OPC GA - Changing Language

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Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Neither was Calvin speaking of changing doctrine. Unless I misunderstand Calvin, I think he was saying the even the very words that were assembled by competent (authorized) people are to be faithfully passed on word-for-word. The Westminster Confession was authored by many competent divines over a long period, during a Reforming time in the history of the Church. (And they knew it) We should not take lightly changing even the form of sound words.

I think your reductio ad absurdum about translating Greek to the vulgar languages misses the point completely. It was with great care over time, and by many hands that this process was to be carried out.

I am only saying that if these "minor" changes are to be made, they should be made with major care, by many men, over time.

Do you think I have miss understood Calvin? If not. Do you think he was misguided in his concern?

I am coming off a personal experience in my church where a single elder paraphrased the WSC Q. What is prayer?, in such a way that it was unrecognizable to my children and me. I later told the elder that I did not think one man was ever competent to modernize the Standards, no matter how hard they tried. They would inevitably get something wrong.

Someday the Standards will be updated. Someday when the Church is in a similar Reforming time. I do not think we live in such times today.

I have no more to say. I am just suspicious of anyone messing with the language of the Standards in our present day and age.

As to translation:
All the canonical books of the Old and New Testament (...) shall be publicly read in the vulgar tongue, out of the best allowed translation, distinctly, that all may hear and understand.

The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (p. 482). Philadelphia: William S. Young. - From the Directory for the Public Worship of God.
Ed, my point was that there is no agenda in the OPC to change the sound words but on the contrary to preserve them and make them more readable to modern English readers, something I think Calvin would approve of. We have modern English Bible versions. We have modern English updates of 17th century works. Why are the standards of the OPC somehow immune from that process of clarification? And where in Scripture are we told to only do such things in a "reforming" age? How much of Scripture itself was written during times of great moral decline and rebellion, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel? What prevents a faithful church from improving the readability of their standards even in age when the surrounding culture is less Christian? Wouldn't that instead be a motivation to be more clear, now that the assumptions of cultural Christianity have fallen away, and to remove the unnecesary verbage which does make it more burdensome to read for modern readers? We live in a awkward time where the surrounding culture is declining, and yet Reformed scholarship is also growing. Is it a coincidence that God has given us such gifts at this point in time?

Again the recommendation of the committee was extremely narrow, confined to morphological changes and clearly archaic words, not a wholesale revision of doctrinal and technical terms. Would it really change the meaning significantly to change "hath" to "has" or "stews" to "brothels"? Also, the process of amending the standards is deliberately slow and careful in the OPC. Plus, we have many notable scholars of Reformation and Post-Reformation theology serving as teaching and ruling elders in our denomination, more than perhaps at any point in OPC history. There has been a great resurgence of study in that field. I personally am confident that great care would be taken to consider the historic importance of even these narrow kinds of changes. Furthermore, the Christian Education commitee was told to consult other denominations with whom we have fraternal relations about this recommendation before bringing it back.

Just to outline the process, a special commitee would have to be erected by the GA to work on these changes (and likely that committee would be stacked with relevant scholars). Then that commitee would have to report back to the GA when their work was complete. Their work would be evaluated by the GA. Many hands would be working on it, not only in committee but before the whole GA. This part could take years (especially in the OPC). And these changes would not be approved until there was a two-thirds vote in favor. Then it would have to go to the presbyteries, and two-thirds of the presbyteries would have to approve it. Then it would have to go to another GA and receive a two-thirds vote to pass. Again, this process would take years (2 years, bare minimum if the commitee did perfect work and the first GA vote approved it immediately).

You cite your own experience of a pastor misquoting the catechism as giving you caution. But that error is much harder to do in the process outlined above. I have my own concerns as well, having to pastor many people who never went beyond a high school education and who really do struggle to read that older language. We cannot jettison the doctrinal and technical terms, but we can remove other unnecessary impediments to their efforts to study them, just as we do with the Scriptures. Obviously, you can see that I favor something like this, not because I want doctrinal decline, but because I want the doctrine I love so much to be more readable to my people so they may benefit from it. We are not discarding what our forefathers said, but building on it.

Sorry to be so long, but I really do think we need to be clear on what was really recommended and discussed in the OPC, and also what was not up for negotiation. If something more radical were proposed I would share your caution, but that was simply not the case here.

Every blessing,
 
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Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Ed, my point was that there is no agenda in the OPC to change the sound words but on the contrary to preserve them and make them more readable to modern English readers, something I think Calvin would approve of. We have modern English Bible versions. We have modern English updates of 17th century works. Why are the standards of the OPC somehow immune from that process of clarification? And where in Scripture are we told to only do such things in a "reforming" age? How much of Scripture itself was written during times of great moral decline and rebellion, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel? What prevents a faithful church from improving the readability of their standards even in age when the surrounding culture is less Christian? Wouldn't that instead be a motivation to be more clear, now that the assumptions of cultural Christianity have fallen away, and to remove the unnecesary verbage which does make it more burdensome to read for modern readers? We live in a awkward time where the surrounding culture is declining, and yet Reformed scholarship is also growing. Is it a coincidence that God has given us such gifts at this point in time?

