The Orthodox Presbyterian General Assembly of 2003
By the Rev. Peter J. Wallace
"During the sessions of the late General Assembly of our church, so many subjects of interest were brought under discussion, that a brief review of the more important of these topics may perhaps be both acceptable and useful. The principles involved in the settlement of these questions are likely to be called up in subsequent Assemblies, and must influence to a greater or less degree the action of all inferior judicatories. It is, therefore, a matter of importance to have the grounds on which certain measures were advocated and opposed spread before the ministers and elders of the church. We propose, therefore, to notice the most important questions debated and determined by the last Assembly and to present a general view of the arguments on both sides. We are well aware that this is a difficult and delicate task....While we shall aim at perfect impartiality we do not expect fully to attain it. It is next to impossible, in presenting the arguments for and against any particular measure, not to exhibit those which strike the writer's own mind with the greatest force, with more clearness and effect than those of an opposite character. Our readers therefore must make due allowance on this score." [Charles Hodge, "The General Assembly of 1834," Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 7:3 (July, 1835) 439-440.]
This was how Charles Hodge introduced his first review of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1835. But Hodge did not have the benefit of having heard the debates himself. "Our dependence for information must be almost exclusively on the reports of the debates published in the religious journals which are confessedly very imperfect. Great credit is indeed due to the enterprising conductors of those papers who, at great expense of time and labour, have furnished the public with far more extended and accurate sources of information than we have ever before possessed. These reports are evidently made with great ability and we should think, in general, with very commendable impartiality. Still from the nature of the case they present at best a very imperfect view of the whole proceedings of the body. It would require a daily publication instead of a weekly one, to exhibit, with the fulness and fairness of a parliamentary report, the multiplied and complicated discussions which occupied the attention of the house." [ibid.]
This review is offered in the tradition of Charles Hodge's annual review of the Presbyterian General Assembly. In the nineteenth century, every weekly Old School newspaper (and there were usually around ten of them) provided a detailed report of the General Assembly, including a synopsis of every speech made on the floor of the Assembly. Since the Orthodox Presbyterian Church seems to be rather sensitive to "recording" the debates, I have not attempted to publish such a report. It would be very valuable for the church (and might encourage commissioners to be better prepared), but perhaps we are not yet ready for the sort of openness that our fathers prized. Old School Presbyterians believed that the debates and actions of their General Assembly should be published widely so that the entire church could see what was said and done. I hope that in the coming years Orthodox Presbyterians will come to expect detailed reports of General Assembly debates. But for now, I will simply offer the Hodge-style review. I will name some of the leading speakers in the debates, but I will simply summarize the arguments, rather than attribute particular speeches to specific individuals (I thank the Rev. Larry Wilson for making his notes available to me as well as my own). It should not be assumed that every speaker on a particular side of an issue agreed with every argument set forth on that side. Since committee reports are signed, and are of public record (being published in the Minutes), I will name those who reported for their committees. Moments of levity and especial clarity are also attributed to their proper sources.
[A note on pronouns: for the sake of clarity I have often used the third person. Some speeches, however, would have lost clarity through such measures. In such cases I have retained the first person. I have not, however, used quotation marks, because I cannot claim to have recorded every word, and I do not wish to suggest that my summary is a complete record of the speech. When quotation marks are used, I believe that I did get the entire statement word-for-word.]
The Organization of the Assembly
Wednesday evening, the Assembly was constituted in the worship of the Triune God, under the ministry of the outgoing moderator, Doug Clawson, at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. The Rev. Clawson preached, and the Rev. Vernon Picknally administered the Lord's Supper (with real wine for a change). The president of Dordt College, Dr. Carl Zylstra, welcomed the Assembly Thursday morning, noting that 136 pastors, elders and members of the OPC have attended Dordt. He also noted that 70% of the residents of Sioux Center attend a Reformed church every Sunday morning.
The first item of business was the election of a moderator. Mr. Robert Coie (ruling elder, Westminster OPC, Westminster, California) and the Rev. Alan Strange (professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary) were nominated. Mr. Coie was elected by a 90-52 vote. Mr. Coie was escorted to the chair by Mr. Richard Barker, who offered prayer for Mr. Coie's labors.
As usual, the Assembly ascertained how many commissioners had been ordained in each decade:
There were 31 first-time commissioners.
The work of the Assembly was divided into thirteen parts, each part being given to an advisory committee for careful examination on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. After the make-up of the advisory committees were approved, the Assembly recessed to allow the committees to get to work.
Throughout the week, the Assembly heard from many fraternal delegates. It is encouraging to see that the ecumenical work of the OPC is progressing well.
Fraternal addresses from the Dutch Reformed world made it clear that there is real interest in merging the Continental and British churches. The United Reformed Churches and the Canadian Reformed Churches are working towards union with each other, but both spoke of their desire to also unite with the OPC. Ralph Pontier of the URC insisted that what really keeps us apart is sin-especially the sin of pride. Our differences are not great enough to keep us apart. Arguing that it is really possible to merge the Dutch and Scottish traditions, he pointed out that it has already been done in New Zealand. Are we willing to put to death our pride?
The OPC also received fraternal greetings from both the Free Church of Scotland and the Free Church (continuing). This anomalous situation needs to be resolved-hopefully by the reconciliation of the Scottish brethren. We need to be careful to avoid sharing in the sins of others, and it does not seem possible that neither party in Scotland is tainted with schism.
The most remarkable record of avoiding schism is found in the ARP, which claims to have gone over 200 years without schism (though they did break fellowship with the other ARP synods in the 1820s). The Rev. Dean Turbeville remarked that being a small backwater, they were less affected by the erosion of modernism. But social conservatism was stronger than theological confessionalism, and he admitted that Reformed praxis does not substitute for Reformed theology. While ARP's have decided what they do not want to be (liberal or neo-orthodox), Mr. Turbeville suggested that they have not decided what we do want to be. The more evangelical and contemporary wing is clashing with the more thoroughly Reformed wing. It seems to this observer that if the OPC could unite with the ARP within the next decade or so, while the Canadian Reformed are uniting with the URC, then in another 20 years we could be in a good position to begin negotiations with the Dutch Reformed.
DIRECTORY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP
The revision to the DPW had bogged down over the last year as the majority and the minority of the committee could not agree on their direction. The Rev. Larry Wilson (the minority) brought an Alternative Proposal to the Assembly, asking (in effect) whether the Assembly would give the committee further direction. Upon the recommendation of the advisory committee, the Assembly requested presbyteries to elect special committees to guide them, in preparation for the 71st GA, in making a serious, brotherly study of the issues of biblically reformed worship. Further, the Assembly ordered that the Alternative Proposal be placed on the webpage in addition to the committee's draft, with a caveat that the documents on the webpage are provisional drafts. Then the Assembly elected the Rev. Danny Olinger as the alternate to the committee. Since Mr. Olinger is a member of the Presbytery of Ohio, and a known supporter of Mr. Wilson's views on worship, it appears that the Assembly has gone on record as suggesting that they consider Mr. Wilson's Alternative Proposal as a step in the right direction.
Those who are interested in learning more can view the documents at: http://www.opc.org/GA/GA_papers.html
The committee tasked with studying the doctrine of creation, with special reference to the length and nature of the days of creation, reported back that it had been unable to complete its work. They requested an additional year, which the Assembly readily granted, with only one dissenting vote.
SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON THE WORK OF FOREIGN MISSIONS
The Rev. Dr. Craig Troxel (pastor, Calvary OPC, Glenside, Pennsylvania) reported for the committee, which had been charged with investigating the Committee on Foreign Mission's view of its administrative authority vis-a-vis the 5th commandment. The committee had been formed after complaints had been made regarding its handling of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship some years ago. The conclusion of the committee was that in a certain sense, "The man belongs to the presbytery; the work belongs to the Committee on Foreign Missions." They argued that administrative oversight was a matter of circumstance-as our Confession declares, "there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed" (Confession 1.6). Not every directive from the CFM should be treated as a decree, and not all directives are created equal. The committee insisted that we must be jealous to maintain that our missionaries are equals among equals with the CFM and with his mission; nevertheless, our missionaries take on the role of an inferior (in a sense). Using an analogy, while a minister may be a superior to a member of his church in terms of office, he may often be his inferior in terms of age, holiness, or gifts. The missionary, then, is a servant of the CFM and the wider church.
The Rev. G. I. Williamson (semi-retired; editor of Ordained Servant) reported for the minority. Convinced that the CFM had abused its authority, he argued that the CFM does not have the authority to issue commands to its missionaries. He insisted that the committee should admit that they were wrong to have imposed upon the conscience of its missionary-and should promise not to do it again. Citing chapter 20 of the Confession, he argued that it is wrong to give orders to each other unless the directive can be demonstrated from scripture. The Confession states: "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." (Confession 20.2). He urged the adoption of his recommendations, because they reminded the church that all church power is declarative and ministerial, and that no church court, or committee, can make laws on its own authority. The heart of his recommendations was the affirmation that "the constitutional documents of the OPC define 'all church power' of judicatories over members of the church as strictly limited to declaring and ministering the canonical decrees of the church's sole Legislator, Jesus Christ. It follows that no committee created by the General Assembly can otherwise define its power over ministers or missionaries of the church." (Report of the Minority, 1515).
During the question period, which grew rather tense, one speaker asked the advisory committee whether they had been able to make any use of a paper he had written. The chairman replied: "airplanes, Mr. Moderator."
