Friday, November 30, 2007

Liberty of Conscience and Church Courts

Acts 24. 16. "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." Liberty of conscience is a vital subject but it has become a vexed point in modern times. Many people appear to have adopted what is basically the Baptist view of liberty of conscience. See for instance how the London Baptist Confession amends the Wesminster Confession.

WCF Chap 20 Section 2 says "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." This is often appealed to. Yet the Confession distinguishes between true liberty of conscience and pretended liberty of conscience. The latter seeks a liberty of conscience beyond the bounds of Scripture and which cannot be restrained by any lawful authority. Section 4 of chapter 20 deals with these biblical limits. This is the section removed by the London Baptist Confession. The appeal to liberty of conscience is not an uncomplicated one and does not automatically mean that Church courts do not have the right to restrain conscience in some ways.

How conscience may be compelled

George Gillespie stated: "If the thing be indifferent, I confess no man is to be compelled to it against his conscience, for this hath been the tyranny of Papists and Prelates, to compel men against their consciences to certain rites which themselves acknowledge to be merely indifferent, setting aside obedience to authority in such things, which (they say) is not indifferent. But if the word of God either directly or by necessary consequence, make the thing necessary, and such as we cannot leave undone without sin and breach of duty; if there be such an obligation from the word, then may a man be compelled to it, though against his conscience." (Wholesome Severity reconciled with Christian Liberty). This is the balance of the Confession - that there is liberty of conscience and yet a man may be compelled against his conscience by the powers which God has ordained. In Section 4 of chapter 20 the Confession goes on to qualify and limit what it says on liberty of conscience: "And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity (whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the church, they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of the church."

Dr M'Crie notes that: "The design of section fourth is to guard against the abuse of the doctrine of liberty of conscience in reference to public authority. 'And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God.' He who is the Lord of the conscience has also instituted the authorities in Church and State; and it would be in the highest degree absurd to suppose that he has planted in the breast of every individual a power to resist, counteract, and nullify his own ordinances. When public and private claims interfere and clash, the latter must give way to the former; and when any lawful authority is proceeding lawfully within its line of duty, it must be understood as possessing a rightful power to remove out of the way everything which necessarily obstructs its progress. The Confession proceeds, accordingly, to state: 'And for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature; or to the known principles of Christianity whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation, or to the power of godliness; or such erroneous opinions or practices as, either in their own nature or in the manner of publishing and maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church; they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the Church, and by the power of the civil magistrate.' Individual liberty is regulated by the principles found in Scripture and is limited by the mutual duties believers owe to one another, and by concern for the welfare of all men.

Conscience - internal and external aspects

We must draw a distinction between conscience in its internal and external aspects. Alternatively we may speak of conscience in its invisible aspect (a man's mind, his thoughts and beliefs) and in its visible aspect (when these beliefs opinions are expressed publicly either verbally or through action). This is in relation to the authority of both Church and State. "We say the magistrate or his sword hath nothing to do with the elect and internal acts of the mind, of understanding, knowing, judging or believing, but only with the external acts of speaking, teaching, publishing dangerous and pernicious doctrines to the hurt and destruction of the souls of others" (Rutherford, A Free Disputation, p.62). No magistrate can coerce or force someone to believe something; they can only prevent them from promoting such opinions as are contrary to the truth by preaching, printing, spreading of dangerous opinions, schismatic, pernicious, and scandalous practices, or drawing factions among the people.

