Purpose of This Blog

The Final Goal of this Blog is to work towards the unification of the seceding denominations (and the one true original denomination) into a unified and public body of believers so as to properly fight the False Presbyterian Church (better known as the PC (USA)) and to subdue it from preaching a false gospel.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fourth Question: Good Faith vs. Strict Subscription of the Westminster Standards

A fourth issue that has been brought up to discuss is how should we treat our relationship with the Westminster Confessions. Do we hold to an almost divine (pun intended) belief in the WCF and catechisms or should we treat the WCF as nothing more than a guide? The question also for our TFU friends is in a united kirk does Westminster trump the Canons of Dordt or the Belgic Confession? Do we follow some sort of new TFU or have a PC (USA) style Book of Confessions? Feel free to interject other questions that this may cause to arise.

From the website of the PCA in regards to the "Good Faith" subscription to the Westminster Confessions.

While our Constitution does not require the candidate's affirmation of every statement and/or proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to determine if the candidate is out of accord with any of the fundamentals of these doctrinal standards and, as a consequence, may not be able in good faith sincerely to receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures (cf. BCO 21-5, Q. 2; 24-5, Q.2).

Therefore, in examining a candidate for ordination the Presbytery shall inquire not only into the candidate's knowledge and views in the areas specified above, but also shall require the candidate to state the specific instances in which he may differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions. The court may grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court's judgment the candidate's declared difference is not out of accord with a fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.


Selection from the RPCUS (rest can be found in Gary's post):
Strict subscription does not mean that one must adopt every wording of the Standards as the best explanation of the system of doctrine. Of course, we must be careful with any modification of words seeing that words are the vehicles that convey thought. Moreover, we must be careful not to twist the meaning of words in order to create a different sense than originally intended. This type of perversion was done by the 1972 PCUS General Assembly pertaining to the meaning of the phrase, “containing the system of doctrine.” The General Assembly said with reference to the Standards, “On the other hand, since they are said to contain the system rather than to be equated with it, allowance is made for the possibility that they may incorporate elements which neither belong to it nor are essential to it” (quoted in Morton Smith, How Is The Gold Become Dim, p. 224). The 1972 PCUS General Assembly further stated, “none of us will traduce or use any opprobrious terms of those that differ from us in these extraessential and not necessary points of doctrines” (Ibid.). Even though this wording is in the 1729 Adopting Act, the meaning of the words “extra-essential” and “not necessary points of doctrine” came to be so broadly interpreted that it would embrace non-Reformed doctrine and heresy. It became the agenda of the PCUS to act as if it was committed to the Westminster standards, but functionally it abandoned its foundational tenets. By its own admission, the PCUS in its later days confessed to being a loose subscriptionist denomination.

The doctrines and wording of the Westminster Standards are clear. The RPCUS expects all of its officers to give allegiance to every doctrine of every chapter of the Confession. This doctrinal allegiance applies only to elders and deacons -- not to church members. All that is required to become a member in any church of the RPCUS is to give a credible profession of faith to the church session. In essence, there is nothing extraordinary about the RPCUS’ expectations. We simply believe in subscription to our Constitution. There are undoubtedly some of our Reformed brethren who think we are too narrow because we are presuppositional, theonomic, postmillennial, and limit congregational voting to male heads of households. The RPCUS insists that these particular distinctives are not extraneous doctrines to the Standards; rather, they are the doctrines of the Standards

45 comments:

Kyle Borg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

I republish part of what I wrote in another section of the blog and will respond to some of Kyle's comments when my sermon is finished (so... about 6 A.M. Sunday morning!)

"I think the reason that many of the PCA's presbyters at 2003's GA didn't vote to pursue NAPARC union has to do with what I will choose to call the TR/PR divide.

TR stands for "Totally Reformed." It's a pejorative term coined by our brothers and applied to those who hold to the older, narrower, more closely confessional point of view.

TR's tend to be intellectual. They tend to see that theology is a system and you can't mess with one part of a system without impacting other parts of it, often in ways that are not forseen. They respect the integrity of the system. They believe the system is correct. They love the system.

Sometimes their love for the system comes close to idolatry. They also tend to be relationally clumsy, curmudgeonly, and arrogant. They tend to live in their own heads. They (we, for I count myself among them) are also not very evangelistic. We suffer from a peculiar quietism on this front which I think is driven by fear and our poor relationship skills. The TR was likely a nerd in High School whom God saved. A Reformed Christian engineer will almost always be a TR.

