The one position of the Westminster Confession of Faith which the new Confession of 1967 avowedly and admittedly changes is that on the Bible. In the “Introductory Comment and Analysis” the committee says: “This section is an intended revision of the Westminster doctrine, which rested primarily on a view of inspiration and equated the Biblical canon directly with the Word of God. By contrast, the pre-eminent and primary meaning of the word of God in the Confession of 1967 is the Word of God incarnate. The function of the Bible is to be the instrument of the revelation of the Word in the living church. It is not a witness among others but the witness without parallel, the norm of all other witness. At the same time questions of antiquated cosmology, diverse cultural influences, and the like, may be dealt with by careful scholarship uninhibited by the doctrine of inerrancy which placed the older Reformed theology at odds with advances in historical and scientific studies” (p. 29; all quotations are from the official “Blue Book” of the General Assembly, May, 1965).

This is flatly contrary to the promise of the “Blue Book”: “The proposal for amending the Confession does not entail revision or deletion (except for the deletion of the Westminster Larger Catechism) …” (p. 1). Here is an admitted revision following on the heels of a denial of such a purpose. But still it is to be admired for its candor. We suppose that it was an unintentional oversight that the committee did not mention this one acknowledged revision as it did the one acknowledged deletion. What is far more serious is that the whole mentality of the new Confession is different from that of the old one. Its intention is probably not revision but rejection. But candor has not reached the point of admitting that. The lack of frankness at this point is an advantage as well as disadvantage, however. It results in an ambiguity which, while it covers the probable intention of the committee, also permits adherents of the Westminster Confession of Faith to remain in the church in good conscience. They will be offended by this absence of the very clarity for which the Westminster Confession of Faith has always been justly famous. But whatever heresies may lurk in the shadows of vague language, all of them have not yet dared to come to the light. Through the obfuscations of the new creed the light of truth from the old ones will continue to shine to the glory of God and the comfort of those who still believe what they vowed at their ordination.

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Let us first examine the preliminary statement (p. 29) before proceeding to the creedal section on the Bible: “… Westminster doctrine which rested primarily on a view of inspiration and equated the Biblical canon directly with the Word of God.…”

We have no serious quarrel with this statement but will elaborate a little so as to prevent misunderstanding especially by the layman. First, Westminster is not unique in resting its doctrines on a view of Inspiration. Virtually all Christian creeds have done this either expressly or impliedly. (It is one of the notable weaknesses of the new creed that it does not do so.) When we say impliedly, we mean that Inspiration is assumed even when there is no special article on the Bible. Inspiration is a catholic or universal or ecumenical, if you please, and not an exclusively Presbyterian, doctrine. In other words, in its eagerness to be modern the new creed would antiquate the Presbyterian Church by reverting to the time before creeds began. As soon as the church did begin to speak about the Bible it testified to its Inspiration. Never before has a church spoken of the Bible without bearing witness to its Inspiration. So powerful is the pull of the past even on this creed that it cannot get entirely free of this tradition as we shall see when we come to consider its testimony that the Bible is the “normative witness.” Even that word “normative” did not satisfy the Commissioners to the General Assembly of 1965.

Second, while Westminster “equated the Biblical canon directly with the Word of God” this does not imply that it admitted no differences within the Word of God. Obviously, when the Word of God says “And Satan said” that does not mean that God said what Satan said! It means that God said that Satan said it. This is quite another thing. To use a distinction that was acknowledged by the Westminster divines, as well as all other Reformed theologians: the authority of the Bible is complete but it is of two kinds. The Bible has descriptive and normative authority (authentia historica and authentia normalis). Descriptive authority means that everything which the Bible says happened, was spoken, or was thought, did happen, or was spoken, or was thought. It is authentic history however bad the event may have been which the history records. All of the Word of God, according to Westminster, has this descriptive authority or authenticity. Within this Word of God as authentic record is the Word of God as normative or authoritative for faith and practice. When God said, as noted above, that Satan said, we know that Satan so said; but we are not to believe and practice as Satan says. But when the Word of God says that God said, then we know both that God so said and that we are so to believe and so to practice.

