Is Sola Scriptura Really Practiced?

Recently, I got into two completely unrelated discussions on two completely unrelated blogs about two completely unrelated topics. One was a discussion on Rose’s Reasonings about homosexuality. The other was a blog I had never visited (Lenscleanse), yet found via a link on Matt Gumm’s blog, and the topic was how small groups should not be permitted to take communion.

What was so interesting was that in both cases, those with whom I was discussing the relevant topics (in Rose’s case, a commenter named Earl) were both very gracious, yet both gave very similar information in their answers. That information was that they base much of their theology on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Or, perhaps a more fair way to express it would be to say that they believe the WCF is an accurate representation of their theology.

As many of my regular readers can imagine, I had a bit of difficulty hearing this because I think that this represents a problem within a lot of Christianity. I have read the WCF, and I find it problematic in several areas. In many ways, it goes beyond Scripture and forms propositions that Scripture itself does not clearly teach.

For example, Chapter XXVII states in part:

There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.

Now, I do not take issue with the idea that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. That is clearly biblical. However, the closing phrase presents a major problem. Where does Scripture teach us that only “lawfully ordained” ministers can “dispense” these? At the conclusion of the Lenscleanse article linked above, “RevGoT” (the name that author uses) writes the following:

Barna’s recent book Revolution seeks to applaud the entrepreneurial vein of pomo Christianity. He bids good riddance to the church and institutional authority in favour of sacramental understandings of Starbucks and any gathering between two Christians. This means that we need to redouble our efforts and retreat to the Scriptures to “sell” this notion of communion with Christ with his body in covenantal worship not just Christian fellowship.

In response, I wrote in my comment: “So, if you ‘retreat to the Scriptures’, what do you find?” Part of RevGoT’s response to me was:

On hermeneutical method, you mentioned that you look at those passages where the Lord’s Supper is discussed and see no mention of discipline there. This method fails to make the biblical theological connections from all of Scripture. This method is described in Westminster Confession Chapter 1

To be accurate, I had mentioned that I didn’t see discipline or authority (this idea that only certain people can distribute the elements of communion, or baptize believers). But at any rate, here are three paragraphs from Chapter I of the WCF, which appear to speak to what RevGoT was trying to say:

VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge…that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet 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 due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

I’ve highlighted one particular segment in bold, because it strikes at the heart of something that I find troublesome. One of the “solas” dearly held by the Reformed tradition is that of Sola Scriptura, or “Scripture Alone”. And this belief is what is spelled out in the portion immediately preceding the bold section above. Specifically, it is the belief that there is no revelation of God necessary outside of Scripture, and that Scripture alone is the only infallible rule for living.

Yet, in the section I have highlighted, we find that certain areas of worship and church government are held by the writers of the WCF to be outside of Scripture! And it is this very issue that came up on Lenscleanse. The author was maintaining that it is inappropriate for a group of believers who are not organized in a “covenental relationship” (a loaded term, to be sure!) to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. And in supporting this statement, he said that we needed to “retreat to the Scriptures” to support it. However, I maintain that this concept cannot be supported by Scripture, and is, in fact, a tradition imposed on Scripture by the Reformed tradition.
In imposing these manmade traditions onto Scripture, the whole notion of sola scriptura becomes a myth. It becomes a noble-sounding slogan which is devoid of meaning once the curtain is pulled back. RevGoT made the following statements in an attempt to show that this position was biblical:

Since sacraments are signs and seals given to his covenant people, it means that the original word (words of institution and biblical substantiation) needs to be spoken by one of his pastor-teachers that we never think the sign is ours, or that power is automatically conferred by the mere act. God owns his people and owns the sign and uses his ordained officers to deliver his gifts to his people (Eph. 4).

So, according to his interpretation of Eph 4, the “gifts” that God gave the church are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and because Eph 4 mentions certain “officers”, these are the only ones who can administer them. I maintain that this is a distortion of Eph 4, wherein the gifts mentioned are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers themselves.

