Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Ethics of Strict Subscription

One of the projects I have been working on is creating a harmony of the Westminster Standards (yes, I know that there are books which have already done this). One of the strengths of the Westminster Catechisms is its inclusion of a significant treatment of the Ten Commandments. The Larger Catechism in particular has extensive reflections on what is required and forbidden in each commandment. Consider the following selections from the Larger Catechism on the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness:”

What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting the truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth…speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale bearers, flatterers and slanderers…

What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?

The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own, especially in public judicature…raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense…

It was with great distress that I read Mr. Fesko’s review of N. T. Wright’s Romans commentary and theology in the February edition of New Horizons. Aside from the expected challenges to Wright’s view of justification, Mr. Fesko shockingly accused Bishop Wright of Trinitarian heresy. This accusation was met with numerous demonstrations of Wright’s orthodox Trinitarianism, from Wright’s writings and speeches and also the testimony of other respected, Reformed leaders. One of the men cited in support of Dr. Wright’s orthodoxy was Dr. Richard Gaffin of Westminster Theological Seminary. In the May edition of New Horizons, however, Dr. Gaffin objected to citing his pervious endorsement of Wright’s integrity on the Trinity. Not only did Dr. Gaffin qualify his previous statement and refuse to affirm Wright’s orthodoxy on the Trinity, he went on to question his Christological orthodoxy.

At the core of the debate about the New Perspective in Reformed circles is the Westminster Standards’ perspective on justification, and that espoused by New Perspective authors, especially N. T. Wright. It is clear that significant differences exist between Wright and the Confessions’ stance regarding justification. But, where is the consistency in fighting for Confessional integrity regarding justification in a manner that is in violation of the Catechism’s teaching regarding the ninth commandment? Will those pushing strict subscription be as hawkish to hunt those whose refuse to “preserve and promote the good name of our neighbor” and who are all too willing to “admit of an evil report?” Will Presbyteries be instructed to examine the attitudes of candidates to see if “they sorrow and cover the infirmities of our neighbors, while acknowledging their gifts and graces” along with their views on creation and justification? Will the official publications of the OPC show as much diligence in refusing to “raise false rumors, receive and countenance evil reports and stop our ears against a just defense” as it is in printing articles and reviews critical of the doctrinal faults of others? Strict subscriptionism requires equal diligence in the doctrinal and ethical portions of the Confession. It is all or nothing.

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