The PR's (a term I coined in response to the TR moniker) will now stand for "partially Reformed." They tend to be relational. They tend to be action and results oriented, thus they are pragmatists. They are concerned about things like church growth. They are much more willing to adopt ideas and practices from the broader Evangelical world. They are genuinely concerned about evangelism and reaching the lost, and genuinely love spirituality (in the modern sense of the word.)

They also tend to be less intellectual. For instance, they would see nothing wrong with a presentation of the gospel using the Four Spiritual Laws from Campus Crusade. They don't understand the system. That means that they tend to equate growing the church and reaching the lost. Therefore, within certain broad parameters, anything that "makes the church grow" is by definition a good thing. Anything that "keeps the church from growing" (yes, they actually think we can keep the church from growing) is by definition bad. They think certain things in the Westminster Standards (like rigorous Sabbath observance and the prohibition against images of Christ and the regulative principle in worship)are just stupid and weird. Stupid and weird things inhibit church growth because they are unattractive. Therefore they take a "cut and paste" approach to theology. If you ask them how the Divines arrived those stupid and weird conclusions, they can't tell you. But that's okay with them, because they're not that interested in finding out. They wouldn't want to do them, even if they did find out. It was mostly PR's who engineered the passage of the good faith subscription overture.

They are very concerned about image and perception, sometimes to the point of being man-pleasers. They are politically savvy because of their relational skills, so they tend to dominate in large groups and build large churches. There is more than a whiff of rebelliousness about a PR. The PR is likely a popular high school jock or member of some other popular subgroup in high school who got saved.

One of the reasons I wasn't worried about how the PCA was going to vote on the Federal Vision/NPP thing at our most recent General Assembly was simply because the guys who hold to it tend to be TR-ish, and the PR's who dominate the PCA by a narrow majority would be instinctively resistant to it. That would be true even if they hadn't the foggiest idea what we grumpy TR's were fighting about. The PR's don't know why they should care that somebody denies the Covenant of Works. A PR would simply ask WWBCD? (What Would Bryan Chapel Do?) and then vote accordingly.

The URC, the RCUS, the OPC and the RPCNA are TR denominations. The PCA is a mix. The EPC is completely dominated by PR's, and thus wasn't even invited to the NAPARC club. Personally, I think it is charitable to the point of dishonesty to call the EPC a Reformed church.

Now, I actually believe this divide is fundamentally a divide at the level of personality and gifting. I actually believe the two sides need each other, and God planned it that way. The PR's need the TR's to keep them on track. Left to themselves the PR's will have a denomination falling into all kinds of heresy within a generation or two. The TR's need the PR's to get them out of their heads and into the world. Left to themselves the TR's will run a viable denomination into the ground. Both sides are blinded by pride.

One of the things I've noticed about the British situation is that they suffer much less from this divide. The men who taught me that the divide can be bridged are all British... Alistair Begg, Eric Alexander, Derek Prime, Dick Lucas, to a much lesser extent, Sinclair Ferguson.

I have actually made it my life's work to bridge that gap, first in myself and then in my presbytery. It is the paradigm through which I look at much of my churchmanship. It's why I named my blog what I did. I was the sole TR on the staff of a church dominated by PR's before I moved to Sturgis. I benefited greatly from their influence. Unless I miss my guess, they benefited a little bit from mine as well. I think that's how it should be."

Gary said...

Here's an abstract of Strict adherence from the RPCUS distinctives. Its 600+ words though:

Before we discuss these four distinctives, we need to define “strict subscription” to the Westminster Standards. Strict subscription does not mean that we view the Westminster Standards to be on par with Scripture. The Scripture alone is preeminently authoritative. The Westminster Confession of Faith is careful to make this point in chapter 1 section X which reads, “The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees
2 of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture.”

The RPCUS believes that the ordination vow taken by all of its officers is itself a strict subscription to the Westminster Standards. The vow reads, “Do you sincerely receive and fully adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures…?” Strict subscription does means that one adopts all the doctrines set forth in every chapter of the Confession. Someone might ask, “How far does the RPCUS take its demand for subscription?” The answer is : It goes as far as every chapter of the Confession and every question of the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

