Vanishing Westminster Sabbatarianism: Summary of the Puritan view of the Lord’s Day

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Nicholas Perella

Puritan Board Freshman
How is a revision by taking out the work and recreation clause making a rule?

"Rule" as in "standard practice", not as in "law".

I hear you. Though by taking out the rule how does this establish what one is allowed to do.

By taking out the rule in a Confession, the rule is deemed by the church unbiblical (if the church is even thinking in such terms). The recent church practice is deemed biblical instead (recreation on the Lord's Day is good). But have they actually demonstrated this is a good practice from the scriptures? Though I have not read the book in the OP, the implication of that book is the demonstration from scripture is rather the opposite of the current trend.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
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Given the overtures to the 2015 PCA General Assembly, The Confessional Presbyterian article directly relating to the subject has been made available for free download.
The Confessional Presbyterian 5 (2009), The Sabbath Day and Recreations on the Sabbath: An Examination of the Sabbath and the Biblical Basis for the “No Recreation” Clause in Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8 and Westminster Larger Catechism 117, by Lane Keister. The Sabbath Day and Recreations on the Sabbath | The Confessional Presbyterian
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
There may be something a church chooses not (or possibly discontinue) to confess--to say together--by which they do not mean to say that the non-confessed item is "unbiblical." Frankly, if they so thought, it is probably something they ought to counter with an opposite (or at least a new) confession, especially if they did previously confess what they now deem an unbiblical statement.

I'm not sorry the OPC, in adopting certain American revisions to the WCF, now confesses mostly free of a commitment to establishmentarianism. Mainline Presbyterians in 1789 in the American context thought they needed more than excision of the older statement on subordination (in certain limited terms) to the crown; but a reworded and more flexible statement--still based on the Bible, but not assuming certain unchanging political norms.

Also it's OK with me not to confess that it is a sin to marry "any of his wife's kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband's kindred nearer in blood than of her own," which is not a statement against polygamy of any kind, but was an officially standardized interpretation in England of a particular law of consanguinity which was key to the "justice" of Henry VIII's divorce from Catharine of Aragon. You could say this standardized confessed interpretation of a rather narrow question was political in its orientation in 1646; just as the choice in the USA not to confess establishmentarianism was a political accommodation to new socially contextual circumstances. In the latter case, one is free to interpret the biblical position in the old way; but the OPC Confession's language accommodates a wider range of ecclesiastical relations to the State; and especially the State's duties.

If we still confessed the Pope is THE Antichrist, I could live with it. Without it, I am free to affirm it, or more precisely I'm free to affirm the Bible teaches the office is AN Antichrist, maybe even one of the worst. But I don't care if my fellow pastor has the older view, or no articulated view at all. We in the OPC don't confess together this point as vital to the system of doctrine contained in Scripture.

With regard to the proposed change in the Confessional statement on Sabbath observance. Controversy has been stirred on this subject to a pitch in the PCA (not my denomination). Sadly, a sizable contingent are agitating to be free of a common confession on this point. Has the article been demonstrated to be unbiblical, or unjustified? Not Vital? As a thing directly germane to Worship and the Sabbath Day (a named chapter in our Confession), a mark of Presbyterian piety for hundreds of years and clearly central to "the faith of our fathers," and as a matter of a moral commandment, it seems like madness to me to cut away this piece of that Confession.

Many men just want to be free to teach and practice a very different moral perspective. Some might put this excision on the same level as removing the matter pertaining to the king's legal divorce, and be little concerned. Others at the same level as removing "the pope is that Antichrist," and just as greatly disturbed by the former as by the latter. For my part, I cannot but see this attempt to disturb the Presbyterian landmark as one that must and shall change the DNA of that church which adopts it.
 
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Nicholas Perella

Puritan Board Freshman
There may be something a church chooses not (or possibly discontinue) to confess--to say together--by which they do not mean to say that the non-confessed item is "unbiblical." Frankly, if they so thought, it is probably something they ought to counter with an opposite (or at least a new) confession, especially if they did previously confess what they now deem an unbiblical statement.