I am open to correction on this, as many of my regular readers know, but I would like someone to show me from Scripture a defense of the following:

  • Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are only allowed to be “dispensed” by a “lawfully ordained minister”
  • The “offices” mentioned in Eph 4 refer to “lawfully ordained” positions
  • Groups of believers gathered together for fellowship are prohibited from participating in the very signs of our oneness in Christ (i.e., the Lord’s Supper)

In closing, allow me to quote from Paragraph X of Chapter I of the WCF, as it seems to indicate a standard for itself that those who adhere to it fail to consider:

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.

By that standard, I think it’s time that Reformed believers actually articulate their beliefs by accurate hermeneutical interpretation of Scripture, rather than just punting to a derivative work and using that as the foundation of their arguments. As I told Earl in my discussion with him on Rose’s blog, I’m not interested in comparing what he says with the WCF. I’m interested in comparing what he (or anyone) says with Scripture itself.

Until next time,

steve :)

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20 Responses to Is Sola Scriptura Really Practiced?

  1. Great thoughts Steve. You always challenge me to go beyond high-sounding verbage to the heart of a matter. Some people’s responses and comments are nothing more than hot-air disguised in lofty language. Thanks for helping to clear out the smoke!

    Time and again I am amazed at how we slap the “it’s biblical” phrase on to our theology to keep from having to actually account for it. For a long time my belief system has been muddied with derived doctrines. It seems that as more of these ideas come into the light, I am challenged to let go of the traditions of men to embrace not a more thorough Christology, but Christ!

  2. …I am challenged to let go of the traditions of men to embrace not a more thorough Christology, but Christ!

    Wow, Raborn. That statement right there is quite profound! It is so much more about knowing Christ Himself. Thanks for stating that so well!

    steve :)

  3. PS
    I love the new blog! Easy web-address to remember:)

  4. Gordon Cloud says:

    Great post, Steve. You have certainly taken the bull by the horns on this one.

    I have been giving a lot of thought recently to the administration of the ordinances, and I agree with you that nowhere does the Bible mandate that they are to be administered by ordained clergy.

    What is ironic is that many will preach that all believers are to be carry out the Great Commission. Baptism is an integral part of the GC, yet some of these same preachers will pitch a fit if anyone who is not ordained dares to baptize a convert.

    I like the new look, btw. I will update my blogroll soon.

    God bless.

  5. Heather says:

    Great post, Steve! This is so true … I really can’t add more to what you have said. I am only recently starting to really see how much we, as a body, think the Bible says one thing when it says another, or think it says something it doesn’t say at all.

    Blessings!!

    p.s. like the new blog :)

  6. ded says:

    Don’t apologize, Steve…I’d forgotten the name and password I used to set up the blog account anyway, and wasn’t posting comments because I hadn’t found the time to do it all over again. Of course, if you had gotten “provocative” enough I would have had to say something eventually. So the move works out real well for me.

    Good post, once again.

  7. grace says:

    Steve,
    Great post!
    Traditions imposed into Scripture, especially concerning issues of church governement and structure, is something that’s been on my mind lately.

    Welcome to your new home.

  8. Eric Holcombe says:

    The communion argument is, at best, legalism and at worst, foolishness. The passover meal was/is practiced in individual Jewish homes and pointed to the coming Messiah. This is the meal our “communion” comes from where Jesus the Christ embodies the cup of redemption. Jesus instructs us as we continue the observance of Passover and take the cup of redemption, to do so with remembrance that he is the redeemer. He didn’t say delete the rest of the observance and whittle it down to one piece of unleavened bread and one cup – so as literalists, we Protestants have problems there as well. :o)

    I feel shortchanged by the Protestant version I have grown up with. The Jewish feasts are so rich in God’s redemptive plan. It is a shame we are not taught that history.

  9. jadasgigi says:

    Once again, I couldn’t have said it better! The primitive church was a much more hands on, do it yourself kind of experience than most of us can even imagine today…Let’s not read or write things between the lines that clearly aren’t there to suit the institutional practices of the day…
    Nice new site.