The same principle obtains for Church courts." is certain that human laws, as they come from men, and in respect of any force or authority which men can give them, have no power to bind the conscience. For the business of our consciences is not with men, but with the one God, says Calvin. [Instit. lib. 4, cap. 10, sect. 5.] Over our souls and consciences, no one except God has any right, says Tilen. [Synt., part. 2, disp. 32, thes. 4.] From Jerome's distinction, that a king is in charge of the unwilling, but a bishop the willing, Marcus Antonius de Dominis well concludes: to be in charge of the willing as a flock removes all legal authority and power to command and force, and signifies only power to guide where, viz., the subject is at liberty to comply and not to comply, such that the one who is in charge has nothing by which to compel to compliance one who does not want to comply. [De Rep. Eccl., lib. 5, cap. 2, n. 12.] This point he proves in that chapter at length, where he disputes both against temporal and spiritual coactive jurisdiction in the church." Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies (Naphtali Press, 1993) I-4-3. pp. 12-13. Again Gillespie asserts the distinction between private opinions in the mind and public practices based on them. "I distinguish betwixt bare opinions or speculations, and scandalous or pernicious practices, as Mr. Burton doth in his Vindication of the Independent Churches, page 70. You must distinguish, saith he, betwixt mens consciences and their practices. The conscience simply considered in itself is for God the Lord of the conscience alone to judge, as before. But for a man's practices (of which alone man can take cognizance) if they be against any of God's commandments of the first or second Table; that appertains to the civil Magistrate to punish, who is for this cause called Custos utriusque Tabulæ, the keeper of both Tables: for this he citeth Rom. 13.3,4, and addeth: So as we see here what is the object of civil power, to wit, actions good or bad, not bare opinions, not thoughts, not conscience, but actions." (Wholesome Severity reconciled with Christian Liberty).

The Reformers also made this distinction, Heinrich Bullinger said "...while false faith doth lurk and lie hid within the heart, and infecteth none but the unbeliever, so long the unbelieving infidel cannot be punished: but if this false and forged faith, that so lay hid, do once break forth to blaspheme, to the open tearing of God and the infecting of his neighbours, then must that blasphemer and seducer be by and by plucked under, and kept from creeping to further annoyance."(Decade 2, Sermon 8, p. 363 in Parker Society edition).

What we are establishing is that the distinction between internal and external acts of conscience enunciated by those who framed the Westminster Confession (viz. Rutherford and Gillespie) is encapsulated in the Confession itself in 20:4. The powers ordained by God have authority to restrain the public acts of conscience in this way. So Rutherford says "Christ hath left the consciences of false teachers and heretics under ecclesiastical censures of admonitions, rebukes, excommunication" (A Free Disputation, p.235). Thus the appeal to liberty of conscience is not an uncomplicated one and does not automatically mean that Church courts do not have the right to restrain conscience in some ways. While Church courts cannot impose aspects of faith and worship by their sole authority they can apply that which is in God's Word. "The dogmatic power of a synod is not a power to make new articles of faith, nor new duties and parts of divine worship, but a power to apply and interpret those articles of faith and duties of worship which God hath set before us in his written word, and to declare the same to be inconsistent with emergent heresies and errors." Notice that Gillespie highlights what the WCF highlights in 20:2, that our consciences are left free from "the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship" (my italics). To compel a man to believe something by force is persecution but to compel a man to desist from creating division, disorder, damage stemming from erroneous views and opinions and through expressing or acting upon them publicly is within the lawful powers of the Church and State. The Westminster divines were well aware of what persecution was from the Laudian inquisition of the 1630's which sought to punish men for their beliefs whether expressed or not.

An objection to this which Gillespie acknowledges is someone who may say when compelled to obey "I am brought into a necessity of sinning, for if I obey not, I refuse a duty; if I obey, I do it against my conscience. Answer. This necessity is not absolute, but hypothetical, is not per se, but per accidens, so long as a man retaineth the error of his conscience, which he ought to cast away. You will say again, supposing that my conscience cannot be satisfied, nor made of another opinion than now I am of, whether in this case, and so long as it standeth thus with me, may authority compel me to obey against my conscience, and so to sin? or whether ought they not rather permit me not to obey, because my conscience forbiddeth me. Answer. The thing being necessary, as hath been said, it is pars tutior, yea, tutissima, that a man be compelled to it, though it be against his erring and ill informed conscience. I know so long as he hath such an erring conscience he cannot but sin in obeying. But the sin of not obeying is greater and heavier: for this is a sin in the fact itself; that a sin in the manner of doing only, being not done in faith: this is a sin of itself; that is a sin only by accident: this is a sin materially; that is a sin only interpretatively to him, because he thinks so: this is a sin for the substance; that a sin for the circumstance: this cannot be made to be no sin, for the nature of the duty cannot be altered; that may cease to be a sin, for the man's conscience may through God's mercy and blessing upon the means, be better informed. So that there can be no doubt but this is every way a greater sin than that, and consequently more to be avoided." (Wholesome Severity)

