As I write this column, the world has just received word that Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, have been blessed with a little boy. The new prince is now third in the line of succession to the throne upon which his great grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, sits. For most of you reading this article, this is an interesting piece of celebrity trivia. But for those of us living in the United Kingdom, or in Canada, this has real implications.
When someone from abroad becomes a Canadian citizen, they pledge loyalty to the Queen “and her heirs and successors.” My oldest son’s commission as an officer of the Canadian Army in the Royal Canadian Engineers is issued in the name of the Queen and signed by the governor general as her representative. We are reminded that we live in a constitutional monarchy and that this has real implications for us as citizens.
In 2008, Prince Charles, the new prince’s grandfather, announced that in order to reflect the cultural diversi- ty of England and the Commonwealth (when he is crowned king), he would no longer be identified as “Defender of the Faith.” This would be the first time that designation had changed since the reign of Henry VIII.
Instead, Prince Charles suggested the title: “Defender of the Faiths.”
When the Anglican church responded that this was nonsensical, the Prince countered with, “Defender of Faith,” and there the matter rests. Such a change would require an act of Parlia- ment, and there is much speculation that Queen Elizabeth intends that her grandson Prince William should as- sume the throne without Charles first becoming King. Whether or not that comes to pass is of interest to some, but outside the point of this article.
The point I am getting to is that language matters. It matters whether we say “faiths” or if we delete the definite article. The exact words and the shape and context of those words have very definite form and convey different meanings as a result.
When we speak about our Con- fessional Standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechism, we say that we subscribe to them. Our ministers and elders are expected to answer this question in the affirmative: Do
you accept the doctrines of the Asso- ciate Reformed Presbyterian Church, contained in the Westminster Con- fession of Faith and Catechisms, as founded on the Word of God and as the expression of your own faith, and do you resolve to adhere thereto?
We do not subscribe to the vague idea of a Reformed understanding of Christianity, but we vow to uphold and adhere to very specific words that define and explain what we believe the Bible, as the Word of God, teaches the Church on a variety of subjects.
The idea of a loose subscription must be seen to be nonsense. Words and their specific arrangement have meaning. When we speak of sub- scription, we speak of agreeing with, and promising to teach, the doctrines summed up in our Confession and Catechism. That is why the Church is so careful in changing them. They are not simply historic documents that speak of attitudes in a distant part of our history. They are what we say we believe, down to the smallest words, and that matters. We are a Confes- sional Church. Words matter.?