EP and Burden of Proof

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JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Andrew gave this link, (http://www.freechurch.org/resources/articles/sing.htm) in another thread about EP. I think that here is something that we can discuss.

I would contend that the burden of proof in matters such as EP is not like the author, Mr. Stivason, asserts. He outlines two different kinds of dialogues under which the burden of proof is required, and names them Asymmetrical and Symmetrical. He says that the burden of proof is always on the person who asserts. But he puts the onus on the non-EP for proof by claiming that the discussion is Asymmetrical, that it is not two sides making claims, but only one. He likens it to a dialogue in which EP is not asserting, but merely taking a non-commital stance. His grounds for this is that the EP stance is merely coming off the Apostolic tradition from the evidences. And then he goes into the usual Girardeau-type of citations and arguments, listing them as evidences.

I don't know if everyone will agree with my summary, but that's not really my point anyways. Everyone should read it for themselves, and make up their own minds.

What I want to contend is that there are distinctly two types of EP: policy EP, in which a church makes EP a practice in the church, but if individuals or churches break with it, they are breaking with church agreement of unity, not with doctrine; and doctrinal EP, in which to break with EP is to break with doctrine as well as church unity. My contention is that Mr. Stivason's approach can only yield the first sort, and by no means may assume the second.

That is, then, that there are two types of burdens of proof involved. If it asserted that the Bible teaches EP, and is therefore commanded, then this carries the same burden of proof that every other stated doctrine within the Confessions carries, namely that it is clearly, plainly, and necessarily derived directly from Scripture and Scripture alone. But if it is asserted that a church ought to practice EP, and that a church ought to be unified in its worship practices, and that it is binding only by agreement, and not by theological obligation, then the burden of proof is different.

But in both cases, if a church or denomination comes to that point, then the burden of proof is symmetrical. If, on the other hand, a church or denomination is already EP, then the burden of proof is assymetrical, with the burden on the anti side. I am assuming Mr. Stivason's definitions here.

The WCF allows that some things are not as clearly discerned as others in the Scriptures. It also allows that some things are left to the individual conscience. What is to be called doctrine, though, always bears a very serious onus, different than any other. We may not proclaim in God's name what we do not have assurance of that it is God's proclamation. And there is a hierarchy of teachings, ascribing normativity to the more clear and more plain texts in lieu of the less clear and less plain texts. We're not talking about coming to our best conclusion on the matter, but about what God says on the matter. By calling it doctrine we saying that this is what God says. And it is a dreadfully responsible thing to assert that. We may not add to God's Word.

On the other hand, we may not subtract either. If EP is clearly taught in Scripture, then it is the non-EP's responsibility to submit.

My contention, then, is that Mr. Stivason's approach can only yield a policy of EP, and is not sufficient for doctrinal EP. To achieve a doctrinal EP, the proofs need to be exactly the same as all the proofs for all the other doctrines in the WCF, which summarize what is necessary for faith, life, and worship.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
That thread was speaking of burden of proof in a more general way. This thread is in direct response to an EP delineation of burden of proof. The incidental proofs may mount to the tops of the trees, but the necessary proof is still direct Scripture, remembering the regulations for that set down in the WCF. The very best that CAN be done with Mr. Stivasan's approach is that EP is preferred, but not that it is demanded.

This helps us to better understand the WCF in regard to what it says about doctrine and elements of worship, particularly what it says about the singing of the Psalms. No one is arguing against the singing of the Psalms. What I am saying is that the WCF has refrained from saying some things because the authors knew the limitations of forming the WCF well. They could not assert what the Scriptures did not assert. They had no right to assert what the they could not prove from the texts or from good and necessary inference.

Example: (just to demonstrate this concept)

Some have claimed that the Westminster Assembly was predominantly Postmillennial. It has even been claimed that this majority was very large, leaving other views almost as negligible. Yet for all that, they never necessitated Postmillennialism. It has even been asserted that some parts of the WCF demonstrate their definite leaning to Postmillennialism. Yet, they make no direct mention of it at all. What I am saying it that no matter how much they wanted to assert it, no matter how sure they all were, they knew clearly the distinction between their personal views on such matters and the limitations of Scripture. That is why the chapter on liberty of conscience is there. They knew they could not demand what the Bible did not demand. They had no right to that. If they did, they would undermine the authoritative nature of a Church Confession. It would represent, if they did, nothing more than an individual ecclesiastical persuasion, to which other persuasions could be equal. But most of all, it could not be binding on anyone if they bound people to things that God did not bind people to. (Example ended.)

