Monday, April 28, 2008

A Box of Old Books

After my parents went to be with the Lord, Dad in 1997 and Mom in 1999...I inherited mostly books, old books. My folks never owned a house and most of their worldly possessions could’ve been put in a very small U-Haul. Dad loved, besides his wife of nearly 60 years, cars and books. I’m not quite sure if the love of automobiles is a "preacher" thing or not. I have three preacher brothers-in-law and they all seem to have an obsession for various and sundry vehicles. But..that’s another blog!

Back to the books. I was rummaging through some of Dad’s old books recently and came across "The Confessional Statement and Book of Government and Worship of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, copyright 1926 (pictured above). This is the Church into which he was ordained that later merged with what ultimately became the Presbyterian Church (USA). Now, the bindings have come loose and the pages are tattered and faded and, of course, not worth any money, but the thing that makes it such a treasure is the personal notes, underlinings, check marks, stars and other marking from a serious student of the ministry.

As I was thumbing through, I came to Chapter IX under Government and Worship entitled "Of the Ordination and Installation of Ministers". After reading the nine questions that are asked of the candidate for ordination, I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to compare the questions with the same questions that are asked of candidates today, 2008. For space reasons, I’m limiting my comparison to what I consider to be the two most important questions. In an attempt to find out where Dad’s Church is today, I am including in the comparison the questions from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), The Presbyterian Church (USA) and of course the United Presbyterian Church of North America, the original Church.

EPC Ordination Questions:1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, totally trustworthy, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, the supreme, final, and only infallible rule of faith and practice?
2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?

PCA Ordination Questions:1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of the Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

The United Presbyterian Church of North America Ordination Questions (1926):
1. Do you believe in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of the living God, the infallible and only rule of faith and practice?
2. Do you believe and acknowledge the doctrine professed by the UP Church contained in the Confession of Faith, the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms, and the Confessional Statement, as agreeable to, and founded on, the Word of God, and do you engage to adhere to and maintain them against all opposing errors?

The Presbyterian (USA) Church Ordination Questions:1. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal and God’s Word to you?
2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions as authentic and reliable expositions of what scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

Several phrases in the PCUSA sample seem to stand out amongst all the others as major changes. They are: "Do you accept the scriptures.."; "..God’s Word to you?" and "..receive and adopt the essential tenets". It is ironic, at least to me, that about the same time that Dad’s old book mentioned above was being printed (1926), the Church that would eventually merge with his was in the process of questioning the fundamentals of the faith or "the essential tenets" via The Auburn Affirmation. In brief, the Auburn Affirmation argued against any codification of beliefs as fundamental or essential. What were these radical essentials? They were: 1.)the inspiration of the Bible by the Holy Spirit and the inerrancy of Scripture as a result of this inspiration; 2.)the virgin birth of Christ; 3.)the belief that Christs death was atonement for sin; 4.)the bodily resurrection of Christ; 5.)the historical reality of Christ’s miracles. The Auburn Affirmation states bluntly "......we are opposed to any attempt to elevate these five doctrinal statements, or any of them, to the position of tests for ordination or for good standing in our church."

In the recent book "Broken Covenant, Signs of a Shattered Communion", author Parker T Williamson writes, "The 1926 General Assemby was a watershed moment in the life of the Presbyterian Church. From this moment on, presbyteries ordained persons who said they affirmed "the essential tenets" of the Christian faith, but would not specify what those essentials are. Soon it became clear that what one presbytery deemed "essential" might be regarded as "discretionary" by another. Having steadfastly refused to be tied to any particulars since 1926, presbyteries have ordained and installed denominational leaders who exhibit a wide variety of beliefs and practices."

So...where is Dad’s Church? Not that it was, in any way, the "most pure" Church. I’m not sure where it is or whether we can judge based upon only two ordination questions. Yet I wonder why the change from "Do you believe.. to "Do you accept"..? what are the ramifications of this change? Why the addition of the last two words in "God’s you". Could these two words have just as easily been left off? Why add them? Does the Church really hold to any historical essentials of the faith? Seems like my little exercise in comparisons have asked more questions than have been answered.

For me, as a layman, it looks like its back to the treasures in the "box of old books", in search of more answers and fewer questions!


Dan said...

My professors (PCA) delineated the varying answers to the questions by noting the different actions asked in each.

#1--do you believe---the highest and most rigorous affirmation. This one regards the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible. And not in any neo-orthodox language (the Bible as the Word of God "to you" stuff).

#2--do recieve and adopt--the language is not as high as believe, which is fitting. The Confessions and Catechisms were derived from what the Bible teaches. Being derived, they are not given as high a position as the Bible itself.

I do find the ordination questions and the changes illuminating. And very expressive of the differences within the varying churches.


Dave Van said...

Thanks for the PCA insights and the clarification of " believe, receive and adopt"...makes perfect sense. The "neo-orthodox" God's Word "to you" stuff I find came about after the adoption of the 1967 Confessions.

Dan said...

I first encountered a popular version of neoorthodoxy through a PCUSA guy in 1970-72 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

He was so personable and dynamiic that anything he said must be true. At the same time the ministry I worked with brought in another perspective--for balance: a Bible-believing, evangelistic pastor.

The man answered all our questions--from the Bible. And I was in a dilemma. UNTIL another friend asked me, "Well, Dan, do you think it's true?"

Truth hadn't been a category for the neo-orthodox fellow, it was merely an adjective to make other things sound better.

The Bible-believing pastor led a church that won thousands to Jesus. The PCUSA church remains a nice, large, socially important institution.


Dave Van said...

Dan: You’ve illustrated beautifully what Parker Williamson writes in Broken Covenant, contrasting Progressive Theology with Evangelical Theology, quoting Dr. Philip Turner (ECUSA): “How does one assess the ‘working theology’ of a church? becoming a participant observer and giving a crtical account of what one sees and hears”