Strict subscription does not mean that one must adopt every wording of the Standards as the best explanation of the system of doctrine. Of course, we must be careful with any modification of words seeing that words are the vehicles that convey thought. Moreover, we must be careful not to twist the meaning of words in order to create a different sense than originally intended. This type of perversion was done by the 1972 PCUS General Assembly pertaining to the meaning of the phrase, “containing the system of doctrine.” The General Assembly said with reference to the Standards, “On the other hand, since they are said to contain the system rather than to be equated with it, allowance is made for the possibility that they may incorporate elements which neither belong to it nor are essential to it” (quoted in Morton Smith, How Is The Gold Become Dim, p. 224). The 1972 PCUS General Assembly further stated, “none of us will traduce or use any opprobrious terms of those that differ from us in these extraessential and not necessary points of doctrines” (Ibid.). Even though this wording is in the 1729 Adopting Act, the meaning of the words “extra-essential” and “not necessary points of doctrine” came to be so broadly interpreted that it would embrace non-Reformed doctrine and heresy. It became the agenda of the PCUS to act as if it was committed to the Westminster standards, but functionally it abandoned its foundational tenets. By its own admission, the PCUS in its later days confessed to being a loose subscriptionist denomination.

The doctrines and wording of the Westminster Standards are clear. The RPCUS expects all of its officers to give allegiance to every doctrine of every chapter of the Confession. This doctrinal allegiance applies only to elders and deacons -- not to church members. All that is required to become a member in any church of the RPCUS is to give a credible profession of faith to the church session. In essence, there is nothing extraordinary about the RPCUS’ expectations. We simply believe in subscription to our Constitution. There are undoubtedly some of our Reformed brethren who think we are too narrow because we are presuppositional, theonomic, postmillennial, and limit congregational voting to male heads of households. The RPCUS insists that these particular distinctives are not extraneous doctrines to the Standards; rather, they are the doctrines of the Standards

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks Gary, that was a really helpful post. I'll have to chew on what it says some more.

Blessings,
Brian

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

The Strict vs. Good Faith reminds me of the "half-way" Covenant.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Maybe so, Ben, but I can see at least one place where I might need to make room for somebody's different convictions. Suppose a man transferred to the PCA from one of the other NAPARC denoms that's of a Continental background. Their view of the Sabbath is much more informed by Luther & Calvin. I think that's an incorrect view of the Sabbath and it results from an uneven hermeneutic applied to the Law of God.

However, they might be utterly sound men. I might be willing to make an exception on the Westminster view of the Sabbath in favor of the Heidelberg view of the Sabbath in that case.

However, many exceptions are taken mostly out of ignorance of the system and the hermeneutic they're using to interpret the Decalogue.

Alan said...

This is a hard one for me. Being fairly new to confessionally reformed faith I am not sure. I am monitoring this post hoping for some guidance on this but my first instinct is to go with the strict subscription.

polymathis said...

The title of this posting (although unintentional to be sure) is partially inaccurate. To help further this discussion, I think it best to use a three-point model in line with Prof. Charles Hodge:

"There are three ways in which these words have been, and still are, interpreted. First, some
understand them to mean that every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith is included in the profession made at ordination.
Secondly, others say that they mean just what the words import. What
is adopted is the " system of doctrine." The system of the Reformed Churches is a known and admitted scheme of doctrine, and that scheme, nothing more or less, we profess to adopt. The third view of the subject is, that by the system of doctrine contained in the Confession is meant the essential doctrines of Christianity and nothing more. "

The Church and Its Polity, p. 336, google books

If Erskine would like to publish it, I have truncated this article on this subject by Hodge. (email: pastormathis at gmail dot com).

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Poly,

Helpful? Maybe. I can see guys in the PCA going with #1 and #2, but #3 is a stretch, given that Generic Christianity in our day is baptistic, anti-intellectual, dispensational, and Arminian. No guy who held #3 sincerely would ever get out of my committee if I had anything to do with it, that's for sure.

It's true that the system of doctrine held by the orthodox Reformed churches is a known quantity. But we are not taking a vow to uphold a generic Reformed system of doctrine. We are taking a vow to uphold the system of doctrine explicated in our confessional standards, some of which are peculiar to Westminster.

I think the key word here is "system." People don't understand the dynamics of a system. A well crafted system, be it an engine or a socially contract or a philosophical worldview has interrelated parts. To change one part inevitably effects others. There is only so much monkeying to so many parts of the system that you can do before you destablize the whole thing. The trouble is, since we aren't good at understanding the system, we let a lot of monkeying go on. My presbytery ordained a guy who took an exception to the Covenant of Works and even wrote a theological paper on his views. It was before my time. Nobody stopped to say, "What is the Covenant of Works and what are the implications of denying it?" Now the answer to that question is becoming clearer and clearer and it's a huge mess.

Because of that sort of thing, those guys who take an exception to strict sabbatarianism and to images of Christ always get the same few questions from me:

1) Why did the Divines say that?

2) What is your understanding of the Law of God and its uses in the Christian life?