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We must add, also, that although Westminster equated the Biblical canon directly with the Word of God, as thus explained, this does not deny progress within the normative revelation of God any more than affirming that God is the author of the whole creation is meant to deny that there is a difference between the egg and the chicken which comes from it.

One further and rather technical detail perhaps ought to be added. Westminster did not exactly “equate” the Word of God with the “canon.” It identified the Word of God with the original text of the canonical books. Furthermore, the Word of God is not quite identified with the canon because the canon is the judgment of men about the Word of God and not the Word of God itself. As B. B. Warfield, of old Princeton, who as much as any man since the Westminster standards were formulated shared their mentality, has written: the canon is not an inspired collection of books but a collection of inspired books.

“By contrast, the pre-eminent and primary meaning of the Word of God in the Confession of 1967 is the Word of God incarnate.” … What does this mean? Some will say: The statement simply means that the words of the Biblical writers point to Jesus Christ. What words? Some point away from Christ as truly as others point to him. Reformed theology has shown how to distinguish them, as we indicated above; but in the new creed no such formula is given. We have only the blanket statement: “the pre-eminent and primary meaning of the word of God … is the Word of God incarnate.”

But if we should grant that the words of men in the Bible do in fact point to Christ (directly and indirectly, by inference and affirmation, by what is not, as cue to what is) then what is the difference between this and what the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches? Or, do our new creed writers wish to add slander to neglect when they write: “By contrast” (to the Westminster Confession of Faith!) “the pre-eminent and primary meaning of the word of God in the Confession of 1967 is the Word of God incarnate”? Do they suppose for one moment that our fathers in the faith thought that the Bible as the Word of God had any other pre-eminent and primary meaning than Jesus Christ? “Ye search the Scriptures for they bear witness of me” (John 5:39). 1647 believed this as much as 1967 and in a far more intelligible manner. What it amounts to is this: the new creed is saying nothing or something; if something, it is a slander of our fathers; if nothing, it is an insult to us.

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“The function of the Bible is to be the instrument of the revelation of the Word in the living church.” Let us compare this with the classic statement of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, Sec. 10: “The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” In the Westminster doctrine the Bible is indeed the instrument of the revelation of the Word (Christ) in the living church. But it is a doctrine of the Bible as instrument which we can understand. The Bible was inspired by God and as such has perpetual authority. The Holy Spirit of Christ still works by means of it as the permanent expression of his will by which the church is to be led. Here is a characteristic reaffirmation of the famous Calvinistic principle: the Word and the Spirit; the Word reveals the Spirit and the Spirit illumines the Word. The Word will not be properly received apart from the Spirit and the Spirit does not speak apart from the Word. If our new creedalists meant this we should rejoice; but, alas, nothing is further from their doctrines. We must not forget that they have explicitly rejected the Westminster view of Scripture. What, then, do they mean? This they attempt to explain, first affirmatively, and second negatively, in the two sentences which immediately follow, to which we now turn.

“It is not a witness among others but the witness without parallel, the norm of all other witness.” “It” clearly refers to the Bible, which is the subject of the preceding sentence. Thus the new creedalists are saying here that the Bible is the witness which is the norm of all other witness. Now, a “norm” is a standard by which other of like character are tested. Accordingly, the Bible is the standard or test by which all other witnesses, including, for example, this new creed, are tested for their truthfulness. The Bible, mind you, is the norm of all witness to Christ. The Westminster divines could not express it better. In fact, this is what the Westminster Confession of Faith is expressing. Why then do the new creedalists take exception to Westminster while expressing the same doctrine? The fact seems to be that they are not using the normal meaning of “norm.” Here is an abnormal “norm”; a standard which is not a standard. It is rather embarrassing to say that men are not using language normally and are not saying what they took seven years to formulate. That such is the sorry case is, however, as clear as it is surprising. First, they said, as noted, that their doctrine is other than Westminster. Second, they expressly repudiated the historic doctrine of “inspiration.” Third, they call the Bible “the word of God” in sharp contrast to the “Word of God.” If the Bible is not inspired and is merely the word of men then either men are perfect or a norm of the Word of God is not a norm. The imperfection of men is taught not only in the other creeds left standing in the new program but taught in the “new creed” also (Part I, Sec. I b). So we regrettably say that the new creed is one in which a “norm” is not a “norm” or error is the norm of Truth (the Word of God).

