The American Covenanters and Political Dissent

It is a fairly well-known fact that the Reformed Presbyterians in this country once had a strict principle of political dissent. In keeping with their principles, they would neither hold political office nor vote for candidates for political office. What is often ignored when these things are considered, however, is their rationale for their position.

The Covenanters were not against participating in civil government. What they were against was participating in civil government which required sinful vows on the part of its officers. In the case of the United States government, the vow in question was the oath of office. The President’s oath of office, for example, reads thus: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What is so wrong with the President’s oath? It is the commitment to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” As most students of Reformed history will know, the Covenanters were establishmentarians. They believed, as the Westminster Confession states, that the civil magistrate “has 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 the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed” (XXIII. iii.).

Contrast this statement from the Confession with the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The two are clearly at odds. How then, can a Christian who is convinced that the Bible teaches the establishment of religion in good conscience take a vow to “preserve, protect, and defend” the above amendment to the Constitution?

“Okay,” someone may say, “so I can’t take the vow. But does that really mean that I can’t vote for someone else, who has no qualm with the Constitution?” American Covenanter Samuel Wylie answers:

A representative must swear to support the constitution before he can take a seat in the legislative assembly. This oath we have already shown to be immoral, and such as we cannot, in good conscience, swear ourselves; what, therefore, we cannot do ourselves, on account of its immorality, we ought not to employ others to do for us. (The Two Sons Oil)

Ultimately, each Christian must take the path that his conscience, under the Word of God, dictates. In my opinion, however, the statements and stances of our forefathers should not be overlooked.

Lord’s Day, or Day of the Lord?

I had an interesting dialogue with a friend today concerning John’s unique statement in Revelation 1:10: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” Christians have usually understood “Lord’s Day” in this passage to refer to the Christian Sabbath, the first day of the week, but my friend (who is a member of a heretical sect) thinks that it refers to the Day of the Lord mentioned throughout the prophetic writings of the Scriptures.

The strength of my friend’s interpretation (and that of his organization) is that it appears to draw from the rest of the Scriptures to interpret John’s statement. Their argument, however, ignores some important elements of John’s language.

When the Day of the Lord is spoken of anywhere in the New Testament or Septuagint, the Greek phrase is hemera tou kuriou, or a close variation like hemera kuriou. This is true the nineteen times that the phrase is used in the Old Testament, as well as the handful of times in the New. John’s phrase in Revelation 1, however, is te kuriake hemera. This is the only time in the Bible this construction is used, and is only one of two times that the adjective kuriake is used.

The other instance of kuriake in the Scriptures is in I Corinthians 11:20, where it is used to describe the Lord’s Supper (kuriakon deipnon). Ellicott insinuates that Paul himself may have coined the adjective, and that it subsequently came to be applied to the day set apart for Christ, just as it had been used for the meal set apart for Christ.

It is remarkable, then, that John does not use the usual construction for the “Day of the Lord,” but instead chooses to use a word which, so far as the literary evidence is concerned, was specifically used to describe something set apart for religious use. Equally remarkable is the fact that John later refers to the Day of the Lord, and uses the normal construction, with a few alterations: hemeras tes megales tou theou tou pantokratoros (the great Day of God Almighty), Rev. 16:14.

Variations of the term kuriake hemera is used in some of the earliest extrabiblical Christian literature to refer perspicuously to the Christian Sabbath. The Epistle of Barnabas says, kuriaken hagian hemera diagomen–“We keep the Lord’s Day holy;” and the Didache instructs believers to gather kata kuriaken de kuriou–“on the Lord’s [day] of the Lord.” It is apparent that John’s phrase became employed as a technical term for the Christian Sabbath, if it was not already used in that way when John wrote the Apocalypse.

It is clear, then, that the understanding of the Watchtower Society and of other overzealous futurists who want to translate Revelation 1:10 as something like “I came to be by inspiration on the Day of the Lord” deal with the text in an unwarrantable way. Instead, we may rightly understand that John kept a Sabbath on the first day of the week; and that he made it his practice to worship on that day even while in exile.

Interesting Documentary on Scottish Island Religion

Here is an interesting documentary on the religion of the Hebrides in the far North and West of Scotland. It is in these islands that Scottish Presbyterianism has remained most intact, and certain portions of the Hebrides are known as some of the only places in the world where the Sabbath is kept by society at large.

The documentary is entitled I Shall Not Die, taken from Psalm 118:17. The video and sound quality are not great, but I found it encouraging. Featured in the film are individuals from the Free Church of Scotland (the film was made prior to the division in 2000) and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Watch it Here.

A Couple of Good Resources on Divine Impassibility

The book that is supposed to be the definitive modern treatment of Impassibility from a confessional Reformed perspective, Confessing the Impassible God, is currently on sale for 1/2 off retail price at the RBAP site.

Also, there was an excellent lecture given on the Impassibility of God by Rev. Gavin Beers at a recent colloquium of the Southern Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). The address is available here.

The Purpose of this Blog

On Thistle in Dixie, I intend to publish my musings from a perspective that is at one and the same time rooted in the Scottish Reformed theological tradition and the Southern cultural tradition. While the scope of the topics I intend to write on is broad, it will all revolve around taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, both in public and private life.