The Orthodox Presbyterian General Assembly of 2004
By the Rev. Dr. Peter J. Wallace
The Seventy-First General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, from June 2-June 8, 2004. This review is not intended to cover every detail of the Assembly, but only certain items that may not receive full coverage elsewhere.
Having recently finished my dissertation on Old School Presbyterianism, it is noteworthy to examine the ways in which the OPC differs from the Old School. June 8th was the 167th anniversary of the final day of the famous 1837 General Assembly (which lasted for three weeks, from May 18-June 8, 1837). Most Old School Assemblies lasted for around two weeks, and when you consider the fact that some commissioners had to travel for another week or two in order to reach the Assembly, the time commitment for General Assembly could be as much as two months away from your congregation.
While the Old School Assembly also had advisory committees, these committees would usually meet during breaks, since their Assembly took a more leisurely pace. The regular sessions met from 9:00-1:00 and from 3:30-5:30, with occasional evening sessions when there was pressing business. There were no time limits on speeches, and such orators as Robert J. Breckinridge, Nathan L. Rice, and James Henley Thornwell regularly delivered one to two hour speeches on important topics. Invariably these speeches were well-rehearsed (and frequently written out in full), so it was very rare to hear anyone complaining about their length. The Old School valued the rhetorical arts, and these speeches sometimes were effective in swaying the Assembly.
The Old School Assembly consisted of one minister and one ruling elder from each presbytery (though presbyteries with more than 24 ministers could send two ministers and two elders), which resulted in an average size of around 300 commissioners.
With the combination of lengthy speeches and lots of talented speakers, it is perhaps understandable that the Old School was also famous for its use of "the previous question" to cut off debate. Most issues were thoroughly debated first, but once the Assembly had made up its mind, a speaker would move the previous question (and in those days such a motion could come at the end of a speech!). This is one area where the OPC is most emphatically not Old School. We seem to prefer an unlimited number of short speeches to a limited number of lengthy ones.
But if you want to know about the substance of what the Old School debated, you will have to read my dissertation! (You can find an electronic copy at http://etd.nd.edu and then search for "Peter Wallace"-but be forewarned that the dissertation is 917 pages long and may take a while to download!)
With some fear and trepidation, I have determined to attribute speeches to their sources. While unable to provide a verbatim transcript, I have attempted to provide a fair summary of each speech. If anyone thinks that I have misrepresented his speech, I will be happy to correct it. As I pointed out last year, Old School newspapers regularly reported a full account of every speech (in summary form) as a service to the church. I hope that this report will be useful for helping the church understand the reasons for the Assembly's actions.
2. Organization of the Assembly
Last year's moderator, Robert Coie, ruling elder from Westminster OPC in Westminster, California, presided over the opening worship service on Wednesday evening, and over the election of a new moderator on Thursday morning. The nominees were the Rev. Richard Gerber, Assistant General Secretary for the Committee on Home Missions, and the Rev. Larry Wilson, the organizing pastor of Christ Covenant OPC in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mr. Wilson was elected by a vote of 74-62.
This year's Assembly had only 20 rookies, the lowest number in many years. For those interested in the statistics, I have included the composition of the last eight General Assemblies below.
1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
2000s -- -- -- 2 8 10 23 15
1990s 32 35 34 49 46 36 38 40
1980s 30 28 30 27 30 30 32 28
1970s 22 30 24 28 21 33 22 21
1960s 27 21 24 21 19 16 14 20
1950s 11 10 9 6 7 10 8 4
1940s 4 4 3 3 1 1 1 0
1930s 2 1 2 1 2 0 1 1
First-time 21 27 21 29 27 37 31 20
3. Church Buildings
David Haney reported for the OPC Loan Fund that of our 300 churches and mission works, only 144 own their own building. It is perhaps useful to note that even after a major church building drive in the 1850s, nearly a quarter (553) of the Old School's 2267 churches in 1858 had no building of their own.
Underlined names were incumbents. Asterisks (*) indicate who was elected. Ministers are on the left and Ruling Elders on the right (unless there was no distinction made in the balloting)
Committee on Home Missions
Jason Wallace (69) Robert L. Ayers*
Gerald Taylor (85)* John Mauldin*
George Knight (114)*
Patrick Malone (36)
Don Poundstone (78)*
Committee on Christian Education
Subcommittee on Ministerial Training
Rodney King (105)*
Alan Strange (124)*
Glenn Jerrell (56)
Stephen Pribble (104)*
Committee on Foreign Missions
Charles Telfer (59) Rob Joss (First, Ipswich) (94)*
Bill Kessler (91)* David Gregg (Middletown PA) (62)
John Mahaffy (85)* Luke Brown (116)*
Peter Wallace (17) John Williams (91)*
Don Duff (61)
Gary Davenport (75)*
Committee on Coordination
Stephen Doe* Dennis Fullalove (28)
Bruce Fenton (42) (50)
John Mazunik (58) (83)*
Committee on Pensions
Darren Thole* William Redington*
Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel
Bob Needham (106)* Bob Coie (26)
Committee on Diaconal Ministries
Ronald Pearce* Frode Jensen*
Committee for the Historian
Brent Ferry (112)* Dennis Fullalove (20)
Committee on Appeals and Complaints
John Mallin (122)*
David Klein (50)
Thomas Foh (74)*
Committee on Ecumenicity
Tony Curto (52) (58) (84)*
Peter Wallace (74)*
Bob Needham (55) (64) (85)*
Ed Kauffman (24)
Nathan Trice (51) (51)
Doug Clawson (52) (55) (80)
Glenn Jerrell (28)
David Haney (44) (35)
Mark Williams (14)
Two of the incumbents (Dick Gaffin and Dick Barker) retired from the committee, prompting a much larger than usual list of nominees.
Coie Mr Curto served as my pastor for many years, as did Mr Needham. He works hard on his assignments. He keeps track of the churches. He is liaison for BPC. He has traveled a bit. Mr Curto and Mr Needham are men of principle; mature men who have learned through severe trials to rest and trust in the Lord. Curto suffered through trials in Uganda. He wrote the book of church order for that church.
Pribble Mr Wallace has a deep love for and commitment for the OPC; he has served on CCE, Creation and Proof texts; committed presbyter-current moderator of presbytery; keen interest in ecumenicity; regularly visits judicatories of other denominations; relative youth might be useful since the median age is high.
Tyson Mr Trice would help us with our average age; he resides in the bosom of the ARP-we need to foster closer relations as they are moving in the right direction. He and Dr Knight could work together on subcommittees well. The fact that Mr Trice would like to work on this committee is an asset.
Barker Mr. Kauffman is a retired naval officer; ruling elder; there is a value in having at least one ruling elder (there is one other). Is secretary of the PRJC, which would help him on the committee.
Knight Mr. Clawson is associate secretary of foreign missions; he knows the PCA; he is involved in the world community;
Gaffin Dr. Wallace needs something to keep himself occupied. His work reflects not only his interest and competence in church history, but his deep concern for the church. Anyone serving on this committee needs to be able to do a great deal of reading; Dr Wallace would be very competent. Let's not despise his youth. Also David Haney has interest in serving on this committee. He has broad contacts in our church and beyond. We should have another ruling elder.
Mahaffy Mr. Jerrell does lower the average age, but he has served a term before; the work of the church as a whole. He and Peter have done some very practical things on the local level. He was the youngest of the three men who was elected to revise our BD.
Fartro Mr. Williams is a ruling elder who serves on our presbytery's committee. Very hard worker.
5. Fraternal Relations
The OPC maintains fraternal relations with eighteen churches (including ecclesiastical fellowship with thirteen). The Assembly heard from nine different churches during the course of the week.
Addresses from Fraternal Delegates:
The Rev. Takao Nakadai addressed the assembly as the first fraternal delegate from the Presbyterian Church of Japan. They are primarily located in the southern part of Japan, and so have not had as much contact with our missionaries in the north as the Reformed Church of Japan.
The Rev. Norio Nishibori and the Rev. Tsuyoshi Sato addressed the Assembly on behalf of the Reformed Church of Japan, requesting the Assembly to continue the work of the OPC Japan mission in the Tohuku Presbytery. The Tohuku Presbytery consists of fourteen churches and chapels, half of which cannot support their own pastors. The presbytery's region includes 40% of the territory of Japan (including the island of Hokkaido). They expressed concern that some of their chapels might have to close if the OPC withdrew its missionaries from that presbytery.
The Rev. Bort DeGraaf addressed the Assembly as the representative of the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands,
Klaas Wezeman spoke on behalf of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands (Liberated). These two churches are very similar in doctrine but their differences in preaching (the CRCN is more pietist, while the RCNL is more redemptive-historical) keep them separate. The RCNL has 275 congregations with 130,000 members. The RCNL has invited the OPC to enter full ecclesiastical fellowship.
The Rev. Dries du Ploy addressed the Assembly on behalf of the Reformed Churches of South Africa-the first fraternal delegate from the RCSA. He came to invite the OPC to enter ecumenical relations. The RCSA was founded in 1859 (parallel to the Dutch secession that produced the CRCN). He noted that the government of South Africa is presently trying to merge all Christian universities into the state system, which would result in the loss of any distinctively Christian higher education. The RCSA has 500-600 congregations, 300 among the white Afrikaans and around 300-350 among the indigenous people (both Zulu, and the 11-12 different cultures). All students (irrespective of color) are trained together in our theological institute both in Afrikaans and English. They are presently in fellowship with CRCN and the RCNL, as well as the Free Church of Scotland (among others).
The Rev. Dr. James Carson spoke on behalf of the RPCNA, welcoming the Assembly to Geneva College.
The Rev. Robert Grossman spoke on behalf of the RCUS. He thanked the OPC for challenging the RCUS over the last 44 years to avoid a "narrow, parochial vision," as well as in home and foreign missions. He commented that the RCUS requires all officers to hold the ordinary day view of the creation days, and stated that "we pray that God will bring you to a biblical position as well." He assured the Assembly that the issue itself could not hurt our fraternal relations, but the underlying hermeneutic behind non-24 hour positions could. He also reported that the RCUS has condemned the teaching of Norman Shepherd on justification: "the teachings of Shepherd are another gospel." The RCUS is also beginning plans to found a denominational seminary.
