A New Reformed Confession

This week I’ve been happy to host my former colleague Rev. Prof. Andrew McGowan (University of the Highlands and Islands and Senior Minister at East Church Inverness). Andrew is also involved in the doctrinal commission of the World Reformed Fellowship (WRF). The WRF has completed a monumental task of writing a new confession of faith. The purpose of the new confession was (1) to provide a statement of faith that would be agreed upon by Reformed churches that used different Reformed confessions from the Westminster Standards (Scottish) to the Three Forms of Unity (Continental Reformed); (2) To address issues that are encountered by the Reformed churches in the twenty-first century, not Roman Catholicism and Arminianism from the 17th century, but liberalism, postmodernism, and pluralism; and (3) To reflect the beliefs of the Reformed churches that are global rather than Eurocentric (accordingly there was a very international list of members on the panel).

You can read the whole document here. It’s an impressive document, needs to be discussed. Perhaps it will stand alongside the Lausanne Covenant as a contemporary expression of evangelical faith.

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  • americanwoman343

    Complementarianism is article number Two?? Number 2? Out of all the things one might say about what one believes…?

    • person1

      That’s the order of the Bible. God, then his creatures… the peak being the creation of humanity as man and woman.

      • americanwoman343

        By that logic, humans are subordinate to cattle.


        • person1

          Not actually. The text leads you to read the creation of humanity as the climax of the chapter.

          In addition, Paul’s basic reasoning for gender roles corresponds to the creation account (1 Tim 2:13-14). Since Paul made it an issue, I think we should be able to as well.

          • americanwoman343

            If indeed Paul meant for it to be an issue for all time, which doesn’t quite go with things he says in other letters (eg, women praying aloud in 1 Corinthians, women leading churches in Rom 16).

          • person1

            Either way, he appeals to Genesis 1-2. So, whether you want to argue a complementarian or egalitarian view, Paul gives us permission to address the issue as something reasoned before the fall.

  • smoore

    Am I missing it? It doesn’t seem to specify paedo-baptism.

  • Jeff Martin

    Let us hope this confession does not become the expression of evangelical faith. Dr. Bird, usually you are a bit more modest. Certainly complementarianism is not an evangelical standard, and lest we forget I believe there are Arminians out there who are evangelical.

    By the way, I never understood the Calvinist arugment about the Spirit giving us faith as well because we are dead in our sin. Calvinists insist on taking the dead man so literally but they do not take it literally enough. If what they say is literally true then we would all be literally physically dead!

  • Pahlsmjg

    I admire the effort (as I admire those making the effort), but there are many, many problems with this as a Reformed confession:

    This one is not only esoteric, but arguably heretical:

    “His resurrection body was capable of transcending natural physical laws but still retained its own physical properties. In his ascension, that body was further transformed into the heavenly state which it still possesses and has been taken up into God. Human beings will be resurrected, not as Jesus was on the first Easter morning, but as he is now, in his ascended state.” (3.5)

    We seem to have here a “double transfiguration” (one resulting in the resurrection appearances of the Gospels and one resulting in Christ’s ascended glory) rather than a single “transfiguation” that is identified with the resurrection. Certainly, the New Testament (esp. St. Paul) projects from the resurrection appearances of Jesus to speak of the scandalous physicality of our own resurrection body. The only result of 3.5 here would only be a mitigation of that scandal (e.g. the “resurrection of the body” is a circumlocution for being “alive to God” in something other than an identifiably physical manner).

    The Heidelberg Catechism captures this truth much more succinctly and elegantly:

    Question 49. Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?

    Answer: First, that he is our advocate in the presence of his Father in heaven; secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, as the head, will also take up to himself, us, his members; thirdly, that he sends us his Spirit as an earnest, by whose power we “seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and not things on earth.”

    Additional problems:

    1) Is complimentarianism (a disputed doctrine of the human person in Reformed and other Christian communions) of such a consensus that it can be made an article of faith (1.2)?

    2) While the iconoclasm of 1.8 is consistent with previous Reformed expressions, the attempt to commend visual depictions of Jesus as “useful in other ways” while forbidding “veneration” is arguably the worst of all possible options because it gives away the primary rationale for the dogmatic dissent from the seventh ecumenical council (Nicea II). More pointedly, it both fails the absolute standard established by the Puritan application of the Second Commandment (thus introducing an unwarranted compromise) and by doing so it validates an identification of the Reformed churches as sectarian.