  10. Thank you all for the wonderful comments, and for the warm thoughts about the new site! I’m really excited about this change, and suddenly find myself doing a lot of tweaking and messing around with template information, etc. I really should put that time into writing more posts, huh? ;)

    Gordon wrote: What is ironic is that many will preach that all believers are to be carry out the Great Commission. Baptism is an integral part of the GC, yet some of these same preachers will pitch a fit if anyone who is not ordained dares to baptize a convert.

    This is a very excellent point, Gordon. I had not thought it through with regard to the Great Commission. Thanks for making that point.

    steve :)

  11. Rod says:

    Steve,

    I find the allegiance to the WCF more troubling that the specific issues you raised. I had a discussion with a pastor at Alastair’s site http://alastair.adversaria.co.uk/?p=309#comments who said that he took a vow that the WCF contains the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scriptures. Doesn’t sound like sola scriptura to me.

    Rod

  12. Gordon Cloud says:

    Now that I read what I wrote it should say, “What is ironic is that many will preach that all believers are to carry out the Great Commission.”

    I seem to have an extraneous “be” in the original. That’s what happens when you try to comment while dealing with insomnia. :)

  13. Earl Flask says:

    Steve,

    A little clarification on my usage of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) in our discussion on Rose’s blog. I had the mistaken impression that you didn’t think I was expressing a Calvinist position, so I pulled out the ol’ WCF, a Calvinist document, to point to what it said about something and how it corresponded to what I was saying. It turns out I had misunderstood you, otherwise I would have not mentioned the WCF. That’s because the Bible does trump the WCF.

    This brings me to my second item. While the denomination I belong to “requires” its officers (elders and deacons) to subscribe to the WCF, it does no under these rules:

    (1) The officer must be convinced the doctrines conveyed in the WCF are taught in Scripture. The officer candidate, as well as the active officer, needs to be honest.

    (2) It is expected that officers will usually take “exceptions” to the WCF. This is where the officer states what specific parts he disagrees with the WCF as being unscriptural. When I interview and examine an officer candidate, and especially a teaching elder who will be a pastor, I expect there will be exceptions — otherwise I don’t think they really have read the WCF and they are not ready for the office. I took several exceptions, one of which was the Sabbath portion of the WCF. The examining group of elders will ask for evidence from Scripture why the exception was taken, and if sufficient reason is given that the elders find reasonable, that exception is granted to that individual and the candidate is accepted into service.

    (3) In deliberations on doctrine and practice in the church, the Bible trumps the WCF. For instance, we had the issue brought before us of whether retarded and other mentally disabled people could partake of communion. The WCF was clear that incompetent people could not partake communion. However, the body of elders, after much study of Scripture, believed that Scripture taught otherwise, and decided to allow retarded and other mentally disabled people come to the Table on a case by case basis.

    I’m open to you all’s thoughts on this. Am I violating Sola Scriptura seeing how we use the WCF? What do you think Steve? Does this change your thoughts about what we’re doing? Coming from outside the conservative Presbyterian denominations, I can see how this all looks. I’ll be happy to answer any questions and give further thought. I’m not advocating other Christians to use the WCF. There are some useful things to having official catechisms and confessions. It was a culture shook to me when I first encountered this 13 years ago. There are definitely strong advantages to not having confessions. But there are some advantages too, given we live in a post-Christian age, where things in previous times were assumed by all evangelical Christians, but no longer. For instance, what do you all think of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy? Google it and see what you think. Is it a good document. Would you agree with most of it. Suppose we said we wanted call pastors that agreed with inerrancy, using the concepts described in the document? Is that helpful? If you find it so, you are in a way using the Chicago Statement in a similar fashion we are using the WCF.

    What do you all think? I’m really interested.

  14. Earl, I appreciate your response, and the chance to interact with you again.

    First of all, I hope you understand that the bulk of this post was not aimed at you in particular. I only brought up our discussion on Rose’s blog from the standpoint that I found it ironic that two separate discussions involved the WCF. With regard to the reason you state that you brought up the WCF, I think I understand that. I still find it symptomatic, however, of a knee-jerk response from a lot of Christians to point to a document other than Scripture in order to show what they believe.

