For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q5

As an introduction I would like to quote G.I Williamson’s study of the Shorter Catechism: “Someone has said that all error somehow traces back to a defective view of God. In any event, we cannot be too certain of this most important truth.” One critical tenet of the Christian faith, with implications that run deep, is that it is Trinitarian. All orthodox confessions of the church have understood the nature of God as Trinitarian, never Unitarian.
Reminder, that the Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q4-6) is The Being, Attributes and Persons of the Godhead.
May God bless our understanding and appreciation of this important doctrine as we prayerfully approach our study.
WSC Q5. Are there more gods than one?
Answer:  There is but one only[a], the living and true God[b].
[a] Deut. 6:4; Is. 44:6, 45:21-22; I Cor. 8:4,6
[b] Jer. 10:10; John 17:3; I Thess. 1:9; I John 5:20
Question #5 asks whether there is more than one God, and answers that there is only one, the true and living God.
Comments and considerations:
This answer includes a curiosity, a word we don’t generally use today in the way our fathers at the Westminster Assembly used it. Why did those great wordsmiths use the word “but” in this answer?  Couldn’t they have said simply, “There is one only, the living and true God,” and not left anything out? 
Over years of studying the Westminster Confessions I have come to deeply appreciate the writers’ craft and precision in the English language, and I’m sure they had a very good reason for putting pen to the word “but” between is and one in the answer under consideration.
So what can we learn here, if anything? Well, first I was astounded at the lengthy discourse the older dictionaries give to this word. Apparently, it has depth to it. For one thing, it can be defined as “except, besides, or unless.” From this we might reword the answer as, “There is one only, without exception, none besides whatsoever.” Another definition is “only,” which in our context would appear redundant; but maybe that’s exactly what our fathers really wanted to say: “There is only one only…” Not surprisingly, the word is also described as a conjunction connecting two words or phrases, sometimes in contrast; in this case those words are “is” and “one.” Putting all this together, we may restate the answer this way: “There is without exception only one only, beside whom there is no other living and true God.” Words have meaning, and I think our fathers made a conscious decision to include that little word.
I would like to add my own reason and a modern definition you probably won’t find in any dictionary. I heard it once said that “but” is one of the most powerful words in the English language; it can wipe out in a sentence everything that preceded it. How often have you tried to reason with someone, thought you had won the debate, and then heard the words, “yeah, but…?”  With that single word, your opponent discounted all your well placed logic and argumentation. “But” is a word used to contrast and counter, and even to defeat and destroy all that precedes it. Now, “Are there more gods than one?” For the lost, without Christ and without hope, the answer might well be yes; there are lesser gods that are blocking out the light of the glorious “living and true God.”  However, “There is but one only” who will wipe out all those pretentious and oppressive impostors, gods of fear and unbelief. In the “living and true God”—whose light does shine in the darkness that we might see the eternal light which turns our sorrows into gladness (Ps.30:5, 11)—all the preceding fear and unbelief are destroyed. There is but one, and only one that can do this! Amen?
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Why is the declaration of Deut. 6:4 necessary? There are several reasons. According to the first chapters of Genesis, there was a time when our first parents understood the true nature of God; but due to the effects of sin, they forgot and needed to be reminded. Also, the very nature of sin makes us self-centered and confused regarding the nature of God. Finally, rebellious by nature, we do not want to hear of the “God with whom we have to do.” Along these lines, what other lessons might we draw from Isa. 45:18, 22?
2.     Throughout history, people have worshiped things, often making idols to worship.  Read Psa. 115:1-8. What are things that idols cannot do, and what does verse 3 say God can do?
3.     Israel did not always faithfully worship the one true God, and they were surrounded by nations who worshiped many gods. In I Kings 18:21-39, the prophet Elijah asked an important question. What was his question, and what followed after that?
4.     In Jer. 10:5, what does the prophet say about idols? What do verses 6-11 say about God and what happens to idols?
5.     Is the worshiping of idols a thing of the past, which people do not do today?  Read Col. 3:5.
6.    How does the Apostle Paul describe people who become Christians in I Thess. 1:9?
Harmony of the Standards:WSC Q#5, WLC Q#8.
WSC Q5. Are there more gods than one?
A.  There is but one only[a], the living and true God[b].
[a] Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6, 45:21-22; I Cor. 8:4,6
[b] Jer. 10:10; John 17:3; I Thess. 1:9; I John 5:20
WLC Q8. Are there more gods than one?
A.  There is but one only, the living and true God[a].
[a] Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6; Jer. 10:10
Questions for further study:
We would note simply here that these two catechism questions are identical in the question and answer, the Shorter being more extensive in the use of scripture references. In essence however, what do these two, or more precisely one question introduce as a doctrinal heading with our Confessions of Faith? (1) 

(1) The Trinity.  

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