The Rev. John A. Bouwers spoke on behalf of the United Reformed Churches. The URC has 89 congregations with 20,000 members. He reported that the URC Synod had received overtures regarding paedocommunion and the framework view. Also there was an appeal regarding justification and final justification from a minister. We are strongly committed to unity in the truth. He reported that the URC has entered Phase 1 ecumenical relations with the Free Reformed, RCUS, OCRC and OPC. They are also moving toward Phase 1 with the RPCNA and the ERQ. They are in Phase 2 with the Canadian Reformed which commits us to organic union. They are also recommending the RCUS be brought to Phase 2. They will probably discontinue relations with Protestant Reformed Churches. The URC and the OPC are discussing differences in church polity. We have prepared statements on church government that are as accomodating as we can be at this time. Regarding church designations and distinctions, there is some wisdom to consider what variant distinction imply; scripture designates "church" as local, regional and universal. But the nature or structure of these relations is voluntary. Likewise, with respect to church offices and authority, they insist that origin and continuity is in the local church. Authority is delegated to office bearers in the broader setting for the benefit of the local congregation. Broader assemblies do have real authority, with churches retaining the right of appeal. In conclusion he called us to be convinced that we have been entrusted with a like precious faith. As Hodge said (quoted in creation report), "let us not continue to split into insignificant sects....allowing the system of doctrine to go to destruction." We need each other to stand together in this task.
The Rev. R. Irfon Hughes spoke on behalf of the PCA. "I'm probably one of the few men who asked to come to your Assembly." He stated that the OPC has "set an example to us. Sometimes we have not recognized that example as we ought." We have a common heritage. Our children find so much in common when they visit each other's children. Common confession. Common concerns. There are attacks on our Reformed distinctives. The world has always laughed at Christ, but when men from within our own ranks do so, we need to defend the faith. We have decided to proceed to further talks with you and other reformed churches. To a degree, our church says "why bother?" Among you (and us) there can be an adversarial attitude creeping in. I want to see a time when our churches are much more cooperative. We have the great concerns of evangelism. We must work together. We need your strength and courage. Our church sometimes gives the impression that we are not on the same side (and so does yours). God's name is to be glorified by his people. Psalm 133. As we draw together and work together, we will see God's blessing poured out upon us.
Report of the Committee:
When the committee reported at the end of the Assembly, the Rev. Thomas Tyson spoke of the work of the committee.
Tyson As you can see and hear from our fraternal delegates, our fraternal relations are important to us. We have begun a process of holding regular talks with our counterparts in churches with whom we have ecclesiastical fellowship, including six questions that seek to discover what barriers exist to organic union. This year we will be talking with the PCA (last year they mandated its committee begin church union discussions). We are willing and anxious to talk with them in October. We haven't met with them since just prior to the failure of J&R in 1986. For 18 years we've done many things with them, but we have not met as committees. Will Barker and I have been working on the agenda. It will certainly include those six items. What are the issues? Our Canadian Reformed relations are going well. Matthew Kingsbury and John Ferguson have preached in Can Ref churches. Bible Pbn talks are going well. They voted corresponding relations down something like 29-23 a few years ago. BP Synod in Cincinnati this summer. With the URC, polity is the issue.
Peterson Both sides of the Free Church of Scotland split are pretending the other doesn't exist. I was very encouraged by the article by brother Gidley encouraging us not to be "that way" (the Scottish tendency to wield the cudgel). ICRC will meet in 2005 in Johannesburg, South Africa. We respond on the web to questions regarding inter-church relations. We're sending our exchange student to Quito, Ecuador. Where should he go? If you frequently travel to certain cities, let me know where are the good churches. Hong Kong?
Poundstone I am always impressed by the number of churches; but has the committee given any thought to contacting others, outside of the Reformed? Such as confessional Lutherans?
Peterson The avenue to that is in our biblical principles. We're still in the local circle of reformed bodies. We haven't had time to do that.
Coie RCUS delegate made a statement regarding our statement on women in combat;
Tyson The four delegates at NAPARC did not understand the question to be "how did your church vote?" but rather the four delegates believed that they were free to vote their own conscience.
Coie So when the Assembly states its view, you feel free to vote your own conscience?
Tyson No. The OPC has made its statement. The particular vote was not on what is the vote of your church, but was a different question. Our church's position is registered with NAPARC.
Strange Are we sending an observer to the URCNA synod?
Peterson They only meet every three years. It is our intention to have someone there.
Miller Any contact with RE church?
Tyson I attended one of their meetings about 12-13 years ago.
P Wallace I have had some contact with the Anglican Province in America, which is presently working towards union with the Reformed Episcopal Church. There seems to be a general interest in local fellowship.
6. Committee on Foreign Missions
Two items from the Committee on Foreign Missions are worthy of note. First was the report of the division of the Eastern Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Uganda, and the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Uganda. The CFM reported on the whole situation that led up to the division-including some deeply troubling practices on the part of the moderator of the Eastern Presbytery. The PCU has been unwilling to exercise biblical discipline, resulting in several faithful ministers being ejected from their pulpits (and even excommunicated) for opposing the unconstitutional actions of the moderator. The CFM and the OPCU desire reconciliation and hope that this split will only be temporary. The CFM also noted that many in the PCU (outside of the Eastern Presbytery) are still eager to work with the OPC missionaries.
The second item, alluded to previously in the fraternal addresses of the Reformed Church in Japan, was the CFM's discussion of the possibility of closing the Japan mission-particularly the termination of the services of the Rev. Messrs. Murray Uomoto and Calvin Cummings in 2005 (leaving Stewart "Woody" Lauer on the field at the Kobe Seminary). The CFM's report made it clear that Japan is one of the most expensive fields for OPC missionaries, and yet inside of Japan there are two indigenous churches with whom we have fraternal relations that are self-supporting.
While the Advisory Committee was silent (recommending no action), the minority of the Advisory Committee suggested that the Assembly should give the Japan mission 20 minutes to present its long-range plan, and allow 10 minutes for questions. The issue before the Assembly was whether the Assembly should take direct oversight of foreign missions, or whether the Committee on Foreign Missions should be allowed to make its decision first (though of course the missionaries always have the right of appeal). The moderator ruled that the motion would require a two-thirds majority since it would have the effect of suspending the time constraints required by the standing rules.
David Cummings, John Galbraith, Charles Perkins, Bruce Fenton, Woody Lauer, and Kenneth Campbell spoke in favor of giving the Japan mission the opportunity. Those who spoke in favor of hearing from the Japan mission warned against the dangers of "board-ism." The old PCUSA gave full authority to the board and simply rubber-stamped all its decisions. Admitting that there is no real difference between a committee and a board, they insisted that they did not wish to micro-manage the board. Rather they argued that the Assembly should ensure that it has all the information needed to properly supervise the work of its committees. One speaker pointed out that the CFM had claimed that the Japan mission's long-range plan makes only a limited strategic contribution to the OPC's goals for foreign missions. If the Assembly wished to evaluate that claim, then it would be important to hear from the Japan mission. Fearing that next year would be too late, advocates of the Japan mission urged the Assembly to hear their case now.
In response, Don Buchanan, Don Duff, Doug Watson, and Robert Coie urged the Assembly to allow the committee to do its work. "We must not treat missions like presbyteries." The proposed format would not allow the committee to respond. Doug Watson spoke for the advisory committee, pointing out that they had spent several hours in discussion, and had heard both sides fully. This proposal called for no action-just listening to the Japan mission. When another commissioner asked if there was any contemplated action after hearing the Japan mission, the response was that "the Assembly's response to the information would determine any possible action," making it clear that at least some people desired the Assembly to take positive action to prevent the CFM from closing the Japan mission.
In response to a question from the floor, Mark Bube pointed out that the CFM does have the authority to close a mission (the last time was in the late 1980s when they closed the Taiwan mission). The CFM discussed closing the Japan mission in 1998, but determined not to do so at that time.
The motion to hear from the Japan mission failed to get the two-thirds majority by a voice vote (it was probably around 50-50). Immediately the Rev. David Cummings moved that the Assembly instruct the CFM to maintain the present level of missionaries in Japan and consider sending more. The motion (introducing new business) was referred to the Advisory Committee, where it died.
The OPC is in the middle of the natural transformation of foreign missions from a church planting model to an ecumenical cooperation model. Most foreign countries now have some indigenous church that is capable of preaching the gospel effectively in its own region. The situation has changed dramatically from that of the 1850s when foreign missions meant the preaching of the gospel to peoples who had never heard the name of Christ. While there are still huge spiritual wastelands to be found, many of the present discussions about foreign missions in the OPC are surrounding this proper and exciting transformation.
But it still may be useful to compare the Old School model with the OPC model. Old School missionaries only retained membership in their home presbytery until the mission had at least three missionaries, at which time a presbytery was established on the foreign mission field. Those presbyteries remained under the jurisdiction of the PCUSA's General Assembly until such time as the indigenous church was established. Our practice of having ministers remain as members of presbyteries thousands of miles away, while creating quasi-presbyteries called "missions" creates challenges for oversight.
I do not pretend to have a great solution to the general problem, except to suggest that the goal should be to have all missionaries eventually transfer into the indigenous presbytery. Once a church is well-established, foreign ministers should be gradually integrated into the regional church where he serves (though I recognize that this process may take a few generations still). Perhaps that is the solution for our Japan mission. If the CFM is convinced that the foreign missions need for Japan is at an end, but the Japan mission (and the Tohuku Presbytery of the RCJ) believes that Messrs. Cummings and Uomoto are indispensable to the Presbytery there, then perhaps they should transfer to the Tohuku Presbytery. If there is a financial need, perhaps the OPC could give some diaconal assistance to the RCJ on a decreasing scale over the next few years in order to help during the transition. In this manner Messrs. Cummings and Uomoto could continue to serve in Japan while the CFM would be free to pursue other opportunities.
7. Committee on Coordination
Back in the 1970s the OPC was torn apart by funding wars. Each program committee fought for every nickel it could get by making direct appeals to the churches. Therefore the Committee on Coordination was established in order to provide oversight for the way in which the OPC raises money for Worldwide Outreach. In recent years, however, many people have complained that the present system hampers the ability of committees to communicate effectively with the churches, thus resulting in fewer dollars for home and foreign missions. (By way of contrast, it should be noted that only half of the monies raised in the PCA for foreign missions actually goes to their MTW. Many southern Presbyterian churches had abandoned the PCUS's foreign missions and conducted missions through parachurch organizations, and it has been difficult for MTW to convince PCA churches to change their focus).
After some debate, the Assembly created a special committee to consider possible structural changes to the present system of funding. Some believed that the Committee on Coordination could do this themselves. Ross Graham pointed out that the current system is adequate. "This system of funding makes us beholden to the churches....The structure of the COC is designed to be a pain in the neck so that the three program committees will not argue and fight." Calling it a "necessary evil" he hoped that any system of funding would "force us to argue and haggle, and unite around one budget."
When one speaker suggested that the 60 men elected to the three program committees "are our brightest luminaries," B. J. Gorrell commented that since the brightest luminaries haven't been able to fix the funding problem, perhaps we should create a "dim bulb" committee instead!
