09 April 2002

In recent days there's been a debate within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) regarding the nature of subscription to our subordinate Standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the two Catechisms. Between the extremes of broad (or loose) susbscription and strict subscription, there is "good faith" subscription, a position that has been the dominant one in historic Presbyterianism.

"Good faith" subscription requires a candidate for office to sincerely receive and adopt the Confessions and Catechisms of the denomination, but only as fallible documents that, in the fundamentals of the system they present, represent the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture. Moreover, when a candidate takes exception to any particular statement or doctrine of the Standards, it is up to the Presbytery examining that candidate to determine whether that exception is out of accord with a "fundamental" of the system of doctrine of the Standards in that it is hostile to the system or strikes at the vitals of religion.

Among other developments in the debate about subscription is an Amendment to the Book of Church Order that is being proposed in order to specify good faith subscription as the position of the denomination. A number of Presbyteries have backed this Amendment by endorsing an Overture to the General Assembly of the denomination to Amend the Book of Church Order.

And that's where I come in.

Apparently one of the Presbyteries that passed an Overture to this effect was the Ohio Valley Presbytery. This, in turn, led to one of the (presumably strict subscriptionist) congregational Sessions within that Presbytery to file a 10-point complaint against the Presbytery (which I will spare you reading here; it is very poorly argued and worded at any rate). Somehow, however, I came to be named in the first point of the complaint, which cites my article on the Westminster Confession and baptismal regeneration.

I am cited in order to support the contention that good faith subscription "has the effect of supplanting the Westminster
Standards...and replacing the historically accepted system of doctrine with an arbitrary determination by the presbytery as to what constitutes the system of doctrine." Of course, the irony here is that my argument with regard to the Westminster Confession is that if it is strictly construed with regard to its original intent and how it was historically understood at the time of its composition, it must be taken to allow for at least several versions of baptismal regeneration and that such a historically established position is not an "exception" to the standards at all, let alone an "arbitrary determination."

Now, I think that a well-established position is that the denominational body that adopts a confessional standard has the authority to determine, within reasonable bounds, what that standard means in their confession of it (and thus to eliminate positions that were within the bounds of its original intent, or to include ones that were outside of that intent). But that is not exactly what strict subscriptionists want. In any case, I've appended a note to my article in order to try and clarify these issues for any who come to the article with the subscription debate in mind.