Liberty of conscience is not the same thing as the right of free speech, the Confession does not uphold the unlimited right of free speech. Its position preserves the right of private judgement and rejects persecution, but it is against the very God-given role of the Church and State to permit heresy and division to burn uncontrollably. This is the sense of Act II 1846 which declared the interpretation of the Confession at this point. The Church did not regard her Confession "as favouring intolerance or persecuting principles", nor did she consider "that her office-bearers, by subscribing it, profess any principles inconsistent with liberty of conscience and the right of private judgement". Hence also The Practice of the Free Church of Scotland (and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland Manual of Practice), says: "That the Free Church maintains more emphatically that no authority in the hands of fallible men, such as the authority of the General Assembly, has any absolute rule over the consciences of believers, and that every one of her members may appeal to the Great Head of the Church against any such merely ministerial authority" (i.e. dissent with reasons) Chapter 4 Part 2.

Within the context of a Church court therefore, liberty of conscience is fully preserved when dissent is registered. The conscience is not compelled internally but able to be cleared. By dissenting with reasons a man keeps his conscience clear from the responsibility of what he does not approve of. He has no responsibility for the steps leading up to and the passing of a decision but not of obedience to it. Dissent is merely an expression of disagreement not of non-compliance. Non-compliance means resistance and disobedience. As the American Schism of 1741 highlighted, the issue is that of whether church courts have the authority and right to bind the consciences of dissenting members.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The nature of ordination vows

In the September 2007 Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland Rev. John Ross Inverness Greyfriars-Stratherrick reports on an induction and comments as follows on the vows put to the prospective minister.

'I wonder if it really is necessary to make an ordination a public display of the mysteries of the Claim, Declaration and Protest of 1842 or the Protest by Commissioners to the General Assembly of 1843, or a disavowal of all "Popish, Arian, Socinian, Arminian, Erastian and other doctrines doctrines, tenets and opinions whatsoever..." to say nothing of placing the candidate under reminder of the strictures of Act V, 1932. This all bemused most of the congregation and produced not a few a few stifled sniggers and embarrassed looks by those conscious of the presence of the local Catholic priest, whose kindly presence helped welcome Ricky and Melissa to the community. Might not these arcane memories of 'old unhappy, far off things and battles long ago' be better dealt with by the Presbytery in private prior to ordination? Surely induction questions, like those put to a bride and groom at a marriage, ought to be short, serious, and above all, obviously relevant, not detracting from the essentially joyous nature of the occasion by turning it into a public justification of the continued separate existence of the Free Church of Scotland'.

These comments fail to understand the true nature of the vows themselves as well as the their content. Ordination vows must be public, before the congregation who are receiving this minister or other office-bearer. It matters what the minister believes and is prepared to assert, maintain and defend. It matters what constitutes purity of worship. The climate of indifference to these solemn vows within the Free Church at present is truly alarming when we consider the true nature of such vows.

The solemn promises and declarations made at ordination - commonly called ordination vows- are in nature both an oath made in relation to man and vows taken with respect to God. (the Establishment in the Act for Settling the Quiet and Peace of the Church 1693 speak of the ordination vow as "the oath of allegiance"). Thus the whole of chapter 22 of the WCF is applicable. In relation to oaths the Confession says:
"WHOSOEVER takes an oath, ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth. Neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believes so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform. Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority.

An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation. It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man's own hurt; nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics or infidels."

This makes it clear that an oath is to be taken clearly without mental reservation or interpretation different from those who impose it because that involves the individual in the sin of perjury. An oath also binds to performance although it is to one's hurt and even though it is made to those who are heretics or infidels - we cannot violate it (Ezek. 17:16, 18, 19; Josh. 9:18, 19; II Sam. 21:1), provided the object of the oath is not sinful. An oath is also to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation. Thus there is to be no reinterpretation - the oath is to be understood in its prima facie sense.