Others pointed out that the COC would not "come up with radical surgery," because they would be afraid of offending each other. John Galbraith, a member of the advisory committee that recommended the creation of a special committee, reminded the Assembly that the special committee was tasked with consulting with the program committees, so the wisdom of the "60" would not be eliminated. Cognizant of his unique place as the only member of the Assembly ordained before 1950, Mr. Galbraith addressed the Assembly as "Brothers and Sons" (producing some laughter). He then added, "I have discovered that wisdom does not necessarily come with age." (Slight chuckles) "Of course you have not!" (Great applause) At which Mr. Galbraith almost blushed and added, "Or maybe you have!"
[This then became the standing joke at the Assembly with various members making similar references, climaxing with Bryan Estelle's, "Fathers and Brothers-and my son, wherever he is!"]
The committee of five was elected on the first ballot as follows:
Rob Broline (118)*
Roger Gibbons (76)-first alternate
Don Buchanan (64)
Timothy Jackson (107)*
Don Duff (86)*
Joe LoGiudice (101)*
Bruce Stahl (90)*
While I have not been in the habit of reporting on speeches for elections, these speeches deserve to be summarized, because they reflect well the discussion of the Assembly on this issue.
D A Watson Mr. Broline has a background in accounting and finance; he is willing; he is the first one to make me feel old. Kept referring to me as "sir." He has a way of dealing with people to show respect. He has been an important part of the Committee on Pensions. Lively and interested in what he does. He will do a good job of understanding the present situation and will be useful to the committee.
Duff Dr. Jackson is a medical doctor/ruling elder in Morgantown WV. He is very active in the church and presbytery. He is very knowledgeable about the church. He has a real heart for the OPC. He is also a very quick study, capable of getting to the bottom of things. He may be the only one on that list to never serve on any of the committees, but that may be to his advantage-taking a fresh look. He will not rest until he knows what he's talking about.
Locheed Mr. Stahl has a business degree; has studied finance; is an actuary. He understands numbers. Has served on CoC.
Hilbelink Mr. Gibbons is also a former member of the CoC. He is retired, but not retiring. He is ready and able to serve; able to think outside the box with sanity! (Laughter)
Gorrell Mr. Buchanan has been both a foreign missionary and as general secretary of foreign missions. He is a man of experience. Joe LoGiudice is an elder in my congregation; owns a business that stretches from here to Sweden. Wears cool shirts.
Mahaffy If you are going to think outside the box, you need to know the size of the box. Mr. Duff knows the box. He understands how the system works. But he thinks outside the box. He is always pushing for new ways of promoting the church. He is also a straight shooter. If the rules say something, he says "Let's do it that way or let's change the rules." Zeal for the work of the Lord's Kingdom.
L Brown Mr. LoGiudice is willing and able. He is busy, but that is because he is an able servant of the church. Has served on CoC.
R King Dr. Jackson (floppy camp hat with a stogie) was able to conduct the Presbytery of Ohio's youth camp of over 100 people; able to deal with teenagers-he should be able to handle the financial needs of the committees.
8. Committee on Creation
Allen Strange reported for the committee. Summarizing the report of the committee, he emphasized the committee's attempt to study the doctrine of creation in a way that maintains the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We would like to be of one mind exegetically, but we are not. But historically the Presbyterian church has allowed different views. The length and nature of the creation days has not been an issue for the church.
Reporting for the advisory committee, Calvin Malcor suggested that the report would be useful for the church. He pointed out that the first recommendation of the committee focused on the purity of the church; the second recommendation focused on the peace; and the third on the unity of the church.
As usual, the Assembly provided thirty minutes for questions:
Willour A question about the "corporate culture of the church" "the mind of the church"; what is the "corporate culture of the church"? Who defines the "mind of the church"? And how does this relate to the plain grammatical meaning of the Standards?
Strange What is identified by the phrase "corporate culture" is that the OPC (as any church) have their own history, way of approaching things, interpreting things; as an example, there are those who would argue that our Confession would require exclusive psalmody-that exclusive psalmody would be prescribed. In the mainstream branch of the Presbyterian church that has not been the interpretation. We have not thought that we should amend our confession. That's animus. A person may have a private view on exclusive psalmody. We don't believe the confession teaches exclusive psalmody. This is a case of the plain grammatical meaning is not the OPC's meaning. There are those who have come into the OPC and didn't understand this culture, and were surprised that not everyone in the OPC held to the 24 hour view. American Presbyterianism has not seen a connection between views on the days and liberalism. We have read and understood these things together. We have had different views. But this does not mean that every view is acceptable. That is the job of the judicatories.
Coie The committee is sort of 8-1 not representing days of ordinary length (whereas it may be higher than that the other direction in the pew). How can the work of the committee do anything other than widen the expanse of different views? Was their any critical work done on what our fathers may not have thought seriously about?
Estelle Our task was to take what the Assembly gave to us; there was a constant attempt to be fair and cordial with one another; we wanted to help people understand the different views; we thought that much of the divisiveness existed because of a lack of knowledge. We saw that part of our duty was to traffic responsible information that would help people understand the various views.
Pontier Will this report further loosen our position? I have been one of the leaders in raising this issue in the PSC. I filed a complaint against a man who held the Framework view. I authored a motion to set up a study committee, and helped author our colorful minority report. At the end of this process, I feel fully free to continue to work to convince my fellow presbyters that the ordinary day view is correct. The central question is not the length of the days, but historicity and hermeneutic. If we (fellow partisans) wish to change things, we must start where the church is, not where we wish the church to be. If we want to move the church, that's where we have to start. That's what this report clarifies for us.
Jambura A question regarding the entrepreneurial character of contemporary theological education. Lines 323-324, 338-339
Muether How did we get to this problem; we looked at the PCA report and found it very helpful, but there were other factors specific to the OPC. Most significantly, we thought it was important to bring to the Assembly's atention, the changing patterns in ministerial education. WTS did function as a denominational seminary. Now we live in an environment where contemporary Reformed theological education is intensely competitive and pluralistic. Some promote homiletical or hermeneutical differences, others on the NPP. That is all we are trying to say here. At last year's GA the ministerial members represented 25 different theological seminaries. This is reshaping the corporate culture of the OPC. There is uncertainty and unfamiliarity with our colleagues.
Galbraith It was said that the report enabled him to have freedom to promulgate his view. Does that mean that all of these ideas about creation are also legitimately promulgated in the OPC?
Strange Good question. Advocates of the views were the ones writing the views. On page 1606 (line 256) we say that none of the five different views necessarily entails a denial of the integrity of the system of doctrine of our standards. Persons right now are promulgating these five views. But we are accountable for our views. We are not saying that every view is acceptable. We are saying that these are the views that are currently held in the church.
Perkins Does the committee then see this as definitional for the animus of the OPC at present
Strange In a certain respect, yes. We are saying that these are within the range of what has been apparently deemed acceptable, more or less. This defines a part of the animus. It doesn't solve the debate. This plays a role in shaping the animus. Yes, we are defining the animus in a historical measure. But some don't want these views included.
D Cummings The majority view has been the ordinary day view; why not require candidates to explain why they don't hold the ordinary day view?
Strange Given the fact that we recognize that the ordinary day view has been the majority position, why not? That's a reasonable question. The questions in recommendation 1 were biblical and confessional, not so much historical. But you could ask it.
Then the Assembly turned to debate the recommendations. I will give the recommendations as they were adopted (with
amendments in italics and deletions in
Recommendation 1: That the General Assembly recommend that presbyteries should expect a ministerial candidate to
articulate his view on the days of creation with a proper recognition of the hermeneutical, exegetical, and confessional
considerations involved. The following kinds of questions should be used by presbyteries when examining a candidate,
whatever his view of the days of creation, in order to show that his doctrine of creation is consistent with Scripture and the
system of doctrine:
A. Does the candidate affirm the following and can he articulate what he understands by them:
candidate's view uphold
the following and can he explain what they mean:
1. creation ex nihilo
2. the federal headship of Adam
3. the covenant of works
4. the doctrine of the Sabbath
5. the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture
6. the historicity of the creation account
B. Does the candidate understand and affirm the priority of Scripture in the relationship between special and general revelation?
C. Does the candidate understand and affirm the hermeneutical principles that are expressed in Scripture and in the subordinate standards?
D. Is the candidate able to address and refute the errors of the theory
the issue of evolution both exegetically and
E. Can the candidate articulate and affirm the covenantal structure of the plan of redemption as found in Genesis 1-3?
Immediately the Rev. Eric Bristley offered an amendment to require candidates to "affirm" or "refute" and not merely "articulate" and "address." After the Rev. John Van Meerbeke proposed and the Assembly passed a further amendment to specify that a candidate should be able to refute "the errors of the theory of evolution" (since not every aspect of micro-evolution is erroneous), the Assembly voted to amend the recommendation by a 71-55 vote.
The Rev. David Cummings then moved an amendment to require candidates to explain "the view of creation held with virtual unanimity by the framers of the Confession" and then, if they held a different view, explain their own view. He argued that it would serve the Assembly as well as candidates that if the candidate is going to disagree with the framers of the Confession, he should understand the traditional view before he disagrees with it. The amendment plainly suggested that the original intent of the Confession was designed to allow for only one view of the creation days, which contradicted the committee's report and several speakers objected.
Estelle "Fathers and brothers, and my son, wherever he is!" Two points: 1) historical-we could spend a lot of time debating the original intent of "in the space of six days." In the words of H. L. Menken, "to every complex question there is always a simple answer, and it is always wrong." David Hall has demonstrated that numerous divines held to the 24-hour day view, however, all the evidence that could be gathered points to the fact that the divines did not express explicitly 24 hour days (or even sequentiality). They chose not to. The divines had the capability of expressing themselves in the language of 24-hour days. They chose not to use that language. 2) the group dynamics of the Assembly. Prior to the Assembly, no one objected to the use of the three creeds. But when they gathered in the Jerusalem Chamber, they moved away from the creeds. One cannot always predict the events and motives of the Assembly from their individual works. Confessions and catechisms are different genre from individual writings. Its not that simple. There is very little on the subject of creation in the Minutes. Neither of the recently discovered journals have any reference to the creation discussions.
Duff I speak against; let us be very careful. It is "our confession"; what did the OPC adopt? What is our Confession? 1936. What did Machen and the others mean when they adopted it?
Coie I haven't studied the history of that era. But this is a good amendment. September 1936 Presbyterian Guardian-"we are not in a creed-making age"; we didn't change the language. Why didn't the framers spell this out? Because they didn't have to deal with five different views. They were speaking out against instantaneous creation. Their language is quite plain. And I'm just a ruling elder, but I need to do what God's word wants me to do.