    To be honest, the fact that you would ask me to compare what you are saying to the WCF in order to show whether or not your position was inconsistent with Calvinism is a fair request on your part. However, with regard to the topic we had discussed there, the point wasn’t so much that I felt you were misrepresenting Calvinism. It was that I thought your position went beyond Scripture.

    Your pointing to the WCF seemed to indicate that you agree with the WCF on that issue (foreordaining), and I disagree with you on the idea that the WCF accurately represents Scripture on that point.

    Personally (and I realize this is spoken as an outsider to any Presby denomination), I do think that the usage of the WCF, even as you outlined, is outside the scope of sola scriptura, which is kind of the point in this post. I have similar issues with the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, and would give the same response.

    Please understand, however, that the larger response here in this post was to the other discussion I had. The only correlation is that you both mentioned WCF.

    Given that, how would you respond to issue of communion and baptism in the WCF? Is that one that you take exception with?

    Also, I would be curious as to where you draw the line in your church. How many “exceptions” can a potential elder take before being prohibited from serving? And, in a sense, doesn’t the whole idea of having them agree to the WCF (even with exceptions) take the qualifications for eldership beyond what Scripture itself warrants? In that sense, as well, I think the practice of your denomination goes beyond sola scriptura.

    steve :)

  15. Rod wrote: I had a discussion with a pastor at Alastair’s site…who said that he took a vow that the WCF contains the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scriptures.

    Wow, are you serious? Took a vow? (I know you’re serious because I read the link you gave me, and saw his comment there.) That kind of stuff makes me shudder. How far does this go?

    Earl, I got to thinking a bit more about this statement you made: But there are some advantages [to things like creeds and confessions], given we live in a post-Christian age, where things in previous times were assumed by all evangelical Christians, but no longer.

    You are correct when you use the word “assumed” in this context. What I perceive is actually happening is that we have moved beyond a point where people are willing to just take others’ word for something. If you read some of the theological books from the past century (just as an example, read the “standard” dispensational books by Walvoord, Ryrie, etc.), you will find that often times, authors just quoted each other in a rather circular fashion, without strongly supporting their arguments from Scripture. Then, pastors trained under such teaching would just swallow what was given them, turn around and preach it as fact to their people, who in turn swallowed what was given them.

    I think that the idea that the average Joe Christian could read his Bible and come to understanding of the Scriptures through the guidance of the Holy Spirit was never actually lived out in times past. In that sense, the Reformation of Luther’s day only took us so far, and is now starting to see some further growth in this area. I believe this is a very good thing, but it causes a lot of consternation in some circles! ;)

    As a young man in Bible college, I remember having some questions about things that I was taught, but finally just punting to the fact that my professors were older, more learned than I, and therefore, it had to be me that was wrong. That was a huge mistake on my part (and theirs for encouraging that mindset, even if it was a subtle and subliminal encouragement), and I didn’t give myself permission to rethink some things from Scripture for many years after that.

    Any thoughts?

    steve :)

  16. Earl Flask says:

    Steve, thank you for your comments. I read the background you provide for yourself. That is very helpful. No wonder you think I’m messed up theologically. For instance, in terms of church government, you are for the simple or house church. You take congregationalism to what I would call the extreme side. I see accountability is needed in a body of churches, and end up, in your view, something blown way out of Scripture.

    I think you also recognize I follow the historical sense of sola scriptura, while you follow a more “literal” sola scriptura, which is not how it has been used historically in the past. However, I think you have the elements of a confession or creed in your beliefs. Here is what I observe:

    You have a list of absolutes:
    1. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh
    2. Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind, was buried, and literally rose from the dead to live forever.
    3. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, and there is salvation in no other person, doctrine, or belief.
    4. Each individual’s eternal destiny will be determined by their relationship (or lack, thereof) to Jesus Christ.

    Then there is a list of other beliefs:
    5. The list of required doctrines is short.
    6. There is no one preferred Bible translation.
    7. End times views are not crucial.
    8. Style of music is not crucial.
    9. The Moravian motto: essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In everything, love.

