Loose, Good-Faith, or Strict Subscription?

How does your ecclesiastical tradition hold to your standards? How should they? Is loose subscription just a surefire way to allow liberalism into the church? Is Strict Subscription “mean”? These are some questions I would like to look at in following posts.

Here is a couple of snippets from an article by J. Gresham Machen citing Charles Hodge:

The question put to every candidate for ordination in our Church, is in these words:  “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?”  It is plain that a very serious responsibility before God and man is assumed by those who return an affirmative answer to that question.  It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the Church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the Gospel.  In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God…

The Principle of Creed-Subscription

It is no less plain that the candidate has no right to put his own sense upon the words propounded to him.  He has no right to select from all possible meanings which the words may bear, that particular sense which suits his purpose, or which, he thinks, will save his conscience.  It is well known that this course has been openly advocated, not only by the Jesuits, but by men of this generation, in this country and in Europe.  The “chemistry of thought,” it is said, can make all creeds alike.  Men have boasted that they could sign any creed.  To a man in a balloon the earth appears a plane, all inequalities on its surface being lost in the distance.  And here is a philosophic elevation from which all forms of human belief look alike.  They are sublimed into general formulas, which include them all and distinguish none.  Professor Newman, just before his open apostasy, published a tract in which he defended his right to be in the English Church while holding the doctrines of the Church of Rome.  He claimed for himself the Thirty-nine articles in a “non-natural sense”; that is, in the sense which he chose to put upon the words.  This shocks the common sense and the common honesty of men.  There is no need to argue the matter.  The turpitude of such a principle is much more clearly seen intuitively than discursively.  The two principles which, by the common consent of all honest men, determine the interpretation of oaths and professions of faith, are, first, the plain, historical meaning of the words; and secondly, the animus imponentis, that is, the intention of the party imposing the oath or requiring the profession.  The words, therefore, “system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” are to be taken in their plain, historical sense.  A man is not a liberty to understand the words “Holy Scriptures,” to mean all books written by holy men, because although that interpretation might consist with the signification of the words, it is inconsistent with the historical meaning of the phrase.  Nor can he understand them, as they would be understood by Romanists, as including the Apocrypha, because the words being used by a Protestant Church, must be taken in a Protestant sense.  Neither can the candidate say, that he means by “system of doctrine” Christianity as opposed to Mohammedanism, or Protestantism, as opposed to Romanism, or evangelical Christianity, as distinguished from the theology of the Reformed (i.e., Calvinistic) Churches, because the words being used by a Reformed Church, must be understood in the sense which that Church is know to attach to them.  If a man professes to receive the doctrine of the Trinity, the word must be taken in its Christian sense, the candidate cannot substitute for that sense the Sabellian idea of a modal Trinity, nor the philosophical trichotomy of Pantheism.  And so of all other expressions which have a fixed historical meaning.  Again, by the animus imponentis in the case contemplated, is to be understood not the mind or intention of the ordaining bishop in the Episcopal Church, or of the ordaining presbytery in the Presbyterian Church.  It is the mind or intention of the Church, of which the bishop or the presbytery is the organ or agent.  Should a Romanizing bishop in the Church of England give “a non-natural” sense to the Thirty-nine articles, that would not acquit the priest, who should sign them in that sense, of the crime of moral perjury; or should a presbytery give an entirely erroneous interpretation to the Westminster Confession, that would not justify a candidate for ordination in adopting it in that sense.  The Confession must be adopted in the sense of the Church, into the service of which the minister, in virtue of that adoption, is received.  These are simple principles of honesty, and we presume they are universally admitted, at least so far as our Church is concerned.

The question however is, What is the true sense of the phrase, “system of doctrine? or, What does the Church understand the candidate to profess, when he says that he “receives and adopts the Confession of Faith of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures”?

