A 90-year-old Canadian women opted for assisted suicide instead of enduring another 2-week lockdown in her retirement home. The threat of another two weeks with no human contact was too much, and the doctors agreed to kill her to avoid it. Her family, however, was allowed to be with her to provide companionship during her death. Just not her life.
My recent presbytery transferal exam included quite a bit of discussion on my opposition to the 1903 additions to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) still held by the EPC, namely the chapters “The Holy Spirit” and “The Gospel of the Love of God and Missions.” Though I’ve written about the revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith at length here, I thought it would be helpful to present a concise summary of how to understand these chapters and why I think they ought to be rejected, not merely on the basis of being superfluous, but for failing to meet biblical muster. I draw heavily on the 1936 analysis and critique from Ned Stonehouse and John Murray, as well as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church’s 2014 report on the additional chapters, which I recommend people read if they want a fuller picture of the doctrines taught and neglected in the additional chapters.
In short historical review, in 1890 the PCUSA began the process of revising the WCF. This effort culminated in 1903 with several alterations, including the addition of the two chapters in question. The express purpose of these revisions was to soften the Reformed and Calvinistic theology of the WCF. Confessionalists, such as B. B. Warfield, Abraham Kuyper, and Geerhardus Vos opposed the changes. After the changes, Arminians stated that the WCF could now be read in a way that was compatible with their doctrine, and by 1906 the majority of the Cumberland Presbyterian church (Arminian in doctrine) had rejoined the PCUSA because of the doctrinal revisions. When the OPC formed in 1936, they rejected these additions as being compatible with the WCF’s doctrine, which was the course followed by the PCA at its founding in 1973. The ARP had added the revisions in 1959, but removed them in 2014 on similar grounds. During the EPC’s formative years in the early 1980s the new chapters were kept, but no discussion of their compatibility with the rest of the WCF ever occurred.
There are several ways of reading the new chapters in relation to the rest of the WCF and Catechisms…
The Anglican Communion and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), to which my EPC belongs, issued a joint report last week on “koinonia”, which comes from the Greek word κοινωνός (koinonos), meaning fellowship, communion, or participation. The report was initiated as part of the effort to renew global Anglican-Reformed dialogue, which had lapsed after a 1984 report discussing ecumenical cooperation. To that end, the report is generally weak and innocuous, and its strongest moments were when it quoted the 1984 report on baptism and Christian communion (e.g. §20-22, 40, 64).
The report refers to κοινωνός as “koinonia” throughout, rather than translate the term, which initially struck me as odd. The reason became clear after rereading the report. Rather than treating koinonia as a definitional communion with God and his people, koinonia is a pseudo-substance that, as a gift or challenge (§7), served as an invitation into communion with God, and is a gift of God to creation, whether or not people are joined with him in redemption. If κοινωνός was translated, rather than transliterated as a distinct term, the weakness would have been made clear. For instance, 2 Peter 1:4 describes those with faith in Christ as κοινωνοὶ, (koinonoi, “participating” or “communing”) in the divine nature. Peter’s meaning is simple: salvation is union with God, which can be describe as partaking, fellowship, or communion (koinonia) with him. “Koinonia” is not a gift independent from God, albeit one that comes from him, but a way of describing the character of what it means to be united to him. This is what the Apostles’ Creed means when it references the “communion of saints” (cf. Heidelberg Catechism 55)…
From Christianity Today, “Last November, when the General Assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) took Sunday off for worship and relaxation near Jakarta, Indonesia, a group of top leaders did something different. We got in a van and traveled to the offices of an Indonesian Muslim youth organization.” That about says it all, doesn’t it?
I recently was teaching through the 10 Commandments using the Westminster Catechisms, and discovered something interesting in relation to the 6th commandment (“You shall not murder”). This commandment requires us to endeavor to preserve the lives of other people (WLC 155, WSC 68). What I found intriguing was a text, Deuteronomy 22:8, cited to support this claim, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” Jewish roofs were flat so people could walk on them, and a parapet around the edges would prevent people from falling off and becoming injured.
What was interesting was the connection by the Westminster Assembly of this zoning regulation to the 6th commandment, an exegetical connection that Calvin also makes in his commentary on the verse. Building a safeguard on the roof was an expression of loving your neighbor by preserving their life.
What would it take for someone to fall off without a parapet and die? They would have to be on the roof (not necessarily a regular occurrence, especially not your own house), would have to be either careless (their fault!) or slip (rare in a dessert), and then fall from a one-story roof in the just the wrong way to be fatally injured (unlikely from that height). Parapets were protection against an unlikely scenario that could just as easily be the fault of the person falling. And yet, God commanded that parapets be added to preserve human life. This is what keeping the 6th commandment looks like: protecting human life from what might appear an unlikely or dubious threat.
Now do masks with COVID-19.