Since the committee had no recommendations, the recommendation of the minority was placed on the floor. Advisory Committee 1 offered its recommendation as a substitute, which affirmed the content of the majority report: "that the Assembly acknowledge the administrative authority of the Committee on Foreign Missions vis-a-vis the 5th Commandment (Cf. WCF XXXI.2) to include: (1) biblical prescriptions, (2) inferences of good and necessary consequences, and (3) circumstances requisite to effect in good order (1) and (2) above." The Rev. Messrs. Woody Lauer and Kenneth Campbell spoke strongly for the minority, while most of the Assembly seemed rather perplexed until the Rev. John Fesko pointed out the source of the problem: the minority report had confused committees of the church with councils of the church. When Mr. Williamson realized this, he requested that the Assembly allow the whole matter to be referred back to the advisory committee. The following day both sides reported that they had come to a consensus. Rather than continue to debate the principle, both sets of recommendations would be taken off the table. After some further discussion (with the Rev. Messrs. Campbell and George Bancroft urging Assembly to deal with the matter immediately), the Assembly determined to remove all personal references from the minority report before publishing it is the Minutes. As one minister wisely noted, it was important to distinguish between the issue of principle and the recent dispute. This motion would help the church deal with the issue at hand. Once the passions cooled down it would be easier to deal with the principle.
So in the end, the Assembly chose not to address the question of the nature of church power, or the specific issue regarding the nature of the administrative authority of the Committee on Foreign Missions. There is no doubt that they will come back again in another form at some point in the future. Hopefully we will see further biblical, constitutional, and historical discussion of the question before the Assembly is forced to take up the issue again.
It is worth noting that both the PCA and the OPC dealt with the issue of subscription this year-and in a manner that represents the history and perspective of the two denominations. The PCA passed its "good faith subscription" approach in a hotly contested vote, while the OPC overwhelmingly rejected a somewhat similar plan. The Rev. Steven Miller reported for Advisory Committee 8 that as the Northern California Presbytery (which had submitted the overture) had not appointed anyone to defend the overture at the Assembly, and that after watching our PCA brethren get entangled in the subscription debates, as Mr. Miller put it, "Unlike Brer Rabbit, we recognize the tar baby." The overture was denied with only a smattering of dissent.
The committee gave the following grounds:
1) the proposal does not best promote the purity, peace and unity of the church, because a) it is procedurally burdensome; b) it establishes an administrative procedure for what ought to be a case-by-case application of our constitutional standards; c) it is potentially divisive in that it might create classes of officers based on the number of recorded exceptions; and d) the end result might well be a denominational catalog of acceptable and unacceptable exceptions to the standards of the church, which has the unintended consequence of undermining confessionalism.
2) the mechanism found in our present Form of Government (FG 21.4 and 23.6) is better designed to promote the purity, peace and unity of the church, because the presbytery already must determine whether a candidate's views are consistent with our confession. If his views are inconsistent with the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture, then it cannot license or ordain him.
If the entire church rejects the mechanical system of creating a formal list of approved exceptions, and returns to the historic method of applying our constitutional standards on a case-by-case basis to each candidate, then perhaps the OPC will continue to avoid having a subscription controversy. The question is not whether this "exception" is a problem, but whether this man is a problem. Does he affirm the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture?
The FREEMAN COMPLAINT
The Rev. Brad Freeman brought a complaint against the decision of the Presbytery of the Midwest to depose him without censure, due to its judgment that he lacked the requisite gifts for a minister of the gospel. The details of the complaint can be found in the Minutes. Claiming that the presbytery had assumed his guilt without process, Mr. Freeman claimed that he had been condemned without a trial. In a period of six months, the same men who had asked if he would be open to receive a call to the OPC had successfully divested him from office. Now, as he had received a call from the Presbyterian Reformed Church, he requested the Assembly to reverse the decision of the presbytery and allow him to transfer to the PRC.
The Rev. Messrs. Bruce Hollister and Stephen Oharek replied on behalf of the presbytery that they had not censured Mr. Freeman. FG 24 allows a presbytery to divest a man of office if it believes that he does not possess the requisite gifts and graces for ministry. Mr. Freeman had been without call for three years when the presbytery began to pursue divestiture. Mr. Freeman pointed out that the first year had been an approved sabbatical, so he had only been pursuing a call for two years. Nonetheless, the presbytery was convinced that since Mr. Freeman's first two pastorates had been terminated only after around a year's tenure each, and since Mr. Freeman did not appear to have learned from the mistakes that brought those pastorates to an end, they could not in good conscience permit him to remain in the ministry. The presbytery as a whole was convinced that he had not committed any sins worthy of judicial discipline, but rather was simply not gifted for the ministry.
During the question and answer time, it was clear that many commissioners were troubled by the presbytery's claim that there were no sins worthy of trial. The presbytery insisted that Mr. Freeman had failed to heed to the counsel of godly men and had failed to adequately care for the flock during his pastorate at Westminster OPC in Westchester, Illinois.
During the debate, there were two groups arguing to sustain the complaint. Several men argued that the complaint should be sustained, and suggested that the presbytery should have instituted judicial process. A few argued that the complaint should be sustained, and that Mr. Freeman should be allowed to transfer. Not all speeches in favor of sustaining distinguished between the two, but Mac Laurie, Scott Willet, and George Bancroft were among those arguing to sustain, while Bill Shishko, Dan Knox, Brian Nolder, and Kenneth Campbell argued to deny the complaint.
Those arguing against the complaint pointed out that it is not a sin to lack the gifts for the ministry. Indeed, one man pointed out that it was a gracious and loving thing for the presbytery to remove Mr. Freeman from the ministry, because if they are indeed correct, then the PRC would be wise to heed our warning. Others pointed out that the decision was subjective, and therefore the burden of proof was on Mr. Freeman to demonstrate that the presbytery had erred.
But as one minister put it, the call to "trust the presbytery" was precisely the wrong sort of approach. This was defrocking a minister without due process!
After further debate the Assembly voted by a large majority to deny the complaint.
There were three related issues in the debate:
1) the constitutionality of the PMW's decision,
2) the wisdom of the PMW's decision.
3) the wisdom of our constitution
As far as the first point is concerned, the decision of the PMW was entirely constitutional. And, given the subjective wording in chapter 24, it would be very difficult for a complaint to be sustained-especially if the presbytery was as convinced as the Presbytery of the Midwest appeared to be.
The presbytery determined that Mr. Freeman does not possess the gifts requisite for the gospel ministry. That may be true. They have chosen to use administrative discipline in place of judicial discipline. Our constitution allows this. But Mr. Freeman asks a more important question: should our constitution allow this? Is there ever a time when a minister should be deposed without censure? Especially when a Reformed church (even a schismatic one) is calling for his service, does not deposition on the grounds that he lacks the requisite gifts for the ministry seem somewhat odd? It seems to me that the presbytery did in fact wish to censure him, but simply didn't want the hassle of a trial.
We may question the wisdom of our constitution. We may even wish to change it. But the PMW was within its constitutional rights to depose Mr. Freeman without censure, if it deemed that he lacked the requisite gifts. There is some danger here. The constitution leaves the matter to the subjective judgment of the presbytery (and, of course, the subjective judgment of the General Assembly on appeal). There is nothing wrong with this. We use subjective criterion for ordaining a man. And given the fact that we have lowered our standards for ordination so severely, perhaps we need a back door.
I have some sympathy with the old Presbyterian approach. The old Presbyterian church had no back door to the ministry. The only ways out were death or censure. This was intended to make the bar for entry into the ministry sufficiently high that presbyteries would be more careful in their admissions process.
But we were sloppy. By the 1850s some were starting to complain that we had too many unqualified men in the ministry. We didn't want to be so rigorous in our licensing and ordination process. So we lowered the bar for entry, and opened a back door for those who didn't work out. Today we allow virtually any man to become a minister who can pass the theology exam. Perhaps your presbytery is different, but neither Midwest nor Michigan and Ontario Presbyteries spend much time ascertaining whether a man will be a good pastor. All we do is ascertain that he is orthodox-and we trust those recommending him that he'll be a good pastor (regardless of whether we know his references personally or not). We need to spend more time examining a man's character before we ordain him-or receive him from another denomination.
In this particular case, I'm especially disappointed that the presbytery failed to deal with matters of sin. We cluck our tongues at our brothers in the PCA for being a "good-old-boys" club that refuses to exercise discipline. But we are no different. If we agree with a man's particular theological stance, then he's in the club. I was a member of the Presbytery of the Midwest during Mr. Freeman's pastorate at Westchester. He came to us from the PCA because (he told us) they weren't sufficiently interested in being Reformed, and we welcomed him with open arms. We contacted his references, but we failed to contact the rest of the session of the PCA church he had left. When members of the congregation did this (only after things started falling apart in Westchester), they discovered a different story than they had heard from his references.
Brothers, we need to concern ourselves with whether a man has the requisite pastoral gifts before we bring him into our presbytery! Can he shepherd the flock? He may have a glorious view of what the church should be, but can he care for the sheep as they are!
The IRONS APPEAL
The bulk of the Assembly's time and energy was expended on two appeals. The first was the appeal of the Rev. C. Lee Irons from the decision of the Presbytery of Southern California regarding his teaching on the Decalogue. The presbytery convicted him, by a 17-16 vote, of 'violating [his] ordination vows by teaching, contrary to the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards, that the Decalogue is no longer binding on believers as the standard of holy living."