There are three ways in which these words have been, and still are, interpreted.  First, some understand them to mean that every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith is included in the profession made at ordination.  Secondly, others say that they mean just what the words import.  What is adopted is the “system of doctrine.”  The system of the Reformed Churches is a known and admitted scheme of doctrine, and that scheme, nothing more or less, we profess to adopt.  The third view of the subject is, that by the system of doctrine contained in the Confession is meant the essential doctrines of Christianity and nothing more…

The First View:  “Every Proposition of the Confession”

As to the first of these interpretations it is enough to say:  1.  That it is not the meaning of the words.  There are many propositions contained in the Westminster Confession which do not belong to the integrity of the Augustinian, or Reformed system.  A man may be a true Augustinian or Calvinist, and not believe that the Pope is the Antichrist predicted by St. Paul; or that the 18th chapter of Leviticus is still binding.  2.  Such a rule of interpretation can never be practically carried out, without dividing the Church into innumerable fragments.  It is impossible that a body of several thousand ministers and elders should think alike on all the topics embraced in such an extended and minute formula of belief.  3.  Such has never been the rule adopted in our Church.  Individuals have held it, but the Church as a body never has.  No prosecution for doctrinal error has ever been attempted or sanctioned, except for errors which were regarded as involving the rejection, not of explanations of doctrines, but of the doctrines themselves…

The Second View:  The Doctrines of the “System” Enumerated

The same strain of remark might be made in reference to the other great doctrines which constitute the Augustinian system.  Enough, however, has been said to illustrate the principle of interpretation for which Old-school men contend.  We do not expect that our ministers should adopt every proposition contained in our standards.  This they are not required to do.  But they are required to adopt the system; and that system consists of certain doctrines, no one of which can be omitted without destroying its identity…

The Third View:  “Substance of Doctrine”

There has, however, always been a party in the Church which adopted the third method of understanding the words “system of doctrine,” in the ordination service, viz., that they mean nothing more than the essential doctrines of religion or of Christianity….

It is said by some, that in adopting the “system of doctrine,” the candidate is understood to adopt it, not in the form or manner in which it is presented in the Confession, but only for “substance of doctrine.”…

This system has been tried, and found to produce the greatest disorder and contention.  Men acting on the principle of receiving the Confession for substance of doctrine, have entered the ministry in our Church, who denied the doctrine of imputation, whether of Adam’s sin or of Christ’s righteousness; the doctrine of the derivation of a sinful depravity of nature from our first parents; of inability; of efficacious grace; of a definite atonement; that is, of an atonement have any such special reference to the elect, as to render their salvation certain.  In short, while professing to receive “the system of doctrine” contained in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms they have rejected almost every doctrine which gives that system its distinctive character.

Session-Controlled Communion & 1st Corninthians 11

Last evening my wife, our two little daughters, and I had the pleasure of going to our usually Lord’s Day evening service at North Hills RP Church here in Pittsburgh. We had not been there for a couple of weeks due to car troubles, birth of Mackenzie, being out of town, etc… So it was with a little surprise that we went last night to find out that North Hills was having communion. Also another surprise (actually I had forgotten) that North Hills practices what is called “Session-controlled communion” which means that anyone wanting to take communion at North Hills must meet with the Session and be approved prior to taking the elements at North Hills. As it is with many church doctrines that the mainlines and the more conservative denominations have kicked to the wayside and plain-just forgotten the Presbyterians used to be known for this. While those like NHRPC do not hand out tokens like in days passed they take very seriously the dangers associated with taking the Eucharist with laxity and disregard for its holy nature. The rationale for session-controlled communion can be found in Paul’s warning in 1st Corinthians 11 following the words of institution that we all use. Paul says:

The Lord’s Supper

23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

Paul clearly is teaching here that a person must examine himself/herself before taking the elements and if they do not and take the elements unworthily they will do harm to themselves. Also implicit in this warning is a call to the Elders of the church at Corinth. For as I am sure Paul directed the Elders at Corinth part of the understanding of the role of the Elder in Paul’s day and in the Presbyterian system in our day is that they are responsible for the spiritual health and welfare of those under their care (cf: 1 Tim 3:5, Titus 1:7). Therefore not only does the individual have a responsible to guard themselves but the Elders have a heavenly call to guard the sheep from hurting themselves much like the Elders would protect them from any other danger. This is why many call for quarterly communion so that all can be protected properly. However as I believe that the Scriptures call for weekly communion and because of this if you are to have both session-controlled communion and weekly communion it is imperative for the session of the local church to be active in the preparation for the worship service each Lord’s Day and that includes introducing themselves to any visitors and letting them know what the policy is at the local church (not just about communion but other things as well).