"A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness." As Robert Shaw puts it, "the oath retains its high place among the solemnities of religion".
The fulfilment of vows is repeatedly enjoined in Scripture. "If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth." Numbers 30:2 "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee." (Deuteronomy 23:2) "He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not." (Psalm 15:4) "...yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it." (Isaiah 19:21) "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Eccl 5:4-5). "Vow, and pay unto the LORD your God:" (Psalm 76:11). "It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry." (Proverbs 20:25).

It is a solemn thing therefore to break ordination vows - it is to violate the third commandment. As James Begg put it: "To allege that they may afterwards set these avowals at defiance, and still retain their offices, is to outrage morality and overflow the liberty of the Church and her congregations".

Thursday, November 22, 2007

James Ussher and the Incarnation

I understand that the complete Works of Ussher are now online at Google

A striking prediction made by Ussher was posted here recently with some details of his life.

More books written by Ussher have been republished lately

Crawford Gribben has also written an excellent popular biography.

Ussher wrote a study of the person and work of Christ especially his incarnation. This is a remarkable piece of spiritual and theological insight written in a meditative spirit and one of my favourite pieces of writing. Read it here:

Here are a few extracts from Ussher's work on the incarnation:
"The Nature assumed, is the seed of Abraham, Heb. 2:16, the seed of David, Rom. 1:3. the seed of the Woman, Gen. 3:15, the WORD, the second person of the Trinity, being made FLESH, that is to say, Gods owne Son being made of a Woman, and so becomming truely and really the fruit of her wombe. Neither did hee take the substance of our nature onely, but all the properties also and the qualities thereof: so as it might be said of him, as it was of Elias and the Apostles; that hee was a man subject to like passions as wee are. Yea he subjected himself in the dayes of his flesh to the same weaknesse which we find in our owne fraile nature, and was compassed with like infirmities; and in a word, in all things was made like unto his brethren, sin onely excepted. Wherein yet we must consider, that as he took upon him, not an humane Person, but an humane Nature: so it was not requisite he should take upon him any Personall infirmities, such as are, madnesse, blindnesse, lamenesse, and particular kindes of diseases, which are incident to some onely and not to all men in generall; but those alone which doe accompany the whole nature of mankinde, such as are hungring, thirsting, weannesse, griefe, paine, and mortality."

When Moses beheld the bush burning with fire, and yet no whit consumed, he wondred at the sight, and said; I will now turne aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. But when God thereupon called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Draw not nigh hither, and told him who he was; Moses trembled, hid his face, and durst not behold God. Yet although, being thus warned, we dare not draw so nigh; what doth hinder but we may stand aloofe off, and wonder at this great sight? Our God is a consuming fire; saith the Apostle: and a question we finde propounded in the Prophet. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who amongst us shall dwell with the everlasting burnings? Moses was not like other Prophets, but God spake unto him face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend: and yet for all that, when he besought the Lord that hee would shew him his glory; he received this answer, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. Abraham before him, though a speciall friend of God, and the father of the faithfull, the children of God; yet held it a great matter that hee should take upon him so much as to speak unto God, being but dust and ashes. Yea, the very Angels themselves (which are greater in power and might) are fame to cover their faces, when they stand before him; as not being able to behold the brightnesse of his glory.

"With what astonishment then may we behold our dust and ashes assumed into the undivided unity of Gods owne Person; and admitted to dwell here, as an inmate, under the same roofe? and yet in the midst of those everlasting burnings, the bush to remaine unconsumed, and to continue fresh and green for evermore. Yea, how should not wee with Abraham rejoyce to see this day, wherein not onely our nature in the person of our Lord Jesus is found to dwell for ever in those everlasting burnings; but, in and by him, our owne persons also are brought so nigh thereunto, that God doth set his Sanctuary and Tabernacle among us, and dwell with us; and (which is much more) maketh us our selves to be the house and the habitation wherein hee is pleased to dwell by his Spirit, according to that of the Apostle: Ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said; I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. and that most admirable prayer, which our Saviour himselfe made unto his Father in our behalfe. I pray not for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word: that they all may be one, as thou. Father art in me, & I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may beleeve that thou hast sent me. I in them, and thou in me, that they may bee made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou host sent me, and host loved them as thou host loved me."

