Confusion in the Camp
Merit and Reformed Theology
In the Reformed Church, there has been much debate in the past decade over issues such as Natural Law, The Two Kingdoms, the Law-Gospel distinction, Justification and Sanctification, the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, and even the definition of the Gospel.
In the past few years, it has come to the attention of some ministers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that doctrinal confusion has arisen over the doctrine of republication. The heart of the issue lies in a particular formulation of the Mosaic covenant, including the notion that Israel as a “corporate Adam” is under a typological arrangement which entails meritorious works on the temporal level. This confusion is coming to the forefront in OPC Presbyteries when licensure and ordination exams are being conducted. As I understand it, these issues are having far reaching consequences as the church pursues its peace, purity, doctrinal integrity, and practice.
In April of 2012, an Overture was proposed to the Presbytery of the Northwest OPC. This overture called for the 79th General Assembly to establish a study committee to examine teachings propagated in a publication, The Law is Not of Faith, edited by Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen. Overtures are proposed requests for consideration of doctrinal matters or how things should function in the church. At the April 2012 meeting of the Presbytery of the Northwest OPC, the motion to approve the overture was replaced with a motion to establish a Special Presbytery Committee to study the issues concerning the doctrine of Republication as presented in the teachings of Meredith Kline and the book The Law is Not of Faith. This teaching has far reaching implications concerning the doctrines mentioned in the first paragraph.
Three Ministers from the Presbytery of the Northwest OPC (Randy Bergquist, Andy Elam, and Rob Van Kooten), have submitted their own study regarding the presbytery committee’s new proposed overture for all to review. The study first sets out to give some historical background for the publication the The Law Is Not Of Faith. It discusses the motives and reasons that are stated in the book itself. Next, it analyzes the covenant theologies of John Murray, Norman Shepherd, and Meredith Kline. The authors of the study booklet believe that these three men are the main reasons that this issue of Republication has come to the forefront in recent theological discussion. Their teachings are examined in light of the Westminster Confession of Faith and historic Reformed thought. Part 2 of the booklet turns to a critical examination of the doctrine of republication. Its basic thesis can be summarized as follows: “….the Republication Paradigm (ie., the views of Kline and The Law is not of Faith) uses traditional language and concepts, but redefines them in the service of its own paradigm. Not only do these new definitions fail to harmonize with those contained in the Westminster Standards, they may lead to other systematic changes in our confessional theology.” I would also note that when there are systematic doctrinal changes, there will also be changes in how we apply the Scriptures and practice our faith.
All three ministers are graduates from Westminster Seminary California from which most of this controversial teaching is emanating. A pre-presbytery discussion will be held on September 26, 2013 at First OPC in Portland, Oregon.