PCA Pastor David Cassidy has written on the problem of presbyteries granting exceptions but forbidding them to be taught (something I’ve written about a lot, most recently here). Cassidy says that the PCA is great because it is a “good faith subscriptionist” denomination, not a strict subscriptionist church, and this change in policy makes the PCA de facto strict subscriptionist. He, correctly, notes that presbyteries cannot bind the conscience of ministers in this way, and so the recent move by the PCA is incorrect. But something he fails to consider in his piece is that the alternative to grant-and-forbid is outright denial: if an exception cannot be granted while simultaneously banning its teaching, the presbytery has the right to deny granting that exception. That doesn’t change in any scenario, and I know plenty of presbyteries where exceptions are only granted because they believe they can forbid its teaching. If this option goes away, fewer exceptions will be granted, and the PCA will become far closer to a strict subscriptionist church than it is under the current arrangement. In fact, the PCA will grow more divided culturally as each presbytery varies in what exceptions it allows (goodbye recreation on the Sabbath!), a problem that doesn’t exist in stricter denominations.
Being a big tent denomination means allowing strict subscriptionists to not only belong to the church, but to practice their convictions of strict subscriptionism and being ok with that.
Our church just finished a month-long sermon series on the church and worship, and this was the definition of worship we used:
“Worship is the fitting and delightful response of God’s people to him, our Creator and Redeemer, for what he has done, for his glory in creation and redemption, through Christ, by the power and direction of Jesus himself through his Holy Spirit.”
It relies on the definitions provided by Gibson (Reformational and dogmatic) and Block (biblical-theological) in this wonderful little list.
I was surprised while reading Basil’s On the Faith that he teaches that the Son sends the Holy Spirit in the same way the Father sends the Son, “The Holy Spirit does not speak from himself, nor does the Son do anything from himself, but the Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the Holy Spirit.” Basil is held in very high regard in Eastern Orthodoxy, which designates him the greatest of their three holy hierarchs. He’s a big deal in their tradition, which rejects the filioque clause on multiple grounds, including doctrinal.Yet Basil’s affirmation goes further than the contested filioque clause in the Nicene Creed, as he does not teach that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, just that the Son sends the Spirit.
The creed speaks of the Spirit coming from (ἐκπορευόμενον, a compound of ἐκ and πορεύομαι) and Basil speaks of the Son sending (πέμοντος). The cognitive similarities are clear, indicating that the doctrine in view is the same. But the dating here matters. On the Faith was likely written around 360 A.D., while the version of the Nicene Creed held by the church was not finished until the Council of Constantinople in 381. Basil’s terminology does not have the disputes surrounding the filioque clause in sight. However, Gregory of Nazianzus, in his important Oration 39 (Oration on the Holy Lights; §12) says “The Holy Spirit is truly spirit, coming forth from (προϊὸν; from προϊέναι) the Father indeed, but not after the manner of the Son, for it is not by generation but by ‘procession’ (ἐκπορευτῶς), since I must coin a word for the sake of clearness.” Gregory Nazianzen preached this in January 381, just before he led the Council of Constantinople. He crafted the term ἐκπορευτῶς for the economic relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father, meaning that Basil would not have had those semantic nuances in mind 20 years earlier. Basil is not distinguishing the manners in which the Son and Spirit are sent (generation versus procession), respectively, but teaching that it is the Son who sends the Spirit as the Father sends the Son. Since ἐκπορευόμενον had not yet been coined, it is impossible to say whether Basil saw πέμοντος as closer to Nazianzen’s “procession” or προϊὸν. Be that as it may, Nazianzen is not ruling out the Son’s role in the Spirit’s procession, but asserting that the Spirit proceeds (ἐκπορευτῶς) from the Father, not that he is begotten (γεννητῶς) like the Son…
“Now faith is unwavering assent to what is heard [from Christ], in full assurance of the truth of what is proclaimed by the grace of God. This was shown by what what was testified to Abraham, that ‘he did not waver in unbelief, rather he was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and was fully assured that what he promised he is able to do.’ But if ‘the Lord is faithful in all his words’ and ‘all his commandments are faithful, established unto ages of ages, made in truth and uprightness,’ it is a clear indictment of abandoning the faith and of arrogance either to supplant anything that is written or to introduce anything not written. For our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘My sheep hear my voice,’ and before this he said likewise, ‘A stranger they will not follow but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ And the Apostle, using an example from human affairs, more emphatically forbids adding or subtracting anything in the God-breathed Scripture, which he has in mind when he says, ‘Though a covenant be confirmed by human agency, no one denies it or makes addition to it.”
-St. Basil the Great, ‘On the Faith’, page 73 in his On Christian Ethics. Similarly, §26.1 of Basil’s ethics, “That it is necessary to confirm every word or matter with the testimony of the God-breathed Scripture, so that the good is established and the evil reproached.” He cites Matthew 4:3-4 and Acts 2:12-17ff for this latter rule.
This is not only sola scriptura, but the regulative principle. Faith in Christ includes faith in his words, which cannot be subtracted from or added to in faith or practice without modifying faith in Christ. Ethical conduct in faith demands that all faith and practice (word or matter) be ruled by God speaking in scripture: the Bible is the norming norm, because “It is necessary not to be fixed on one’s own reasonings to the rejection of what is said by the Lord, but to understand that the words of the Lord are worthier of belief than one’s own convictions” (§8.3). This is the practice of faith.
I have an article on church membership up at Ref21. Here’s a portion,
Yet, Paul grounds the two metaphors in the same reality: Because of the gospel, Jews and Gentiles alike are sus-soma, of the same body (Ephesians 3:6). The gospel that God reveals shows that scattered individuals are united together by the Spirit under Christ, either with the metaphor of Jesus as the head of his body (Ephesians 1:22-23) or the household cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). By the Holy Spirit, Christians are made members of the household of God, because we share in the same body, that is, we are all united to Christ. This mele, union in Christ, is central to the mystery of the gospel relationship of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:29-32). Salvation is Jesus joining with his people and his people being joined to him. By being his members, the Christian is a participant in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) because Jesus abides in us and we in him (John 14). That is what church membership is, ontologically.