“The framers of the new confession have tried to move the North Star out of its place.”
Anyone who attempts to liberate us from seventeenth-century thought and to restate Christianity in terms of Jet Age thinking is assuming a task of no mean size. At first thought the reason for such an attempt seems plausible enough. When one reads the homilies of men like Chrysostom, St. Augustine, the Venerable Bede, or Jonathan Edwards, for example, one realizes that their styles of preaching would not gain an enthusiastic following in this reflective age of ours.
Yet while their homiletic methods may be unsuitable for the present day, their message is as relevant today as it was in their day. Chrysostom or St. Augustine in the fourth century, the Venerable Bede in the eighth, Thomas a Kempis in the fifteenth, John Calvin in the sixteenth, or Phillips Brooks in the nineteenth century—to all these men Jesus Christ was the power of God unto salvation, the incarnate Son of God, the crucified and risen Redeemer; and the Scriptures were the only infallible rule of faith and conduct, the authoritative Word of God. To say that the subjective method of presenting the truth of Christianity needs adaptation to later generations is one thing. But to say that therefore the objective realities of Christ and his salvation need similar altering is quite another. To claim that scriptural truth needs revising because philosophy or science has changed is to adjust the North Star to suit the compass.
This is exactly what has happened in the proposed United Presbyterian statement, the “Confession of 1967.” Its avowed purpose is merely to restate Christianity in present-day thought-forms. It does not claim to supplant the Westminster Confession but simply to supplement it. In reality, however, the new confession is a radical departure both from the Westminster Confession and from the Scriptures. And the result is a sad downgrading of the Christian faith. The framers of this confession have tried to move the North Star out of its place.
To begin with, for a great church to produce a new confession for these chaotic times without clear and adequate definitions of such great doctrines of our faith as the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Birth, the blood atonement for sin, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and the coming again of our Lord for his Bride, forces serious questions upon us. If the prevailing atmosphere of the new confession were otherwise strongly scriptural, such omissions could be excused on the ground that doctrinal discussion was not intended. This is not so, however. The confession does discuss doctrine, but the omissions are glaring.
Let us look first at its treatment of soteriology. The new confession speaks freely of “reconciliation in Christ.” Indeed, the entire confession is built upon this theme, to which it refers more than twenty times. But the word “reconciliation” is robbed of its full scriptural and doctrinal meaning.
“Reconcile” is a strong biblical word. It means to restore to favor or friendship those who were at variance, and it is used particularly to describe the atoning work of our Lord upon the cross. But when reconciliation is mentioned in the Scriptures, it has to do with God’s reconciling us to himself and not his being reconciled to us. This distinction is all important. God is the offended party, and we by our sins are the offenders. It is we who need to be reconciled to him, and not he to us.
The price of such reconciliation is crystal clear. Look, for instance, at Romans 5:9, 10. Here the Apostle is telling us that we are justified from the wrath to come by the merits of the shed blood of our Saviour, and that as a result we “were reconciled to God by the death of his son.” Again in Colossians 1:20 the Spirit has revealed to us how Christ, “having made peace through the blood of his cross,” made it possible “to reconcile all things unto himself.” Our reconciliation is purchased for us on the sole merits of the vicarious shedding of the blood of the Son of God.
The reason for this is plain to all those who accept the Scriptures as the infallible revelation of the will of God. In Leviticus 17:11, for example, God tells Moses, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” God was teaching the world that sin was such a heinous thing in his sight that nothing but a blood sacrifice, which represented the very life of the victim, could atone for the sins of the human heart.
The New Testament is equally positive about this point. “Ye were not redeemed,” said the Apostle Peter, “with corruptible things, as silver and gold … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Salvation is through the atoning blood of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22b). This is why our Saviour went to the cross to make reconciliation. He shed his own blood as the vicarious Lamb of God so that those who by faith accept his atoning sacrifice on their behalf could be justified and saved and then sealed by the Spirit “until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:14).
But how much of this vital truth is even faintly intimated in the new confession? There is not a hint about any atoning blood of our Saviour—and this in spite of the fact that there can be no reconciliation without it.
Think, then, of trying to explain salvation to a modern generation, lost if ever a generation was lost, by omitting the one and only fact that makes salvation possible. Think of trying to explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with no reference to the blood of Christ. Our Lord distinctly says of the cup, “This is my blood of the new testament which is shed for many” (Mark 14:24). He wants us to remember, as often as we partake of the sacrament, the price he paid for our redemption: the shedding of his own blood in our stead. Yet the framers of the new confession seem not to have considered this profound fact worthy of mention. A religion that omits the atoning blood of the Son of God may still be a religion, but it is not the Christian religion.
