PCA and Confessional Subscription

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C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
I think this issue becomes unnecessarily ascribed as a "we own the Reformed moniker" issue and deflects from what I believe the principle issue is.

Rich,

That's not why I press the issue. I press the issue because I think, as I did, many out there simply do not have enough history behind them to make judgments that affect real life right now. For some reason (Enlightenment teaching?) people are encased with thinking that if what we believe now is "believed now" then that is what "everyone always beleived." If I knew my views were relatively "new", and someone told me that, I would have had a hard time reconciling my new views to the views of the Church.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I understand Matt but at the time there were some who were letting the discussion devolve into "who really cares what the term reformed means anway". I was only trying to focus attention on why the discussion was important. The meat of my post was pointing out that the issue of what Reformed means is important in the regard that there are those that hijack the word, pour in a new formula for justification, and claim that it's old.
 

WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
I think it is safe to assume that ALL of us, Baptistic or not, would agree that essential to the Reformed faith is Covenant Theology and the understanding of God's salvific purposes through covenants. That being the case, covenant succession and God saving people through families is an essential part of being Reformed, which includes paedobaptism.

[edit] Besides, Calvinism only makes sense, theologically, within the context of Covenant Theology. People try to fit it into other "systems" of theology, but it just doesn't work (thus the myriad of Baptists who are "4 pointers" or "3 pointers" or "4.5 pointers"). Reformed theology is much more than Calvinism because Calvinism is not the defining factor of Reformed theology, as Rev. Clark and others have pointed out ... Covenant Theology is; which, by the way, HAS to include covenant succession, paedobaptism, calvinism, etc. etc. etc...

This is why it is so easy to find Baptists who will say they are "covenantal" in their beliefs, but not many who will say they hold to "real" Covenant Theology, through and through... because they CAN'T and continue to refuse the sign of the covenant to their offspring.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
[edit] Besides, Calvinism only makes sense, theologically, within the context of Covenant Theology. People try to fit it into other "systems" of theology, but it just doesn't work (thus the myriad of Baptists who are "4 pointers" or "3 pointers" or "4.5 pointers"). Reformed theology is much more than Calvinism because Calvinism is not the defining factor of Reformed theology, as Rev. Clark and others have pointed out ... Covenant Theology is; which, by the way, HAS to include covenant succession, paedobaptism, calvinism, etc. etc. etc...

Furthermore (and ironically), the term "Calvinism" is - historically speaking - even more unquestionaly objective than the term "Reformed," as it properly refers specifically to Calvin's overall system of thought and practice. That is why it is ironic and odd that the term "Calvinism" is used in an even more liberal and slang manner than is the term "Reformed" today.
 

elnwood

Puritan Board Junior
Furthermore (and ironically), the term "Calvinism" is - historically speaking - even more unquestionaly objective than the term "Reformed," as it properly refers specifically to Calvin's overall system of thought and practice. That is why it is ironic and odd that the term "Calvinism" is used in an even more liberal and slang manner than is the term "Reformed" today.

Not really all that odd. It's a matter of using a commonly understood term. When people use the terms "Calvinism" and "Arminianism," it is generally understood to be talking about soteriology. As much as the truly Reformed hate the term Calvinism used by dispensationalists and Baptists, it is widely used and understood in that way even by those who are in the Reformed camp. Terms like the "Doctrines of Grace" aren't really understood.

The term "Calvinism" is not really used to mean Covenant Theology. If someone wanted to talk about Covenant Theology, they would just say "Covenant Theology." So "Calvinism" just doesn't work as a term in that context. It is universally understood, like it or not, to mean soteriology only.

Nor should "Calvinism" only be restricted to belief in Calvin's entire system of doctrine. Many Presbyterians call themselves Calvinist and yet don't hold to Calvin's views on the Sabbath, his preferred mode of baptism, or his views on eschatology regarding the papacy, or any number of major or minor points. Further, using someone's moniker rarely means their overall system of doctrine. Someone who holds a Memorialist view of the Lord's Supper is called Zwinglian. Why? Because it was a distinctive part of Zwinglian's theology like the Doctrines of Grace were for Calvin. When Calvinists use the term Arminian, are they saying that Arminians hold to Arminius's entire, or overall, system of doctrine? Of course not -- just the soteriology. To be consistent, you would have to stop using the term "Arminian" to describe Baptists because Arminius was a paedobaptist.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I think it is safe to assume that ALL of us, Baptistic or not, would agree that essential to the Reformed faith is Covenant Theology and the understanding of God's salvific purposes through covenants. That being the case, covenant succession and God saving people through families is an essential part of being Reformed, which includes paedobaptism.

[edit] Besides, Calvinism only makes sense, theologically, within the context of Covenant Theology. People try to fit it into other "systems" of theology, but it just doesn't work (thus the myriad of Baptists who are "4 pointers" or "3 pointers" or "4.5 pointers"). Reformed theology is much more than Calvinism because Calvinism is not the defining factor of Reformed theology, as Rev. Clark and others have pointed out ... Covenant Theology is; which, by the way, HAS to include covenant succession, paedobaptism, calvinism, etc. etc. etc...

