My time as Chairman of the RPC Synod’s Committee for the Understanding the Times came to a very final conclusion at this evening’s session of Synod.
My attempt to send the committee to its eternal slumber was defeated by a vote of 53-47. This was the last year of my term. For what it is worth, and apparently it is not much, I offer it to DRC readers for their edification.
Committee on Understanding the Times Report
2007 Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church
Recommendation: That the standing Committee on Understanding the Times be dismissed.
The Committee on Understanding of the Times has a long and colorful history. Once titled the Committee on the Signs of the Times, the committee has served an important historic function. Although the Committee on the Signs of the Times was discontinued some three decades ago, it was reborn as the Understanding the Times Committee in 1989. At that time, the Committee on Priorities and Administration reported:
While there were good reasons for discontinuing the former â€œSigns of the Timesâ€ reports, we believe that something has been lost, and that the time has come when we again seek to evaluate our culture from a biblical perspective in order that we might better see the progress of the kingdom and how the grace and mercy of God must be brought to bear (Minutes of Synod, 1989, pg. 88).
The Reformed Presbyterian Synod created the Committee for Understanding the Times and charged it with the work of evaluating the culture from a biblical perspective. No small task for an otherwise insignificant committee! Yet, standing in general continuity with the old Signs of the Times Committee, the Understanding the Times reports have given voice to the unique Covenanter interpretation of current events while seeking to contextualize them within the breadth of post-canonical redemptive history. These reports are a treasure in waiting for future historians and have added a great deal of color to our Synod meetings and annual Yearbooks.
Still, your committee believes that it is again time to affirm that there are good reasons for discontinuing these reports. Formerly, the Covenanter Church was deeply committed to a Whig interpretation of history (history as the narrative of progress). This commitment led the Covenanters to raise their peculiar postmillennial historiography to a confessional status through her former Historical Testimony. Borrowing an interpretive grid from the Testimony, current events could be expounded by Synod committees in a way that gave voice to the Covenanter cause and provided a unifying social and cultural vision for the church.
The Reformed Presbyterian Testimony no longer includes a historical part. Wisely did the church conclude that only inspired history could bind the conscience set free in Jesus Christ. Further, chastened by a century of mass bloodshed and ideological extremism, the Reformed Presbyterian Church no longer views progress as the hallmark of history. A diverse denomination, no common understanding of post-canonical history draws us together. Artificial unity is no answer. Without confessional grounding, unhinged from classical postmillennial historiography, the Understanding the Times reports, although interesting, are a temptation for division within the Synod.
Further, Chapter 31, paragraph 5 of the Westminster Confession of Faith declares:
Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude, nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth; unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they are thereunto required by the civil magistrate.
The wisdom of the Confession of Faith should not be ignored. Covenanters, following the example of Andrew Melville, have ever proclaimed that, where the gospel has taken root, two kingdoms exist within each nation. As the kingdoms of men cannot legitimately interfere with the holy politics of Godâ€™s Kingdom neither can the Kingdom of God legitimately politicize the gospel by binding the conscience of believers on matters purely secular and political.
While ministers of the gospel are well equipped to exegete the Holy Scriptures, they are not necessarily equipped for exegete-ing the newspaper. Although the church must not give up its duty to call the magistrate to faith and repentance, especially in response to corporate sins and issues of morality, it must not allow the politicization of the gospel of Christ. Further, we must humbly recognize that Godâ€™s providences are fundamentally inscrutable and defy our ability to interpret with any degree of certainty.
Culturally, the Reformed Presbyterian Church is no longer homogenous. Released from the confessional authority of the historical Testimony, neither Elder nor laymen can be asked to assent to a grand reading of non-canonical history. The present Synod includes Ministers and Ruling Elders representing various shades of political opinion. Your committee suspects that in the midst of this Synod are seated wild Whigs and high Tories, traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals, Republicans and Democrats, authoritarians and anarchists, populists and progressives. Yet, our diversity in matters cultural and political is tempered by our common agreement that Jesus Christ is King over the nations, that Godâ€™s Word should regulate worship, and that the Westminster Standards are a faithful exposition of Biblical Christianity.
Can Christâ€™s Kingship be applied?
The mediatorial Kingship of Christ over the nations is a precious doctrine that calls the nations to faith and repentance. It demands that civil authorities apply the norms of Godâ€™s law to the political process. Without hesitation your committee believes that this doctrine has substantial application. Against the sin of slavery our 19th Century fathers pressed the royal claims of Christ. Against the sin of abortion we have so contended. Yet, we are also keen to remember that Christâ€™s mediatorial kingship is not an ideology. No champions of an armed doctrine, proponents of Christâ€™s Kingship recognize that Christian politics remains the art of the possible. Indeed, not inebriated zeal but sober-minded prudence is foremost among the virtues prized in the faithful statesman. Therefore, your committee believes that the Synod should be restrained in binding the conscience of its members by authoritatively speaking where there is not clear consensus, not only of the present generation but also among the faithful saints of the historical church.
Can greater consensus be achieved? Possibly, but it is not the work of the Synod. Such work should be faithful accomplished from the pulpit, in the pages of the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, the Christian Statesman, Semper Reformanda: Covenanter Theological Review, on blogs, in pamphlets, and in the editorial section of your local newspaper.
Therefore, your committee thanks the King of the Church for the many years of faithful service and insight provided by this committee and asks that the Synod grant its indefinite dismissal.
Rev. W.H. Chellis, Chairman
Rev. Katsunori Endo*
* Rev. Endo wishes to note his discomfort with the hyperbolic tone of the sentence: â€œThe present Synod includes Ministers and Ruling Elders representing various shades of political opinion. Your committee suspects that in the midst of this Synod are seated wild Whigs and high Tories, traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals, Republicans and Democrats, authoritarians and anarchists, populists and progressives.â€