Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Vital Call for the Vitals of Religion (Brian Tallman)

In the denomination in which I serve as a minister--The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)--we have confessional standards to which all our ministers voluntarily agree to submit, subscribe, and support. The language we use to describe this action is that of adoption. He must, our Book of Church Order requires, be "able in good faith sincerely to receive and adopt the Confession of Fatih and Catechisms" of the church as "containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures" (BCO 21.4). That fact being stipulated, the adoption of the documents as containing the system does not mean a jot and tittle adoption of every "statement and/or proposition" (BCO 21.4). To put is another way, one is not automatically disqualified from being able to minister in the PCA because of a difference with the Standards. Instead, ministers and candidates for the ministry may take exceptions--at the discretion and permission of a Presbytery--to any differences or scruples they might have with the official doctrine of the church as contained in the standards. When this happens each exception is weighed and examined by the court of the church. Some exceptions are deemed acceptable and thus approved; others are not. Of course all of this begs the questions, "By what standard is an exception deemed acceptable or not? Is there another repository of truth which may be mined and appealed to in order to determine whether or not an exception is acceptable?" The answer to the latter question is "Yes!" The litmus test used to determine acceptance and approval of exceptions to the standards is this: "The exception(s) must not be the kind that is either hostile to the system or strikes at the vitals of religion" (BCO 21.4). In other words, all exceptions are acceptable as long as they don't strike at the vitals of religion. So far so good, right? But this forces additional questions to surface. What are the vitals of religion? Where might one find the list of them? What types of except...

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