Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Concerns About a “Recreations Clause” Study Committee

A number of years ago, I was in a presbytery meeting in which a young man was being examined for ordination. He was asked if he had any stated differences with the Westminster Standards. He said that he did, and referred to Larger Catechism 109 (dealing with images of God). He thought that the prohibition of images of Jesus, and the prohibition of mental images went beyond the Scriptures. He was asked if he had ever read anything defending the catechism’s position. He said he had not, and that he had no intention of doing so unless the presbytery required him to. He thought the catechism’s position sufficiently wrong on the face of it that he didn’t need to read anything defending it. The presbytery approved his stated difference as an allowable exception and proceeded to ordain him.

Though it deals with a different topic, I think the Sabbath “recreations” clause faces the same problem as the “images of Jesus” material in LC 109. We live in a culture in which the idea of blue laws, particularly dealing with Sunday commerce and recreation, has been under attack for decades. Perhaps most of those now coming for ordination in the PCA have been raised in a culture in which recreation on Sunday has been taken for granted. A quick trip to the store; local restaurant for lunch after church (after all, they offer a 15% discount for those who bring in their church bulletins); napping in front of the television playing the NFL game in the fall and winter. Further, they have grown up in a theological culture which is not much different. Most of evangelicalism in the United States is at best apathetic about the Sabbath. Most evangelicalism has been influenced by dispensationalism, which is more or less anti-Sabbatarian. Further, as far as I can tell, the seminaries training our candidates by and large do not require of their students any careful study of such issues.
So our civil culture and our theological culture alike lean against prohibiting “recreations” on the Sabbath. Then, we are presented the Dickensian bogeyman of the poor children of Sabbatarians, forced to sit in uncomfortable straight-backed chairs all Sunday afternoon, dressed in their Sunday-best, while their grim-faced father reads to them the opening chapters of 1 Chronicles.

In that context, it is difficult for the view of the Westminster standards to get a fair hearing. And given the discussion I have seen about Sabbath observance over the years, those in favor of removing the “recreations” clauses have usually not bothered to consider that maybe “recreations” meant something different four centuries ago than it does today. In other words, insofar as they have studied the issue, they have done so in a historically insensitive fashion. Thus, my fear is that a study committee may well come back with a report and a recommendation more influenced by our current cultural and theological climate than by a serious consideration of the biblical material and its theological implications.

Suppose, though, that the study committee brings back a strong report recommending that we preserve the present language of the standards. My fear is that it will have as much effect on the views and practices of men in the denomination as did the Federal Vision study committee report from a few years ago: that is, almost none.


Ben Bailie said...

What would be a good resource to study what "recreations" meant in the historical context.
I have been reading Van Dixhoorn's book on the Confession and it has been fabulous, but I don't think he deals with it.

The O'Neill's said...

Given that the vast majority of the PCA (elder and layperson alike) take exception to the WCF at this point, doesn't it at least make practical sense to amend it? It seems rather silly to have an entire denomination say they adhere to the WCF and yet nearly all take exception to a particular point. Don't get me wrong - I think the Lord's Day should be honored; it's just if no one is doing it, and all are taking exception, then it might be better to hold to a confession that is reflective of the denomination.

Silver Ice said...

With all due respect, did you even read the overture? They dealt almost exclusively with the word "recreations" in an historical context.


"It is our belief that the case for or against recreation on the Sabbath must be made from
24 Scripture. For that reason we do not enter into the historical situation that gave rise to the
25 Assembly dealing with this specific matter. We are aware of the historical context of the
26 Westminster Assembly and the positive influence of Nicolas Bownd’s 1595 treatise on the
27 Sabbath and the negative influence of King James’ Book of Sports issued in 1617 and 1633.
28 However informative this history may be in demonstrating the cultural influences on the
29 Westminster Assembly, the final appeal must be to God’s Word, which the Assembly
30 believed they were interpreting correctly."

Benjamin Shaw said...

Silver Ice, what you refer to is in the paper appended to the overture, not in the overture itself. I have read it, pretty carefully. The paper does a less than adequate job of dealing with the historical data, particularly the definition and treatment of "recreations." If they had treated that material more carefully, I think they would have come to different conclusions thatn they did.