And that is how I understand the RPCNA Testimony. It (RPCNA Testimony) is side by side to the Westminster Confession of Faith in which any additions, subtractions, or changes have been made. There are biblical reasons provided (the testimony itself with scriptural proofs) as to 'why' any change to the WCF took place. If something in the WCF was deemed biblical, which it obviously was for the Confession has biblical proofs to account for the Confession, then I think to take out of the WCF what was biblically accounted without any biblical warrant is to dismiss what is biblical. A simple dismissal without biblical warrant is to deny what was deemed biblical. What the reasons are to dismiss what is biblically warranted in the WCF without providing those reasons is to deny the biblical account. That is an assumption I am working under, so, it is more a cautionary pronouncement that if no biblical confession is given as to the dismissal of previous biblical accounts in the WCF, then it is a dismissal of scripture. The reasons if not given do not matter if they are not given. The simple dismissal of scripture is what happened. If the reasons are given without scriptural warrant, then does the change take place in escalation.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I think there can be legitimate practical reasons to leave off confessing together certain things. Not everything is Vital. Commitment to "the Pope is THAT Antichrist," is one example.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, many Protestants genuinely believed (as still do some today) that Apostles Paul and John prophesied of the RomanCatholicChurch and the Pope specifically, albeit without the names. It's been 500yrs, and if we go another 500yrs without the apocalypse, arguing that the RCC must be THE end-times Agency of Evil because it was the worst in 1515 (then in 1000yrs of development) will seem even more anachronistic.

A Confession is an imperfect document. And it can be more temporally conditioned than we'd like it to be. People can say "too much" and bind consciences too far. The Confession is a public commitment to unified opinion. Here's a military illustration. Decisions can be made to retrench, which makes a better defense of a whole territory than the attempt to enclose the whole thing within a perimeter.

Let's not oversimplify the issues. Just because the church decides not to specify a commitment on a point doesn't mean they believed they were wrong to do so previously. The criticality of the issue may look very different at another time. None of this is an argument FOR changing the Sabbath doctrine.
 

Nicholas Perella

Puritan Board Freshman
Let's not oversimplify the issues. Just because the church decides not to specify a commitment on a point doesn't mean they believed they were wrong to do so previously. The criticality of the issue may look very different at another time. None of this is an argument FOR changing the Sabbath doctrine.

Previously when I said "unbiblical" it was a case in point, not an exhaustive point. The case in point is if something in the WCF is not biblically warranted anymore (unbiblical) though previously it was scripturally proofed to be so, then I think it needs to be biblically warranted as to 'why the change'. I agree if this explanation is to be more exhaustive, then a more thorough need to qualify the change will be at hand. For instance, your example about the statement "the Pope is THAT Antichrist". In a strict sense some might deem that unbiblical, and so a broader incorporation that changes the meaning of the original intent is thereby made. It is unbiblical if taken as a point of fact in accord what historical characters thought specifically (what you said about the 16th and 17th century). Could the pope still be that Antichrist though in a broader understanding? Sure, why not. The original statement in the historical context is not biblically warranted (unbiblical in the strictest sense). It was unbiblical because it was too restrictive in its application of what scripture provides. Yet in a broader applied meaning, that spurs a change in the WCF, it is to be identified with other scriptural proofs to support the broader applied meaning. Could it turn out the "THAT Antichrist" is the Pope? Sure, but if it was in the WCF to mean that Pope in the 16th or 17th Century that is on the cusp of Christ return so that He should have been here in the 16th or 17th C., then obviously that is an unbiblical WCF statement. But if it has a broader meaning and certain changes are made in accord with the WCF to broaden the meaning or clarify a meaning, then the change was made with biblical warrant.

Hopefully you understand what I mean by "unbiblical" by a case in point, not as an exhaustive use in terms of all changes to the WCF.