Appealing to tradition has its place. But it is of no authority in matters of doctrine. Appealing to reason has its place, but is of no authority in matters of doctrine. Appealing to honourable and pious men has its place, but they individually also have no authority beyond their mandate. If any of these lead us to a demonstration that the Bible clearly teaches EP, then that's another matter. But then it would not be tradition, reason, or the writings of men, but Scripture. All these, though, whether individually or collectively, do not attain to the authority of the Bible.

I did not mention the reduction argument for burden of proof. Mr. Stivason did not go into that, so neither will I. That is, unless someone wants me to.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
OK, JD, I know what you're thinking, and I commend you for your discernment. Let me say it, then. I'm going to skip over a few arguments so that I can jump right to what I think your interest would be.

There are a number of "therefore's" that spring out of this. One of them would be that the RPW therefore does not require EP; another would be that therefore the RPW instead protects against the imposition of a doctrinal EP. And yet another would be that the singing of hymns and spiritual songs other than the Psalms does not break the RPW. But the one I think JD would be interested in is the following.

It follows from Jesus' new paradigm for worship, found in John 4, that true worship is in spirit and in truth, that this does not require of us that we must sing only songs the Bible provides. He says we must worship spirit and in truth, and adds nowhere that this means that we may only sing songs that the Bible has in it.

For example: I said a lot of things in the above posts. I did not quote the WCF; I only said what it said in my own words. Yet everything that I said was true of WCF. That is, they're all true becuase the WCF says so, whether in my own words or the WCF's words. In the same way, ministers do the same thing every Sunday from the pulpits, speaking the truth of God's Word, even when they're not directly quoting the Word of God, saying it in their own words, and as the truth of the Word applies to specific needs. They speak truth, even when they're not quoting the Word of God.

In the same way, we as the congregation can sing spiritually and truly without necessarily quoting the Word of God to do so. They are not, because they're in our own words, inventions or intrusions by men. God wants the heart to be true, and He is not cutting us off because we are not yet perfect. He wants worship of the heart, not just in the words. He accepts our prayers and our songs, imperfect as they may be, through the sanctification of the Spirit, in the same way He blesses the preached Word through weak men by the same Holy Spirit.

Worship is not true because it turns the words and songs of Scripture into modern song, but it is true because it speaks obediently and truly, and from the heart. The Bible is not more specific about the content than that.

Of course we should sing the Psalms. And surely these are required of us. We do not disagree with that. We fully support that. But those things, according the the WCF, which are not specifically declared are to be understood in the light of the more plain and clear texts of Scripture. And all else is to be carefully taken under the liberty of the conscience of the Christian, or in this case, each church or denomination.

This is, in my view, what WCF, XXI, v says about singing in worship. This view does not wrangle about words, but sticks to the plain meanings set down for us, both in the Word and in the WCF. As far as I can see, this view does not violate the WCF. The fact that the WCF leaves this to the discretion of each denomination and/or individual church, makes it a collectively agreed position as to whether they will or will not include other songs. But it is not required by the RPW to sing only the Psalms, nor to limit worship songs to songs already in the Bible.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The gist of all this is:

The burden of proof that the RPW requires EP is upon those who claim such.

The burden of proof required for those who say we may also sing hymns, because this falls into liberty of conscience, is nothing more than the failure of the "RPW requires EP" proofs to have failed. The lack of direct command or of necessity from other Scriptures makes this a matter of conscience. It does not need a direct commandment, but is up to the discretion of the elders of the churches or of the individualy denominations.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
JD:

You now have a reference to point people to should they ask for literature stating the other side of the discussion. This upholds the RPW, the WCF, and does not violate any known commandments or directives from Scripture, and yet comes down on the other side of "The RPW requires EP" stance. Not my dissertation here, but the WCF.
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
Some thoughts...

1. I think you're right in one thing: that Mr. Stivason's article is open to that kind of critique, according to the narrow fashion in which he presented the argument. That is, his presentation of a "burden of proof" argument could only be used to prove ecclesiastical EP, rather than doctrinal EP. However, I believe that a similar argument can be presented for doctrinal EP, based upon divine precept (whether or not mediated by divine instruments, as kings, prophets, apostles, etc.), rather than "this is the way the church has always worshipped."