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Importance of An Approved Translation Of The Bible

The following article explains the Importance of An Approved Translation Of The Bible for any Church.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Authority of Synods

The Westminster Confession of Faith 31:3 states that: "All synods or councils, since the Apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both." Although this is largely a refutation of the Romanist claim for the infallibility of councils, which may easily be disproved by reference to history as well as to the Word of God, it has relevance for the authority of synods and supreme courts of a Church. We know of no Protestant who has claimed infallibility for a Church Court, the issue really relates to the authority of the courts. Church courts can claim a ministerial power under Christ and his Word but not an absolute authority.

Private judgement and the decisions of synods

George Gillespie commissioner to the Westminster Assembly spoke of the fallibility of councils/synods in the following way. "We say that congregations ought, indeed, to be subject to presbyteries and synods, yet not absolutely, but in the Lord, and in things lawful; and to this purpose the constitution of presbyteries and synods are to be examined by the judgment of Christian discretion; for a synod is judex judicandus and regula regulata, so that it ought not to be blindly obeyed, whether the ordinance be convenient or inconvenient." An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland in the points of Ruling Elders, and of the Authority of Presbyteries and Synods. (Edinburgh: for James Bryson, 1641). pp. 127-128. See also, Works: A Presbyterian's Armoury, edited by William M Hetherington (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle and Oliver and Boyd, 1844-46), p. 44.

Private judgement and conscience must be informed and ruled by the word of God. Samuel Rutherford also makes this clear in 'A Free Disputation against the Pretended Liberty of Conscience': "The imposing of synods is conditional not absolute as Libertines suppose, for after Synods impose, if believers after trying and due examining, shall find that truly and really the decrees are beside or contrary to the Word of Truth, the imposing neither is a just imposing, nor any imposing at all" (p.41). Thus the right of private judgement, the trying of Synod judgements by individuals is preserved as in WCF 20:2 "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, in matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." The same view can be identified as part of the Disruption Free Church of Scotland position. The Claim, Declaration and Protest of 1842 (a constitutional document for the Free Church of Scotland and Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland) states that church government is "ministerial, not lordly, and to be exercised in consonance with the laws of Christ, and with the liberties of his people." This ties in with the statement in the Free Church Practice (page 82, paragraph 4, 1st edition) "Although the General Assembly is invested with the power of regulating the whole action of the Church in its Synods, Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions, still it is not regarded as having any lordly or absolutely binding authority. It is expected to act ministerially under Christ, and to carry out such rules as appear to harmonise with his own instructions in his Word."

The real authority of synods - binding not advisory

Yet while Synods cannot impose without the authority of the Word they do have real authority and are acting ministerially under Christ and in His name. Unless something is plainly contrary to the Word and its principles or in the case of matters of doctrine and worship beside it is the duty of those who are instructed to obey. But while Synods general and particular may and have erred and are not infallible WCF 31:3 states "It belongeth to synods and councils ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules for the better ordering of the publick worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of mal-administration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his word." In other words, Synods are not infallible but their authority is real and ordained so that unless obedience results in sin, private concerns should give way to public. Rutherford states that Synods must bind us to what is unsound and false or unjust or wicked must be beside or contrary to the word of truth before their judgements can be regarded as ultra vires (p.40). Men must hear the Church Matthew 18:17, 18, 19 20. As Rutherford puts it, "the authority of Synods consisting of six onely, differeth not in nature and essence, from a generall councell of the whole Catholike visible Church" (Due Right of Presbyteries, p.331). "Synods should take care that no man despise their Authority, as Timothie is exhorted by Paul but their Authoritie in matters of faith is conditionall, and so not nul".

