E. MODERNISM ON THE CONFESSIONS
1. Modernism Evading and Enervating the Confessions
The opening tactic of Modernism with respect to the Reformed and Presbyterian (Calvinistic) creeds has been to either remove the creeds altogether, or to exile them to dusty showcases of the ecclesiastical museum. Steps in this direction have been to make minor revisions in the interests of “advanced stages of theology,” and in keeping with the “latest developments of Christianity.” First, a brief statement is prefixed to the standard confession which provides for a wide latitude of interpretation of the separate points. In some cases the brief statement is a compendium which is offered with the understanding that it is not intended to become a substitute for the confession. Then, after a few years, it is overtured that the brief statement be adopted as the proper creed of the church. If this step is not realized, then an attempt at evasion by revision is made. Usually the revision is first aimed at the doctrine of the decree of God and divine predestination. For example: Article 17 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, which, by the way, declares nothing of sovereign reprobation, is in the Reformed Episcopal revision (Art. 18) whittled down to a mere mention of the words “election” and “predestination,” and proceeds to affirm the doctrine of “man’s free agency and responsibility.” In a sort of explanatory note, not by way of a confessional declaration, it is stated that “this church simply affirms these doctrines as the Word of God sets them forth;” yet it is nowhere explained just how the Word of God does set forth these doctrines. It is also added that this truth, which we believe to be the heart of the church, is submitted “to the individual judgment of the members, as taught by the Holy Spirit;” yet it is nowhere revealed how the individual judgment under the teaching of the Spirit will regard in this truth. Modernist religion submits all matters of “faith” to the individual judgment. This in keeping with its basic idea that the mind of man is the final court of appeal. Reformed truth educates the individual judgment in the Word of God, and it (the human judgment) must submit to Scripture, and the confessions based on Scripture.
In the Westminster Brief Statement of 1902, the Reformed Faith was reduced to 16 scanty articles. There man’s true condition by nature is slighted in that not one word is said about the loss of the image of God. There are such expressions, however, as God “offers His all-sufficient salvation to all men,” and “He has provided a way of eternal life for all mankind.” This last statement makes the cross:
1) not salvation itself, but a provision for salvation;
2) not the way, but a way of eternal life, and
3) for all men without exception, rather than for all the elect.
In 1903 the Westminster Confession, Art III on God’s Eternal Decree, was so “revised” as to teach the Arminian philosophy of a love of God to all mankind. This is means to contradict Section VII where it is stated that God ordains men to dishonor and wrath for their sin to the praise of His glorious justice. That God ordains to eternal wrath those He loves implies that God is either a monster or a weakling. This “revision” (corruption it really is!) then injects into the Westminster symbol the poison of a universal atonement, a mere provisional redemption, makes the gift of God a mere offer to all men; and further, in the added chapter XXXV on Missions, the teaching of a well-meaning offer of God to all men appears. There is also such Arminian language as “God invites all,” and God “pleads with men to accept His gracious invitation.” It is also proper to note that neither the declaratory statements, nor the chapter changes, or chapter additions ever speak of the elect, or foreordination, covenant, decree or imputation. References are always to men, sinners or believers. The “revisions” therefore are no development of the Reformed truth presented in the original Westminster Confession, but are bold, marked departures from that truth.
In the revision chapter XXXIV, on the Holy Spirit, it is declared that “the Father is ever willing to give (the Spirit) to all who ask Him.” But it should be remembered that they who ask for the Holy Spirit are the elect only. For God promises “to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe“. (VII, III). It should be further noted that the order of salvation presented in this new chapter is that of:
1) conviction of sin,
This make salvation depend upon man’s act, and is not in harmony with the Westminster, which has:
1) elect accepted in the Beloved within the decree of God
The revisions therefore ignore the Reformed order of salvation which has been for centuries confessed by the church in the Westminster document.
In 1925 the United Presbyterian Church came up with its own version of the Westminster Confession, consisting of 44 brief articles rather than the original 33 comprehensive articles, which are said to remain the substance of the Westminster standards, and contain also current convictions of the denomination. However, the United Presbyterian Church made the Westminster symbols to teach that the gospel is unconditionally offered to all who hear (Art. XV). But if the offer can be rejected under any circumstance, as the above article admits, how, from man’s or God’s point of view, is it an unconditional offer? Is it not according to “current convictions” conditioned by the will of man? Is it not also conditioned by God’s foresight of man’s future act of acceptance? Is it not conditioned by faith when it is stated that faith is the condition of salvation (XVII)? Thus the confessions are gradually undermined with imperceptible, insidious subtlety. Arminianism does this, inevitably leading to Modernism, and Modernism leads to atheism.
2. Criticizing and Opposing the Confessions
What are some of the more open attacks against the confessions? For one thing, they are denied with the contention that they are only man-made records. Why is it, however, that when the Bible has almost no place whatever in the church that then opposition to the confessions becomes the most fanatical? Why is it that the most uninformed as to knowledge of confessions have the most against them? The Bible alone, or merely the New Testament, is claimed to be all the creed we need. “No creed but Christ” is one of Modernism’s tired clichés. Or we hear, “Scripture, not theology!” This sounds somewhat pious, as it is ostensibly in the interest of the sufficiency of Scripture. We, too, believe the sufficiency of Scripture, but that sufficiency does not render creeds and confessions unnecessary any more than it renders the church unnecessary. Who reasons, We have the Bible, which is alone the Word of God – what need then for any church connection? Who concludes we may stay home with our Bibles? We neither disregard the church, nor the past testimony of the church. Since that testimony was of the Holy Spirit, it is not to be denied or neglected. It is our Christian duty in the church to confess the same things as the church of all the ages. The truth is unchangeable. But the church cannot make any confession or have any testimony if it considers that Scripture alone exclusive of a confession is sufficient. It is from the Scripture that our testimony originates. When we give our testimony, that is also our confession.
