Presbyterian versus Reformed Churches

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Stephen L Smith, Aug 5, 2019.

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  1. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I do find it interesting that the RCNZ only subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith, but not the catechisms. I believe generally in Scottish churches the Confession of Faith has been subscribed to, but in most American churches the catechisms have been subscribed to as well. Certainly the catechisms add a bit more specificity in regards to what is being subscribed to.
  2. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    In my corner of the Reformed world, the biggest difference between us Presbyterians (e.g. FCC, PRC) and the continental Reformed (FRCNA, HRC) is that they celebrate holy days and use organs, while we don't.
  3. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you John. I found this very edifying and informative.
  4. PaulCLawton

    PaulCLawton Puritan Board Freshman

    It took me a long time after beginning to attend a Reformed church (and then becoming a member) to realize this is the case. Out of ignorance I did not realize this was an actual position or that anyone thought this way, and I would be confused during conversations with certain ministers, almost as if we were talking past each other - not really arguing, but I was missing a piece of the puzzle. I still remember where I was sitting when a URCNA minister said "I'm not a covenant of works guy" and it was as if a fog had lifted and I understood that conversation and a dozen previous much more clearly.
  5. Henry Hall

    Henry Hall Puritan Board Freshman

    The practice of holding to the *WCF*, *WSC*, and *WLC* but not the *Directory for Public Worship* or the other Westminster Standards might be as arbitrary as holding to the *WCF* without *WSC* and *WLC*
    Why is either distinction made?
  6. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    You will hear some Dutch mono-covenantalists argue that the Three Forms of Unity do not teach a covenant of works. Granted, the precise term covenant of works/creation/nature is not expressly used. Still, the claim is spurious as the major elements of the covenant of works are taught in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 3, which affirms that Adam was created with the potential of attaining "eternal happiness" prior to the Fall. The Belgic Confession, moreover, refers to Adam violating "the commandment of life" (Article 14), which is an allusion to eternal life as the reward for perfect obedience.

    These observations are confirmed by consulting Zacharias Ursinus's Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism and in his own Large Catechism (see here). Also, I have heard/read that the co-author of the Heidelberger, Casper Olevianus, was one of the major figures in the development of the covenant of works (though I would need to look into this one a bit further). Not to mention the fact that there are a whole host of Dutch and other Continental Reformed divines, writing in the era of confessional formulation, positively affirming a prelapsarian covenant of works, and that the denial of the doctrine was one of the errors of the Remonstrant Arminians.

    Mono-covenantalists are either hopelessly ignorant or else they are blatant liars when they try to maintain that the covenant of works is something exclusive to the Westminster tradition. Either way, there ought to be no quarter given to their dangerous error. I make no apology for using such strong language against them, as they have undermined the gospel and are to be blamed for the rise of the Federal Vision.
  7. Guido's Brother

    Guido's Brother Puritan Board Junior

    I don't view it as being that simple. Personally, I'm no longer a monocovenantalist. However, within the framework of the Three Forms of Unity, there's often been a view that there's enough latitude for monocovenantalism. Almost all of the monocovenantalists I know are not undermining the gospel and many are critical of FV as well. They've arrived at their view through sincere exegesis of the Scriptures.

    Monocovenantalism exists in the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and the United Reformed Churches of North America -- maybe others too. These churches have fraternal relationships with a fair number of Presbyterian churches, including the OPC. It seems to me that you'd have to level a fairly harsh criticism at the OPC and others for "giving quarter to this dangerous error."
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  8. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    If they are mono-covenantalists, they are undermining the gospel - even if it is not their intention. I recognise that many mono-covenantalists oppose the Federal Vision, but they are failing to take an axe to the root of the tree if they do not jettison the very error that gave rise to the FV in the first place. Mono-covenantalism is the tree and the FV is the fruit; cut down the tree and the fruit will stop growing. Wilhelmus à Brakel observed that if you go wrong with the covenant of works, you will go wrong with the covenant of grace. Not separating the two covenants will inevitably lead to the confusion of the two covenants, as works will be introduced into the covenant of grace. and the law will be confused with the gospel. Thus, it is easy to see why the denial of the covenant of works led to aberrant views of justification.

    So have Baptists and Lutherans, but that does not stop me from calling their errors anti-Reformed. In fact, at least in the case of Baptists and Lutherans they are being honest about the unconfessional nature of their views.

    I judge theological questions without respect of persons or denominations. Once you start affirming that certain "conservative" denominations are beyond criticism, then you have begun to walk down a very dangerous path. The Federal Vision is the pernicious fruit of both mono-covenantalism and Paradox Theology, both of which were tolerated by the OPC. The OPC's confessional standards teach a covenant of works in the most explicit terms imaginable. They have no excuse for their unfaithfulness on this issue.
  9. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Daniel, I will readily admit that I shy away from the use of the term covenant of works when describing the conditions between God and Adam prior to the fall.

    In many ways, I think I still sound Presbyterian: I am happy to say that much of what the Bible describes pre-fall sounds very covenantal. I might say something like, "This has the feel of a covenant." And although there is already much evidence pre-fall that God is a gracious God, I don't say the covenant of grace was in effect yet; that is a post-fall covenant in my mind. I will say that the command not to eat of the tree is a works-based demand, and that Adam's failure was a works-based failure.

