IT WAS A TOUGH WEEK TO BE A PRESBYTERIAN, IF YOU BELIEVE THAT THE BIBLE MEANS WHAT IT SAYS
by David Sisler
The Dallas Morning News featured three articles last week about two very different Christian churches, each called Presbyterian: the 300,000 member Presbyterian Church in America and the 2.5 million member Presbyterian Church (USA). I have selected portions of the pieces, all by Susan Hogan/Albach, for this personal commentary. Ms. Hogan/Albach's words are italicized (the only changes I have made are to insert proper nouns for clarity's sake where pronouns where originally used).
The PCA and the Presbyterian Church (USA) could not be more different. The bigger church is considered "liberal" because it ordains women as pastors and fights over whether to ordain homosexuals. The smaller church is considered "conservative" because ordaining women or homosexuals isn't on the radar.
The PCA also believes that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
At one time in their not-too-distant past, the Presbyterian Church (USA) also believed that the Bible was the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. When the presbyters departed from that anchor, they began the drift, which has, to continue the metaphor, shipwrecked their denomination on the shifting sands of liberalism, and threatens to drown the spiritual life of all who dare to stay onboard.
For the PCA, the issue which they debate seems innocuous enough.
What these Presbyterians are wrestling with is the meaning of words found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the chief doctrinal standard of their church. In Chapter 4 of the Confession it says: "It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost ... in the beginning to create ... the world ... in the space of six days; and all was very good."
At issue is what the authors of the 17th-century document meant by "in the space of six days."
The first chapter in the Bible says that God created the world in six days. The Rev. Dale Smith says that means six 24-hour days.
It seems on the surface that little is threatened whichever view prevails. Did God use six time periods of 24 hours in which to create the universe, or did he create the universe during six distinct, but undefined, periods of time?
The Hebrew word for "day" – according to Strong's Concordance – can mean either a literal period of time from "one sunset to the next," or in a figurative sense in which "a space of time is defined by an associated term." Good enough. In each of the six days (or six time periods) of creation, as told in Genesis, the space of time is defined by the words "and the morning and the evening were the first (second, third, etc.) day." The words for evening and morning are unarguably clear: "evening" means "dusk" and "morning" means "dawn." You have one of each in every 24 hour period.
The Rev. Joseph Ryan says it's not that cut and dry. He appeals to substantial and credible historical arguments that the authors of the Confession did not mean that creation necessarily happened in six 24-hour days.
But the issue is ultimately not the Westminister Confession, which, powerful document that it may be, is only man's word. The issue is whether or not the Bible is God's Word and therefore is to be interpreted and followed as the infallible, inerrant, and unchanging declaration of the Lord God Almighty.
"The integrity of the Holy Scripture is at stake," Pastor Smith said. "Some people are wanting to reinterpret Scripture in order to conform with modern scientific theories."
Smith is correct. When you begin to make the Bible conform to anything other than its own divinely inspired statements, you very definitely begin the destruction of its integrity. This year's debate should not come as a surprise, because during last year's General Assembly the PCA accepted a study which said there were four acceptable interpretations of how God created the world. "Little foxes," Solomon wrote, "ruin the vineyards."
If little foxes ruin the vineyards, what will happen when the foxes become fullgrown?
The answer begins in this space tomorrow.
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