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Switch to Forum Live View What is a Good Presbyterian?
9 years ago  ::  May 27, 2009 - 10:52PM #1
Posts: 64

Do you have to agree with everything in the Westminster Confession to be a good Presbyterian? If not, what percentage of it to you have to agree with in order to be a "good Presbyterian?" 80%? 90%? 95%? If not by percentage, what parts of WCF can you disagree with and still be a "good Presbyterian?" Of course, WCF itself affirms that all human councils may err, what part(s) of WCF (or Scots, or 2 Helv, or Barmen, or C67, or name your poison) can "good Presbyterians" disagree with before they run afoul of the Presbyterian Purity Police (whoever they may be, and whoever issued their badges)?

Same thing with the Synod of Dort: does a "good Presbyterian" have to accept all the views espoused within the TULIP acronym? if not, which ones are dealbrakers, and which ones are optional?

And of course, the same questions about Calvin's Institutes. What, if anything, within this great theological work may we disagree with and still be considered GP's?

Who has the authority to say that someone else is, or isn't, a GP?

Is it possible to respect the traditions of the 16th and 17th century Reformers, while still recognizing that theological advances have been made since then, from a number of various sources? Do GP's have liverty in Christ to believe that our understanding of the faith may change - even advance - as time progresses? Or would believing so make us (possibly) tolerable Christians, but outside the pale of the Reformed tradition, and that of being a GP?

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9 years ago  ::  May 30, 2009 - 12:40AM #2
Posts: 2

There are two approaches. If you're in the PCUSA, the standards are somewhat looser than in the more conservative Presbyterian churches. In the more conservative churches you should agree with most of the Westminster Confession. Not every detail, but maybe 90% of it.

In the PCUSA we're a bit looser. I'd say you should agree with the standard Christian beliefs, e.g. the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. Beyond that in some ways the most important things about the Presbyterian tradition isn't any specific doctrine, but the approach. The Reformed and Lutheran traditions are both "confessional." This is an alternative to the Catholic position where church tradition and the hierarchy dominate, but also the common Protestant approach where people interpret Scripture in isolation. In the confessional churches we're committed to operating as a community. Individuals are encourage to understand Scripture for themselves, and they can challenge the current interpretations, but in the end the church makes decisions as a whole.

Those decisions don't necessarily agree with those in the 16th Cent. But there is certainly some continuity. I don't know that all of our members believe in predestination (I do), but the idea that God is in control is still an important element of our theology. So are Reformed distinctives such as spiritual presence in communion. I don't think you need to accept absolutely every one of the Reformed distinctives, but if you don't agree with most of them, why would you want to be involved in a Reformed denomination?


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9 years ago  ::  May 30, 2009 - 10:33AM #3
Posts: 64

Hedrick, thanks for a very thoughtful reply. I think that maybe I should offer a little more info for you. I am a Commissioned Lay Pastor, serving a 130-member congregation in the PC(USA). I'm also now a middler student in seminary, and upon graduation I will enter fulltime ordained ministry within that denom. I'm familiar with the general answer to my question, which you framed very well. I was actually going for more specific opinions of the members of this forum - something closer to the lines of your comment about "pre-D." I know there isn't any real hard, fast line, I'm just more curious about some of our own little community's thoughts of what would be a "deal breaker" in their own opinions.

For what it's worth, I'm firmly convinced that my own beliefs put me strongly in the Reformed tradition, and I agree with you that if you don't agree with some basic majority of that tradition, why would you want to be considered part of it.

Also, the question isn't intended to be a "gotcha!" kind of thing - I'm just curious about the members; where they might feel the answer is, and where they would draw the "line in the sand," as it were. In any case, thanks for jumping into the conversation. This is Pentecost, after all - let's see if God can breathe some new life into this forum. ;)

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9 years ago  ::  Jun 05, 2009 - 1:14AM #4
Posts: 959

 Jesus said:

John 10:16
16 "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.

Would not the relevant question be how to be a good Christian, rather than how to be a good Presbyterian, or Lutheran, or Methodist, or whatever?

From the verse I quoted above, it seems to me that what Jesus considers important is  how much people love and trust Him, and how willing are they to obey Him in all things, not what fold they happen to be in. If a person is a good and faithful servant of the Lord, that person will automatically be a good member of whatever denomination he/she belongs to.

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9 years ago  ::  Jun 09, 2009 - 3:08PM #5
Posts: 24

I am in a 3500 member PCUSA church and I dare say that 90% of our membership has no real idea of the actual content of the various creeds and confessions that make up the Book Of Confessions.  Sometimes a very general "belief in the essentials" statement is made referring to new elders, etc., but who knows what the "essentials" are?

With the PCUSA losing membership like never before defining what a true Presbyterian must subscribe to is opening  a can of worms most pastors and congregations would rather just let lie.

Thus, the answer is that anyone who wishes to call themselves a Presbyterian is free to do so just as anyone who wishes to call themselves a Christian is able to do so and this is probably the way it should be.

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9 years ago  ::  Jun 26, 2009 - 11:46AM #6
Posts: 330

As Presbyterian churches of even the more conservative stripe do not require members to affirm the confessions but take less stringent membership vows, in that sense a Presbyterian may be baptistic or Arminian.  Any Christian with saving faith in the Triune God, knowing himself to be a helpless sinner, trusting in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ alone, desiring him to be his Lord and with the help of the Holy Spirit to live a life of repentance and obedience, making a credible profession of faith, and subjecting himself to the authority of Christ's visible church, may be a Presbyterian.

However, for a church to be truly Presbyterian, they must affirm some essentials, and hold officers accountable to enforceable ordination vows affirming those essentials:

The unique authority of Scripture as the Holy Spirit inspired testimony of God's revelation of himself and saving work in Jesus Christ.

The sovereignty of God's grace in salvation.

That God enters into covenant with individuals, their children, his church and peoples.

Christ's church is properly governed by mutually accountable elders in ascending courts, with authority to discipline those violating their ordination of membership vows.

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