3) What is a synecdoche and what proof do we have from the scriptures that the Ten Commandments are a synecdoche?

I find that inevitably the answers are:

1) Don't know
2) Not sure (or they get the first use of the Law only and show themselves to be more Lutheran than Reformed on this point.)
3) Don't know

That, quite simply, represents a bad education or a lazy student.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Good Points Brian. Especially about people not seeing theology in general as a "system". Partly to blame is our generations insistence on relativism and therapy. How common do you think your views on the strictness of Westminster are in the PCA?

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Ben,

I'm a minority. In my presbytery of 20 TE's, I think there are probably 4 or 5 of us that hold something approximating my view.

Things are worse in the South, and the West, better in the Northeast, generally speaking. The guys pastoring bigger churches tend to be looser, the guys pastoring smaller churches tend to be more conservative. Western PA is probably the most significant concentration of classically orthodox guys. That's just by observation, not by scientific census.

B

Steven Carr said...

Holy long comments, Batman!!

Brian,

WWBCD--that had me laughing for a good while. I am certainly glad you are on the Candidates and Credentials Committee, we need people like you to ask the good questions. Especially questions about the Auchterarder Creed. :)

Anyway, let me offer my two cents on the whole issue. Whether we like it or not, we are never going to have everybody in 100% agreement on everything. That, we all know, was the case at Westminster. Nobody was in 100% agreement. Now one could say, "Well why have a Confession then?" We usually ignore those people and rightly so. As I see it then, we have two options. Shorten the Cofession to the lowest common denominator in order for everyone to give their full consent, or have a Confession that everyone can feel good about, and those who take exceptions to some statements state those to their fellow elders. The fellow elders can then judge whether or not the exceptions strike at the heart of our religion or are what we would say are non-essentials. As far as non-essentials go, I think that there should be an established list of what constitutes a non-essential. Let me just say that, in this situation, Pelagians, Arminians, and Baptists (Sorry to all the RB's out there) would have no place. They do not meet the non-essential criteria. I think election, free will, and baptism are all essential to a Reformed Church which is what I am going for here.

As far as having a Confession that everyboday can feel good about, I think we have that in the Westminster Standards, and as far as being able to take exceptions, that is what we do in the PCA. I think that this way of doing things has been historically proven to work. No, not always satisfactorily, but it has worked. Has it let in some PR's, as Brian would say, yes it has. Has it allowed FVists to find a place in the denomination, unfortunately it has. But it also has allowed elders with various opinions to work together for a common end.

Like I said, I think we need to have a list of what non-essentials are. I hear that word thrown around quite a bit, but I have yet to hear anybody say what exactly are the non-essentials.

By the way, everyone, if they haven't already, should read Robert Godfrey's Essay A Reformed Dream. I have a link to it on my blog. There is a link to it on the Heidleblog as well.

polymathis said...

Brian,

There are a few issues running in parallel here:

1) I understand as a minister you do not find the distinction especially helpful, but is is helpful for other readers here who tend to think only in black-and-white (see borg's comment above). In fact, it might be helpful for the PR! (just maybe!). I have personally meet ministers in the OPC (those unfamiliar with the OPC: we do not have the TR/PR moniker--but the people do exist!) who lost this three-fold distinction, shoving everything into the first view (every proposition of the Confession).

2) As for the system of doctrine, you are correct about the general confusion on what that exactly entails. Even in the OPC, this system of doctrine is vaguely understood by a few to even allow candle-light worship!

3) What not to do? A list of non-essential simply leads toward legalistic list-pandering. We feel safe with detail. We feel less safe with the wisdom of our fathers. I understand the motive in this direction, but it is highly impractical: the nature of the human mind to invent non-essentials is almost infinite. The ability for language to capture every nuance is over-rated (think Wittgenstien's net). If someone wants to worm through the Confessional fence, he'll do it.

4)What to do:
a) Go back to the basics: learn the Confession: is there a class on the WCF at the seminaries?

b) Go back to the elders: amongst the Presbyteries there ought to be at least one well-seasoned minister (sorry guys: I've got two: GI Williamson (55+ ministerial years); and Dr. Coppes (40 years). If you don't have one, find one! Sit at his feet and...

c) Shut and listen! This is the temptation of younger ministers: I done graduated; I are educated; I got some cool idea...wanna hear it?(There's an ol' OPC GA joke/rule: sit down and shut up for the first five years). I've seen this already as a ruling elder and now a minister of two years.

d) Change the seminary system: here I am more tentative since I did not follow the normal route (full correspondence school through RITS with Dr. Coppes my mentor). Mentoring should be pushed more; mentoring with older men especially.

