A Further Reply to Lee Irons

Lee has responded to my post here. I appreciate the irenic tone of our discussion, and I think much helpful clarification should result from our discussion. First up is that Lee Irons thinks my last post was a red herring. What I was primarily responding to in his post was this statement:

If one is considering the Confession’s teaching on anything, one is considering a particular interpretation of the Scriptures, not the Scriptures themselves.

My point is that this is simply not what the vow states. The vow states that (each minister having already done his exegesis of Scripture (prior to taking his vows!) proving to himself that the Standards are an accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching!) the minister believes the Standards to be the accurate interpretation of the Scriptures on all matters on which the Standards speak. The minister’s vow does not state that the minister believes the Confession to be a correct interpretation of the Scriptures on what the Confession teaches. The problem here is with Lee’s words “particular interpretation.” This seems to leave open the possibility that other contradictory interpretations are allowed. It also seems to pit the Standards against the Scriptures. The minister takes a vow stating that he believes the WS to be the correct interpretation of the Scriptures on what the Standards teach. The grammatical difference between the indefinite article and the definite article is crucial to the interpretation of the vow. The vow explicitly states that the minister believes the Westminster Standards to be the system of doctrine taught in Scriptures. Lee has not answered this point yet.

To deal with the lack of exegetical work on the part of the Committee is possible in this way: as David Coffin said, this whole debate is aswamp with exegesis. The PCA report has not come to us in a vacuum. The exegetical issues have been dealt with in many other reports, in several books, on the blogs, etc. David Coffin humorously suggested that he was satiated with exegesis. It is not as if there has been no exegesis done on these matters. For those who want exegetical justification for the committee’s positions, is anyone going to suggest that there are no options for finding such exegesis? To look no further, on this very blog, there is extensive exegesis that has been done on specific passages that are in dispute. Just look at the Federal Vision index.

(I thought he too strongly identified the system of doctrine with the Confession itself, thus binding an officer to never compare the Confession with Scripture.)

This does not follow. Just because a man takes a vow stating that he believes the WS to contain the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture does not mean that he can never revisit the exegesis that he was supposed to do before he took the vow. If he finds that the WS are out of accord with Scripture on a point (in his estimation), then these are the steps he must take: 1. inform the presbytery of his change of view, and 2. propose a change to the WS, or else (if the presbytery decides that his exception is not allowed) 3. quietly leave the denomination and go someplace else. What about this elevates the Standards to the level of Scripture?

The second concern that Lee listed was laziness. If there had been no exegesis done before the committee did their work, I would whole-heartedly agree with Lee’s assessment. However, is there need to duplicate what so many others have already done? Is it lazy to rest on the shoulders of other giants in the faith who have already done superior exegetical work? I would agree that, exegetically speaking, the OPC report is superior to the PCA’s. A report cannot do everything, or it would be too long and unwieldy. But if you look at the mandate that was given, the PCA report holds its own with any other report in comparing the FV and the NPP to the WS. I think if you were to ask the committee members, they would probably tell you that they are tired of all the work! Not exactly lazy. Is not wisdom a good judge of whether or not extensive exegesis would need to be done by a study committee? If in the future, the PCA erects another such ad interim committee, and not much exegesis had been done on the issue in question, then I would hope that the committee would do the hard work of exegesis. I am all for exegesis. I love exegesis. But it wasn’t in the mandate. You can fault last year’s GA for not including it (although again, I don’t see the need for re-inventing the exegetical wheel in this case), but you can’t fault the committee for sticking to the mandate.

With regard to the moral high ground issue, I will say this: the study committee would never have gotten done in such a timely manner if they had had to do such an amazingly more amount of work. The OPC report took a long time to complete. It is over 90 pages long. There is a time factor involved here that was noted in the debate on the floor of GA. How long do we want people who are not Reformed teaching in our churches? I know, at least for me, that there was definitely a sense of urgency in the PCA about this issue. We needed to speak. No report is perfect. But I think this report did what was needed.

8 Comments

  1. Keith LaMothe said,

    September 10, 2007 at 10:31 am

    I was opposed to the acceptance of the report, but I find it somewhat bizzare that so many people were asking for exegesis to be included in the report. We must always remember (through use of hot cattle prods if necessary) that we’re defending the faith once delivered to the saints as revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. But I thought both sides were in agreement that the WS is correct so far as it goes. If the FV were in conformity with the WS (which I believe they maintain that it is), then the buck more or less stops there.

    On the other hand, I do think at least one FV guy should have been on the study report committee because it should not have been a trial. I have tremendous respect for Sproul Sr. and I’m sorry to see him catch so much vitriol for his comment at GA, but I do think that his comment shows that someone was very much mistaken. Either it was a trial and not a study committee and there should not have been anyone on it with an obviously vested interest in either direction, or it was a study committee and not a trial and there should have been representation from both sides.

    But what do I know? :)

  2. Sam Steinmann said,

    September 10, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Should the minister takes a vow stating that he believes the WS to be the correct interpretation of the Scriptures on what the Scriptures teach be “The minister takes a vow stating that he believes the WS to be the correct interpretation of the Scriptures on what the Standards teach.”

    I’m having trouble making sense of the statement as it stands. (If it’s just a typo, feel free to delete this comment.)

  3. greenbaggins said,

    September 10, 2007 at 11:34 am

    You’re right, Sam, I mis-spoke. Thanks for catching that.