2. You seem to be presenting something of a "reverse argument" regarding authorial intent of the Westminster Confession, which makes little sense. You seem to be saying in the "posmil example," that, because the Westminster Divines were probably all postmils, but did not frame their Confession and Catechisms to reflect postmillennialism, that they therefore considered postmillennialism to fall under "liberty of conscience." (I myself would argue that the Confession and Catechisms lend themselves more readily to an amil interpretation; but that's probably just my own amillennialism seeking confessional justification or something. ;) )

Similarly, you seem to argue that, because they all or mostly all held to exclusive psalmody (or something similar, such as "inspired songs only"), but didn't clearly condemn uninspired hymns, that they therefore placed such things under "liberty of conscience" -- other historical determiners notwithstanding (i.e., The Directory for the Publick Worship of God; their work regarding Francis Rouse's The Psalms of David in Metre; the practice of their churches; the later development of uninspired hymnody among the Particular Baptists, etc. etc.). But concerning your central assertion, I would ask how you can so readily assume that they regarded the question of which songs should be used in worship as a matter of "liberty of conscience," without recourse to the discussions and debates that occurred at the Assembly, and based solely upon your supposing them to be so.

3. You present the same tired argument that "we can sing what we want as long as it is doctrinally accurate," this time citing John 4:23, 24 as proof -- even though this passage refers to our worship in general, and not specifically to the words that we use, whether in prayer, preaching, or singing. It is therefore a false dichotomy to say, as you do, that "He says we must worship in spirit and in truth, and adds nowhere that this means that we may only sing songs that the Bible has in it."

Singing is an element of worship, distinct from preaching and prayer, with its own mandate and regulation -- as clearly explained in WCF 21.5. You cannot argue from the way our worship should be in general, or from the "liberty" we have in preaching or in prayer to employ our own words, to a similar "liberty" in our singing of Psalms. By so doing, you are begging the question, and assuming one of the points in debate.

4. This does not uphold the RPW, or the WCF. You have not yet dealt with the question of whether Scripture regulates the specific element of worship called "singing God's praise" in a way more particular than you have assumed; and you have swept the testimony of the Westminster Assembly on this subject under the rug of "liberty of conscience," without demonstrating that they regarded this question as falling under liberty of conscience.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Regrettably JohnV falls into the same old mishap of failing to comprehend the RPW before making assertions about the onus probandi of EP. Given the *exclusive* nature of the RPW, the onus is clearly on the person who seeks to INTRODUCE something into the worship of God, to demonstrate that the Word of God warrants the introduction. The RPW insists that elements of worship which God has not commanded are forbidden. God has nowhere commanded us to make up our own songs; the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, has nowhere provided for an office of hymnal composition; there is no example anywhere in the NT of individuals composing songs to be sung by a congregation (noting the gift of psalmody mentioned in 1 Cor. 14 was extraordinary and individual). The silence in this matter is deafening.
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
Additionally, because it is being oft spoken of in this discussion:
The Westminster Confession of Faith, 21.5.
The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in a holy and religious manner.
Here, the "parts of the ordinary religious worship of God" are said to be:

1. "The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear"
2. "The sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence"
3. "Singing of psalms with grace in the heart"
4. "The due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ"

To these should also be added a fifth: "Prayer, with thanksgiving"; as per sections 3 and 4 of the same chapter:
3. Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of His Spirit, according to His will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.
4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful, and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.
Please note that the Westminster Divines, for all of these parts (we today frequently call them "elements") of worship, declared either the content or subject matter to be defined.

1. "The reading of the Scriptures" (content is defined)
2. "The sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word" (subject matter is defined)
3. "Singing of psalms" (content is defined)
4. The nature and form of the sacraments (which would correlate to content) is defined in chapters 27-29.
5. The subject matter of "prayer, with thanksgiving" is defined in section 4.

Had the Westminster Divines used a more ambiguous phrase, such as "singing God's praise with grace in the heart," I would see it as credible that they perceived the content of our song in worship to be undefined, and left to men to formulate within certain guidelines, as in the case of prayer; or, that believing or not believing in exclusive psalmody belonged to a matter of the individual's conscience. But these are the words that they penned; and no latter-day attempts at redefining the work of that Assembly, and reading modern-day feelings toward uninspired hymns into their documents, will change that.

.................

