Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Word and Spirit in three Confessions

I recently came across a reference to the well known words of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), Chapter 1:10, which reads,
"The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."
I especially liked the emphasis here that our supreme judge in all controversies is "the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture" at the end of the paragraph. Compare this with the same section of the Savoy Declaration of Faith (1658),
"The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other, but the holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit; into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved."
And finally the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession,
"The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved."
Note that the LBC follows the SDF in making the "holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit" the supreme judge. Attention is drawn to the Spirit's work in the original delivery of Scripture rather than on the "Spirit speaking in the Scripture". I certainly subscribe to the fact that Scripture is given to us by the activity of the Holy Spirit, "All Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16) . But the Spirit's role is not simply limited to the production of God's written Word. The WCF has captured the dynamic way in which the Holy Spirit continues to speak in and through Scripture. He, as our supreme authority summons us to submit our all thinking to the revelation of God. Through the Bible he calls us to fresh faith and obedience. As Kevin Vanhoozer writes,
"Inspiration means not only that the words (locutions) are God's but that the word-acts (illocutions) are ultimately God's. To say that the Bible is inspired is therefore to acknowledge its divine authorship, the communicative agency of the triune God. When the Spirit speaks in Scripture today he is not speaking another word but ministering the written words. "[The Spirit] will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears" (John 16:13). The Spirit is not active in producing new illocutions but rather in ministering the illocutions that are already in the text, making the efficacious." (The Drama of Doctrine, WJK, 2005. p. 67).
Let us then give careful heed to what the Spirit is speaking in Scripture to us today. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 2:7 etc).

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