    But still I feel some unease using the covenant of works term. That may be in part due to my upbringing on the Continental Reformed side of things, where the term gets less use, so that it was unfamiliar to me until I started studying Presbyterianism. But it is also due to the fact that despite the covenantal feel, Scripture does not use the word covenant in Genesis 2 and 3 to describe those pre-fall demands. So I feel better when I stop short of declaring it one outright. I don't deny it, but I use the label cautiously.

    I'm wondering if you think that's a problem, and why, or if you think that sounds like an acceptable approach.
  10. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Jack, I will try to say more tomorrow (DV). I just do not have time at the minute to answer the question(s) thoughtfully enough.
  11. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Good point. I am raising this with a couple of RCNZ ministers at the moment.
  12. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I meant to respond to this but had a busy week. After reflecting on your comments I thought of my pleasure in reading Witsius "Economy of the Covenants" and the covenant theology in Bavinck's "Reformed Dogmatics" and also his "Saved by grace". Witsius and Bavinck were Dutch (not Scottish Presbyterians). Yet surely they reflect the covenantal maturity of the WCF.

    The other interesting fact is that the 1689 Baptist Confession has a well developed covenant theology (chapter 7). It clearly develops the pactum salutis, historia salutis and the ordo salutis. One could be bold here and suggest Reformed Baptists, because of their understanding of the pactum salutis, historia salutis and the ordo salutis, have a more developed covenant theology than paedobaptist monocovenantalists. I acknowledge that comment is strange, but I think that is an implication of not subscribing to ch 7 of the WCF.
    So did the framers of the 1689 Baptist Confession.
  13. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

  14. Guido's Brother

    Guido's Brother Puritan Board Junior

    We can all have our opinions here on whether monocovenantalism is in or out, but at the end of the day the reality is that, for several Reformed federations, monocovenantalism has long been regarded as in the bounds of the Three Forms of Unity. So long as that consensus prevails within those federations, it's not realistic to expect them to adopt the Westminster Standards and then require the same strict subscription to them that they currently use with the TFU. That's my point.
  15. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    While it may be true that the modern continental Reformed are more reticent to use the term covenant of works, historically that was not the case. The covenant of works is present in virtually every major work of Reformed dogmatics that I have read from Ursinus to Bavinck.

    Scripture does not use the term Trinity, but we know that the doctrine of the Trinity is deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence. The same is true of the covenant of works. I think that Romans 5 is pretty clear that in order to justice to the analogy between Christ and Adam as Federal heads you have to view the arrangement with Adam as a covenant of works if you are to understand the work of Christ as the Federal head of the covenant of grace.
  16. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    The Catechisms, Form of Government and Directory of Worship were adopted by the Church of Scotland, along with the Confession, at the time of their composition. However, under the reign of the papist Charles II the Recissory Act was passed which repealed all these documents from the statute books. After the time of persecution was brought to an end with the Glorious Revolution, and the Revolution Settlement, only the Confession was reinstated, as the subordinate standard of the Church of Scotland. And so to this day it is the Confession which office bearers particularly subscribe. However, the Catechisms (at least) are considered as part of the constitution of the Reformation Church of Scotland:


    Deed of Separation by Ministers and Elders from the Church Calling Herself the Free Church of Scotland

    WE, the undersigned Ministers and Elders of the Free Church of Scotland, considering that the constitution of said Church as settled in 1843 is contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647, the First and Second Books of Discipline, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Claim Declaration and Protest of 1842, the Protest of 1843, the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission executed in the last mentioned year, the Formula appointed to be subscribed by probationers before receiving license, and by all office-bearers at the time of their admission, together with the Questions appointed to be put to the same parties at Ordination and Admission, and the Acts of Assembly of the Church of Scotland prior to 1843..."


    I. Statement re the Free Presbyterian Church, and its History and Constitution.

    3.  This Church’s constitution is the same as that of said original Free Church of Scotland, embodying the Westminster Confession of Faith, the First and Second Books of Discipline, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Claim, Declaration and Protest of the Church of Scotland in 1842, the Protest of 1843, and the other recognised standard documents."
  17. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Yes, I was raised on Berkhof, and he defends both the doctrine and the terminology. Still, the label didn't register in my mind until I found myself around Presbyterians and heard it more often. That's not an argument for or against it, just one man's observation. Also, it may have more to do with the particular people I spent time with, and not really reflect a widespread difference between Presbyterians and Reformed. I've assumed the term is more common today among Presbyterians, but I don't know that for sure.

    Oh, I certainly agree that Scripture, in Romans 5 and many other places, makes the pre-fall conditions in the garden sound covenantal. Hosea 6:7 even calls it a covenant, depending on how one translates the word adam there. But how much is lost if I merely say that, but stop short of labelling it The Covenant of Works? That is my question.
  18. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Alan @Alan D. Strange I'm curious. How do you handle this issue at Mid-America Seminary. No doubt you are training future pastors for both Presbyterian and Reformed churches.
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