Coppes I've been convinced that the framers of the Confession did not write what is intended in the motion. In all their quotations they use the phrase 24-hours, so what they wrote in the Confession was different. That was not an accident. It was not a mistake. They could have written "in the space of six ordinary days" or "in the space of 24-hour days". We do not know what was in their minds. Maybe we want to correct the confession and make it more specific than it really is. We're adding a fourth standard: whatever they intended-not what they wrote. I don't think that I agree with the Divines meaning of "light of nature." But my Van Tilian understanding of the "light of nature" is quite acceptable to the OPC.
Tyson I speak against; let's turn away from the question of the framers; the amendment asks presbyteries to expect that candidates "articulate" the ordinary day view of creation with its scriptural basis, which suggests that the ordinary day view has a scriptural basis. And then he may articulate his view! As it is, the man has to say that the Bible teaches the ordinary day view, and then can hold his own view.
Pontier Speaking as a commissioner, I am somewhat sympathetic, but I must speak against it. First, you are free to ask this question. The GA is not giving us an exhaustive list of questions. Further, the original motion requires the basic idea already. Second, we can argue the original intent, but let's remember to look at the words and phrases in context. Interpretations that obscure the historical nature of the days obscure the doxological focus. Ask candidates how their view does this? "Figurative pictures" takes away the temporal meaning.
Bradley I speak against; Even though it favors my own view, if we adopt this amendment that it will only serve to polarize positions and retard this true process toward true resolution.
Bristley Proposed an amendment to "understand the view of Creation held with virtual unanimity by the framers of the Confession, that the days of Creation were of ordinary length, subsequent views, and"
Strange I'm against this amendment and the basic amendment; this is a theological examination; we are concerned with what the Bible teaches and what the Confession teaches. Now you can ask historical questions if you like, but not here. Neither in 1646 and 1936 did the framers/adopters make explicit what interpretation was required. We're interested in the words themselves that we confess together. [break] was it the intent of the divines to prescribe the 24 hour view? Or to proscribe any other view?
Coie I'm opposed to the amendment to the amendment. I'm not sure that I "understand" subsequent views. Some seem illogical. This is beyond what is useful.
(Bristley's amendment to the amendment failed by a large majority)
D Cummings the concern of the amendment is both pastoral and historical; we should require candidates to understand the majority view. If we are going to develop a corporate culture, we should do it with respect to the view held by the framers of the confession.
(Cummings Amendment failed by a large majority)
(Several other amendments failed in rapid succession-along with a couple of minor editorial amendments that passed)
Monaghan I speak against recommendation 1. It is supposed to help and guide presbyteries and sessions regarding the views of creation. What is before us is a proposal to examine God's work of providence. Only A.1,6, and D address the work of creation. Certainly hermeneutical assumptions are important, but blending the works of creation and providence is not helpful. (Especially A.2,3) Is this a covenantal view of creation? We must maintain a clear distinction between the works of creation and providence.
Keller I speak for the recommendation; I love the OPC. This is necessary for the peace, purity and unity of the OPC. We need this. Men come to presbytery who are gifted and well qualified, but get grilled just because of their view. Others, as soon as they say 6/24 get passed, without a strong doctrine of creation. We must not separate the doctrine of creation from the rest of our theology.
D. A. Watson I still like it, but I must speak against adopting this recommendation. We are very close to amending our church order. Now we seem to be saying that we must ask these particular questions of every candidate. I have seen different "hot" issues over the years. Some will use it to divide, and not in the purpose for which it was originally intended.
Keller While sympathetic to the previous speaker, we must realize the urgency of the need. This is a useful guide for examinations. The differences on the days of creation are not new. What is new in the OPC is the insistence upon the 6/24 view.
Coie I am opposed to recommending this to presbyteries. While it raises things that could be used in examinations, these sort of things tend to become quasi-constitutional. Remember that the recommended curriculum has become a quasi-standard, and gets quoted in many places. What is central to our doctrine of creation? Creation ex nihilo is there but the doxological statement of creation is missing. Why is "in the space of six days" missing? Why is "all very good" missing? I don't think that we should recommend this particular list.
[At this point the Assembly recessed on Saturday evening, and did not return to the Creation question until after the disposal of the overtures on Justification]
Monday afternoon, ruling elder Robert Elder, Sr. (the younger elder Elder to be distinguished from the elder elder Elder-Kingsley Elder, Jr.) proposed a substitute for recommendation 1, hoping to accomplish the intent of the original while avoiding some of the difficulties. The original recommendation maintained a broad focus on the whole doctrine of creation and its implications for the rest of our theology, while the substitute was narrowly focused simply on the length of the creation days.
No one spoke to it, and the Assembly voted to substitute by a narrow majority.
Immediately three voices pointed to serious problems with the substitute.
Coppes It needs a lot of tweaking; differences include the structure of presentation.
Malone I read it carefully. Over the last several days we have been tweaking and amending. This statement is not well-thought out.
Strange Will someone please move to reconsider.
Instead someone moved to refer the whole matter to the advisory committee. After Peter Wallace, Bryan Estelle and Alan Strange from the Creation Committee urged reconsideration, the Assembly defeated the motion to refer, and instead voted to reconsider by about a 90% majority. While earlier votes had made it clear that the Assembly did not wish to change the substance of the committee's recommendation, this vote resoundingly confirmed the Assembly's resolve to maintain the general tenor of the committee's work. As the Rev. Don Poundstone stated, "I voted for the substitute because none of the committee opposed it."
The vote to reconsider brought the Assembly back to the question: "Shall we substitute?"
Strange Two considerations. There is a certain integrity to the way the motions were crafted (still in place after amendments). We have minor surgery so far. Major alterations have been defeated. Please do not throw away your own work-or that of the committee.
Migotsky If you weren't sure how to vote before, please defeat the substitute: 1) the original recommendation was worked on by GA's committee for several years; the substitute was written on a napkin; 2) the committee had good representation; 3) the GA already has worked through the committee's work.
Gorrell I speak in favor of the substitute; the substitute begins with the church rather than the candidate; the recommendations should arise from the paper. It has proven that we are not unified on this issue. It flows more naturally out of the paper. 2) it eliminates a reductionistic approach; the content is very similar. 3) the substitute does not assume that presbyteries are not doing this already. This is a weakness from the committee's proposal. 4) in the substitute the length and nature of the days is stated, but it is only implied in the committee's recommendation. 5) I fear how this recommendation would factor into the animus imponentis. How will the church look back on this? The report says that we have not settled the issue.
Strange Do not substitute; is this better focused? The mandate was to look at the various views, "thereby assisting the church (sessions and presbyteries)" in dealing with candidates who hold differing views. The recommendation is being scored for following the mandate!
Estelle 1) The animus is not a weak doctrine. 2) the length and nature of the days, we foreground the doctrine of creation and put the issue in their proper perspective; 3) implications can be denied; we have not stated that presbyteries aren't doing their job. 4) beginning with the church: we started with the pastoral concerns that the GA told us to deal with.
The substitute then failed by very large majority. Mr. Gorrell requested that his affirmative vote be recorded
Recommendation 1, as amended, then carried by a large majority. Which brought the Assembly to:
Recommendation 2: That the General Assembly urge
the members of presbyteries and sessions to uphold the peace of the
church by addressing divisive theological issues within the church primarily through educational, administrative, judicial,
or other constitutional means, and not merely by voting for or against candidates for office.
Strange This may seem a bit disconnected for some. We saw a certain integrity to the motions. This is designed to promote the peace of the church, through our understanding of the animus imponentis. We are not suggesting that a commissioner should not vote according to his conscience. But candidates should not be the primary/mere battlefield for dealing with divisive issues. Let's not say, "I was caught in the cross-fire," so let him get shot! Have a colloquium. Get together and talk. Given all the mechanisms that we have involved, why focus on candidates. Use the full range of constitutional tools. Let us acquit ourselves as men. If we need to contend for a view, let us not go after someone who can't get back at us because he is not a member of the body yet!
Galbraith A question for the study committee; might it not be better to say "and not merely by voting" to say "before voting"? As it is now, it seems to provide two alternative methods.
Coppes The object of "not merely" is that you must make a decision-you must vote your conscience. You have to make a decision on the spot sometimes.
Coie We've had a number of speeches about unity and how we should do everything lovey-dovey. The argument so far for recommendation 2 hurt. I'm very opposed to recommendation 2. It's a lot of pious advice without experience. I'm a member of the PSC's C&C committee. We studied the issue (educational). But the implication is that we should stand up like men and deal with it judicially. We've just been through a long judicial matter. It's not fun. There's a sort of a condescending view of the experts that pervades this motion. I've decided to vote down everything. But even if they pass, they are all nebulous. If we are going to heal, we need to speak from the Scriptures. Not from the ivory towers. Both sides must refrain from impugning each other's motives
Keller I speak for recommendation 2 for the exact reasons that the previous speaker gave. Ignorance, fear, and suspicion do not bring unity. But dialogue, discussion do. When a man comes before a judicatory, he presents a view. He may use a loaded term, "framework" or whatever. Immediately there is a whole host of ideas that come to peoples minds-the cancer that we don't want in the church. This recommendation says we need to talk: and not be pre-judiced. My colleague at Hamden is a postmil, I am an amil. I don't have any suspicions because we talk about things.
Pontier I find myself on the opposite side of the question from the previous previous speaker, yet understanding his heart. I find myself offended by the previous speaker. There are times when we need to be suspicious. When we need to guard against error. Some of us who come from the presbytery that has worked hardest are offended when we hear "ignorant." But these are helpful recommendations. No one on the committee is going to say that these recommendations are "the solution." We realize that these are modest recommendations. There is a lot more work ahead. But you are not limited by these recommendations. There is a missing element. "Hapless candidates caught in the crossfire." There seems to be increasing pressure placed on candidates. Some of us think that some views really do violate the system of doctrine. But who is teaching the candidates? If there is some onus to be placed on us for putting candidates in the crossfire, there should also be some onus placed upon the institutions that teach these views. Perhaps someday our GA may address seminaries as to how they have placed hapless candidates in the crossfire. The seminaries all want to serve the church, but they bear some of the responsibility.
Willour I appreciate the hard work and scholarship of the report. I also appreciate the pastoral spirit behind these recommendations. However, I do not appreciate the implications that might be inferred from recommendation 2. which presbyteries and sessions are deficient? This recommendation is freighted with implications that some sessions and presbyteries are not doing their job. The committee did not intend to be offensive, but I am offended.
