Page 2 March 2011 Issue 175
will need noamendment until the Bible needs to beamended.
From a Baptist point of view,Dabney’s position seems to equatethe
with Scripture. To be fair to Dabney, he earlier insisted that believing the
is the trueexpression of the Bible does not meanthat a person’s conscience is bound tothe
. These two premises,however, are contradictory unlesswe assume Dabney believed that a believer’s conscience was not boundto Scripture. First, he posits that A(Scripture) = B (
). What mustfollow, to be consistent, is that if a person’s conscience is bound by A,it is also bound by B. Otherwise, theargument is incoherent and meaning-less.From a Presbyterian point of view,a mature believer’s own understand-ing of the Bible will correspond tothat of the mature believers who wrotethe
. G. I. Williamson, a notedcontemporary Presbyterian writer, in-sists that any believer who comes to amature faith will believe the system of doctrine set forth in the
, which,in his mind, corresponds exactly toScripture.
…our church makes a clear dis-tinction between the relatively simplevows that adult converts take whenthey are received as church members,and the more elaborate vows requiredof those men in our midst who areordained. This does not mean thatthe two are out of harmony with eachother. Not at all, for if those who havetaken membership vows are faithfulin keeping them they will—as theygrow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord—come to that mature faithso fully and beautifully expressed inour Standards. The reason is obvious:3 R. L. Dabney, “The Doctrinal Contentsof the Confession” in
Memorial Volumeof the Westminster Assembly
(Richmond:Presbyterian Committee of Publications,1897).
curate interpretation of the Bible. Youwill say, “But John, Baptists, and ev-ery other Christian group, believe thatsame thing about their confession.”True, but historically, Baptists havenot believed it in the same way thatPresbyterians have.
The Presbyterian Church not onlyaccepts the
as the true and ac-curate interpretation of the Bible, their members also willingly bind their consciences to the
as though itwere inspired. During doctrinal dis-cussions or questions about practicewithin a local Presbyterian church, its presbytery, or its general assembly,quoting the
or the Shorter or Larger Catechism is tantamount toquoting a Bible verse. In a Presbyte-rian argument, the
carries thesame authority as would a Scriptureverse. In a Baptist argument (histori-cally), the Bible and only the Bible isthe
nal source of authority.
Pres- byterians do not see their practice asdeviating from this stance, however,as they operate from the premise thatthe
correctly exposits theBible. R. L. Dabney, noted for his vo-luminous book,
is quite clear on this point.
1 I use the word
becauserecently, some Reformed Baptists havemoved closer to a Presbyterian attitudetoward their confession .2 While Baptists have not traditionallylooked to a confession to settle disputedmatters, and have insisted that the Biblealone is their
nal authority, it is onlyfair to point out that in practice biblicalauthority actually means a Baptist’s ownunderstanding/interpretation of the Bible.Otherwise, all Baptists would agree onall points, and that is patently not thecase. Both groups, then, believe that theScripture is authoritative and that theyhave
that expresses the truthof Scripture. For the Presbyterian, thatsomething is the
, composed by menwho were, in principle, guided by theHoly Spirit. For the Baptist, that some-thing is his or her own understanding,guided, in principle, by the Holy Spirit.
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