Monday, August 3, 2009

Westminster Confession (Attempt Two) - Chapter One

*Note if you want to avoid the same sort of generic neo-Catholic criticism of Westminster which will be included here, and just see what I liked, just skip to the bottom to read the stuff under the heading "What I Enjoyed"*

I attempted to get through the Westminster Confession of Faith, long ago, but gave up after I completely disagreed with the first chapter, I'm going to try again and to get through it. I'm doing this for 3 reasons:

1. To understand the traditional Reformed doctrines
2. To possibly find some articles we are unified on (Roman Catholics and Reformed Protestants)
3. To get all the Reformed people who read my blog to leave comments and give them some (false?) hope that I might eventually depart from my apostate Romanism.

here we go:

Chapter 1: a strange place to start

Articles I-III.

so it starts a bit with Natural Theology but declares that all Natural Theology can do is convict of sin and not save. It then says that God wished to declare his will unto the Church and that eventually he decided "to commit the same (his will) wholly unto writing". They use a strange prooftext from proverbs for this, and lump it together with protecting the Church from Satan, and thus get to use all the Matthew 4 Jesus against Satan "it is written" dialogues.

Articles II and III list the canonical books as inspired and the deuterocanonical books as uninspired, but list it arbitrarily and with no reason at all. The problem is, that every sola scriptura prooftext keeps point to the Old Testament, and if we were biblical literalists I suppose we would have to only have the Old Testament and not the new one. But even the Saduccees show that the 'amount' of inspiration is never agreed upon in Judaism, and thus they only believed the Law and denied the resurrection of the body which only appeared in later Old Testament Scripture.

I suppose if a Jew read Westminster he'd be equally confused that a Presbyterian was using it for proof, when the verses they cited showed that God had fully revealed his Word in the Law, and in the prophets.

But the Canon issue is the prize-winning horse of Roman Catholicism, whereas it is the bleeding sore of Protestantism.

Articles IV-V:

Articles IV and V say that it is to be believed because it is the Word of God and not based on human authority. But what would they base this on other than the "feeling" of divine inspiration while reading it. But again who feels inspired when reading Chronicles, surely Tobit is more inspiring. And what about other 'holy books' like the Qu'ran and the book of Mormon, many feel they are inspired as well. At the end of the day we're all left sitting with different books and no agreement. I guess God's "immutable will" as Westminster constantly repeats, didn't think of that. It also calls the feeling of the Holy Spirit infallible proof, but this doesn't account for the diverse claims of disagreeing Christians and non-Christians (Mormons, etc) who believe that the Spirit is testifying to them, and who seem to lead regenerate lives.

Articles VI-VII

Article VI says that nothing can be added to scripture by the traditions of men, etc. But what about Calvinism ? or Covenant Systematic Theology? or Infant Baptism based on Covenant Theology and Church Tradition? So the prooftexts are the usual suspects (2 Tim 3:15-16) which again supports a view of the sufficiency of the Old Testament (the New Testament wasn't even all written at the time, so it would be "adding" to the canon to include the later epistles of John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation) and Gal 1:8-9 which is a much better prooftext, and then 2 Thes 2:2, the problem being that in the same chapter St. Paul says "stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter." (2 Thes 2:15) so it completely repudiates their ban on traditions of men.

Finally in Article VII we see a beam of light. "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all" very true the Ethiopian eunuch even though he had Isaiah, couldn't understand it without Philip. Then is says: "yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are... clearly propounded". If they mean here what I think they do, then this is a problem. If they're speaking of salvation by faith alone as being obvious to anyone, I would say this is a problem from Church history as they should have looked around them to see that there were Anglicans, Presbyterians, Anabaptists, and Quakers all reading the bible and disagreeing. The 3 "different" views of salvation could be summed up as Calvinism, Arminianism (sometimes Pelagianism in the Anglican Church), and Universalism. All with their own proof-texts. But yes, I will give it to them, all agreed on salvation by faith alone, and even Catholicism eventually 'realized' that it was in the deposit of faith as well lol (see Joint Declaration on Justification) so that at the end of the day we all agreed that initial justification was based on faith alone and God's reckoning it as righteousness. But of course, the Catholics and Arminians believed it could be lost, and the Calvinists and Universalists/Quakers disagreed. And the Calvinists thought that the faith meritted Christ's imputed righteousness which was actually what made the person righteous, whereas the Catholics and Arminians believed it was the faith itself which was seen as righteousness.

All this again to say, it doesn't seem clear at all how salvation specifically is obtained, but we all agree it has something to do with God and faith and Jesus. I personally think they should've started with Election/Predestination and argued fom Augustine and scripture, but that's just me.

Articles VIII-X

Describing the fact that the scriptures are written in Greek and Hebrew (they forgot to list Aramaic but whatever), they say that all people "have right unto...the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come". This is a valid point of Westminster. ...Except the Douay-Rhiems was started by Roman Catholics before the King James... so this really isn't a victory for Protestantism, except that they used better sources than us / anything but the Vulgate.

Article IX compounds the problem of perspicuity by saying that scripture interprets scripture, for if we can't understand one, how to we know with certainty we can interpret another?

On Article X it repeats this idea that the Holy Spirit teaches men through scripture. And remember only through Canonical scripture. But again, no mention of how the New Testament was arrived at.

The Work of the Spirit

If God had meant to actually preserve his perfect will in the books listed as scripture in the WCF, what would he have to have done?

2 events would have been key.

The first would've been the Holy Spirit's inspiration of the Old Testament Canon decided in the Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90) which was held by Jews after Pentecost and which condemned the Christian gospels. So we would have to believe that God partially infallibly inspired a non-Christian council to set up his Old Testament Canon.

Second, we'd have to believe that the Christian New Testament Canon was established by the Holy Spirit in St. Athanasius' festal letter (A.D. 367) which lists the New Testament Canon but gets the Old Testament canon "wrong" (according to WCF) by not including Esther and by including an apocryphal book.

So those would have to be the 2 definative moments of history where God revealed his will to the Church, both being partially wrong, and one being in an anti-Christian body. It could have happened, who am I to judge the providence of God?, but it just seems a bit unreasonable and inefficient.

What I Enjoyed

The English Protestants have something in their blood I think, it's this boldness and certainty, the reliance on God alone that stirs my soul. It's bible-centred and I think this emphasis of the Westminster Divines if not completely absent from the Roman Church, was at least dormant. The Church from Trent to Vatican II seemed to be centred on Medieval Scholasticism as if the Thomistic tradition was apostolic tradition. The birth of resourcement theology (emphasis on scripture and the fathers) and the changes, and changes of emphasis of Vatican II (vernacular liturgy, scripture reading added to confession - though they don't actually do this one) were in the same Protestant spirit I see. But as soon as a Catholic writes the words "Vatican II" and "spirit" the Traditionalist Catholic trolls come out, and the Traditional Protestants start screaming about Trent this and Trent that, violently holding onto the dogma that the Roman Church can never remove this and so they will never have to try to reunite the Church.

oh boy. In the end, I guess while I stil have a very Roman Catholic framework and while I listed all those issues, I still like the WCF and it reminds me of how Chesterton says Protestantism is like Patriotism, it just sweeps you up into these partisan emotions that are kind of fun, because you feel like the elect, and you feel like everyone else is a bug that must be squashed. This is sounding really mean, I really didn't start this to offend Reformed Christians, it just seems to happen alot, I'll try and do better next time.

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