Laurie I too am from the PSC. There was a cry for help and peace. There is a measure of peace in the PSC that was not there when we cried out. But it is not yet secure. It is not true that this recommendation is urging judicial process. There are very helpful things that we can improve on. There are presbyteries that have scheduled as many meetings for discussion as they have business meetings. Seek to persuade your brethren. You can only do that in a good context for discussion.
Willett I speak against; because of the last phrase; there is a suggestion regarding how a man should vote. We are giving presbyters advice on how to vote. 1666 line 2997 "should be very slow to vote against a candidate solely on grounds which the rest of the church finds perfectly acceptable." The whole thrust of the report is that we cannot say what the church thinks. This recommendation suggests that we should be very slow to vote against a man because of his views of the days of creation. How can we decide what "the rest of the church" believes? It is routinely asked of candidates who hold the 6 day view, can he live at peace? I am eager that we not give encouragement to presbyters how they should or should not vote.
Poundstone I speak in favor; this motion will not solve our differences, but if you are like me, you are thankful for the work of the committee. It is timely advice. But there are others who are deeply disappointed with this. Some presbyteries need this. Some very good men were denied ordination or licensure by our presbytery, but were rather quickly ordained in other presbyteries. That is not a healthy situation. A more practical reason: later this week, presbytery will hold a special meeting to discuss "problems" in such a way that will bring about greater unity. One congregation is considering leaving the OPC (they have already voted to withdraw). It would be very helpful to go to that meeting that this Assembly was concerned enough about this matter to encourage members of presbyteries and sessions to pursue other ways of dealing with these sorts of issues.
D Cummings Since there is no evidence of any presbytery that merely voted for or against candidates, it is a stereotype.
Strange I must answer that last speech. I would point you back to the mandate. The evidence was implicit in the mandate. In the discussion of 2001 there were references to divergent practices. One reason why we wanted "divisive" was because many theological issues are not divisive. (But not a big deal). I was thinking about myself. It's much easier to just come to presbytery and vote "no." it is much harder to do the harder work that PSC did. I am amazed at the umbrage that has been taken. Our big discussion was how our judicatories that so occupies us that we never really talk about theology except at exams. I have tried to get at other ministers through the candidate. It was autobiographical. Are we too binding and too nebulous?!
Williams moves the previous question (defeated-failed to get two-thirds)
Watkins This recommendation is very helpful for the following reasons; BD 3.8 "an offense serious enough to warrant a trial....which would constitute a violation of the system of doctrine..." I personally heard men say that they were going to work to vote against candidates in order to work up to a majority. How can a man be deemed unworthy if he holds the same view as a man who is already ordained. If it is a violation of the system of doctrine, then it is a violation of the system of doctrine. To a man who I consider a dear father in the faith: Yes, trials are not fun. But all of them have been biblical. We must be faithful. This language of judicial is at the end-the last resort. At the end of the day you must follow the BD.
Buchanan I must take issue that if one disagrees with anything in the church, then he must bring charges. It is permissible to try to stem the tide, and yet not feel it incumbent to file charges.
Recommendation 2 passed by large majority, which brought the Assembly to:
Recommendation 3: That the General Assembly encourage the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training
Institute of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to seek ways of working more closely with the candidates and credentials
committees of presbyteries in order to bring ministerial candidates to a fuller understanding of the confessional standards,
the Book of Church Order, the Minutes of the General Assembly and the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of
the corporate culture of the church.
Strange This was crafted to focus on the unity of the church. Proliferation of backgrounds and seminaries. There is a strength to that variedness. Our unity is pictured ultimately in God himself. The three is one without confusion of persons. God manifests a true unity in a true diversity. How do we better do that in the church? Uniformity? Of course not. This is a modest suggestion for how we might work better.
After a couple of minor amendments reflected above, Recommendation 3 passed by a large majority (perhaps 5-10 negative votes).
The Committee then deferred to the advisory committee's version of Recommendation 4:
That the General Assembly refer
commend the report to the presbyteries and sessions for their study, and thank the
members of the Committee to Study the Views of Creation for their arduous labors and for their expressed desire to
maintain the purity, peace and unity of the church. The General Assembly recognizes that the concept of the animus
imponentis (the intention of the imposing body) is new to many people in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Therefore the
Assembly draws attention to the following:
the concept of the animus imponentis may not be employed to make a wax nose of the Standards and to pit the church's interpretation of the Standards against the plain words of the Standards themeslves, particularly inasmuch as the Standards generally are thought to contain but few obscurities. Rather, animus imponentis, rightly understood and employed, means simply that the church as a whole in its integrity interprets its own constitution and that such interpretation, and not those of private individuals or lesser judicatories, is decisive. (Report of the Committee, pages 1659-1660).
Galbraith I'm bothered by the word "commend"; we do not want to pass ambiguous motions; do we mean "commend the report" or "commend the conclusions"? How about to "urge sessions and presbyteries to study the report"? I must express my deepest appreciation to the committee. It has given us a lot of help. We have only had this for a couple weeks. Does anyone know everything that this report says and means? Are you ready to "commend the report"? But I am ready to say "study it!"
Estelle I'll stick to what I said earlier. We chose "commend" because we honestly believed that God had done a marvelous thing in our midst, despite our differences. Our Standing Rules, page 3008 (5.3), says that the proper way to endorse the statement is "to adopt."
Galbraith I'm not sure I understand the relevance of the previous remarks. We are not talking about adopting. I do not know enough about this report that I can commend it. I can commend a large part of it, and the committee for their hard work. I don't even know all the good things about this report.
McDonald I move an amendment to change "commend" to "refer" (carries)
Campbell I commend the committee for diligence and hard work; I'm especially appreciative of the description of the five positions, but that's about all I appreciated. In particular, I disagree with the approach the report suggests to the confession. They have set before us a view that opens up the confession to embracing a great variety of variant views. The report in its substance embraces a philosophy that destroys the objective meaning of the confession. It does this by its view of the animus imponentis. There is a playing of the animus imponentis against the original intent (the plain meaning of the words of the confession). And that, we are further told, is the intention of the party imposing the oath. But what is the intention of the party if it is not the plain words of the confession? This sounds like the neo-orthodox approach to the confession.
P Wallace The committee's understanding of the animus imponentis is hardly a novelty. The original version of the Westminster Confession included these words in chapter 31.2: "As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers, and other fit persons, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion..." The original intent behind this was plain. The Westminster Assembly itself was called by the Long Parliament and existed as its creature. But the Church of Scotland refused to accept the original intent of the Westminster Divines. I would call your attention to that most "neo-orthodox" of Assemblies, the General Assembly of 1647, which stated, "That the Assembly understandeth some parts of the second article of the thirty-one chapter only of kirks not settled, or constituted in point of government...." (Westminster Confession of Faith, Free Presbyterian Publications, 1994, page 17). The Kirk of Scotland declared that its meaning differed from that of the original intent. This is the classic case of the animus imponentis changing the meaning of the words of the confession. From this point on, ministers in the church of Scotland were bound to the Scottish Assembly's understanding-not the Westminster Assembly's understanding.
[The Assembly then recessed for the evening, reconvening Tuesday morning to continue the debate]
Curto I move an amendment by addition: "and thank the members of the Committee to Study the Views of Creation for their arduous labors and for their expressed desire to maintain the purity, peace and unity of the church; however, the committee's report fails to give adequate consideration to the plain historical meaning of 'space' as it is used in the formulation, 'in the space of'-i.e., 'the amount or extent of time comprised in a specific period' (Oxford English Dictionary)-and as it appears both in Scripture and in our Confessional Standards (Confession of Faith IV.1, Larger Catechism 15, and Shorter Catechism 9). The principle of animus imponentis is properly employed by the church to defend against equivocations in the taking of vows. We must ever guard against attempting to define truth by reference to anything other than the Word of God." Yesterday one speaker alluded to the fact that AC 7 did not say enough. I've been quite disturbed by the idea that when the Westminster Assembly came together, they tried to reach a consensus-the idea that the confession is deliberately ambiguous. They were not trying to open the tent, but come to an understanding of exactly what the scripture says. They chose a phrase that had been used by Calvin, enshrined by Ussher. 2) the principle of animus imponentis is used to say that the Confession only means what a particular GA or presbytery says. We adopted the plain words of the Confession. Our understanding is not in flux.
Tanzie Please defeat the amendment; it would shatter the harmony we have achieved.
Mahaffy I move an amendment by deletion: to delete everything after "church" in the third line. [with the effect that the amendment would simply thank the committee for their hard work]
Coppes I support the amendment by deletion; are we willing to pass a motion that rests upon the KJV? (The original What about the original languages? "A month of days" is the Hebrew (Gen 29:14)-"space of a month" in the KJV; and "space" probably renders a number of ideas.
Knight I speak against the deletion; the remainder could be improved, but the question of the significance "in the space of" has not been given adequate attention in the report.
Perkins I speak in favor of deletion. look at the citation of David Hall. He did his work in1998. Before 1998, what was the historical research? When I was at seminary, seminary professors pointed me to a man named Mitchell. He did not think the Confession taught "six 24-hour days." The historical understanding is contested. The genius of the animus imponentis is that while the original intent of the divines probably was 6-24, this is not binding on the church. Do we want to say that historians can change the doctrine of the church?
Mahaffy This portion of the report is not the time to go back and revisit the subject. Let's thank the committee; they've set an example for the church.
Coppes Such a long amendment is truly hard to refine; I don't think we have enough time here on the floor. The word "space" usually refers to distance in the NKJV. What are the possible implications? We need to tie it to a particular verse. The motion is imprecise and confusing.
Knight The previous speaker admits that the committee did not do their work on "space"
Strange I am in favor of deleting; we did give adequate consideration (some may have wanted more); we start with Origen and Augustine; we believe that "in the space of six days" was used by Calvin to counter Augustine. It is true that we didn't focus on the exegesis of "in the space of six days." But that was because we weren't convinced that the Divines were doing anything other than rejecting the instantaneous view of creation.
Bube I thank the committee for their work. I must confess that I learned from it. But I have never seen a perfect report. At first I thought, "wow, this is great!" But on my second read, I got uncomfortable. I went back to Hodge. "It is impossible to separate the substance from the form."
Baum In favor of deletion: yesterday we replaced "commend" with "refer." If we didn't have enough time to study the report, we certainly don't have the time to study this amendment
Estelle Delete; I have been very distressed to hear much of the sloganeering on the floor that we cautioned about in our report. The animus is not a wax nose.
Bristley Do not delete. This is not adopting the ordinary day view. It does not give adequate consideration. And the discussion of animus. Test the spirits. 2 Thess 2:15-stand fast and hold to the traditions. The report does not place animus in relation to scripture and the confession.