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Fourth, the next, the negative, proposition to which we now come explicitly rejects the Bible as “normative” (in any sense).

“At the same time questions of antiquated cosmology, diverse cultural influences, and the like, may be dealt with by careful scholarship uninhibited by the doctrine of inerrancy which placed the older Reformed theology at odds with advances in historical and scientific studies.”

We are certain that every member of the committee which drew up the new creed would agree that the above statement means the following: the new creed, rejecting the doctrine of Inerrancy, leaves its adherents freer to accept historical and scientific studies which contradict the historical and scientific statements of the Bible. This is not, in fact, what this inaccurate, pejorative, disrespectful-to-the-fathers-statement actually says; but since it is undoubtedly what it intended to say, let us address ourselves to the intention and ignore the unhappy form of expression. The upshot of the matter is this: We are being told that the scientifically and historically errant word of God is nonetheless the norm of all witness to the Word of God! The committee shows wisdom in not seeking to illustrate this.

We turn now to the main treatment of the Bible in the creed itself, Part I, Section III b. “The Bible.”

“The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness in many ways. The church has received the Old and New Testaments as the normative witness to this revelation and has recognized them as Holy Scriptures.”

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We grant that “the one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ” but why do they not grant that the one sufficient revelation of Jesus Christ is the Bible? Christ did: “… they” (the Scriptures) “bear witness of me” (John 5:39). Paul did: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15; cf. Luke 19:10; Rom. 5–8). What God has joined together (the Word of God incarnate and the Word of God inscripturated), why does the committee attempt to rend asunder?

“… to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness in many ways”: Whatever the word “norm” may mean when applied to the Bible it is here clear that the Bible is not unique. It is not the only revelation of its kind as the church from the beginning (the whole church from the very beginning) has confessed. According to the new confession it is only one among many ways in which the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ. To be sure it is the “norm” for others which, however, can only differ from it in degree, not kind. It is becoming clear that the Bible is thought of merely as the first and the best of all these witnesses.

But assuming this inadequate view for the sake of argument, how do we know that the Bible is the norm of the rest of the witnesses? Answer: “The church has received” it as such. The Bible claims its own Inspiration some three thousand times but this does not prove it. But the church recognizes the Bible as normative; this does prove it. Rome must be amused to hear such sentiments coming from the children of Calvin. They may well anticipate that it should not be long before these seers find the Holy Spirit bearing witness to the Word of God in the papacy as Romanists have themselves contended for centuries.

“The New Testament is the recorded testimony of apostles to the coming of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the church. The Old Testament is received in the church as Holy Scripture which bears witness to God’s faithfulness to Israel and points the way for fulfillment of Iris purpose in the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. The Old Testament is indispensable to understanding the New, and is not itself fully understood without the New.”

That the New Testament is the recorded testimony of apostles to Jesus Christ is, of course, true. It is also much more than that—it is the recorded testimony of God to the apostles. The most vital thing for us is not that the apostles testify to God but that God testifies to or confirms the apostles. There is a vast difference between an infallible witness to an infallible Christ and a fallible witness to an infallible Christ. If it is a fallible witness it may (fortunately) be generally reliable as historical testimony to the major matters, but not absolutely reliable on all matters.

