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.)


Andrew Barnes said...

This overture has basically been proposed in the past, with no changes proposed. And each time GA has voted it down with grounds that it would be better to propose actual change in language with our Constitution.

So that is why I believe the proposed changes are included. Though I think past GA's were looking for just a simple request to change the Standards not a Study Committee to consider the changes proposed.

I actually would favor them Overturing to just change the Standards over a study committee (though I would not vote for it).

If they were asking to study the Bible as it has to do with "Recreations" in the Standards via Study Committee, I would have no problem with that so the Church could study the issue more. But they do not do that. It seems up front they want the Standards changed and the nicest and least controversial way to do this is through Study Committee. And their reasoning why they want the Standards changed is also questionable to me given they are looking at the Church's practice and therefore then wanting to amend the doctrine.

James Hakim said...

Well, judging by the vast majority of the exceptions that I've heard, "recreations" means "throwing a ball with my kid." It's like everyone attended the "how to take an exception on the 4th commandment" class at their seminaries.

And here is what Parliament meant by recreations in 1644. The same Parliament that called the Assembly, at the same time. It turns out to include throwing a ball. As does Isaiah 58:13-14...

Recreations and Pastimes.
And be it further Ordained, That no person or persons shall hereafter upon the Lords-day, use, exercise, keep, maintain, or be present at any wrastlings, Shooting, Bowling, Ringing of Bells for Pleasure or Pastime, Masque, Wake, otherwise called Feasts, Church-Ale, Dancing, Games, Sport or Pastime whatsoever;...

April 1644: An Ordinance for the better observation of the Lords-Day.,' in Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660, ed. C H Firth and R S Rait (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1911), 420-422, accessed May 23, 2015,

(ht: Chris Coldwell)

Anonymous said...

Have we as a Church lost an account of familial fear?