Mr. Irons' appeal, which will be printed in the Minutes of the Assembly, was not the only part of the documentation that the Assembly had before it. Mr. Irons provided a 64 page response to the charge, and the presbytery sent a 37 page document, which attempted to reply to Mr. Irons (which was very useful, since often our presbyteries do not do this). In addition, the record of the trial in the Presbytery of Southern California added another 24 pages to the documentation. For the sake of space, I will not be citing these documents, but will focus on the oral debate at the Assembly.
The charge rested on two specifications: 1) "That you have, on numerous occasions, publicly called into question the teaching of the Westminster Standards regarding the moral law." 2) "That you have denied that the Decalogue, as a summary of the moral law, continues to have binding authority over the Christian." Mr. Irons' appeal also contained two specifications, claiming that the presbytery had erred on both counts.
The Rev. Dr. John Fesko reported that the advisory committee came without dissent in their recommendation that Mr. Irons' appeal be sustained (one member of the advisory committee abstained). In their report, the advisory committee stated that they were concerned that Mr. Irons proceeded to make public comments critical of the secondary standards without sufficiently bringing these matters to the attention of his fellow elders; but on the other hand, they were equally concerned that the presbytery proceeded to a judicial process prior to adequate discussion with Mr. Irons on these matters. While the advisory committee had been split evenly at the beginning of their deliberations, by the end they had come to a consensus: Irons' views were within the bounds of confessional orthodoxy, even though he disagreed with certain formulations in the Confession.
In his opening statement, Mr. Irons declared that the debate between himself and his presbytery was not over the third use of the law [the law as the standard of the Christian life], but the manner of stating that doctrine. The presbytery used Calvin, Ridderbos and Murray, and a strict construction of the standards in order to present their case. Irons claimed that his view was in the tradition of Bolton and the Marrow men in 17th century England and 18th century Scotland. Citing Larger Catechism 97 ("What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate? Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience."), Mr. Irons declared that "this is a glorious Christ-centered formulation of the moral law. Having established the fact that we are delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, it makes clear that we are bound to Christ, and not to the Mosaic Law." Therefore, he argued, our obedience to the law is mediated through Christ. By means of the logical placement of the words "bound to Christ," he asserted that the Larger Catechism teaches (or at least permits) his view, that New Covenant believers are bound to Christ.
Mr. Irons then asked: Why did I write my appeal the way I did? "Last year a controversy that was widely publicized via the Internet -- of which most of you may already be aware -- became the occasion upon which the presbytery originally adopted three charges against me. From the beginning the prosecution explicitly stated that they viewed all three charges as a package. The first charge was dropped last October in view of a paper I wrote that satisfied the concerns of the majority. The second and third charges, concerning my view of the law and of civil government respectively, went forward. After the second charge was fully adjudicated, the third charge concerning my view of civil government was dropped as well, leaving only the one charge of my view of the law. And so although the charges more directly related to the original controversy were ultimately dealt with, the cumulative effect is that the presbytery's charge concerning my view of the law is all that remains of this process. And that is where we are today." In view of the background, why do I not specify procedural errors? My purpose of bringing this appeal is to inquire whether my views are acceptable in the OPC. It would be a great service to the church if the GA would rule on this, not only to determine whether I may continue to minister, but for the sake of others who hold similar views. The presbytery has accused me of denying the moral law. We have different understandings of the precise relationship between the moral law and the decalogue. The presbytery views the moral law and the decalogue as equivalent. I view the decalogue as a summary of the moral law, but not equivalent. I believe and teach that believers are under the eternal moral law. I communicated to the presbytery a year and a half before the charges were brought as to WCF 19.2 as to the equivalence of the decalogue and the moral law. I also made clear that I do not agree with the threefold types of the law. As to specification number 2, (that the Decalogue is no longer binding on believers as the standard of holy living), my view is not only opposed to antinomianism, but the law of Christ view has always been recognized as a legitimate view within the Reformed tradition. Scripture: 1 Cor 9:20-21. Paul says that he is not under the law or without law, but under (or subject) to the law of Christ. We are not under the law as given by Moses, but as given by Christ. As to the standards: nowhere do they teach that the decalogue per se is the standard for Christians. Rather, they declare that we are under the entire revelation of God. The rule of faith and practice is not merely the decalogue, but the entire will of God. The relationship between the decalogue and the moral law is that the moral law is "summarily comprehended" in the decalogue. There are certain aspects that related specifically to Israel (the preface, the seventh day, the provisions for long life in the land). As to the tradition, many Reformed theologians agree: Patrick Fairbairn rejected a "too literal" interpretation of 19.2. Samuel Bolton said that there were two orthodox views. The first was that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace in the form of a covenant of works; and the second was that the Mosaic covenant was a subservient covenant of works. The ambiguous phrase, "the law as a covenant of works" allowed for both. This insists that there is some sense in which the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works. The Marrow tradition of the law has left its mark on the Confession's language. It is consistent with the Confession's system of doctrine. [the preceding paragraph is not an exact quote, but is close enough that it is left in the first person]
Mr. Irons then turned to the question of why the presbytery was not convinced by this. He claimed that one significant factor was John Murray's influence. The Confession is interpreted through Murray. In his booklet on the Covenant of Grace, Murray admitted that he was recasting covenant theology. He questioned the pre-fall Adamic covenant, departing from the idea that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace in the form of a covenant of works (not just the subservient covenant view). Irons insisted that he had no desire to drive Murray's view out of the church. But he insisted that the presbytery erred in judging that Murray's view was the only accepted view. There was universal agreement that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works-in some sense.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Irons admitted that "in my teaching and preaching, I do make strong statements regarding the discontinuity/the contrast between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. Why doesn't Irons stick to the terminology we are used to hearing? The reason I speak this way is because I am attempting to be faithful to Pauline theology. I have tried to conform my language to Paul. 'The law is not of faith.' 'These are two covenants'" The one proceeding to bondage, the other of grace. 'The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.' 'We are not under the law, but under grace.' This is heartbeat of my preaching and pastoral ministry. Paul's language of discontinuity cannot be ignored by those who call themselves Reformed." Sinclair Ferguson says that "the language of the Confession of Faith in the 1640s might give the impression that the Puritan understanding of the law was univocal....That was hardly the case....the majority" saw that the Law was a covenant of grace; others though saw it "as a republication as a covenant of works." Our tradition is a tradition that prides itself as the most faithful expression of Pauline theology. "I do not claim to have a perfect system. But the law of Christ position is consistent with the Confession, and especially with the Word of God."
The Rev. Roger Wagner presented the case of the Presbytery of Southern California. Wagner opened by pointing out that historically, Reformed theology and piety has had a delight in obedience to the law of God revealed during the Mosaic era. God gave to Adam a law as a covenant of works. This law, after Adam's fall continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness. This law was then given to Moses at Sinai. Not only are the 10 Commandments expounded as the framework of our obedience. We use them in our congregations to convict us of sin and call us to new obedience. Mr. Irons, he claimed, is uncomfortable with this common OPC practice. He thinks that this leads to "soft legalism," to look to the law as the standard of our sanctification. He would not remove all references to the law, but he would wish to mark such references with an asterisk. "No longer directly binding on the New Covenant believer." He would replace it with the law of Christ; he sees a strong connection between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ, but only around 90%. The ethical standard may be similar, but the theological model is very different. The Reformed tradition has substantially identified the decalogue and the moral law. Irons says that the decalogue is NOT the same thing, merely one particular expression of the moral law, directed especially to the Israelites in the land.
Mr. Wagner insisted that a distinction between moral law and moral will is central to Irons' thought. The law cannot justify, but it is the abiding divine standard of the obedience of faith. Irons critiques the law from a one-sided interpretation of Paul, and then interpreted Jesus through that view of Paul. To him it sounded like evangelical dispensationalism. In contrast, he insisted that the Reformed tend to stress the continuity of the old and new. The Mosaic covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace. Conf 20.1. The OT believers had all the same benefits as we do. Irons insists that the Mosaic covenant is a typological republication of the covenant of works. This underlying assumption creates a fundamental antithesis between the works principle and the grace principle. The Mosaic covenant, in Irons' view, is a hybrid covenant. There is a continuing works principle that he sees in Moses. Irons places Moses in opposition to the Abrahamic covenant and New Covenant. The Decalogue is identified with the works principle. His ethical conclusions is essentially the same, in principle, as dispensationalism. He says that the believer is not under the decalogue as a rule of obedience. This rejects the continuity of moral obligation between old and new. He says that Jesus Christ is the only lawgiver of the NT church: love for God and love of neighbor, neither of which are in the decalogue. Jesus did not come to reaffirm the decalogue but to give a new law (for Irons). The law of Christ is sharply distinguished from the law of God.