So if the recreation phrasing in the WCF is changed. It would have to be changed, if done truly in accord with God's Word, under terms of "unbiblical" (the way I am using the term here, which I admit might not be the most illuminating use of a term to communicate my point). It is currently attached to biblical proofs in the WCF that make it biblical. If it is no longer thought to be biblical but historical or cultural, then I think biblical reasons have to be provided that demonstrate that the current application of recreation as written in the WCF is not biblically warranted (unbiblical). If this is not demonstrated, but a change is made anyways, then a biblically proofed confession has been overturned without any biblical warrant. It is not demonstrated to have had historical and cultural restrictions in light of the unchangeable Word of God as understood today, but instead it would be a case in which today's historical and cultural restrictions are wrongly shutting the door on God's Word, meaning, how we currently confess our understanding of God's Word regarding that specific case (recreation on the Lord's Day).
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If by "apostasy" you mean "leaving Westminster Presbyterianism", I'd prefer the more wordy term to the use of a term usually used to denote being lost from an eternal standpoint.

I haven't said anything about a person being eternally lost. The context was a professing visible church with a biblical standard. If people's exceptions become the rule the professing visible church has fallen from its biblical attainment.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I may be missing something. How is a revision by taking out the work and recreation clause making a rule? In other words, by changing this they are not saying one is not allowed to follow what scripture says we ought to do.

Context! My statement referred to the general suggestion for revision, not the particular issue in which that general suggestion was made.
 

TheOldCourse

Puritan Board Sophomore
My (perhaps faulty) understanding of exceptions was that exceptions are to remain "private" if they are to be valid. In other words, ministers who take them ought not to preach or practice them as it would undermine the standards of the church even if they are not against the "system of doctrine". This clearly isn't the case with this issue but I thought it had been with, for instance, the paedocommunion issue a few years back. Am I wrong here? It seems like some in the PCA openly flout the Standards' teaching on the Sabbath rather than using their Christian liberty to avoid scandal on the issue. I've ran into PCA pastors who have, for instance, said without shame that they were attending an NFL game after preaching in the morning. Even if you don't believe in a WCF approach to the Sabbath it would seem that this violates liberty of conscience.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
My (perhaps faulty) understanding of exceptions was that exceptions are to remain "private" if they are to be valid. In other words, ministers who take them ought not to preach or practice them as it would undermine the standards of the church even if they are not against the "system of doctrine". This clearly isn't the case with this issue but I thought it had been with, for instance, the paedocommunion issue a few years back. Am I wrong here? It seems like some in the PCA openly flout the Standards' teaching on the Sabbath rather than using their Christian liberty to avoid scandal on the issue. I've ran into PCA pastors who have, for instance, said without shame that they were attending an NFL game after preaching in the morning. Even if you don't believe in a WCF approach to the Sabbath it would seem that this violates liberty of conscience.

I can't answer some of the issues you raise, but I was thinking about paedocommunion. Unfortunately, even our denomination (OPC) does not have an official opinion on the matter. The years 1982-1987 give a wealth of knowledge into the study of the issue with the OPC. They did give a majority report and 2 minority reports, however, the denomination does not have a stance. What I find frustrating is this idea that denominations hold to "standards" but they do not hold to standards (if you get my drift). I think with the paedocommunion issue, question 177 in the LC explicitly forbids paedocommunion, yet the OPC does not have an official position.... makes total sense.

One thing is for certain: if denominations like the PCA, OPC, and others do not take official biblical positions now, I'll give them 50 years to start going the PCUSA route.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Andrew,
The OPC does have an official opinion: it's found in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the OPC. How many ministers in the OPC do you know who hold a paedo-communionist view? How many churches permit it?

I don't know of any OPC church in which paedo-communion is permitted, not one. Yes, a man with the stature of G.I. Williamson expressed his minority opinion on the matter many years ago, and I personally know one other minister who at one time in the past expressed sympathy for P-C. But both of these men adopted the identical promise NOT to teach their opinion; since they acknowledged it was expressly contradicted by our subordinate standards. I would like to think any church that attempted to permit the practice would face censure from its Presbytery.

