Stop Losing Our Denominations By Learning From History

Discussion in 'Church History' started by psycheives, Jul 10, 2019.

  1. We must sign additional statements to speak to what the Confessions don't narrowly (MacArthur)

  2. We must only sign the Confessions like Carl Trueman advised or we will undermine the Confessions

  3. This is such a hard call. I don't know.

Multiple votes are allowed.
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  1. psycheives

    psycheives Puritan Board Freshman

    Please consider this article in light of the PCA and church historian Carl Trueman's reason and refusal to sign the Social Justice statement which MacArthur and others insist is the right course of action. Are Nashville and Social Justice etc going to bite us in the end and be used like the 5 Fundamentals to undermine our Confessions?:

    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.” ... 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. ... 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. ... 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 PCA And Liberalism: A Warning From Our History

    A plea to confessionalists in the PCA to remember our history and to learn from the process mistakes our forebearers made in church courts.

    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.​
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
  2. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Who is 'we' in your poll questions?
  3. hammondjones

    hammondjones Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm 85% in the "Don't Sign Additionals" camp, enough that I voted in that manner.

    Largely, I agree that this is a well-trodden path. Growth of parachurches, additional statements to sign, a burgeoning social justice movement. Hello... the 1910s are calling.

    To co-opt Ralph Erskine,
  4. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    If I may chime in here? So far as our standards I have found that within the GA some standards are superseded by rulings. Take for instance the use of grape juice instead of wine, which is explicitly stated in our standards to be used. In other words, this is but one example where a GA can overrule our standards. So an appeal to our standards can be made a wax nose as much as extra added fundamental statements.
  5. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

    I have a couple thoughts. Often the problem has been that these extra confessional documents end up taking the place of the confessional standards. Trueman is right to be concerned about them. The conservatives have already implicitly abandoned a full-fledged defense of everything in the confession and the new document becomes the "real" confession. When this is the case, I think the battle is already lost. If the church was unsuccessful maintaining honest subscription to its confession, it will not be more successful maintaining full subscription to a smaller, reduced document.

    On the other hand, I do very much believe testimony bearing (corporately as well as individually) is a biblical duty. There must be a vehicle for this to be done. Reformation Principles Exhibited is very helpful in laying this out.

    Of Testimony-bearing.

    1. CHRISTIANS are WITNESSES for God among men; and, having in their possession the testimony of God in the Holy Scriptures, it is the duty of the church to apply the doctrines of inspiration in stating and defending truth, and in condemning all contrary errors, bearing witness against all who maintain them.

    Isa. 43.10. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord. Acts 5.32. And we are his witnesses of these things. Chapter 26.16. I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness. Psalm 78.5. For he established a testimony in Jacob. 1 Cor. 1.6. The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you. Chapter 2.1. Declaring unto you the testimony of God. Mark 6.11. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.

    2. The testimony of the church is progressive, in order to oppose and condemn the novel errors which each period may produce; and every generation is to take care that the truth, as stated and defended by their predecessors, shall be maintained and faithfully transmitted, together with the result of their own contendings, to the succeeding generation. {119}

    2 Thess. 1.10. Our testimony among you was believed. Rev. 11.3. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy one thousand two hundred and threescore days. 7. And when they shall have finished their testimony. Psalm 78.5. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; 7, that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children. 43.12. Walk about Zion, and go round about her; tell the towers thereof. 13. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.

    3. The church may not recede from a more clear and particular testimony to a more general and evasive one; but the witnesses must proceed in finishing their testimony, rendering it more pointed and complete, until God shall, according to his promise, overthrow the empire of darkness, and introduce the millennial state, in which the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

    Rev. 2.25. But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come. Isa. 8.16. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. Rev. 12.17. Which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3.16. Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Rev. 6.9. I saw under the altar, the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. Chapter 12.11. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. Dan. 7.22. And judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. Rev. 20.4. And judgment was given {120} unto them—and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Psalm 74.20. Have respect unto the covenant. 21. O let not the oppressed return ashamed. 22. Arise, O God, plead thine own cause. Psalm 72.19. AND LET THE WHOLE EARTH BE FILLED WITH HIS GLORY. AMEN AND AMEN.

    We therefore condemn the following errors, and testify against all who maintain them:

    1. "That the Bible is the only proper testimony of the church."

