"A Public Confession"

by Mike Bullard

Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

[Moderator's Note: Rev. Bullard was not allowed to file a formal compaint in a remedial case, since more than ninety days had elapsed since his Presbytery, Inland Northwest, had voted on Amendment B. He hopes that his words, below, might encourage others - who still are within the ninety-day limit - to file with their Synods. The "Prompt Call to Action" posted on the Hesed site provides assistance.]


It is my sincere belief that the Amendment to the Book of Order known as Amendment B is heretical on the following grounds.

It is contrary both to the teaching of "the confessions" and to the words of individual confessions in that the first sentence places the confessions and the Holy Scripture on an equal basis as implied by the word "and," thereby removing the uniqueness of the Scripture's witness, and that the third sentence places the confessions apart from the Bible as the sole new rule or standard for faith and practice.

The amendment was adopted with the specific intent of its not being applied in the plain sense of its own words. Three confessions specifically name any picture of any kind in church as a violation of the second commandment. It is a major theme, clearly worded in the Heidelberg and Second Helvetic Confessions and in the Larger Catechism. The average person applying common sense would interpret pictures in church as something "which the confessions call sin." Yet I am told that presbyteries will say that that is not an "essential tenet" of the confessions and that it is not necessary for ordained officers to remove stained glass pictures, paintings, illustrated Sunday School curricula, videos or films. If we are going to interpret what is "essential" and what is not, then we are implying from the beginning a hypocrisy of the worst kind - and are writing into our constitution a source of conflict and confusion for decades to come.

It was adopted with the clear intent of being applied unequally to one group (and to their "sins") while not to others. The rational person looking at a twenty-year series of events in the life of the church, the individuals and the groups involved, and the debates and arguments enlisted in passing the amendment can draw no other conclusion but that the amendment was aimed at sexual sins, with little or no thought to any of the many other kinds of sin enumerated in the confessions.

The amendment violates the second constitutional question of ordination. Question number two does not allow the confessions (or anything else) to be listed next to the Holy Scripture on an equal basis.

(2) Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to you?

Sentence number one of the amendment places the confessions and the Bible in parallel arrangement - and thus does not concede the uniqueness of the Bible. Sentence number three sets up the confessions as the only measure of God's word concerning sin.

It violates the third constitutional question for ordination by violating one of the most basic tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in those Confessions.

(3) Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

An essential tenet of the Reformed faith as expressed by the confessions is the centrality and uniqueness of the sixty-six books of the canon of the Old and New Testaments as our one rule of faith and life. In particular, The Westminster Confession (6.000 through 6.010) states that tenet. The first sentence (placing the confessions parallel to the scriptures) and the last sentence (placing the confessions apart from scripture) violate that basic tenet of the confessions themselves.

 

I do not wish to create disturbance, to blame, punish or to penalize anyone. I simply feel, in good conscience after prayer and consultation of Scripture - and after a careful reading of the confessions themselves, that my beloved church and I have erred - and that my beloved presbytery, for whom I have great respect, has - in approving the amendment - though with good intentions, departed from the most basic beliefs of our church. I go so far as to use the word "heresy," because the violation of scripture is such a basic tenet of our faith. I do not use the word "heretic." It is not my belief that any person voted for the amendment with the intention of devaluing the role of scripture. Indeed, many who supported the amendment are individuals whom I consider my superiors in piety and in theological understanding.

I also admit to my own complicity in the error, in that while I debated and voted against Amendment B, I did not do so with the fullest awareness of the issue of Biblical authority. Nor did I come to this conviction in time to file a disciplinary complaint. However conscience will not allow me to stay silent and wait for someone to amend the amendment next year (and at that time to argue over what both amendments mean). I must say to my sisters and brothers and to myself that together we have committed a travesty against one of the most sacred tenets of our faith, the primacy of scripture over human efforts.

I also say that we must notice that we made the error, failing to take notice of its impact against Scripture itself, because we were so focused and fascinated with dealing with one group of people. I believe that amending the constitution for the sake of addressing one particular class of sins is a foolish and dangerous thing. We must call ourselves to account.

The Scots Confession, in speaking of duly elected councils of the church and their writings, speaks of the very process by which the Confessions came to be. It makes clear the place of human writings and actions, such as the confessions, in contrast to the place of Holy Scripture.

"As we do not rashly condemn what good men, assembled together in general councils lawfully gathered, have set before us; so we do not receive uncritically whatever has been declared to men under the name of the general councils, for it is plain that, being human, some of them have manifestly erred, and that in matters of great weight and importance. So far do we reverence and embrace them....." (Scots Confession , Chapter 20)

"The reason why the general councils met was not to make any permanent law which God had not made before, nor yet to form new articles for our belief, nor to give the Word of God authority; much less to make that to be his Word, or even the true interpretation of it, which was not expressed previously by his holy will in his Word; but the reason for councils, at least of those that deserve that name, was partly to refute heresis, and to give public confession of their faith to the generations following, which they did by the authority of God's written Word, and not by any opinion or prerogative that they could not err by reason of their numbers. This, we judge, was the primary reason for general councils. The second was that good policy and order should be constituted and observed in the Kirk where, as in the house of God, it becomes all things to be done decently and in order. Not that we think any policy or order of ceremonies can be appointed for all ages, times, and places; for as ceremonies which men have devised are but temporal, so they may, and ought to be, changed, when they foster superstition rather than edify the Kirk." (Scots Confession, Chapter 20)

"As we believe and confess the Scriptures of God sufficient to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow their authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels. We affirm, therefore, that those who say the scriptures have no other authority save that which they have received from the Kirk are blasphemous against God and injurious to the true Kirk, which always hears and obeys the voice of her own Spouse and Pastor, but takes not upon her to be mistress over the same." (Scots Confession, Chapter 19)

 

I confess publicly that our current church has made the confessions the mistress to the church in place of the Scriptures.


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