e) Know your candidates: When I was under care of the Presbytery, no one had lunch with me to understand where I came from and where I was going (besides my own pastor). Currently, I made a point of lunching twice a year with a man under care: I have already uncovered various confusion about the system of doctrine.

f) Having done all, stand! When it comes to examinations, stand firm. At one time I had opportunity to witness a floor examination for ordination from a sister denomination. The young man (fresh from seminary no less) could not answer yea or nay about whether "justifying, infused graced" existed in the Lord's Supper. No one said a word. Not a peep. (There might have been discussion after he left the room). He passed.
Are we too "gentlemanly" to stand aloud and complain? I hope not.

My 2.5 cents, gentlemen.

Steven Carr said...

Rev. Mathis your thoughts are worth more than 2.5 cents. And rather than commenting, I should really take your advice and shut up. I just wanted to say one thing, maybe two.

Let me start by defining what I mean by non-essentials. By non-essentials I mean those things that someone can hold to or not hold to that should not be necessary for terms of communion. Nor should they be things that affect in a negative way the visible unity of the Church. I really don't see how making a list of those things is in any way legalistic. I would rather think that such a thing would be helpful. I know that there are dangers involved, so the list would have to be carefully defined, and somewhat narrowly Reformed if we want to retain a Reformed identity.

I will shut up and let you explain now why I am wrong in this regard.

polymathis said...

Carr,

Thank you for the compliment.

Upon further reflection, I may have misunderstood you: do you mean a list of non-essentials from the Confession itself (i.e part of chapter 19, third clause, etc.) or a list of non-essentials in the WCF and beyond it (issues being dealt with now)?

Now, I'll shut up and listen :-)

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Steven,

Welcome!!! Hope to have you here mroe often!!!

Rev. Carpenter,

How involved are PCA sessions generally in this "controversy"?

Poly,

Same question but in the OPC.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Dub,

Not very involved, I'm afraid.

As I said before, we act like a bunch of Baptists as far as polity is concerned. Our presbyteries are fairly weak, both on paper and in practice. Polymathis is being kind in not mentioning that the offending presbytery concerning the grace in the Lord's Supper was the one next door to mine... the Rocky Mountain Presbytery of the PCA.

This is doubly difficult given the size of our presbyteries. I find that people from the UK or Europe have no clue as to the size of this country. My state (South Dakota) is wider from east to west than Britain is north to south. My presbytery encompasses South Dakota, North Dakota (which is just on top of South Dakota and of very similar size) and Minnesota (which is almost 3x larger than Scotland in terms of square miles.) The only advantage we have is that our roads are better and less crowded than yours and we don't have speed cameras yet. We are, however, trying to imitate your petrol prices with some success.

Presbytery meetings happen 3 times a year and almost always involve a long day's drive, a long day or day and a half of meetings, and then another long day's drive home.

Since we don't have your generous holidays, our ruling elders must take personal vacation time to do this unless they're retired. Most folks get two weeks of vacation per year. If a ruling elder went to all three presbytery meetings he'd eat up his whole year's worth on just church business. A tough sell.

My guys go when they can, but probably only make 1/3 to 1/2 of the meetings.

polymathis said...

My knowledge of the controversy is mostly limited to my presbytery. What I know elsewhere is from some experience at GA and the contacts and experience of co-pastor (Dr. Coppes), who has attended every GA in the last 40 years. (In fact, any wisdom that was garnered in the previous post (points a-e) should be attributed to his mentorship).

The debate over subscriptionism is not as big in the PCA. It is more or less a bigger issue with some of the old South men (came up over the creation debate) but it was not enough to bring much heat on the GA floor.

Our presbytery is the largest (CO, UT, N & S. Dakota). Most (but not all) elders are able to come (twice a year is our meeting, 2-3 days each). Our general disposition is very conservative, so that when I went before the floor, most men already knew me (having attended presbytery for five years and then mentoring under a known good man) and the exam was not as piercing as I expected it to be. When a crack is found, however, it will be pried open and exam--right on the floor.

polymathis said...

mmm...that did not come out quite right..."The debate over subscriptionism is not as big AS in the PCA." It is not on that level of debate in the OPC.

Steven Carr said...

Rev. Mathis,

Since no established list exists I am not exactly sure what would work best. It would probably have to be both from the WCF and beyond since things like millenial positions are not contained in the WCF.

I also want to make one thing clear. A list like this can't be drawn up over night. It has to be debated and formulated with much thought.

Steven Carr said...