But we can argue the authorial intent behind the Westminster Confession all day long, and not come any closer to answering these issues. The question is, Does Scripture declare that the content of singing God's praise is defined?

And to that I answer: If you believe that God has commanded or prescribed that the Psalms be sung in worship -- has appointed them to be employed as a hymnal -- then you have already conceded to us the argument. If God has appointed definite songs to be sung in worship, then God's regulation extends to which particular songs are to be sung in worship. As a syllogism, it would be:

Major premise. God regulates His appointments in worship as far as those appointments extend.
Minor premise. But God has appointed particular songs to be sung in worship -- His appointment extends to which particular songs will be sung in worship.
Conclusion. Therefore, God regulates which particular songs will be sung in worship.

Which part of the syllogism will one contest? (1.) The major flows naturally from an adherence to the RPW. The RPW is not merely some bare principle; in order to have a concrete existence, it must be applied. But the question arises, How is to be applied? The answer is, Scripture shows us how it is to be applied, by telling us of how God has appointed His ordinances of worship. Has God appointed Scripture to be read and preached from in worship (defined content for the one, defined subject matter for the other)? Then only God may define the content of our reading, and the subject matter of our sermons. (2.) Again, as far as I am aware, no one contests the minor -- the fact that particular songs (i.e., the Psalms) have been appointed by God to be sung in worship. (3.) And the conclusion naturally flows from these two; demonstrating that, for songs to be sung in worship, they must be particularly appointed by God for that purpose.
 
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JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I'll respond to Sean's posts. I think that should suffice for all concerned.

But before I do that, I want to acknowledge that there exists within Presbyterianism quite a range of understandings of what it is we are bound to when we vow submission to the Westminster Standards.

I am bound by vow not only to the Westminster Standards, but also the Three Forms of Unity. I am bound by both because I made vows under both. And I do not recall ever saying in any of my almost three thousand posts that I took exception to any one of the articles in either one of those standards. I'm not saying that I don't take exception here or there, nor am I suggesting that I do take exception here or there; I'm saying that I don't recall ever representing on this Board that I took exception to any one article, or part thereof.

In addition, by joining this Board I am also bound, to the extent of membership on this Board, to respect and honour those who are admitted as members, yet whose promises to standards other than mine bind their consciences. That is, I am not bound by the London Baptist Confession of Faith, for example, but in respect to this Board I am bound to respect and honour those who are bound by that standard.

I understand that within that standard to which I am bound, which I confess in common with so many others on this Board, the Westminster Standards, that there is a considerable difference between what it is we believe we are bound to through them. I want to respect that range as well, insofar as all that fits within that range represents what people believe they are bound to ecclesiastically.

So I understand that there are some who belong to denominations that believe the WCF to assert a confining of the singing in worship to only the Psalms. I understand that these believe they are bound by that. I do not want to disturb people's consciences needlessly. I believe that I may speak my mind concerning what I believe, and that I may be held accountable for the things that I say. My conscience is bound by the Word, and the fact that I believe the standards that I have submitted to faithfully represent the true and complete doctrines of salvation. Just as my conscience is not bound by other peoples' consciences, so also I do not intend to bind others by mine.

In my posts above, I have made a deliberate attempt to state a position clearly, firmly grounded in the standards that bind us, and without any attempt to cast aspersions on anyone who would disagree. In another thread, one on Theonomy, I attempted to represent that I take exception to using terms pejoratively: people using the word "theonimist" when they really mean "Bahnsenist" or "Rushdooneyist" in terms of understanding the law: it has been too easy to call those who do not follow Bahnsen's theses as "non-theonomists', even though it has been clearly acknowledged over and over again that Presbyterians by definition of their Confession are all theonomists, even though they disagree with or even reject Bahnsen's applications or theses. In the same way, I wanted to show in some way that it is not right to assume that "non-EP" people are therefore also not RPW people; it is precisely because they also adhere to the RPW that they are NOT EP. That is, there is a difference in opinion about what the RPW admits and will not admit, but we cannot assume non-subscription to the RPW simply on the basis of being non-EP. I believe that is pejorative, adding negative connotations to the use of terms which define something quite apart from those connotations.

Going on from this point, the approach I have taken to the Westminster Standards, which includes my own personal commitment to the Three Forms of Unity as well, understanding these to assert the same faith, not two separate faiths, consists of a difference that I believe Sean has pointed out. He has suggested that my take on the Confessions is inverted; and I would return that I believe his view is inverted, of course. And you're right, Sean, we could go on all day about that difference, and yet not settle the matter.

