Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3 NKJ)
Some may think that I jumped from one frying pan, if not into the fire, at least into another frying pan. I would not disagree. But I am used to being in the minority. I remain content with my decision. Moreover, thanks to the graciousness of the interim rector and a small REC congregation I am getting opportunities for ministry on Sundays, assisting in the liturgy and sometimes preaching. William H. Smith, "I Don’t Have a Dog in the PCA Fight: But That Doesn’t Keep Me from Having an Opinion," The Aquila Report.
To say that I am disappointed in the decision would be a gross understatement. Aghast is more appropriate here. We are not talking about narrow Reformed versus broad Reformed. We are talking about evangelicalism versus what amounts to Roman Catholic teaching. At this point, it will not matter if the SJC decides to try to distance itself from Leithart’s theology. They will have allowed his theology to exist. This decision is completely and utterly wrong. The record of the case should have been enough all by itself to convince anyone truly confessional that Leithart’s theology does not fall within its boundaries. It does not fall within evangelicalism, let alone Reformed theology. Lane Keister: The Leithart Verdict.
Amusingly, William H. Smith argues that the PCA at its formation was never a confessional church; it was merely a broad church that functioned in real life that way and strict subscription was never part of the official doctrine. He admits, however, that the Address at the founding of the denomination says otherwise:
Here is the reality. The Address cannot be read literally as descriptive of the PCA at its founding. The more recent letter reflects the PCA as it was and is. If one goes only by the words of the Address, then the PCA intended to be a thoroughly Reformed denomination holding strictly to the Westminster Standards. But the words of the Address and the reality of the views and practices of both the majority of the founders and the majority of the original ministers are two different things. William H. Smith, "I Don't Have a Dog in the Fight."
Smith then points out that:
But the address did not reflect the real operating (as distinct from formal) theology of the majority of the founders of the PCA. Your operating theology is what you believe that makes a difference in what you preach and how you go about your ministry. The PCA was formed by conservative men most of whom were educated at Columbia Theological Seminary and who were part of the broadly evangelical coalition on the right of the PCUS. That broadly evangelical group had a “mix” of theological views that included such theological influences as dispensationalism, Finneyism, higher life pietism, and Westminster Calvinism. The majority of those who were Reformed and who were part of that coalition were not the fire-eating TR types. Nor were they the Puritan applicatory preaching sort. Rather they were Southern Presbyterian teaching ministers.
The main things that these men with diverse views and practices agreed on were that the PCUS had gone too far in the direction of theological liberalism, that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, and that people are lost and need a Savior (hence the commitment to evangelism and missions). From the beginning the PCA was mission not theologically driven. It was never a strict subscription denomination. Those who formed the minority on the hard right of the PCA were almost entirely young men who had been educated at Reformed Theological Seminary (those who sat together in one of the wings at old Briarwood and voted together at the first General Assembly). They held to Westminster Calvinism, Southern Presbyterian polity, Puritan experiential piety, and Kuyperian cultural engagement. Smith, Ibid.
With this sort of logic almost anyone can equivocate (lie) and remain in good standing in any denomination. One has to ask why the PCA voted for full subscription (with few exceptions) to the Westminster Standards if in fact it never enforced Reformed confessionalism and Reformed discipline of those doctrinal standards at its founding if in fact it only required the adherence to a broad consensus to an opposition to theological liberalism, the upholding of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, and the evangelization of the lost? According to Smith, the PCA was never Reformed but was always a broad Evangelical denomination with few doctrinal standards. It seems to me that William H. Smith has a dog in the fight and his dog is in sympathy with the Federal Vision error. That's because the church to which William H. Smith transferred his credentials caved in to the Federal Vision error long before the PCA was exposed as having caved to that view.
