Friday, April 20, 2012

The Declamatory Act

declamatory (dɪˈklæmətərɪ)

merely rhetorical; empty and bombastic

The above is a good definition of the Free Church Declaratory Act of 1892 which, as noted here, is 120 years old in May. It declaimed against the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was mere empty rhetoric designed to encompass and deceitfully hide a wide variety of errors in opposition to the precise theology of the Confession of Faith. In a phrase they "destroyed the integrity of the Confession of Faith". The only unobjectionable and non-declamatory word in the Act was the first one, "Whereas". It was, as BB Warfield described it, "a bungling piece of work".

In History of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, Rev. John Dickson writes:
A creed is only a light-holder; to declaim against it is to act like the savage [sic] who, walking through the streets of London at night, complained that the lamp-posts were an obstruction to traffic. 
See here for more on exactly how the Declaratory Act was guilty of subverting as well as declaiming against the Confession of Faith. 

1.What was the Declaratory Act?

It was officially called "Act Anent Confession of Faith" and was passed by the Free Church in 1892. It stated that its purpose was "to remove difficulties and scruples which have been felt by some in relation to the declaration of belief required from" office-bearers, ministers, probationers etc. In other words some seeking office in the Church could not (although ordination vows explicitly required it) affirm that the "whole doctrine" of the Westminster Confession of Faith was their personal confession of faith.  The Church sought a way to get around this.  The Declaratory Act allowed men to assent publicly to the same vows of strict and full subscription but privately they could make secret appeal to the Declaratory Act's qualification of the confession.

2.What was the motivation for the Act?

The motivation for the Act was to permit students who held views contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith in terms of evolution, higher criticism, Arminianism etc. to subscribe in a qualified way to the Westminster Confession of Faith without abandoning such convictions.  It was also intended to facilitate union with the United Presbyterian Church who had passed their own Declaratory Act that was practically identical to the Free Church 1892 Act. 

3.What was the effect of the Declaratory Act?

By the Declaratory Act the Free Church "destroyed the integrity of the Confession of Faith as understood and accepted by the Disruption Fathers and their predecessors" thereby overthrowing "the fixed Doctrinal Constitution of the Church" (Rev. James S. Sinclair). The Church's relation to the Westminster Confession of Faith changed from entire acceptance to modified acceptance. The Church's declaration was that it "maintains, holds" doctrines that were actually subversive of the Confession while "disclaiming" certain crucial confessional doctrines. This amounted to an additional creed.  The Church was also giving approval and shelter to the false doctrines named above and those who held to them. Rev. James S. Sinclair said: "The Free Church in order to please the fickle tastes of carnal men has traitorously lowered the standard of accepted truth, and weakened down the saving doctrines of the Gospel, so that they shall be powerless for any spiritual good to this or future generations".