Unfounded Criticisms of the Affirmation
Our attention has been drawn to one or two critiques of the Affirmation presently appearing on various websites. It comes as no surprise to us, of course, that some are vehemently opposed to the doctrine and the principles set forth in this document. The objections raised tend only to confirm just how necessary the Affirmation is in these days of evident departure and confusion.
Although it is not our intention to answer every criticism, we are troubled by some responses because they show that our position has been seriously misunderstood and misrepresented. We therefore find it necessary for the Truth’s sake to make clear that some of the responses are both ill-conceived and fallacious.
1. Affirmation. Some critics mistakenly refer to this as “a new Confession”, one even venturing to write that he thinks it wise “simply to affirm those confessions we already have.” Such comments leave us wondering if these persons have taken the time carefully to read the Affirmation. In the “Preface” we make clear that it is not just another Confession but a Statement which “concentrates on truth presently being undermined in our churches” (p.6). This is confirmed in the actual text of the Affirmation which refers to the “historic Creeds and Confessions which faithfully uphold the true and proper doctrine of God’s Word” (p.12) and it later “deplores grave departures from the biblical Truth stated and maintained in our historic Confessions” (p.30).
2. Infallibility of Scripture. Objection has not yet been made (as far as we are aware) to the Affirmation’s high doctrine of Inspiration but, as expected, some objection has been made to its commitment to “the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Texts” (p.10). One critic states that “the preference for the Textus Receptus is not universal in Reformed circles.” Precisely so; and we believe this to be a serious flaw and weakness in modern Reformed thinking and it has moved us to state our conviction (not our “preference”) concerning the underlying Greek Text of the New Testament. The Textus Receptus (or Received Text) refers to a group of printed Greek texts, the first having been published by Erasmus in 1516. This Textus Receptus has the support of the overwhelming majority of Greek manuscripts (around 90%); and, as a result, the great Reformation Versions were all translated from it, including those associated with Tyndale, Coverdale, and Rogers (Matthew’s Bible), and also the Geneva Bible, the Bishop’s Bible and, of course, the Authorized Version. Despite modern repudiations of this Text, we believe the Affirmation supports the historic, orthodox Protestant position on the underlying Hebrew and Greek Texts.
One adverse comment we read with utter incredulity. It wildly and foolishly asserts that “this document (i.e. the Affirmation) is without doubt grounded in KJVOnlyism.” What can we say? This is totally untrue and we do most vigorously reject the criticism. The writer betrays a sad ignorance of the term used. KJVOnlyism is a rather diverse movement which arose somewhere around 1987. On account of this diversity, it is not at all easy to state and define its set of beliefs; but suffice to note that some of its proponents believe God “inspired” the translation of the Authorized Version, and that therefore that Version is “perfect”, and so “perfect”, in fact, that it should be used to “correct” the original Hebrew and Greek texts.
Such heretical views are rejected by all the signatories to the Affirmation. We believe it is totally false and thoroughly misleading (to say the very least) to suggest that any of us support the tenets of KJVOnlyism. None of us do; and anyone carefully reading the Affirmation will see that we state what we do believe, that the Authorized Version is “by far the best and most accurate English translation of God’s infallible and inerrant Word currently in use” (p.10).
3. The Trinity. This section was very carefully prepared in order accurately to state the Biblical doctrine and, thankfully, very little dissent or disagreement has been expressed. However, someone has queried the wording of the sentence, “By matchless grace, this is the God we own, the God we seek to glorify and the God we hope to enjoy for ever” (p.11). This person writes: “I don’t understand what they mean by …’this is the God we own.’” What we mean, of course, is, “this is the God we acknowledge.” The problem here is not with doctrine but with basic English. If our friend would consult a good Dictionary, he would quickly find such words as these: “to own: to confess, to admit; acknowledge" (Collins English Dictionary).
4. The Doctrine of Grace. Another critical comment, drawing attention to our reference to the doctrine common to the three 17th century Confessions, points out that the Confessions are at variance on the matter of Baptism. We are obviously not unaware of this, but their united testimony was invoked on a particular truth – the Doctrine of Grace. The Affirmation’s wording is as follows: “We affirm that the doctrine of grace common to the Reformed Confessions (such as, Westminster, 1647; Savoy, 1658; and London, 1689) wholly conforms to Scripture …” (p.13). Had our critic read the Preface, he would have been spared time and effort, for there he would find these words concerning the Affirmation, “It does not deal with matters on which genuine Evangelicals might differ one from another (for example, in matters of church government and the sacraments), but it does seek to be ‘most in the main things.’”
5. The Sabbath. It is also said with respect to the statement on the Sabbath, “I see the ground work for legalism with their rejection of watching television, the practice of sport, frequenting restaurants, and holiday travel.” Evidently the writer is not in sympathy with biblical and traditional teaching on the Sabbath, reflected in such documents as The Westminster Confession, Ch. 21, Sect. 8, The Larger Catechism, Qu. 119, and The Shorter Catechism, Qu. 61. Such teaching is to be found in comparable Independent and Baptist Confessions and Catechisms. Furthermore the critic misunderstands “Legalism”, which strictly speaking is not, as he supposes, a firm adherence to God’s Moral Law, but “a legalist”, as Thomas Manton points out, is one who “trusts in himself that he is righteous, and hopeth to be accepted with God for his work’s sake” (Works, vol. 10, p.62).
The answer to such criticism is found in the Holy Scriptures: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD…” (Isaiah 58:13,14).