"...we hold, when lawful Synods are convened in the name of Christ doe determine according to the word of God they are to be heard as Ambassadours who in Christs stead teach us, and what is once true and ratified in Synods in this manner is ever true and ratified as the reverend professours say and never subject to any further examination, and new discussion, so as it must be changed and retracted as false. For this is to subject the very word of God to retraction and change, because a Synod did declare and truely determine it in a Ministeriall way to be the word of God" (A Free Disputation, p.36).

This is borne out by the Scriptures in relation to the Synod of Jerusalem in Acts 15. They "ordained decrees," "laid a burden" upon the Churches, and enjoined them to observe certain "necessary things," and their decision was cheerfully submitted to by the Churches concerned - Acts 15: 28, 16:4. It was authoritatively decided (not by the apostles alone, but ' by the apostles and elders, with the whole church,' Acts 15:22) -- not for that church (Antioch) only, but for all others. Paul, therefore, in his next missionary journey, as he passed through the cities, ' delivered to them,' it is said, ' the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.' Acts 16:4. Thus the position that synodical authority is merely advisory and consultative not binding is quite false and unscriptural.

The controversy in America in the 18th century which resulted in the schism of 1741 in the Presbyterian Church centred upon this issue. As Charles Hodge put it in the history of the controversy, the issue became "whether a church judicatory had, on any occasion, the right to bind its dissenting members. This paper [from New Brunswick presbytery] seemed to allow, even in cases of appeal, nothing beyond advisory power either to synods or presbyteries. It was therefore regarded as a formal renunciation on the part of its authors, of the fundamental principles of presbyterianism." It is unpresbyterian and unconfessional to limit the power of synods to the extent that they cannot bind dissenting members.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sung Paraphrases

The Free Church of Scotland is currently promoting a revival of the use of paraphrases of various parts of Scripture as sung praise. As a point of historical interest, it appears that those who passed the Free Church 1910 Act in relation to Worship had the intention not to exclude the paraphrases but rather include them. Paraphrases were in use in 1910 and have continued to be. An attempt to make the FCOS position exclusive psalmody in the 1980s failed. The 1910 Free Church Act and the relating ordination vows only speak of 'inspired materials of praise' as well as 'the purity of worship presently authorised and practiced in the Free Church of Scotland'. The paraphrases were approved by General Assembly by an interim Act in 1781, permitting congregations "in the meantime" to use the Scottish Paraphrases "when the minister finds it for edification".

There is only a warrant for singing the psalms in public worship. It undermines the argument for scriptural warrant if we simply say that we sing scripture in order to be safe. The other difficulty is that the 67 paraphrases are of course very loose and half produced by hymn writes such as Doddridge and Watts. There are also 5 hymns approved together with the paraphrases which do not even attempt to be renditions of scripture passages. ttp://

The doxology was given up by the Scottish Church at the time of the Westminster Assembly for the reasons of uniformity and that there was no scripture warrant for singing this even though it was in the words of Scripture. The General Assembly's Act of 1650, which adopts the 1650 psalter excluded the use of other compositions and doxologies.

The following is from The Pattern On The Mount: Being An Essay On Purity Of Worship In Opposition To Recent Innovations by Walter Scott, 1877.

The Paraphrases had thelr origin during the dark days of Moderatism in the Established Church. The first collectlon of Paraphrases was published in 1745. lt was remitted by the General Assembly of the Church to the various presbyteries, after which it came to be used in worship. In 1775, a committee was appointed to
revise that collection, and, after being considerably altered it was again published and transmitted for the consideration of presbyteries on 1st June 1781 with a declaration allowing it "to be used in public worship in congregations where the minister finds it for edification." It was only partially adopted at this time but it
gradually came into general use throughout the church. It has continued in the Free Church and is also used in the United Prcsbyterian Church by permission of the Synod.The objections which militate against hymns apply equally to Paraphrases. In some respects they are more dangerous than hymns. Unlike hymns they profess to be a paraphrase or translation in verse of passages of Scripture, while in many cases, entirely misrepresenting the meaning of the sacred text. But what device has not been tried whereby to get something
of men into the ordinances of God? When the evil one cannot get man to give up the worship of God he does the next best by getting them to corrupt it. What God appoints is an ornament, hath beauty, is for glory, but let man set up ought in the worship of God, it hath no beauty but blackness, no holiness but iniquity and
God must be worshipped in the beauty of holiness. (1.Chron. 16:29) (Greenhlll on Ezekiel).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gunpowder plot and religious politics

