by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word…
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? T.S. Eliot
Westminster Confession – Scripture
That night the psychologist slept in the boy’s room. The next morning he went downstairs and said that he thought he knew why the boys joined the navy. He took his brother up to the boy’s bedroom. As they walked into the room, above the beds, there was a beautiful picture of a clipper ship sailing on the ocean. He had the farmer lay down on the bed and asked him what he saw. “I see the picture of the ship.” The psychologist asked his brother how long the picture had been there. The farmer said that he had bought it when the boys were very young. The psychologist said, “The first thing you see as you walk into this room is the picture of this ship sailing on the sea. The last thing you see at night is the ship. If you think about a picture like this long enough you just might become a sailor.”
If we read, study, and meditate on God’s Word long enough, we just might become the people God created us to be.
We have been looking at the Confessions of the Presbyterian Church and their banners. Today we are looking at the sixth confession, The Westminster Confession of Faith.
I want to start this morning by talking about the banner. Notice that the banner has three long panels and a triangle. Both of these point to the Trinity which is one of the central doctrines of our faith. The three crosses might also point to the Trinity.
The eye in the center of the triangle is a symbol of God’s providence and sovereignty. This is one of the dominant themes in the Westminster Confession, and all Reformed theology. God is in control of all life and history. The crown at the top of the central panel also points to God’s rule over the world.
At the bottom of the right and left panels are the Greek letters alpha and omega, the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus is the alpha and the omega and central to our faith.
Behind the eye is a piece of white material. I didn’t know what that was until I looked at the notes about the banners. That is intended to portray an open Bible. This confession starts with a chapter on the authority of the Scriptures. The Bible is the primary way that God speaks to us and is central to our life and faith.
The Westminster Confession was written in 1646 at Westminster Abbey, in London, England. It was written during the English Civil War. I don’t know if we have any English history fans here. I am not an expert on it, but I’d like to share with you a little bit of what was happening. I haven’t focused on the political events that were going on when the confessions were written, but they were significant, especially with the Westminster Confession.
The English Civil War lasted from about 1640 – 1660. In 1641 Ireland rebelled against England. Charles I was the king of England, but he argued with the British Parliament over who would control the army. There was a Royalist group who supported the King and a Parliamentarian group who sided with the parliament. There were three wars during this time and about 200,000 people died. Eventually the Parliamentarians won, led by Oliver Cromwell. They killed the king and got rid of the monarchy.
The Irish were Roman Catholics. The Royalists were Anglicans. Their government and theology were very similar to the Catholics, other than not accepting the Pope. The Parliamentarians were Calvinists, or Presbyterians.
In 1643 the Parliament wanted a statement of faith that expressed the theology, the government, and the liturgy of the church. They gathered 151 men, mostly pastors, who met 1,163 times over a period of about 5 years. Presbyterians inherit our love of meetings. They averaged 200-250 meetings a year. In those meetings they wrote the Westminster Confession, along with the two catechisms, the Shorter and the Larger Catechism, a “Form of Presbyterian Government,” and a “Directory for Worship.” Many of the early settlers in the USA were English Puritans and Scottish immigrants. They brought with them the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was accepted as the official statement of faith for the Presbyterian Church in 1729 and until 1967 was our only confession.
The Westminster Confession was written about 80 years after the other Reformation era confessions. It has a different feel to it. It is sometimes described as Protestant Scholasticism. It attempts to be scientific in its approach to theology. It tries to be very exact, logical, and comprehensive in talking about the mysteries of faith. It uses precise language to describe who God is and what God has done, to the point that it sometimes seems to forget that God is beyond our ability to understand.
As I mentioned earlier, the opening chapter of the Westminster Confession deals with Holy Scripture. There are ten sections in this chapter and when we confess our faith in a few minutes we will read two of them.
The first section tells us that God speaks to us in a variety of ways. God speaks to us in the creation and through our conscience. God speaks through our dreams and desires, through the circumstances of life. “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable” (Book of Confessions, 6.001). We can’t use ignorance as an excuse for not knowing what God wants. However, the primary way God speaks to us is through the Bible. We need the God’s Word.
God chooses to reveal Himself through the Word. In Genesis 1 God creates by speaking the creation into being. “God said ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” The first chapter of John’s gospel echoes that idea. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus is God’s Word who became flesh. To say that in a different way, all of the other ways that God can and does speak to us must be compared with what God says to us in the Bible, the Word of God.
The next section that we will recite is probably the most important part of this chapter. “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Book of Confessions, 6.006). Everything you need to know about God, everything you need to know for salvation and for living as God’s people, is found in the Bible. If that is true, and I believe it is, it would seem to me that reading the Bible, studying the Bible, and meditating on God’s Word, need to be a priority in our lives.
I have intentionally used three different terms to describe how we approach the Bible. First, we read it, we become familiar with what is in the Bible. We learn the stories. We learn the poems and the laws. I went to seminary and have read the Bible numerous times and there are still times today when I will read a passage and find myself thinking “I don’t remember this.” There is a lot here, so we need to keep reading it.
We also need to study the Bible. Some parts of the Bible are not easy and it isn’t always clear what it means, so we need to study. Whether it is in Sunday school classes or reading commentaries, we need to learn not only what is in the Bible but what it means. To be honest with you, the best way to learn what the Bible means is to try to teach it to someone else, either teaching our kids or teaching an adult class. Yes, this is a blatant request to have more people involved in teaching.
Meditating on the Word is the third step. This involves taking a short passage of Scripture, maybe only a word or a phrase, or a couple of verses, and thinking about them, pondering them, ruminating on them. What is God saying in these words, to me? Why do they seem important for me? Meditating allows God to speak his word not only into our heads, but into our hearts.
Eugene Peterson wrote a book called Eat This Book. That title in itself is a wonderful image of taking in God’s Word and letting it nourish our lives. In the book Peterson tells a parable about a warehouse. I want to read it to you. “Eat This Book, p6-7.”
All of us want Sharon Church to become the place that God wants it to be. We want Sharon to become a vibrant, growing, community of faith. Let me suggest that the transformation that needs to happen will not occur because of our hard work. The transformation is not something you can put on the new pastor when s/he gets here. God is the only one who can bring the transformation that is needed. The primary way God speaks to us, the primary way God will transform this church, is through the Word of God. If we want Sharon to become the church we want it to be, the church God wants it to be, then the members and friends of Sharon church must read, study, and meditate on God’s Word.
Westminster Confession of Faith
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in diverse manners, to reveal himself, and to declare his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.