A Little Time With The 1689: Day 301

Day 301

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 5.

“…and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious, and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself.”

Scripture Lookup

Matthew 19:11

Reflection

When I was a child I had aspirations to be a ballerina. I was awestruck each time I watched these women perform. Beautiful not only in costume and in movement, they embodied the culture of self-denial that surrounded the dance world: strictly watch what you eat, steel your mind against the fatigue, sacrifice your social life, push through the pain and don’t complain. Those who followed those mantras had the reward of achieving grace an ordinary woman could not.

In Roman Catholic culture, such awe as I had for ballet dancers surrounds those men and women who enter monastical life. They, too, live a life of self-denial. Their pleasures are denied for a seemingly greater goal. Dangling in front of them is the reward of achieving a greater holiness than those in the everyday world.

Taking monastical vows, and the life of asceticism that accompanies it, is very attractive. In such a system your level of holiness is determined by how devoted you are. Increasing in piety is only limited by yourself; therefore, push yourself further up the ladder to receive your well-earned reward. This system, however, is totally antithetical with the Gospel. No matter how hard we work, we cannot merit His favor by our actions. Only through faith in Christ alone can we be saved. Our holiness rests upon Him alone. Any good we do is through the Spirit, and good works are only those which Scripture states.

The Bible warns against false teachers who appeal to our senses with a life of asceticism. May we not be enamored with such superstition as has ensnared those who have joined monastic orders. Let our zeal be for Christ, and may we follow what He has commanded in His word.

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. -Colossians 2:20-23, NASB

 

Questions to Consider

  • Is there anything you are doing to be “more holy” that Scripture doesn’t warrant?

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 300

Day 300

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 5.

“…professed poverty,…”

Scripture Lookup

Ephesians 4:28

Reflection

Money. Something whose influence grips us tightly. Something of which the Bible warns us not to get attached:

You cannot serve God and wealth. -Matthew 6:24

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. -1 Timothy 6:10

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have;… -Hebrews 13:5

Affected as we are by material goods, when we see someone who has eschewed all that on purpose, we automatically think he or she has attained a state of holiness that we have not. After all, they don’t have to struggle with the desire for money when they don’t have it, right? They’ve even vowed never to accumulate stuff! It is the ultimate in minimalism, and for those who feel that tug-of-war within them concerning material gain, it is appealing.

But where in Scripture does it say that living in poverty is next to godliness? It does not. Interestingly, often the vow of poverty is taken by those who also vow a life of perpetual singleness. It is easy to say that you will cast off the cares of this world by not marrying, and awfully convenient to live as a pauper when you have no one dependent upon you. As is the case in vows of chastity, the family is left behind in the quest for holiness.

Yet there is no shame in providing for those in your household. God providentially supplies material goods to those who labor so that they may have extra to share with those in need (Ephesians 4:28). If a vow of poverty is to be desired above wealth, then there is no opportunity to give to those who have a need, as you do not have the resources to do so.

The desire for money is strong, and often competes with our affections for Christ. Yet it is not evil, and is a means to much good. To swear it off completely is neither right, nor warranted in Scripture.

Questions to Consider

  • What is your attitude towards money and material goods?

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 299

Day 299

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 5.

“…but Popish Monastical Vows, of perpetual single life,…”

Scripture Lookup

1 Corinthians 7:2,9

Reflection

If you haven’t experienced devout Roman Catholicism, the appreciation given to those who become priests, monks, or nuns might seem odd. Yet when you are pursuing a works-based righteousness, these are the people that are held up as examples to follow. Their dismissal of all that is “worldly”, serving God and the Church over everything else, is a very romantic notion. Taking monastical vows makes one holier-than-thou, literally: “Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Him more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesean bishop…[and] are bethrothed mystically to Christ…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).  They are closer to God because of the vow of chastity they had taken. Christ alone is their betrothed! They can resist temptation. Those who marry and have families, while still good, aren’t quite as dedicated as these others.

So what’s wrong with taking a vow of celibacy, to formally and intentionally withhold yourself from marriage? Could anyone who believes the true Gospel join in a community of fellow Christians, all formally abstaining from marriage and the physical intimacy that accompanies it? What is wrong with such a scenario is that it is never prescribed in Scripture. The Confession earlier stated: “Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His Holy Word”. (Chapter 16.1) Vows of a perpetual single life are not a good work, for they are not commanded by God in His word.

We know that there is nothing holier about those who take a vow of celibacy. They succumb to temptation and sin like everyone else. Only through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone, will anyone be redeemed. As Christians, may we be diligent to obey the commands of God only in Scripture, not a tradition.

Questions to Consider

  • Are there any things you consider “holy” that are not warranted by Scripture?

