Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 23 ~ Oaths and Vows

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Oaths

The Confession is in no doubt as to the lawfulness of swearing oaths:

A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein the person swearing in truth, righteousness and judgement solemnly calleth God to witness what he swearth, and to judge him according to the truth or falseness thereof. (pg. 97)

However, it seems that there is clear evidence to warrant this attitude in Scripture:

You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. (Deut. 10:20)

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return.  If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” (Jer. 4:1-2)

If a man sins against his neighbour and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, then hear from heaven and act and judge your servants, repaying the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness. (2 Chron. 6:22-23)

For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. (Heb. 6:16)

But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. (2 Cor. 1:23)

With respect to the motivation of taking such an oath as is described in the passages quoted above, the Confession suggests that it should only be to confirm the truth and to end all strife (pg. 97).  In other words Scripture only warrants those oaths which reveal the truth and heal all division.  Yet, these oaths cannot be made by swearing on anything.  Rather, ‘[t]he name of God only is that by which men ought to swear’ (pg. 97).  The Confession claims that Scripture supports this by calling its readers not to swear on anything less:

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matt. 5:34-37)

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (Jas. 5:12)

The reason for that is so that oaths are appreciated for the very serious thing which they are.  As the Confession makes clear:

Whosoever taketh an oath warranted by the Word of God, ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he knoweth to be truth (pg. 98).

In other words, ensure that you do not swear deceitfully (Ps. 24:4), because the name on which you give your oath is no less that the LORD GOD of heaven.

Therefore, the conclusion regarding oaths is that ‘a lawful oath being imposed by lawful authority in such matters, ought to be taken’ (pg. 97).  I am not compelled to think otherwise.

Vows

However, I must query in some respects the Confessions statements on vows!  The Confession proposes:

A vow, which is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone, is to be made and performed with all religious care and faithfulness; but popish monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself. (pg. 98)

Primarily I take issue with the opening line which commands vows to be made to none other than God.  Surely vows are made to others apart from God – one example would be marriage vows.  We vow or promise certain things to our spouse.  While there may appear to be some wisdom in the warning against vows to religious bodies and organizations, surely there are other times when we must make vows of this nature – one example would be the vows that a Pastor/Minister makes to a congregation as he agrees to shepherd them.

Moreover, the Scriptures proffered by the Confession fail to convince that their statement is correct on this point:

Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them; let all round him bring gifts to him who is to be feared (Ps. 76:11)

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Gen. 28:20-22)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Cor. 7:2-9)

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (Eph 4:18)

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. (Mt. 19:11)

It would be great to hear what your thoughts are on oaths and vows – comment below or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

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