Coppes I oppose the amendment; also, the whole committee agreed with "in the space of six days." I put in some appendices so that we could get to the differences. But they are not over "in the space of six days" but on the understanding of that. The denomination has allowed a broader range of views. Are we to change the OPC? We're not talking about a few people. I held to the Framework view when I came into the OPC, but now I hold to E. J. Young's view. We haven't done the biblical argumentation on the floor. When I came into the OPC no one told me that I had to be a scholar of the Westminster Assembly. Shall we require candidates to be experts in the apologetics of the Westminster Assembly? Are the Aramaic sections of the OT not inspired? (WCF only says Greek and Hebrew). What is our definition of covenant? Must each candidate know the framers' doctrinal debates on the covenant?
Strange In favor of deletion; the nature of American Presbyterianism Constitutionalism. I think the report puts the animus in a very fulsome context. The implication of this motion is to correct the report. Pages 1657-1667 are the central discussion of confession and church. The church reads the Bible together-we call that the Confession. The church reads the confession and we interpret and apply it. That's the animus imponentis. The same Spirit who inspired the apostles and prophets illumines the church. The church as a whole. To say that we don't interpret the confession is to go the route of "we don't need a confession." If the confession is plain, the Bible ought to be even plainer.
D A Watson In favor of deletion. The basic motion is to refer for study. This proposed amendment starts by thanking the committee. But then it says, however, the committee has failed.
Campbell Opposed to deletion. We need to qualify our reference of the report. The report is a consensus document, involving a compromise. The loss of the distinctiveness of our confessional position of the doctrine of creation. The weakness of the report is that it leaves the impression that all five views can be squeezed into our confessional position. If you send it down unqualified, then men may be influenced by this. The accepted, confessional position is not clearly stated. I do not believe that the other views fit within the framework of the confession.
Knight Do not delete. This is our final vote. Three things that are appropriate. 1) we are not saying that they didn't give any consideration, but not "adequate" consideration; 2) we are not saying that the committee didn't do a good job on animus, we want to emphasize this one point; 3) we want to remind ourselves that the touchstone is always the word of God. Please think about "the space of"; how this will be used, and our final authority.
Poundstone Vote to delete; few of us had the opportunity to research the history of how the assembly has dealt with the reports of study committees. Usually they go down for study; to attach instructions, counsel, etc. Highly unusual, if not unique. The import of SR 5.3 is that our imprimatur would be "adopt"-not refer. We are not assuming responsibility for this.
Gaffin Delete. As I've listened to all the discussion, there is one point that has not been made. How can we appeal to scripture without citing scripture. Its shortcomings are apparent. Among the "little things" are to repudiate the stance that has been taken in our church from the beginning.
Story Delete. I'm concerned about some things. I want to speak to those who are in favor passing this. We're going in the wrong direction altogether. I've seen this in the PCA. They have a Reformed wing and an evangelical wing. Some on the Reformed wing have tried to do what this amendment is doing. Your trying to win this argument by beating people over the head with the Confession. Here's the danger. What we are trying to do is settle the issue by firming up something in the confession. But where we need to go is scripture. In the PCA the Reformed need to argue and teach and persuade from Scripture. So also here. It's a danger because we are a confessional church. Three points: 1) the approach is naive. What do you do when you come to a tension between scripture and confession? You go with the Bible. It is also a poor strategy because scripture (even in the broad evangelicals in the PCA) is what we are committed to. 2) the approach is ironically unconfessional: WCF 1.10 (should we settle matters based on the wording of the confession?) The confession says we settle matters by scripture. It is the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture that settles matters. We've been debating for hours over the confession. The report spends some time on that, but especially emphasized Genesis 1.
D L Watson Do not delete. We are dealing with a report that deals with confessional matters. The report does need qualification. The report properly defines animus imponentis but it also refers to the corporate culture of the church. We do not want confusion on this point. The classic example given last night of animus imponentis in the Church of Scotland gave a definitive statement by the church through the Assembly as to the single meaning of the Confession. We have not given a single statement. Therefore we do not have a statement that will govern the examination of candidates. We want to avoid confusion. We do not have an animus regarding creation. We have no definitive statement.
Muether Delete. I want to challenge the logic behind some of the speeches we've heard. The confessional logic that undergirds the report is called a "broadening church" and loss of Presbyterian distinctiveness. That is a critique of the history of Reformed confessionalism. It has been suggested that we need to have candidates subscribe to the words of the Confession. Does strict subscription to the confession work? Look at the CRC. There is no denomination that has a tighter form of subscription than the CRC. BB Warfield wrote a century before that over-strictness in confession is the path to discontent. It becomes little better than no subscription. Gross heterodoxy becomes gradually safe because everyone must admit they do not . Relief is found in honest and true subscription to the confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in holy scripture. The OPC has followed this approach to confessional subscription. Please understand that the animus imponentis is being misunderstood. The church does not allow exceptions scripture, but the subordinate standards. It is not the possession of the academic elite or the individual or the presbytery. Hodge warned against the danger of splintering into "insignificant sects" with the system of doctrine going to destruction. What kind of church do you want?
Coie Against deletion. It is not dangerous. It does not destroy American Presbyterianism. At the end of this process, brothers are asking for simply some very simple cautions to be sent with the report to presbyteries and sessions. I'm amazed at how the committee has protested any attempt to change their recommendations. I believe that God gives wisdom in the General Assembly. This simply brings 3 simple cautions. They haven't solved it. Do you want peace? Let's allow some cautions!
Willour Against deletion. The statements that you read do not endorse a particular view of the days of creation or subscriptionism. There may be a perception if the report is received without caution, that the OPC has come to endorse system subscriptionism. But there has been confusion and not unity on subscription.
Pribble Speak not to delete. In a quick study of the major English versions, the temporal use of the phrase "space of" has decreased. 8-9 in the Douay Version; 15 in the KJV, 9 in the ASV, 3 in the NKJV, NAS 1, ESV 1. This amendment says that this was not adequately dealt with.
Montemarrano Speak for deleting. Recommendation 4 is to send it for study. Everyone is now trying to revisit the meat and potatoes of the report that we've already dealt with. The report is not exhaustive, it is meant to be a tool.
Keller Delete. We are divided. At the GA and in the church. The report is not prejudiced to any view, but the addition here is.
Bristley We should retain these cautions. How will God's people read this. Concern over animus. Murray says that Rome's view of tradition-not a static corpus of oracles, but is fluid. The reformed tradition is enshrined in the reformed creeds, worship and practice. Tradition is always subject to scripture. Creedal subscription must always proceed from the conviction that the creed is in accordance with scripture.
Hobbes Retain the warnings. I like the warnings. Long before the CRC died for its strict subscription, the church of Hodge and Warfield died for its loose. Loose or strict do not protect the church. Looseness or vagueness is not the solution.
Laurie The idea that this doesn't amount to much is not true. Listen to the debate. 4 points: 1) lack of helpfulness to just refer to "scripture" without references; 2) the mandate was to assist presbyteries and sessions-the elders of the church; 3) this "departure" from the way we've handled reports. We've had weighty reports before. I have a real criticism of the committee's report regarding the exegesis in the presentation of one of the views. But that doesn't need to be up there. 4) If you've read that report, then you should have a clear understanding of animus imponentis. Strike these words and send down the report the way we have historically.
Muether A previous speaker warned about looseness and vagueness that would ensue if the present amendment would pass. The committee has never suggested that looseness and vagueness is the way to handle confessional subscription. My argument in "Confidence in the Brethren" was that the OPC had avoided ambiguity and confusion while avoiding the false dilemma of strict and loose subscription. Another previous speaker has suggested that the OPC is a multi-cultural church, and that is true. We are at least in danger of having designer presbyteries with their own border patrols. We must work for unity and maturity in the faith.
D Cummings It would best serve the Assembly and our flocks if we include this good counsel. Previous speakers have said that they agree with the last two statements. If we agree on these statements, then let us say them.
Troxel Delete. This is not a matter of adequate time. "That the committee's report fails to arrive at a particular conclusion." It is a value judgment. Many of the speeches we heard have made this clear. It fails to arrive at the conclusion they want. We cannot fool ourselves. What is the plain historical meaning of "this is my body?" what is the plain sense of "1,000 years" what about "he descended into hell"? "covenant of works"? The OED provides a delicious irony. It provides a meaning in the context of the fluidity of change over time. "Space of" has multiple meanings in the OED. These words almost border on the offensive. Love does not insist on its own way. Don't insist upon your own way. Charity demands that we not insist upon our own way.
The amendment to delete passed by significant majority (perhaps 90-40?). Messrs. Bristley, Curto, Fartro, Ferguson, Flye, Fullalove, Gorrell, Mazunik, L. E. Miller, Serven, D. L. Watson, Willet, and Willour requested that their negative votes be recorded.
The motion to amend to thank the committee then passed by a similar margin.
After lunch Alan Pontier moved an amendment to clarify the meaning of the animus simply by quoting from the committee's report.
Pontier As has become painfully obvious in this assembly, there is confusion on the concept of the animus. Pastorally we have a responsibility to make sure that people understand what we are saying.
Without much further debate, the amendment carried by a small margin. After a couple of other amendments failed to garner significant support, the Assembly passed recommendation 4 by a large majority.
One speaker suggested that the OPC was in danger of developing designer presbyteries. The debate over the creation days suggests that this is one issue that is in fact a significant issue for the church. Unfortunately there is no way of determining how men voted at the Assembly, because we have forsaken the Old School practice of having roll-call votes for important issues. But one way to determine how presbyteries approach the issue is by analyzing speakers (and those who have their votes recorded). The following chart only includes those who spoke clearly on one side or another. Several people simply asked questions or made speeches on side issues that did not clearly express either approval or disapproval for the committee's report.
For Against Total Commissioners
Central United States 0 1 2
Connecticut & S. New York 1 0 3
Dakotas 1 1 5
Michigan and Ontario 1 1 6
Mid-Atlantic 1 1 8
Midwest 2 3 10
New Jersey 0 5 13
New York & New England 2 0 12
Northern California 1 1 7
Northwest 2 0 8
Ohio 0 0 10
Philadelphia 6 2 18
South 2 0 7
Southeast 0 2 9
Southern California 4 5 12
Southwest 1 0 6
24 22 136
The only presbytery to remain silent during the debate was the Presbytery of Ohio (except for a question from James Gidley). Philadelphia and Southern California produced the most speakers in favor of the committee's report-but Southern California joined New Jersey as the presbyteries with the largest opposition. Five presbyteries spoke unanimously in favor of the report (Connecticut & Southern New York, New York & New England, Northwest, South, and Southwest) while three spoke entirely against (Central U.S., New Jersey, and Southeast). If the presbyteries voted according to their speech patterns, the final vote would be about 80-50 (though my ears would guess that the majority in favor of the report was somewhat higher-perhaps 90-40 would be closer to the truth).
