Sunday, December 15, 2013

5. Apollo 13 and the Regulative Principle

Photo of the surface of the moon from the Apollo 13. Wikipedia
Westminster Confession of Faith 21:1 (WCF)
I. The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.
This section of the WCF describes the 'Regulative Principle': only what is permitted by Scripture ("through good and natural consequence") is allowable in public worship. As opposed to the 'Normative Principle', if Scripture doesn't prohibit something, then it's OK for public worship.

Presumably the good men of the Westminster Assembly didn't stop worshiping God as they departed the church building. So I'm following John Frame here who writes: “all human actions are ruled by divine commandments. There is no neutral area where God permits us to be our own lawgivers. There is no area of human life where God abdicates his rule, or where his word to us is silent.” ('Some Questions About the Regulative Principle,' Westminster Theological Journal,  54, 2 (Fall 1992), 362)

Scripture speaks to all of life comprehensively but not exhaustively. For example there was nothing in the Bible to help the astronauts of Apollo 13 fix their space ship, but plenty of principles for everything that they were experiencing. This next comment might sound naughty, but I mean it positively and creatively: the Bible speaks on nothing exhaustively, not even our salvation! We work that out with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), and when Jesus says "we'll go on to do greater things" (John 14:12), putting the cessationist debate to one side, He is probably pointing to the gigantic scope of the gospel across all His people through space and time.

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9    Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 
  • Mark 12:33    To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
  • Acts 17:24    The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth
  • Romans 12:1    Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31    So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

11 comments:

Alex Smith said...

I like the last paragraph & passages cited so I can almost +1 it but just reflecting on first two paragraphs... tricky as the Scripture doesn't explicitly say much on many topics e.g. what instruments does it explicitly permit? Or what duration of church service? Or how many songs, prays, Bible readings?

What about the role of the Holy Spirit within us? (although I guess that's related to the cessationist debate)

What about the role of the Church?

What about the role of God given logic, reason & creativity?

While "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," I don't think this verse implies it's the only thing that's profitable for those things.

The Jews were keen on following the written laws but I get the strong impression Jesus wanted us to do more than that. To try to comprehend/obey the "spirit of the law", the motivation of love behind it.

While the WCF is a helpful document, I think it goes too far in prescribing/regulating/dictating what Christians should do/think.

Steve Isham said...

So, like a traveller tethered to the craft we venture out, in freedom. On board, at the end of our life line is the oxygen of Scripture that makes that possible.

Luke Isham said...

Alex,

Thanks for posting, two things.

1. Scripture speaks about everything comprehensively but nothing exhaustively. It's got something to say about everything and gives us the tools to figure out what to do in every situation. In other words this is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, it's sufficient for faith and living. (I guess this means animals and robots are free from living out the implications of the gospel.)

2. Logic, reason and creativity, like you said come from God. If god's revelation is our starting point and measuring stick (you might not agree it is) then logic reason and creativity also have their basis, their beginning in Scripture.

Does that make sense?

Dad,

Yes! I think that's what the Apostle Paul means in 1 Corinthians 7 by the "the things of the Lord" ( 1 Cor 7:32). The world makes no sense without the oxygen of Scripture, no activity will survive without interaction with the Gospel.

Alex Smith said...

"Scripture speaks about everything comprehensively but nothing exhaustively", I'm a little confused by this statement. Where does the Bible claim to be WikiPedia??

As John Piper says, "The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently. To be obedient in the sciences we need to read science and study nature. To be obedient in economics we need to read economics and observe the world of business. To be obedient in sports we need to know the rules of the game. To be obedient in marriage we need to know the personality of our spouse. To be obedient as a pilot we need to know how to fly a plane. In other words, the Bible does not tell us all we need to know in order to be obedient stewards of this world."

I think Scripture is sufficient for revealing to us (in no particular order):
1. What God desires of us - faith, motivations, actions, attitudes, etc.
2. What is good.
3. What is evil.
4. Why we are here.
5. What God will do.
6. Who God is.
7. What God has done.
8. Plus probably other things I've forgotten.

These are essential things for everyone & it's extremely rare that God reveals these things outside of Scripture (exceptions being events like Paul's conversion).

I believe logic, reason and creativity are gifts from God but what do you mean by "logic, reason and creativity also have their basis, their beginning in Scripture."

