From a recent SJC decision:
The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America is of course subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. We need to be able to affirm that the use of words in our Standards is faithful to Scriptural intent and meaning. However, we cannot now argue that because the Constitution uses a word in a single way, the church must restrict its formal use of that word to the manner in which it is used in the Constitution. To do so would be to subject the Scriptures to our Standards, and effectively sever the tie that allows for our historic understanding of semper reformata.*
Now, as we’ve rehearsed on here before, I’m not a “Federal Vision advocate,” but I did want to see that those who espoused those views received fair treatment. (If you’ve ever been treated unfairly yourself, this sort of becomes a big thing for you.)? One of the contentions of the Federal Vision proponents is/was, with regard to election, that while the Constitution of the PCA (the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) use the term “election” in only one way, the Bible uses it in more than one way. Whenever they would bring up this argument, however, they were accused of being disingenuous or putting up a “smoke screen.”? Now the SJC has ruled in a case that revolves around this very issue: does the Bible sometimes use terms in a different manner from the Confession?? The SJC’s answer, in this case, is, “Of course it does.”
In the current case (quoted above), a mission church had designated someone as a “minister” who was not ordained clergy. This practice was opposed by some at presbytery, but the mission church’s decision to use the title “minister” for a non-ordained staff member was upheld by presbytery. Some within that presbytery complained. The SJC has denied the complaint, on the grounds quoted above.? The fact is, the SJC is saying, that although the Confession and Catechisms always use “minister” to denote ordained clergy, the Scriptures use it in other ways, and so we “cannot restrict the formal use of that word to the manner in which it is used in the Constitution.”
The decision goes on to say that the complainants “are properly forced to meet a very high standard” and goes on to cite BCO 29-1 in support of this assertion:
An offense, the proper object of judicial process, is anything in the doctrines or practice of a Church member professing faith in Christ which is contrary to the Word of God. The Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, together with the formularies of government, discipline, and worship are accepted by the Presbyterian Church in America as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice. Nothing, therefore, ought to be considered by any court as an offense, or admitted as a matter of accusation, which cannot be proved to be such from Scripture.
Last summer at GA, in reference to the Federal Vision situation, Joe Novenson displayed his irenic spirit when he made a motion that the PCA do just what BCO 29-1 tells us we ought to do:? bring the differing parties together, Bibles open, so that every accusation could be proved or disproved from Scripture.? His motion was soundly defeated when it was likened to inviting criminals to sit on their own jury, the “criminals” in question being ministers in good standing in the PCA who were not under any kind of censure.
The Federal Vision controversy is not over.? In the future, those who lead the charge against it need to be prepared to make their case from Scripture, as the BCO says we must, not only from the Confession and Catechisms.? All parties must also allow that the Confession does not have the last word: the Bible does.? To restrict the Bible’s use of language to the Confession’s use of that language would be, in the words of this SJC decision, “to subject the Scriptures to our standards.” It is possible that the Bible can use terms in a different way, or in more ways, than the way the Confession uses those same terms.? The SJC has, at least in this decision, now acknowledged that fact.
By saying this, I will probably be labeled a “Federal Vision sympathizer” by some.? That’s not the case, but even if it were, that’s beside the point.? The point is that, regardless of “who’s side” we’re on, we must all do things the right way.? We must prove these matters from Scripture.? We must not find someone guilty until proven innocent.? We must pursue justice and fairness for all concerned.? We must put an end to the climate of suspicion that makes a man reticent to speak what he believes to be the truth of Scripture because he fears being classified as belonging to one “camp” or another.? We must stop the sloganeering, stop the litmus tests, and get back to discussing the Scriptures.
*By the way, it’s semper reformanda, not semper reformata. Reformata is perfect passive (“having been reformed”); reformanda is future passive (“to be reformed”). Semper reformata doesn’t make sense.