A Rational or Confessional Church?

The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

From the eighteenth century, rationalism has claimed the right of supremacy in theology. Whatever is not logically and rationally comprehensible is dismissed as an unknowable, it laughs the miraculous out of court and God out of the universe. It denies the possibility of revelation and the Bible as the full and final authority as the word of God. The faith of the ‘true’ church is seen as vain. So how did and how does the church respond? It has and still does try to fight the enemy on its own ground. To defend herself and the truth deposited to her stewardship rationally. Thus losing the truth she has tried to defend. Though meaning well, stronghold after stronghold has fallen until she has become captive to the god of reason herself, indicating not only her defeat but acceding that reason reigns where in fact faith should have.

The end-game? The basic tenets of her faith were and still are being denied and replaced with false doctrines. The divinity of Christ, his propitiatory sacrifice, predestination and man’s total depravity. The theory of evolution was embraced thus annulling any allegiance to the historical record of the early chapters of Genesis. Including the acknowledgement that there must have been death before the fall and the dismissal of any thought of a real man called Adam. The church in the West has staggered for decades, bleeding, dying. Now even within evangelicalism, there is a tendency towards a pervasive anti-supernaturalism. Thus the growing tendency towards disbelief in a six-day creation and a hard-edged cessationism, the latter denying any supernatural activity of God in the lives of his people, the church, or in his created order. There is a widespread denial of any thought that God could possibly be responsible for any supernatural activity in Providence, i.e. works of grace and wrath.

I recall the joyful testimony given by a man who had been graciously saved in the Twin Towers event, 9/11. He testified to finding himself in great peril in the midst of one of those buildings and cried out to the Lord to save him, and that not just his life. It was the Divine providential means God used to bring salvation to at least one that we know of. I could refer to others I’ve known down through the years who in the midst of not quite such drastic providences, but nonetheless devastating, whereby people have been brought to salvation. But of course, in God’s scheme of things (his decrees) such events are also acts of judgment, taking place from time to time, more so than the other. For there are as Jesus tells us few that are saved. Alas, they are called by all and sundry natural disasters. They must be natural, for nobody wants to blame God for this side of the coin, more than happy with the flip-side. To even suggest such is get yourself laughed out of court, or vilified even. There are few churchmen, even evangelicals, who claim to love the writings of their forefathers, the Reformers and the Puritans and who quote such liberally in their sermons. But would not hold the line of faith when it comes to acknowledging the severe and wrathful purposes of God in his daily providential workings, as they did.

The prime reason for this, of course, is a lack of faith. A refusal to hold the line of their historic faith that they claim to hold. A secondary reason as to why all has fallen to rationalism is a discarding of our Confessional Christianity. Many churches have Confessions appended to their Constitutions, it’s the ticket, the badge we are Reformed. But those Confessions from the moment of appendage are never again looked at or spoken of in the life and ministry of the church. Nobody knows about them or what they mean, or even care. The response of one Minister I was told of a short while ago when asked what he thought of his churches historic Confession was, overrated. He is not alone. The ramifications of this are, the historical faith, the faith of the Reformers is neglected, forgotten, discarded to the archives. The Minister and its church officers preach what they want and with not an ounce of accountability. How many members of churches ever think to check the Minister’s sermon on Sunday morning, say, with the Westminster Standards, Heidelberg Catechism, or the Belgic Confession of Faith? They would be surprised maybe at just how far their church and its Minister or Ministry has moved from its supposed Reformed moorings. Those Confessions are of course we know subject to and not superior to the Holy Scriptures, the latter is always our final word of authority in all matters of faith and practice.

But those Confessional documents are family treasures, they have been preserved by God and handed down to us for good reason. They are a bulwark, a stronghold against the rationalism of modern society and culture.  We are more than unwise if we think we can come to our Bibles and get what we think we want and need without any reference to those Confessions. Anyone who thinks so is at the very least arrogant. The truth preserved for us in those Confessional documents has been hammered out on the anvil of Christian debate over the centuries since the early church. They have emerged from the fierce debate, they have come to us from men who were more than willing to die for the truth. They have come to us from Christians who have fought and shed their blood for the truth, who have suffered persecution for the truth. Bit by bit, as surely as apples are apples, since the eighteenth century we have surrendered our faith in the truth preserved for us in those Confessions, we’ve given way to the modern disease of rationalism. We have not held the line of faith and we have and are losing the fight. The only way back to a healthy believing community of God’s people is a return to those Confessional documents which is the church’s heritage. It is almost laughable that this superficial generation of Christians should look upon these Confessional documents with disdain. When those documents were put together there were giants in those days. We need again to hold one another to account and together hold the line of faith, the faith I say, our Reformed Confessional faith. When I read those Confessional documents and see the strong meat that they contain, I can hardly imagine God’s churches and Ministers preaching like that today? It’s too strong, it would bring opposition, persecution. Today’s church I fear is not only a rational but an effeminate church. When we preach what our forefathers preached, yes the material of those Confessions, instead of making excuses for God’s supernatural interventions in his creative order, our churches may diminish for a short while, but then as faith is renewed, established, taught, they will flourish again, and be stronger than ever. There is no other answer, “this is the victory that has overcometh the world, our faith” (1John 5:4).

(© James R Hamilton, 28th January 2014)
Sermon Audio

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