Sunday, May 27, 2007

Coffin on the Logic of Confessional Subscription

In his The Justification of Confessions and the Logic of Confessional Subscription, David F. Coffin, Jr. argues that "... the justification for having a confession ought logically to determine the manner of subscription to that confession." In his estimation, a denomination's adopting the Westminster Confession and Catechisms is fine and dandy, but when exceptions to core doctrines and approval to teach these exceptions are allowed, this "clearly undermines the very rationale of having a confession in the first place."

In Coffin's view (and this is key), "the debate about subscription is really a conflict about which articles ought to be subscribed to, not the strictness or looseness of the subscription." His conclusion follows as a matter of course: "If the PCA could agree on what I take to be a sound view of subscription, I, for one, would be amenable to discussing what elements in our Confession must be removed in order for the PCA to find in that Confession a real expression of our articles of unity."

I don't know about you, but whenever we examine candidates for the gospel ministry, and those candidates take the usual, unchallenged exceptions (i.e., to recreation on the Sabbath or to God's creation of all things "in the space of six days"), I often wonder, "If those statements are incidental to the 'essentials of the Reformed system,' why not just take them out?"

Echoing Coffin, if the PCA could agree on what comprises the elusive and mysterious "Confession within the Confession" (which would naturally eliminate those propositions not essential to its "system of doctrine"), then would not the demand for strict subscription finally make sense?

But as long as the majority of our presbyteries deem exceptions to the number of creation days, recreation on the Sabbath, the language of "works" in the prelapsarian covenant, and the requirement for covenant children to examine themselves before coming to the Lord's Table as not only incidental and acceptable, but also teachable to our congregations, the call for strict subscription will leave the PCA with approximately eleven ordained ministers.

(Not counting the faculty of Greenville Seminary, of course.)