Posted by: gmscan | February 16, 2011

The 1967 Confession

The introduction to the 1967 Confession says it is the first new confession of faith adopted by the Presbyterian church in three centuries. It explains that “the turbulent decade of the 1960s challenged churches everywhere to restate their faith.”

Hmmmm. The decade of the 1960s was indeed “turbulent,” but hardly more so than many other decades of the last 300 years. Somehow the Westminster Confession was adequate to see the church through those other times, and much of the turbulence of the 1960s hadn’t occurred yet in 1967 – the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy happened in 1968, the anti-war movement and turmoil on the college campuses was barely off the ground, plus the initiatives of LBJ (Great Society, Medicare and Medicaid, Civil Rights Act, Peace Corps, etc.) were still shiny and new and full of promise. Somehow, the pre-1967 “turbulence” is unconvincing as a reason to adopt a new Confession of Faith.

Also, the effort was begun in 1956 and was only culminated in 1967 with final adoption, so the “turbulent decade of the 1960s” could hardly have been the cause.

The introduction also says that this Confession was “built around a single passage of Scripture: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… (2 Cor 5:19). That is fine, but this passage is often turned on its head to suggest the church should “reconcile” itself to the world, rather than reconciling the world to God. I see that as an enormous difference. “The world” is Satan’s domain. C.S. Lewis writes that Christians are like commandos landing behind enemy lines in occupied territory. We are not able to heal this world, only God can do that – and He will in his good time. The best we can do is bring some comfort to our brothers and sisters – our “neighbors” who we love as ourselves.

So, I approach this Confession with some skepticism.  Many things that were done in the 1960s were poorly thought-through and look embarrassingly empty-headed fifty years later. At the same time, some very good things happened in the 1960s, especially the Civil Rights movement and the realization that a national reconciliation between the races was long overdo.

The Confession of 1967 is similar. There are some parts that are poetically written and  restate eternal truths beautifully. Other sections seem to be of fleeting value at best, and actually offensive in some cases. It seems to have been written by two different people, or at least two committees of people with very different values.

One example of the beauty of the Confession is this —

  • The church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible study are part of the church’s worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church’s evangelism. Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity.

This is very nice and is not the kind of thing the Westminster Confession dealt with. On the other hand, there is this —

  • God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and re- sources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind. Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.

I’m sorry, but this is as vapid as a beauty pageant contestant hoping for world peace.

It is, first, questionable that the actions of nations can be equated with the actions of individuals. Every nation has a mix of holy and unholy people who may support or oppose the actions of the nation. In the case of a dictatorship, it is very likely that only a small number of people in that nation support the regime’s actions. Collective sin or collective forgiveness makes no more sense than collective salvation. We are each responsible for our own actions and not those of others.

Second, we are not “called to practice the forgiveness of enemies,” unless the enemy repents of his wrongdoing. If that is true of us as individuals it is certainly true of nations. But, even then there are limits. Germany has worked hard to repent of the Holocaust, but there continue to be Neo-Nazis in Germany who are not the least repentant. Do we treat these non-repentent Germans the same as the majority who do repent?

Third, Christians do not have the right to “risk (our) national security” in Jesus’ name. Many Americans are not Christian. They may not appreciate our willingness to sacrifice their lives in the name of our savior.

Finally, while it may not be possible to “identify the sovereignty of any one nation… with the cause of God,” it is certainly possible to identify nations that are opposed to the cause of God.  Rwanda springs to mind, as does Cambodia and North Korea. To suggest that Christians should make no distinction between nations is lunacy.

Another example of empty-headedness comes in a section dealing with changing sexual mores, which says, in part —

  • Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, by the pressures of urbanization, by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and by world overpopulation.

“World overpopulation?” Would that not mean that the Presbyterian Church has decided that there are some of God’s children who are unneeded and a burden on the world? That there are some people who the church would as soon do away with? Is no one troubled that the church in America is looking at people presumably in China, Africa and South Asia and declaring them unnecessary?

Should a time come when my membership in the Presbyterian Church would be contingent on endorsing these sentiments, I would have to decline.

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Responses

  1. Greg:
    I am curious where in the New Testament it speaks of forgiving your enemy, only after he has repented of his wrongdoing?
    This is definitely an important concept in Judaism.
    The major emphasis in Christianity seems to be to forgive your enemies, for to harbor unforgiveness effects us more negatively than it does our enemies.
    Rather, Jesus encourages us to “Love our enemies.”
    I see enemies versus friends as similar to unholy behaviour versus holy behavior.
    The idea in the Old Testament of destroying entire cities, including their livestock, is a metaphor that evil needs to be confronted and wiped out, completely, because God is all good and hates evil (sin) which is separation from God.
    Shalom,
    Don Levit

    • Hey, Don. Some cites —

      In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

      In Luke 13:2-3, Jesus says, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?”No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

      In Mark 1:15, Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

      Acts 3:18-19 quotes Peter, “But what God foretold by the mouths of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent, therefore, and turn again that your sins may be blotted out.”

      2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

      Now, Jesus also said from the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Most of the commentators I’ve read say that if someone truly doesn’t know that he has sinned, forgiveness may be possible. Like an insanity defense in a murder trial, I guess.

      Greg

  2. Greg:
    Very interesting. I was not even aware that repentance was in the New Testament!
    I can’t cite Jewish scriptures, but I am aware that repentance is defined for specific crimes.
    For example, if one steals money from you, and does not admit his wrongdoing and return it, he owes you double what he stole.
    As I understand repentance in Judaism, it is similar to that of doing good deeds: to make you a better person.
    It has nothing to do with salvation, as salvation, and even the world to come, is rarely mentioned.
    Is this one area where Judaism and Christianity differ?
    Or, is repentance not as important to salvation as belief?
    Shalom,
    Don Levit

  3. Interesting discussion!
    Coming from Reformed tradition, my Confessions parallel the Presbyterian, stating the repentance question this way in the Heidelberg Catechism:
    Q 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
    A. Three: the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance. Ref I Cor. 6:10,11; John 9:41, 17: 3.
    Rom 3:9-31 specifically addresses faith, works, Jews and Gentiles before God.

    It also seems pertinent to point out that repentance is a command and a gift, not a condition for salvation. Rom 5:8ff: But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.


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