Further, Wagner pointed out that Irons frequently referred to ambiguities, problems, etc., in the standards. The prosecution attempted to refresh and sharpen the presbytery in their understanding of the mainstream Reformed view. This would enable the presbyters to evaluate his views. The prosecution relied on Calvin, Ridderbos and Murray, to remind the presbytery that the view of biblical teaching with which Irons took issue was the mainstream of Reformed theology. Irons, in contrast, relied on Bolton. He claimed to offer evidence that his view was regarded as orthodox in the 17th century. The claim that many of the Divines shared his view seems unproven. Further, Wagner claimed that even Bolton does not seem to agree with Irons. Doubtful that those who took similar views (the mixed covenant/subservient view) would agree with his conclusion that the decalogue as a summary of the moral law is applicable to the new covenant believer. He says that the decalogue cannot be the rule. Irons said that to place ourself under the Decalogue is to place ourselves under a covenant of death. Irons implied that Bolton agrees that the content of moral obligation changes from the law of Moses to the law of Christ. Bolton explicitly states that the law as a rule can no more be abolished or changed than God's moral will can change. The substance of the decalogue is eternally binding. For believers the law is abrogated in its power to justify or condemn, but it still has power to direct us. We are not under its curse, but under its commands. Bolton says that the law remains as an unchangeable rule for the believer. It is a rule of sanctification. The law sends to the gospel to be justified, but then gospel sends us to the law to discover the rule for sanctification. Christ strengthens and confirms the rule of the law. Thus the law remains a rule for the believer. Christians are bound to obey the law. "Let not Moses replace Christ," but do not forsake Moses.
The question and answer period was illuminating.
Question: for the advisory committee, is there is a non-moral content to the decalogue, and if so, what is it?
Fesko: the Sabbath is both a moral and a positive command; Pipa says that the "seventh day" is a positive command, not a moral command.
Question: is there any other non-moral content?
Fesko: I cannot speak for the entire advisory committee; I would defer to the appellant. I can mention, though, the promise of long life in the land (universalized by Paul).
Question:: for Irons: do you have a problem with reading the 10 commandments in worship?
Question:: do you have a difficulty of the LC listing of the 10 commandments, when prooftexts only cite OT?
Irons: no. they are fleshing out, in the context of the Mosaic law the additional requirements.
Question: it seems that both sides use the term "summarily comprehended"; it seems that Irons says that the moral law is binding on all?
Irons: very comfortable with "summarily comprehended." It is a summary; not exhaustive. And yes, I believe that the moral law is binding on all.
Question: is there a creation ordinance of labor and rest binding on all
Irons: the creation ordinance of labor is binding on all; but the ordinance of rest is a covenant sign. It was a promise of entering into rest. Unbelievers are not bound to that covenant promise. There is however a creation ordinance to set aside a portion of our time for the worship of God, which is binding on all.
Question: to the presbytery: you said that Irons distinguishes between the moral will and the moral law. Do you recognize that Irons claims that these terms are absolutely identical?
Wagner: I think that may be true today; early on, I believe that he made this distinction before. Personally I believe he may equate the two now.
Question: to the advisory committee-the presbytery referred to "substantial consensus" of the Reformed tradition and various authorities. Could you give us some of your findings regarding substantial authorities who agree with the appellant?
Fesko: Irons is part of a stream within the Reformed tradition-and not a small one. The Puritans were influenced by Ramism (which rejected Aristotle), which divided everything into pairs. The Westminster Assembly explains that the substance of the law is the covenant of grace, but it takes the form of a legal covenant. Some, however, were not happy with Ramism. Turretin says that the Mosaic covenant is a form of a covenant of works. Vos says that there are typological aspects of a covenant of works. Shaw's commentary says that the Mosaic covenant is a subservient covenant. Hodge says that at the national level it is a covenant of works. Murray says that while it is a grave error, this stream of thought has exercised a profound influence on Reformed theology.
Question: the prosecution says that you sound like a dispensationalist. Could you respond?
Irons: Dispensationalism denies the unity of the covenant of grace; I believe that the ordo salutis is the same before and after; I would argue that anything that is part of the OT moral law is implicitly in the NT.
Question: You say that the law remains in force not as law or commandment, but "in terms of the redemptive-historical reality that has dawned in the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ." Do you believe that Christians are under the law of Christ as a divine commandment?
Irons: I admit that it was vague. But in context, I explain the statement in the next paragraphs; we are free from the commanding authority of the Law, "as the old covenant." Then I say that we are under "a new commanding authority-the commanding authority of Christ himself." We are bound to keep the law of Christ.
Question: would the appellant read the 10 commandments in worship?
Irons: yes. All scripture is useful in worship.
Question: you said that much of the moral law is contained in Jesus commandment. In the fourth commandment, is the obligation to church attendance, and in the obligation to rest, binding upon both believer and unbeliever?
Irons: a good analogy is baptism. The sacrament of baptism is commanded for all men. All men ought to be baptized. But we do not apply that sacrament until they believe. In the same way, all men ought to rest, but we only apply it to believers. There is a new covenant Sabbath, called the Lord's Day, to be set aside for worship and rest, and for acts of necessity and mercy. The basic question I ask is: "Does this activity hinder or promote your ability to worship with God's people"
Question: You say that the Decalogue is a summary of the moral law, useful in worship. Is this an essential part of the law of Christ? Is the Decalogue insufficient or inadequate as a moral law?
Irons: the revelation of the moral law at Sinai is inadequate, because the fullness of the law requires the continuation of redemptive history. Especially the command to love one another. The example of Christ teaches more clearly the command to love.
Question: can the NT believer be afflicted according to the temporal threatenings of the law?
Irons: yes. Heb 12. God's fatherly discipline is given to us to grow in grace and be conformed to Christ. But the temporal blessings and curses pronounced in Dt 28 were for that period of time.
In his concluding remarks on behalf of the presbytery, the Rev. Wagner urged the Assembly to remember that church discipline is the pastoral heart of Jesus, the good shepherd. He warned that both sides contained too many who think that this is an easy case. In a remarkable move for a prosecutor, he declared that through this process Irons had become his friend. "I suppose our disagreements are as sharp as ever. But I am convinced, as I was not before, that he is driven by a love of Christ and his word. To admit this is to admit my sins of fear and suspicion from the past." Let us express our disagreements in love. Mr. Irons forgave him, and admitted his own suspicion and fear.
Ruling elder Archibald ("Mac") Laurie, the defense counsel, concluded by saying, "Ministers come and go, and ruling elders stay [Laughter]. I knew you would laugh at that. As a ruling elder, I find myself serving under a third minister. My unique interest as a ruling elder is: what does this ministry do for the sheep?" Citing testimony of a member of Redeemer Chapel, he wanted the Assembly to know that Mr. Irons' ministry has caused those under his preaching to love God's law.
The debate on the floor of the Assembly focused less upon the substance of Mr. Irons' views than the manner of his expressing them. Among the speakers against Mr. Irons were the Rev. Messrs. G. I. Williamson, Stuart Jones, Steven Miller, Jason Wallace, Daniel Dillard, William Shishko, John Galbraith, George Bancroft and Patrick Ramsey.
Voices speaking on behalf of Mr. Irons included the Rev. Messrs. Mark Muller, Jack Bradley, John Fesko, Peter Wallace, Wayne Forkner, Brian Nolder, Craig Troxel, Richard Gaffin, Graham Harbman, and ruling elder Brad Kelley
One speaker claimed that Irons view looked "like a paradigm shift. Where do I go to point people to the moral law?" Can the moral law be preached to unbelievers? If all he was saying was that there is a more intense application in Christ, I would agree, but Irons says that there is no binding commandment for unbelievers to rest on the Sabbath. Another insisted that since the Catechisms use the Ten Commandments as the model for setting forth the moral law, "the moral law to which we are bound as a rule of our obedience is the ten commandments." To say that the moral law is "summarily comprehended" in the ten commandments is to say that it is contained in the ten commandments. That is the teaching of the catechism. "The new commandment's call to self-sacrificing love is a call to obey the ten commandments. I sense a paradigm shift in covenant-an attack on the basic structure of the covenant of works and covenant of grace, and the internal structure of administrations of the covenant of grace." To say that the decalogue contains typological items that are inapplicable to the new covenant believer forgets that the NT uses such and are enshrined in our standards. Paul takes the promise and says that it is still an inducement to obey our parents. That seems to contradict what I have heard from the appellant. Rather, it is whether the appellant called into question the teaching of the standards on the moral law. Does he hold to the Presbyterian standards that he has vowed to uphold?
On the other side, few speakers identified themselves with Irons' views, but affirmed that he was within the tradition. One speaker pointed out that Reformed theologians such as Bolton agreed with Irons that the substance of the law remained in force, but rejected the circumstances. If you worship on Sunday then you already make a distinction between substance and circumstance. Another speaker pointed out at least three places where the Ten Commandments contain material that is not morally binding on the church. The prologue, which is a part of the ten commandments, is it a part of the eternal moral will of God? With respect to the Sabbath, our own standards recognize that the commandment is both moral and positive-therefore recognizing that it is not entirely moral. The fifth commandment includes a specific reference to the land of Canaan. The literal sense of the Ten Commandments includes at least three statements that are not directly binding on the Christian-they are typologically binding in Christ. Irons was not questioning the continuing abiding validity of the moral law of God, but whether the Ten Commandments were simply and solely a statement of the moral law.
Others spoke in an attempt to distinguish between the issues. The first specification, they argued, was whether Irons had called into question the teaching of the standards on the moral law. "I am not arguing that the appellant lies outside the system of doctrine; I am simply saying that he handled this poorly." In response, a member of the advisory committee pointed out that at his licensure back in 1995, Mr. Irons had taken exception to the catechisms' treatment of the fourth and fifth commandments (insisting that both contained items not binding upon the New Covenant believer). The presbytery, he argued, was fully aware of his views.