This is why it is so easy to find Baptists who will say they are "covenantal" in their beliefs, but not many who will say they hold to "real" Covenant Theology, through and through... because they CAN'T and continue to refuse the sign of the covenant to their offspring.

I see a thread split brewing on this...

Some of us like to listen to Gene Cook's program - The Narrow Mind. I personally find it a bit strange when you've got a guy that rejects some of the core principles of Covenant Theology saying he holds to Covenant Theology. I'm holding out hope that his continued study will eventually move him fully into Calvinism.
 

kvanlaan

Puritan Board Doctor
I liked the bit about navel-gazing thyself into Reformed Orthodoxy. Very nice.

The whole concept of what is 'Reformed' has, I think, gone off-track in many circles. Remember, the thread on "Rev." Janet Edwards had her commenting that marrying two women was well in line with "our tradition of reforming" (paraphrased). It would seem that many nominal presbyterians today hijack the term to more progressive ends. Instead of viewing 'reform' as a return to scripture for guidance, it is instead a continual revision to what seems right in our own eyes, altogether apart from scripture.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
This was already being done in the CRC more than three decades ago. Departing from the Reformed standards was justified by citing the need to be Reformed and reforming. It did no good to ask what it was they were reforming to, for that kind of question just got drowned out by both the liberal and conservative sides of any discussion on the issues.

No matter what Christian church we are talking about, I believe it does indeed practice a kind of subscriptionism. Even an anti-subscriptionist church has their anti-subscriptionism as a subscriptionist policy. It cannot be avoided. The real problem, as I see it, is how seriously a church takes the subscription that is there. Every church makes a claim to following Biblical authority, but if that is just an empty claim to justify other things then it not so much a matter of whether there is a subscription but rather of what it is they are really subscribing to.

A church that claims to be reforming ought to clearly show that their intended change is grounded firmly in the Bible, and only in the Bible. In the CRC they were accommodating their reading of the Bible to the modern movements of egalitarianism, feminism, inclusivism, evolutionism, and tolerationism (if that's a word at all.) As the church had to reform and modernize in cosmology in the past, so now it had to modenize in cultural ethics and science, so it was claimed. They were conforming to temporal givens, and calling it a reforming effort.

That was thirty years or more ago. But we see the same things still going on in different ways.

When I see a minister on the pulpit proclaiming his own unauthorized though popular views as Biblical doctrine, and his session approving of it, then it is a clear enough indication to me that the leadership of that church does not know what doctrine is. If they cannot tell the difference, then there is a real problem with what they believe they are commissioned by Christ to represent: Christ's gospel; or their own personal convictions. If they cannot tell the difference, then how well do they know doctrine at all?

We do indeed see in our day a plethora of prophets who feel called to minister their church offices to propagate their own personal convictions as necessary unifying precommitments to understanding the Bible. In the face of that, they see not only the confessional standards as subjectively interpreted, but even moreso the Bible. It all seems to depend on how you read them, it seems. So we have so many new apostles with new teachings, teachings which they merely read into the historical writings of the church fathers. People have made not only Calvin, but even Anselm into modern-day presuppositionalists, for example, in order to justify their newnesses with some historical backdrop. All three millennial views make claims on an early church precedent. And for what reason? So they can claim these unnecessary things as necessary, claiming to stand on some grounding of some sort. But this really only indicates what they are really subscribing to, what they are willing to subject even the Bible to. It simply does no good to counter Dispensationalism, which relies heavily upon its eschatological precommitments, with an anti-Dispensational heavy reliance upon another temporal eschatological precommitment. How does that help at all? But we answer their prophets by raising our own; we answer their apostles with our own apostles. And my question is: what is really being subscribed to here? Is this authority from man or from God?

In the PCA and the OPC there are membership vows expected from every member. It holds them to the standards of Biblical faith as summarized in the WCF, WLC, and the WSC. This, then, holds the teaching elders in these denominations to that same standard, for no teaching elder may lead any of his congregation to deny that to which the members have made their vows. So when a denomination allows for certain views on things, such as the creation days for example, then it is not ruling that alternative views may be taught as the teaching of the Bible, but rather that personally holding this or that view does not violate the standards. I can hold to, say, the Framework Hypothesis, and not be excluded from eligibility for office on that account. But if I teach it as the Bible's teaching on creation, then the FH is only the indicator, but not the issue itself, which disqualifies me from holding an office in the church. I am not qualified because I don't know the limits imposed upon me by the office to represent only Christ, and not myself. In equating the two I show that I am ready and willing to compromise Christ in order to raise my own convictions above the level of personal conviction to the status of Biblical doctrine. I have broken with the subscriptional expectations of the church. Christ did not commission His elders to teach the FH. No one in the church has made vows of subordination to the FH as a part of the doctrinal standard. So I have no business teaching it. And if I have done this then I have broken with the subscription of the church, whether or not the church has an official specific subscription formula. For the church is automatically subscribed to the Bible as her objective standard.
 
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