A Poll on Confession Subscription

Discussion in 'The Confession of Faith' started by carlgobelman, Nov 10, 2009.

  1. I subscribe to the Confession because it's Biblical

    57 vote(s)
  2. I subscribe to the Confession insofar as it's Biblical

    49 vote(s)
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  1. carlgobelman

    carlgobelman Puritan Board Freshman

    I've been reading our very own R. Scott Clark's wonderful book on Reclaiming the Reformed Confession. In one of the chapters, Dr. Clark talks about the history of subscription to the confessions (whether they be 3FU or WCF). He breaks down the levels of subscription into two basic camps:

    1. We subscribe to the Confession because it is Biblical
    2. We subscribe to the Confession insofar as it's Biblical

    The first group of people would be of the sort that the "Confession says it, that settles it" because they believe the Confession is Biblical. If there is any doubt regarding an article in the Confession, the proper response is to convene a committee to look into altering the confession (my guess this is analogous to the amendment process for the U.S. Constitution).

    Within the second group there are three sub-categories (strict subscription, system subscription and substance subscription). Each one of these sub-categories allow (and even expect) ministry candidates to have exceptions to the confessions. Rather than alter the Confession, the exceptions are noted and the candidate is either accepted or rejected.

    I was just wondering which camp you all fall into (I'm going to try to add a poll to this post).
  2. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Let's be careful not to pit the Confessions against Scripture.

    Understand the way the Confessions are received.

    The Standards are not taken as infallible- that's why they can be amended. They are taken as faithful summaries of the doctrine contained in Scripture.

    In a confessional church, it's not a matter of each person judging their own theology and agreeing in part, disagreeing with the church's confessed doctrine. Confessional churches are unified and accountable around what they confess.

    Different denominations have somewhat different ways they "receive" their standards, but none take them as equal to Scripture.

    In the PCA officers (deacons and elders) vow they comprehensively understand them and receive every statement or proposition of doctrine in them unless they are granted a peer-reviewed (minor) exception.

    I don't think any biblical, reformed denomination would accept the premise of the #2 poll option.
  3. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    I would not call exceptions taken to the Sabbath and 6/24 creation as "minor".
  4. Osage Bluestem

    Osage Bluestem Puritan Board Junior

    I subscribe to the Westminster Confesion because I believe it is biblical.
  5. BertMulder

    BertMulder Puritan Board Junior

    I subscribe to the 3FU as my personal confession, because they are Biblical.
  6. carlgobelman

    carlgobelman Puritan Board Freshman

    Given the fact that the PCA allows for 'peer-reviewed' exceptions automatically place them within group #2? Don't get me wrong, I don't say this as a criticism in anyway. Semantically speaking though if you allow exceptions without amending the Confession, then, logically speaking, you accept the confession insofar as it's Biblical.
  7. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    I wanted to select the first question, but the fact that the confession I subscribe to is a man made document caused me to select the second question. btw I do believe the 1689 LBC is biblical.
  8. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't think so. (And keep in mind, Carl, I'm speaking as one who does not take any "exceptions").

    First of all, exceptions (scruples) historically in Presbyterianism are not automatically granted.

    They have to be publicly stated, recorded, evaluated and voted on as part of the "overall package" of an officer's qualification- doctrine, gifts, calling, and exemplary life.

    In addition, I think the PCA system is right to recognize "semantic" differences- those that are based on wording, not substance.

    Everyone is not taking the same "exception." There may be quite a few in certain presbyteries, but I am not aware of any one "exception" being broadly granted across the denomination. Were that the case, a very deliberative review ought be undertaken to determine both the confessional substance on the proposition of doctrine and the process whereby exception was being granted.

    But, merely having someone who agonizes over every single statement and proposition and can, in good faith receive 99.975% of them, but cannot in good conscience receive one, they should be considered. It, of course depends on what the exception is, what their biblical basis is for a difference, etc. The exception must not confound a fundamental principle or significantly undermine the system of doctrine confessed.

    A situation like this does not at all reflect poll option #2.

    "Loose" subscription, as I've heard that defined, is not one of your offered choices. It is an entirely different thing- and I don't think any biblical, reformed denomination has anything close to that.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2009
  9. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm confused. Please set me straight. I know the scriptures to be fully true, not because I fully understand them and have found them to be true, but because I know this to be true:
    But knowing the fallible nature of my own understanding, I am given no reason to accredit any other writing the same trustworthiness, even if insofar as I understand them, I find them to be true. I have been reading the Bible for over 30 years. I have not always understood it as I do now, and in fact held to grave error in the past, but it has always remained true regardless of my error.

    Now, I have great respect for the Westminster Divines, and love the WCF itself, insofar as I understand it to be biblical. My unwillingness to state categorically that it is completely biblical is that I know my own fallibility, and am aware of the fallibility of the Divines as well, not because there is any part of it that I find unbiblical.

