All in Interpretation

There is an interpretation of the standards [confessions] going on, saying, "it doesn't matter what the Westminster divines intended, the church may interpret the standards according to its own positions. And thus each presbytery [classis] or even session [consistory] can determine what the standards mean for them. Now, that's the height of relativism.... Once you start treating the standards in such a fashion, that leads to anarchy and lawlessness."

Joseph Pipa


  1. As I think about it, it seems to me there are three different ways we can misuse our secondary standards.

    The first is the one you point out. We claim to subscribe fully to whichever standard we care to name, but we redefine the terms so that it no longer resembles the original. We make the confession meaningless.

    The second is the opposite philosophical position. That is, we exalt the secondary standard to the level of Scripture. We do this by saying you can't change any aspect of the confession. It's all or nothing. If you disagree with something, then you are forced to jettison the confession.

    Then there's a third way that begins by seeking the middle path. In this, we recognize that the confessions are fallible documents and faithful Christians can disagree with aspects of them. We just need to be up front and honest when we declare our exceptions to the confession. The problem comes when the exceptions start to multiply and the confession dies the death of a thousand exceptions. At some point, we need to realize that we really don't subscribe to it anymore.

  2. Honesty in your third option is the core of the issue in mainline churches where I am, I think, Conrad. They've got this "historical dinosaur" as they consider it, to which they need to pay lip service institutionally, but the confessions' interpretation of Scripture doesn't inform their faith significantly.

  3. Actually, Steve, that seems to be a fourth option - one that I hadn't considered. Simply ignore the inconvenient thing.

  4. I'd say dishonesty could be a corollary to your first option, in groups where the standards are publicly valued. But in liberal mainline, they aren't, so the standards can be practically ignored.