Monday, December 09, 2002

Oaths and Vows

The Westminster Confession has a chapter (XXII) on oaths and vows. It defines a lawful oath as the occasion at which: the person swearing solemnly calls God to witness what he asserts, or promises, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he swears.

This almost seems anachronistic. Society certainly does not take oaths and vows very seriously. Recently I saw a commercial for an office product super-store. The actors were children pretending to be white collar adults in the workplace. An one point one of the "workers" laments that he can't do something fun (I don't remember what it was) during the upcoming weekend because "It’s my weekend with the kids". Divorce and kid-sharing are so mainstream that child actors use it as joke fodder, no matter that we are laughing at the breaking of a solemn oath, made before God.

The Westminster Confession goes on to characterize a proper oath or vow (I am paraphrasing):

  • It is only by the Name of God by which men ought to swear.
  • In weighty matters (marriages, court testimony, etc.) oaths ought to be given.
  • An oath should not be duplicitous, and should be understood by its plain reading or common sense interpretation. No fingers crossed behind the back or subtle loop-holes allowed.
  • An oath should never be taken to bind someone to sin.
  • A oath made to "heretics and infidels" is still binding.
  • No vow should be made requiring capabilities beyond that of fallen man. For example, you should not make an oath that you will never sin again. The WC gives this example: In which respects, 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.

If you want to see the scriptural support for this view, follow the Westminster Confession link given above.

Society has so little regard for the seriousness of such things that, as I stated earlier, they (oaths and vows) do not even seem to be relevant in the modern era. They are made cavalierly, broken unhesitatingly, viewed derisively, and forgotten immediately.

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