So I submit this (again) long post to acknowledge to you, Sean and Matthew, that I understand that there are matters of personal conscience and commitments on your parts. and that I want to respect them even if I disagree with you. I want to submit this to you both before I answer Sean's posts more directly.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
A brief note about my post for JD's sake. I owed him that, because I agree with him, but in one of the threads that he started on EP I addressed him in what I disagreed with him on, namely on how the subject was to be argued. That one post is not part of the argument I am presenting; it's just a "therefore if follows" thing that I added for JD's sake because I owed it to him.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I don't think I understand what this means? What is said to be inverted in each case?
He has suggested that my take on the Confessions is inverted; and I would return that I believe his view is inverted, of course. And you're right, Sean, we could go on all day about that difference, and yet not settle the matter.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I don't think I understand what this means? What is said to be inverted in each case?

Thanks, Chris. After I posted it, and while I was writing an answer to Sean (which is still coming) it crossed my mind that I wasn't clear on this point. It might be saying more than I intended, while at the same time saying it in my terms instead of Sean's.

So before I submit a response to Sean I should clear this up. Thanks for pointing it out, Chris.

Sean states in his first post,

2. You seem to be presenting something of a "reverse argument" regarding authorial intent of the Westminster Confession, which makes little sense. You seem to be saying in the "posmil example," that, because the Westminster Divines were probably all postmils, but did not frame their Confession and Catechisms to reflect postmillennialism, that they therefore considered postmillennialism to fall under "liberty of conscience."
In saying "inverted", I am referring to what he calls "reverse argument". We have two distinct approaches to the Confessional standards, and they stand in inverse relation to each other. It seems that Sean's view allows men's reasonings and conclusions to be helpful and determinative, and may therefore be added as meaning to the Confessions; while my view subjects all these to the statements of the Confessions. He seems to see the Confessions as general principles, but that the particulars are reflected more in the conclusions we draw from them. My view sees the Confessions as a limitation, to which we may not add unless by direct authority from God, by the Spirit, through the Church, and never in addition to the Word of God. To a degree there is an inversion, and this is particularly in taking place in how we understand what the Confessions have to say about "singing of psalms with grace in the heart".

This is borne out also in other topics of debate. Some have responded with almost shock that my view would limit the preaching of the Word, what is the Word and what is not the Word, to what the Confessions expressly state. I believe that a minister has no right to say from the pulpit that, for example, the Bible teaches the Framework Hypothesis; that it is completely beside this point whether the FH may be right or wrong, acceptable or not, but that the point is if the Word of God asserts, binds, or commmands it. Some have expressed surprise by what I say about that. That's because of this inversion in how we understand the WCF: that on the one hand, Sean's in this case, it is not a limitation; and on the other hand, mine in this case, that it is a strict limitation.