The Modernist mind regards confessions as a hindrance to free thought, and renders believing according to the dictates of one’s own conscience an impossibility. The Modernist will not be bound by the dictates of other men. He aspires to an absolute individualistic autonomy, and will not submit to another’s conscience. He will not, for anything, permit the loss of his own personal identity. As to man’s thought, we believe it is never absolutely free. Only God’s is that! Man’s thought is free under God’s providence and sovereignty. His thought is spiritually free only when it is on the track of Scripture. Man’s conscience then may be as free as God’s Word ordains; and not God’s Word may bind the conscience – not some philosophy, not some “religion,” not some organization, not some person or group of persons, nor some ruler or government – no power on earth, save the Word in the power of the Spirit. But no Christian is more bound by the confessions than he is by Scripture – not as much as he is by Scripture – yet the binding of the confession he welcomes, would not have it any other way. Confessions, then, are no unbearable yoke. They are a binding of choice.
The confessions are also regarded as divisive, causing a rift in the churches. They are the cause of dissension and discord. They raise up walls in the church higher than those of the kingdom of heaven. They separate brethren who ought to be united. They are therefore one of the greatest obstacles standing in the way of the one world church ideal. The modern ecumenical movement for this reason has for one of its purposes the breaking down of all denominational barriers. This anti doctrinal movement aims to merge nominal Protestantism, Romanism and Judaism into a neutral common denominator church. But the church is not so colorless and non-descript. Just as the insignia of an army indicates whether it consists of commandos or paratroops, revealing its distinctive function, so the confessions mark the real reason for a denomination’s existence. The insignia is a symbol of the armies’ nationality, function and purpose. Removing the insignia will not change all this. But with the soldiers of the cross, to do so would seriously impair their morale. Drop the confessions, and the churches will become spiritually demoralized, impoverished and degenerate to a club or a lodge. For when the churches lose the expressions of their distinctiveness, they soon lose the cause and reason for their separate existence and usefulness in the world.
Further objection to confessions is that they stagnate intellectual and spiritual development. Holding archaic, out-of-date tenets leaves no room for new ideals The old confessions are so heavenly that they are no earthly good. With them, the church becomes a historical museum and ceases to be a center of culture, influence, leadership and progress. This criticism is not true, except where the churches have neglected, forsaken or corrupted their confessions and lapsed into a dead confessionalism. This is typical of the Modernist churches. The truly confessing church has not yet uttered the last word. On the basis of Scripture it bears a testimony to the sovereignty and grace of God. That testimony is its confession. That confession, over the years, it develops, enriches and purifies.
It has also been objected that confessions make for prejudice, bigotry and intolerance. They have always been and still are a means of persecution. This is the same objection made by free-thoughtism. They who believe the most are the bigots, and they who believe the least are broadminded. Too much religion is as bad as no religion. It is narrow minded and leads to inquisitorial cruelty. According to this contention, not only were Luther and Calvin notorious heads in the rogues’ gallery of bigotry, but so were Paul and Jesus. For none so hopelessly antagonized the Jews as did Jesus up to the point where they were implacably driven to murder him. Then Paul with his interpretation of Christ’s principles used the same as the most divisive wedge ever to threaten an anciently established religious institution.
We answer: the Christian and the true church are admittedly intolerant to sin and the lie. So was Jesus, but He was never a bigot. He ate with publicans, Pharisees and sinners. He never allowed them to intimidate or corrupt Him. He answered the devil with, “It is written,” and refuted His enemies with “Ye have heard it said . . . But I say unto you . . . !” Using the creeds to persecute is not the mark of the true but the false church. That “church” persecutes “those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke” it for error, covetousness and idolatry. The true church does not persecute when it exercises Christian discipline in punishing sin. Reforming, correcting and purifying are not acts of persecution. Managing everything according to the Word of God and rejecting all things contrary thereto is not bigotry, but love and integrity.
Finally, Modernism contends that confessions tempt to hypocrisy. No intelligent person believes them any more. They make the church’s ship of state appear to be flying under a pirate-chaser’s (heresy-hunters) flag, whereas the craft is really a mercy ship. It is high time the old, embarrassing flag is lowered, and we “let the church be the church.”
It must be admitted that there are hypocrites who pretend to the strictest
orthodoxy while they live under that guise in the most flagrant sin. It is also true that there are hypocrites who sail under the Reformed or Presbyterian flag, but who have long ago deserted to the side of the enemy (Arminianism and Modernism). These especially predominate in the churches where Christian discipline is lax or non-existent. It is not the presence of the confessions in the church which makes for arm-chair believers, or parlor Christians. They are godly for gain, generous for fame, and aspire after reputation for self. The hypocrite is one who has God in his mouth, but the world in his heart. Not the church, the Scripture or the confessions are to blame, but “he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed” (Jas. 1:14). A good confession implies belief of the truth and performance of the Word. It is defined in word, expressed in tongue and manifested in deed and in truth!