Very quickly, the entire debate shifted to the question of subscription, exceptions, and whether it is permissible to teach contrary to the Confession. One minister stated that while he agreed that it was permissible to "question fallible standards," it was not appropriate to do so in the pulpits of our churches.
After dinner, a procedural motion brought the consideration of Mr. Irons' view of the Decalogue directly to view (specification #2). The first speech insisted that his view called for a wholesale revision of our view of the moral law. It set forth three basic points: 1) In CF 19.1-2 the moral law of God is binding on all people and all ages. The appellant said that this is too narrow. Irons says that the ten commandments do NOT remain in force as law or commandment! Our standards say that they DO remain in force as law and commandment. He claims that the Confession of Faith and Catechisms do not teach that the decalogue as revealed at Mt Sinai is the standard of holy living. 2) This would lead to views of duties and sins that depart from the standards; he seeks to show that the prism of Christological fulfillment must be used. He says ONLY through prism of christological fulfillment. If he said, "AND" he would be right. Larger Catechism 100 and 101 affirm that the historical prologue DOES apply today, as we understand Israel to be a picture of the church. The sanctions attached to the 2nd and 3rd commandments are used by the LC to show that the sanctions are MORE in force today. 3) It would call for wholesale revision of views of the holy standard of living; LC 99 gives us the right rules.
A second speaker argued that Bolton's subservient covenant view was rejected by the Westminster Assembly. The Confession teaches that there are two covenants, whereas Bolton taught that there were three covenants. Bolton taught that the Mosaic covenant, as a covenant, was abrogated. The reformed rejected the threefold covenant view. Distinguishing between Bolton and the Marrow view (Edward Fisher and Thomas Boston), he claimed that the Marrow men held to the two covenant view. They said that the law was both covenant of works and covenant of grace; that the first giving was a covenant of works, and the second giving (after the breaking of the tablets) was a covenant of grace.
The third speech argued that Irons' view was a "system-buster. It will affect any doctrine whose sinews reach the doctrine of the law of God," which he argued was half the confession.
At this a strange quiet descended on the Assembly. No one rose to counter these speeches. The moderator gave plenty of warning that he was about to put the question. The specification of error was not sustained: 46-72.
This brought the Assembly back to the question of whether Mr. Irons had taught contrary to the Standards in his teaching on the moral law (specification #1). Many seem to have been surprised at the first vote of the Assembly. But now the problem was what to say. The vote had already been taken on the substantive issue, so the rest of the debate floundered a bit. Much of the debate surrounded the question of whether it is permissible to teach contrary to the Standards. Some speakers insisted that while a presbytery may grant an exception, that should not be taken as permission to teach contrary to the Confession. They argued that the only proper approach is to attempt to convince their fellow presbyters through the church courts. But others rejected this as contrary to the history and constitution of the Presbyterian church. As one ruling elder put it, "How am I to teach this confession? Must I teach it as an infallible document? The men that wrote this were keenly aware that they might err. It has been altered! That after 500 years all we need to do is refine? That frightens me. The Holy Spirit is still working in the church." Another minister argued that if a man claims to agree with every statement in the standards, that was simply proof that he hadn't really read them carefully.
After much repetition in debate the Assembly voted 55-66, denying Mr. Irons' first specification of error against the presbytery. Since both specifications of error had been denied, the appeal as a whole was denied, and the judgment of the presbytery was upheld.
Wednesday morning, a protest was read, arguing that "the Assembly failed to recognize the difference between his substantive agreement with our Standards, which contain the system of doctrine taught in Scripture, and his manner of expressing his views with regard to the unchanging and binding nature of the moral law. Not only has the assembly made an erroneous judgment in this matter but by this determination has also called into question the teaching of a significant and vital stream of Reformed, Presbyterian, and confessional thought."
This protest expressed the fear of many that this decision would mark the narrowing of the OPC. Meredith Kline and others have been teaching this view in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for more than 50 years. If the OPC wishes to enforce strict conformity to the Confession's teaching on the law, then I would expect to see the rejection of Theonomy within the next couple of years. But if theonomists wish to continue under our present policy of toleration, then they might wish to reconsider their strident attacks on the Klineans.
But I am not at all convinced that this General Assembly viewed the case as a referendum on the views of Meredith Kline. First, the quality of the debate was sorely lacking on both sides. Few speeches brought any depth of penetrating insight into the question at hand. While many assertions were made about "the Reformed tradition," relatively few speakers gave clear examples to demonstrate their case. Even worse, there was precious little discussion of Scripture. While the moderator faithfully reminded the Assembly to submit every human judgment to the Word of God (Book of Discipline IV.1), there seemed to be little interest in the actual exegesis of biblical texts. It seems to me that a more honest treatment of Mr. Irons' appeal would have interacted more carefully with his biblical argument. This leads me to believe that something other than the merits of the case may have been at work in the debate. Given the historical context of the homosexuality issue, I am inclined to believe that the frequent oblique references to the "implications" of Irons' views may have had more weight for some commissioners than the view under consideration. In addition, the polarization between Reconstructionists and Klineans in the Southern California Presbytery significantly heightened some of the rhetoric on both sides.
Second, Mr. Irons approach to the appeal did not particularly help him. Rather than consider how he could move toward the presbytery, and perhaps consider ways of restating his views in a manner more acceptable to them, he chose to take the "Here I Stand" approach. Given the fact that he admitted that his view was a minority position in the history of the Reformed tradition, perhaps a touch more willingness to compromise would have been more appropriate. Nonetheless, one cannot help but admire his clear presentation of his views. At the very least, no one will ever accuse him of attempting to hide his beliefs. But perhaps his most fatal error was his silence throughout the debate. This commissioner heard several misstatements of Mr. Irons views throughout the debate. While it would have been futile for him to respond to every one, if Mr. Irons had provided the Assembly with a clear statement of his position toward the end of the debate, it might have proved useful. Given the fact that ten votes shifted towards Mr. Irons in the course of the debate between the first vote and the second vote, it should not be assumed that the commissioners were closed-minded. Finally, Mr. Irons chose not even to mention any of the several procedural errors in the presbytery. While such errors should not have been made center stage, the appeal should at least have mentioned them in an appendix. The Assembly deserves to know whether its presbyteries are following the biblical and church orderly model of discipline.
Finally, what is the significance of the Assembly's decision? The long-term significance may be very minimal. If Mr. Irons is restored by his presbytery (and since he was convicted by only one vote, it would seem likely that his presbytery would be satisfied with any movement on Irons' part), then the long-term significance could be virtually non-existent. Given the fact that Klineans and Reconstructionists both challenge certain aspects of the Confession's teaching on the law, one would hope that this decision will encourage both sides to be less antagonistic toward each other. If Roger Wagner and Lee Irons can set an example of a relationship of trust and friendship in the Southern California Presbytery, then perhaps God will have used the church's errors to bring great good.
Perhaps of more immediate concern is what happens next. The real question is not what Mr. Irons does next. The real question is whether the Southern California Presbytery will now sincerely seek to restore Mr. Irons. The narrow votes in the presbytery and at the Assembly should show them that the church does not speak with one voice regarding Mr. Irons' views. If the theonomists wish to have the liberty to differ from the Confession by holding their distinctive views, then perhaps they should show some charity to Mr. Irons. And above all, any Orthodox Presbyterian (indeed, any Christian) who has violated the Ninth Commandment with respect to either Mr. or Mrs. Irons should immediately repent and seek their forgiveness. Those who would uphold the binding nature of the Decalogue should carefully examine their words regarding this couple. Some of the public comments on the internet and in other forums have been nothing less than slander. I urge the members of the Presbytery of Southern California to be zealous to maintain the good names of Mr. and Mrs. Irons-through ecclesiastical discipline if necessary. If the presbytery does nothing to defend the Irons' good names, then the presbytery itself will be guilty of breaking the Ninth Commandment, as our Larger Catechism says:
Q144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A144: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own;...a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities;...a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers....
Q145: What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A145: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature;...outfacing and overbearing the truth;...concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others;...misconstructing intentions, words, and actions;...receiving and countenancing evil reports,...rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt,...and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering: What we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.
Let everyone involved in the case consider carefully what they have said and what they have countenanced from others. As I have studied Old School Presbyterianism, I am impressed by the way in which they carefully distinguished between persons and issues. I fear that such care has not always characterized this case.
The KINNAIRD APPEAL
Ruling elder John Kinnaird had been found guilty by an interim session (appointed by presbytery) of teaching a doctrine of justification by faith and works (the interim session decided to try Kinnaird on the charge, which had been brought against him by two members of the congregation and previously dismissed by the original church session). The Presbytery of Philadelphia denied Mr. Kinnaird's appeal, but then sent a communication to the Assembly admitting that they had failed to give adequate time and effort to the case, and asking the Assembly to remit the case back to the presbytery.
The original appeal set forth two basic specifications, each with two sub-specifications, followed by a third specification setting forth numerous procedural errors. The advisory committee recommended that the Assembly simplify the structure by combining the doctrinal specifications together as follows: "The Session and the Presbytery erred in finding Mr. Kinnaird's teaching to be contrary to the Church's Standards." The procedural matters were then set forth in two additional specifications.
Ruling elder James Gidley reported for the advisory committee, urging the Assembly to sustain Mr. Kinnaird's appeal from the initial decision of the session, as well as from the decision of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. He pointed out that in the very context of the statements for which he was charged he plainly teaches justification by faith alone. Since the specifications of error came from statements on sanctification, glorification and the final judgment, the prosecution needed to prove that these statements contradicted his statement on justification-which they never did. Further, the approved OPC proof texts for Larger Catechism 90 include Romans 2:13, which suggests that it is permissible to interpret that passage the way Kinnaird does. The charge was that Kinnaird taught heresy. The advisory committee believed that Mr. Kinnaird has taught orthodoxy unclearly.
The chronology of the case was bound up with a series of problems at Bethany OPC in Oxford, PA, which were not formally before the Assembly. But it should be known that long before the Assembly met, the former senior pastor of Bethany OPC had renounced the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and led a schism of several families. In the light of this development, it is not at all clear why Mr. Kinnaird was chosen as the sole scapegoat for the church's problems.
Kinnaird opened by arguing that "There is nothing in any of my teaching that either implicitly or explicitly teaches that justification was not conclusive at conversion, or that it is inadequate." All of the specifications came from his teaching on sanctification or glorification. After citing several passages of Scripture, Kinnaird stated that God's eternal purpose is to conform us to the likeness of Christ. Christ will not be ashamed to call us brothers. Why will he be willing to call me brother? The end object of our salvation includes that we might be holy in righteousness-that we might be fully restored to the righteousness that Adam had before the fall. I John 3:2. When he appears, we shall be like him. At the end of regeneration/sanctification/glorification, we will be holy. He will not be ashamed of us.
Kinnaird insisted upon the distinction between imputation and infusion. To impute is a legal term. Transfer of righteousness or guilt. To infuse means to pour in. It does not refer to a transaction in heaven, but to something that God does in the heart and soul of a person on earth; not a change of legal status, but a change in personal character. In glory we will be personally righteous. (He pointed out that J. G. Vos used the term personal righteousness in his commentary on the Larger Catechism).
The defense counsel, Thomas E. Tyson pointed out that Kinnaird had been accused of teaching a doctrine of justification of faith and works. The session and the presbytery agreed that this is what is egregious. Does the appellant teach that justification is also by the instrumentality of works. Do the specifications prove that the appellant teaches that works along with faith bear an instrumental relationship to justification? Turning to Larger Catechism 90 ("What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment? A: At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted...."), Tyson gave the Westminster Divines proof texts for the final judgment-all of which emphasized a judgment according to works. The prosecution claims that he teaches a justification by faith at conversion; and a justification by works at the judgment. If the prosecution is correct, then the Confession is wrong. Justification at conversion is by faith alone. Acquittal at the final judgment (which is solely declarative) is by obedience. But the final acquittal is not the same thing as our justification at the beginning of the Christian life. Then turning to Kinnaird's exegesis of Romans 2:13, Tyson pointed out that Kinnaird's exegesis was permitted within the OPC, since we have approved Romans 2:13 as a proof text for Larger Catechism 90.
The presbytery's response was divided between three men, each of whom had a different purpose.
Joel Kershner spoke on behalf of the interim session of Bethany OPC. He argued that Kinnaird's erroneous teaching had caused trouble for Bethany church members. Much of the division in the church arose from the teaching of the appellant and the controversy between the senior pastor and the appellant. The heart of his objection to Kinnaird's teaching was found in Kinnaird's insistence that the Westminster tradition is not a "faith alone system," because faith is never alone. For Kershner, this was coming very close to affirming justification by faith and works. Because Kinnaird did not clearly differentiate between justification and sanctification, the interim session found him guilty. "His errors go right to the heart of the gospel."
Luke Brown had been sent by the presbytery to request the Assembly to send the matter back to the presbytery for numerous procedural reasons. The presbytery had never really worked through the material before the vote. No reasons for the verdict were given in January. The deliberations were behind close doors. He urged the Assembly not to put too much weight in the presbytery's vote, because the presbytery simply did not do its job well. It had not provided any substantive review of the case.
Finally, John Galbraith spoke in defense of the presbytery's decision. Reading from the Rev. Michael Obel's prepared remarks, Galbraith set forth the basic point: it was a straightforward case; did any of these three documents teach a doctrine of justification of faith and works. It was not a case of what he believes personally, but of what he taught in these three documents. The members of the trial judicatory are committed to sola fide. We know nothing of a justification that countenances the believer's work. Saving faith is ever accompanied by works. Justification is settled at conversion (irreversible). As Tyson said, the appellant said that he believed in a acquittal according to works. Citing a comment from Robert Strimple, Galbraith concluded that Kinnaird initially limited "justification to one act at the first day of the Christian life," but then he destroyed that through sanctification.
Again, the question period was most useful:
Question: there are several places in scripture where it says that if you love me, you will keep my commandments. How do you understand John 14:15?
Kinnaird: our sanctification is a product of the Holy Spirit, who has been sent to us because Christ won the Holy Spirit for us through his active and passive obedience. This Holy Spirit causes us to walk in paths of righteousness, loving our brother, loving God. Also Isaiah 35. The highway of holiness. Only the redeemed of the Lord will walk there. When Christ sends the counselor, his people will walk in holiness-NOT perfection. Philippians 2 urges us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who is at work in us.
Question: from the Greek; is it your contention that the use of the word dikaiow in Romans 2:13 is different from his usage in Galatians 2:16, and that the former usage corresponds to "acquit" and the latter to "justify" in the standards.
Kinnaird: I come into this life under condemnation. When God declares a person under condemnation to be righteous, that changes his status. Now if God chooses to declare such a person righteous at a future date, it does not change his legal status. The final acquittal does not change the status of a man, because his status was changed at his initial justification.
Tyson: The divines at LC 90: what shall be done to the righteous? Those who have been moved from a state of condemnation to a state of justification. THOSE righteous will be openly acknowledged and acquitted. They could have used the word "justified"-but that might have been confusing. So they chose a different word. There is going to be a pronouncement.
Question: do you stand by all six statements as clear and good exposition?
Kinnaird: Christ does call me his brother now. I am saved, I am being saved, I shall be saved. I am seen in Christ. Union with Christ is the central organizing point. Clear is perhaps in the mind of beholder. If I knew I would be in this trouble when I wrote them, I would have worked over them more clearly.
Question: you've spoken of the justification at conversion and the acquittal at the day of judgment; what is the basis of that welcome at the day of judgment
Kinnaird: purely the work of Jesus Christ. And I have always said this. See my statements on saving faith, the last judgment, etc.
Question: in your presentation, you mentioned something about being restored to the righteousness that Adam had before he sinned. Could you explain?
Kinnaird: we will be restored, but better than what Adam had. Adam had a basic nature that was not sinful-original righteousness; but he lost that. We will be restored to a basic moral character that is holy or righteous, but with this difference-it will be incorruptible; we will be crowned with righteousness and incorruptibility.
Question: can you help me understand why when you are asked on Justification by faith alone, so many of your answers seem to draw on sanctification, good works, and glorification.
Kinnaird: that is a twist that the judicatory put on my words. I was talking about those things, but the Presbytery said I was talking about Justification.
Question: do you believe in the covenant of works?
Kinnaird: I don't believe that's relevant, but I'll answer. I believe in the covenant of works. I'm referring to the pre-lapsarian covenant with Adam.
Question: you are quoted (4130) as saying that Christ does not have an imputed righteousness, and that we need to have a real and personal righteousness. Do you stand by that statement as it is? Is imputed righteousness not real.
Kinnaird: the WCF on sanctification states: those who are called and regenerated are further sanctified really and personally. The WCF is not implying that the imputed righteousness of justification isn't real! Imputed righteousness is an alien righteousness. Sanctification is a personal righteousness.
Question: You say that "these good works are a required condition if we would stand on the day of judgment" supplied by God. Do I understand that we are talking of the evangelical obedience of the believer? You say that they are a required condition. I understand "according to". What does "required condition" mean?
Kinnaird: Here's an example. Repentance is not a cause of pardon, but is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it. It is of no value for acquiring pardon. It is purely an act of grace. It is a condition, but without any meritorious basis. God works in his people, causing his people both to want to do, and actually do his good pleasure-which is to keep his moral law.
Question: the appellant stated that he was saved in the past, now, and in the future. Is this true of justification?
Kinnaird: no, I wouldn't say that. It is true that I am justified-I was constituted just in the past. In the future I will be justified/acquitted; but there is no sense in which I can say that I am being justified.
Question: what, if any, is the relationship between imputation of righteousness of Christ and the Christian's good works.
Kinnaird: all who receive the benefits of active an passive obedience of Christ; those are the justified. The section on sanctification says that they who are effectually called and regenerated are further sanctified. Inseparable connection, and yet can be distinguished from each other.
Questions for Presbytery
Question: you read from Mr. Obel's paper: "we know of no justification that involves works." How do you square that with James 2?
Galbraith: the Confession says that we are justified by faith alone.
Question: so are there biblical instances using the word "justification" that are not included in the confession?
Galbraith: yes. But works are not the instrument by which justification is received.
In their closing remarks, the presbytery's representatives again sounded different notes. Joel Kershner insisted that there should be no reference to good works, without saying something about the need for regeneration. Convinced that Kinnaird jeopardized the doctrine of faith alone, he warned that the Reformed churches were watching to see what the OPC would do.
Luke Brown agreed that Kinnaird's written statements lack clarity, but pointed out that the interim session's reasons for the verdict were just as confusing. They used Murray's language of redemption accomplished and applied to make a conclusion that redemption applied has nothing to do with qualifying us for judgment day. Likewise they misrepresented the appellant by taking his quotations out of context. The session insisted that they focused entirely and solely upon the three specifications. Was his testimony taken into regard? Or did they so focus on the excerpts taken out of context that they disregarded his actual teaching? Kinnaird attempted to explicate and clarify his views, but there is a consistency in his views throughout.