What is the policy of your local congregation? How do you think this would work at a local level in your denomination?

Let me know what you think.

The Abandonement of Hermenuetics, Part 2

Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:15-21 are the subject of our next inquiry into the “Science” of Hermeneutics. It has been posited in the comments section of the answer to Part 1 that this should be used as a proof text for those who support Women’s Ordination and to not to leads to “General Assembly-like” pronouncements like women not being able to teach adult men but being able to teach male children.

There are several questions that come up when thinking here and must be understood when looking at these two passages. 1) How should we look at Old Testament passages cited by New Testament authors (inspired by the same Spirit?) 2) How much can we read into a text before we obscure and obfuscate its meaning? 3) Can a text have separate contexts?

However first we need to define the major word of this pericope. PROPHECY. John Calvin in his commentary on Acts 2 says, “…this word prophesy doth signify nothing else save only the rare and excellent gift of understanding, as if Joel should say, Under the kingdom of Christ there shall not be a few prophets only, unto whom God may reveal his secrets; but all men shall be endued with spiritual wisdom, even to the prophetical excellency.” John Chrysostom in his Homily V on Acts 2 also gives the same definition as John Calvin saying,” but for the grace, he fetches the prophet as witness. “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh.” [“And your sons,” etc.] To some the grace was imparted through dreams, to others it was openly poured forth.” This Prophecy of which both Calvin and Chrysostom speak has nothing to do with teaching or preaching, as some have surmised, but has to do with the revelation of the Will of God. In this case Peter is speaking to the Jews who are wondering why Cretans and Arabs are speaking in tongues they do not understand. They are speaking not only in a tongue the Jews cannot understand but of a way that cannot be understand because the Holy Spirit has not been imparted to them. John Piper in a sermon on Acts 2 says this:

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is the presence of God in the world to reveal himself by some action or word. Therefore when Joel says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, he means that God will draw near to men and women and make himself known and felt in a powerful way. There is a great difference between perceiving a lake at a distance and being immersed in the lake. So there is a great difference between experiencing God as a distant object of knowledge and being immersed in his presence. The picture of a worldwide pouring compels us to think of being soaked and saturated and swept along by the Spirit of God. Joel wanted his readers to anticipate an unmistakable flood-tide of God’s presence.

The context of Peter’s commentary and quotation of Joel 2 belies nothing that would tell us Peter here is speaking about teaching and preaching in the Church. Peter is speaking to the Jews during the event of Pentecost when Jesus’ words to the Apostles were fulfilled. To make the argument that Peter here is is quoting Joel to give the office of teacher to both men and women is stretching the meaning of the text. As we see from the several commentators we cannot give a meaning to a text that it itself cannot and does not give. This on its own not only breaks Scripture’s internal hermeneutic but it violates the rules of literary analysis, tools that even wacko conservatives use to help determine the meaning of the text. Also as Reformed Christians who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith as the best summary of the Doctrine of the Christian life we must (unless you are like our dispensational friends that believe that we can still receive prophecy after the death of the last Apostle) say that Prophecy has ceased. Richard Gaffin, Professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in his book Perspectives on Pentecost in summary says, “The apostolic witness, prophecy and tongues were bound up with the foundation of the church following the ascension of Christ, and therefore, since the foundation has been laid, have no purpose for today.” For a Reformed believer if Prophecy has ceased then what Joel and Peter speak of in this passage cannot have bearing on us because we do not live in the Apostolic age. The Westminster Confession says:

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section 1:

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Chapter 1, Section 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.