Thanks for the welcome, Mr. Erskine.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Steven you make a great point in bringing up the millenium question. I would think another one that may be brought up in any list like this is one's position on Creation.

Steven Carr said...

Ben,

I go back and forth on whether our understanding of Creation is essential or not. I hold to a six day creation as does the WCF. For an illustration of how one's views of Creation can run one crazy, you should read some of the stuff put out by preterists on Genesis. Once again we are back to Brian's idea of system. This is a great illustration of why many people, not one person needs to agree on what is non-essential. And why it takes a great deal of time and thought.

Steven Carr said...

Also, Ben, about the millenial views, we should be somewhat narrow. For example, in a Reformed Church, do we really want pastors who hold to a Pre-Trib rapture-Premillenialism? I think not.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

I think we're already functioning (in the PCA) with a de-facto list. It's just not explicit and it hasn't been debated and clarified. It gets added to decade by decade. Here's my stab at it:

1) can be either supra or infralapsarian

2) can be A, Post, or Historic Pre-mil, but cannot be dispensational

3) Can favor paedocommunion but not teach or practice it. This may be fading away in view of...

4) Cannot be Federal Vision/New Perspective on Paul/NT Wright/Norman Shepherd sympathizer (though I admit this one is still in the works. It will be strangled in its PCA cradle, or I'm joining Poly's presbytery and taking my church with me.)

5) Can be OK with pictures of the Second Person of the Trinity

6) Can be OK with recreation, going out to eat, travel, and some minor shopping on the Sabbath.

7) Must be a cessationist, but not press it too rigorously if somebody in the congregation you love tells you that the Lord spoke to them.

8) May take a de facto exception against the regulative principle by simply ignoring it and having dramas and videos and "worship team" performances.

Am I missing anything?

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Quality Stuff Brian. Especially:

8) May take a de facto exception against the regulative principle by simply ignoring it and having dramas and videos and "worship team" performances.

polymathis said...

Carr,

With respect to a list of non-essential, one would have to essentially (no pun intended) create a larger document than the WCF. Why? Because to negate is to not the same as to affirm. Affirmations, such as the WCF, are narrow in focus, like drawing a circle on an infinite plane: this and no more. On the other hand, to draw up a list of non-essentials (especially, as you admit, outside the WCF) quickly becomes a neigh impossible task: try drawing a circle outside the WCF, without limits. That is the epistemological problem.

Closely related is the practical problem of having to hash out all these non-essentials (and I have not even listed the nth possibilities) at GA. It would be like gathering the Westminster Assembly all over again (which I think would be disastrous—we are not a confession-building age)! And would take twice as long. And probably fracture the church again.

In reality (de facto of a sort), such a list is created whenever a presbytery allows an exception. Thus, different presbyteries allow different exceptions (in principle this could and does happen—to what extent I know not)—until it is challenged. Instead of trying to deal with all conceivable or even just what is within the last fifty years, one or two subject at a time is dealt with in presbytery. Of course, this is not exactly what you had in mind.

Furthermore, what criteria would be used? I mean specifically about what would be tolerated. For instance, as a hypothetical, I may believe that logically non-theonomists undercut the 19th chapter of the Confession, but I know in practice that many do not go that far. Thus the questions of principle and practice and their non-overlap (called inconsistency) come to the forefront before the list is written up.

Lastly, consider this short list: apologetics: Van Tillian, Clarkian, Traditional, Reformed, Evidential (knowing that some consider other positions almost dangerous—I know pastors who are suspicious of Van Tillianism and some well-known men who think worse: John Robins). Within Van Tillianism one has the classical and the multi-perspectivalists. Amongst the multi-perspectivalists some are more conservative (thus limiting the “damage” to the system of doctrine) than others (such as Frame who virtually turns the RPW on its head).

I don’t want to be a nay-sayer. But for now, that is how I see it. It comes down to the WCF being a relatively rigid fence: relative because man is not absolute nor is his knowledge (contra Clarkianism---opps!); rigid because enough of it is a recognizable system; fence because man can always worm his way in.

Whew! You got me thinking and I thank you for that!

[And to clarify: I did not consider your proposition outright legalistic, but only tending toward that.]

polymathis said...

Brian,

Quite flattered about a possible defection in our direction, but try your best and strangle that monstrosity!

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I fear with a list like any of these we get into a EPC "Essentials, Non-Essentials" formulation.

Steven Carr said...

I see your point, Rev. Mathis; list making is arduous and nigh-impossible.

What we are faced with here is either a full-subscription without any exception or good-faith subscription with each presbytery deciding what is non-essential.

