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.