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Here, again, in this paragraph we have the church’s receiving of the Old Testament and the New Testament as the crucial evidence for its authority—an utterly Romish view, as already shown. Here, again, also is the selective, discriminating acceptance of the witness of the Bible. It would seem that the committee is normative for the Bible rather than the Bible, as such, for the committee. That is, the Scripture is received as witness to God’s faithfulness to Israel. But the Scripture also bears witness to God’s rejection of Israel. That witness, nevertheless, seems not to be accepted by the committee, as the Bible teaches it. Hosea, for example, is a favorite Old Testament prophet because of his representation of the longsuffering Yahweh. But what becomes of Hosea when he says: “… I will no more have pity on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all” (1:6)? Paul is supposedly writing Scripture which the church can accept when he says (2 Cor. 5:19): “… God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.…” But the same apostle must be uncanonical when he declares (Rom. 11:22): “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.”

As soon as we express gratitude for the enunciation of a sound principle, such as the interdependence of the two Testaments, we must immediately remind ourselves that we are reading something into this document which it does not intend. It does not mean that the New Testament is latent in the Old Testament and the Old Testament patent in the New Testament as this phraseology would normally signify. So to construe it would be to wrench this text of the new creed out of its context. It may be charitable to do so but it would not be true. But if it is not true neither is it charitable, for charity rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6, AV). And the truth, according to this context, must mean not that the New Testament is latent in the Old Testament but that some of the New Testament is latent in some of the Old Testament. Nor is the Old Testament patent in the New Testament but some of the Old Testament is patent in some of the New Testament. And that “some” in each case is that which the church of the new creedalists deigns to receive.

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“God’s word is spoken to his church today where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth and direction.”

Surely this is the form of sound words but its meaning is loaded and all in the wrong direction. Faithfully to read and preach the Bible, according to this committee, is to distinguish between the errant husk and cleave to the inerrant but also indefinable Truth. If this seems to be an impossible task an adequate help is suggested in the Holy Spirit’s guidance. But alas, the Holy Spirit cannot help us either, for we do not know how to recognize his guidance until the committee tells us. If the Holy Spirit guided us into the understanding of inspired Scripture as the Westminster Confession of Faith taught us—this we could understand. Or, if the Spirit led us into an understanding of some definite part of Scripture—this we could understand. But it is only when the Spirit guides us into an understanding in accordance with this or some committee’s understanding that we can rely upon him. Having dispensed with the Inspiration of the Bible we must now look to the inspiration of a committee. We are sure that this committee does not think that it is the only inspired committee. There must be other committees also, alas. If anything is likely to awaken the church to its real danger it will be the realization that once we have done away with Holy Scripture-Holy Spirit, in the vacuum thereby created we must have an infinite series of holy committees!

“The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The words of the Scriptures are the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current, and the understanding of them requires literary and historical scholarship. The variety of such views found in the Bible shows that God has communicated with men in diverse cultural conditions. This gives the church confidence that he will continue to speak to men in a changing world and in every form of human culture.”

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The reader will recognize that this has been said before and criticized before. There appears to be no need for repetition. If our earlier words were true then the new creed’s climax is untrue. The important thing for the reader of this and all doctrines, for that matter, is to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24). There is an unrighteous judgment of principles as well as a righteous one, and it may be favorable as well as unfavorable. Some seem to think that we do an injustice to a statement only when we draw unfair, incriminating deductions from it. But we also do an injustice when we draw unfair, exonerating deductions from it. To make a righteous judgment, as commanded by our Lord, is to avoid all unfair judgments whether favorable or unfavorable. Because this is the proposed creed of earnest, serious-minded, hard-working Christian persons we are more likely to be unrighteous in our judgments by being too lenient than by being too strict. But we must avoid both if we would render righteous judgments. We must attempt, as we have here attempted (God being our witness), with malice toward none, free of any desire to find anyone at fault for a word, to ascertain what is meant by the proposed “Confession of 1967.” With one member of the present committee we are personally and fairly intimately acquainted, and we bear him witness that he appears to be one of the most sincere Christians we have ever had the privilege of knowing. It may be that every other committee member is of such calibre. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the possible soundness of the persons who composed it, this creed is anything but sound. We appeal to them no less than all others when we urge them in the name of the Christ whom we all profess to love to rescind this confession before it becomes an indelible blemish on the escutcheon of the church.

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