Even moreso Paul in 1st Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Now who is to be preaching and teaching? Elders. What are the qualifications for Elders according to Paul (who like Peter and Joel is inspired by the Holy Spirit)? Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 that the office of Overseer, or Elder is restricted to “…the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Now where do Elders receive their call to head the Church? For that let us take a look at Acts 20:17-38. In this passage Paul is writing to the Elders at the church in Ephesus. He is giving them a sort of pep talk and exhorting them to keep strong in the faith that has been delivered to them and to be vigilant like a shepherd tending to their flocks. Now what does this description sound like to you? Sounds like the daily work of a Pastor does it not? Also worth remembering is the location of Timothy when Paul writes to him. Where is he? Ephesus. So if Paul believes that only qualified men (not all men) can be Elders, and Elders are the Shepherds of the Church, and Elders are to be the ones preaching and teaching what does that say about Joel and Peter and there speaking of Prophesy? Well we can be sure that it does not mean that Peter in Acts 2 and Joel in his book chapter 2 cannot be, if taken with the whole counsel of Scripture, to mean that the act of “Prophesy” which both men and women are called can be conflated to therefore mean that both men and women are called to and can preach and be Teaching Elders in the Church of Christ.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race; Paul’s "Opinion"

It may take me till August to get through the Pastorals but I promise I will eventually do it. So here we are with the next section of 1st Timothy, 1 Tim 2:7. (No one can say the Pastorals lack good and full verses). Now it may seem off that I am choosing to isolate verse 7 of this chapter but I want to do so as to group together verses 8-15 for a full discussion on a very controversial passage in most circles. So without further ado here is 1st Timothy 2:7.

For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Paul here is reminding both Timothy and the readers/hearers of this letter that he was appointed for three specific works by Christ on the road to Damascus. He was to be 1) a Preacher, 2) an Apostle, and 3) a Teacher of the Gentiles. Now to be sure while these offices are interrelated for Paul they are significantly different for Paul’s ministry imparticular. For one Paul derives his authority to preach the Gospel from where? His time with Prof. Gamaliel, graduation from Jerusalem Theological Seminary, and ordination by the Presbytery of Tarsus? No! Paul receives his authority to preach from Jesus Christ himself!!! Paul is a full apostle with the same rights and privileges of the 12 Apostles present at Pentecost. This is vitally important when reading Paul’s letters and listening to those who challenge Paul’s authority, both at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and today when “Professors” dismiss Paul’s “personal thoughts” as mere opinion and conjecture which has no more weight than my own discretion. This is bubkus pure and simple. Who are we to challenge the words of an Apostle sent by Christ himself? Well simply to put it in words a 3rd grader could understand, Paul is an Apostle and we are not so it may be a good idea to listen to the Apostle’s “opinion” and not our own.

Also worth thinking about is Paul’s use of the word “this”. For what is it that Paul has been appointed to teach and preach? To use Paul’s own words in 1st Corinthians 15:1-19:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Old Testament As Pattern For Education???

Reflection on Walter Brueggemann’s The Creative Word

Walter Brueggemann embarks to prove in his work The Creative Word that education is the seminal vocation we should be engaged in if we want our communities of faith to continue (at all) and to be places where we can be in true communion with our fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. His task is to prove to the reader not only where we should begin the process of learning and inculcating our community with the fiber of our communal energy but also where that process should take us and deliver us in the end.

Brueggemann starts chapter one with the thesis that “Every community that wants to last beyond a single generation must concern itself with education.”[1] He is exactly right in the circumstance that what makes a people truly confessionally bound are its reliance upon a shared history and dialectical make-up. Without the common thread found in communal language how can a community that ostensibly is made up of variations in age and surrounding milieu find a way to continue as a confessional community? This is what truly marks a group of believers to be more than just a collection of individuals but (as Paul specifies in 1st Corinthians) a unified body with many parts. In other words what makes Christian education so important in the context of the unity of the body is not so much the actual facts and information but the shared communal truth that both young and old, ignorant and educated, and laity and clergy impart upon each other when they share the common heritage that links them as one people not individuals with personal motives.

Brueggemann continues this conversation by elaborating on what this communal language should look like. He states that we should focus on the one place where we share along with our ancestors a common tongue and glossary. As was said above Brueggemann believes this is to be found in the books of Holy Scripture.[2] With his professional and academic legacy being in the Old Testament Brueggemann begins in chapter two to lay out exactly what this speech and lexicon should (and in his estimation) does look like.[3] He believes that we should start where Israel began in its educational process, which is with Torah. I agree with Breuggemann’s analysis here. If one is to use Holy Scripture as a basis and example for education one must begin where the Scriptures themselves begin and where they find their authority. For example the First Commandment tells us that we are to have no other gods before God. The effect this has on Brueggemann’s focus on using Torah for the foundation of an education system is to say that before we can teach our congregants anything about God, their faith, and their journey they first must know whom it is they are learning about. It does us no good to present the gospel to them if they do not know/understand why it is the Gospels are necessary in the first place.

