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Mar 08, 2006


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Denis Hancock

The role of the "magistrate" has been a sticky one for Presbyterians. The Adopting Act of 1729, which permitted scruples to be raised by members of governing bodies, had as one of its first tests the scruples of some ministers with the chapters in the Westminster Confession relating to the proper role of the Church in secular government and visa versa.

These scruples could be about any matter not essential to doctrine, worship, or government (I assume church government).

I agree with the 13 basic theses that Wolterstorff proposes.

Do we want to extend those theses to Presbyterian Polity? Or do we want to leave those worms in the can?

Michael Kruse

Interesting. I wasn't aware that the initial scruples tests were about these issues.

I really like this piece by Wolterstorff. I think it was one of the more helpful essays in the book.

"Do we want to extend those theses to Presbyterian Polity?"

Sure. Right after we articulate the essential tenets of the Reformed faith. *grin* Seriously though, your question got me to wondering what our offical social witness policy statements have said on these issues Wolterstorff raises. I may have to do some investigating. You may be on to something.

Denis Hancock

Apparently the civil magistrate at one time exercised temporal power over the church. The following is an extract from the Synod minutes of 1729:

§ 9. Passages of the Confession excepted to in the Adopting Act. [The following are the passages explained in the above act. Chap. 20, sec. 4, of certain offenders it is said] "they may be proceeded against by the censures of the Church, and by the power of the civil magistrate."

Chap. 23, sec. 3. "The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church; that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. for the better effecting whereof he hath power to call Synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God."

The current Book of Confessions version of the Westminster Confession has been edited from the 1647 version that gave the colonial upstarts difficulties. The UPCUSA chapter numbering conforms to the 1647 version.

Michael Kruse

Very interesting, Denis. Thanks.

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