurious to the true Kirk, which always hears and obeys the voice of her own Spouse and Pastor, but takes not upon her to be mistress over the same.

You can replace “Kirk” with “Church.”  This statement is a direct contradiction to the current PCUSA elite’s practice of saying that Scripture teaches whatever they have decided it should, regardless of what the words of Scripture actually say.  Note well the description of this practice: “blasphemous against God and injurious to the true Kirk.”

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ Is? (Part 1)

WHOHowJCKnowing Christ through Biblical Interpretation

If you want to know who Jesus Christ is the only place to look (unless you reject orthodox Reformed Christianity) is in the Bible.

Although the issue at hand is if Jesus is a pacifist, it’s vital to begin by discussing general rules for Biblical interpretation.  For an orthodox, ordained Reformed Elder, the place to seek guidance on Biblical interpretation is from the Book of Confessions.  Here are two of the Ordination Vows taken by each PCUSA Elder:

b. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

and

c. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

It’s difficult to overestimate the current state of confusion and outright ignorance with regard to Biblical interpretation.  If you are a postmodern Christian this is a positive situation, as confusion and ignorance create great opportunity to advance deceptive and false ideas.  Therefore, I’m going to spend considerable time reviewing what our Confessions actually say about Biblical interpretation.  I will add commentary on issues and application that are tailored to the contemporary situation in which orthodox Reformed Christians find themselves.

The only hope for actually knowing Jesus is through the application of sound, tested interpretative rules to the entire Biblical text.  This is a daunting task.  However, if Christians in the PCUSA choose the “easy” path of submission to their elites rather than the “hard” path of Biblical renewal, then there is no hope for this dying denomination.

Who is Jesus Christ and How do We Know?

WHOHowJC

The admonition to “follow Jesus Christ” is an unsurprising staple in Christian writing.  However, the extent to which many Christians assume that any current culturally popular belief must be aligned with our Savior’s character and teaching is surprising.  The underlying assumption in most cases appears to be that if the writer believes something is good, then surely Christ must agree.  Unfortunately, in other cases, people who should know better nevertheless attribute beliefs to Christ that are easily demonstrated to be at a minimum misleading, and, even false.

My point is that we too often project our own beliefs onto Jesus without actually doing the hard work of seeking and following Scripture’s actual testimony.  Or, we allow someone who appears to have “moral authority” to lead us into conclusions that we never validate through our own study.  The consequence isn’t necessarily that the things we have been told about Jesus are outright falsehoods.  Rather, what we have been told is so incomplete that we are led into false conclusions.  This happened in spades in the PCUSA discussion on same-gender marriage.

Regardless of the sources or reasons, many Bible believing Christians approach Scripture with preconceived ideas imprinted upon their minds.  These imprints are firmly established and powerfully persistent.  This situation often leads to a result called confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

So, allow me to ask you a pointed question.

If it turned out that something you have believed about Jesus Christ is shown by Scripture to be untrue, will you change your view so as to become conformed to Scripture, or, will you ignore Scripture’s testimony in order to go on believing that which you prefer to be the truth?

It is upon this question that the future of the PCUSA depends.  On ordination of practicing homosexuals and  same-gender marriage, hundreds of thousands have already exited the denomination over this issue.  The next instance of this discontinuity between elite leadership and parishioners could be over the issue of Christian pacifism.