Brueggemann states on page 15 in chapter two that he is convinced that the “educational enterprise can never be far from the canonical process”[4]. What Brueggemann implies here is never reasonably clear to me. While he tries to associate the words “canonical” and “binding” as synonymous his definitions for these two words do not quite link at the point in which Brueggemann seems to strive for in his book. For example, by using the quote from Deuteronomy 6:6-7 he plans to show that just as the canon of Torah was yet unformed in the writing of this passage, the object of the process of education (as seen in the process of canon) should also be seen as continually binding. In other words, Brueggemann wishes to show that as the readers of Deuteronomy were called to “…teach [the commands of Torah] diligently to [their] children”[5] so we are to bind our tradition in educating those who come after us in faith by conducting our vocabulary and narrative to them but that process should always be “living” just as the canonical process was for the Israelites[6]. However Brueggemann contradicts this point in chapter 3 when he makes the statement that “The Torah is not debatable.”[7]. How can something be in a living process if it is not debatable? While I agree with this statement on its own merit, that the Torah is not debatable, how can Brueggemann speak of the canonical progression as being a part of the ongoing educational process of the Israelites if the Torah is beyond debating? Brueggemann then goes on to contradict himself even further when just one page later he cites the work down by Walther Zimmerli in his work, “Prophetic Proclamation and Reinterpretation”, which says that the prophets “…use the Torah to argue against the Torah”[8]. How can the Prophets be used educationally to build upon the foundation we have already established with the Torah if the Prophets themselves, according to Zimmerli, seek to argue against the validity of the Torah itself? If the Torah is not debatable, as Brueggemann claims, then how can the Prophets contradict and critique the Torah? It makes very little sense, educationally, to build upon a foundation when the next story you construct upon it you believe will by its own nature deconstruct the binding you have already made. Now it is possible I may be misunderstanding Brueggemann on this point but it seems to me who is responding critically to the lack of authority the author gives to Scripture itself.

Although Brueggemann may not be clear and concise in keeping with his idea of the absolute nature of the Torah he is absolutely correct when he articulates on page 41 that, “A community illiterate of the Torah will not understand the prophet.”[9] Continuing with the critique I began above concerning Brueggemann’s understanding of the Prophets I concur with the author if he wants to use the Prophetic works to build upon the foundation of Torah but why, if this is his motive, use the Prophets to deconstruct the Torah? For example on page 45, Brueggemann uses three examples of what he calls, “…new, liberating truth”. It is as if the author wants to use the Prophetic works not to actually build upon what has come before but to show how the Israelites as they grew in knowledge improved upon what had come before. The author goes on to say, “In prophecy we are dealing with a new truth when the old truth controlled by human power has grown irrelevant and boring.”[10] It is hard to imagine what Brueggemann hopes to convey by wording it like this. I desire not to repeat myself again but it in this case my earlier critique bears repeating. How can one build upon a foundation that with the next step you are hell-bent on taking apart? In other words Brueggemann seems to define the educational system of the Old Testament as: 1) Learning what has come before (Torah), 2) Seeing how new and liberating truth can be found and used to critique what came before (Prophetic works), and 3) Thinking upon how to use that new and liberating truth to progress forward (Wisdom literature).

In closing, Brueggemann is absolutely correct in reasserting the importance of making Holy Scripture the underpinning, especially the law, prophets, and wisdom of the Old Testament, for our educational purposes. While I may not agree with the processes he uses to describe the method of teaching Scripture and especially may call into question how he can call for Scripture to be our foundation without acquiescing to its own individual divine right as the Word of God in its binding nature. I can see Brueggemann’s larger point that a community whose members do not know what it means to be a part of that body, which exists perpetually outside of themselves, will cease to share the identity of the community in which it claims to be a part. For without the Church having its foundation in something outside of itself, something that shares a communal energy and language, wherefore then shall the Church look for its own authority to communicate that tradition to the next generation? If we look to sources outside of our own tradition to educate our society we cannot hope for that community to continue on the path set forward by our ancestors and Scripture itself. However where Brueggemann really goes wrong is in his insistence that through education we can improve upon the substance of what has come before. It is absurd to think that just because we have come after the close of the canon of Scripture that we now know more than the writers of Scripture itself and it is our job as educators to see that what really binds us is not the essence of Torah or Prophets or Wisdom but the terms and shared covenant history of the aforementioned works of the Old Testament which really deliver us as a community of believers. This really comes through in how Brueggemann uses the three distinct parts of Hebrew Scripture to show how the Israelites themselves improved on each individual sections by teaching their generations the technical words of the section that came before.

