Heretical versus unorthodox: Confessional or not?

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Ryft, Apr 16, 2012.

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  1. Ryft

    Ryft Puritan Board Freshman

    NOTICE: On the advice of another member, I am splitting my questions up (Smart 2012) into three separate posts, allowing "folks to more easily focus the discussion on one point" (Lindsay 2012, par. 2). This is the first of three posts; the other two are "Heretical v. unorthodox: What is heresy?" and "Heretical v. unorthodox: Does heretic mean non-Christian?"


    I present the following questions for the sincere and thoughtful consideration of Presbyterian members here—although it is open to those of other traditions as well—because I am looking for answers drawn and cited from recognized Presbyterian sources, be they scriptures, confessions, catechisms, general assemblies, synods, or otherwise books and articles by theologians who are Presbyterian or whose material is generally accepted by Presbyterians; and, come to think of it, perhaps in that preferential order. (The theological opinions of members here are also welcome, of course, but I am looking for sources and materials which I can cite in a research paper.)

    3. Can a Presbyterian properly identify as confessional if he does not subscribe to every single item of the Westminster Standards? I believe that in order to hold a teaching office in the Presbyterian church one must subscribe to the entirety of the Westminster Standards; however, I am led to understand that such is not required of the laity. For example, if a member in good standing of a Presbyterian church subscribes to the Westminster Standards excepting one part (which is not related to the nature and character of God, his word, or the gospel), then can he properly identify as confessional? Or was I misled and the laity, in fact, must subscribe to the entirety of the Westminster Standards in order to identify as confessional?

    I appreciate your careful and thoughtful contributions to answering this question. Please remember to cite the references that your answers draw from, if any, so that I may examine them for myself and include them in my research.
  2. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    "Confessional" is a loaded term on this board. Often, it's loosely used to describe those churches and believers that subscribe more strictly to the confessions, distinguishing them from those that readily allow exceptions. But it can also be used to describe churches that subscribe at all to a confession, distinguishing them from those that merely have, say, a brief statement of faith.

    Often, a speaker's definition of who rightly ought to be considered "confessional" depends on how staunchly that speaker himself adheres to every word of the confession. To some, any exception at all makes you "un-confessional" (and that word is invariably a put-down). To others, those who truly value the confessions and see them as an important unifying force may be called "confessional" even if they take some exceptions.

    Personally, I've taken what I consider to be small exceptions. Many officers have, even in churches that proudly use the "confessional" label. At my examination, I brought up these exceptions only because I'm serious about the confession, treasure it and believe it to be an important and necessary unifying document. So am I "confessional"? I think so. But sadly, someone, somewhere will surely disagree and try to label me as something that sounds bad.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2012
  3. Bald_Brother

    Bald_Brother Puritan Board Freshman

    I can only speak from experience, here:
    I'm not quite sure that that is the case. While away from home at a school, I attended a PCA church. As it happened, I was there as a new ruling elder was in the process of ordination. I must admit my ignorance of PCA ordination rules, and can only tell what I remember. The elder candidate had been already approved by the Presbytery and was being "interviewed" by the congregation before a congregational vote. The question was asked if there were any parts of the Westminster Standards to which he took exception. He answered affirmatively and answered the question with the same answer he gave to the Presbytery. There were two parts:
    1. Of the WCF, Chapter IV, paragraph 1 he took exception to the word "days," agreeing instead that the word in Hebrew could mean something other than a 24hr or sun-up to sundown period - and he believed that the Standards gave the impression of a 24hr period.
    2. Of the WCF, Chapter XXV, paragraph VI he took exception to everything after "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ." He understood, he explained, the ecclesialogical nature of calling the Pope Antichrist, and agreed in principle, however, in light of the popular understanding of Antichrist (even if wrongheaded) he found this section to be unhelpful.
    There was much discussion and back-and-forth on both points, but neither the Presbytery nor the congregation found that he was unqualified, even if they disagreed on either, or both, of these points. A week or so later he was ordained.

    Well, I'm a confessional Baptist being considered for membership at a Presbyterian church, so I hope that the answer to the last question is, "No."

    It is, BTW. From the Book of Church Order Chapter 6:
  4. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Presbyterians view Christ's sheep as welcome members of His church. Vows to submit to the authority and government of the church would preclude accepting into membership someone whose mission in life is to disprove the doctrines of grace. I.e., someone who would disrupt the peace of the church and speak against its officers.

    Most of the few exceptions that I have heard among the officers, at least here in the OPC, have generally been a matter of semantics -- they affirmed the teaching of the standards but had difficulty with how a particular phrase was given. Interestingly, we had an elder in our church step down within the last year because he realized that he could no longer affirm the presbyterian form of government (and some practices) over the Anglican church of his youth. He left not only our session, but also the church because, among other things, he feared the possibility he could cause division. This was an entirely honorable way to proceed, though we miss the family greatly.
  5. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    I'm not sure what was going on, but that doesn't sound like a PCA church. Ordinarily, the presbytery is not involved in the approval and ordination of ruling elders. The whole process that you have outlined doesn't sound right. And the version of the Westminster Confession used by the PCA does NOT refer to the Pope as the anti-Christ.

    Are you sure that the sign out front said PCA? Because things sound somewhat irregular.

    The BCO sets out the 5 constitutional questions for membership. Subscribing to the Confession isn't included.
  6. Bald_Brother

    Bald_Brother Puritan Board Freshman

    It was a few years ago, and it was the first week I was there, so my memory is probably faulty (which is why I admit my ignorance of the process). I could have sworn that the pastor had said he (the candidate) had been before the Presbytery and now comes before the congregation. *shrug* I'm probably wrong. Also, the second point may have been an answer to a direct question, like, "do you believe the Pope is the Antichrist?" I may have thought they were discussing the Confession because I am familiar with the version that does have it.

    The first point I remember distinctly, though, because he was being run through the ringer for no reason because of it. Questions kept coming, "Well, if evolution is true, then a,b,c, right?"

    "I don't believe that man evolved."

    "Yeah, but a,b,c."

    "I believe Adam was a real man that really existed."

    "But, how can you? If the theory evolution is true a,b,c."

    "I don't believe the theory of evolution is true."

    For, like, five minutes until the pastor stepped in.

    Yes, it is PCA.
  7. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Most likely he'd been before the elders of that church and they had approved him to be voted on by the congregation. That would fit the PCA way of doing things. Someone could easily have slipped and said "presbytery" instead of "session," or you might remember it wrong.
  8. Bald_Brother

    Bald_Brother Puritan Board Freshman

    Probably the latter.
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