    Why then would it be incorrect to say that I "subscribe to the Confession insofar as it's Biblical"?
  10. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    I subscribe to the LBCF insofar as it is Biblical. For all I know, it may be entirely Biblical, but I don't know for sure and so I cannot conscientiously choose the first option. I'm not sure I see how one could, technically, unless they claimed to understand the confession and the Bible completely.
  11. Osage Bluestem

    Osage Bluestem Puritan Board Junior

    I don't think it would be incorrect to say that. Nor do I think it would be incorrect to say that you subscribe to it because it is biblical. The method you choose depends on your personal confidence in your understanding of it.
  12. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Wouldn't this automatically place the first group into the second?

    -----Added 11/10/2009 at 06:41:08 EST-----

    Hi David. But wouldn't the statement that you subscribe to it because its biblical infer then that you fully understand first all that is biblical, and then that you fully understand what the Divines precisely meant when they wrote it? Pretty tall order for this puny mind. Maybe others are not so limited?
  13. Jon Peters

    Jon Peters Puritan Board Sophomore

    I subscribe to the WCF insofar as it is Biblical. I have a couple of areas of disagreement. I believe it can be improved upon.
  14. N. Eshelman

    N. Eshelman Puritan Board Senior

    Anyone in the world could subscribe to the Westminster AS FAR THEY ARE BIBLICAL- In other words, if I believe that all the bible really teaches is the 'Golden rule' I could say, "I subscribe to the WCF as far as it teaches what the Bible teaches."

    It is a slippery slope, though by the grace of God many of us are in churches that use this type of language.
  15. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Nathan, is it any less a slippery slope to state with certitude that the Confession is biblical? If it is, is that the first version, or which amended version would fit that category?
  16. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    There is some confusion of categories in the OP. James Bannerman's Church of Christ and Hall's Practice of Confessional Subscription would be useful places to start thinking about this subject. The first point to be distinguished is the church's adopting and the officer's subscribing a confession. The church adopts because it is biblical, and it is ultra vires to alter that confession. The church is its confession (WCF 25:2, 5). If the church alters its confession it alters itself. Given this understanding, it is not a matter of "the Confession says it, that settles it;" rather, "the church has said that what the Confession says is biblical, and that settles it on an ecclesiastical level." Obviously the church has ministerial power to declare the sense in which it adopts the confession; but in whatever sense the church adopts its confession, it does so because it is deemed to be biblical, i.e., the sense which the Holy Spirit teaches in holy Scripture.

    On officer subscription, it is the process by which individuals are given ministerial authority to teach and implement the church's confession. On this understanding, there can only be strict subscription. Strict subscription therefore belongs in the first option -- we subscribe the Confession because it is biblical. Here it must be noted that some churches relax the bonds of office, no doubt because they have explained the sense in which they receive the confession to such an extent that it does not identify with the sense of the confession any more. In such a situation it would be more honest to repudiate the confession and draw up a bond of union which more candidly reflects the church's confession of faith.
  17. jandrusk

    jandrusk Puritan Board Sophomore

    Of course I may be stating the obvious, but all of these statements fall apart if those in question:

    1) Have not read the Bible cover to cover and understand context and meaning.

    2) Do not understand the Bible from the context and perspective of the confession.

    I think it's vital that church officers are affluent in both 1 & 2 to become effective. My .02.
  18. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    For Reformed Baptists a good portion claim to be of a strict subsciptionist mindset, but if you probe them, they are not certain about that bit on the Antichrist.

    Even Sam Waldron, who writes a book on the exposition of the 1689 admits as much:

    [ame=http://www.amazon.com/Baptist-Confession-Faith-Samuel-Waldron/dp/085234340X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257904554&sr=1-2]Amazon.com: 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (9780852343401): Samuel E. Waldron: Books[/ame]
  19. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Yes, indeedy. Secondary standards should be accepted in so far as they are biblical. This is because secondary standards are neither inspired, infallible, nor inerrant. They are man-made documents which can, in principle, be wrong - the Westminster divines, themselves, said as much (Conf. 1.10, 31.3). Any man-made statement, no matter how carefully written, can be improved. This is why they are secondary standards.
  20. jawyman

    jawyman Puritan Board Junior

    Officers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church take a vow to "sincerely receive and adopt" these confessional documents "as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures."

    I believe the WCF is most definitely biblical.
  21. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    True; but 31.3 also notes that these man-made documents can, in principle, be consonant to the word of God, and if they are consonant to the word of God, they "are to be received with reverence and submission."
  22. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    So do members who aren't officers technically "subscribe" to anything? (in the context of the OPC)
  23. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Why isn't there a poll option for those who believe in the Bible insofar as it is Confessional? :p
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2009
  24. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Or, as the old Scottish widow once said, "The Bible sheds a great amount of light on the Confession."
  25. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    On this point, you disagree with several confessional churches. The PCA, OPC, (the now merged with the PCA, RPCES) and several other churches have adopted a confession, but reserve the authority to change the confession through some process. Those churches state, at least in the theoretical sense, that on principle, the confession does not define the church, but the scriptures do, and the church then defines the confession from the scriptures.

