A Call for Confessional Renewal in the EPC: Part I, Restoring the Confession

This is part one of four in a series calling for confessional renewal in the EPC. Part I of this series can be found here. All posts in the series, as the become available, can be found here.

The aim of this call to renewal is to begin confessional revival and resourcement. The desire is that this series will prompt meaningful conversation in the EPC over the role of the Confession and Catechisms, conversation that will lead to action and revision. Since as elders of the EPC we have given our sincere word that we affirm and receive the WCF, WLC, and WSC as containing the system of doctrine found in the scriptures, we already affirm their importance: What unites us theologically is our sincere affirmation of, and submission to, the Confession’s and Catechisms’ faithfulness in presenting God’s rule of faith and obedience The Confession and Catechisms of our church are serious, and should be the primary theological framework for the lives of our congregations and our ministerial practice.

Part I of this series evaluates the modifications to the Westminster Confession of Faith held by the EPC. The key takeaways are:

  • The EPC is the only Reformed denomination in the world to require ministerial subscription to the revisions made to the WCF from 1903 onwards. In many cases, the EPC is the only denomination to even include these revisions in its confession. This puts the EPC out of sync with the greater Reformed church, and should be something the EPC remedies.
  • The EPC holds, with some modification, to the 1959 PCUS version of the WCF on marriage. This version detaches marriage from its creational purpose, deviates from scripture on the relationship between marriage and the church, and simultaneously allows significant license for divorce while being anti-victim to casualties of adultery and abandonment.
  • In the 1980s the EPC eliminated any variation of the assertion that it is sinful to usurp the headship of Christ over the church. Any pastoral candidate taking exception to the statement, “And the claim of any man to be the head of the Church is unscriptural and is a usurpation dishonoring to the Lord Jesus Christ,” should be barred from ministry. Anyone unwilling to say that it is unscriptural and sinful to claim the headship of the church should not be in a position to shepherd the church.
  • The EPC holds unique revisions of the WCF and WLC which state that ministers of the word are “ordinarily”, rather than the “only”, persons to administer the sacraments. These revisions not only ignore the unified testimony of the Reformed tradition on scripture’s teaching, but also embrace bifurcation of the ministry of the word and sacrament, leading to a meager ministry of both.
  • The EPC possess two additional chapters in the WCF on the Holy Spirit and the God’s love and mission. The only other Reformed denomination that required subscription to these chapters was the ARP (the EPC’s oldest fraternal partner), and they deleted these chapters in 2014. The ARP correctly concluded that the chapter on the Holy Spirit misidentified the work of the Holy Spirit in divine redemption, and that the chapter on God’s love is mistaken in its understanding of the scope, nature, and application of God’s love. These chapters were added to soften the Reformed theology of the WCF, and end up distorting its system of doctrine.