Rewriting the Westminster Shorter Catechism? Not so fast

Over at Reformation 21, Mark Jones has written a post on why we should rewrite the question and answer to question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Instead of this being the q and a for the first question:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Mark Jones wants us to rewrite the question and add a second part:

Q. What is the chief end of God?
A. To glorify Christ, through the Spirit, and enjoy him forever.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and Christ and enjoy them, through the Spirit, forever.

His stated purpose for making the change is that he believes the original language does not focus us on Christ’s work, since Christ is not mentioned in the answer. I have a couple of thoughts about that that I want to address here.

First, I’m uncomfortable with saying that we know what God’s chief end is. We should be extremely careful when it comes to speculating about the things of God, especially when those things are not addressed specifically in Scripture. While it is demonstrably true that God the Father glorified Christ Jesus the Son and that the Father loves the Son, it is less clear if we can therefore infer that we know God’s chief end.

Calvin warned against speculating into the essence of God beyond what is revealed to us in Scripture:

Hence it is obvious, that in seeking God, the most direct path and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous curiosity to pry into his essence, which is rather to be adored than minutely discussed, but to contemplate him in his works, by which he draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates himself to us.

Book 1, Chapter 5, section 9, Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. 1997. Institutes of the Christian religion.

I believe that we should tread lightly when discussing intra-Trinitarian workings.

Second, I have a concern about Jones’ underlying assumption. Jones says:

But, as I read the Scriptures, it could be more accurate. Sure, we are to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But any question and answer on the chief end of man must explicitly refer to Christ, as well as God.

“Christ, as well as God.” Does he believe that “God” only means the Father? Isn’t Christ God? When we worship and glorify God, do we not worship and glorify Father, Son, and Spirit? When the catechism and confession speak of the will of God does that mean only the will of the Father? Is there a hierarchy in the Godhead?

Maybe instead of critiquing and rewriting the catechism we should recover a more robust understanding of who God is. Interestingly enough, the catechism goes on to explain this in questions 3-6:

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q. 6. How many persons are there in the godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

And there you have it. There is one God, three persons “equal in power and glory.” By simply continuing to read the catechism we see that in glorifying God, we are glorifying Father, Son, and Spirit.

If Mark Jones does not see Christ in the q and a for question 1, that is a product of his own misunderstanding, and not a failing in the catechism. Because if Jones is correct and “God” refers only to the Father, then the rest of the catechism becomes incomprehensible and grossly inaccurate.

My recommendation is that we leave the catechism alone and continue to teach all of it. Each question and answer builds on the others. Each references Bible verses to help us understand in greater depth. And if we have any doubts as to who we are to glorify forever, we can always sing the Doxology:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

And Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen, Amen.

20 thoughts on “Rewriting the Westminster Shorter Catechism? Not so fast

  1. Andrew Barnes says:

    This (mark’s thoughts) is like the 1903 revision of the Confession to add Holy Spirit in when it is already clear throughout the rest of the Standards.

    Doing so is to strip this particular question from its context as a whole.

  2. Barbara Roberts says:

    Rachel, I give a hearty Amen to your response to Mark Jones’ suggestion. It is a foolish and needless suggestion that Jones has made. And the very idea of tampering with that first question in the catechism gives me the heeby jeebies, because I can all too easily imagine how the Desiring God fanboys with like to change that first point to ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God BY ENJOYING him forever. . . . .A change which would serve the hidden agenda of the hypoctritical narcissistic wolves in sheep suits in the church, all too well.

    I’ve written at some length about Piper and Desiring God’s erroreous view of the first item in the Catechism. Here is the post where I most go into it:

    http://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/02/25/literary-flourishes-and-christian-hedonism-the-pretty-ribbon-round-john-pipers-pietistic-asceticism-part-2/

    [Rachel. feel free to delet the link if you wish. I’ts your blog. 🙂 ]

  3. Edward A. Hara says:

    Seems you don’t have the courage of your convictions, or you would post even those responses which make an argument against Reformed doctrine and the Reformers.

    Rather cowardly, don’t you think? After all, if you have the true truth, nothing should make you afraid.

