The Place of Conscience
Clearly, conscience plays a very important role. But with that said, a person’s conscience is not an inerrant or infallible guide, for it is possible for one’s conscience to be mistaken…as the Westminster Confession of Faith rightly says, the Bible alone is to be our “Final Umpire.”
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral vs. The Presbyterian Pentagon
There’s a helpful and well-known method for indulging in theological reflection called ‘The Wesleyan Quadrilateral’. Consistent with its geometric shape, each of its four sides represent four different aspects of ‘authority’, namely; Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. The point is that when it comes to deciding an issue, one of these things will be determinative.
But I’ve recently come to see—especially through COVID—that the model is insufficient and that there is a fifth side which should be added. This is the aspect of ‘Conscience’ and as such, I’d like to suggest renaming the paradigm to The Presbyterian Pentagon. The reason I’ve made it denominationally specific is because the doctrinal standard of the Presbyterian Church—Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)—is somewhat unique in its emphasis upon the place of conscience in the Christian life.
This is seen in Chapter 20: Christian Liberty, section 2 which states:
God alone is lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the teachings and commandments of men that are in any way contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters connected with faith or worship. As a result, to believe such teachings, or to obey such commandments, as a matter of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience. And the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason as well.
And in the Australian edition of the WCF there is an additional section found in the addendum of The Declaratory Statement regarding the Civil Magistrate (vi) which adds the further clarification:
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Calm Under PressureBy David Mathis — 10 months ago
Beholding the glory of our Lord — in his striking Gospels calmness and his present imperturbable equanimity — we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We cannot study the real Christ too much. We cannot look to him too often. We cannot meditate on him too much. In coming as near to him as we can, and abiding in him as much as we are able, we will in time learn more of that holy stillness of soul, that godly composure, that glorious equanimity, and a thousand other graces besides.
I love the old word equanimity. It’s almost fallen out of use today. Perhaps that’s because, in part, the reality has become increasingly rare. Equanimity is a term for composure, for emotional calmness and presence of mind, particularly in trying circumstances.
We’re living in times that condition us to overreact and explode, in a society that rewards outrage and outbursts. It’s never been easy for sinners to keep even tempers in trial, but present distresses summon us afresh to learn composure under pressure, how to “hold our peace” when the moment requires it, and give release to emotion in its proper time and place. Our families and churches and communities need leaders who have learned to keep their heads when others are losing theirs, to not lose control in anger or self-pity but keep a sober mind, and be, like our God, “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6).
We need to bring equanimity back.
The road-tested wisdom of Proverbs 16:32 whispers to those with ears to hear,
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Count “he who rules his spirit” as a biblical phrase for equanimity and holy composure. Note well, the wise man neither smites his spirit nor takes orders from it. He neither stuffs his emotions nor lets them play king. Rather, he rules his spirit. He learns how to keep his spirit cool, his temper even, in moments when fools get hot, weak kneed, and their passions carry the day.
This is not stoicism. Christians have long called this “self-control.” We aim not to be men without spirits but those who keep “a cool spirit” under duress, when the immature lose control. We do not discard our emotions (as if we could) or suppress them, but by God’s grace we seek to bring our spirit increasingly under the control of his Spirit.
Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) commends the “holy calm” of godly strength and praises the Spirit-empowered composure to which God calls his people and provides — and all the more in times volatile and easy agitated.
The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behavior, and surprising acts and events of this evil an unreasonable world. (Religious Affections, 278)
Foreign as “holy calm” and equanimity might seem in our frenetic and furious age, we are well aware of the present challenges to our composure — which Edwards names in language we could hardly update more than two hundred years later: “storms, injuries, strange behavior, and surprising acts and events of this evil and unreasonable world.”
Yet Edwards not only commends “holy calm” in Christ’s soldiers. He presses deeper. He celebrates it in our captain and Lord himself. “In the person of Christ do meet together infinite majesty and transcendent meekness,” he writes, which are “two qualifications that meet together in no other person but Christ.”
Only God has infinite majesty; only in becoming man does Christ have meekness, “a virtue proper only to the creature.” In this meekness, Edwards says, “seems to be signified, a calmness and quietness of spirit, arising from humility in mutable beings that are naturally liable to be put into a ruffle by the assaults of a tempestuous and injurious world. But Christ, being both God and man, hath both infinite majesty and superlative meekness” (“Excellency of Christ”).
Who among us has not felt the temptation “to be put into a ruffle by the assaults” of our lives and age?
Our Church CalendarsBy T. M. Suffield — 7 months ago
Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, November 6, 2022
I think there’s wisdom in the church calendar, I don’t think we need to slavishly follow it—in fact enforcing it is probably against Paul’s instructions (Galatians 4). There is something wise about catechising our people to think Christianly about their lives by shaping what we do across the year (and not necessarily just on Sunday) to fit the shape of the gospel. We will adopt a pattern of annual rhythms as a church whatever we do, it is inevitable, so it seems really strange to me that we would be shaped by anything other than the story of Jesus’ victory over sin, Satan, and Death.
Israel had a cycle of a weekly Sabbath, seven feasts a year, a sabbatical year every seventh year, and a Jubliee year every seventh sabbatical year. Their days were patterned for them, and it was wisdom to follow them.