I think it is true that both men were already ministers in this church when they adopted the P-C view. I know one presbyter who was thankful the second man told the Presbytery of his new view; it was right to make the brethren aware, and he did not hold any ill-will toward the man. And he also said that he would with some difficulty vote to admit a man (by ordination or transfer) who owned such a deviant view--including the esteemed GIW. I suspect his sentiment would be common.

The test for the OPC is not in having study committees, or what G.A. "does" officially with these reports (which is "receive" them). The Standards are what they are; and we only add to the law of the church with supreme reluctance. Only if absolutely necessary. The Standards have spoken. If they are TESTED by a judicial matter, the strength of the denomination will be revealed. No further or preemptive "positions" will materially help the church maintain its clear stand.

Be encouraged.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I wouldn't give the PCA fifty if they do this; we've seen how fast things are moving in the broader culture.
One thing is for certain: if denominations like the PCA, OPC, and others do not take official biblical positions now, I'll give them 50 years to start going the PCUSA route.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
Andrew,
The OPC does have an official opinion: it's found in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the OPC. How many ministers in the OPC do you know who hold a paedo-communionist view? How many churches permit it?

I don't know of any OPC church in which paedo-communion is permitted, not one. Yes, a man with the stature of G.I. Williamson expressed his minority opinion on the matter many years ago, and I personally know one other minister who at one time in the past expressed sympathy for P-C. But both of these men adopted the identical promise NOT to teach their opinion; since they acknowledged it was expressly contradicted by our subordinate standards. I would like to think any church that attempted to permit the practice would face censure from its Presbytery.

I think it is true that both men were already ministers in this church when they adopted the P-C view. I know one presbyter who was thankful the second man told the Presbytery of his new view; it was right to make the brethren aware, and he did not hold any ill-will toward the man. And he also said that he would with some difficulty vote to admit a man (by ordination or transfer) who owned such a deviant view--including the esteemed GIW. I suspect his sentiment would be common.

The test for the OPC is not in having study committees, or what G.A. "does" officially with these reports (which is "receive" them). The Standards are what they are; and we only add to the law of the church with supreme reluctance. Only if absolutely necessary. The Standards have spoken. If they are TESTED by a judicial matter, the strength of the denomination will be revealed. No further or preemptive "positions" will materially help the church maintain its clear stand.

Be encouraged.

Rev. Bruce, thank you for the encouragement.

I have a hard time with some of these things. Even though I do not know of any elders holding to these specific convictions, doesn't mean there are none (not suggesting you do not understand this already). I feel that the reluctance to make official positions CAN give leeway to unofficial and unbiblical positions. The strength of the presbytery is only as strong as those who reside within the presbytery.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Would an OPC minister get in any sort of trouble for preaching in the morning Lord's Day service and then taking off to see the NFL game at the local stadium for the afternoon? This apparently is going on in the PCA if one story I read is accurate. Of course, this is rampant amongst the general membership (is it an overstatement to say the Lord's Day is largely disregarded in the PCA membership?); but this still surprised me for just how bleak a picture it paints.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I am happy to say at least that my copublisher of Bownd's True Doctrine of the Sabbath, Reformation Heritage Books, will have copies available at their exhibition table at the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, June 8-12, 2015. If you are there, see about picking up a copy if you have not already.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Would an OPC minister get in any sort of trouble for preaching in the morning Lord's Day service and then taking off to see the NFL game at the local stadium for the afternoon?

Who could say? Unless it happened. In OPC history, I know one minister was disciplined for (overt, public) Sunday recreations. Probably seems like ancient history, but it's there, a precedent.

I realize that out here in the countryside we generally take (maybe) a more straitlaced attitude toward the law. I have farmers in the congregation who are "sticklers" for the 4C, I think, in part because they feel like they've had to work out in detail what are the (numerous) works-of-necessity that cannot be safely ignored for 24hrs. They are trying to keep the commandment, to make the most of it despite their unavoidable maintenance tasks.

Meanwhile, in the cities the idle ones waiting for Monday AM cannot be content with their advantages for advancing the express purposes of the day? I doubt the OPC is free from this societal trend. But I still have hopes it is not a strongly represented impulse--hopefully less than that among the clergy.
 
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