How can the United Presbyterian Church grow in such a spiritual climate? We do not become Christians merely by becoming imitators of Christ. We become Christians when we turn from our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our divine Saviour and Lord. Then by the miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit we are born again to a new life that we did not have in the past. At the same time we are “justified by his blood” and “saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9). We are free as Presbyterians to receive or reject these doctrines as we will. But we are not free to reject them and then to offer what is left to lost souls as the Christian faith.
On all these matters, the Westminster Confession is clear and strong and biblical. The sins of man “cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.” The sacraments point us to the shed blood of our Saviour-baptism teaching us “remission of sins by his blood” and the Lord’s Supper reminding us of how we “feed upon the body and blood of Christ” (Larger Catechism, pp. 152, 165, 170).
In compromising these great truths, the new confession has eliminated, of course, the “offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11) and has made Christianity more palatable to the modern unregenerate mind. But it has done so at the expense of bowing the knee to Baal. Let the prophet Isaiah remind us of a very poignant truth before we leave this thought of reconciliation. If our thinking is contrary to God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures, “when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear” (Isa. 1:15). What counts is “Thus saith the Lord.” Let us not think that with one hand we can tear out the roots of our Christian faith and with the other hand serve up fruits of righteousness pleasing in his sight.
The second declaration I wish to examine, and one that strikes at the very foundation of the Christian faith, is part of the statement on the Word of God: “The words of Scripture 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.”
There are here three areas of thought. First, the Scriptures are said to be the “words of men.” This is only partly true. Second, Peter 1:21 declares expressly that “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of men: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” As if to reassure us that this guarantee was not limited to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the apostle added in Second Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” “All” Scripture is here included. All is equally inspired. Notice that the emphasis here is not merely on inspired men but on inspired words. The Scripture is given by inspiration. This is brought out in the Greek word for inspiration, theopneustos, meaning “God-breathed.” All scripture is breathed of God, its composition having been so closely guarded by the Holy Spirit that the human agents were preserved from error in their sacred task. This is what is meant by inspiration. Revelation has to do with the actual supernatural communication of truth from God to man, while inspiration is that working of the Spirit upon the minds of the biblical writers that guarded them from error in recording the revelation. Inspiration guarantees this revelation to be the infallible Word of God.
There is a striking analogy in another God-breathed product. In the beginning God took a lump of clay, formed it into man, and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). In like manner the Holy Spirit breathed the truth of God into the hearts and minds of men who wrote the Bible, so that it became “the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:23). It is this immortal quality that distinguishes the Bible from every other book. The Word of God is living truth. Like the soul of man it will never die. It is “quick [living], and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). The inbreathing of the Holy Spirit makes it so.
The cross was such an ugly thing!—
A shape to make the heart afraid;
A beam of death for lawless men,
A gibbett for the renegade.
The cross is such a lovely thing!—
The lamp in night where people grope;
The emblem of eternal life;
The symbol of eternal hope;
The subject of a thousand songs;
The sign of truth and liberty.
The cross was such an ugly thing
Until it went to Calvary.
The second part of the new confession’s declaration on the Scriptures is that they were “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.…” This implies that research has shown that parts of the Bible hitherto accepted as inspired and historical are now proved to be myth, legend, allegory, or some primitive belief that was current when the Scriptures were written.
The portion of the Bible that is supposed to be the most vulnerable to the attacks of modern critics is the early part of Genesis, which records for us the story of creation and of the sin of Adam and Eve. These chapters are regarded by some modern critics as “a group of stories which convey the ideas of the Hebrew people concerning the creation of the world, the beginning of human life, the conditions of primitive humanity.”
As a fair sample of what these critics consider to be little more than legend or myth, let us take these first three chapters of Genesis, especially chapter 3, which concerns the origin of sin. Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that these stories are nothing more than ancient folklore, and let us see where such conclusions lead us.
First of all, if the story of Adam and Eve is not real history, then we are without any knowledge of how sin entered the world. The Bible condemns sin and tells us that the reason God’s only begotten Son came into the world was to redeem us from sin that we might be cleansed from its defilement, be freed from its dominion, and escape God’s wrath. But if this story is not true, then the origin of sin must ever remain in obscurity.
