Saturday, October 2, 2010

Selective Subscription and the 9th Commandment

Like most, I woke up yesterday totally unaware that Metro New York Presbytery had requested an investigation of Teaching Elder and former General Assembly Moderator, Dr. Dominic Aquila.  The basis for the request was an article posted on The Aquila Report, written by a someone in another denomination, that was critical of a minister in that presbytery.  Metro New York Presbytery alleged that Dr. Aquila had broken the 9th Commandment by publishing that article and requested that the court holding jurisdiction, Rocky Mountain Presbytery, conduct an investigation.  At their meeting earlier this week Rocky Mountain Presbytery voted to exonerate Dr. Aquila - Here and Here. 

A similar situation has unfolded in Siouxlands Presbytery with investigations being launched into the blogging of some of in that presbytery on the grounds that they have violated the 9th Commandment.  Two of three ministers facing these allegations were cleared of any wrong-doing -- Here.  The third may go to trial.

What's striking to me is the selective use of the Westminster Standards in going after people who have written critically about the theological views of certain ministers.  Instead of presbyteries taking these reports seriously and investigating their substance they have chosen to go after the whistle-blowers in order to silence them on the grounds that they have broken the 9th Commandment (see WLC #144 and 145 - Here).  Thus, I have coined a new term to describe this use of our confessional standards: Selective Subscription

When men who are charged with protecting the church from theological error choose to look the other way or drag their feet they are employing Selective Subscription.  When these same men choose to investigate a blogger because of the tone of his writing instead of looking into the allegations, they are employing Selective Subscription.  When men focus on the technicalities of the 9th Commandment and are unconcerned that a minister might be teaching something that "is hostile to the system" or that "strikes at the vitals of religion" (BCO 21-4 and RAO 16-3.e.5.d) they are engaged in Selective Subscription.  In the end Selective Subscription to the 9th Commandment is a tool to deflect attention from the issues at hand, to silence critics, and "to strain gnats while swallowing camels" (Matthew 23:24). 

Of late, I've been mulling over John 1 and Jesus' encounter with Nathanael.  When Philip told Nathanael that he had found the fulfillment of Moses' teaching and that it was embodied in the person of "Jesus of Nazareth," Nathanael replied, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" A short time later Nathanael met the person he had just insulted (yea, slandered).  Jesus greeted him with these words: "An Israelite in whom their is no deceit (guile)!"   What's interesting is that Jesus doesn't whip out the 9th Commandment and say to Nathanael, "How dare you insult me and the town where I am from!"  Rather, he looked at the substance of what was said and saw it as a reflection of a man who was a straight-shooter.  Though he was insulted he turned the other cheek and actually complimented Nathanael for being forthright, though a little uninformed.  

Jesus' response is 180 degrees opposite the response of those who are quick to use the 9th Commandment to cry foul.  Why won't they see the merit of what has been written and with charity, seek to investigate the substance?  Why won't they overlook the tone of someone's words who might be as blunt as Nathanael or who might simply be exasperated by the parliamentary maneuvering to deny what is apparent to many?   

In closing I point you to a piece written by Dr. Carl Trueman, reflecting on the Church of Scotland and the news (May 2009) that it ordained a practicing homosexual.  He laments the fact that for decades conservatives in that church looked the other way while all sorts of things were allowed to take root.  In his final paragraph he captures the essence of what defending the faith looks like: 

"The policy of ceding church courts to the liberals has proved disastrous. I feel for friends caught in the crossfire in Aberdeen but, as I said earlier, a petition is too little too late. These battles are not won by petitions which have no ecclesiastical status; nor are they won by preaching to the converted at large Reformed conferences or to congregations of the faithful in the big C of S churches. They are won by the nasty, brutish, hard labour of fighting in the church courts, face to face, toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball, with those who would seek to take over session, presbyteries, synods, and General Assemblies for evil."
Note: I am not calling anyone evil or a theological liberal.  The point of quoting this paragraph is the final sentence and what contending for the faith looks like.   


Anonymous said...

Why appeal to the WLC on the 9th, when most of the same guys deny the WLC on the 2nd and the 4th and so on?

I mean, it was the same approach to Scripture, across the board, that gave us what we read in the Confession and the Catechisms.

I guess it's just another way of being Selective.

Dave Sarafolean said...


I agree. They can parse every detail of the 9th commandment and excuse all sorts of things contained in the rest of the confession.

Eileen said...

Very insightful. Thanks for the reminder of Carl Trueman's observations as well. They could be applied in many denominations which have declined due to the refusal of their leadership to contend earnestly for the faith.

The scribes and pharisees were also exceedingly scrupulous about their procedures and their interpretation of the Law while they accused and then crucified the Fulfillment of the Law for breaking their "laws."

I suppose the Lord broke his own commandment when He called them white-washed sepulchres.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Well said, however, I don't think our Lord misspoke on that occasion as he condemned the Pharisees.

Folks are very quick to recall Jesus' words in Matthew 7 about judging (Judge not lest ye be judged). What they fail to realize is that just a few verse later he says some people are no better than swine. John Stott is helpful at this point: "If we are not to 'judge' others, finding fault with them in a censorious, condemning or hypocritical way, we are not to ignore their faults either and pretend that everybody is the same. Both extremes are to be avoided" (p. 180, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, Bible Speaks Today). He also cites Jesus referring to Herod Antipas as 'that fox', the white-washed tomb quote and the Pharisees as a 'brood of vipers' as further evidence of Jesus' words of condemnation.

I would also add Paul's words in Titus about those in Crete: "One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." So, both Jesus and Paul indicate that it is possible to publicly speak of the faults of others and criticize them while not falling into sin.

Thanks for stopping by.

Eileen said...

You're quite right.

I left the sarc tag off my remark about the Lord and the Pharisees ;o). Of course what the Lord said was true. They were white-washed sepulchres, but I think the scribes and Pharisees would have relished the opportunity to accuse the Lord of breaking the 9th for saying so.

He wasn't afraid of strong language in service to the truth, and that's one reason I appreciate the men who are not intimidated into silence by accusations of breaking the 9th.

Sorry about the lack of clarity on my part.