Of course the only way to know for certain would be to have called for a roll call vote on the committee's recommendations. Perhaps someday the OPC will return to this admirable practice.
Other speeches were concerned with the role of the seminaries in shaping the mind of the church. Among those whose seminary background is known (from the Ministerial Register of the OPC, published in 2001), the breakdown of the above speakers is equally interesting.
WTS 12 5
GCTS 4 2
WTSCA 4 1
GPTS 0 4
CTS 1 2
RTSJ 1 1
Other 1 0
Total: 23 16
Not surprisingly, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia produced the largest number of speakers on both sides simply because Westminster has been the largest single source of OP ministers for many years. Gordon-Conwell and Westminster Escondido produced speakers on both sides, but like Westminster Philadelphia, the ratio was more than 2-1 in favor of the committee's report. Greenville graduates, on the other hand, were unanimously against the committee's report (as were the two Greenville professors who spoke on the subject). Therefore the committee's claim that some seminaries have used the creation issue as a way of finding their distinctive niche is warranted by the speeches of Greenville graduates and faculty at the Assembly. Other Reformed seminaries have not made the creation issue a significant factor either in the classroom or in their public statements. But Greenville has publicly stated that it believes that the Westminster Standards require a 24-hour view (see http://www.gpts.edu/resources/resource_creation.html for the Greenville statement).
It is also interesting to note that graduates of northern seminaries spoke 20-8 in favor of the committee's report, while graduates of southern seminaries spoke 7-2 against the committee's report. This may have something to do with the fact that many of those coming from RTS and Covenant were originally in the PCA, and have come into the OPC due to their frustration with the direction of the PCA (all three RTS and CTS graduates in this sample came to the OPC through the PCA). While no Mid-America graduates spoke on the subject, it is instructive to note that the one faculty member and the one former trustee of MARS who spoke on the issue spoke in favor of the committee's report.
What does this mean? To put it simply, Greenville's approach to the creation issue is out of step with the mainstream of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It is more influenced by the PCA debates and does not seem to understand the approach to confessional subscription that has been maintained throughout OPC history (see the section of the Creation Committee's report on the corporate culture of the OPC). The story has often been told that when the OPC made it clear that it viewed "psalms" as including both psalms and hymns, John Murray went to the Presbytery of New York and New England to register his exception to the Confession of Faith of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Even though his conviction (exclusive psalmody) was more in line with the "original intent" of the Westminster Divines, he recognized that the Confession was not the Confession of the Westminster Divines, but the Confession of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and while he agreed with the Westminster Divines, he disagreed with the OPC's Confession (as interpreted by the church).
Having said this, I should add that I have served on committees with more than half of the Greenville men who spoke at the Assembly, and I have deeply appreciated their contributions to the church. Likewise, I am delighted that Greenville has regularly invited those with whom they disagree to come and give lectures at the Seminary, in order that their students might hear other views directly. But it is noteworthy that other seminaries produced men on various sides of the issue, while Greenville appears to be monolithic.
The genius of the Princeton/Westminster tradition is that it provided a place for the whole confessional tradition to come together. I have a database of all Old School ministers. When you look at how Princeton Seminary graduates voted at the General Assemblies of the 1840s and 1850s, you can see no clear pattern. Studying at Princeton Seminary did not determine how a man spoke or voted at the Assembly. It was a place where the whole Old School could come together.
But by the late 1850s Princeton was increasingly feared by partisans both in the south and in the northwest. Pro-slavery southerners feared that Princeton was too northern, and anti-slavery activists in the northwest feared that Princeton was too cozy with the South. The division of the Old School in 1861 can be traced in part to increasing sectional suspicions (and not simply linked to slavery). Regional seminaries emphasized their own distinctives as a way of increasing enrollment and contributions, with the result that the various sections of the church lost confidence in their brethren in other sections of the church.
I am hopeful that the Greenville community (as well as others who have been agitating on the creation issue-both in the OPC and the PCA) will seriously study the Creation report and realize that it provides a middle way between the right and left wings of the PCA. The historic OPC center provides a way of avoiding the subscription controversy in which the PCA has foundered.
Overall, however, as a member of the Creation Committee, it was gratifying to see and hear the response from the church. Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the Assembly supported the general approach set forth by the report. While the debate made it clear that the issue is by no means fully resolved, this reviewer is hopeful that the Creation report will be useful in bringing the mind of the church toward greater harmony in many areas.
At the beginning of the Assembly, the Rev. John Mahaffy raised a point of order regarding overtures 2 and 3, suggesting that consideration of either overture would put the Assembly in danger of violating the ninth commandment, due to the fact that both overtures called the Assembly to revisit in some form the judicial case of last year where ruling elder John Kinnaird was cleared of charges of heresy. His point of order was referred to the Advisory Committee, which reported back on Monday morning, suggesting that Overture 2 be found out of order, but that Overture 3 be found in order (except for three of its grounds).
Overture 2 (Reaffirm the Confession and Create a Study Committee)
Overture 2 began with an introductory paragraph, which read as follows:
"The Presbytery of the Midwest of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church respectfully overtures the 71st General Assembly as follows:
1. We request that the 71st (2004) General Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church declare its continued commitment to the Word of God, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms with regard to the doctrine of justification by faith alone; and that the 71st General Assembly affirm that faith, which is a gift of God, is the sole instrument of justification; declare unequivocally the following beliefs:"
(The remainder of the overture consisted of quotations from the Confession and Catechisms, a request to publicize the decision, and the erection of a study committee to "critique the teaching of the 'New Perspective' on Paul, the Federal Vision, and other like teachings by the word of God and our church standards.")
The first ground then cited statements attributed to Mr. Kinnaird (all of which were taken out of context, and at least one of which was a summary of what others thought about Mr. Kinnaird's view, rather than a direct quote from Mr. Kinnaird). The second ground relied entirely upon the first ground. Therefore, the Advisory Committee was right to recommend that the Assembly find the overture out of order, since it did in fact call upon the Assembly to revisit the judicial case from last year. (The Advisory Committee nonetheless urged that the Assembly create the special committee).
Rather than find the overture out of order, the Rev. Jason Wallace urged the Assembly to remove the first ground and find the overture in order.
J Wallace This will eliminate the concerns about the grounds; this overture is needed for the purity, peace, and unity of the church. There have been things said publicly by teaching elders in the OPC that are distressful to me and my congregation. One said that the OPC had signed its death warrant last year. Others have called into question how clear we are on the doctrine of justification. Outside publications and internet websites claim that we deny these things. We need to recognize that most confessional churches have abandoned their confessions. We have churches that are self-confessed reformed churches, yet they deny the regulative principle. New and innovative hermeneutics are being applied. The doctrine of justification is under attack. Churches outside the OPC were generous in helping Salt Lake City, but now they are hesitant to support Provo. I have lost a member of our church over this. If we defeat this overture, it will make it difficult for me to minister to these people. Give me something to take back to my people.
Locheed We naively thought that the OPC was sound; we thought that no one could add to their justification; when certain recent teachings reached our ears, we realized that it is not as simple as we thought. Some seem to believe that the righteousness of Christ is not sufficient; some believe that our own obedience adds to our salvation. It may no longer be sufficient to ask a candidate if he subscribes to our confessional documents. Does he mean the same thing that others have meant for half a millennium. The current state of confusion needs to be dealt with. People outside our church are concerned. We need to speak. Our salvation does not need to be amplified; no need for a later declaration of justification. We have been saved and we are saved. We did nothing to earn it. And we can do nothing to earn it. We are to walk in works of obedience. We must never allow a misinterpretation of James 2 or Romans 2 to overturn the plain meaning of Eph 2. if you tell someone that they must add to their justification, because of a future justification, or declaration of justification....
DeMaster I speak against substitute; our AC wish to affirm the doctrine of justification; but the question is: does this particular overture come with a sense of revisiting last year? We were convinced by the point of order that the grounds presented by this overture revisit last year's case.
Willett I also speak against, though not against its intent. I am not comfortable affirming "parts" of our Confession. I affirm our whole Confession. This issue is far greater than a single judicial case. The particular affirmations in this overture do deal with that particular case. My response is that we not give a simplistic response, we must give a substantive response. That would be provided by the study committee.
Winslow Point of order: we must focus on the question of whether to find this in order
J Wallace What about "undue silence in a just cause"? The good name of the OPC is at stake.
Tyson Vote it down; if you approve it, you are faced with a statement of undoubted correctness (ground 2). But this substitute removes the documentation of that lack of clarity. This is simply an en thesi statement. How does that help the church?
Barker Opposed to the substitute because the overture suffers because it badmouths something the last GA did. Also it requests the clerk to do things he has no power to do. He cannot display things on the OPC web site or New Horizons.
Stahl Strongly in favor of the substitute-because in its modified form, it does not revisit last year's judicial case.
(At this point a motion to refer the overture back to the advisory committee failed by an overwhelming majority, since the advisory committee had already decided that it believed the overture was out of order)
D Cummings There are no references to the 70th GA in the substitute; there are times when we must reaffirm our covenant; Dt 29, Josh 24, etc.
Dillworth If the urgency is so important, that OP ministers are denying the doctrine of justification by faith, I am rather surprised that no charges have been filed. We can give this matter to the study committee.
The substitute failed by a significant majority (ca. 2/3). (An interesting blended vote, as those opposed to the overture on principle joined with those who approved of the overture entirely to reject the substitute).
Story I speak against ruling out of order. Ground 1 simply says that there was confusion surrounding the case last year. All we are saying is that the judicial actions last year do not constitute a departure of the OPC from its doctrine on justification. Clarifications are necessary for some people. We are simply saying that we believe what we say we believe.
Dillard It is out of order. If there are OPC ministers denying justification by faith, then this overture goes nowhere. We need judicial action.
J Wallace I am not saying that OPC ministers have denied it, but that they have said that the OPC has denied justification.
Stahl Remember the narrow question of whether it is in order-not the merits!!!
Buchanan We agree on the statements; it is only the grounds that we find objectionable. But there is confusion. The judicial case was part of the cause of that confusion. We need to make a statement. This church needs to say this year, here is what we do believe.