This is what I meant by "inversion". It is not meant as a pejorative term, one that accuses anyone. It's just a factual statement of difference in views.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Though I don't want to stray off the topic, I should be open about this last point I made in response to Chris. We are talking about the burdens of proof for EP or non-EP. But what I am concerned about here is the differences in how we approach the binding nature of the WCF as our confessional standard. If we stray into that, I wouldn't mind at all. But I think we should try to stick to the topic, and perhaps try to understand and appreciate, and maybe correct our or each others' different understandings.
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
JohnV said:
In saying "inverted", I am referring to what he calls "reverse argument".
John, what I meant was that ordinarily, arguments regarding "authorial intent" concern themselves with the specific statements that are made, and determining what the authors of that statement most probably meant. This is very common with arguments regarding the Constitution -- what did the "Founding Fathers" mean by such-and-such a statement? etc. Your argument appeared to be summarized in the idea that, if the Westminster Assembly did not, in their Confession of Faith and Catechisms, explicitly prescribe the exclusive singing of Psalms, that they therefore regarded such "exclusive" views to be unprovable from Scripture, and merely a matter of conscience rather than divine precept or regulation. You seem to read their failure to use the same explicit terminology we now employ as expressing their belief that such things are adiaphora. If I am wrong, please correct me.
JohnV said:
We have two distinct approaches to the Confessional standards, and they stand in inverse relation to each other.
Again, I wasn't speaking of approaches to our Confessional standards, but to the usual case or argument made, regarding any document, from authorial intent.
JohnV said:
It seems that Sean's view allows men's reasonings and conclusions to be helpful and determinative, and may therefore be added as meaning to the Confessions; while my view subjects all these to the statements of the Confessions.
I'm not exactly sure what you mean here. Even if I may agree with a particular commentary or exposition of the Confession of Faith, I do not believe that any church or churches should bind themselves to G.I. Williamson, or A.A. Hodge, et al. Helpful, yes; determinative, no. However, despite the perspicuity of Scripture, I still need certain places in Scripture explained to me, because I do not see the plainness. I daresay that the same can occur with our doctrinal standards, especially when they come to us hundreds of years after the fact.
JohnV said:
He seems to see the Confessions as general principles, but that the particulars are reflected more in the conclusions we draw from them. My view sees the Confessions as a limitation, to which we may not add unless by direct authority from God, by the Spirit, through the Church, and never in addition to the Word of God. To a degree there is an inversion, and this is particularly in taking place in how we understand what the Confessions have to say about "singing of psalms with grace in the heart".
And I think it depends on how we want to "limit" the Confession in that article. I understand my position as taking the plain and clear meaning of the words; in our church, we practice the "singing of psalms with grace in the heart." We do not alter our Confession to read "singing of psalms and uninspired hymns with grace in the heart," etc., or take the word "psalms" in a sense admitting of songs other than those found in the Psalter (since the common understanding of that word is, "songs found in the Psalter"). Here is "a limitation, to which we may not add unless by direct authority from God, by the Spirit," etc.

But again, you seem to regard the limitation to be found in the fact that they did not write, "singing of only psalms with grace in the heart," etc. I view such an understanding of the Confession as unnecessary and unwarranted; especially since no one will likewise read the rest of that section as restricting the church to "the reading of only the Scriptures," "the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of only the the Word," etc., and draw similar conclusions.
 
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panta dokimazete

Panting Donkey Machete
A brief note about my post for JD's sake. I owed him that, because I agree with him, but in one of the threads that he started on EP I addressed him in what I disagreed with him on, namely on how the subject was to be argued. That one post is not part of the argument I am presenting; it's just a "therefore if follows" thing that I added for JD's sake because I owed it to him.
Thanks, brother - and much appreciate your willingness to approach this and the clarity and wisdom you bring to the discussion - :handshake:
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
:ditto: to Sean. If we are discussing the meaning of the historic Presbyterian standards, I think it is pretty clear what they meant. We could speculate on what the "might" have meant or intended and float mere possibilities, but I think the actions and context of the Assembly's work obviates that as this points to their authorizing the Psalms for public worship, as I lay out in an older thread here. Also, if the historical accepted view had been that there was no binding to just this content, then most all subsequent churches have taken the hard road since they thought they needed to authorize such expansion of worship song and change their standards. They could have avoided that by playing the liberty of conscience card!

Once we get away from, what is really the minor issue of the author's intent of a human document, we get back to the scripture argument. And honestly, everyone bears the burden of proof as far as what they will bring into the public worship of God. :2cents:
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
:ditto: to Sean. If we are discussing the meaning of the historic Presbyterian standards, I think it is pretty clear what they meant. We could speculate on what the "might" have meant or intended and float mere possibilities, but I think the actions and context of the Assembly's work obviates that as this points to their authorizing the Psalms for public worship, as I lay out in an older thread here. Also, if the historical accepted view had been that there was no binding to just this content, then most all subsequent churches have taken the hard road since they thought they needed to authorize such expansion of worship song and change their standards. They could have avoided that by playing the liberty of conscience card!

Once we get away from, what is really the minor issue of the author's intent of a human document, we get back to the scripture argument. And honestly, everyone bears the burden of proof as far as what they will bring into the public worship of God. :2cents:
I agree. I am persuaded that "the writings of man" would include that of the Westminster commissioners, as well as the Confessions itself. I believe that they would understand it this way too. The WCF is binding only insofar as they relate to us what the Bible teaches. It represents to us the witness of the Church. Their intent in the words, whether personal or coporately, was not the issue: the Scriptures' teaching was the issue; and therefore they carefully framed the Confessions for what they did say and what they did not say.

What I averred above is that we cannot turn to the "original intent" argument as authoritative or normative, but only to the Word of God: that's the Confessions' own assertion regarding itself.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
In regard to the "inversion" thing, maybe I can be a bit more clear now.

