An Addendum on ‘Restoring the Confession’
I need to add an addendum of two pieces to part one of my call to confessional renewal in the EPC.
First, in regards to Christ’s headship over the church, I said, “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.”
Some have asked if this means I believe this should be an “essential”, i.e. something elevated from within our confessional system that is non-negotiable. The answer is a qualified no. This is the lone instance where I argued that something should be added to the WCF rather than being replaced or deleted. The Westminster Standards are not a haphazard or total compilation of biblical data, but contain the system of doctrine found in the scripture. Therefore, if something is to be added to the Standards, even if it is being returned after previous deletion as in this example, a case needs to be made that it represents a truth that is part of the system of doctrine found in the Bible. A counter example could be helpful: How many judges are there in the Old Testament? 12? 14? 16? There is a definitive biblical answer, even if that answer depends on a variety of factors (e.g. what counts as a judge?) But this doctrine, while biblical, is not part of the Bible’s system of doctrine, nor would disagreement on this proscribe someone’s ordination to the pastoral office.
On the other hand, to reject the doctrine that any man claiming headship over the church is a usurpation of Christ, is significant enough that no one rejecting it should be ordained. It can be inferred from this conclusion that this doctrine is therefore part of the system of doctrine in scripture due to the significance of rejecting it. This is not the only litmus test for the importance of a doctrine, but it is a helpful heuristic in determining whether something is critical. The implication of this should be pretty clear to the question of “essentials.” The Westminster Standards operate on the assumption that their contents are the essentials of the system of doctrine found in the scriptures. Thus, this (re)addition to the WCF would not elevate this doctrine to a special place, but put it in a position of equality with the rest of the confessional system. I would not go so far as to ban presbyteries from granting an exception to a minister who has scruples with this doctrine (though I can’t imagine ever voting to allow such an exception) any more than I would single out any other particular aspect of the Standards as acceptable to reject. Scruples and exceptions all depend on the reasoning and wording of the exceptions being stated, and as long as the essentials of the doctrine are left intact (however a presbytery or synod may define that), the church court has the right to allow them.
Second, I wish I had included Geerhardus Vos’ thoughts on the 1903 revisions to the WCF. A brief summary of Vos’ thoughts can be found at Log College Press.