LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 200

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.


Chapter 23. Of Lawful Oaths and Vows. Paragraph 4: “An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation.”
April 2021. Why do the nations rage against Jesus?! I’m back…
I’m glad to see the confession take the time it does to examine what we do with our words in the taking of oaths. Taking an oath is a formal thing, but our words matter at all times. We should have this as part of our theology. I very much want to be a person of my word in this life. God- the one in whose image I’m created- is surely one of his! Even if I just promise my wife or my kids something, I never want them to remember me breaking that promise.
I’ve been married for nearly 17 years now. I’m a one woman man. 1 Timothy 3:2. I’ve failed as a husband far too many times, but I wrote something to my wife right after we got married that I wanted to share with you today. It’s a promise from me to her. It hangs in our bedroom as a reminder for me of the kind of husband I want to be.

When they speak in the confession of “equivocation” here it simply means to know for what you’re swearing the oath. Equivocation is when someone gives a different definition to a word than someone else. So, if you say “loaded” and mean by it “drunk” and I think of a “loaded” gun, we should make sure we’re not wrongly equivocating our meaning. You should be able to define your terms first and in plain meaning in any oath. To be sure to know then that you’re not perhaps swearing a good oath toward something bad. The higher the office to which you’re swearing, the higher the accountability goes.

I’m always both saddened and pleased to see how much of my culture in America is stooped in biblical terminology. It’s everywhere. Our entire system of justice is based off biblical criteria and biblical terms. On Judeo-Christian documents. On the Bible. Our Constitution and Bills of Rights are too. It’s all only as good as the person administering it, but at its core it’s just all so biblical. I’m saddened because of how many people behave despite all of this, but I’m pleased to see how God’s word has shaped my society.
For example, officers in all four branches of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines) swear an oath. The words above of “mental reservation” made me think of this. Where does such language come from? Answer: a biblical worldview. With a right hand raised, this same oath is repeated by commissioned officers in other uniformed services of the United States such as the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps. It goes like this: “I _______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” If we’re to swear this oath as Christians, the confession here simply advises us to know exactly what the oath means and to take it knowing that God is watching.

But again, our words matter everywhere. The more formal something gets, i.e. an ordination, the higher the stakes. Vows at a wedding are for a purpose and I’d say fall somewhere between an oath to pastoral office and an officer’s oath. Most of say words like, “I will never leave or forsake you…” Keeping these vows to a lawfully wedded spouse (in God’s eyes, not just a state’s) is in this life a primary means of measuring a person’s character. If we say it, we should not break it…insomuch as it depends on us.

In all areas of life Christians should say what they mean and mean what they say.

Joseph Pittano

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