They function how the Church calendar was designed by our Christian forbears to function for us—now of course that doesn’t hold the same force, it is set by the Church’s tradition rather than the word of God, but it holds some force—each year the story of the gospel, God’s dealings with humanity, are re-enacted for us in our cycle of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany-Lent-Easter-Ascension-Pentecost.
I’m a non-conformist and happily so, but I like the calendar because of what I read in the Old Testament Law. This is good for us to do as well for much the same reasons as them. It’s important to note though that it fits in the category of wisdom and not law. Paul has plenty to say about those who were enforcing the celebration of days and seasons on the New Testament church (Galatians 4).
Of course, almost every non-conformist church I’ve met still follows a church calendar. We follow the academic year, despite this only really being relevant for teachers and those with young children—I appreciate Paul Blackham’s suggestion that since this is irrelevant for the vast majority of any church, we should largely ignore it. Honestly, who cares if it’s half-term? The academic year means more to me than most since I work in a University, but it isn’t that academic year that most churches I know map onto.
We might well do something for Christmas and Easter—most will, but probably avoid Christmas Day due to the reality of not being able to get access to our venues. Which is understandable, but then we assume Christmas is over immediately rather than enjoy the whole twelve-day feast.
Most likely though its other considerations which form our liturgical calendar, particularly the national calendar. We celebrate Mother’s Day in March, Father’s Day in June, and Remembrance Sunday in November. We probably acknowledge Halloween exists by doing something for it, but ignore Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sundays. What particularly makes this weird is that those last three are still baked into our national character—factories are likely to be closed around Whit Week, we still have a Bank Holiday for Pentecost (though it’s now fixed and doesn’t always coincide), and in the upper echelons of society they name their ‘terms’ after these festivals.
It makes sense to me that the national church provides a religious angle on some of these national events—and a bunch more, including the Queen’s birthday—but it’s my non-conformism that means I don’t want to.
A Positive Vision for ObedienceBy Josh Squires — 5 months ago
Obedience is hard. Make no mistake about it. Yet it need not be drudgery. We are no longer slaves but are free to live as we were created to live and when we do, we find ourselves more spiritually fit, more in love with our God, more able to witness, and more prepared for heaven than we could ever possibly imagine.
There’s an old joke about people who do CrossFit, and it goes something like this: “How do you know when someone does CrossFit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!” If you’ve ever encountered an enthusiastic CrossFitter, you know why this joke is so humorous. It seems that all they can talk about is CrossFit and how it has changed their lives. And to a certain extent it has. It has allowed them to train their bodies to maximum effectiveness. The interesting part is that CrossFit’s success is less about some revolutionary training regimen and more about the positive vision it casts and the enthusiasm it generates. The enthusiasm is not simply for the payoff but also the process—as difficult and painful as that process is. As Christians, our attitude toward obedience can become like that of someone dragged to the gym by a well-meaning friend or family member—weary disdain. Instead, we need the same sort of positive vision and enthusiasm for Christlikeness as our CrossFitting friends have for a pullup. Let me therefore give you some positive principles for the pursuit of Christian obedience.
However, we need a quick caveat before we begin. Christian history is littered with those who would try to generate energy for Christian obedience only to find themselves exhausted and enslaved to a relentless master. We do not endeavor after obedience to the Lord that we may be justified before Him. Paul makes this incredibly clear in Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Well-meaning Christians, afraid that the radically free offer of the gospel will demotivate Christian obedience, have instead placed themselves on a hopeless treadmill of works-righteousness. This path robs them not merely of their joy in obedience but ultimately of their assurance in Christ. Rejoice, Christian, your obedience does not factor into your acceptance into the kingdom. What a freeing truth that is; yet it does not free us from obedience but rather puts us in a right relationship with obedience. For Paul finishes his thought in his letter to the Ephesians with this: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, emphasis added).
OBEDIENCE INCREASES OUR SPIRITUAL FITNESS
Many Christians have come to believe in their heart of hearts that to obey God’s commands, to kill sin and live unto righteousness, will cause them to resent the Lord and love Him less. This is one of the oldest tricks of Satan to whisper in our ears that we cannot be happy without our pet sin, that we would be miserable if we did not allow ourselves room for this or that transgression of His law. The truth of the matter is quite different. Does killing sin sting? Yes! In the moment, it quite literally feels like death because we are killing something in us. But much like those that tear down their muscles in the gym only for them to come back stronger, more able, more fit for this physical life, tearing down sin in our lives makes us happier, more peaceful, stronger, and more fit for life this side of glory. More importantly, choosing to endeavor after spiritual health now helps to build up our ability to endure under more intense trial and temptation later. Like a soldier in the midst of combat relying on his training and fitness to help him survive, when we are in the habit of obeying God’s Word, we can rely on it when we find ourselves under spiritual attack. When we obediently meditate on God’s Word day and night (Ps. 1:2) we will, like Christ in the wilderness, run to it in the moments of our spiritual affliction (Matt. 4:1–11). When we pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), we will cry out to the Lord in our darkest hours (Ps. 88). When we don’t neglect the coming together (Heb. 10:24–25), we will have our burdens borne along by one another when we are struggling (Gal. 6:2).