  4. Greg says:

    Rachel, I thank God for your well thought out response to Mark Jones’ post. No doubt many had been waiting for such a corrective. Why, after a week, did no one at Reformation21 publicly challenge him? A pity no comments are allowed on Reformation21!

  5. NJ says:

    “Is there a hierarchy in the Godhead?”

    Well, there is for the people involved in the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Just google “eternal subordination of the Son”, or ESS.

    I like the fact that the answer to question 6 includes “equal in power and glory”.

    The larger catechism includes,

    Question 11: How does it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?

    Answer: The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.

    which makes quite clear that ESS runs afoul of the Westminster standards, as well as Mark Jones’ proposition being unnecessary.

  6. sean says:

    This works so much better, having a woman, in her spare time, while raising her own boys, transfer those lessons to these inadequately weaned boys posturing as men. After you get ’em all cleaned up and get the crust out their eyes, stick a lollipop in their mouth. The irony is just too good

  7. David Bishop says:

    We certainly should be extremely careful when it comes to speculating about the things of God, especially when those things are not addressed specifically in Scripture. Good thing then that God’s chief end is not one of them, as He has indeed told us in Scripture what His chief end is.

    Ephesians 1:7-10 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

    1 Corinthians 15:28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

    Colossians 1:18-20 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

      • Eileen says:

        Great response! I don’t even know what it means to speak of God’s chief end. How could we know that or understand it? Jones doesn’t even offer evidence from the Bible of God’s “chief end” so I’m not sure what is causing him so much discomfort with the WSC.

  8. markmcculley says:

    Order in the Trinity questions seem always to be related to order in the application of salvation questions, which in turn always seem to be related to order in the relationship of redemptive history to the order of application questions. In his preface to the new Presbyterian and Reformed edition of Gaffin’s By Faith Not by Sight, Mark Jones insists on faith before “union”, but if his logic holds, then “union” also has “not-yet aspects”, which are conditioned on the “not yet” aspects of “faith after union”. This leads to the idea of “more and more” union and “more and more” justification.

    It is a CONTRADICTION to say that all of God’s acts depend on “union”, and then to turn around and also say that “union” depends on faith. Does faith also depend on “union”? Or does “union” depend on faith” While Jones never clearly defines “union”, it seems like he thinks that we receive the “personal presence” of CHRIST THE PERSON inside us BEFORE we receive the benefit of Christ’s finished work. In other words, since Jesus is now the Holy Spirit in redemptive history, for Jones (and for Sinclair Ferguson and Richard Gaffin), this is read to mean that we must obtain possession of CHRIST AS A PERSON not only before we are justified but also before God will impute Christ’s righteousness to us.

    If there is some sense in which those who have been justified are not yet justified, is there also some sense in which God has not yet imputed all the sins of all the justified to Christ? Since the absence of “works of faith” is seen by Jones as the means by which many who have been “baptized” will instrumentally fail to be finally justified, how do the sins (or non-works) of the not-yet completely justified factor into their justification? Is there a difference between good works and faith, or between sins and lack of faith and works?

    If faith is a condition of “union”, and if faith is yet incomplete and uncertain (as far as one individual is concerned), does that not mean that “union” is also incomplete? How does a person get faith before they are united to CHRIST THE PERSON? If a person has to get faith before they can get the personal presence of Christ, how does a person get this faith?

  9. markmcculley says:

    “My Reformed brethren who may have taken exception (no pun intended) to my gentle critique of the WSC, need to keep in mind that I was only looking for a “more accurate” reflection of the NT teaching on a specific question. Of course the WSC answer is fine; and of course the rest of the catechism explains what they meant by “God.” The divines were not incoherent.
    Yet, what is our chief end? To be “truly Reformed” (hereafter “TR”), I believe we need to have John Owen’s concerns in mind (see Works, 11:11, second para). What do the Scriptures teach (see Col. 1:15-18)?
    … to glorify God and Christ, through the Spirit, is a (not “the”) way of approaching the question concerning our “chief end” in terms of “economy.””
    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/02/writing-new-catechisms.php

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