Monday, October 13, 2008

Norma Normans vs. Norma Normata

Scripture is, as they say, the Noma Normans non Normata (the "un-normed norm normer" or more loosely, "The norm of norms that is not normed"). When Scripture is described in this way, the concept is essentially equivalent to Sola Scriptura, as it declares that Scripture the standard according to which all other standards are measured, and which has no higher standard against which it is measured.

A number of Federal Visionists have been complaining that they are being judged, not according to the Scriptures, but according to the Confession of Faith. They seem to have the feeling that this stifles important doctrinal innovation. For example, one author (who I assume is a Federal Visionist, though I would be happy to be mistaken in this regard) responds to this comment:
It’s an inherently non-confessional stance that implicitly denies that our Standards contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture, and leads to an anything-goes biblicist approach. They plea for the freedom to do “cutting-edge” theology, which is really a euphemism for non-Reformed theology, while remaining in a confessional denomination.
with the following:
So, according to this Einstein, to be Confessional means to deny what the Confession says about Scripture being the ultimate authority, over and above confessions, creeds, councils, etc.?

No one is arguing for “anything goes” in any Reformed or Presbyterian circle I’m aware of — only, whatever God says, goes.

The rest of his characteristic analysis of the situation is seemingly mindless, and the fact that so-called “cutting edge” theology — in other words, always looking to reform ourselves and our theological praxis according to God’s Word, no matter what — is considered “non-Reformed” is laughable at best.

The PCA is filled with idolaters. Aaron yells to the crowd of sheep, while he points to the Westminster Confession of Faith, “This is your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

There’s a special place in Hell for this kind of lunacy.
The problem (or at least one problem) is that the author doesn't understand the role of the Confession. It is also a norm, but it is a Norma Normata - a norm that is normed. It is a helpful touchstone of what it means to be "Reformed," and it is a subordinate doctrinal standard of the PCA (and other Reformed churches in the Scottish tradition).

Schaff described things this way:
All creeds are more or less imperfect and fallible. The Bible alone is the rule of faith (regula credendi), the norma normans, and claims divine and therefore absolute authority; the creed is a rule of public teaching (regula docendi), the norma normata, and has only ecclesiastical and therefore relative authority, which depends on the measure of its agreement with the Bible. Confessions may be improved (as the Apostles' Creed is a gradual growth from the baptismal formula), or may be superseded by better ones with the increasing knowledge of the truth.
The Westminster Confession is an example as well of such change, as the version held by the PCA differs in certain regards from the version originally proposed by the Westminster divines.

Certainly we must be willing to norm our subordinate standards by the Word of God, but at the same time, when doing so, we need to be cognizant of the significance of such action. The Westminster Confession is not the ultimate standard for any Reformed Christian, but for many Reformed Christians it is a standard - a norma normata.


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