    This is a confession. I think it is a good confession. The difference with your confession versus the WCF is that it is shorter, it is informal (not put into a standard form), you wrote it – and of course you think your confession is Biblical where in your opinion the WCF isn’t Biblical.

    You ask several questions:

    1. Given my discussion on communion versus the WCF, do I take exception to it? The answer is yes. The other elders asked me, and the other elder taking the same position, to defend our views Biblically. The other elders, by and large, were convinced and by implication, also now take exception to this part of the WCF.

    2. Where do I draw the line on exceptions on the WCF? It’s a fuzzy line. The concept is that we elders adhere to the system of teaching to the WCF as being a summary of what is taught in Scripture. This leaves room for variation of belief and taking exceptions. It can be abused, as what happened in the main-line Presbyterian Church, USA. There are checks and balances in how this works with exceptions taken on the WCF. If an elder or any church member thinks that the Session (the body of active elders in the church) have abused the WCF in an unscriptural way, they can take their case to the Presbytery (the region of the Presbyterian churches). If they think that the church and Presbytery are wrong, they can take their case to the General Assembly that meets once a year. If a Presbytery (or church) thinks that the denomination is going wrong, they can leave the denomination.

    You speak about how the average Joe Christian is able to read the Bible with the guidence of the Holy Spirit. I think that is true too. This indicates you follow the dogma (which means doctrine, which is a good word, but our culture frowns on any absolutes) of Martin Luther of the perspicuity of Scripture, which is also another part of your informal confession. But guidence of the Holy Spirit raises the question of just how does the Holy Spirit guide? Is the Holy Spirit’s guidience only through reading an English Bible and getting direct implanted thoughts by the Holy Spirit? Can other people’s insights and reading and studying be used by the Holy Spirit in understanding the Bible? If not, you and I better stop blogging right now. Is it limited to thoughts of the past few years? Can the Holy Spirit use the thoughts of Christians in the past centuries to help provide illumination? I don’t see you ruling that out in your confession.

    The people who I’ve seen take sola scriptura to its logical absurdity have been some Church of Christ people. They would be very critical of your short list of absolutes. When I’ve asked these individuals what was wrong with some of those things in your short list, all they do would be to quote some scripture. I’d scratch my head and say how does that contradict what I’ve said? They’d quote another scripture without explanation. My point is that very few people actually live without confessions or creeds of some sort, and those that do are unintelligable (and not even those Church of Christ people — they followed their “informal” confession of don’t word doctrine the way most evangelical Christians do).

  17. Earl, thanks for the continued dialogue. I hope I have not irritated you too much in this discussion. I do certainly recognize that you are not even close to alone in your beliefs, and that in some ways, you have history “on your side”.

    You wrote: The difference with your confession versus the WCF is that it is shorter, it is informal (not put into a standard form), you wrote it – and of course you think your confession is Biblical where in your opinion the WCF isn’t Biblical.

    I think this is a bit of an oversimplification of the issue at hand. Let me turn it around and put the issue in a different light. Do you disagree with anything on my short list of absolutes? If not, you must understand that from my perspective, there would be nothing hindering you and I from fellowshiping together, partaking of the Lord’s Supper together, worshiping together, etc. However, I think you would have to admit that, were I to attempt to join your Presbyterian church, and ultimately seek to be a leader in said church, there would be resistance from your church and denomination because I would take so many exceptions to the WCF. How does one defend that from Scripture? What elements are absolutely essential for fellowship? What does Scripture have to say about this?

    You described the “checks and balances” with regard to your denomination’s use of the WCF in the following: If an elder or any church member thinks that the Session (the body of active elders in the church) have abused the WCF in an unscriptural way, they can take their case to the Presbytery (the region of the Presbyterian churches). If they think that the church and Presbytery are wrong, they can take their case to the General Assembly that meets once a year. If a Presbytery (or church) thinks that the denomination is going wrong, they can leave the denomination.