[1] Breuggemann, Walter “The Creative Word” (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982) pg. 1

[2] Brueggemann, pg. 3

[3] ibid, pg. 14

[4] ibid, pg. 15

[5] Brueggemann, pg. 15

[6] ibid, pg. 15

[7] ibid, pg. 40

[8] ibid, pg. 41

[9] Brueggemann, pg. 41

[10] ibid, pg. 45

Education Is The Answer

As the summer time in America is ending and we are starting again a brand new school year. We end the time that has traditionally become the occasion when America takes a collective break from learning. Our schools from Head Start to the Graduate level for the most part shut down, excepting the underachievers like myself who spend their more formative summers in High School relearning Algebra and Geometry. Also in our Churches we usually suspend organized Sunday school programs at the end of May awaiting the fall kick off of a new standard program with the weeklong VBS program in the middle. This is the way Church education has been done for as long as anyone of us can remember. One of the things that have always distinguished Presbyterians is our focus on Education. English Puritans who saw in the academy a place where they could help enable the colonies to grow founded many of the oldest collegiate institutions in the United States. Because they rightly understood that the fate of the American enterprise lay more in the time spent engaging the young minds under their care than in measuring the sweat on their backs. As early as 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony had already established compulsory education up through what today we would call 4th grade. Virtually all of the schools established above this level were founded for the training of ministers and for the study of theology. It was not a coincidence that the founders of this country thought to build theological schools before laying the plans for the first law schools and programs for engineering. This was because our forefathers understood the need for us to not just have a cursory knowledge of the Scriptures but to be able to dialogue with one another concerning more intensive and developed Doctrine. It was expected in that day that before someone could became an officer of the Church that they would know the Westminster Standards and be able to defend their faith when called upon. It is interesting to note that the Westminster Shorter Catechism was designed for children and the illiterate to be used to help them know what it was they believed given that its form as short question and answers would be easily memorized. The church kept up this practice for centuries until the recent past. Unfortunately we have grown from that proud heritage to place today where we live in a time of intellectual and educational apathy. We have lost the value of not only theological education but familial education as well. We see denominational records of Sunday school attendance dropping like the Stock Market in 1929. In 1950 the average Presbyterian Church could expect 80% of its membership to attend Sunday school. Today the average is in the high teens. You might be wondering now why attendance in Sunday School has fallen so in the past 60 years in the church? But before we do that let us look at what Paul has to say in the 3rd chapter of Corinthians.

