There are more fundamental and principled reasons for full subscription to the Confessional Standards of the church, but this report from Pastor Wes White gives a practical example of the trouble caused by so-called “good faith” subscription; in this case it is in relation to the doctrine of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The PCA’s Review of Presbytery Records committee (RPR) met this past week, and paedocommunion was the hot issue. The result was conflicting main motions. In the case of Pacific Northwest Presbytery and Central Florida, RPR said paedocommunion was not a view hostile to our system of doctrine. In the case of Eastern Pennsylvania, RPR said paedocommunion was hostile to the system, stating it was wrong for Eastern Pennsylvania to ordain two candidates who held this view. In all cases, there will be minority reports, but the minority reports will be arguing the exact opposite positions.
Here’s how it happened.
Head on over to Pastor Wes White’s blog to read the rest of the report.
The French Confession (1559)
Article XXV — Pastors Necessary to the Church
And forasmuch as we are not made partakers of Christ but by the gospel, we believe that the good order in the church, which was established by His authority, ought to be kept sacred and inviolable; and, therefore, that the church cannot subsist unless there are pastors, whose office is to instruct their flocks, and who having been duly called and discharging their office faithfully, are to be honored and heard with reverence. Not as if God were tied to such ordinances or inferior means, but because it is His good pleasure in this way to govern us. So that for these reasons we detest all those fanatical persons who, as much as in them lies, would totally abolish the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments.
Dennison, James T. Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Volume 2, 1552–1566 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 149.
Modern evangelicalism frequently places a minimal emphasis upon doctrine, ostensibly for the purpose of fostering a wider unity. On the Westminster Seminary California Valiant for Truth blog, Dr. Michael Horton has some very useful thoughts on the division between essentials and non-essentials and the pursuit of a “mere Christianity.”
In the Great Commission, Jesus did not say, “Go therefore into all the world and preach the gospel, making everyone memorize the Four Spiritual Laws, and then keep multiplying converts.” He commanded the church to “make disciples” by proclaiming the gospel, baptizing, and “teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded.” People do not have to know everything that the Bible teaches—or even to understand all of its major doctrines—in order to be received as professing members of Christ’s body. However, when they become Christians, they are enrolled in a school of lifelong discipleship. Not everything in Scripture is equally clear or equally important, but everything is essential for us to know. God did not reveal everything that he might have revealed to us, but whatever he has revealed to us is necessary.
Read Dr. Horton’s article The Whole Faith Is Essential: Part 1 and Part 2.
The Rev. Lane Keister posted an insightful quotation from Francis Turretin contrasting the opinions and judgements of individuals with the authoritative teaching of the Church as held forth in her public doctrinal standards.
Hence they are accustomed to drawing nothing from public standards to prove their calumnies, but only from the writings of private divines from which they falsely weave consequences.
Concerning the public and received opinion of any church, a judgment cannot and ought not to be formed from the writings of private persons … because we do not stand or fall with the judgment of each private divine, however illustrious (Volume 1 of Institutes of Elenctic Theology, p. 529).
Turretin is pointing out the problem with attacking the teachings of a Church based strictly upon what this or that individual says or teaches. The synodical determinations of a Church have a different status and authority than the determinations of any one individual member of that Church. It is precisely this point that Turretin is pressing. No single individual speaks definitively for what the Church believes and teaches. Rather, we who are Reformed believe that the definitive statement of a Church’s beliefs is found in her confessional declarations. And we believe that this is by God’s design. It is precisely in this capacity that a Church functions as the pillar and ground of the Truth in upholding and establishing the truth of Scripture through confessional standards.
The Reformed believe that the doctrinal determinations of a Church represented in her confessional standards, if they are true to the Scriptures, ‘are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.’ (WCF 31.2) There is a ‘power’ (i.e., authority) spoken of there that belongs to the Church corporately and is exercised through her Elders corporately in synod. That authority Continue reading
Those who opposed the so-called good faith subscription model that was officially adopted by the PCA General Assembly several years ago warned of this. A TE from Eastern Carolina Presbytery was denied a transfer to Mississippi Valley Presbytery. The Aquila Report provides the following details from the article Report of Actions at Mississippi Valley Presbytery (PCA) on May 4th, 2010.
The Credentials Committee then gave its report and brought before it two men. One for transfer from Eastern Carolina Presbytery and one for licensure (a minister in good standing from the SBC). Rev. Perry McCall (from the SBC) was examined and preached from Joshua 1:1-9. His licensure was approved. The man who was seeking transfer had a difficult exam. He took exception to WCF 4.1 on creation days. However, by his examination it showed he also held views holding to women deaconesses and women reading Scripture in Public Worship. The Presbytery saw these two were exceptions as well. Following this, the Presbytery voted whether or not to approve his transfer and he was denied despite his willingness to submit to the brethren on these issues.
At the close of the article is the following note.
Editor’s Note: The Aquila Report has requested comment from a large number of members of the Presbytery concerning denying transfer to a TE from another PCA Presbytery based on MVP’S not granting exceptions that are frequently granted in other Presbyteries and had previously been granted within Mississippi Valley Presbytery itself. We will print those comments in a few days, after we have had time to gather then.
The difficulty described here in relation to the transfer of credentials is merely a symptom of the larger problem — that the PCA has no objective standard for unity in doctrine and practice. The PCA’s de facto confessional standard is an unspecified set of ‘vitals of religion’ presumably found somewhere within the commemorative documents we call the Westminster Standards. According to the PCA’s ‘good faith subscription’ model, every court of original jurisdiction defines these vitals, or non-negotiable doctrines, as it sees fit.
While the constitution of a confessional Church is supposed to establish an objective standard of unity in doctrine and practise, the PCA’s model effectively removes that objective standard. As a result, the courts of the PCA will find it increasingly difficulty to function as a single denomination. This is to be expected precisely because the PCA has transformed itself into a loosely connected set of regional mini-denominations called presbyteries, each with its own version of the PCA’s unwritten constitution.