Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I don't believe that this is correct, strictly speaking. This is a Memorial, not a judicial case.
In American jurisprudence, the doctrine of stare decisis (when a court has once laid down a principle of law applicable to a certain set of facts, it will adhere to that principle and apply it to future cases where the facts are substantially the same) is much more of a precedent.
That is why, for example, Brown v. Board of Education was such a big deal. It overthrew (consciously) 100 years of "settled" law.
So this decision by the SJC is not precedent in that way - i.e. every author of the FV is now judged out of accord - but it is very persuasive (in my opinion) for any future judicial case that would be brought.
This is all not to say that I think the decision is no big deal (quite the opposite), but rather to develop the differences between American jurisprudence and PCA polity.
Well, I shouldn't comment on PCA polity either, but this has more to do with Presbyterianism as a whole. FV is not just a PCA concern, but goes across denominational boundaries.
I think Fred is right. This decision is trying to close a loophole, while Roe vs. Wade and Brown vs. Board of Ed. opened them. Opening a loophole allows for a lot more: it was not just AN abortion that was now legal, but ALL abortions without prejudice to any. This decision by the SJC is trying to close a loophole in the implied subscription of the Presbyterian system that has been taken advantage of.
Because every member is required to take vows of submission to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, it follows directly that teaching elders are required to teach only these for matters of doctrine and life. It is an implied subscription. During the first years of the existence of these documents as church standards, everyone would have understood them the same way; even if not everyone agreed with all the articles, they would have had a uniform understanding of them. In our time this has all changed. Some read this in them and some read that. Implied subscriptionism is no longer what it was at the beginning.
For example, some may read that the WCF teaches a six-day creation, while others believe that it does not rule out the possibility of the Framework Hypothesis. So some teach this and some teach that, and both claim adherence to the WCF.
Wilkins has taken it a step farther by inducing his own definitions on words used in the WCF, definitions which are strange to the language of the WCF. Yet he may well believe that he is adhering to the standards of the church. The SJC is closing that loophole and sending it back for a second go at it. It is also adding more focus to the inquest, for it seems that the Louisiana Presbytery had something else in mind when they first looked into this. It looks as if they thought it was no big deal. (I'm just going by the report above, nothing more.)
The SJC has tried to close a loophole, but that doesn't mean that there aren't others. I would expect that Wilkins and his bunch will try to make the most of the loophole that still exists, that what is not explicitly excluded but does not violate the Westminster standards is at times being taught as teachable doctrine. This is different than fencing the teachings at the point of that which is not specifically stated as doctrine being the limit of teachable doctrine. Some are still teaching this and some are teaching that, upon the basis of their own liberties of conscience to hold to those beliefs.
I would contend for the latter, that what is not specifically stated as doctrine in the Westminster standards is not teachable doctrine, though it may be deemed a liberty of conscience if it does not violate the doctrines specifically contained in the WCF. I think that if they close this loophole, then FV is altogether gone.
The problem is, so are a lot of other things. Suddenly views on things such as the creation are very limited. A teaching elder may mention the different views that are around, but only as views; he is compelled to teach only that which the WCF teaches, no matter his own views. (I'm just taking an example of something that quite a few churches have taken a stand on already; there are others.) I think that this is how it should be, but that's just my opinion. FV has taken the liberties taken by the Presbyterian teaching elders and churches to an extreme by not only imposing a different interpretation of the standards but going even farther by imposing different definitions of terms upon the standards of faith. FV is not just a PCA concern.
This is also happening in other denominations. It is a Presbyterian concern, one for all Presbyterian churches.
So I think we should all thank the SJC, the PCAGA in particular, for this decision. It's a step in the right direction, I believe. It represents a change in direction, but is not necessarily a precedent setting judgment. Rather, I believe, it stands on the precedent that was already there.