    The above is from the OPC book of church order. In a sense, it is the church declaring from principle, that the confession is correct in saying
    The confession itself states the ultimate and only final authority is the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. So the only ultra vires document to the church is the Scripture. To say otherwise is to say that the WCF (a decree of a council, opinions of [now] ancient writers, doctrines of men) is wrong in its wrong in Chapter I.10

    -----Added 11/10/2009 at 10:37:22 EST-----

    True, but the WCF has been changed as the men of the time were captive to their own time and could not see past what was at the time the world in which they lived. I for one am glad that B. H. Obama is not the one to call church councils for the purpose of correcting the doctrines taught in our pulpits!
  26. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    If this were true it would mean they do not understand what a church is according to Christ's own definition in Matthew 16.

    That doesn't negate the secondary authority of the Confession. Why are you appealing to the Confession for this belief and not to the words of Scripture? That would be because you accept the secondary authority of the Confession.

    That's an odd use of the Latin phrase.

    Well, given your appeal to the Confession in the preceding paragraph it is clear that at least that part of the confession is also beyond the power of men to alter. :)

    That doesn't appear to me to be a well thought out statement. By law your church is protected in its ownership of a pulpit simply because your civil government has adopted a Christian view of property instead of tribal concepts.
  27. jogri17

    jogri17 Puritan Board Junior

    50% v. 50% so far at the time I posted this... kinda scarry. Let me clarify. I confess the confession as adapted by my Church. That doesn't mean I agree with the 1st printing of it 100% rather its revised version because I believe the revisions put it on par with Scripture in the sense of innerancy not infallibibility.

    Here is the versions we confess in my Church:
  28. Osage Bluestem

    Osage Bluestem Puritan Board Junior

    I thought the confession is what you understand the bible to mean. That is what makes it our confession. Right?
  29. carlgobelman

    carlgobelman Puritan Board Freshman

    Points of Clarification

    Let me clarify some things because it seems some people are misunderstanding my question.

    Group #1 isn't meant to pit the Confession against Scripture. Group #1 is the position that one believes his Confession is Biblical (i.e., it is an accurate summary of Biblical doctrine). As such, I subscribe to it en toto because it is Biblical. For example, if a confession has 30 articles, I accept all 30 articles without reservation and will teach as such. If there is a consensus that one (or more) of the articles is not in line with Scripture, rather than allow people to take exceptions, the move is to make the Confession come in line with SCripture so that is remains Biblical (e.g., the American version of the WCF ca. 1789).

    Group #2 isn't meant to mean anyone can take any exception they please to the confession, but that if there is an exception is goes through a review process and the exception is either allowed or denied. Within this group there are various levels of subscription: Strict (which I believe is very close to group #1); System and Substance. System subscription allows exceptions as long as the system of doctrine is not challenged. According to Dr. Clark, Charles Hodge was an early advocate of this position, and if I'm not mistaken (I don't have the book in front of me) the system he had in mind was that expounded in the Canons of Dort. Substance subscription is the weakest of the three and has led to such things as the WCF simply stating the historic reformed doctrine (i.e., not necessarily to be adhered to today). This would be the position of the PCUSA and other mainline denominations.
  30. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    If I could unpack this a little, I think I understand what you are driving at but I want to see if you agree with a concern I have or not.

    My increasing concern is that we all tend to treat the Scriptures from the standpoint that we don't need any external authority to guide us or bound us in that process. As I read the Word, I am increasingly struck by the fact that God gave His Word to His people. He didn't hand it over to each person individually but, corporately, He gave His Word to the Church. The thing that struck me about studying Gen-Joshua last year was how the Word actually constituted the people of God. God created His Church by His Word. I could probably tighten that up a little bit but I hope that makes sense so far.

    Something the Pastor of our mother Church stated really stuck with me because he was talking about this idea when he recounted a conversation with another man in Presbytery. The minister was telling him that he believed the Scriptures taught X and that the rest of the Presbytery was wrong on this issue. Doug gently rebuked him and stated: "No, we confess the Scriptures together. If we disagree on something then we need to labor together to resolve this."

    In other words, it is increasingly the case that ministers are content (or may even see in it the design of the Word itself!) that each person settle what the Word says for himself/herself and so the "I agree with the Confession because I believe that's what the Word says" means that the Church is nothing more than a confederation of people who individually agree on what the Word teaches.

    I don't know if we'll ever be able to put the modernism genie back in the bottle but I think this lays at the heart of the matter. The idea that we are to be led to the Truth and the unity thereof by Pastors and Elders (Eph 6) is lost on most people who see Truth as emanating from the center of their mind outwardly. This is compounded by the fact that ministers increasingly agree, fundamentally, with this approach because they're willing to stand in complete isolation from the Church at large and teach what the rest of the Body believes is un-Biblical and still insist they are part of the same corporate Body. It's not done with tears that the Body is being ripped asunder but, often, with disdain for the lack of academic or cultural sophistication exhibited by their hayseed contemporaries who are stuck in the past.

    It breaks my heart and I don't know precisely how to fix it. I want to labor for the Body of Christ and strive for Her peace and purity but I often find myself trying to figure out what the Church really Confesses and what She's really abandoned with her Confession and allowed for any variety of views.
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