We have, from time to time, made mention in these columns of the struggle going on in the Presbyterian Church US over the liberalism and doctrinal apostasy present in that denomination. Last year, four different conservative groups within that denomination banded together for the purposes of making plans to preserve the true Presbyterian confession in doctrine and church polity. There was some question about whether this conservative group should remain in the denomination until the merger with the United Presbyterian Church went through, at which time the so-called “escape clause” would be used to retain church property; or whether to secede from the denomination earlier and bring a new denomination into existence.
The latter course of action has recently been the one decided upon. The “Steering Committee for Continuing Church” voted unanimously to bring the new Church into being this year. The details of precisely what course of action will be taken have not yet been made public, but the conservatives have committed themselves definitely to secession. I use the word “secession”, although this is probably not a word which the conservatives themselves would choose to employ. They insist, and correctly so, that they are the “Continuing Church” which intends to maintain a Presbyterian Church which has always been faithful to the heritage of the Westminster Confessions. Neverless, secession from the existing denomination is necessary to accomplish their goal.
There have been other congregations which already have severed their relations with the Southern Presbyterian denomination in the past years. And recently 20 congregations in Alabama severed their relations with their presbytery and with the denomination. These congregations will eventually go along with the new denomination which will be formed.
We are happy for this decision and wish the new Church well. We add, however, the hope and prayer that this new Continuing Church will recognize the fact that all Arminianism is also at odds with the Westminster Confessions and that, therefore, faithfulness to these creeds requires a rejection of such Arminianism. This is essential, too, for Arminianism is, after all, the kind of departure from the truth which inevitably leads to the modernism and liberalism which is now the cause of trouble in the Southern Presbyterian Church.
Practically every denomination which has a creedal basis demands a promise of its officebearers that they will be faithful to the Confessions which that denomination has adopted as its doctrinal foundation. This, all denominations affirm, is necessary to preserve doctrinal purity and the unity of the faith. These denominations recognize the fact that there are constant threats of false doctrine, for heresy always creeps in by one means or another. And a denomination which loses her doctrinal heritage, loses her right to call herself by the name of the Church of Christ.
But strange things happen within the Church. For various reasons a denomination may lose her doctrinal integrity and harbor within her denominational walls men who no longer believe nor teach what the creeds of that Church profess to be the truth of God’s Word. They make the promise of loyalty to the Confessions, but they do not keep their promise; and, indeed, in some instances, they make the promise knowing at that moment that they cannot and shall not keep the vow they have made.
And so a situation arises in the Church in which a plea is made to revise the Confessions, to mitigate somewhat their binding force, or to dispense with the creeds altogether as authoritative within the Church. It happened in the past, and it is happening today.
And, quite naturally, where a situation exists in which ministers and officebearers are no longer faithful to the doctrinal truths of the creeds, sooner or later those who protest the binding character of the creeds will get their way.
In the Reformed Churches such allegiance to the creeds is promised by officebearers when they sign a Subscription to the creeds which dates back to the Synod of Dordrecht. This Subscription is used in this country by The Reformed Church of America, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Recently, a couple of articles have appeared in theChurch Herald, the official organ of the Reformed Church in America, which discuss a proposed revision of the Subscription to the creeds which officebearers are required to sign. The adoption of the proposed revision is presently being discussed on the classical level. We quote it here in full.
I ___________ in becoming a minister of the Word of God in the Reformed Church in America, within the Classis of, sincerely and gladly declare before God and with you that I believe the Gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and as expressed in the Standards of the Reformed Church in America. I accept the Scripture as the only rule of faith and life. I accept the Standards as historic and faithful witnesses to the Word of God.
I promise to walk in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church, seeking the things that make for unity, purity and peace. I will submit myself to the counsel and admonition of Classis always ready, with gentleness and reverence, to give an account of my understanding of the Christian faith. I will conduct the work of the church in an orderly way and according to The Book of Church Order.
Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I pledge my life to preach and teach the Good News of salvation in Christ, to build up and equip the church for mission in the world, to free the enslaved, to relieve the oppressed, to comfort the afflicted and to walk humbly with God. I ask God, and you his servants, to help me so to live until that glorious day when, with joy and gratitude, we stand before our great God and King.