It can be easily demonstrated as far back as the 1980s that the Reformed Episcopal Church had rejected its own Declaration of Principles and its reason for being. A book detailing some of the departures of the REC toward high church Anglo-Catholicism is called: For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians, by Allen C. Guelzo, (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 391 pp. I was for a brief time ordained as a deacon with the REC around 2002-2003. I resigned my credentials after it became apparent that the REC was planning a concordat with a high church continuing Anglican denomination (read Anglo-Catholic) called the Anglican Province in America. (See: The Departure of the Reformed Episcopal Church from Evangelical and Protestant Reformed Theology). There were plans for the REC to join in full communion with the APA until the opportunity arose for the REC to join up with the newly founded Anglican Church in North America, another high church Anglo-Catholic denomination formed after the consecration of Gene Robinson, an open and practicing homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire in The Episcopal Church in 2003. The APA declined to join up with the ACNA due to the issue of women's ordination. Thus the REC is in concordat with the APA but in full communion with the ACNA since the ACNA was founded in 2009.
As a side note, Dr. James I. Packer and his church left the Canadian Anglican Church and joined up with the ACNA as well. Of course, Dr. Packer endorses Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the Gift of Salvation, as well as the Manhattan Declaration. Sadly, even Ligon Duncan and Albert Mohler compromised and signed the Manhattan Declaration, a clear violation of the Reformed doctrinal standards.
But I digress. The truth is the Reformed Episcopal Church is much worse off than the Presbyterian Church in America, as bad as the PCA has become. There are still very conservative presbyteries in the PCA. That cannot be said for the REC, which for all practical purposes is a full blown Anglo-Catholic denomination with no connection to its historical roots. The Declaration of Principles was formulated with the stipulation that it could never be amended, edited, or rescinded. However, the REC bishops got around that minor detail by utilizing a Tractarian tactic employed originally by John Henry Newman. Basically, the REC presiding bishops have written commentary on the DoP to reinterpret the document in such a way that it is explained away as if it were in full agreement with the Romish tendencies of the Anglo-Papists and high church Laudians. You can easily see that by reading the DoP on the REC website. Reading the historical context of the DoP leads one to believe that the REC has not gone high church. But this is all explained away in other documents posted there. For example, during the time when the REC and APA were planning to unite in full communion the Anglican Statement of Belief and Practice was formulated. That statement rejects the Declaration of Principles and the Protestant understanding of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion in toto:
. . . Scripture given by God is, therefore, supreme in its authority to declare God’s will. Similarly, the Church may not teach anything as necessary for salvation that cannot be proven out of Scripture; nor has the Church any authority to reject or alter any of Scripture’s teaching on faith or morality. Likewise, no revelation in Scripture concerning God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost or his plan for human redemption is susceptible to change by any human agency. There are, however, rites and ceremonies that are in themselves indifferent, which need not require biblical sanction but which should not contradict the clear meaning of Scripture.
Tradition: Just as Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation and the promise that the Holy Spirit will lead the Church into all truth, it is axiomatic that the faith once delivered to the saints has been believed and practiced at all times, in all places and by all in the Church. It does not follow from these principles that the Church on earth may never err, as if it were infallible, but rather, that it is indefectible, and that in it is found a universal consensus in faith and practice through time and across the earth.
This consensus constitutes what St. Paul calls tradition. In substance, the tradition of the Church is none other than the rule of faith as discerned in Scripture. In practice, tradition also refers to the teaching of the faith through time. In neither sense of the word does tradition indicate a source of authority separate from or parallel to Holy Scripture. Nor does it indicate a source of authority equal to that of Scripture. Rather, Scripture provides the standard for tradition.
