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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Comments: "The Making of the Westminster Larger Catechism"

While the Westminster Larger Catechism is largely ignored today by even "conservative" Presbyterian denominations and congregations, the purpose of the catechism was to promote greater unity among Presbyterians.  Today, however, it is seen as only something "ministers" must subscribe to and is therefore by implication is not necessary doctrine for laypersons in the local Presbyterian congregation.

Both catechisms, then, were (1) to be used on an ecumenical, or creedal, level to promote religious and political unity between England and Scotland and, (2) on a theological level, to instruct God’s people in matters of faith and duty, with the Larger Catechism giving the more exact and comprehensive instruction.  "The Making of the Westminster Larger Catechism" by Chad B. Van Dixhoorn
Dr. Brian McWilliams, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, Florida contends that the Scottish Presbyterians did not require subscription to the Larger Catechism for new members of the congregation; the Shorter Catechism was intended for children, according to the pastor.  But this seems illogical since the purpose of the Larger Catechism in the first place was for instruction and not for preaching:

This statement of the Assembly reveals that the final declaration found in the directory was a deliberate one: the ministers at the Westminster Assembly did not think that the preacher should preach from a proposition, or argument, but only from the Scriptures themselves. As important as the catechisms were, the Westminster divines did not want to follow the practice of the Reformed churches on the continent who preached from the Heidelberg Catechism. Rather, keeping the original intentions of the authors of the Larger Catechism in mind, there seem to be two main reasons why it was written: (1) creedal unity and, (2) more fulsome instruction in the Christian faith; as the Scottish commissioners envisioned it, the chief beneficiaries of the Larger Catechism would be the adult Christians in both kingdoms who understood the doctrines and duties of the Shorter Catechism already, and needed “the meat of the Word.”  (Making of the Larger Catechism).
 So I ask, why should not more Presbyterian churches have a Sunday school class for new members based on the Larger Catechism prior to accepting them as communicant members?  Is it a desire to dumb down doctrine so no Arminians, Baptists, or Pentecostals who wish to join the membership will be offended?  I suspect, unfortunately, that this is the truth.  When such dumbing down occurs it hurts the congregation locally and the denomination as a whole because these laypersons have some say in the governing of the church via the Presbyterian polity.  In short, heresy can become a grassroots corruption that spreads from the bottom up.  It's rather like catfish being bottom feeders.

Another reason for the writing of the Larger Catechism is that, like other catechisms, it was expected to be memorized!  Now that's too much work for anyone today.  I must admit that not even I have committed any catechism to memory.  However, the purpose of the Larger Catechism's detailed questions and answers is to make each question stand alone so that the answers do not need the previous question and answer to make logical sense:

“The Assembly was careful that all the Answers might be entire sentences by themselves, without depending for their sense upon the foregoing Question, being indeed so many distinct Aphorisms, containing briefly the grounds of Christian Religion.” One benefit of this structure, in Wallis’s view,
is that the learner is not necessitated to charge his memory with the Questions, that he may understand the Answer [sic]; nor is the like danger, as in many other Catechisms, of confounding the understanding by misapplying the Answer to a wrong Question. Their Questions also are so framed, that any one of them may be asked singly and distinctly, without dependance on the Question foregoing.14
Thus the Westminster Assembly’s catechisms were intended to have a unique structure.
Certainly Wallis was not exaggerating when he mentions that “many” of the catechisms contained answers that only made sense with a question, or even a series of questions. All of the main catechisms of the day required the user to memorize both question and answer in order to grasp the biblical doctrines of the catechism. Frequently one had to memorize a whole series of questions and answers, in order to grasp the doctrine under discussion.  (Making of the LC).
 Can you imagine the benefits that would come with memorizing the Larger Catechism?  And that's not even considering the memorizing of the prooftexts that come with the catechism.   Another issue is that the greater detail of the Larger Catechism focuses on the corporate aspect of the church and not just the individual aspect as the Shorter Catechism does:

But perhaps the largest remaining contribution of the Larger Catechism is one noted by Robert Godfrey. Godfrey points out that the Larger Catechism frequently speaks of the church, where the Shorter Catechism is concerned with the individual.27 This is extremely important. The Larger Catechism makes frequent mention of ministers of the gospel and carries on extensive discussions about the outward and ordinary means of grace, where the Shorter Catechism says almost nothing on the same matters. The Larger Catechism broadens its lens in order to focus on the corporate, public, gathered people of God. Professor Godfrey suggests that “the decision to eliminate a doctrine of the church from the Shorter Catechism may have made sense in a context where it was assumed that catechumens would have moved on to the fuller instruction of the Larger Catechism but he warns that “where the Larger Catechism no longer functions in that way . . . a very serious omission exists;” there could be a lack of teaching about the church, in the church.28 (Making of the LC).
There is no perfect confession of faith or catechism.  However, when Presbyterian churches ignore their own doctrinal standards and keep their members in the dark, this is an indication of the problems to come in the future of any denomination.  If the PCUSA is any indication, compromising with Arminianism generally leads to further compromises.  The PCA and most other Reformed and conservative denominations are well on their way to becoming just another broad Evangelical denomination rather than being distinctly Reformed.  Do Presbyterians believe their own doctrinal standards these days?  That's a good question to ask.

Charlie J. Ray

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