Carl Trueman – A Form of Sound Words: Church and Confession
Taking up the point of character being crucial to competence, in 1 Tim 2:13, Adam has given up his moral responsibility to care for the garden.
All these struggles again conforming to unbiblical patterns of teaching and behaviour, the cause of them is moral disfunction and the solution is to find people of moral strength, which cannot be taught in a classroom. Character is developed in the church. We are in the game of producing well rounded Christians of character, some of whom will be called to leadership.
When we appoint leaders, the world is looking on. The public face of Christians shouldn’t be of people who are angry at everything that is going on.
When we ask, who is sufficient for these things, the solution is not technique but developing Christian character, flowing from union with Christ and communion with other believers. The church is not ultimately something we do, but God does. Ultimately, we need to be more boring in how we live. The routineness of the church is something we need to cultivate in the expectations of people. The church isn’t a cool and interesting place to be.
Now, moving to the importance of creeds and confessions.
2 Tim 1:3-14
We live in an era that is very suspicious of creeds and confessions. Often our own personal biographies than we like to think. Eric Eriksson wrote the Young Man Luther about Luther projecting his fear of his father on to God. To be honest, we need to acknowledge when we do this. There are young guys at Westminster with Presbyterian backgrounds who find the Westminster Confession of Faith as a restriction on them. I come from a difference background and found confessionalism freeing.
Seem see confessionalism as promoting exclusion. The last 150 years have given terrible examples of people excluding others.
In Madonna’s song Bedtime Stories, she ways “Words are meaningless, especially sentences”. The idea that truths can be articulated in words is suspect. Of course words can be used manipulatively, see the speeches of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Yet, words are a means of communicating truth.
In creating, God spoke, Genesis 1. God is a speaking God. Speech is the closest analogy of creation that the biblical writer can find. His speech establishes the basic duties and responsibilities of mankind. God curses the serpent and the man and the woman, telling them how their relationship with creation has changed. He not only describes it, but brings it into being. In Genesis 15, he begins the covenant with Abraham. Speech is the mode of God’s presence 2 Kings 4. In Amos 8:11-12, it will be known that God is absent because of a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. In Matthew 3, at Jesus’ baptism, the heavens are torn open and God speaks, see also Isaiah 64:1. False go are shown by the fact that they don’t articulate themselves through words, as with Elijah on Mount Moriah, see also Psalms 115.
Words are put to the service of expressing truths about God. Exodus 12:25-27 shows parents passing on truths about God. They are adequate to express the truth about God’s character and actions. The centrality of words is clear in all the Old Testament prophets. In 1 Corinthians, Paul points away from great orators and to the cross, an offence to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. Paul doesn’t leave the readers with their reader interpretations. The meaning of the cross is intrinsic and can be expressed through words.
We get so tied up in details that we forget that human nature is the same everywhere. The gender, geography and time of the men who wrote the confessions are different to us, but these documents express truths to people who share human nature which is universal. To say you can’t use a western confession in the east is wrong because it says that people aren’t the same everywhere. Particulars don’t change our intrinsic nature. Against external different, Paul asserts a universal truth.
The confessions have been written in different times and contexts by people anchoring them in the Bible. They can be wrong and are open to revision, and they stand under the authority of the Bible. Diversity is not a huge issue. Probably there is more common culture in the world today than at any time in history. We’ve confused high culture and folk culture for the dominant culture, but it is pop culture that dominates.
There is a reticence about requiring doctrinal agreement before membership in the church. In Romans 10:9-10, there is a connection between faith and public profession. However, the public confession is minimal. Therefore, we should avoid those who teach differently to the truth, Romans 16:17-18.
Paul tells Timothy to hold fast to the form of words used. Specific professions have a specific language. It facilitates easy communication and allows people to identify those who know what they are talking about. What Paul does not say to Timothy here is to memorise the Bible any more than he says to simply read the Bible in church. Anyone who claims to take the Bible seriously must consider that we need a form of sound words that will allow us to protect and guard the Bible’s teaching. Paul uses several summaries of biblical teaching. He also makes conformity to the tradition of his teaching a requirement for fellowship. This is deeply embedded in the nature of the Gospel. By the confessions, we can regulate the transmission of the truth from one generation to the next. If you have a confession and you find yourself disagreeing with it, you have to go through the church courts and either have the confession changed or demit the office of minister.
Confessions do many things.
Distinguishing between offices and members. Romans 10 should be the the bar for membership. Office bearers have to bring their people on to maturity so that have to have a higher, the maximum standard. If something is not listed in your confession, your church will have no position on it and you cannot require people to have a position about it.
Confessions delimit the powers and responsibilities of the church and her offices. The church has powers to discipline people in accordance with the confessions and limit the power to those areas where the confession speaks. It prevents the church from overstepping into the family becoming a cult.
They reflex the irreducible complexity of Christian doctrine. Teaching church history shows how doctrines interconnect.
It offers a rich basis for worship. When you recite a creed, you are committing an act of cultural protest by identifying with every believer in every time who has taken those words on their lips.
They relativise the present in the light of history.
Question: Why are the most significant creeds from the 17th century with no broad confessions from today?
A: Confessions are for the church to do. Church history is not a linear line of great insights. The first four or five centuries hashed out basic definitions of the God and Christ. The Reformation triggers thinking about authority, Scripture, sacraments, etc. It is also a peculiar political time as institutions change. Political diversity is exposed through theological diversity. There is no reason principally to write a confession today. It tends to water down Christian confessions. The ecumenical aspect is a factor. Presbyterians everywhere hold the Westminster Confession of Faith. The question is why do we have so many churches with the same confession? Why aren’t they functioning in a more ecumenical way. Often the truth is we don’t want to give up our turf.
Question: How do we find the next generation of leaders?
Answer: In some cases, finances are a problem. We need to think about bi-vocational ministry. Arguments about sacrifice often come from those who are better off. We need to rethink ministerial training. Going back to study is hard for mature men. We need to be flexible in our demands. How do we deliver theological education? Some churches emphasise that all Christians have a ministry. Others highlight the ordained ministry to such an extent that only ordained men can do anything do the Gospel.
Question: How can we bring the Westminster Confession of Faith into the lives of our congregations?
Answer: I am taking on a part time pastorate and am thinking about that a lot. That a a tough one. I’m not so concerned about the standards as they contain. Maybe the Shorter Catechism isn’t the best way to transmit the truths it contains as perhaps the Heidelberg Catechism. You can build it into Sunday school and membership classes as well as in the liturgy, using Rowland Ward’s book. The standards are a tool and we want people to know the Bible. The confessions are pastorally useful. Questions people ask are often addressed in the catechisms. Or culture is anti-verbal and anti-doctrinal, and that has crept into the church. Ask me in three years if that has worked.
Question: Eldership for life?
A: Variety in the OPC. Tim Whitmar, practical theology at Westminster. Only used to get rid of trouble. His view is that the New Testament teaches lifelong eldership.
Question: Form of apostolic government in view of investing in the institution and the people.
A: Institutions last, people die. Americans tend to be suspicious of institutions. A great individual is a common hope. The UK prefers institutions. Practically, charismatic leaders usually leave a church to crash.