One of the advantages of the Heidelberg Catechism over the Westminster Shorter Catechism is the former’s 52-week layout. The Heidelberg Catechism’s 129 questions are divided into 52 Lord’s Day segments so that its topics could be easily arranged into a yearly preaching schedule. The Westminster Standards don’t have anything like that. This is my first attempt at crafting a 52-week topical preaching guide using the Westminster Shorter Catechism…
In 2019 I started a series on confessionalism and the EPC. My initial post received a lot of pushback and interest. That combination led to some good friendships developing and a hesitation on publishing the rest. Now I’ve decided to get the remaining, written parts of the series out there.
All posts in that series can be found here. The first article focused upon the EPC’s amendments to the Westminster Standards and can be found here, something I’ve written about additionally and more accessibly here.
This is Part II, on the EPC’s modern language versions of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. In summary, I argue that,
- The EPC never adopted the modern language versions of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. At different points the EPC has approved them for use or publication, but never adopted as the official doctrinal standard of the church.
- The original language version of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms were the original constitutional standard of the EPC, meaning that they are the default standard, not the modern language. If the modern language versions are to be used as the doctrinal standard of the church they would need to be approved following the constitutional amendment process.
- There are significant differences in content between the original and modern language versions of the Standards. The doctrine of God, the imputation of sin, the nature of justification, the accomplishment and application of Christ’s redemptive work, and the nature of the church and its ordinances are all articulated differently in the modern language version. These are significant areas of theology with significant divergences from the constitutional and original version of the Westminster Standards.
- The modern language versions, whether or not they were formally adopted by the EPC, are functionally the confessional standards of our church. They are promoted, published, and used in ways that the original is not. With the differences between the two versions being significant, without proactive reinterpretation by pastors, the modern language version will mislead congregants. Their use should be ended, and if a modern language version is really desired, then a more conservative and less inventive alternative should be endorsed.
Through its 1986 position paper on the Holy Spirit, the EPC affirms that the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament are valid for the church today. The EPC is self-consciously charismatic, though expressly not Pentecostal. Along with the ordination of women, the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the other issue the EPC points to as a “non-essential” where there can be disagreement among its churches. Yet, even in the position paper there are limitations placed on what the EPC teaches to be valid expressions of spiritual gifts. It holds that the new birth of Christians and baptism of the Holy Spirit are the same thing (thus ruling out baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace) and that the manifestation of specific spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues, is unnecessary for salvation. In short, there are boundaries on the view and practice of charismatic gifts in the EPC.
Beyond the explicit statements in the position paper, the Westminster Confession (WCF) and Catechisms also speak to the subject. While the modern charismatic movement has its origins in the early 20th century, the Reformers addressed many of the same topics as they encountered them in Roman Catholicism and the mystic evangelicalism of their day. Calvin’s Institutes famously begins by contrasting the false miracles of Rome with the sufficiency of scripture. The Westminster Standards have much to say on the subject of charismatic gifts, and though they are most compatible with a cessationist view on the miraculous gifts, there is a degree of freedom for charismatic expression. My intent is not to evaluate exegetical arguments or to provide historical criticism, but to examine the ways that the Westminster Standards bound the view and practice of charismatic gifts in the EPC…
My recent presbytery transferal exam included quite a bit of discussion on my opposition to the 1903 additions to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) still held by the EPC, namely the chapters “The Holy Spirit” and “The Gospel of the Love of God and Missions.” Though I’ve written about the revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith at length here, I thought it would be helpful to present a concise summary of how to understand these chapters and why I think they ought to be rejected, not merely on the basis of being superfluous, but for failing to meet biblical muster. I draw heavily on the 1936 analysis and critique from Ned Stonehouse and John Murray, as well as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church’s 2014 report on the additional chapters, which I recommend people read if they want a fuller picture of the doctrines taught and neglected in the additional chapters.
In short historical review, in 1890 the PCUSA began the process of revising the WCF. This effort culminated in 1903 with several alterations, including the addition of the two chapters in question. The express purpose of these revisions was to soften the Reformed and Calvinistic theology of the WCF. Confessionalists, such as B. B. Warfield, Abraham Kuyper, and Geerhardus Vos opposed the changes. After the changes, Arminians stated that the WCF could now be read in a way that was compatible with their doctrine, and by 1906 the majority of the Cumberland Presbyterian church (Arminian in doctrine) had rejoined the PCUSA because of the doctrinal revisions. When the OPC formed in 1936, they rejected these additions as being compatible with the WCF’s doctrine, which was the course followed by the PCA at its founding in 1973. The ARP had added the revisions in 1959, but removed them in 2014 on similar grounds. During the EPC’s formative years in the early 1980s the new chapters were kept, but no discussion of their compatibility with the rest of the WCF ever occurred.
There are several ways of reading the new chapters in relation to the rest of the WCF and Catechisms…
This is a follow-up post to my two-part series on the Westminster Standards and gay Christianity, which can be found here. In this installment I will be addressing the question of transgender pronouns and the Westminster Standards. I am not here addressing the subject of transgenderism in general and the best medical or social response to it, for which I recommend the work of Madeleine Kearns on the subject.
The topic of transgenderism and pronouns is a fraught one, but exactly because of its complications it needs to be addressed. There are two foundational principals that I am not interested in demonstrating here, but am rather assuming. First, that men and women are distinct in sex and gender and these distinct attributes are not interchangeable (e.g. Gen. 1:27, 2:20-24, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 11:8-15; cf. WCF 4.2, WLC 17, WSC 10), and second, that our bodies are not incidental to being human but constitute who we are. Men have male bodies and women have female bodies. Men ought to be men and women ought to be women.
There is a difference between sex and gender, in that sex refers to someone’s biological sex while gender refers to someone’s personal or social identity that directs their sexual behavior, which is normally, and ought to be, tethered to their biological sex. Someone’s gender is how they live out their biological sex, and ought to be reflective of that sex. Since our bodies matter and are constitutive of our identities, our genders should be consistent with our embodied being. In other words, men should be masculine and women should be feminine. Men should identify as men and women should identify as women…