The Confessional Conference, called to meet in October 1993, has excellent goals. Its organizers hope to advance the cause of Reformed ecumenism by getting people together from many Reformed churches to discuss some of the pressing issues of our time. They also hope to adopt clear declarations of the truth which will apply God's Word to these issues. These goals are praiseworthy.
My misgivings arise from the strategies that have been developed to realize those goals. My first concern is with the very title of the conference as "confessional." It seems to me that the writing of confessions is the work of the church. I fear that the very name of the conference detracts from the authority and responsibility of the church and gives to the conference an authority that it does not have and ought not to claim. It is especially ironic that one of the four issues the conference hopes to address is ecclesiology. Unless the conference has already abandoned Reformed presbyterianism for congregationalism, the ecclesiology of the conference itself seems faulty.
Second, I am concerned about certain points of view that seem likely to have great influence on the papers that will be prepared for the conference. I think particularly of the potential influence on the conference first of Theonomy and second of the Institute for Creation Research. Theonomy is at best a novel hermeneutical approach to the use of Old Testament law and at worst an approach that is contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith (see chapter 19:4). To put a Theonomist at the head of the conference committee on hermeneutics is a mistake.
The influence of the Institute for Creation Research has clearly been growing in conservative Reformed circles. But the theological and scientific positions of the Institute for Creation Research are certainly problematic. Its theological roots are in Seventh Day Adventism and Dispensationalism and many of its distinctive scientific claims have been discredited. Its perspective should not be allowed to dominate the committee on evolution.
Third, I believe that the conference is wrong to imply that our confessions do not speak to our present needs as Christians and churches. Our confessions do adequately address the four issues about which the conference is concerned. They certainly are not exhaustive on these issues and further theological reflection on them is desirable and useful. But in our present theological and ecclesiastical fragmentation as Reformed people we probably are not in a position to improve our confessions. The great need of our time is not to supplement the confessions. but to believe what they already say.
As a positive suggestion let me propose that the Confessional Conference change its name and model itself more on the lines of the summit meetings of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. That Council organized itself to reach a consensus on a particular theological issue and to serve the churches by statements and research on that issue. A Reformed conference, representing the breadth of confessional Reformed opinion that would study the issues of hermeneutics, egalitarianism, evolution and ecclesiology in such a context would be a real contribution to the Reformed Churches.
Previously published in Christian Renewal, June 22, 1992.
© Westminster Seminary California All rights reserved
Permissions: You are permitted to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do NOT alter the wording in any way and you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred.