A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) is a sister denomination to my own EPC. ECO began as a church in 2012, composed of congregations departing from the PCUSA. I have a few friends ministering in ECO, and I have made some efforts at better institutional unity between our churches. At the EPC’s 2017 General Assembly I sat on the Standing Committee (i.e. temporary committee limited to that meeting) on Fraternal Relations. I convinced the rest of the committee to recommend to the Assembly, that the Permanent Committee on Fraternal Relations should be instructed to begin dialogue with ECO aimed at forming a fraternal relationship. This recommendation was approved by the Assembly and encouraging work has begun in that direction.
I mention this to make clear that I like ECO. My hope is that the EPC and ECO formally unite as one church. But there are some significant barriers that need to be overcome if that union is to occur. The most substantial barrier is the issue of confessionalism and doctrine…
…If the word [justification] should signify as much as ‘to make righteous’, as to sanctify does signify ‘to make holy’, still we could grant it, though not in the Popish way; and indeed the Apostle [in] Rom. 5. says, ‘many are made righteous by the second Adam’, which if not meant of inherent holiness, does imply, that the righteousness we have by Christ is not merely declarative, but also constitutive; and indeed one is in order before the other, for a man must be righteous before he can be pronounced or declared so to be…so that there are these two things in justifying, whereof one is the ground of the other, first to make righteous, and then to pronounce or declare so.
-Anthony Burges, The True Doctrine of Justification.
You may say to me: ‘”You are still not removing from me the necessity of sinning or not sinning since God foreknows that I am going to sin or not sin, and it is therefore necessary that I sin, if I sin, or that I not sin if I do not sin.” But then I, in turn, respond: “You should not say: ‘God only foreknows that I am going to sin or not.’ You should say: ‘God foreknows if I am going to freely sin or not.’ From this it follows that I am free to sin or not to sin because God knows that what shall come to pass shall be free.”
-Anselm, De Concordia §1. This is the opening of his argument for the compatibility of human choice and God’s foreknowledge.
“After this [the sealing of the 144,000] I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” Revelation 7:9-10.
It has become fashionable lately in the Reformed world to cite these verses to argue for ecclesial pursuit of multiculturalism, or as the terminus for the church’s mission in such a way that to define its strategies.
Here’s what these verses are doing…
I have recently been reading a good bit of 19th- century American Presbyterian history. Many Presbyterian ministers in both the Antebellum and Post-War South defended the institution of American slavery. Prominent Southern theologian Robert Dabney defended his church’s position by asserting that the Westminster Confession and Catechisms were silent on the issue, so it would be inappropriate for the church to take a definite stand on the rightness or wrongness of slavery. This is incorrect. While neither the WCF and WLC explicitly state, “Slavery is right/wrong,” they both contain several doctrinal points which should have led Antebellum Presbyterians to condemn the institution of chattel slavery as sinful.
First, WLC 142 states that the 8th Commandment forbids “man-stealing…