Meaning in WCF 31

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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
When does a case become "extraordinary"?

"V. Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate."
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
I could be wrong, but I think the key phrase is unless by way of humble petition. Both Dickson and Shaw say that if the magistrate calls upon a synod to help deal with certain matter (one case is that of the Westminster Assembly where they were called by the magistrate to meet) they may help them in matters of religion.

Here is Shaw's Commentary:
While our Confession denounces any Erastian interference of the civil magistrate in matters purely spiritual and Ecclesiastical, it no less explicitly disavows all Popish claims, on the part of the synods and councils of the Church, to intermeddle with civil affairs, unless by way of petition, in extraordinary cases, or by ray of advice, when required by the civil magistrate. Our Reformers appear to have clearly perceived the proper limits of the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and to have been very careful that they should be strictly observed. "The power and policy ecclesiastical," say they, "is different and distinct in its own nature from that power and policy which is called civil power, and appertainseth to the civil government of the commonwealth; albeit they be both of God, and tend to one end, if they be rightly used, viz., to advance the glory of God, and to have godly and good subjects." "Diligence should be taken, chiefly by the moderator, that only ecclesiastical things be handled in the Assemblies, and that there be no meddling with anything pertaining to the civil jurisdiction." Church and State may co-operate in the advancement of objects common to both; but each of them must be careful to act within its own proper sphere-- the one never intermeddling with the affairs which properly belong to the province of the other.

Likewise, Dickson says the following in his commentary on the confession:
...it is the duty of the civil magistrate, being born within the church, to take care that peace and unity be preserved and kept in the church...

...it is the duty of a godly king, by virtue of his regal power and authority, to set about a work of reformation and to call and command all ranks of people to return to the true worship and service of God.

How can a magistrate do such a thing if the synod or council or officers of the church are not helping in this process?
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Andrew (Barnes),

The point of the clause is that the Church's authority to handle or conclude a matter rests within the Ecclesiastical authority. It is to normally restrict its deliberations to such matters and has no authority over the civil sphere. It is not to intermeddle with civil affairs as a general rule assuming that it has authority to settle matters that belong to the magistrate. However, in extraordinary cases, it may humbly make petition to the civil magistrate. This is in contrast to the idea that, if it decides to intermeddle in civil affairs, that it may do so with some sort of binding authority. It's sort of speaking in contrast to the papacy that believed that kings and magistrates fell under its authority and make arrogant presumption toward that end.

In sum, the idea is that the WCF recognizes circumstances where the Church may humbly petition to the civil magistrate. Current situations, for instance, are quite extraordinary. If a Church synod or council desires to make a resolution to communicate to the government then it should not be in the form of a screed but in the form of humble petition stating that the government is acting in a wicked or unjust manner.

It's interesting you brought this up because I was just thinking about the fact that some of the calls that Churches need to turn out and publicly denounce "social injustice" and conduct civil unrest fly in the face of the notion of "humble petition".
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
I was only thinking of Overture 7 for this year, but good point in the last paragraph.

Andrew (Barnes),

The point of the clause is that the Church's authority to handle or conclude a matter rests within the Ecclesiastical authority. It is to normally restrict its deliberations to such matters and has no authority over the civil sphere. It is not to intermeddle with civil affairs as a general rule assuming that it has authority to settle matters that belong to the magistrate. However, in extraordinary cases, it may humbly make petition to the civil magistrate. This is in contrast to the idea that, if it decides to intermeddle in civil affairs, that it may do so with some sort of binding authority. It's sort of speaking in contrast to the papacy that believed that kings and magistrates fell under its authority and make arrogant presumption toward that end.

In sum, the idea is that the WCF recognizes circumstances where the Church may humbly petition to the civil magistrate. Current situations, for instance, are quite extraordinary. If a Church synod or council desires to make a resolution to communicate to the government then it should not be in the form of a screed but in the form of humble petition stating that the government is acting in a wicked or unjust manner.

It's interesting you brought this up because I was just thinking about the fact that some of the calls that Churches need to turn out and publicly denounce "social injustice" and conduct civil unrest fly in the face of the notion of "humble petition".
 
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