Again the recommendation of the committee was extremely narrow, confined to morphological changes and clearly archaic words, not a wholesale revision of doctrinal and technical terms. Would it really change the meaning significantly to change "hath" to "has" or "stews" to "brothels"? Also, the process of amending the standards is deliberately slow and careful in the OPC. Plus, we have many notable scholars of Reformation and Post-Reformation theology serving as teaching and ruling elders in our denomination, more than perhaps at any point in OPC history. There has been a great resurgence of study in that field. I personally am confident that great care would be taken to consider the historic importance of even these narrow kinds of changes. Furthermore, the Christian Education commitee was told to consult other denominations with whom we have fraternal relations about this recommendation before bringing it back.

Just to outline the process, a special commitee would have to be erected by the GA to work on these changes (and likely that committee would be stacked with relevant scholars). Then that commitee would have to report back to the GA when their work was complete. Their work would be evaluated by the GA. Many hands would be working on it, not only in committee but before the whole GA. This part could take years (especially in the OPC). And these changes would not be approved until there was a two-thirds vote in favor. Then it would have to go to the presbyteries, and two-thirds of the presbyteries would have to approve it. Then it would have to go to another GA and receive a two-thirds vote to pass. Again, this process would take years (2 years, bare minimum if the commitee did perfect work and the first GA vote approved it immediately).

You cite your own experience of a pastor misquoting the catechism as giving you caution. But that error is much harder to do in the process outlined above. I have my own concerns as well, having to pastor many people who never went beyond a high school education and who really do struggle to read that older language. We cannot jettison the doctrinal and technical terms, but we can remove other unnecessary impediments to their efforts to study them, just as we do with the Scriptures. Obviously, you can see that I favor something like this, not because I want doctrinal decline, but because I want the doctrine I love so much to be more readable to my people so they may benefit from it. We are not discarding what our forefathers said, but building on it.

Sorry to be so long, but I really do think we need to be clear on what was really recommended and discussed in the OPC, and also what was not up for negotiation. If something more radical were proposed I would share your caution, but that was simply not the case here.

Every blessing,
The Confessions were not inspired by God as Holy Scripture, so they should be OK to been updated to modern terminology times...
 

kceaster

Puritan Board Junior
I have two concerns about changing the "archaic" language. First, it may tend to lose a vital connection to the past. We need to remember the Reformation, just as much as Israel needed to remember the wilderness wanderings. For you military men, reform should remind you to "form again" or get into the well known militant formation you learned from the very beginning of your military training. Taking away the language of the standards may distance us ever farther from things we need to remember, and by which we ever need to be more trained. Perhaps what is needed is more "muscle memory" when it comes to the heavy lifting of spiritual truth.

And that leads me into my second concern: the balance we must observe between making things easier, and taking the challenge out of it. The scriptures are to be seen like Thorin Oakenshield rightly viewed Erebor (sorry for those of you on whom this example is lost, but see 'The Hobbit'). Things need to be reclaimed from time to time, because, "...what was once known is now lost." And those reclamation projects may be very difficult (we have an adversary stronger, and more evil than Smaug, the dragon). But shouldn't it be so? What a mine is the Bible, and how precious are its stones and gems! How deeply may we delve? It is endless. What treasures may we find? It is filled with infinitely more wealth than that of Solomon. But such treasure will not easily be obtained, though its truths are simple enough for a child to understand.

That's why I love the 1st chapter of the confession, because it balances the perspicuity of the scriptures with the fact that we know absolutely nothing of them without the Spirit's illumination. Any one may come to a proper understanding of salvation, but only the Spirit can give them that understanding (1 Cor 2:11). And, the Spirit doesn't just use the words of Scripture, but the whole history of its interpretation, as long as it aligns with the true meaning. The same even goes with a man made confession.

To me, that begs the question: do we need easier language, or more reliance upon the Interpreter and Illuminator of all spiritual truth?

In Christ,
KC
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
I have two concerns about changing the "archaic" language. First, it may tend to lose a vital connection to the past. We need to remember the Reformation, just as much as Israel needed to remember the wilderness wanderings. For you military men, reform should remind you to "form again" or get into the well known militant formation you learned from the very beginning of your military training. Taking away the language of the standards may distance us ever farther from things we need to remember, and by which we ever need to be more trained. Perhaps what is needed is more "muscle memory" when it comes to the heavy lifting of spiritual truth.

