Last July, I wrote a blog “Confusion in the Camp / Merit and Reformed Theology” to bring attention to a then upcoming meeting of the Presbytery of the Northwest, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (PNWOPC). An Overture written in 2011 had been considered for the 79th General Assembly of the OPC. The motion to approve that Overture was replaced in the Spring of 2012 by a motion to establish a Special Committee of the PNW to study and process the matters related to a particular view of teaching about the Republication of the Law as a covenant of works in the Mosaic Covenant. It had come to the attention of some ministers of the OPC that doctrinal confusion had arisen through the years over the doctrine of Republication. This confusion is coming to the forefront in the OPC Presbyteries when licensure and ordination exams are being conducted. The heart of the issue lies in a particular formulation of the Mosaic Covenant originating in the writings of Meredith G. Kline. More recently, a book edited by OPC ministers and professors of Westminster Seminary California, The Law Is Not of Faith (2009), was written to defend Kline’s formulation. The ministers who have raised questions about the legitimacy of this particular form of the republication doctrine have indicated that the heart of their concern lies in the redefinition of merit and the mixing of grace and works in the Mosaic Covenant, as articulated by Meredith Kline and the authors of The Law is Not of Faith.
What is unique and troubling about this “Klinean” formulation of the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant? The critics of the Klinean view happily acknowledge that the Reformed tradition often speaks in terms of a republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant. The majority of writers in the Reformed tradition teach that the same moral law given to Adam was “republished” or “re-proclaimed” by Moses at Mt. Sinai. The moral law of God is unchanging and always demands perfect obedience. Since the fall, no man is able to perfectly obey God’s moral law and, as the Augustinian-Reformed tradition has made clear, therefore no man is able to merit any blessing from God. However, Meredith Kline has introduced a new, retooled version of the republication doctrine by teaching three unique elements: 1) Israel serves as a corporate Adam (a third “Adam,” if you will), who 2) is under a meritorious works arrangement at Sinai, by which 3) he is able to meritoriously earn temporal-typological blessings from God on the basis of works, apart from grace. These distinctive points of teaching concerning the Mosaic covenant are not found in any of the Reformed creeds and confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries or in later theologians such as Charles Hodge or Louis Berkhof.
This Klinean version of the “republication of the covenant of works” at Sinai is causing no small amount of concern within OPC and Reformed circles. It appears to deviate from the traditional, historical Reformed version of the “republication of the moral law” and redefine the historical conception of merit. The demand for perfect obedience to earn God’s blessing is no longer required, as it was for Adam before the fall, and for Christ as the second and last Adam. Imperfect, sincere obedience performed by Israel is said to be enough to earn temporal blessings from God (contrary to Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 193). Also, an arrangement of meritorious works is said to operate within the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace—wherein God would be obligated to reward the works of fallen sinners apart from grace (contrary to Chapter 16 of the Westminster Confession of Faith). These issues are having far reaching consequences as the Church pursues its peace, purity, doctrinal integrity, and practice. I highly recommend viewing this video (presentation to PNW) to understand what the concerns are and what the ramifications might be.
In light of these things, a special committee was established by the PNW to study the doctrine of republication. In the Spring of 2013, this special committee submitted a report, a proposed Overture, and recommended that Presbytery set up a time for theological discussion on these matters on September 26, 2013, at a pre-presbytery conference. The report the committee submitted can be found here. The paper / booklet can be read here. The pre-presbytery conference audio and papers can be found here. The result of the Presbytery meeting was to Overture the 81st General Assembly of the OPC. Overtures are proposed requests for consideration of doctrinal matters or how things should function in the Church. The approved Overture can be found here