    The problem that I have with this is that it just simply goes way beyond Scripture, Earl. I believe that ultimately, this type of heirarchy (taken to this many levels) accomplishes little in the overall task of making disciples. Why the need for such a lengthy and complicated process? Why the need for accountability to people who rarely interact or even know each other?

    Many believe that my views on church are “idealistic” in the sense of “Get real, man, that could never happen.” But my question is, “Why not?” If Jesus Christ is head of His Body, and the Holy Spirit has been given to us as believers, must we impose an entire “system” of government on that to “protect” it?

    I think, in this current discussion, what really confuses me is how you say that the WCF is a summary of what is taught in Scripture, and say that it is something you basically subscribe to, but then you end up putting all kinds of asterisks on it and whiting out the parts you don’t really agree with. So what’s the point, then? You can’t really use it as any kind of representation of what you believe without constantly re-explaining what it is you agree with and don’t agree with. That’s surfaced already in just a few short dialogues you and I have already had.

    And so this is where there is a huge difference between your approach to the WCF. I don’t have all kinds of asterisks in my doctrinal statement. This is why I believe it is important to have such a short list. It does not hinder the Body from getting together and being the Body or doing what the Body has been called to do (i.e., make disciples).

    Do I believe my statement is biblical? Yes. Else I wouldn’t hold to it. But do you really believe the WCF is biblical? Apparently, only the parts you agree with. So what’s the point of referring to it as any kind of defining document? Just state what you believe, and be done with it. Can the Holy Spirit speak through thoughts of those in centuries past? Yes, but that does not mean that we should then point to that thought as the representation of our belief.

    I don’t know if I’m making any sense, or just causing you to be frustrated with me. I certainly hope it’s the former and not the latter. But at any rate, I don’t want to go any further with this than you want to. So at any point, feel free to tell me to shut up and we’ll move on to something else! ;)

    Thanks for being such a patient participant in this, Earl. I do value your challenges to my thinking, and do take what you say into great consideration. Thanks for helping to sharpen my iron! :)

    steve :)

  18. Earl Flask says:

    Steve, thank you too for your continued dialog.

    It’s quite true I over simplify other people’s views. That’s why dialog is so useful.

    If you were to come to my Presbyterian church and wanted to join, you’d be most welcome to join. The criterion for membership is a credible profession of faith, which you meet with spades. Members don’t have to know anything about the WCF.

    It is true that if you wanted to become an elder in our church, at this stage of your stated beliefs, that wouldn’t happen. But what would happen if I joined your church? I’m sure I’d be accepted. What about being a leader at your church? I think it is very unscriptural to not have local bodies so unaccountable to the larger body of Christ. I would strongly encourage your church to move in that direction. I would see that your church is missing out on the wonderful doctrines of grace (as I see how it is taught in the Bible), I would teach those. Just as you would be a square wheel in being a leader at my church, so I would be a triangle wheel at your church. I would cause division and strife. You and I would tear at the peace of our respective churches while trying to put into practice pure doctrine. This is where I think you’ve might have oversimplified. It isn’t a one-way street.

    This is where I also see how the diverse body of the universal church works. I praise God for his work at your church and in your life. Sure, you don’t believe the way I do. I think you’re missing out from a lot of God’s blessing in your life and in your church’s life as a result. But God is blessing you with his overflowing goodness in different ways than my church and me. And while I could not be a leader in your church, I rejoice and thank God in Christ for his work there. I also think you’re indirectly reaping the benefits of God’s work with the Presbyterians, just as I am reaping benefits of God’s work in the simple church, and God’s work with Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc. Did you know that the idea of federalism in the US government was originally shaped by Presbyterian church government (in fact the British sometimes referred to the American Revolution as the Presbyterian rebellion)? And while you and I cannot literally take communion at conservative Lutheran churches (because we don’t view the body of Christ in the elements they way they do), the Lutheran ideas of looking to Christ alone for salvation is historically where we got how we look to Christ, and their continued work in this area trickles over into the rest of the Church Universal in very refreshing ways.

