On Taking Exceptions and Ordination Vows

Over at Reformation 21, Guy Waters, Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary-Jackson, argues forcefully that a presbytery has the right to tell its members that they are not allowed to teach any exceptions they may have to the Westminster Standards. Waters is addressing this in the context of the PCA, which is similar to my own denomination. I previously wrote on this subject within the EPC, but I believe that the overarching principals are the same.

While Waters was helpful in showing that the PCA has a record of formally stating that presbyteries have this right (a matter in which I was evidently incorrect), he does not adequately address the issue of conscience as it relates to ministerial vows. When ministers take their vows of ordination, they sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Standards as containing the system of doctrine found in the scriptures. This ordination vow is the same between the PCA and EPC. That pledge can only be made in sincerity if there is an implied “except where I have informed my presbytery that I disagree.” Otherwise it is disingenuous, and as stated in my previous post on the subject, an improper violation of conscience on the part of the minister because the minister does not actually mean what they say in their vow.

It also easily produces a nonsensical situation when teaching. Let us say that a minister takes an exception to the Standards (e.g. recreation is acceptable on the Lord’s Day) and the presbytery forbids the minister from teaching that exception. In engaging this subject, the minister must now either violate their conscience by teaching as truth something they disagree with (which is itself against the Westminster Standards! cf. WLC 144-145), or inform their congregation that they disagree with everything they just said, which functionally is teaching their exception, as well being pastorally destructive.

If a presbytery believes that a minister should not teach their exception, then a presbytery should not grant that exception.