ecclesiology

The PCA And Liberalism: A Warning From Our History by Shane Anderson

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(The following is a post, reproduced here in its entirety, by Lacy Andrews, Regional Home Missionary for the Presbytery of the Southeast of the Orthodox Presbyterian church.)

I rarely get involved in theological discussions online, but I believe it’s important that I express a concern over developments in the PCA and especially the latest GA. Sorry for the length of this post. For those who don’t know me, I’m a minister in the OPC. This concern has grown as I’ve read different responses to what was unfolding at the GA. Some expressed alarm, but then settled down after seeing many positive signs at the assembly. I’ve even read posts of repentance for statements made rashly.

One thing I’ve not seen anywhere in the posts that I’ve read is any real reflection of church history regarding watershed General Assemblies in Presbyterian denominations. I took note of some of the strategies employed by conservatives in the PCA, and though I sympathized greatly with what they did and rejoiced in things said, I wondered if they were repeating a conservative error that has plagued the church in the face of rising progressivism in the past.

The 1923 and 1924 General Assemblies of the PCUSA were watershed GAs in the battle between conservatives and progressives (then often called fundamentalists and modernists). The thing we need to note is that conservatives left both of those assemblies greatly encouraged, believing that their show of power had reclaimed the church. After an initial loss (the election of the moderate, Charles Wishart as moderator over the fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan) in 1923, the conservatives believed they’d won the day on virtually every issue to come before the assembly. First, the assembly sided with the conservatives regarding the preaching of Harry Emerson Fosdick, and second, the assembly voted to require all officers to affirm the Five Fundamentals. Though conservatives rejoiced, they failed to realize that neither action had any teeth. Subsequent to the assembly, the Presbytery of New York essentially ignored the directive of the GA regarding Dr. Fosdick. Also, the modernists convened a meeting to strategize how to respond to the conservative “wins” at the GA that concluded with the writing and signing of the Auburn Affirmation. Sadly, those who signed the Auburn Affirmation understood the constitution of the PCUSA better than the conservatives who were trying to defend it. By adopting the Five Fundamentals the conservatives added extra-confessional requirements for ordination. Though the Five Fundamentals spoke directly to the issue at hand, they provided an open door for the progressives to cry “foul.”

All of this came to a head at the 1924 GA. The conservatives struck first and elected Clarence E Macartney as moderator, who appointed Maitland Alexander as chairman of the Bills and Overtures Committee. William Jennings Bryan also served on the committee creating a false-sense of security for the conservatives at the GA. An overture came to the GA from the Presbytery of Cincinnati putting the matter of the Auburn Affirmation before the GA. Though the dynamics on the Bills and Overture Committee were complex (with a liberal majority of 13 to 9), in the end, no action was taken on the overture as it was placed on the table. There were no dissenting votes recorded to placing it on the table, and it’s been noted by OPC historian, Danny Olinger, that J. Gresham Machen was a commissioner and even he didn’t record a negative vote. The result was that nothing of consequence happened to those who signed the Auburn Affirmation. The conservatives had given them a foot-hold by essentially adding extra-confessional requirements for ordination, which enabled the signers of the affirmation to get away with the egregious aspects of the affirmation which affirmed the Five Fundamentals as truths, but as truths open to various broad interpretations. In the end there was no discipline. The conservatives, by focusing upon the Five Fundamentals instead of the Standards of the Church, made it almost impossible to bring charges against those whose doctrine was contradicted by the Standards. This error of exposing modernism in the church, but not bringing charges against those espousing false-doctrine would continue over the next few years. Interestingly, while conservatives celebrated saving their church after the 1923 and 1924 assemblies, it was only 12 years later that the leading conservative in the PCUSA, J. Gresham Machen was deposed as a minister by that same church. The fall happened rapidly, a conservative majority was caught off guard, the church was lost. I’m not making any predictions about the PCA, only reminding you of history. I understand the sentiment of bringing the Nashville Statement before the Assembly. It is a Biblical Statement, but I’m concerned the battle wasn’t fought by bringing the Westminster Standards to bear, instead of using an extra-confessional statement established by a para-church organization.

In the early 2000s, conservatives (moderates to most of us) in the PC(USA) repeated the same error as the conservatives did in the 1923/1924 General Assemblies. Of course, the confessionalism of the PC(USA) was already eviscerated by the adopting of a contradictory Book of Confessions and watered-down ordination vows, yet still, the same method was used with the establishment of the Confessing Movement. This time, the conservatives selected three Fundamentals instead of five: (1). Salvation only in Jesus Christ, (2) The authority of the Bible for Faith and Life, and (3) sexual fidelity in monogamous hetero-sexual marriage. I had a conversation with a PC(USA) conservative at that time who was excited about the Confessing Movement and reminded him of what had happened in 1923/1924. I also pointed out that the PC(USA) had already abandoned any semblance to confessionalism and pled with him to leave the church. He was sure that the conservatives had turned the tide and were going to win the day. Alas, see what’s happened to the PC(USA). Interestingly, those who opposed the Confessing Movement in the PC(USA) developed their own Auburn Affirmation. Again the progressives understood their history better than the conservatives.

This is a plea for my conservative brothers in the PCA to remember our history and to take note of previous mistakes.

Bavinck: The Unanimous Opinion Of The Reformed Regarding Covenant Children by Shane Anderson

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Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4, p. 56 

“Reformed theologians unanimously agreed on the following points:

  1. That the benefits of the covenant of grace were usually distributed by God in connection with the means of grace; hence regeneration is in connection with the Word;
  2. That God, however, is not bound to these means, and hence he could also take an unusual route and regenerate and save especially young children without the Word;
  3. That he, as a rule, worked that way in the case of children of believers who were taken by death before reaching the age of discretion;
  4. That the baptized children of believers who were part of the life of the congregation had to be considered elect and regenerate until the contrary was evident from what they said and did; and
  5. That this however, was a judgment of charity, which must indeed be the rule for our attitude toward these children but cannot claim to be infallible.

On the other hand, from the very beginning there was disagreement over whether the children of believers, to the extent that they were elect, were regenerated already before, or in, or only after baptism.  Some—like Martyr, a Lasco, Dathenus, Alting, Witsius, Voetius, Mastricht—tended to favor the first view.  But the majority—Calvin, Beza, Musculus, Ursinus, de Bres, Acronius, Cloppenburg, Walaeus, Maccovius, Bucanus, Turretin, Heidegger, and others—left the question undecided.”

The Lamb's High Feast: Good Reasons For Weekly Communion by Garry Vanderveen

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from visitors is, “Why does your church celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday?” There are several reasons for our practice and I organize them under three categories: Biblical/Exegetical, Theological/Practical, and Historical.

Since I serve in a Reformed congregation, visitors sometimes assume that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper 3, 4, 6, or 12 times a year. Some are genuinely puzzled that we would embrace a practice that is at odds with the practice of other local Reformed churches. I remind them that John Calvin advocated the “at least once a week” position. 

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Just Passing Through? When People Leave The Reformed Churches by Peter Jones

Over the past 15 years, I have seen various men and women leave Reformed churches. Sometimes they move to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Other times they head for a more vanilla, antinomian, evangelical church.  And sometimes they have left the faith altogether. Of course, this is anecdotal, but several things have stuck out about these conversions

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