    I don’t think one particular church structure and confession is ideal (including my own). I see the multi-strand beautiful cord of universal church is how God is working in extending his kingdom. So, if I were to come to your church, I’d think after a while, you’d recommend I seek out fellowship with a more like-minded church in your area. It isn’t that we’d break fellowship because of this, it is because we are each more effective in our respective environments where people passionately agree on similar things as we do, yet we can work beyond our local churches in extending God’s kingdom. For instance, if I lived in Boone and went to a Presbyterian church there, it would be very possible we’d go to your musical concerts, and in seeing how God works through your ministry, I could even imagine how our church could work with you in a community Christmas program, Easter, or other kinds of things.

    It seems I presented my view of the WCF as cheesecloth, full of holes. Actually, I take only a few exceptions. I view the WCF as helpful in many ways. I came my church 14 years ago as a visitor with your kind of background. My denomination had many affinities with the Moravians, and their closest creedal statement was the Moravian one. I visited this Presbyterian church knowing nothing about Presbyterians. I was in for a rude awakening. My wife liked them, I hated them. I was trying to start a house church. We’d visit the Presbyterian church. They were very friendly, but I deeply disagreed with them. I’d argue in Bible studies they held in homes. I was blown away by the WCF – how could anyone be so arrogant and stupid to write their beliefs in this way. I started reading, interacting with others on the infant Internet. I studied each area. The WCF became a teaching document to me. Where I disagreed (and it seemed to be most of it), I’d systematically study it. I was out to prove these guys wrong. In the end, I became convinced. In this way, the WCF became a tool for the Holy Spirit to teach me, to motivate me to learn the Bible more. The Holy Spirit in my antagonism to the WCF, opened a whole new world I never saw before.

    So, confessions can have different roles. They can be a short summary of the absolute minimum of beliefs. That is very useful. The Apostle’s Creed is like that. It can also be a teaching tool. The WCF and the Lutheran Book of Concorde are like that. I think God uses both kinds. As a teaching document, these confessions can help make disciples of Christ in different ways than a simple minimalist confession. But also, minimalist confessions allow other types of Christians to band together to also make disciples in ways that the holy Spirit uses differently. I don’t see the superiority or negativity, overall, to any particular approach, as long as God is using it.

  19. Earl, I’m really enjoying this dialogue with you. Please let me know if it gets too frustrating for you. For the record, too, my wife commented to me today that she really appreciated your tone. She said that you comment in a way that is very gentle, and I agree. You are close to earning a spot in my heart along with Gordon Cloud and Ray who both have earned a lot of my respect for their tone when we disagree here on my blog. So, keep up the good work! ;)

    You raise some very good points in your comments, and I do not wish to just brush them off. However, we have been “off the mountain” (as we say up here) all day visiting friends, and I’m a little too worn out from the day to respond to your points tonight. Lord willing, I will comment tomorrow, and perhaps even post again in response to some of this.

    I will say one very brief thing, however, just to answer one point you have made. I think your assumption that our fellowship here in Boone is unaccountable requires some discussion regarding accountability and how you define it. I assure you, however, that we are neither unaccountable, nor do we seek to be unaccountable. I’m curious how you came to that understanding of our fellowship here in Boone. Perhaps you make an assumption based on your own thoughts about simple/house churches in the past? I would like to discuss that further. In the meantime, if you have not seen it before, I would suggest that you read my Myths About Simple Church post from this past May. One of those myths especially addresses the aspect of accountability.

    Be blessed, brother, as you worship Him tomorrow!
    steve :)

  20. Earl Flask says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for your response. You are a model of gentleness yourself, and show amazing patience with me. You and your wife’s comment on my gentleness is really more of a reflection of both of your patience with me — because I assure you, I get a lot of people justifiably angry with me.

    With respect to accountability, thank you for your link. That was most helpful. That can be a whole other discussion. The point I was trying to make was that I am such a sufficient oddity compared to you’re environment, that I would probably be disruptive as a leader, and hence might not be a good fit as your wouldn’t be a good fit for being a leader at my church. However, God has made us a hand-in-glove fit for our repsective churches. One cookie cutter doesn’t fit all circumstances in God’s richly diverse church.