John Galbraith argued that the very fact that we are debating this question illustrates that the position of the appellant is not clear. It is not clear. An elder must teach with clarity. Further, he insisted that Kinnaird never adequately refuted the charges.
John Kinnaird concluded his defense by asserting that while sanctification is not equal in all, it does grow up to perfection in glorification. No one can be "fully conformed" to Christ without regeneration, some degree of sanctification, and glorification. It had been taught in our church [Bethany OPC, Oxford] that what the Confession says about sanctification was for a future millennial age. He had attempted to counter such teaching, and for that he was on trial.
Speakers arguing against sustaining Kinnaird's appeal included Steven Miller, John VanMeerbeke, Bruce Stahl, John Galbraith, Charles Jackson, David Van Drunen, and Michael Montemarano
Speakers arguing in favor of sustaining the appeal included James Gidley, G. I. Williamson, Peter Wallace, Doug Watson, John Mahaffy, Brian Nolder, Anthony Monaghan, Dan Knox, Len Chanoux, and Dick Gaffin
Those who argued against Kinnaird's appeal generally focused on his lack of clarity. One speaker insisted that "When the appellant says that in the final judgment, it is conditioned by works, it is an example of the kind of unclarity that rise beyond the level of acceptable unclarity." But in the final judgment, our works do not sustain a formal relation to the verdict as a condition. There is no relationship between works and justification. Not before, not during, not after.
[Note: the language of "condition" was used very imprecisely in this speech. Kinnaird insisted that good works were a necessary condition, but not an efficient or sufficient condition. The final judgment is "according to" our works, but not "on the basis of" our works (see the questions and answers above)-PJW].
In reply, while admitting that Mr. Kinnaird had been unclear, many speakers pointed out that the charge was whether he had taught a doctrine of justification by faith and works. As one put it, "I believe that the appellant taught orthodoxy unclearly." Whatever errors might exist in Mr. Kinnaird's theology, he was orthodox on justification. Another speaker pointed out that the source of confusion should not be attributed entirely to Mr. Kinnaird. The presbytery had sent two different representatives to argue two different positions. The interim session had claimed that redemption applied did nothing to qualify us for judgment day. And all accounts acknowledged that there was significant confusion in the congregation. As one member of the interim session put it, Kinnaird had been wrongly singled out as the main cause of that confusion. Kinnaird may have been overzealous to correct certain errors, but he had not taught heresy. Another minister warned that if we start suspending officers for lack of clarity, the next Assembly could be pretty meagerly attended. He feared that if Kinnaird were convicted, it might signal the refusal of the OPC to take seriously the biblical basis of our theology.
Speaking against Kinnaird, one minister warned the assembly to think about what sustaining Kinnaird would do to the church. This would establish the visible position of the church on justification before the church and the world. They would not hear this debate. They will have no way of knowing what we have said. I believe that it was the responsibility of the appellant to refute the charges. Had he done that, we could have contrasted the specifications and the refutation, and then we could have said something. All we have is a simple motion to sustain. Where does it leave the sheep? He says that those who obey the law will be declared righteous. This is what the whole world will hear! He emphatically disagreed with the esteemed brother who says that he has taught orthodoxy unclearly. As soon as you dilute orthodoxy, you no longer have orthodoxy. He concluded by declaring that if the Assembly passed this motion, they would mark this church as heretical in the eyes of the world.
In reply, another speaker pointed out that the Westminster Divines had declared that repentance is of such necessity to all sinners that none may expect pardon without it (Confession 15.3). They distinguished between a necessary condition and a sufficient condition. Kinnaird did the same. He was preaching the law, setting forth God's requirements. Then on page 6 of his sermon, he starts to preach the gospel. It has been said if you sustain the appeal we will be viewed as heretical in the eyes of people. If we do not sustain the appeal, we will be viewed as heretical in the eyes of God.
As the debate continued, Mr. Kinnaird apologized to the Assembly for the confusion he had caused, for the time this has taken, and for his lack of clarity. He said: I'm not a trained communicator....But I'm not a heretic because I failed to communicate adequately. How will the world know that I have refuted the charges? In my appeal, which will be published in the minutes of this GA, all churches may learn. Ground 1 demonstrates that I do not teach a justification by faith and works. The world will know. More recently, one complained that I said "these good works are a required condition." I regret that. But I said that our works are tainted by sin, but are the works of the Holy Spirit within us. They merit nothing. We who rest in faith in Christ are the beneficiaries of his grace, whereby he again supplies what is needed for our salvation. What I am saying is that these good works will be present in the Christian. The fruit and evidence of sanctification is good works. Our souls will be made perfect in holiness before the judgment day (after death). Someone said that there is no relationship whatsoever between works and justification. Look at WCF 16.2. They are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith. The problem with the Israelites was that they claimed to be God's people, but they lived like the world around them. God had the answer: I'm going to give you a new heart and make you walk in my ways. You cannot say that my good works are the basis for my standing on the judgment. They are God's workmanship. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works.
The closest thing to a departure from the confession was noted towards the end of the debate, when one minister pointed out that Kinnaird had called the "open acquittal" on the judgment day a matter of justice, when the Confession calls it a manifestation of the glory of God's mercy (Confession 33.2).
The final speech of the night must be attributed. The Rev. Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. gave one of the finest speeches in recent OPC history. He pointed out that the charge was whether Kinnaird taught that works is an instrument of justification, equal with faith. In this respect, his views were reasonably clear. He certainly did not see a culpable confusion. Works are neither the ground nor the instrument of justification in his views. Consider Hebrews 12:14- pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Holiness is a sine qua non for seeing the Lord (that Latin phrase being closely echoed in the Latin translation of Hebrews 12:14). But a required condition is NOT a cause. Citing what is probably John Calvin's final statement on justification, from his Commentary on Ezekiel (1564)-on Ezekiel 18:17-Gaffin drew attention to Calvin's treatment with its careful distinctions. Regarding the statement, "faith without works justifies," Calvin says, "this proposition is true yet false, according to the different senses which it bears." If you take the phrase "without works" adverbially, modifying "justifies," then it is true; in fact, the gospel stands or falls with this truth. But if it is taken adjectivally, modifying faith, then it is false; faith by itself (by-itself faith) does NOT justify. Faith is the sole instrument whereby we receive the grace of justification, but faith cannot justify when it is without works, since it is dead and a mere fiction. Turning from Calvin to the Westminster Divines, Gaffin noted that this teaching is enshrined in our Confession. The Divines included a reference to works in the chapter on Justification. Faith is never alone, but it is ever accompanied in the person justified (WCF, 11:2). Surely the final judgment will reveal the justice of God on the wicked, and the mercy of God to believers, but it will also be a display of his justice, in crowning the holiness which he has produced in his people. He concluded by saying that he was privileged to stand with the appellant.
[I find it quite interesting that at least one negative report of the Assembly has quoted part of Gaffin's speech, but failed to note that the quotation was actually from Calvin. If Reformed folk wish to declare that Calvin is not orthodox on justification, they are welcome to do so, but it would be more honest if they would say so openly-PJW.]
There was some question of sending the whole matter back to the presbytery, but before the Assembly got derailed from the point at hand, the previous question was finally moved. On the question of sustaining the main specification of error against the presbytery, the vote was overwhelming. No rising vote was required, but a comparison may be in order. The first vote on Mr. Irons was 46-72 (about a 60/40 split). The moderator was in doubt, and required a rising count in order to determine the outcome. In the Kinnaird vote, there was no question. It was easily a 3-1 margin (75%).
The following day, the Rev. John Galbraith presented a protest complaining that the Assembly had not demonstrated that the specifications of error in the Session's verdict were false. Further, the Assembly did not "adopt reasons for deciding that the session and presbytery were in error," which left "the decision open to the impression that the entire content of the Kinnaird 'Declaration' is fully acceptable to the Church, which the undersigned denies." And finally, "The decision of the Assembly to sustain the appeal opens the gate, in the judgment of the undersigned, to use throughout the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of a hermeneutic that allows interpretations of Scripture that are out of accord with the whole body of the Word."
Some ignorant commentators have suggested that the OPC has departed from orthodoxy, or has approved of teaching a doctrine of justification by faith and works. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the Assembly declared was that John Kinnaird did not teach justification by faith and works. While some have suggested that this case was a referendum on Norman Shepherd, it is worth pointing out that Kinnaird's defense counsel voted against Norman Shepherd in the Philadelphia Presbytery twenty years ago (and still stands by that vote). The reason for the overwhelming vote was because the Assembly had become convinced, on the merits of the case, that Kinnaird was innocent. No matter how concerned they may have been to guard the church against erroneous teaching on justification, they could not bring themselves to condemn an innocent man.
While some may have wished for the Assembly to prepare an explanatory statement for its decision, or some reaffirmation of the sole instrumentality of faith in our justification, there is really no need for such a declaration. By its judicial decision, the Assembly declared that it stands firmly on the Confession.
[See my letters regarding Turretin's view of justification and the relation of justification and sanctification.]
As several commentators have pointed out, there is a significant problem with the way in which the Assembly came to its conclusions. The Assembly debated the Confession and the Reformed tradition, but rarely bothered to look at the Word of God. It should be noted that the Rev. Brian Nolder was a shining example to the contrary. His speeches regularly took the Assembly to the Word of God, but no one thought to answer him. If I had provided a blow by blow account of the speeches, the reader would see that whenever Mr. Nolder spoke, subsequent speeches entirely ignored him. Is it really the case that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church cares more about what the Confession says than about what the Word of God says? If men really believe that the Confession is merely a summary of the scripture, then they should be willing to spend at least as much time on exegetical details as they do on confessional points.
As a historian, I observed the late Assembly with interest. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has always presented a bewildering complexity, because relatively few men are easy to "typecast" into parties. Voting rarely follows predictable patterns, and this Assembly did not depart from the historic practice.
Nonetheless, while nearly impossible to fit many individuals into "parties," it may be useful for the church to reflect upon the spectrum of views that exist in the church. As I see it, there are several overlapping circles-so men may see themselves in several of the following groups:
1) Neo-Puritan-perhaps found more in the PCA than in the OPC, this group has a strong emphasis on experience and the affections. Jonathan Edwards is the central hero of this perspective, which seeks the pure, gathered church (in contrast to the Old Presbyterians).
2) Old Presbyterian-this group views the church from a parish perspective, maintaining a high view of catholicity, and retaining the traditional Presbyterian understanding of the visible church as a mixed multitude. For this reason they tend to see the Confession as providing boundaries for orthodoxy, rather than a univocal way of saying things.
3) Redemptive Historical-rooted in Vossian biblical theology, this group shares a common conviction that the eschatological precedes the soteriological, in other words, that the ordo salutis (the application of redemption) is rooted in the historia salutis (the accomplishment of redemption), but has several subdivisions, the most prominent of which are:
a) the Klineans-who generally emphasize the centrality of the covenant of works, but focus on the discontinuity between Moses and Christ-often against the Reconstructionists.
b) the Murrayites-who generally emphasize the continuity of the covenant of grace and prefer the language of the covenant of life.
4) Reconstructionist-while influenced by both Murray and Kline, this group does not generally share the same eschatological perspective. Viewing the redemptive historical approach as too otherworldly, the Reconstructionists emphasize the continuity of Moses and Christ (especially through Bahnsen's interpretation of Matthew 5:17).
5) Southern Presbyterian-this perspective focuses on the exclusive spirituality of the church, and wants to keep the church separate from any sort of cultural entanglement. They tend to be strict constructionists.
6) Classic Confessionalist-this identification seems to fit many of those who may have been influenced somewhat by Murray, Kline, and/or Rushdoony, but generally found 20th century developments disconcerting, and have embraced the classic 17th century formulations of the Confession as the sole test of orthodoxy.
There are probably many other labels that could be used, but these were all noticeable at the recent Assembly. Some men may see themselves in virtually every category, so this should not be taken as an attempt to stereotype. The differences in perspective, hermeneutic and formulation are significant. As I sat in my advisory committee, I realized that virtually all of these perspectives were present in our small group of nine ministers and elders. What unites us? The Confession. As I looked around the room, I knew that these men would disagree with each other vehemently over the definition of confessional orthodoxy in the coming days, and yet these men came to unanimous agreement on the best way to handle the subscription issue. We were convinced that the only way that the church could remain orthodox was if we avoided a mechanical method of subscription, and insisted upon a careful, case-by-case application of our constitutional standards to individual candidates. In other words, we must get to know each other. It was indeed a bewildering array of consensus in that room. These were men who would fight passionately for their convictions, yet men who understood that this is Christ's church, and therefore would work together with those whom Christ has called to shepherd his flock.
If the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is to prosper through the controversies of the coming years, then we must work past the suspicion and fear that characterizes the present day. Let every minister and elder think of the men that they most distrust in their presbytery. Let them work diligently to get to know and understand those men-working together in the service of Christ. And then (and only then) let us sit down and talk about what divides us. I have heard men say that they would not allow a certain minister from their presbytery preach in their pulpits. Brothers, this should not be! We may disagree with each other, but we are brethren in the service of Christ.
This is part of the reason why I suggested earlier that we should start talking with the ARP (or the RPCNA, perhaps) about ecclesiastical union. Sure, we have our problems-and they have theirs-but what is the point of the Reformed churches all having separate but parallel controversies? Given that we are all debating worship, hermeneutics, creation, and covenant, why not debate together? And then, with the URC and Canadian Reformed united, we could enter into three-way talks with them and the PCA. What is the point of remaining separate? As Ralph Pontier put it so simply, it is pride!
I do not suggest ecumenism as a means of avoiding our differences. The very process of working towards ecclesiastical union would force us to deal constructively with these issues. Especially the process of working through confessional harmonization between the Continental and British traditions, would require us to re-articulate the center of Reformed theology.
I would even go so far as to suggest that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church can never resolve these issues satisfactorily by ourselves. We need our brethren. If we are to resist the temptation to "market" ourselves as distinctive "niche" churches, and instead live as faithful churches of Jesus Christ, then we must work together in fellowship with those who confess the same faith.
Concluding Note on Righteousness and Sanctification
It was stated on the floor of the Assembly that the Standards regularly use the language of "righteous" and "righteousness" solely with respect to justification, and that of "holy" and "holiness" to refer to sanctification. That statement was perhaps misleading to some, because the Confession does not in fact make such a distinction. For instance in the Shorter Catechism's definition of sanctification, it says:
SC 35 "What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness."
Sanctification enables us to live unto righteousness. Indeed, in the very place where the Confession uses the phrase "the practice of true holiness," the Shorter Catechism uses "live unto righteousness." And here, righteousness is plainly the practice of obedience. The Standards often use the words together:
CF 20.3 "They who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life."
LC 167: "How is our Baptism to be improved by us? The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long,...by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ..."
We are called to serve the Lord "in holiness and righteousness" throughout this life. Righteousness is not portrayed here in its alien sense (justification), but in the sense of daily practice (sanctification), again showing that it is appropriate to talk about sanctification with the language of righteousness. Further, the Larger Catechism says that those who practice righteousness are to be called righteous:
LC 145 "The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are....rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked...."
This plainly refers to "the righteous" as those who do good. We should never think of "the righteous" as being perfect, but rather as those who do good, in contrast to the wicked. In light of this designation of the Christian as "righteous," it is proper to say that the references in LC 85 and 90 should be taken in both senses: as those who have had their persons declared righteous in Jesus Christ, and who have also practiced righteousness in their daily conversation. The "righteous" in biblical and confessional parlance are not perfect in this life, rather they are those whose sins have been forgiven, and therefore whose obedience is pleasing to God:
LC 85 "Death, being the wages of sin, why are not the righteous delivered from death, seeing all their sins are forgiven in Christ? The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day, and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God's love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon."
LC 90 "What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment? At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.
CF 33.2 The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
The Confession is very clear that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us in justification, and infused into us in our sanctification, so that our good works are not the ground of anything (LC 77-78). But the Confession is equally clear that those who belong to Christ should be called "the righteous," not only because of our justification, but also because of our sanctification.
One minister claimed on the floor of the Assembly that Mr. Kinnaird erred by saying that the righteous will be made perfect in holiness prior to the final judgment. After all, he pointed out, LC 90 says we shall be "made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul," after our open acquittal. The reverend gentlemen erred in his haste to condemn Mr. Kinnaird. LC 86 says that upon our death, but before the final judgment, "their souls are then made perfect in holiness." LC 86 says that our souls shall be made perfect in holiness when we die, and then LC 90 says that after the resurrection and the final judgment, we shall be made "perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul." We will already be perfect in holiness before the final judgment, but that judgment will confirm what God declared in Jesus Christ, and in our justification, and what God worked in us through our sanctification.
Perhaps a useful way to think about it is this: if God has united you with Christ, forgiven all your sins, and given you his Holy Spirit, then on the judgment day, what will be left for him to judge? If all your sin has already been forgiven, then God will only be looking at those good works which you were created to do in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:10). As Augustine said, "he crowns his own gifts."
Given the press of time, committee elections were often perfunctory, but there were some interesting contests. The following is a summary of the balloting:
Subcommittee on Ministerial Training (Christian Ed):
David Winslow 120 elected
Tom Tyson 102 elected
Sid Dyer 50
Committee on Christian Education
2 ministers 1 elder:
Sid Dyer elected D. G. Hart 68 elected
G. I. Williamson elected Roger Rao 53
Committee on Foreign Missions
Kenneth Campbell 79 Arthur Thompson 108 (elected)
Ben Snodgrass 106 (elected) Ed Kaufman 58
Paul Browne 95 (elected) Brad Winstead 75 (elected)
Jack Peterson 88 (elected) Bill Swink 17
Committee on Coordination
1 minister 1 elder
Jim Bosgraf (elected) Russell Copeland 28 25
Ted Weber 42 62 67 (elected)
David Gregg 42 52 45
Greg DeJong 24
137 139 112
Committee on Diaconal Ministries
Coppes (elected) Robert Wright (elected)
Roy Ingelse (elected)
Committee on Pensions
Broline (elected) Stahl (elected)
Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations
Mark Bube 109 (elected)
Peter Wallace 69
G. I. Williamson 88 (elected)
George Knight 108 (elected)
Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel
Chaplain Lyman Smith 71 (elected)
Mr. Bob Coie 54
Chaplain Martin L. Dawson 11
Committee for the Historian
Douglas J. Smith (elected)