And that leads me into my second concern: the balance we must observe between making things easier, and taking the challenge out of it. The scriptures are to be seen like Thorin Oakenshield rightly viewed Erebor (sorry for those of you on whom this example is lost, but see 'The Hobbit'). Things need to be reclaimed from time to time, because, "...what was once known is now lost." And those reclamation projects may be very difficult (we have an adversary stronger, and more evil than Smaug, the dragon). But shouldn't it be so? What a mine is the Bible, and how precious are its stones and gems! How deeply may we delve? It is endless. What treasures may we find? It is filled with infinitely more wealth than that of Solomon. But such treasure will not easily be obtained, though its truths are simple enough for a child to understand.

That's why I love the 1st chapter of the confession, because it balances the perspicuity of the scriptures with the fact that we know absolutely nothing of them without the Spirit's illumination. Any one may come to a proper understanding of salvation, but only the Spirit can give them that understanding (1 Cor 2:11). And, the Spirit doesn't just use the words of Scripture, but the whole history of its interpretation, as long as it aligns with the true meaning. The same even goes with a man made confession.

To me, that begs the question: do we need easier language, or more reliance upon the Interpreter and Illuminator of all spiritual truth?

In Christ,
KC
The answer would probably be a combination of both of those answers....
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
I knew that this proposal of the Committee on Christian Education (CCE) to the OPC GA would not be without controversy. There has never been a time in American Presbyterian history in which amendment of the Standards was sought, not to change doctrines, but purely for purposes of morphological and other linguistic updating. Thus we realize that we are trodding a new path here, though not a radical one; rather, we call for very minimal and modest revision that seeks to retain not only the doctrine of the Standards but also the expressions of such.

The Committee labors under no misconceptions that, limited though the task is, it remains a daunting one. In our report to the GA, we appended a paper detailing the challenges of such. But we think that it is worth it: to have our own Standards in a language that itself does not present unnecessary impediments. We do recognize (for the comfort of all good confessionalists!) that in retaining theological terminology, the Standards will continue to need exposition. And we would not have it otherwise. We believe that the Word and that Standards are not meant to be unexposited.

At the same time, we also believe that "hath" and "doth" and certain obscure words ("stews" is a common example) need updating so as not to mark our Standards "quaint" and needlessly distance them from us linguistically, giving them the feel of a museum piece, rather than a vibrant expression of the church's historic and living faith. I realize that all that I say here is highly debatable and I appreciate all you good brothers and sisters here who love our Standards and are rightly jealous for them. I would not expect you to be other than wary when hearing about confessional changes, even of the slightest sort. I am thankful for your zeal for the truth as expressed in the Standards. We stand as one with you in this.

The GA recommitted this to the CCE, and if the GA determines to head in this direction, it will be a slow and deliberative process with every part thoroughly debated and needing, as Patrick has noted, at every point, super majorities of the GA, the presbyteries, and a subsequent GA. Why bother with all this for non-doctrinal changes? Because we love our Standards and want certain obscurities cleared up, which we believe needlessly linger from a bygone era. It is not our theology (or the expression of it in the Standards) that we regard as passe, simply certain obsolete expressions contained therein, which, we believe, if updated, would better serve the confessing church and the world to which it gives this witness.

Peace,
Alan
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
To be honest Alan, I have little sympathy for this idea. But it also does not make sense to me. The OPC retains the KJV for proof texts correct? So, is the next move to jettison the historic scripture version relied upon to draft the original Westminster Standards which is filled with haths? Or maybe I'm mistaken; I thought the OPC retained the KJV for the proof texts. The OPC will do what it wants but I do think the more of this there is the more distant and disjunctive the OPC makes itself from other sister Presbyterian bodies that remain faithful to the standards.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Chris:

I am unsurprised, my dear brother, at your opposition! Perhaps it will grow on folk after a while.;)

Yes, the OPC has adopted proof texts, which are largely the proof texts of the Westminster Assembly, that are in the KJV. This is part of the reason for the GA's recommitting the matter to the CCE: to consider all of these sorts of ramifications.

Additionally, our denomination, through our Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, will be consulting with those denominations that hold to the Westminster Standards, particularly the PCA that holds the precise same version as do we (you adopted our working-through of the proof texts several years ago).

I personally believe that the PCA (and perhaps other bodies that hold the Standards) will welcome this work, if, in fact, we determine to proceed. I don't believe that it will render us disjunctive, but others will ultimately appreciate it and join us. Much, of course, remains to be done before such ever comes to pass, which it surely will sooner or later.

Peace,
Alan
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Well, it does not sound any better yet. :) And the PCA needs to start believing its standards more before changing them.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Chris,

I agree that all of us would do well to believe our Standards more fully and adhere to them more faithfully. That sentiment, however, does not really address what is proposed, since such cosmetic changes would not deter that one bit (and might, in fact, be at least one way of affirming its ongoing relevance).

Peace,
Alan
 
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