The city of Corinth in the time of Paul and the Apostles was a city of great wealth and stature. It sat on an isthmus between the two geographic centers of Greece and was a center for cultic worship and was the birthplace of many a false prophet. Paul in verse one through three of today’s Scripture lesson says to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” Paul here is speaking to a Corinthian Church that is mired in dissension and confusion. The Church is being destroyed by infighting over the loves of the flesh, infighting that according to Paul arises out of their misunderstanding of who God is. They have confused the all-powerful God which the Westminster Confession of Faith claims is, “The one and only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection… not standing in need of any creatures which he has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is alone foundation of all being” for a God who is muted in power and seeks only to make us comfortable and safe. Paul continues in verses four through seven trying to get the Corinthian Church to understand the importance of knowing and understanding the power of Almighty God pleading with them, “For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” While some are claiming to be followers of Paul and others followers of Apollos they miss the point that Paul and Apollos are mere servants of the Almighty God, the Creator of all things who alone should be the object of their worship. The Corinthians as Paul says have not moved past the basic nourishment of their mother’s milk. They cannot yet take in the meat of the Gospel because they have not trained their bodies to receive it. In other words the Corinthians cannot accept the meat of the Gospel because they refuse to turn their flesh over to God. They seek the pleasures of their own flesh up and over the glorious food of the Gospel. The Gospel is there for the Corinthians to have but they choose to not have the Gospel so as to not alienate them from their brethren. Paul later in chapter three verse eighteen says, “Let no man deceive himself If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” You see the problem with the Corinthian church, the problem that leads to their infighting, is that they do not seek the wisdom of God but are purely satisfied by the unfulfilling wisdom of this world. They cannot move past the milk that Paul has given them because they are not interested in learning any more. They have become apathetic to the teaching and learning of the Word of God. One of the leading causes of death in areas of Africa where famine is hitting the hardest is a condition where the body after being deprived of proper nutrition for so long that it cannot now properly break down complex carbohydrates and proteins. The body then rejects this meat causing internal damage and eventually death. The flesh cannot handle what the spirit is not ready to receive. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot receive this meat because they are as he puts it “still too fleshly”. What does it mean to be too fleshly? Well we know that the Church in Corinth is still beholding themselves to the wisdom of the age. They refuse to put behind them the wisdom of the Greek for the understanding of God. In their childlike intake of Greek culture and education they refuse to deny themselves take up their cross and follow Christ and Christ alone. They fail to receive the meat of the Gospel because they have refused to be taught by Paul any more than what they already know. Because as long as I know a little bit that’s enough right? Why should I strive to know more than the basics? Paul addresses this as well later in this letter to the Corinthians when he says in chapter fourteen verse twenty, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking…but in your thinking be mature.” We have been called to move past the childlike faith of our past so that we can live on the nourishment that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Luke writing in Acts it would not be good of us to neglect the understanding and teaching of the Word so that we can endeavor to other things but we should strive first and foremost to have a deeper and more luscious desire to know the Word of God.

A former Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary by the name of Dr. John Gerstner published a book in 1965 with the title “Theology for Everyman”. In this work Dr. Gerstner makes the outrageous claim that every person who declares themselves to be a follower of Christ should be at least, an amateur theologian. He makes the case that not all people are called to be able to understand the craft of plumbers or the intricacies of computer engineering or even the value of housework but all who are called to follow Christ are called to know Christ and his Word. Dr. Gerstner in his work says,” Is it not clear why a layman must necessarily be a theologian? Is there anyone, layman or otherwise, who does not need to know God? Does the Scripture not say, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3)? It is, then, no mere option with a layman whether he will be a theologian or not, whether he will have eternal life or not; it is no option with him whether he will know God or not. The knowledge of God is necessary to eternal life. And if eternal life is necessary for every man, then theology is also necessary for every man.” In other words just knowing who Jesus Christ is not enough. We have to be able to understand our faith at level more deeply than just cursory knowledge. Passing off the study of Scripture as being “boring” or being the job of the pastor is not good enough. I cannot tell you how many times in my young life I have heard people say that it is the job of the minister to know the Word and understand Doctrine so that I do not have to. Friends that is severely misguided. If we are to be believers in Jesus Christ we have to know his Word. You have to be able to understand the profundity of human depravity and sinfulness if you are going to be able to appreciate the full measure of the mercy and the depths to which Jesus Christ went to on the cross to save us. You have to be able to give a defense of your faith to the unbelievers of this world. How can we fulfill the mission of Matthew 28 if we do not know Scripture? How can we teach people about Jesus Christ if we ourselves cannot speak to the power of the infallible Word of God? We must not follow in the footsteps of the Corinthian Church who allowed themselves to be beholden to the wisdom of this age. For as Moses pleads with to the Israelites to understand in Deuteronomy 8:3 to know about the God that loves them and provides for them as they wander in the desert, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”

We must not be afraid of knowing Christ through his Word. We must not allow the apathy and anti-intellectualism of this age towards the Word of God overtake us. We must thirst for the nourishment that comes from reading and studying the Word of God. Do not consume the wisdom of this age for the Lord our God has come to do away with the wisdom of this world providing for us the Wisdom of the Almighty so that as the Israelites in the Desert we may not be famished by our lack of knowledge but may be filled with the faith and trust of the Holy Spirit.