Monday, May 29, 2017

WCF LC Commentary

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Westminster LC #5 Commentary

Q5: What do the scriptures principally teach?

A5: The scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.[1]

Dr James B. Green in his book “A Harmony of the Westminster Presbyterian Standards” chooses to treat the first five questions of the Larger Catechism and the first three of the SC along with the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter one as a unit. This being as it should be when trying to create a harmony of the three, but in this process he observes a truth of the whole section that any single portion would not sufficiently illuminate. Namely, in these questions we find, the chief end of man and Scripture along with the content of Scripture, and concerning the revelation of God; the necessity of it, the authority of it, and the completeness of it. He also notes in dealing with Larger Catechism 5 in particular that here we find the principal parts of the only rule we should have, to wit 1. Truth to be believed. 2. Duty to be done. That is that Scripture is mainly concerned with two matters; doctrine and duty, faith and life, and that these are for God’s glory and man’s good. It was Green who also noted the divisions within the catechisms. Applying these divisions to the Larger Catechism he notes questions one through ninety are concerned with matters of faith while questions ninety-one through one hundred ninety-six deal with matters of practice. It is interesting to note that the Westminster Confession of Faith itself doesn’t give this same division an equity of attention. There we find a full twenty-two chapters concerned with faith (doctrine) and only two concerned with practice (life), and a third division not in the catechisms, in that the confession also devotes two chapters to discipline (polity). This emphasis on faith as opposed to practice can be contrasted with the Scriptures where in the Decalogue we find four commandments dealing with faith and six with practice, and Scripture as a whole spending much time on life, and apart from the specific commandments of the law, find that while faith is continuously and consistently in view, the focus is more on what you should do (practice).

Unlike question four where the shift was immediately to conversion (salvation), we might find it significant that the Bible doesn’t teach salvation. Salvation is proclaimed, but never taught as such. This absence reduces any argument for a work based salvation to rubble without one word being exchanged. This is similar to the book of Esther where one doesn’t find God named once, and yet His presence in His providential care of His people literally screams at you from every page.

We find no particular support for the individual petals of the TULIP, but an understanding for its foundation. I do not think I can overstate the importance of Scripture to not only the Westminster Divines of Westminster, but Calvin, Luther and others involved in the birth of the Protestant churches. There was a respect and reverence for the Bible that has long since passed from the American scene, and as a whole the church world. Man has not been kind to the faith paid for with the blood of the martyrs of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. While we can find several theological threads to pick at here, I agree with Dr. Green that these five really should be taken as a whole to be fully understood. This is a case of the sum of the parts being more than the whole and the whole being required to shed the necessary light to understand the parts. We like to take things apart and look at them in a systematic way. While this can reduce the material to small enough portions to digest, we need to remember that it all must also interact with the whole as a unity, and while valid for study purposes, most answers thus discovered will not get up and walk by themselves. While we can all find other things the Bible teaches, we need to remember in this question there was a qualifier, “principally.” This has application to almost any doctrine we are studying and even more so when large bites of our faith have been reduced to such a concise statement like the answers of the Larger Catechism.

by Dr. Chuck Baynard

[1] Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:13 AV)

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