Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Blogging the Confession 1 - the necessity of Scripture

Chapter 1 of the WCF is rightly famous as a classic statement of a doctrine of scripture. I’ll take a few instalments to work through it.

Andrew McGowan in his recent book the 
Divine Spiration of Scripture has argued that we should look at Scripture in the context of a doctrine of God and contrasted that with the WCF. The contrast should not be made too strongly, because the opening section of Chapter 1 assumes a doctrine of God  - his goodness, wisdom and power are displayed in creation, knowledge of him and his will are needed for salvation and he redeems his church and reveals himself. These are important things to know about God in order to understand the Bible! (Notice also the implication that we need redemption and that God deals with his church through the ages). Any exposition of doctrine assumes some doctrine to begin dealing with others. In our context in which the question of God is debated it may make sense for us to start with God in our presentations, but the WCF does not need to be faulted for starting with Scripture.

Section 1 focuses on the necessity of Scripture. It acknowledges general revelation but states that special revelation is needed for salvation. I like the way in which the explanation of that ties the history of redemption with revelation. Echoing Hebrews 1:1 the confession says that God revealed himself to the church “at sundry times and in divers manners”. Perhaps it would have been good if the though of Hebrews 1 had been continued and the Christological centre of revelation had been made explicit. However that becomes very clear in later parts of the confession (specially from Chapter 8 on).

The section says that the Bible develops because God’s revelation to his people was committed to writing, for the sake of the church. It was so that this revelation could be kept and shared and the church could be confident of what it knew of God and the revelation not corrupted that it was written. So in a few words the confession grounds the Bible in the history of redemption and focuses us on the necessity of scripture.

In the 20
th century there have been discussions about whether the Bible is revelation or a record of revelation, but the members of the Assembly had no such distinction in mind. They held that the Bible is revelation because it is a written record of revelation.

The section closes by saying that the Bible is now necessary because other forms of revelation have ceased. Heb 1:1-2
  is given as the proof text for this, implying that this cessation is understood Christologically. That is, once God has spoken by his Son who is the Creator, Sustainer, Image and Redeemer there is no more to be said. The term ‘private spirits’ in section 10 is probably a reference to private revelations. So the WCF is not committed to an absolute cessationism (that is that there can not be anything like New Testament prophecy today). Rather it is saying that God’s redemptive revelation is complete and sufficient in Christ and so in the Bible and that must be the focus of the church and the place from where we draw our nourishment. Any other claims of  revelation must be judged by Scripture.

The first section of Chapter 1 of the Confession should lead us to ask us what place Scripture has in our thinking. It is not enough to formally subscribe to the authority of Scripture, but it must be the place where we expect God to address his church and the source and test of what we believe about God and how we understand his will.

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