6. Reverence in Worship. Exception is likewise taken to the Affirmation’s disapproval of the fact that “in God’s house, ministers so often choose to dress casually and conduct themselves in an undignified manner” (p.21). Once again the same critic detects “the groundwork for legalism….creeping into a doctrinal statement”. He boldly asks, “Where does the 1611 KJV tell us dressing casually is a sin or is anti-reverence in worship?” Well, resisting the temptation to write at length on this, we would merely (and respectfully) draw attention to the fact that, although Scripture reckons the state of the heart to be of the greatest importance (Matthew 15:8), it does teach that we are to dress – and behave – appropriately in the House of God. In anticipation of worship at Bethel, Jacob charged his family with the words, “be clean and change your garments” (Genesis 35:2). Was not Moses told by the Lord that, since He was soon to descend upon Sinai, he should “sanctify” the people, and was he not further told, “let them wash their clothes”? (Exodus 19:10). On the first of these verses, Matthew Henry, the Puritan, makes this comment: “They must be clean and change their garments; they must observe a due decorum, and make the best appearance they could.” This is all for which the Affirmation is pleading.
If Joseph changed his raiment before meeting a human potentate (the Pharaoh), how much greater is our need to assume reverent formality when coming before the King of Kings? (Genesis 41:14).
7. The Regulative Principle. As might be expected by now, once again the cry is “Legalism!” If this is legalism (and it most certainly is not), then our forefathers were fearfully guilty of it (See: Westminster, Ch. 21, Sect. 1; Savoy, Ch. 22, Sect. 1; London Ch.22, Sect. 1). Coming in for special criticism, however, is the Affirmation’s rejection of “music groups and instrumentalists”, along with “so-called Contemporary Christian Worship” and this, says our critic, because “instruments are used in the 1611 KJV as part of worship”! (p.22). A brief answer must suffice. Multiple instruments were not used in Patriarchal or early Jewish Worship, but David was told by revelation to include such in the worship of the Temple (1 Chronicles 28:11-19; 2 Chronicles 7:6 cf. 2 Chronicles 29: 25, 26). Such instruments divinely introduced into Temple worship – and consequently referred to in the Psalms – were ceremonial and typical; and, as a result, were temporary, the New Testament making no reference at all to their use in worship (See: Ephesians 5:19; Revelation 5:8). As John Bunyan wrote, “The songs were sung with harps, psalteries, cymbals, and trumpets: a type of our singing with spiritual joy from grace in our hearts” (Works, vol. 2, p. 496).
8. The Danger of Creating Division. It is falsely asserted that the Affirmation will be instrumental in “dividing the Reformed witness in Britain". This is strange comment indeed. We believe it is the liberals and modernizers who have caused divisions, both by their erroneous doctrines and by their innovative practices. As the Apostle teaches in Romans 16:17, what such men have introduced into our churches is manifestly contrary to, or at variance with, the pure Evangelicalism which we were taught and which, by grace, we still affirm and maintain.
The purpose of the Affirmation is to "unite" good “conservative men” who stand for "the old paths" – the very point we make at the end of the Preface: “It is hoped that this Affirmation, under the good hand of God, will become a standard to which truly conservative men might rally…The Affirmation is not now associated with any individual or any particular society or organization. It is the common possession of all who can, out of love for the truth, identify with its emphasis. It will be a blessed thing if the Lord moves the hearts of true, conservative evangelicals so that they once again stand together for vital and non-negotiable truth…We appeal to all who love and still adhere to “the old paths” to identify with this Affirmation and so to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in defence of vital Christianity and godliness” (pp. 4-6).
Section 13 of the Affirmation states: “Those representing true, conservative evangelicalism should stand together – and work together – for the Faith once delivered to the saints” (p.25).
Separation from false doctrine and practice is a scriptural requirement. The Affirmation acknowledges that in the Section to which reference has just been made. However we have no wish to divide those who stand for the old Faith, worshipping and serving the Lord according to his Holy Word. We sincerely desire to strengthen the bonds of truth and love with all such and to unite with them in upholding at this present time “the cause of God and truth”.
Nowhere is it stated that we intend to "separate" from those unable to endorse everything included in the Affirmation. Yet we are stirred to make this stand because the battle is against us and it is against the things we hold dear. It is time to call faithful men and women to “stand” – and to “stand fast”. The position taken by the Affirmation is the position adopted by our forefathers; and, in this our day, compelled by strength of conviction, we are determined to take our stand where once they stood, “earnestly contend(ing) for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
When, in 1891, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, along with Archibald Brown, W. Fuller Gooch, James Stephens, Frank White and others, issued their famous “Manifesto”, it created no small stir and it was far from being met with universal approval. These men were ridiculed as “the faithful few” and their stand was accused of being “divisive”. Nevertheless they made their stand – and they stood firm. Despite adverse criticism and accusation of causing division, we also believe we must maintain the ground for Conservative Evangelical and Calvinistic Truth.
Spurgeon wrote in 1861, “Controversy is never a happy element for the child of God: he would rather be in communion with his Lord than be engaged in defending the faith, or in attacking error. But the soldier of Christ knows no choice in his Master’s commands. He may feel it to be better for him to lie upon the bed of rest than to stand covered with the sweat and dust of battle; but, as a soldier, he has learned to obey, and the rule of his obedience is not his personal comfort, but his Lord’s absolute command. The servant of God must endeavour to maintain the truth, which his Master has revealed to him, because as a Christian soldier, this is part of his duty.”