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 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…
I finished the prior version of the creed in January, 2018. I was mostly content with its doctrine and organization, but was advised that it was too long (it was about 240 words and 326 syllables, compared to 220/290 for the Nicene Creed and 110/160 for the Apostles’ Creed, respectively). I took over a year off from editing it in order to gain better perspective, and it is now much smaller, compact, and effective.
I solicited a lot of feedback in the drafting process, which was quite interesting. A number of people (mostly Anglicans) thought it was an attempted usurpation of the ecumenical creeds, which was not my intent. Quite a few people (mostly Reformed) thought that it needed more information or emphases on different aspects of redemption. That would be nice, but it was ballooning into something unwieldy. One of the interesting differences between the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds is the precision of the former; you can’t defend historic Trinitarian orthodoxy from explicit statements in the Apostles’ Creed the way you can from the Nicene. Yet, the Apostles’ Creed is orthodox and provides a creedal foundation for catholic Trinitarianism. There are “hooks” within the Apostles’ Creed that draw people to the more explicit formulations of the Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian creeds. In the end, that was the model I decided to follow for the Redemption Creed. Prioritize accuracy in what is there, emphasize Reformational soteriology, and make it usable. It is not a substitute for either the ecumenical creeds or the Reformed confessions and catechisms, but hopefully a valuable, liturgical supplement.
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…
Heidelberg Catechism 20
Q. Are all people then saved through Christ
just as they were lost through Adam?
Only those are saved
who through true faith
are grafted into Christ
and receive all his benefits.
One of the interesting subtleties of the catechism is how it describes salvation. It is not actually faith that saves; faith is the mechanism by which salvation comes, but does not save in itself. Salvation comes from being grafted into Christ. Union with Christ is the essence of salvation and the fundamental distinguishing feature of the Christian.
To be lost in Adam is to be separated from God. To be saved in Jesus is greater than being found my him – it is to be joined to him…
The EPC prides itself on allowing differences in “non-essentials” among its churches, and this has included the thorny issue of the eternal fate of people who die in infancy.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states,
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
The Confession strikes an agnostic position that borders on a tautology: elect infants dying in infancy are the ones who are saved. This position allows for a great deal of flexibility, since the who and how of election for those incapable of being outwardly called is not identified.
In 1903 the PCUSA added a declaratory statement to the beginning of the WCF which functionally amended it. The declaration stated, in part, that,
…with reference to Chapter 10, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how he pleases.
This declaration had the effect of eliminating flexibility from confessional subscription. Now only one position, namely that all who die in infancy are elect, was permitted. The EPC formed in 1981, and had to choose which amendments and alterations to the Westminster Standards it should adopt. The Declaratory Statement was one of the items considered…
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