Whether we create a list or not, if we take the good faith position, we have to have some consensus, at least at the presbytery level, what is really non-essential. So we are back to list making without an established list.

We could make it easy on ourselves and go with full subscription and say, "It is all essential and anyone who is out of accord with the least iota of the WCF is out." No one in the history of the Confession has ever done that; even the Steelites can't say they have done that consistently, though they've tried.

Sigh...I guess there is really no simple solution to this debate is there?

polymathis said...

Faint not dear brother: the end is not near with the subscription issue.
In fact, it has only begun if only because the issue is part of a larger ecclesiastical integrity issue.

This is why I wrote my points earlier (a-f): the root problem with focusing on subscription fences is that the fence is built upon the larger churchly ground. This ground, or cultural environment, must also be nurtured for the fence to properly operate. Effort must be put forward to instruct in precept and practice the system of doctrine.

As for the yet larger question (the point of this blog), the subscription issue must not be the undue focal point. If a conservative culture is dominate in a denomination, then the subscription issue is not as pressing (or should not be, barring loose subscriptionism). On the other hand, IMHO, a church culture more open and less rooted can easily bring the subscription issue to the forefront if only because the conservatives (TRs) are feeling the ground move under them.

The question of attitude is also important. A few years back, some churches and pastors left the OPC because they felt that a trial did not turn their way, supposedly indicating rank FVs within our churches. Yet, anyone with partial knowledge of the case (I was there) would know that the actual issue was more complex and not directly related to FV. I meet one of the men who left before it happened. His disposition was sourly, curt and overall suspicious of anyone not with his unique interpretation of the WCF. Thus, it seemed to me, he was already primed to leave at the drop of a pin. This does not help merge the Reformed at all!

So, Carr, try to support a good church and a good presbytery. Unity begins with one heart and mind and practice, both formally (subscription) and informally (fellowship and mentoring) (1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 12:10ff). Let us humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.

Alan said...

I think this question turns on motive. What is the desired result of having this issue decided? If the desire is to find out just how much one can be allowed to do without violating some standard then, in my opinion, the issue is something all together different than GF vs. SS. There is an underlying issue of sin that would then need addressing. Why does one wish to "get away" with something?

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Alan,

I think the sin is one of ignorance most of the time. In my work on the Candidates and Credentials Committee, when I ask a candidate who takes certain exceptions, "What have you read of the old Divines on this subject?" The answer is, invariably, "Nothing."

Frankly I don't think seminaries are teaching confessional theology, or are not teaching it well. And they're not teaching logic, epistemology, and philosophy at all, or requiring them as prerequisites for entry into sem. Poly's epistemological argument concerning the drawing of acceptable exceptions was quite astute, and he's JUST A YOUTH MINISTER (wink wink, nudge, nudge) But he's OPC and their training is more rigorous. Most PCA guys wouldn't understand what he's saying, really, and how many could actually produce that argument? I know I couldn't. (Tho I have an excuse. I'm fundamentally self educated. I was learning lesbian hermeneutics when Poly was enjoying Aristotelian logic classes. When you're ignorant it pays to be conservative. That's true in almost every aspect of life.)

There are exceptions. I think MARS is quite rigorous, and I have been impressed with its graduates. Westminster West, and to a lesser extent, Westminster East seem to do a good job. Covenant grads have been a disappointment, on the whole, and RTS Orlando grads are far shakier than I would have expected (which makes me sad.) I think Lig Duncan is probably doing a pretty good job with RTS Jackson. I've got no experience of the other campuses.

I really think it takes reform of the seminary system to get the quality of graduates that we want. That, frankly, takes closer policing of the academicians in the system. But since they've got PhD's and they're by definition smarter than those doing the policing, that's a problem. It's the old saw:

First you get a BS, and we all know what BS is. Then you get MS (more of the same) and then you get a PhD (that's BS Piled higher and Deeper.)

Alan said...

Rev. C,
I am sending off applications this month and my choices are, in order:
1. Westminster west
2. MARS
3. RTS Jackson
4.Covenant-I am from St. Louis and have family and a great church there, this is why I am considering it. So my question to you is, in your opinion should I move MARS ahead of Westminster?

In Christ
Alan

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Alan,

I'd tend to think so. I'd refer you to my friend Wes White, who is a MARS graduate (www.johannesweslianus.blogspot.com) for a more thorough explanation. It would seem to me to have several things going for it..