We will not quote here the original Form of Subscription. The one which is presently used in the RCA is almost identical with the one in use in our Churches. And only a cursory glance will show how radically this Form is being changed by the proposed version.
An article in the February 2 issue of the Church Heralddefended strongly the old subscription and pointed out very clearly that the new proposed version would not protect doctrinal integrity in the Church and maintain loyalty to the Confessions, but would leave room for the teaching and preaching of doctrines contrary to the Confessions.
But an article in a later issue of the Church Heraldcame to the defense of the proposed revision. While maintaining that the proposed subscription would indeed retain confessional integrity, it nevertheless pointed out that the new subscription had one distinct advantage. That advantage, as the author sees it, is the change in the conception of the ministry which the new subscription embraces. He writes:
First, the proposed Declaration sees each minister as not merely the judge and arbiter of every other minister’s beliefs and actions, but as a brother and co-worker in the vineyard of God. . .
Second, the proposed Declaration affords the minister a response of joy and gratitude appropriate to his divine calling.
Third, the work of the ministry is seen within the full and real context in which we know it . . . Here is the minister not only in preaching, teaching, and writing, but as pastoral counselor, as chaplain in the military service, the prison, or the psychiatric hospital, as friend to the needy, as one who incites to mission, as prophet of justice, and as parish administrator . . .
There are a couple of remarks about this which ought to be made. We make these remarks because of our deep concern for doctrinal integrity in the Church of Christ and to underscore the importance of loyalty to the Confessions.
In the first place, the author of the above quotes is, no doubt, correct when he claims that the new subscription alters rather radically the conception of the ministry. What about this?
This is one aspect of the new Declaration which is so striking. It barely touches upon the whole matter of subscription to the creeds. And this is a major change indeed. The original Formula of Subscription was deliberately and consciously drawn up with only one purpose in mind: to be used as an instrument by means of which ministers promise to be faithful to the creeds. It was not intended to define a minister’s calling in the Church. It was not intended to deal with the question of loyalty to the Scriptures. It was not drawn up to elicit promises to “walk in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship.” Not that these things are unimportant. But they belong elsewhere. The work of the ministry is defined in the Church Order and in the Form for Ordination. Loyalty to the Scriptures and faithfulness in one’s walk is promised when one takes his ordination vows. It was intended to be a vow of loyalty to the creeds. Nothing else. This is barely mentioned in the proposed subscription. Instead, as the author of the above quotes makes clear, this introduces a rather novel concept of the Christian ministry and changes radically the whole purpose of the Declaration. Why should this be thought necessary?
In the second place, there is a radical change in the vow with which one promises to be faithful to the Confessions. The only statement in the proposed Declaration which deals with this matter is: “I accept the Standards as historic and faithful witnesses to the Word of God.” Compare this with the promises made in the old Declaration. In the latter a minister declares that the Confessions contain the truth of the Word of God. He promises actively to teach and to defend these doctrines; to reject all heresies opposed to fhese doctrines; neither directly nor indirectly to contradict them either in public preaching or in writing. He promises that, if he should have any disagreement with the Confessions, he will be honest and upright before the Church; he promises not to propose or teach or defend any differences he may have, either publicly or privately, neither in preaching nor in writing and to follow the ecclesiastical way in bringing these differences to the attention of the Churches. He promises to remain silent about these differences and submit himself to the judgment of the ecclesiastical assemblies. And all this he promises to do, with the penalty for failure to do this being de facto suspension from office.
Let the reader judge if there is not a great difference between these two promises which one makes.
The Confessions are very precious to the Church, and very important in the preservation of the faith. They must be defended and preserved, for they are a bulwark against error. But they can only be defended when these Confessions are the living confessions of the officebearers not only, but also of all the people of God.
Once again the whole question of relief for parents who send their children to private schools is in the air. Wilbur Mills, long an opponent of any kind of aid to private schools, has now reported that he favors a new bill which will give parents tax credits for the children they have attending private schools. The details of the bill are not yet known with certainty, and we refrain from commenting on the matter until such a time as the bill is reported out of committee. But the supporters of the bill are convinced that it will meet all the objections which the Supreme Court has recently made against any aid to private schools. Whether it will meet the objections of those who fear any kind of federal control of their Christian Schools remains to be seen.