If we go to the writings of the commissioners of the Assembly to determine "original intent" to determine what is autoritative in the Confessions, then, as I believe, the lesser is normative for the greater. That is those things which carry less weight have control over what is meant by the things that carry more weight. The hierarchy seems to me to be that the greater is normative for the lesser.

It is entirely possible that the original intent of even the majority of the commissioners was not accepted in the final draft of the Confessions. And even if it was, it would not be the intent of the commissioners that we heed their own opinions and persuasions, but that we be convinced by the witness of the Spirit through the Word and the witness they bore to us. Their own regulations would forbid us turning to their writings to determind doctrine: that would directly oppose what they asserted in WCF, I.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
John,

1. I believe you are presuming a level of integrity to the Westminster Standards that is inappropriate to the fallible authors who wrote them, and ironically, at the same time, creating a wax nose to bend in the direction you think the meaning of the standards should go.

2. Context. I don't need documents external to the Standards to interpret them; it is folks who insist the plain sense, taking all their work as a whole, which was of equal authority in their day, is not the true sense, which causes one to move to more sources. The EP folks didn’t start this going to documents external to the work of the Assembly to try and prove a particular meaning at WCF 21.5.

3. Interpretation. Your position is not realistic or functional. Could you even use a dictionary? If you were going to interpret an antique doctrinal statement into your mother tongue would you ignore how the men of the time used their own language? And if you had access to contemporary documents, some of which are of coequal authority as far as their acceptance, would you truly ignore them as well as far as helping you get at their real meaning? Then, once you knew the true interpretation of the words, you would measure them by the Scripture, and not simply import what you believed the Scriptural doctrines were onto that document needing interpretation.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
John,

1. I believe you are presuming a level of integrity to the Westminster Standards that is inappropriate to the fallible authors who wrote them, and ironically, at the same time, creating a wax nose to bend in the direction you think the meaning of the standards should go.
I am assuming the highest level of integrity, yes.
This carries with it a level of integrity to live up to, if we cite them as authoritative, yes.
Whether this is a "wax nose" effect depends upon whether or not you agree with the level of integrity the WS are given. Lowering the integrity does not lessen the "wax nose" effect; it merely shifts it.

I am assuming, from the context, ("level of integrity", "inappropriate", and "fallible authors") that you believe that I give them too high a level of integrity. Thank you. Let's hope we all recognize, then, that I am not undermining their integrity, nor shrugging it off, nor asserting more than there is. I am giving the WS the highest authority that may be given to human writings that the WCF allows.
2. Context. I don't need documents external to the Standards to interpret them; it is folks who insist the plain sense, taking all their work as a whole, which was of equal authority in their day, is not the true sense, which causes one to move to more sources. The EP folks didn’t start this going to documents external to the work of the Assembly to try and prove a particular meaning at WCF 21.5.
This is begging the question. It assumes the thing under question.

I am asking that we take the meaning in its plain sense, within the context of the extant writings of the time, and in the context of their own writings.

It doesn't matter who started appealing to external sources. The point is, they are "external". The WCF would regard even the writing of their own hand as "external". The ruling of the church is not the ruling of individuals, but of the plurality of elders, meeting in holy convocation, under the Holy Spirit, and under the Word of God. The WS are the resulting statements of authority, not the personal writings of each of the members. The Church accepts the WS as authoritative, and that only because they reflect the teachings of the Word of God. The writings of the holy men reflect the opinions of these holy men.

The Belgic Confession, article 7 says, in part,

Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures
One would assume that the men who wrote the WS would agree, since the WCF says,

iv. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
I am agreeing with these teachings. I don't believe it is inappropriate.

3. Interpretation. Your position is not realistic or functional. Could you even use a dictionary? If you were going to interpret an antique doctrinal statement into your mother tongue would you ignore how the men of the time used their own language? And if you had access to contemporary documents, some of which are of coequal authority as far as their acceptance, would you truly ignore them as well as far as helping you get at their real meaning? Then, once you knew the true interpretation of the words, you would measure them by the Scripture, and not simply import what you believed the Scriptural doctrines were onto that document needing interpretation.
I did not deny the helpfulness of the many uses that these writings may be put to. I am agreeing with the WCF about authority, and about the burden of proof for assertions concerning commands and requirements from God.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I know this is a sticky point. I am painfully aware of the difference that exists in how the Standards are regarded. Believe me, I know how different the views are. I've been through a lot over that issue of difference.