Galbraith It is unfortunate that "revisiting" is being perpetuated. We do not want a retrial of the case. Revisit is vague. We are not saying that this assembly reverse the decision of last year. There have been unintended consequences. The FG allows for considering such consequences. The 2003 GA did not take any care to separate the OPC from the objectionable statements of the appellant. The 2003 GA did two things: 1) it acquitted the appellant; 2) it accompanied that acquittal with an admission of unclarity of the appellant. This overture seeks to comment on the second-not the first. Of course we are revisiting! The overture does not focus on the decision, but on what accompanied that decision. This matter can be considered. We must not reduce this topic to a parliamentary point of order, when the faith fo the OPC was in question. There was a time when if the OPC said it, it was accepted. The 2003 deliverance that accompanied the decision to acquit destroyed forever that our words will not be questioned. The PCUSA always said that the confession was their confession (even as they were denying it). We do not believe the deliverance of last year. We are not in danger of breaking the 9th commandment because we are not retrying the case. It is incumbent upon this assembly to find the overture in order and adopt it.
Tyson Remember the grounds the AC has given us. No one is suggesting that this GA overturn last year. You can revisit without overturning. We've already begun to do that. We've already heard that certain deliverances of the previous GA must be taken into account. What were those deliverances? Look at page 38 of last year's minutes, #174. They were the specifications of error found on page 37. Those are the deliverances of the Assembly. And #175 "judgment reversed." The only deliverances of last year's Assembly were to sustain and reverse. Those statements need to be corrected? They were vindicated last year in context. Words are left out and changed. There is a lot of confusion in the grounds!
Currie I urge that the Assembly find it in order. We affirm the doctrine of justification by faith alone. We need to speak.
Locheed Remember the concluding observations of the AC last year: "his teaching has not been as clear as should be expected from an elder."
J Wallace The appellant himself apologized for the confusion. Therefore it is not out of order.
Duff Vote no; find the overture out of order. Someone writes me and asks me what happened last year. I send the actions of the GA. This quotes from the protest! Taking things completely out of context. Should not be found in order.
Bradley Find it out of order. How does this overture clarify anything? If the GA found it necessary to reaffirm justification by faith, but did not condemn the teachings of the person we think denied justification by faith, what does it prove?
Bristley In favor of finding it in order; FG 12.1-"to maintain truth and righteousness" and oppose error. 15.6-GA shall deal with all doctrinal issues. While the overture is not perfect, we must put it in proper order.
Galbraith The overture doesn't solve anything? We're not trying to solve anything. The question is whether it is in order. It may not be as pointed as we wish, but that can be changed. I am amazed that anyone wants to bury this thing. Everybody should be willing to do whatever is necessary that we may clarify this confusion.
The Assembly finally voted 68-64 to find the overture in order. The Rev. Messrs. Mahaffy, Tyson, Duff and Gaffin recorded their negative vote
DeMaster AC recommends as a response to the overture that since the Confession and Catechisms clearly express the biblical doctrine, and officers receive and adopt them, no further statement is necessary.
The Moderator, Larry Wilson, commented at this point that "someone once said that moderating GA is like trying to deliver a wheelbarrow of hopping frogs. It is much more difficult!"
After some discussion of how to handle overture 2, it was finally moved to answer the Overture by reaffirming the Confession and Catechisms as the Overture requested, and establish a committee of five to study the New Perspective and Federal Vision.
Bradley The more detailed our reaffirmation at this Assembly, will serve to highlight last year. Which GA speaks for the OPC? The judicial GA of 2003 or the declarative GA of 2004? If our affirmation of the Word of God and the Westminster Standards is not enough, nothing will be enough.
Graham The reason for this amendment is that I don't want to study the issues surrounding justification, without taking a strong position on the doctrine of justification.
After some further discussion, Dr. Gaffin obtained common consent to amend the committee's mandate to focus on "justification and other related doctrines"-because the New Perspective is a very wide-ranging and amorphous movement. While the committee's work will entail attention to related doctrines, the focus should be on the doctrine of justification.
The resulting resolution passed overwhelmingly.
Overture 3 (Delete Romans 2 from the Prooftexts of LC 90)
Overture 3, from the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York, requested that the Assembly delete Romans 2 from the proof-texts for Larger Catechism 90, on the grounds that since commentators disagree as to whether Romans 2 is relevant for the question of the final judgment, it is not useful to be included in the OPC's official proof-texts.
The advisory committee recommended that the overture be found in order, with the exclusion of grounds 6-8 (which revisited last year's judicial case).
Messrs. Stahl, Galbraith and Bristley urged the Assembly to retain grounds 6-8 in order to preserve the historical record. But Messrs DeMaster, Tyson, Gidley and Pontier argued that the grounds claim that the precise statements that were vindicated last year are "out of accord with the Church's Standards." That is not only revisiting last year's case, but virtually retrying it. Especial clarity was offered by Dr. Gidley:
Gidley Grounds 6-8 are disorderly because they not only report things that actually happen, they place a certian interpretation on those events. That interpretation is prejudicial to truth. The LC says that we are not to misconstrue what others say. We must put the best possible construction on what others say. Last year's AC also had preliminary observations (page 34) that pointed out the appellant's views on justification. That is what the appellant said about justification. The AC went on to say that the specifications of error came from statements regarding sanctification, glorification and the final judgment. "Reasonably construed in context" that is, not with suspicion, there is no way that these statements could be taken as referring to justification. You would never do to scripture what has been done to the appellant. Is not James 2 "suggestive of several errors" if it is taken out of context? You may differ as to whether they are misconstruing, but in this case, there is nothing reasonable or charitable. "Love your neighbor as yourself."
The Advisory Committee's recommendation then carried by an overwhelming majority (this reviewer only heard 2-3 nays).
The AC then recommended that the overture be granted, because there is no unanimity in the OPC as to the proper exegesis of Romans 2, and therefore it does not belong in the proof-texts for LC 90.
Mahaffy I can live with this action; one of the concerns that I have is that we not have a list of "approved exegesis"; more has been made of the proof texts than they should be. We should not let this be a bone of contention among us.
Without further substantive discussion the motion passed by an overwhelming margin.
The Assembly later proceeded to elect the Study Committee on Justification. When 14 men were elected for a seven man committee, few expected that the committee would be elected on the first ballot. But the Assembly appears to have been thoroughly convinced of who belonged on this committee, with four men receiving over 100 votes, and all seven men elected on the first ballot. Four more ballots, however, were required in order to elect the two alternates.
Election of the Committee to Study Justification
Sid Dyer (82)*
David VanDrunen (119)*
Allen Strange (111)*
Leonard Coppes (33) (53) (51) (59) (64)
John Fesko (86)*
Tony Curto (57) (88)-1st alternate
Dan Dillard (25) (33) (20) (6)
Richard Gaffin (105)*
George Knight (106)*
William Barcley (87)*
William Shishko (37) (59) (55) (65) (65)-second alternate
John Jambura (15)
Shawn Mathis (10)
G. I. Williamson (26) (23) (2)
Estelle Dr. Van Drunen may be a new name to some of you, but we must elect competent men. He is a professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at WTSCA; just appointed to the only endowed chair; MDiv and ThM and JD; licensed attorney in IL; PhD in Ethics at Loyola U. He has done considerable research on this topic. Having worked with David extensively, he works very well with others on committees.
J Wallace Dr. Coppes has one earned doctorate; has served on a number of committees, including the Creation committee. Has been invaluable to our presbytery in dealing with these new views.
A Curry Dr. Barcley is a member of the Presbytery of the South, having moved from Gordon College to RTS Jackson; PhD in NT; recently taught a course on the New Perspective. At Jackson he is familiar with the Louisiana situation at Auburn Avenue PCA.
Bradley Dan Dillard is our C&C chairman in the NW Pby; last evening I was able to witness Dan give a full exposition of the issues. His grasp of this subject is impressive.
Bube Dr. Curto has an extensive library-and every book in it has been read; he has almost an encylcopedic knowledge.
Muether Concurs with the nomination of Barcley; he has considerable expertise. But also I wish to speak on behalf of Mr. Strange. He was indispensable to the Creation committee; but is presently at work on a monograph on justification.
Labriola Dr. Jambura can bring chaos to order; I've heard long litanies of gentlemen running for this committee; but this man is a work horse. When you give him a task, he stays with it until it is finished, and he gives it everything that he has. That is one of the most important qualifications for a study committee.
Thole Shawn Mathis is a ruling elder in our presbytery; well-versed in theology and especially on this issue.
Megchelsen Seconds the nomination of Van Drunen
Troxel Fesko did his dissertation in Scotland; he debated Doug Wilson on eschatology and won the praise of the audience; has written essays on the NPP; those of you who know him how fair-minded and gracious he is. (But Dick Gaffin must also be elected)
Strange Dr. Gaffin knows a thing or two about Paul. Also Dr. Knight has reflected on a wide range of NT studies.
Olinger Would speak for a few: Sid Dyer is a good friend; has written on this (Banner of Truth web site); Dr Fesko has submitted a number of excellent articles on Wright. Fesko and Dyer have spoken together at conferences. Gaffin has written several articles. Strange is not only working on the justification manuscript, but is also a colleague of C. Venema who has written extensively.
D Cummings George Knight is a careful exegete and has a pastoral heart; Van Drunen would also be excellent.
The challenge with overture 2 was that the debate was supposed to be on the narrow question of whether the overture was in order, but invariably speakers kept returning to the merits of the case.
The Assembly has now gone on record as "reaffirming" the Confession's teaching on Justification. Why? Because a handful of schismatics have complained that the OPC is departing from orthodoxy! The overtures referred to confusion outside the OPC over our position, and several speakers referred to those who have pronounced the OPC apostate. Who has spoken of the OPC's apostasy? John Robbins who recently seceded from the PCA, a handful of ministers who have renounced the jurisdiction of the OPC, and a professor from the Protestant Reformed Churches.
And why is anyone paying attention to those who have separated themselves from the Church of Jesus Christ? Should we not be listening to those with whom we have ecclesiastical fellowship-or at least corresponding relations? Which of those churches has expressed concern over our views of justification? If any of those churches had been concerned about our views, they could have sent us a letter-or at least communicated with us through their fraternal delegates. But none did.
I have no objection to the church reaffirming what we believe. We do that every Sunday when we confess our faith together. But it troubles me that there are those in the OPC who are listening to schismatics rather than the church. If we actually believe our Confession's statement on the catholicity of the visible church (Confession of Faith 25.2-3) I would expect that we would be more careful as to what voices we heed.
I am hopeful that the study committee on justification will provide a useful analysis of the New Perspective and Federal Vision. With a committee that includes seven professors from six seminaries, it will certainly have sufficient brainpower. With three New Testament scholars, two theologians, and two church historians, this reviewer is optimistic that they will offer the Assembly a careful and judicious critique of the movements in its mandate.
10. Appeals and Complaints
John Mallin reported that this was the first Assembly since 1987 that there were no appeals or complaints.