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…
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…
The horror coming out of Pennsylvania is absolutely sickening. The attitude of “it’s not that big a deal” from the Roman Catholic episcopate communicates that the possibility of this kind of coverup happening again is very likely. Coming on the heels of the revelation that Cardinal McCarrick was a rapist and that the Catholic Church covered for him, the events in Pennsylvania should jolt the Catholic laity into the realization that this was not an abnormality: the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has no interest in or willpower to do what it takes to protect their people. And often the Roman Catholic Church itself is the source of this danger.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to teach that it is the only true church. Now, Protestant churches are not immune from sin or from covering that sin up, even sin as heinous as the abuses of the Roman Catholics. The difference lies in Rome’s claim to be the true church, and to be subsequently assaulting their own people and covering up that assault.
Guy Waters’ essay at Reformation 21 earlier this month prompted my recent batch of posts on ministers taking exceptions (i.e. expressing disagreements) with their church’s doctrinal standards. In 1788, the American presbyterian church issued a statement of eight preliminary principles of church polity, generally attributed in authorship to John Witherspoon. These preliminary principles since then have either been explicitly part of the governing documents (as in the PCA) or been sprinkled throughout and affirmed in the governing documents (as in the EPC) of American presbyterian churches.
The second of these principle states,
When ministers are granted exceptions to their church’s confessional standards the church is allowing personal disagreement with its doctrine on the part of the minister. In considering the question of exceptions, I have been looking at the freedom of the minister to teach the exceptions granted to him. An error sometimes made is the ordaining presbytery attempting to prohibit the minister from teaching his own views. But often an opposite and equal error occurs: the minister believes that since he is granted an exception from the church’s doctrine, his congregation does not have to practice the church’s doctrine.
Let me use my church, the EPC, as an example. The congregations of the EPC follow the denomination’s constitution, which includes the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. These confessional standards inform and determine the practice of the church. Exceptions to the confessional standards are exceptions of personal belief when ministers take their ordination vows. There is no element in that process to allow congregations, the constituent parts of the denomination, to institutionally reject the constitution of the church. Just as a presbytery may not bind the conscience of a minister when granting an exception, the minister may not bind his congregation to his disagreements with the church’s doctrine…