1. Closer to your current residence. makes it easier to get back to see family, etc.
2. smaller, get to know your profs.
3. cheaper
4. potential for cheaper living expenses than California
5. Lake Effect snow.
6. Chicago pizza
7. Willow Creek Community Church is only an hour away if the traffic is good.

Gary said...

I have been under the impression that Westminster-Philadelphia is better then Westminster-CA. I forget what it was that made me think that. Some type of controversial move that didn't sit well with Westminster-PA and I agreed with PA at the time.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Gary,

I wasn't aware of any spat, but that does make sense. The Escondido campus isn't even listed on Westminster Philly's website. Only Philly, London, and Dallas.

Perhaps it was over John Frame?

I do know that Michael Horton is a fine scholar.

polymathis said...

Greetings Alan,

If you do not mind, I'll put in my two-cents worth for seminaries.

I attended a correspondence seminary (the only full degree that I know of): Reformation International Theological Seminary [ http://www.reformation.edu/ ] I do recommend it (I was its first graduate, so I worked through most of the bugs of first classes), but with one caveat: if one is not a strong self-starter and if one does not have a good pastor/mentor (both in practice and doctrine), then this path will not work as well.

The seminary uses lecture tapes from the likes of Dr. Bahnsen, Morton Smith (Greenville), Jack Scott (RTS), Dr. Coppes (OT Biblical Theology), etc. It is purposefully eclectic in a Reformed sense (my theology class (five semesters) was the WCF lectured by Dr. Carl Bogue of the PCA and included reading all of Berkhof, Dabney and Hoeksema--quite a mix!). It was 115 credit hours when I went through.

Another advantage of such schooling is the ability to stay in a church and exercise one's gifts in the presence of others who already know your strengths and weaknesses.

As for MARS, I can recommend it by virtue of knowing two of their professors (both of whom have spoken at our Spring conference in Denver at least once): prof. Strange and Dr. Venema. One thing going for MARS is that they require their professors to have some time in the pastorate first. And I know of at least two graduates (Wes and Vern).

Hope this is more useful info!

polymathis said...

Gary,

I am not aware of any such thing. What I do know is that prof. Kline was from West. CA and prof. Shepherd was from West. PA. This lead to some tension, as could be imagined.

I do not know how much influence their residual influence still have.

Alan said...

Hey all,
Thanks for all of your input. I can shed some light on the Westminster east/west discussion. In dialogs with Dr. Horton and Mark MacVay I have made some educated inferences, here is what I gather. Poly, the Kline/Shepherd issue is at the forefront. Westminster east started Westminster west as a "subsidiary" school. When the FV divide began to really infiltrate east, the faculty and president at west made a clean break and became independent. Neither one would really condemn east because, in their words, "there are some good professors there."

Rev. C.-thanks for the advice, I am going to send both applications at the same time and see what happens, if I get accepted at both I will cross that bridge.

Poly- My congregation in St. Louis just swithced to OPC and the opportunity to work with my pastor there through RITS is an exciting thought, however, I have not finished my BA and do not plan on doing so. I am 40 years old and have enough credits that Westminster, MARS, RTS, and Covenant have all said there is a very good chance they will accept me. RTS has guaranteed my acceptance and Mark and Westminster said I am an ideal candidate for their exception policy. I would have to go 2-3 years to finish by BA and really do not see the need.

In Christ
Alan

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

What do you all think of Dub's suggestion that a United True Kirk cobble together a Book of Confessions like the PCUSA did, with the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards both included. I kinda like it.

As Poly pointed out, the culture of the united church would be fundamentally conservative.

polymathis said...

Brian,

That's certainly a place to start. There a good book lining up both confessions, can't remember the name tho'

However, it might be better to start out small: try to unite those within the WCF tradition or Continental first, before tackling that.

You, Wes, I are already doing that. This blog is a good step too. Now, I've virtually meet Gary, Alan, et. al. here and that is good. Hopefully I haven't scared em off with my verbose postings :-)

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

"Reformed Confessions Harmonized" by Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson is what yer after there Poly.

http://www.monergismbooks.com/Reformed-
Confessions-Harmonized-p-16386.html

I've been very impressed with Beeke's work. His translation of W a Brakel is very good.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

I think the OPC ought to concentrate of joining with the other presbyterian denoms before us. 2 reasons:

1. The PR's won't permit a dilution of their power and the blow to their pride of discovering how un-reformed they actually are.

2. I think it's entirely possible that the PCA will split within the next 20 years along the fault line that I've described and the TR faction could be easily absorbed by the OPC led united denom. I hate to say that, but I think it's true. Either that, or the PCA will sort of disintegrate as TR churches and pastors slowly peel away and go elsewhere.

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