Friday, May 22, 2015
Overtures 2 and 9: The “Recreations” Clauses. North Texas and Tennessee Valley Presbyteries
At several points in the doctrinal standards of the PCA (the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) reference is made to prohibiting “recreations” on the Lord’s Day. The specific sections are: WCF 21.8; LC 117, 119, SC 60, 61. In every case the full phrase is “worldly employments and recreations.”
There are many men in the PCA who object to this language, perhaps thinking that it says more on the issue than the Scriptures themselves say, either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence (see final paragraph below). Presbyteries in the PCA have regularly ordained men who hold that some recreations are allowable on the Lord’s Day. These overtures call for the formation of a study committee to determine whether the Westminster doctrine is indeed what Scripture teaches. The overtures seem to presume that it is not, because they provide “corrected” language as an appendix to the overture.
The only difference between the overtures is that Tennessee Valley Presbytery appends a short paper (about 8-10 pp double-spaced) defending the removal of the “recreations” clauses. Here is not the place to go into the various objections that men have with regard to the “recreations.” But based on my own experience in presbytery, many men appear not to have studied the question carefully. They simply object to what they think the Westminster Standards might be saying.
Insofar as a study committee is concerned, I have no objection to the idea. In fact, if the study committee does its job properly it would at least clarify the issue at the heart of this discussion. That issue is, “What do the Standards mean by ‘recreations’”? Most people probably think that the Standards mean the same thing we do by “recreations.” But that strikes me as very unlikely. Language changes over time and historical contexts change over time. Thus we need to read old literature with careful attention to the meaning that words had at the time the document was written. “Prevent” in the KJV does not mean the same thing as “prevent” in the NASB. Even a single term, used in different contexts, can have very different meanings. I remember a lifetime ago filing a complaint against a particular action of the session of the church I was attending. A number of people in the congregation were offended because I dared to complain about the session. They understood “complaint” in its ordinary colloquial sense. But I used it in its technical legal sense. The failure to understand the difference caused offense.
The main problem that I have with these overtures is not the proposal of a study committee, but rather the way the overtures already weigh the results of the study committee in favor of the removal of the clauses.
I will come back and visit this again in another post.
(“Good and necessary consequence” is a phrase commonly used in theological discussion which means that the particular doctrine may not be explicitly stated in the Bible, but nonetheless is taught by the Bible based on fair and right conclusions from what the Bible does explicitly state. So, for example, the church holds the doctrine of the Trinity, though there is no verse in the Bible that says that God is triune. The doctrine of the Trinity was developed by good and necessary consequence from a comparison of Scripture with Scripture.)