I am not trying to cause waves either. Both sides have to know of the existence of the other. I'm not jumping to Article 29 of the Belgic Confession here. I am trying to get across the idea that there is a difference of views that needs to be studied carefully, prayerfully, and lovingly, and together.

So before I post my answer to Sean, I think we should all think about this. I am glad to have put these posts in here, so that when I post my answer to Sean, it will be known that I care how I put into the answers I give, and that I am not shrugging off the burden that is put upon me in what I assert. No, in making the statements that I do about Biblical burden of proof, I bear that same burden of proof that I suggest the RPW => EP carries. I believe that I have put forward a position that is internally coherent and completely compliant with the standards of faith the Church lives by; and I'm ready to by put in my place if it is not so.
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
JohnV said:
I am asking that we take the meaning in its plain sense, within the context of the extant writings of the time, and in the context of their own writings.

It doesn't matter who started appealing to external sources. The point is, they are "external". The WCF would regard even the writing of their own hand as "external". The ruling of the church is not the ruling of individuals, but of the plurality of elders, meeting in holy convocation, under the Holy Spirit, and under the Word of God. The WS are the resulting statements of authority, not the personal writings of each of the members. The Church accepts the WS as authoritative, and that only because they reflect the teachings of the Word of God. The writings of the holy men reflect the opinions of these holy men.
That is an interesting point. Should we therefore not turn to what the individual members of the Westminster Assembly thought on such matters, and turn instead to the Church of Scotland, which was the first and sole ecclesiastical authority to receive the Westminster Confession as its Confession of Faith? Would you prefer, John, to turn to the Acts of the General Assemblies from 1560 to 1647, to determine what the Church of Scotland meant when it received that Confession of Faith, including the article of "singing of psalms with grace in the heart"? (Are you at all familiar with David Hay Fleming's "The Hymnology of the Scottish Reformation"?)
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
That is an interesting point. Should we therefore not turn to what the individual members of the Westminster Assembly thought on such matters, and turn instead to the Church of Scotland, which was the first and sole ecclesiastical authority to receive the Westminster Confession as its Confession of Faith? Would you prefer, John, to turn to the Acts of the General Assemblies from 1560 to 1647, to determine what the Church of Scotland meant when it received that Confession of Faith, including the article of "singing of psalms with grace in the heart"? (Are you at all familiar with David Hay Fleming's "The Hymnology of the Scottish Reformation"?)
No, I am not familiar with that work, Sean. Sorry.


I had a response ready, and it's quite long. It deals with all that you brought up in your posts. But I changed my mind about posting it. I'm not sure that its the way to go with this. My original response was point for point, but that may not address the real concerns. There are some important things to remember, and I want to be careful. I want to show that my arguments are sound, but more importantly that they are what the Confessions also say about what the Bible teaches.

So far, it seems to me, we have determined that the position, "RPW => EP" relies not on express revelation in Scripture but on external authority, external to the idea of Sola Scriptura. The question is whether that external authority is binding or not; and the question is also whether the confessional standard of the Church is a limitation, or a document that is inclusive of the differing opinions arising on matters treated within the documents of that standard.

The position that I see you proposing is:

- the majority, and perhaps even a great majority, were of a certain opinion, and

- therefore that opinion is the default or the de facto position of the Church, even though that position is not explicitly stated, and

- therefore that position is authoritative, and

- therefore it is what the Bible teaches,

If this misrepresents your position at all, please set me right about it.

In the meantime, I'll state my position in like manner:

The Bible teaches a particular proposition, and

- therefore the Church may authoritatively state it, and

- therefore the individual members of the Church must adhere to it, and

- therefore the writings of even the holiest and most highly regarded of the men of the Church must be judged by it, and

- therefore the only authority for determining what God requires is the Word of God only, with all other authority subservient to it, and

- this is what the confessional standards of the Church also assert and reflect.

- therefore, to require EP as necessary for worship must demonstrate express, clear, and plain (words that the WCF uses) revelation of the Bible; any other source is not sufficient as authority to require it.

I'll put together the articles of faith that deal with this. I need a bit of time, though, because it's been a tough week for me, and I need some rest. I've got most of it done already, but I want to be more careful and thorough.
 
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