Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Links to articles

At our first congregation forum I handed out three historic documents and an explanation of how we got here written by Carmen Fowler LaBerge for The Layman.  I thought it would be best to put up links to those articles on the blog for those unable to attend.  I hope in the next week to put forward a version of my own remarks on how we as a denomination got to this point and look forward to hearing other versions of this story as well.

The Adopting Act of 1729:  In essence, this was the opening shot in what would become a longstanding debate regarding the essential tenets of the Reformed Faith.  The document (paragraph 7 of the document distributed 2/26/12 in more contemporary English) instructs presbyteries to only admit to the office of minister those who uphold the "essential and necessary Articles" of faith found in the Westminster standards.  The Adopting Act clearly stated that the form of doctrine is found in the Westminster standards, but did not define what in said standards is essential and necessary and what is non-essential and/or unnecessary and thus able to be scrupled.  In brief, under the Adopting Act a minister had to affirm the essentials of the Westminster Confession, but could declare a departure from the standards so long as that departure was not deemed by the local presbytery to be a departure from one of the unnamed essentials.

Doctrinal Deliverance (1910):  The General Assembly meeting in Portland, Oregon attempted to define five fundamentals of faith, or, to use the language of the Adopting Act of 1729, five items that are essential and necessary article of faith.  The move toward the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910 was in reaction to three ministers ordained in the Presbytery of New York who refused to affirm the Virgin birth of Christ.  As the Doctrinal Deliverance sought to define what is essential and necessary, it was seen as an affront to those who hoped to uphold their understanding of the Adopting Act of 1729 that left what was essential and necessary undefined.  The five points of doctrine were, in brief:
  1. The Scriptures in their original manuscripts are inerrant.
  2. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.
  3. That Christ's death is a substitutionary atonement for our sins.
  4. That Christ rose bodily from the grave on the third day.
  5. That the miracles of Christ are historical and actual events.
The Auburn Affirmation (1924):  The Auburn Affirmation was written in direct response to the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910.  Its purpose was to state opposition to any set of essential tenets being defined as necessary articles of faith.  In its closing paragraphs the Affirmation states, "We do not desire liberty to go beyond the teachings of evangelical Christianity.  But we maintain that it is our [referring to Church not Civil] constitutional right and our Christian duty within these limits to exercise liberty of thought and teaching, that we may more effectively preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Saviour [sic] of the World."  The intent was to maintain charitable liberty within certain, though undefined, bounds.  In its fourth paragraph, the Affirmation seems to hold up the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910, but softens each point of doctrine to admit more latitude in the specifics of what is believed.

How We Got Here (2012, The Layman):  Carmen Fowler LaBerge, executive editor of The Layman wrote this piece detailing how over the last 100 years (or so) the Presbyterian Church (USA) arrived at its form.  As editor of The Layman, an organization founded in opposition to the adoption of the Book of Confessions and the Confession of 1967 in particular, this article ought to be read with that perspective in mind.