(I think animals & robots are subject to the ethics we find in the Bible, taking into consideration their limited awareness e.g. neither are allowed to get away with murder)

Luke Isham said...

Hey Alex,

Even on those topics you listed the Bible isn't exhaustive. That's what the working out of theology is about, that's what church history is for, the figuring out by good and natural consequence what God means about different topics.

Would you agree Scripture is where the Holy Spirit speaks with the most clarity and authority? (There's the Roman Catholic option, where the Vatican speaks with divine authority or the radical protestant option where any man and his cat speaks with divine authority.)

Alex Smith said...

Even on those topics you listed the Bible isn't exhaustive. I agree, I didn't say it is :-)

That's what the working out of theology is about, that's what church history is for, the figuring out by good and natural consequence what God means about different topics. I agree.

Would you agree Scripture is where the Holy Spirit speaks with the most clarity and authority? Yes, I agree. Although as we've discussed before, even that clarity is clouded by our hermeneutical spiral.

Luke Isham said...

I'm just worried you're separating things God created like emotions or logic from God's words in Scripture. Hasn't God got something authoritative to say about everything?

Alex Smith said...

Sorry, I don't understand. Emotions, logic & Scripture are all things God created. Emotions & logic are discussed in Scripture. I'm sure God has many authoritative things He could say on any topic, it's just He has only done so on particular topics (e.g. my list above). As interesting as quantum mechanics is, I can’t think of any verse that discusses it...

Luke Isham said...

You could say God has hardly anything to say about anything! There's nothing in Scripture about whole countries, whole swaths of history are missing, massive areas of knowledge are absent, there's nothing in the Bible about us or anyone we know or anyone alive for that matter, even when it comes to theology there some doctrines that aren't even named eg Trinity or only mention in passing, even whole sections of Israel's history the focus of the Bible are missing, in fact when it comes down to it even the stuff about Salvation isn't complete. You admitted yourself that that list you gave earlier isn't clear!

That's one option. But there's a better one. :)

We accept that God is speaking into one specific precise context, but in *that* context of a small people in one part of the world and in only the last few years of the Messiah, God has an authoritative message for the most distant stars and the smallest atoms!

Scripture is sufficient for everything, but comprehensively not exhaustively.

Alex Smith said...

I hope you had a lovely Christmas celebration!

You could say God has hardly anything to say about anything! I definitely wouldn’t ever say that, as the topics He talks about are essential for every single person past, future & present!

There's nothing in Scripture about whole countries, whole swaths of history are missing, massive areas of knowledge are absent Indeed, it never intended to be Wikipedia, however the topics it does address are of eternal significance so shouldn’t be undervalued.

there's nothing in the Bible about us or anyone we know or anyone alive for that matter Not explicitly but implicitly we are discussed. Scripture exhorts people to personally read & meditate on it & to publicly read & explain it. Given it talks a lot about attitude & motivation, it effects why we do things & in what matter (e.g. benefit of others vs. purely self-interest, truthfully vs. deceptively). In that sense it can influence (is that what you mean by speaking into?) every aspect of our lives.

even when it comes to theology there some doctrines that aren't even named eg Trinity or only mention in passing , even whole sections of Israel's history the focus of the Bible are missing, in fact when it comes down to it even the stuff about Salvation isn't complete. I think when Christ established the Church He intended it to be an ongoing institution (in the positive sense of the word), one of whose function was ongoing theological discussion (e.g. the Council of Jerusalem). I think this gave weight to the Early Church Councils/Creeds, and is why we still give a hearing to churches today - even if we don’t always agree with them, it’s part of what Christ put in place for our benefit. Likewise I believe the Spirit was given to Christians to help figure out how to apply Scripture, & what to do when it doesn’t explicitly deal with a topic.

You admitted yourself that that list you gave earlier isn't clear! True, it was only meant to give you an idea of the kinds of topics I think the Bible focuses on.

That's one option. But there's a better one. :) Always interested to hear better options ☺

We accept that God is speaking into one specific precise context I think some of the text explicitly says it’s timeless (at very least applying from the time it was written, up until the New Creation), not tied to one context.

but in *that* context of a small people in one part of the world and in only the last few years of the Messiah, God has an authoritative message for the most distant stars and the smallest atoms! It’s the step to the 2nd half of the sentence (bolded) that I don’t understand. Please can you give me an example of God’s authoritative message for atoms?

Luke Isham said...

Genesis 1:1