Form of Subscription Revision Committee II Report (2012)

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Post your comments below to discuss the Form of Subscription Revision Committee II Report [PDF].  As indicated in the announcement of the report:

Councils are invited and encouraged to review and carefully study each of the reports. If any council wishes to respond to the reports and have that response considered by Synod 2012, they may do so by way of overture or communication to synod. An overture or communication will first need to be processed through your council and then the classis, after which it should be submitted to the synodical services office no later than March 15, 2012, to be included in the printed Agenda for Synod.  

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I’m just one of those non-theologian types out on the Canadian West coast who is really interested in getting documents to be written in plain English and not in “legalese”.  After reading the 16 pages of information about the Form of Subscription revision I do not understand why the Committee would choose to continue to use the word “irreconcilable”!  - it simply serves to obfuscate what office bearers would be trying to say.

 

"We also promise to present or receive confessional difficulties in a spirit of love and fellowship with our brothers and sisters as together we seek a fuller understanding of the gospel. Should we come to believe that a teaching in the confessional documents is irreconcilable with  not the teaching of God’s Word, we will communicate our views to the church,according to the procedures prescribed by the Church Order and its supplements. Further, we promise to submit to the church’s judgment and authority."

John Duifhuis

The revision should delete the paragraph referencing the Contemporary Testimony.

Article 38 of the CT affirms a consubstantiationist understanding of the Lord's Supper.

Article 47 suggests that human beings, on their own merits, deserve some of the blessings of God.

Article 49 suggests that human sinfulness is not rooted in the human heart, but in a mere object (the Internet).

Article 51 assumes the reality of anthropogenic global warming, despite the unsettled nature of the science at this point.

Article 54 asserts that no matter how few military resources a given nation may have, it needs to reduce its arsenals.

The first three are in direct contradiction of the existing three forms of unity.  The latter two of the articles listed above force the CRC to adopt a specific political agenda and effectively excludes people from holding office in the CRCNA not on the basis of their faithfulness to Scripture or the Confessions, but on the basis of their adherence to a political program.

Either these articles should be removed from the CT, or the CT should not be included in the Form of Subscription.

Participant

Responding to your points on "Our World Belongs to God:"

Article 38 says essentially the same thing as Belgic Confession Article 38 (see espeicially paragraphs 4-6).

Article 47 says that all people, since we are all in God's image, "deserve an education that helps them use their gifts fully." This is hardly saying that we have earned God's blessings by our merits. Rather it says that by virtue God's image in us, we deserve an education.

Article 49, an article on rest and leisure suggests that "our addiction to busyness alllows our tools and toys to invade our rest and that an internet world with its temptations distorts our leisure." This would point to ways in which we allow rest and leisure to be ruined. The section on the fall points the finger directly at us when it says (in article 14): "Fallen in that first sin, we prove each day that apart from grace we are guilty sinners: we fail to thank God, we break God’s laws, we ignore our tasks. Looking for life without God, we find death; grasping for freedom outside the law, we trap ourselves in Satan's snares; pursuing pleasure, we lose the gift of joy."

Article 51 does in fact say that we humans have altered the climate. You're right on that one.

Article 54 says "We call on all nations to reduce their arsenals to what is needed in the defense of justice and freedom." This could be construed to mean that those nations who do not have sufficient means to defend justice and freedom should also reduce their arsenals, but that seems a stretch to the obvious intent here.

 

I presume you mean Belgic Confession 35 (there are only 37 articles in the Belgic Confession).  But there is a difference.

Art. 38 of OWBtG says, "In the Lord’s Supper, Christ offers his own crucified body and shed blood to his people, assuring them a share in his death and resurrection. By the Holy Spirit, he feeds us with his resurrection life and binds us to each other as we share one loaf and cup.  We receive this food gladly, believing, as we eat, that Jesus is our life-giving food and drink and that he will come again to call us to the wedding feast of the Lamb."

