Friday, December 15, 2017

The Name and the Flame: The Westminster Challenge and the God Who Answers by Fire

Monday, June 6, 2016, 14:35
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by David C. Brand

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Our purpose as we unite in Westminster Fellowship is to
become such complete disciples of Jesus Christ
that we will discover God’s will for our lives and do it.
-UPUSA Westminster Youth Fellowship Purpose in 1958-

Youth at work are bringing God’s own glory
to the earth from heaven above,
here to set aflame his story
one in service truth and love.
We are striving to be faithful
to the will of God,
to the will, the will of God.
-UPUSA Westminster Youth Fellowship Hymn in 1958- [1]

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Such was the statement of purpose we affirmed as Presbyterian teen-agers and the hymn we sang in affirmation of that purpose.  The name Westminster referred to Westminster Abbey where English and Scottish Presbyterians gathered in the 1640s to stake out the articles of their biblical faith, the Westminster Standards comprised of the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  The Puritan Congregationalists who settled New England affirmed these same reformation standards taking exception only with respect to church polity. [2]

In 1958, in the beautiful Westminster Chapel on the College of Wooster campus, a youth affirmed Christ as Savior and Lord responding to God’s call to Christian ministry via the preparation and delivery of a sermon on James 2:14-26.  Only later would he come to appreciate the historic role of the Westminster Standards and discover that they were about to be overshadowed by the Confession of ‘67 within the United Presbyterian Church of the USA.  Eugene Carson Blake, the highly influential Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, argued that the Westminster affirmation of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as “the only infallible rule of faith and practice” tended to make the interpreter infallible. [3]  In contrast, the highly distinguished scholar and third-generation missionary to Korea, Dr. Horace Grant Underwood II (1917-2004), characterized the Confession of ‘67 as “timid.” [4]  In the context of Korean church history, one could hardly think of a more disqualifying label than “timid” to  represent a confession of the Christian faith.

The purpose of a confessional statement is definition and exclusion.  In the absence of definition and exclusion, “political correctness” from within and outside the church has become the order of the day. Presbyterian leaders, to their liking or disliking, soon realized that the Confession of ‘67 made it virtually impossible to define heresy or to require Christian authenticity and conduct.  The Confession of ‘67, a friend of liberation theology, hardly distinguished between the Christian faith and Marxism.  At least two breakaway Presbyterian denominations emerged, returning to the original Westminster Standards.

Ironically, across America today many  congregations throughout the PCUSA [5] tacitly bear witness to their heritage by maintaining their original local church name: Westminster Presbyterian Church.  If these congregations would find the will to live up to their name by once again embracing their Westminster confessional heritage, upholding the Bible as “the only infallible rule for faith and practice,” [6] these Westminster congregations just might be the stimulus needed to spark a spiritual awakening.  It only takes a spark to get a fire going. [7]

Jesus’ express purpose to bring “fire upon the earth” [8] will be fulfilled whether through these “Westminster” congregations or through others committed to the biblical truth enunciated in the Westminster Standards.  The God revealed in Creation and in the Bible is the only God who answers by fire.  In a burning bush He revealed his name to Moses. [9]  He did it with fire again upon the dedication of the Old Testament tabernacle, [10] at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, [11] before the prophets of Baal at the command of Elijah, [12] and in an upper room on the day of Pentecost. [13]  Is His flame burning on the altar of your heart?

 

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.
Wean it from earth–through all its pulses move.
Speak to my weakness–mighty as Thou art,
and make me love thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
no angel visitant, no o-p?ning skies;
but take the dimness of my soul away.

Hast thou not bid us love thee, God and King?
All, all thine own, soul, heart, and strength and mind,
I see thy cross–there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek thee, and O let me find.

Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh;
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love thee as thine angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame;
the baptism of the heav’n-descended Dove,
my heart an altar, and thy love the flame. [14]

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Endnotes

[1]. Sung to the tune composed by John Hughes in 1907 and associated with William William’s hymn Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”

[2]. The Cambridge Platform      http://dcbcom.org/cambridpage.html

[3]. Eugene Carson Blake was responding to a question from this writer at a Presbyterian youth rally in Southern California in the 1964-65 academic year.

[4]. Underwood made this public statement in Seoul, Korea during a meeting of Presbyterian missionaries who were evaluating the proposed Confession of ‘67.  This writer and his wife, as volunteer missionaries under the United Presbyterian Mission, were in attendance.

[5]. The UPUSA became the PCUSA upon its merger with the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1983.

[6]. A survey among students of Westminster Seminary revealed that, next to the Bible, the book that made the highest impact upon their lives was J. I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God. Packer makes the case that the biblical doctrine of the authority of the Bible is to be embraced just as much as any other doctrine of Scripture, e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity or the full Deity and Humanity of Christ. The best defense of the Bible is the Bible itself–it is self-authenticating. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

[7] . Of note, a website under construction purporting to be a rallying point for those committed to the Westminster Standards reports 8000 hits per month.   (www.westminsterfellowship.org).

[8]. Luke 12:49

[9]. Exod. 3:14

[10]. Exod. 40:34-38

[11]. 2 Chron. 7:1-3

[12]. 1 Kings 18:20-39

[13]. Acts 2:1-4

[14]. George Croly, “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart,” 1854, Trinity Hymnal, p. 338

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Sources

DCB Communications. http://dcbcom.org

Trinity Hymnal (Revised Edition) 1990. Norcross, GA: Great Commission Publications, Inc.

www.westminsterfellowship.org

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About the Writer

David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona. He and his wife reside in Ohio. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing. One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.

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