7/7/14- Sermon: “Limits of Church Councils”
VIDEO OF SERMON? “Limits of Councils” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTm_sX6-qw0&list=UUICkNQr5gf_nL__Pv50JVYw
Acts 15; Gal. 1:6-11 ?By Whose Authority ?Councils, Governments, Scripture?
Preface: We have been going through the Scots Confession this summer in deference to John Knox’s 500th birthday year.
Scots Confession 20: “As we do not rashly condemn what good people, assembled together in general councils lawfully gathered, have set before us; so we do not receive uncritically whatever has been declared to men under the name of the general councils, for it is plain that, being human, some of them have manifestly erred, and that in matters of great weight and importance.? So far then as the council confirms its decrees by the plain Word of God, so far do we reverence and embrace them.”
I can remember at a conference I was in- the leader asked us to not just be at the conference but to make a difference.? So he had us go out into the city we were in- Atlanta- and simply ask people (strangers) about what they believe.? I was nervous, but I went.? We were paired into twos.? I went first and got nowhere on my first one.? My colleague went next and he asked this stranger if he minded talking to him about what he believed.? The man didn?t mind at all- but it was not a common belief he mentioned.? He believed a little bit of this, a little bit of that.? Then he asked my friend, what he believed, and my colleague stood there in stunned silence.? He was okay with listening, but he really was not very good at responding.? I hope you will ask yourself, if someone asked me, what would I say? It is important to know what you believe and to know why you believe it.? If you do not, it is impossible to communicate clearly what you believe. ?If your fellow student, if your parent, if your child or grandchild asks you could you say something?? That does not mean you have to know everything about what or why you believe- no one knows everything- and there is a mystery.? But we believe that God cares enough about us to reveal Himself and His will- not completely, but sufficiently. ???? Our Presbyterian faith tells us that there are four different levels to help us understand what we believe.? There are the scriptures.? These are the tried and tested basis for what we believe, and all other church statements are to try to be submissive to them.? There are the confessions.? There are summaries of the Christian faith- there are 11 confessions in our Book of Confessions- it takes 2/3 of the presbyteries to change these confessions because they are seen as very important.? There is the Book of Order which does not tell us what we are to believe but focuses more on what we are to do.? It takes a simple majority of the presbyteries to vote to pass a Book of Order change.? Then there are councils.? Councils used to be called ?governing bodies? and are things like the session, the presbytery, the synod, and the General Assembly.? Acts 15 was a scriptural council ? and sets the precedent to have believers gather together to establish practice. ??? The Confessions put limits on what a council can do, and I think it is important for us all to know this. 1) Councils often contradict each other.? Calvin spoke of councils going against each other- especially during changes of thought and times of controversy.? The Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity- and so also got the church leaders together to agree on their beliefs.? It seemed that Orthodoxy and the plain meaning of scripture would lose the day.? Athanasius was the only main theologian to stand up for the trinity at one time, and he was exiled by four different Roman emperors.? People made fun of Athanasius calling him ?Athansius against the world.?? When he died, he was called by the Nicean fathers- ?one of the fathers of the faith.?? The debates went back in forth This past General Assembly contradicted the 1993 and 1996 GA.? The 1926 assembly nullified the decisions of the 1923,24,25 assemblies which spoke of five fundamentals that every Presbyterian was encouraged to believe. ??In other words, councils, while important should take their decisions with a grain of salt. ??We should not be surprised at councils contradicting each other- for when people are debating anything the debate goes back and forth. 1) No Council or assembly can bind your conscience- no one can order your soul. all church power is only ministerial and declarative; that is to say that the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice; that no church judicatory ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience in virtue of their own authority. (F-3.0107)? We went through this before the Reformation when the church/pope would say to believe this or be excommunicated. ?The Reformation allowed that only the Word of God can bind our conscience before God. ?The Council of Prophets in the days of Elijah stood against him entirely.? He felt he was the only one left- but God told Elijah he still had work for him to do and had 7,000 who did not bow the knee to Baal. 2) No Council or assembly should speak contrary to scripture or to the confessions.? The scripture- and the agreed upon confessions have precedent. ?John Calvin asked that we honor the ancient councils of the church like Nicea.? But he also gave this famous caveat: “Here the norm is that nothing of course detract from Christ. Now it is Christ’s right to preside over all councils and to have no man share his dignity. But I say that he presides only when the whole assembly is governed by his word and Spirit” (IV.9.1). That is to say, any teaching even of a general council falls under, and is overruled by, the higher authority of the Scriptures. And while the authority of councils rests in Christ’s promise of his presence where two or three are gathered in his name, this qualifier of “his name” disqualifies all councils which take it upon themselves either to add to, or to take away from, his Word (IV.9.2). ?? There was a motion promoted by the former senior pastor of Frist Church Spartanburg that we have General Assembly only once every ten years. The rationale was that every time the assembly meets it upsets people and hurts the unity of the church. Yet, our passage in Acts 15 reminds us of the importance of Christians getting together to figure things out. There will always be disagreements in the church because humans have disagreements. I take that back- when we get to heaven- we will have no need to disagree for we will see things as they are. We have differences of opinion in this church- and every church has them. But I have never been one for getting mad about the disagreements and leaving. The love of Christ compels us to try. If the church in Acts 15 had split, there would be no church today. If I left my spouse every time we disagreed we wouldn?t be married 34 years. The country has always had disagreements too- think of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who disagreed sharply.? It is human to have differences. There is no pure church this side of heaven. But we are called to love each other and to be faithful to each other as scripture compels us. It makes me so sad when people leave the church-the particular church- out of anger. People used to not do that- but it is an epidemic today. Churches used to not split, but it is a monthly occurrence today. Councils are supposed to help us understand what the Bible says. Councils are supposed to help us understand where our north star of belief is so that we are helped to clarify and tell people what we believe and why. ?? Today we will have holy communion. Communion reminds us that we are to proclaim the Lord until he comes again. It doesn?t tell us what to proclaim about his death or his resurrection. Ancient councils used communion as a weapon to kick people out. But communion is really a tool to draw people in, and to discover the Christ who unites all believers in heaven.