Art 35 of the Belgic Confession says, "To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood...yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood, but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith."

It is also very different from the 1987 language of OWBtG (art. 40) which reads: "In the supper our Lord offers the bread and cup to believers to guarantee our share in his death and resurrection, and to unite us to him and to each other. We take this food gladly, announcing as we eat that Jesus is our life...."

The 2008 revision to OWBtG is far less careful in its language and opens itself to a consubstantiationist reading that is explicitly excluded by the Belgic Confession and carefully avoided by the 1987 version as well.

Art. 47 says there is something inherent in humanity that "deserves" - merits - God's good gifts.  Whether it be that we bear the image of God or some other quality, or that we act with sufficient righteousness, it is still placing the source of the blessing in the human being.  As we have sinned, regardless of the image of God we bear, we cannot claim to deserve anything in ourselves or by virtue of our nature or our acts.  Thus "all people are conceived in sin and born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins..." (Canons, 3-4/art. 3) and thus deserve punishment in this world and the next (Catechism Q&A 12).  We deserve nothing - not an education, or food, or warmth, or clothing, or freedom, or anything else.

Art. 49 says the internet distorts our leisure, as you yourself quote.  But the internet doesn't do this.  It can't.  It's just there, like a rock or a computer, and does nothing by itself.  Agency, and therefore responsibility, resides in people.  People certainly do distort their leisure with the internet, as they have also done it with magazines, photos, newspapers, television, movies, music, books, games, vacations, and so on.  But it is people who distort their leisure (and work, for that matter).  The source of the sin is in the human heart, not the particular tool or toy they may be using at the moment.

Art. 54 says all nations need to reduce their arsenals.  It does not leave room for the possibility that some may need to increase their arsenals to defend themselves.  The obvious intent of the article is that governments should lay down the sword entrusted to them by God (Romans 13).  The article also makes an error similar to that of Art. 49 for it asserts that weapons threaten.  Weapons do nothing, but people with weapons do many things.  People have also shown a great deal of ingenuity in what they use for weapons over the years.  Article 54 assumes justice and freedom go together (since this is the delimiting factor in reducing their arsenals), but if they did there would be no need for government - government's purpose is to restrain and restrict, since sinful humans left free tend to perpetrate injustice.

To be clear, I don't think the authors are intentionally deviating from Reformed doctrine, confessions, or Scripture.  I think they are incredibly careless in the use of language.  I also think they are promoting a clear political agenda which, while consistent with Reformed doctrine, is not the only political agenda possible that is consistent with Reformed doctrine.  As such, it should not bind the consciences of office bearers in the church.

Participant

The wording still doesn't seem strong enough to me. The only thing different from the previous form rejected by Synod (unless I missed something else) is the inclusion of one sentence: "We heartily believe and will promote their docrines faithfully, conforming our preaching, teaching, writing, serving, and living to them." This doesn't seem to fully satisfy Synod's concerns expressed in the report.

I wish that the phrases "We affirm...as..." and "We also affirm...as..." could be strengthend to "We fully agree with..." (drop the "as") and "We also fully agree with..." (drop the "as"). To affirm something as something else raises the question about what we are affirming. Do we affirm the content of the creeeds, or do we merely affirm that these creeds are, indeed, ecumenical expressions of the Christian faith?

I don't think "Our World Belongs to God" should rise to the level of form of subscription either. The document is a bit of a moving target, subject to change at any time. What does it mean to affirm it "as a current Reformed expression of the Christian faith..."? Does that mean that we affirm that it is an expression of faith that is Reformed, or do we affirm [all of] it's content? It's location in the form after the statement about "heartily believing..." suggests that while it's here, it's here in a different way, and carries a different weight. What is that weight? How important is it, that I don't agree with one line in Article 51 of "Our World Belongs to God?" Do I take that to my council, and then classis? What am I covenanting to do here?

