Adoption Act of Subscription Exceptions Added to PCA Book of Church Order
by Rev. David T. Myers
Can a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America be permitted to honestly express his reservations with sections of the Westminster Standards to his Presbytery which do not strike at the essentials of religion before ordination? That was the question raised in the denomination, with some presbyteries allowing it and others not providing liberty for it. The issue was settled with the following section being added upon favorable vote to the Book of Church Order’s Form of Government on June 12, 2003 at the Thirty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.
“While our Constitution does not require the candidate’s affirmation of every statement and/proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to determine if the candidate is out of accord with any of the fundamentals of these doctrinal standards and, as a consequence, may not be able in good faith to receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. (cf. BCO 21:5, Q.2; 24:5, Q. 2).
“Therefore, in examining a candidate for ordination, the Presbytery shall inquire not only into the candidate’s knowledge and views in the areas specified above, but also shall require the candidate to state the specific instances of which he may differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions. The court may grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.”
The key phrase of this Adoption Act is in the last sentence “. . . only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.” Time will tell, in this contributor’s opinion, whether “the court’s judgment” of our presbyteries will defend the faith once delivered unto the saints or allow all sorts of various doctrinal differences to slide in unnoticed into the church.
Words to Live By: How important it is to pray for the teaching and ruling elders of our Presbyterian churches that they will hold solidly to the Reformed faith, not allowing any weakening of “the vitals of religion.” We have with sadness watched the gradual slide of other mainline Presbyterian churches into departures from the faith. Let us not imitate them, but resist the temptation of the world, the flesh, and the devil and stand firm and hold true “the vitals of religion.”