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 298

Day 298

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 5.

“A Vow which is not to be made to any Creature, but to God alone, is to be made and performed with all Religious care and faithfulness:….”

Scripture Lookup

Psalm 76:11

Genesis 28:20-22

Reflection

At first glance, the beginning of paragraph 5 seems to simply reiterate what has been stated before. We know already that oaths are only to be made to God, that they are to be made with solemnity and care, and that they are a part of religious worship. So are the writers reveling in wordiness here? Ah, but look – there is a slight difference in this paragraph, but an important one. Rather than talking of an “oath”, this speaks of a “vow”.

Aren’t oaths and vows the same thing? Actually, no. Lawrence R. Eyres, in an article in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s magazine New Horizons, explains thus: “Vows differ from oaths in that an oath calls for divine judgment upon oath breakers, yet since vows are taken in the name of God, “the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” We do not call upon God to judge us when we take a vow, but that does not negate the care and faithfulness with which we should perform it.

Christians are not created to live in isolation. We are called to join together in local assemblies, where we are encourage one another, share each other’s burdens, and exhort our brothers and sisters to press onward towards the prize in Christ Jesus. To do this, we formally become members of a church. Christian, when you joined the membership of your church, did you not make any vows?

There are times when you may need to leave the church of which you are a member, and with good reason. But how many Christians who consider removing their membership think through the vows they made to their fellow brothers and sisters? Too often the promises made are quickly forgotten in the shadow of discontent and strife. Christian, do not neglect the vows you have made. Strive to uphold them as long as it is lawful to do so.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you remember the words of the vows you have taken?

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 297

Day 297

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 4.

“An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation.”

Scripture Lookup

Psalm 24:4

Reflection

Texting and social media has taxed my grammar and spelling skills. Too often I read messages that are hastily written and sent without review, evidenced by obvious auto-correct goofs. Deciphering, rather than reading, becomes the task set before me. Sometimes I might know the writer and ask about his writing gaffe. “Well, you know what I meant!” is a response I’ve received.

An oath is an act of religious worship. As such, it ought to be taken in spirit and in truth. If we as Christians swear an oath with the intent to deceive, we are dishonoring the Lord by whom we are swearing. God is not merely concerned with the words we speak, but our meaning behind the words. Our oaths should be made with clarity and simplicity.

But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. -Matthew 5:37

When we take an oath, we are to be truthful. Our words are to be forthright, without a hint of deception. Such pure honesty is seen as foolish in a world that is willing to twist the meaning of words to fit an agenda, but our agenda as Christians is to glorify God. To that end, our oaths should actually reflect our true intentions, not a muddy statement that could be construed to be true.

Questions to Consider

  • How does being forthright in taking an oath bear witness to God’s character?

 

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 296

Day 296

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 3.

“Whosoever taketh an Oath warranted by the word of God, ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act; and therein to avouch nothing, but what he knows to be the truth; for that by rash, false, and vain Oaths the Lord is provoked, and for them this Land mourns.”

Scripture Lookup

Leviticus 19:12

Jeremiah 23:10

Reflection

How important is telling the truth? Is it okay to swear to something, even if everyone knows you don’t really mean it? It is assumed in our culture that everybody lies. Those in authority cannot be trusted to look out for the interests of those they have sworn to protect. Those not in authority cannot be trusted to keep their word as they try to get ahead. Promises are made are broken as soon as they become inconvenient. Oaths are viewed as meaningless, and the cynical effect it has upon our land is lamentable.

Christians above all ought to strive to speak truthfully and carefully. Without the truth, there can be no trust. Scripture warns over and over about guarding the tongue:

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. -Psalm 34:13

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of the sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. -Proverbs 12:18

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. -James 3:8

Our words and our actions ought to be the same. Too many times we rush heedlessly into agreeing to things that are vain and false. When we swear an oath, it should be after much thought, and should be carried out to the best of our abilities.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you often agree to things only to backtrack later?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 295

Day 295

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 2.

“…so a lawful Oath being imposed, by lawful Authority in such matters, ought to be taken.”

Scripture Lookup

Nehemiah 13:25

Reflection

Opinions and questions abound concerning the nature of government. What is its purpose? How far should its arm reach into the everyday lives of its citizens? What is the relationship between the Christian and the government?

Christians are to be subject to their rulers (Romans 13). Every law of the land that does not conflict with the moral law is to be obeyed. When the Confession was formulated, the influence of the Quakers and their refusal to take oaths of any kind was widely known. Particular Baptists, persecuted for their nonconformity to the civil religion, were forced to ask themselves whether oath-taking was Biblical.