 

I can only go by what the document says, and it says we "affirm" the CT and that it "forms and guides" us.

It doesn't allow for disagreement with particulars, reservations, etc.  If I take the FoS/Covenant seriously, then I can't say it "forms and guides" me or that I can affirm it without reservation or qualification.  I would, then, have to take it up with my council, then classis, and if necessary on to Synod.

I also agree with you that, given it is intended to be "contemporary" and must therefore change on a regular basis, we are in effect asking office bearers to "affirm" a blank check.  That's problematic.

It further concerns me that the document is really only available on line.  There's a study guide published by Faith Alive, and you might find it in the Acts/Agenda for Synod 2008 when it was revised, assuming you have those handy, but for all intents and purposes it is only available via the technology that distorts our leisure.

And if we adopt the FOS revision as submitted, then in articles 47-54 of the CT we are essentially establishing a political test for office bearers in the church.  That's a problem, too, regardless of whether or not it's a political test you could pass.

The easiest thing to do is to delete the reference in the Covenant/FoS revision and leave the CT as it has been up until now.

Participant

Lots of good comments here.  I have a question for the group:

Does the proposed Covenant's wording that "Should we come to believe that a teaching in the confessional documents is irreconcilable with God's Word...." carry the same effect as our current Form of Subscription's phrase that our confessions "fully agree with the Word of God"?

Should we consider the proposed Covenant to be a full, quia subscription (I believe our confessions are true because they agree with Scripture) or a quantenus subscription (I believe our confessions are true in so far as they agree with Scripture)?

The document states that the Confessions (Belgic, Heidelberg & Canons) "define the way we understand Scripture, direct the way we live in response to the gospel, and locate us within the larger body of Christ." and that should we come to believe that teachings in those confessional documents are irreconcilable with God's Word, then we will act in conformity with established procedures and submit to the judgment of the Church.

Interesting...  What if we think teachings in "Reformed expressions" (i.e., the Contemporary Testimony) are irreconcilable?  Then it doesn't matter, even though we "affirm" them and are "formed and guided" by them?

And "irreconcilable" is a broad term.  "Believers only" baptism (no infants) is certainly "reconcilable" with God's Word, but I don't believe it's correct.  Depending on how strictly you adhere to logic, your willingness to use allegory, how willing you are to base things on a single reference - there's quite a bit that can be "reconciled" with God's Word that I don't think is true.  Catholics have become quite adept at justifying mariology on biblical texts, for instance.

So we're no longer even saying that these statements of faith are true, but only that they define us, direct us, and that they can be reconciled with the Bible.  We do say (a little later in the revised FoS) that we believe them, will conform our teaching and living to them, and promote their doctrines faithfully.  We don't say that about "Reformed expressions", but only that we affirm them, and are formed and guided by them.  I'm not sure how "conform our...teaching...and living to" differs significantly from "formed and guided by", or how  "believe" is all that different from "affirm", though it is the clear intent of the committee to put the CT on a lower plane.

Frankly, the entire exercise is silly.  Why are we going through this?  Because it was noted that some office bearers in some councils and classes were refusing to sign the FoS, or were signing it with expressed caveats, and still being seated.  How does changing the wording of the FoS fix that?  Will these classes or councils be any more ready to actually exercise discipline with their members?  It's as if someone complains of hunger so we offer him a clean shirt - that's nice, but it doesn't address the problem.

The Belgic Confession says that the three marks of the church are preaching the Word, administering the sacraments according to that Word, and discipline.  When that latter is done in affirmation of the Forms of Unity, the caterwauling is screeching.  More often, it just isn't done.  Changing the FoS, adding these kinds of weasel-words, adding additional statements that create confusion and ambiguity (Belhar & CT) - all of it is designed to avoid having to take a stand and discipline each other.  Avoid that, however, and pretty soon the other marks dissipate, too.  Soon we will stand for nothing at all and the CRC will dissolve all together - and deserve to.