If this story is not real history, then “all Scripture” is not given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This Genesis account is portrayed as actual history. Persons are named, their conversation is recorded, and their deeds are noted. If it did not happen that way, then here there is plain deception.
If this account is not true, furthermore, then the Apostle Paul was in error. Time and again he refers to this story as if it were real history (see, for example, Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:15–22; 1 Tim. 2:13, 14). If Paul is in error about the person of Adam and Eve, it takes neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet to see that Paul could just as readily be wrong about the person of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, if this story is not actual history, then our Lord himself must have been mistaken. In Matthew 19 and in Mark 10:6 he definitely refers to the Edenic narrative as historical fact. If our Lord was wrong about that, then it is painfully evident that he was not omniscient; and if he was not omniscient, he was not what he claimed to be, the divine Son of God.
Finally, if this story is not true history, then the whole foundation of our faith is upset. There were two Adams, each of them the federal head of a new order of beings (1 Cor. 15:45). The first Adam was the Adam of our story; the second and last Adam was our Lord Jesus Christ. In Romans 5 we have a clear statement of the significance of each Adam. The first Adam brought sin and death into the world (Rom. 5:12), and the second Adam brought salvation and eternal life (Rom. 5:15). Even as condemnation passed to all men by the transgression of this first Adam, so does justification unto life pass to men by the righteousness of the second Adam (v. 18). Just as the first Adam’s disobedience made us sinful, so the obedience of the second Adam makes us righteous (v. 19). This is a remarkably clear statement of an important foundation stone of our Christian faith. But if the first Adam is only a myth, then this divine analogy breaks down and we are in darkness about our real position in grace.
I have gone into this in detail to show what happens when we begin to tamper with the plain declarations of Scripture. The revelation of God is not so mixed up with confusing myths and legends that one must be trained in Hebrew or in literary or archaeological studies in order to decipher the truth. Here is a story a child can read and understand when we take it for just what it is—a real, historical narrative about real people who walked and talked as we do today. Many of our doubts and fears would disappear if we would only follow them through to their logical conclusions. They shatter themselves to pieces by destroying, as in this instance, too much.
I have just a word about the third objectionable feature in the new confession’s assertion about the Scriptures. It is that “the understanding of them requires literary and historical scholarship.” This contradicts the declaration of our Westminster Confession (chapter 1, section VII) that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a clue use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”
This is as it should be. Over and again the Bible condemns sin and exhorts us to seek salvation from it. The reason why the eternal and only begotten Son of God came into the world was to “save his people from their sins.” Important as is reverent, evangelical scholarship to the proper understanding of the Scriptures, we must remember that God did not leave his revelation of the way of salvation so obscure and confused that understanding of it would require literary scholarship. He would have been remiss had he done this.
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst (John 19:28).
He made the oceans. He created all waters everywhere—the broad rivers in valleys and the little streams cascading in mountains. As the great chemist of the universe, he originated the pure and perfect taste of water. Yet now he was denied a single drop of it. He made the early and the latter rains. He created the riches of the hail and the inexhaustible glories of the snow. He set the rainbow in the heavens. He originated white clouds and the blue sky. He filled earth and heavens with life-giving moisture. Yet now he must beg his enemies for a few drops of water.
He had been forsaken from above; now he was forsaken from below. He hung between heaven and earth and, for these hours, belonged neither to heaven nor to earth. Nature itself, like his other enemies, taunted him and revealed his human frailties. He came unto his own, but now not even his own things received him. The living water was at the threshold of death. He was about to be immersed in the stagnation of our sins, where he would drink from all the cesspools of man’s evil—from Adam onwards to the children of children’s children. The corruption he was now drinking would be sufficient to change into spotless purity even the vile water of Pilate’s hands.
Ever since Adam, the soul of man had felt an inconsolable secret thirst, a thirst as deep as life itself. It had longed, without knowing why, for the well of living water. Deep inside, it had really never longed for anything else. It had panted after the deep-flowing water-brooks that alone could wipe out the soul’s craving. Now our Lord was suffering the thirst that could assuage the thirst of the whole world—not simply assuage it but transform it into a great river of water flowing abundantly from time into eternity. He had caused the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust, and now his fevered throat and swollen tongue would become the source of streams in the parched and hopeless desert of the world. He was thirsty that the world might never thirst.