As we have seen, there are times when an oath is fitting. When the oath to be taken follows the Biblical parameters for a lawful oath, it is permissible for a Christian to take it. When the authority imposing the oath is lawful, then the oath should be taken. It is no sin to take a lawful oath administered by a lawful government. To do so is to submit to the lawful authorities, as we are directed to do in Romans 13.

Questions to Consider

  • When would it be permissible to refuse an oath administered by the government?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 294

Day 294

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 2.

“…yet as in matter of weight and moment, for confirmation of truth, and ending all strife, an Oath is warranted by the word of God;…”

Scripture Lookup

Hebrews 6:16

2 Corinthians 1:23

Reflection

“Loose lips sink ships.” A phrase used during World War II, it cautioned against giving out too much information that could be used to the enemy’s advantage. The same phrase could be said today of our propensity to sin with our tongue. How many vows have been rashly made and then sinfully broken?

With such warnings given against improper oath-taking, it may seem easier to never take a vow again. But the Bible does not forbid all use of oaths. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul himself calls upon God to witness the veracity of his statement. The writer of Hebrews mentions oath-taking as a common practice among men, and also the God Himself makes an oath: “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath” (Hebrews 6:17). By these examples we see that lawful oath-taking is a reality.

There are times when the gravity of the situation calls for more than a simple “Sure, I’ll do it!” By entering into an oath, you are performing an act of worship that sets the vow apart from the ordinary. Serious, yes. But forbidden? No.

Questions to Consider

  • Are those who forbid to take oaths justified Biblically in their reasoning?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 293

Day 293

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 2.

“The Name of God only is that by which men ought to swear; and therein it is to be used, with all Holy Fear and reverence, therefore to swear vainly or rashly by that glorious, and dreadful name; or to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred;…”

Scripture Lookup

Matthew 5:34,37

James 5:12

Reflection

In the movie The Princess Bride, the mercenary swordsman Inigo Montoya, told to kill the mysterious stranger who pursues his group, attempts to hasten the ascent of the hero onto the top of a cliff. The conversation goes like this:

Inigo Montoya: But, I promise I will not kill you until you reach the top.

Man in Black: That’s VERY comforting, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait.

Inigo Montoya: I hate waiting. I could give you my word as a Spaniard.

Man in Black: No good. I’ve known too many Spaniards.

Inigo Montoya: Isn’t there any way you trust me?

Man in Black: Nothing comes to mind.

Inigo Montoya: I swear on the soul of my father, Domingo Montoya, you will reach the top alive.

Man in Black: Throw me the rope.

 

While the man in black was impressed by Inigo swearing upon the soul of his own father, it was wrong for Inigo to do so. Why? When you swear by something, you are calling upon that thing to witness your vow and to judge you for it. In order for a vow to be truly in earnest, the one called upon must be all-knowing (in order to know your thoughts) and all-powerful (in order to have the authority and ability to judge you). Inigo’s dead father had neither of these abilities. Inigo as well did not have the power to affect the state of his father’s soul by his oath. Such an oath was meaningless.

God alone is the only being that humans ought to swear by. When He is invoked, it is not to be done rashly. Remember, this is the high king of heaven we are asking to witness our vow. The omniscient and omnipotent, most holy Being who created all things. He is most worthy of our adoration and respect, and His very name should not be tossed about glibly.

Inigo Montoya was quite determined to fulfill his vows. However, his vows were sinful and carried no weight. May we be careful to not swear by anything but God alone, and to do so reverently.

Questions to Consider

  • How often do you hear people vow by anything other than God?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 292

Day 292

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.

Chapter 23, Paragraph 1.

…and to judge him according to the Truth or falseness thereof.”

Scripture Lookup

2 Chronicles 6:22, 23

Reflection

“So help me God.”

Such a phrase is used at the end of several oaths for public office in the United States. In our culture that thinks little of God it has come to mean that the one taking the oath is promising really hard that he or she will do what is said. For those of us who know the true and living God, how should we view those four words? Is it a call for aid to keep the promise, or a plea for mercy is it is not kept?

Taking an oath is not to be done lightly. Solemnly promising to do something, you are calling upon God to witness that you are making this vow. Not only that, you are asking God to judge you concerning the accomplishment of the oath. The phrase we speak today, “So help me God” is not so much a request for aid in fulfilling this promise, but a call to judgment. The phrase originally read thus: “So may God help me at the judgment day if I speak true, but if I speak false, then may He withdraw His help from me.”

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). As Christ’s people we are saved from condemnation and need not fear everlasting punishment. That does not prevent our sins from having consequences in this life, however. Think through the ramifications of the vows you take.

Questions to Consider

  • How often do you agree to something before thinking it through?