  4. Steven Carr said,

    September 10, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Lane–“However, is there need to duplicate what so many others have already done? Is it lazy to rest on the shoulders of other giants in the faith who have already done superior exegetical work? I would agree that, exegetically speaking, the OPC report is superior to the PCA’s. A report cannot do everything, or it would be too long and unwieldy. But if you look at the mandate that was given, the PCA report holds its own with any other report in comparing the FV and the NPP to the WS. I think if you were to ask the committee members, they would probably tell you that they are tired of all the work! Not exactly lazy. Is not wisdom a good judge of whether or not extensive exegesis would need to be done by a study committee? If in the future, the PCA erects another such ad interim committee, and not much exegesis had been done on the issue in question, then I would hope that the committee would do the hard work of exegesis. I am all for exegesis. I love exegesis. But it wasn’t in the mandate. You can fault last year’s GA for not including it (although again, I don’t see the need for re-inventing the exegetical wheel in this case), but you can’t fault the committee for sticking to the mandate.”
    Steve Carr–Amen, Pastor Keister. Well spoken.

  5. September 11, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Lane,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this matter, though, compared with your other posts its obvious, by the sparcity of comments here, that not that many people are interested in discussions on the binding nature of the confession. If men do not want a confessional standard then why don’t they go start a denomination (or enter an existing one) that doesn’t have a confession of faith or that doesn’t care about one that they have compossed. At least Doug Wilson has the maturity to do just that, and make clear the exceptions that his church takes to the confession. When and if the Lord calls me to be a minister of the Gospel in the PCA or the OPC or another Reformed denomintion, and I take vows to uphold the doctrine taught in the confession of faith, then I want to be honest about the fact that I believe the doctrine taught in that confession and that I will uphold it. Its a matter of honesty. If men take vows to uphold a confessional standard and are only doing that pretensiously then that is dishonest. Ministers that don’t accept, exegeticlly, the conclusions of the Westminster Divines don’t have to go into the PCA, OPC, or any other confessional church. This is not a matter of exclusivism, its a matter of honesty in the realm of doctrinal beliefs. Thank you for your thoughtful posts.

    When men want to say that those who hold to the doctrine expressed in the WCF are putting the confession above Scripture then they are saying that the Westminster Divines put the confession above Scripture. But the Confession itself makes Scripture the sole, and final authority. Its a false dicotomy to say that you are either arguing confessionally or you are arguing exegetically. Can’t the two be seen as compatable–the men who composed the confession thought so. At the end of the day, it seems like this is a sinister way to do away with denominational standards and impliment experimental exegesis.

  6. Dave Rockwell said,

    September 11, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    It is my observation of the FV camp that they use the WS to hide their error. Again, they use WS language but with their dictionary. How many of them when questioned about their teaching, say they conform to the WS? FV candidates for ordination are drilled on how to answer all their exams with WS jargon so that they can pass. And, they make sure they locate themselves in presbyteries who grant the paedo-communion exception. That pretty much sews it up for any FV candidate.

    Along comes the study report which somewhat blows their cover. They can no longer hide behind it because FV error has been shown to be contrary to the WS on nine counts. So now their game plan is this silly WS vs. Scripture debate. Now they want exegesis. Well, guys, if you want exegesis, go to the MARS report. Oh, but the MARS report is “dog breakfast” according to their fearless leader.

    It’s all a ridiculous political game. Will it ever end?

  7. Keith LaMothe said,

    September 12, 2007 at 8:40 am

    Nicholas, you said:

    “At least Doug Wilson has the maturity to do just that, and make clear the exceptions that his church takes to the confession.”

    I’ve heard him discuss his exceptions to the WS before, and I haven’t heard anything that hasn’t been allowed as a registered exception by at least some of the PCA presbyteries. I may not have paid enough attention. Could you cite some examples?

    Thanks,
    Keith

  8. September 12, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Keith,

    The point I was trying to make was not about Doug Wilson so much as it was about the denominational standards. Wilson has been honest enough, in my opinion, to be a part of a denomination that very joyfully allows exceptions to things like the “covenant of works.” If you go on Wilson’s church page you can read the seven or so exceptions that he takes. The covenant of works is one of them. My point was that the PCA was not, at least until a few years ago, a denomination that allowed such exceptions. I know that some presbyteries must have allowed them since Leithert, Wilkins, Lusk, and Horne have all been pastors in the PCA (that is unless they were dishonest in admitting their dislike for the covenant of works.). What is essential doctrine anyway? There are some of us that think that the covenant of works is essential doctrine. There are some of us who think that justification as it is explained in the confession (i.e. that is involves the imputation of righteousness and not the infusion of righteousness) is essential doctrine. IF you listen to Leithert’s lectures on justification in the Old Testament or read the presbytery report where they interview him on his veiws on justification you will see that he beleives in imputation and infusion in justification. These are some of the things I meant. “How can two walk together unless they are agreed.” The GA adopted a study report that is in agreement with my assessment, but because men want to destroy a standard they can then just openly bash the report. This is not a godly response to church courts and the decisions of elders that Jesus has appointed over His people. My point was that we have to have a standard by which to test doctrinal error. If we say its the Bible, well so can Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, and Mormons. Of course the Scripture alone is our sole authority in matters of faith and practice, but the confession of faith is supposed to be the PCA’s interpretation of the doctrine expressed in Scripture. Maybe your right, maybe we should all give up fighting for the purity of the church since there is no such thing as pure doctrine. Maybe we should all agree with Reggie Kidd and just “get along” no matter what we believe apart from the deity of Christ. That seems to be the alternative to what I have said above. What do you think?


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