    3) In a sea of perfectly orthodox alternatives, it is unwise to codify a Christian exclusivism when dealing with the phenomenon of non-Christian (in the confession “false”) religions. By attributing their existence exclusively to Satan (2.1), the confession subverts its own theology of providence and falsifies the Church’s experience in dealing with other religions. Vatican II (Nostra Aetate) and Article 18 of the Church of England maintain what we may positively affirm while remaining appropriately silent on God’s freedom “to work without, above, and against” his ordinary providences at His pleasure (WCF 5.3).

    4) By attributing any and all death to fallenness without exception (2.2), the confession goes beyond the explicit teaching of Scripture and reason. In order to consume, digest, and assimilate food–even as a strict vegan–some form of death and dying is necessary. This and #2 above illustrate the general tendency in the confession toward the codification of positive speculations.

    5) It appears that 4.2 intends to codify by definition what has been until now an optional question in Reformed thought: Assurance is apparently now of the esse of faith (Calvin’s view) rather than of the bene esse of faith (the view of the WCF 18.3).

    6) Given that Warfieldian cessationism is both relatively novel and a widely-debated issue both within and without the Reformed churches, is the confession really warranted in its codification of cessation by definition in 4.3?

    7) Although I’m certainly happy to see supralapsarianism go the way of all flesh, it has historically been a licit dogma to hold in the Reformed churches and yet, this confession seems to codify infralapsarian by definition (5.2).

    8) No problem here with interpreters themselves, but how do “interpretative methods” as such take seriously the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures (6.5)?

    9) No problem with privileging the historical-grammatical sense of the Scriptures, but is this confession’s allergy to allegory and/or typology really consistent with either the Reformed tradition or the experience of the Church generally (6.8)?

    10) The resort to Augustine’s categories of “visible” and “invisible” church mirrors the WCF and other Reformed confessions, but the explication and use of those categories here results in a much weaker, exclusively-spiritualized ecclesiology. The definition here is more Anabaptist than Reformed (8.1).

    11) 8.2 codifies by definition a “two office” (American Presbyterian in the South) over a “three office” (American Presbyterian in the North) or a four office (Continental Reformed) understanding of orders.

    12) Maybe the worst mistake of the whole confession: Is the Eucharist (much less, sacraments generally) no longer an intrinsic part of Reformed worship? (8.3)

    13) Are we no longer on the record as baptizing infants or as considering that those baptized in infancy are validly baptized and not subject to re-baptism?

    14) The word “identified” in 8.5 is poorly chosen as it potentially (and considering the abysmally weak & sub-Reformed sacramentology of the confession, PROBABLY) indicates “identification” or “equation”. Reformed and Christian thought generally treats baptism and Eucharist as the fulfillment and/or transpositional glorification of the OT sacraments.

    15) I’m glad if it does, but given that many Reformed churches use grape juice rather than wine in the Eucharist (not to mention Christ’s apparent “real absence” in the Eucharist in the confessional language here), is confessional codification of valid matter as wine intentional (8.5)?

    16) 8.5 presents a terribly weak and sub-Reformed account of the Eucharist. This definition is exclusively memorialist in nature. Have the authors never read Calvin, Bucer, Vermigli? or the WCF? or the Heidelberg Catechism?

    17) Although the terminology of moral, civil, and ceremonial is well-established in Reformed thought, it remains a terribly inadequate etic imposition on the Scriptures (11.2). Is murder a violation of the civil law, the moral, law or ceremonial law? The answer is “all three” and for different reasons. This also weakens the confession’s approach to the Sabbath–traditionally an important doctrine in English Reformed thought.

    18) Is the rejection of English Sabbatarianism in favor of a Continental Sabbath now the position of the Reformed churches (Cf. 9.5).

    19) The ethics portion is lopsided, dealing almost exclusively with “pelvic” issues (sexuality, etc.) while overlooking other issues of justice (i.e. war and state-sanctioned killing in 11.7).

    20) As in #2 and #3 above, the approach to eschatology in 12.2 is unwarrantedly dogmatic.