    2. "That a Christian is under no obligation to follow Christ’s witnesses in their faithful contendings."

    3. "That it is lawful, in order to enlarge the church, to open a wider door of communion, by declining from a more pointed testimony, to one which is more loose and general.
  6. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    The historical argument is interesting. Essentially it says that, the old mainline PCUSA had reunited with the Amyrauldian wing of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, [William Jennings Bryan had been a Cumberland Presbyterian], and with a small church federation whose roots were in the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist revival movement, early in the Twentieth Century. A compromise had been made to bring these groups in. So in this inclusive, non confessional atmosphere, it is easy to understand how tolerance came to be extended to modernists. The response of the conservatives was to adopt the Fundamentals, rather than show from the amended Westminster Confession why Fosdick and like minded modernists should not be tolerated.
  7. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I think that the denominations experiencing these attacks, like the PCA, need to press charges. With the FV, the problem arose that the PCA report on the matter was passed, and then lots of people seemed to think that the error was gone, just like that. And then, when the cases started coming in, and the people were, in general, let off the hook, or they left for other non-theological reasons, the PCA had demonstrated that the SJC (Standing Judicial Commission) wasn't going to discipline presbyteries or individuals as long as they dotted their i's and crossed their t's procedurally. I know that there are others on the PB who think otherwise, but I still hold to this opinion. I think that if those supporting SSA are smart, they will do what the PNW presbytery did, which was to try Leithart in a favorable presbytery, and make sure they cross their t's and dot their i's, and the SJC will be powerless to overturn an acquittal. This will up the ante such that an entire presbytery will have to be disbanded in order for the denomination to remain faithful. Otherwise, it will be (as it already is in other theological arenas), every presbytery for itself.

    All that being said, the approval of the Nashville Statement is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is not viewed as a substitute for judicial action. Now it can legitimately be argued that the WS already say, in effect, what the NS says. The WS certainly says that anything conducive to sin is already sin. And I agree that there is danger in saying that the WS are not clear on this point. As long as the NS is viewed as a pastoral statement, and nothing more, it can be helpful.
  8. Kinghezy

    Kinghezy Puritan Board Freshman

    I think it was maybe Joseph Pipa who said that affirming the Nashville Statement was good, because procedurally that was the only way we could quickly state something. Anything else would require the PCA to stay quiet for yet another year, which did not seem acceptable.
  9. Kinghezy

    Kinghezy Puritan Board Freshman

  10. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Speaking of my own experience in the RPCI, the denomination's Testimony was elevated above the Westminster Confession. Perhaps not in theory, but in practice that was how things worked. Also, from what I have observed of various Scottish denominations, American micro-denominations, the PRCA, et al, whenever certain extra-confessional distinctive principles are adopted as tests of orthodoxy, they are elevated to a position all out of proportion to their actual importance.

    Charles Hodge correctly recognised this danger when he wrote, “A church distinguished from all others by one peculiarity, is sure to magnify that one distinctive point out of all proportion.” Charles Hodge, ‘The Church and the Country’, Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, 33, no. 2 (April 1861), p. 325.

    The longer that I live, the more I recognise the collective wisdom of the Westminster divines (as opposed to the private opinions of the Assembly's members) in not only accurately summarising orthodox doctrine but also in not over-defining orthodoxy in a manner that is needlessly divisive.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
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  11. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    BTW, I voted for the third option.
  12. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I voted 3rd option. I understand the need to hate Social Justice and Cultural Marxism with every fiber of my existence, and I do this every day, so I get the desire to force these documents. On the other hand, if the officials won't discipline FV guys, then what's the point?

    And then there is the problem of these documents becoming more important than the Confessions. Macarthur isn't Reformed or Confessional, so this isn't really a problem for him.

    I guess we can begin by excommunicating all Cultural Communists.
  13. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I picked Dr. Trueman option because that option defines orthodoxy both narrow enough and broad enough to settle most issues.
  14. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    There is a need to update our Standards (or adopt new ones) to address additional issues. At one point in church history, the Nicean Creed was sufficient, but it was not as further controversy and theological development arose. There are many issues in our day that are not sufficiently addressed in the standards. The place of the women in the church is one example that the Westminster Standards are silent on.
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