He died not one death but thousands—a death for every man coming into the world. Henceforth he could forever stand in the midst of all humanity and cry out, as he had cried out in that last great day of the feast of the Passover, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”—DR. CLYDE S. KILBY, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
Do Presbyterians need a new confession? No, we do not. Our Westminster Standards were formulated in an era of intellectual greatness, the era of the incomparable Shakespeare and the epoch-making Francis Bacon, of men of unsurpassed scholarship and piety like Dr. Twisse, moderator of the Westminster Assembly, and others who produced the King James Version of the Bible. The most profound minds of the last three centuries have paid tribute to the work accomplished by these men of learning and eloquence at Westminster. For its comprehensive grasp of scriptural truth, for its clarity and conciseness, for its eloquence of expression, the Westminster Confession stands greatest among the confessional statements of all time. It will answer our need today if we care enough about our faith to study to show ourselves approved unto God.
No, we do not need a new confession. And yet we do. As a church we need to confess our sins of lukewarmness, of disobedience, of spiritual indifference, of compromising the Word of God to conform to the mind of man. We have been turning our hearts away from the main mission of the Church toward the social gospel of rejuvenating a pagan society that persists in rejecting Christ. The mission of the Church is to save souls and to build them up in Christ. It will not do this by involving itself in politics, or by furthering ecumenical organizations to present a façade of unity while temporizing on the essentials of true Christian faith.
In these chaotic days we need more than ever to stand fast in the faith once delivered to the saints. Let us watch and be sober. Let us pray much. Let us preach the Gospel in all its purity and power without compromising the great doctrines of the person of Jesus Christ, his deity, his virgin birth, his blood atonement for sin, his bodily resurrection, his coming again. Let us get back to our churches and reverence God’s Holy Day.
Let us do more than that. Let us get back to the family altar where father and mother and children kneel reverently before God Almighty to render unto him their daily worship. Let us teach our children the Scriptures and the Catechism, and let us teach them also the authority and discipline of Christian home life. The spirit of premature freedom among our youth breeds revolt against all authority, both civil and moral.
The United Presbyterian Church has had an honorable history, and today we have a noble heritage to maintain. Let us not sell it for a mess of pottage.
My First Funeral
At the conclusion of a Sunday morning worship service about two months after I had preached my first sermon, a member approached me and said, “Pastor, I want you to funeralize my husband.” Now, I had never heard that word before and thought that she was confused. Perhaps her husband was afflicted with a contagious disease and she had meant to say “fumigate.” So I asked: “What’s the matter with him?” She seemed surprised and replied: “He’s dead!” Then, thinking that perhaps he had just been killed in an accident or had died away from home and that she wanted me to help arrange for his funeral, I asked, “Where is he?” She said: “In the cemetery. He died six months ago, and we buried him in the graveyard of our old home church in the country. It is thirty miles away, and you will have to hire a horse and buggy; but I will pay your expenses. I want you to funeralize him.” Then I concluded that she meant “eulogize,” and replied: “I am sorry; but I have to return to the seminary every Monday morning until vacation, and so I cannot fumigate … eulogize … I mean “funeralize” him until this summer.” “All right,” she said. (I later learned that “funeralize” is a colloquialism.)
Soon after I arrived for the summer months, we agreed on the date for the service. I hired a horse and buggy for ten dollars and drove out to the country church. As I drove into the churchyard, I saw large baskets of food on long tables which suggested that there was to be a kind of noonday wake or funeral feast. It was all very strange to me. This being my first funeral I was quite nervous and at a loss to know how to proceed. Nonetheless, I announced that we were assembled in memory of Mr.——and assured his devoted widow and other loved ones of our sympathy and prayers. I asked the choir to sing an appropriate hymn. Then I read a few passages of Scripture, spoke briefly, and tried to offer an appropriate prayer. That was all.
I had never “funeralized” or eulogized anybody before, and perhaps my efforts did not please the attractive young widow in deep mourning, sitting near the front of the church with a handsome young man at her side. Neither one seemed particularly interested in my words or showed any emotion. I waited at the side of the pulpit after the service, thinking that she would speak to me and also pay me the ten-dollar horse-and-buggy fee, but she and the young man went out of the church with the others.
Finally, I went out into the yard and visited at several of the tables around which people were eating. When I asked someone to help me locate the widow in the crowd, I was informed that immediately after the service she and the young man had driven off to the courthouse to secure a marriage license! I have never seen that woman since that day. I think that in my forthcoming book on “Ministerial Manners,” I will relate this incident to warn young preachers against “funeralizing” on credit the late husband of any attractive young widow.—THE REV. THOMAS V. MCCAUL, SR., pastor emeritus, First Baptist Church, Gainesville, Florida.
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