Tradition thus has a derivative authority for Christians, and only then when tradition is understood aright. What Jesus calls the "traditions" of men are practices of human devising, which cannot bind Christian conscience and can often separate man from grace. What St. Paul calls tradition, the apostolic teaching and the process of preaching and receiving it, constitutes tradition as a source of authority. Understood in this way, tradition is not mere human custom. Taken materially, it is the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church over time. Taken formally, it is the evidence of this presence as found, for example, in the three historic Creeds, the first four undisputed Ecumenical Councils, the Fathers of the early Church, the range of Anglican divines, the historic Books of Common Prayer and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. The process of discerning tradition in this latter sense involves bringing this evidence before the bar of Scripture, where it is cleared and kept, convicted and discarded or corrected. Those traditions that reach back to Christ himself or to his Apostles brook no change. Because tradition has corporate and historical dimensions to it, it is of higher authority than reason (which may be regarded as a faculty of the individual Christian). Similarly, tradition is a faculty of the whole Church, as beliefs, practices, modes of spirituality, and theological in sights are given special honor and reverence by the wider Church or particular churches. REC: Anglican Belief and Practice
It is clear from reading this contradictory document that on the one hand the REC upholds the "supreme" authority of Scripture. But one cannot avoid noticing that Scripture is not the "only" infallible rule for faith and practice. The REC gets around this commitment to Scripture by appealing to the fallibility of the church. Of course, even if the church is fallible, it is "indefectible." One has to see that the loose way of defining infallibility and indefectibility enables the equivocation of terms that are essentially synonyms. In fact, the doctrine of the indefectibility of the church is a papist doctrine!
THE INDEFECTIBILITY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Compiled by Pauly Fongemie
The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 gives the following definition of the Church's indefectibility:
"By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will be preserved unimpaired in its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change, which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the Sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men."<>"Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee that thy faith may not fail; and when once thou hast turned again, strengthen thy brethren." (Lk. 22:31-33)
Jesus chose Peter to be the first Pope: he was impetuous, vacillating, courageous and cowardly all at the same time. He was probably the strongest and, paradoxically, the weakest of all the Apostles, yet even though he denied our Lord three times he ended by being crucified upside down in contrition. Peter in the end proved that he truly was "the Rock". Peter is the perfect example to demonstrate that Christ meant what He said, His Church is indefectible.The Daily Catholic, October 2, 1999 [The Indefectibility of the Church].
I stand here to-night, and I make the assertion without the fear of contradiction, that the gospel that my dear brother (who has said some hard things about me) preaches in Trinity Church, is as utterly irreconcilable with that which is preached in the cathedral on West Washington street, as these two systems of astronomy. They are utterly and wholly and radically different from each other. Now I can make discordant elements in chemistry blend together.
Like the Arve and the Rhone, like the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence, the same external boundaries may indeed contain them, but their waters refuse to mingle. Sermon: The Reformed Episcopal Church, by Bishop Charles Cheney, founding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church. [See also: Project Canterbury: The Reformed Episcopal Church.]
It is clear from the statements of Bishop Cheney that he fully understands the law of contradiction. Anglo-Catholicism and Reformation Anglicanism are diametrically contradictory of each other and there is no excluded middle or middle ground between the two systems of theology. William H. Smith is correct. He has jumped from the frying pan into the fire. While there is still a remote hope that God will discipline the Presbyterian Church in America and cause its leadership to repent, that seems even more remote in the case of the REC. The REC has gone completely apostate. I seriously doubt there are remnant congregations in the REC that still adhere to Calvinist and Reformed theology, though I concede that I could be wrong.
It seems obvious to me that Smith's "dog in the fight" is a relativizing one. The agenda of the Federal Visionists and the Anglo-Catholics is to lead Evangelicals back to Rome. This is an unavoidable conclusion in my opinion. Smith wants to know where the traditional Reformed folks will go? Well, God tells us in the Scriptures that God always reserves to Himself a remnant who remain faithful to the promises of the Gospel and the authority of Holy Scripture:
Because you have plundered many nations, All the remnant of the people shall plunder you, Because of men's blood And the violence of the land and the city, And of all who dwell in it. (Habakkuk 2:8 NKJ)
Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved. (Romans 9:27 NKJ)
Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (Romans 11:5 NKJ)
Jesus himself, the shepherd, shall pull the remnant from the lion's mouth:
Thus says the LORD: "As a shepherd takes from the mouth of a lion Two legs or a piece of an ear, So shall the children of Israel be taken out Who dwell in Samaria-- In the corner of a bed and on the edge of a couch! (Amos 3:12 NKJ)See also: The Auburn Affirmation Heresy