RHETORIC OF CONFORMITY, 1603–1625 California: Stanford University Press: Stanford

Ferrell says "Sermons, not masques, were the major organs of political self-expression at the Jacobean court". Revisionist history of the period has tended to emphasise the Calvinist consensus of the English Church that reigned in the late Elizabethan period through to the end of the reign of James I. The Jacobean Church of England has been seen as an epitome of the so-called via media, a central idea in Anglican historiography. It began, however, as a politically convenient ideology.

Royal propaganda claimed that James governed by moderation but Ferrell reveals a fascinating study of government by polemic in these court sermons. James needed to counter Calvinist opposition in Parliament to his pro-Spanish foreign policy and this was reflected in the English Church. A subtle movement began to assert that a broader doctrinal and ceremonial complexion was necessary. Best
known of these court favourites, perhaps is Lancelot Andrewes whose anti-Calvinism and liturgical obsessions were also most pronounced. Loyal obedience to the king and the issue of kneeling to receive communion could be made conveniently interchangeable. A culture of flexibility towards nonconformity
previously had prevailed but there now emerged a policy and rhetorical strategy of isolating "extremism."

James found that this policy could be effective in Scottish as well as the English Church. Both Presbyterians and moderate Puritans could be identified as dangerously seditious. The Accession Day court sermons provided the perfect
opportunity to compare the two Churches and lambaste extremists. James I's realpolitik extended to using the Gunpowder Plot as a means of shielding loyal Roman Catholics while attacking Puritans as almost more dangerous than
"papist" plotters. In summary this is a valuable study showing how anti-Puritanism developed into anti-Calvinism in the period that led up to the Civil War.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Church of God Deserted and Reduced


James Ussher (1580-1655), was one of the greatest scholars and theologians of his time, a strong Calvinist who wrote and strongly influenced the Irish Articles of Religion. Philip Schaff wrote that "He was the greatest theological and antiquarian scholar of the Episcopal Church of his age, and was highly esteemed by Churchmen and Puritans, being a connecting link between the contending parties. He was elected into the Westminster Assembly of Divines, but the King's prohibition and his loyalty to the cause of the crown and episcopacy forbade him to attend". The following is a striking prediction of where the Western Church is and is heading at present.

THE Church of God on earth will be greatly reduced, as we may well imagine, in its apparent members, by the open desertion of the powers of the world. This desertion will begin in a professed indifference to any particular form of Christianity under pretence of universal toleration— which toleration will proceed from no spirit of charity and forbearance, but from a desire to undermine Christianity by encouraging and multiplying sectaries. The pretended toleration will go far beyond a just toleration, even as it regards the different sects of Christians. For Governments will pretend indifference to all and will give a protection and preference to none. All Establishments will be laid aside. From the toleration of the most pestilent heresies, they will proceed to the toleration of Mohammedanism, Atheism, and at last to a positive persecution of the truth of Christianity.

In these times the temple of God will be reduced almost to the holy place, that is to the small number of real Christians who worship the Father in spirit and in truth; and regulate their doctrine and worship and their whole conduct, strictly by the Word of God. The merely nominal Christians will all desert the profession of the truth when the powers of the world desert it.

This tragical event I take to be typified by the order to the Apostle John to measure the temple and the altar, and leave the outer court (National Churches) to be trodden under foot of the Gentiles. The property of ministers will be pillaged, the public worship insulted and vilified by these deserters of the faith they once professed, who are not called apostate because they were never earnest in their profession. Their profession was nothing more than a compliance with fashion. When this general desertion of the faith takes place, then will commence the sackcloth ministry of the witnesses. There will be nothing of splendour in the external appearance of these churches. They will have no support from Government, no honours, no emoluments, no immunities, no authorities, but that which no earthly power can take away, which they derived from Him who commissioned them to be His witnesses.