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, February 26, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q99

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q99
Look below at the question and its paraphrase, which is taken directly from Starr Meade’s book Training Hearts, Training Minds. Do you see a difference in wording between the original catechism question and the paraphrase? The paraphrase is missing the word rule.
This is not meant as a criticism of Starr Mead, who, being a godly individual, most assuredly embraces the idea of rules and authority; I don’t mean to imply any negative intention behind the paraphrase. But it’s worth observing that there has been a cultural shift in modern society that is both subtle and invasive to the way we think about rules and authority. Sometimes our opposition to rules is very blatant, and sometimes we don’t even recognize it. We like our liberty and are very much affected by the “question authority” culture in which we live—more than we would like to admit. We don’t like rules, especially about something private and personal like prayer. We like shortcuts and easy solutions; the concept of delayed gratification is felt as an evil, not merely an inconvenience. We have been told, and have been given no reason not to believe, that all we need is the right credit card in our wallet, and the entire world is ours. It does not make sense to the modern mind that there are, and ought to be, rules to direct our behaviors and relationships to things around us and to God.
But there are rules about the physical world, health, and human conduct that when obeyed bring blessings and benefit, and when violated bring adversity, chaos, and ruin. The fathers of our Confessions understood this in a way that seems to have been lost upon their children. So we must listen to the fathers of our faith so that we may “redeem the time,” living “not as unwise but as wise,” and understanding the “will of our Lord” (Eph. 5:15-17). May we teach and exhibit the truth to our children and children’s children. Question 99 asks what rule, axiom, principle, fundamental truth, or ordinance God provides to direct us in prayer; it answers that the whole Word of God, but especially the Lord’s Prayer, which Christ taught his disciples, is the rule, axiom, principle, fundamental truth, or ordinance which God has so designed and ordered to direct our prayers. When it comes to rules, God’s law-word does not suggest; it commands us.
As we approach this study, let us do so prayerfully, with boldness and humility, and with great expectation, knowing that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” And it is his will that we be a praying people, entreating the power, purpose, and authority of our God upon all that we are, do, and say. May God abundantly grant us the answer to this prayer.
WSC Q99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer[a]; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.[b]
[a]        I John 5:14
[b]       Matt. 6:9-13
Question #99 asks how God directs us to pray, and answers that the whole Word of God, but especially the Lord’s Prayer, which Christ taught his disciples, directs our prayers.
Comments and considerations:
As we look at the answer to this catechism question, we have at first an excellent reminder regarding every matter in which we would seek guidance; that is, the whole Word of God is of use to direct us no matter what the issue or direction we seek. By this simple statement we are reminded that the whole counsel of God should direct our thoughts and actions, not just one verse or passage. Scripture interprets Scripture, and the obscure is clarified by the clear. Often a text taken out of its context has led to error and damage to individual lives and the Church; as the axiom states, a text taken out of context can become a pretext. The best safeguard against false doctrine and life is the whole counsel of God. So what can we learn about prayer from the whole counsel of God?
Yet the Word does speak specifically to specifics, bringing truth to light in the biblical narrative, developed over time in the history of redemption. Here on the topic of prayer, our fathers rightly emphasize that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.
It is indeed commonly called The Lord’s Prayer, and is universally considered as such by believer and unbeliever alike. However, some see it as a prayer not so much prayed by our Lord, but taught to his disciples for their instruction and use; for that reason, it could be termed the Disciples’ Prayer.
As we study the Lord’s Prayer, we must begin by looking at its context in Scripture. The catechism quotes Matt. 6:9-13. That context is the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). But there is another place where the Lord’s Prayer is found—a more personal moment of instruction between the Lord and his disciples in Luke 11:2ff. Observe closely the context of that instruction. It immediately follows the Lord’s visit in Martha and Mary’s home, and the lesson he gave concerning worship and service. After this we read, “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). The Lord responded, “When you pray, say: ...”
The disciple’s question is an interesting one, is it not? How do we teach someone the necessity of a thing? Teach me to work; teach me to love my wife; teach me to be kind; teach me to be patient. They say the best way for someone to learn to be patient is to become one, a patient. Did you know that the etymology of the word patience is exactly that, a hospital patient? You see, you can’t hurry up healing; it takes time, and a sickly patient simply has to practice patience and let the body and healing hand of God do the work.
So our Lord teaches the disciples to pray by wisely teaching them how to pray, knowing that through time, practice, and providence, they will learn to pray—and even to pray “without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). As with all things we learn to do well, it takes patience and much practice.
The remaining catechism questions will look at the instructions found within the several parts of the Lord’s Prayer.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read I John 5:14. What is the direct instruction from this verse, and what are some implications we can draw from it?
2.     I John 5:14 says, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hear us.” In other words, it is not necessarily our desires that should direct our prayers, but rather our seeking the things that God wants for our lives. What does James 4:2-3 say about prayers directed towards what we want? Are the things we want necessarily things we ought to obtain?
3.     Often when we read Scripture, we are tempted to read a verse out of the context, missing the meaning and right application. Read Luke 11:9-12, considering what is being said; then read verse 13. What did Jesus instruct the disciples to pray for, and why is this important to the Christian life?
4.     Question 99 teaches us that all of Scripture provides instruction in prayer; but our Lord gives special instruction, not only in the so-called Lord’s Prayer. See Luke 11:2-3 and John 11:41-42. What might we learn about the manner in which Jesus approached his prayers in these two portions of Scripture?
5.     The Lord’s Prayer can be used in two ways, as a prayer in itself or as a pattern for how we ought to pray (see Matt 6:9). What caution should we use regarding the use of the Lord’s Prayer? See Matt 6:7.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q99, WLC Q186-188
WSC Q99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
A.  The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer[a]; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord's Prayer[b].
[a]  IJohn 5:14
[b]  Matt. 6:9-13
WLC Q186. What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?
A.  The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer[a]; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord's Prayer[b].
[a]  1John 5:14
[b]  Mat. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4
WLC Q187. How is the Lord's Prayer to be used?
A.  The Lord's Prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers; but may also be used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary to the right performance of the duty of prayer[a].
[a]  Mat. 6:9 Compared with Luke 11:2 (See Q. 186 {[b].)
WLC Q188. Of how many parts doth the Lord's Prayer consist?
A.  The Lord's Prayer consists of three parts; a preface, petitions, and a conclusion.
Question(s) for further study:
The Shorter Catechism and its parallel Larger Catechism Question are nearly identical except for three words added to the Larger.  What are those words and what significance might one draw from them? How does WLC Q187 add to our understanding of this?

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