Strain To The PCA: Exceptions Do Not Become The Rule

But the model of confessional subscription aside, I think there is mounting evidence that the role played by our Confession and Catechisms—or at least, the use made of them in the PCA—is far from healthy at the present time. Anecdotally, one interesting, and frankly distressing, development that I’ve begun to hear more and more examples of, is when a man declares that he has no exceptions to the Standards on the floor of a presbytery during his examination, and his position is viewed with suspicion by his fellow presbyters. I’ve heard of members of presbytery responding to a declaration of “no exceptions,” that they do not think a man can have possibly read the Confession and Catechisms carefully enough. They seem to find it incredible, having been granted certain exceptions from the teaching of our Standards themselves, that anyone else could actually agree with the Standards and not with them! Friends, something terribly wrong is happening in the PCA. It is a mark of real spiritual division and doctrinal declension when a brother, who declares no differences with our stated doctrinal position, is being treated as suspect, and elders are rising to try to catch him out by finding undeclared exceptions that even he did not know he had! So much, at this point, for the practice of Good Faith Subscription!

The PCA’s Position: The Standards without Exception

Now I think it is important at this point to remember that the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, as adopted by the PCA, state the sense in which our denomination understands the teaching of Scripture. And the PCA, as a church, has no officially declared exceptions. None. Our Standards are presented to the world as the complete and official statement of our doctrine. This is what we teach. To agree with them wholly and without exception is surely only to say what we ought, ordinarily, to expect every elder to say, “I stand with the PCA. I believe what the PCA says she believes. I teach what the PCA says she teaches in her public standards.” We ought never to be scandalized or consider it problematic when someone declares no differences with our confessional position. But we should pause and examine every difference we hear with great care. Exceptions to the teaching of the Standards should be rare, and anyone who is prepared to stand before a presbytery to declare a stated difference with our Standards ought to have his reasons thought through thoroughly, and to be ready to articulate and defend his convictions on the matter from Holy Scripture, or have the presbytery refuse to receive him.

And yet, more and more, certain differences have become almost an expected norm, and are granted by credentials committees and presbyteries with little scrutiny, while those who make no declaration of difference are viewed with increasing suspicion as dangerous hardliners who ought to be interrogated as possible threats to the peace of the church. Bannerman said that confessions are meant to be instruments of unity. They are supposed to offer an agreed-upon summary of shared conviction regarding the teaching of the Word of God, around which our elders can unite. But when those who agree with our Standards are being challenged, while those who do not are being waved through the process with barely an eyebrow raised, then the role our Confession and Catechisms as instruments of unity have been seriously undermined in an alarming way. Read more»

David strain | “Good Faith Subscription? (Part 2): Confessional Integrity in the PCA” | Gospel Reformation Network June 29, 2021

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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5 comments

  1. I agree with this in the main–we should not be suspicious of someone who declares no exception. However, this expectation misses the mark a bit:

    “…be ready to articulate and defend his convictions on the matter from Holy Scripture…”

    In most cases candidates take exceptions in places where he judges the Standards to define something too narrowly or to forbid something that isn’t forbidden in the Scripture (“in the space of six days,” the recreation clause and making images “inwardly in our mind”). The candidate can’t be expected to show that the Scriptures don’t teach something–that would be proving a negative. However the candidate should be familiar with the usual Scriptures used to defend the Confessional teaching in question and be ready to show if asked how they fail to prove the point.

  2. “Good faith subscription” is really “bad faith subscription.” You either subscribe because the Standards are biblical, or you do not. Synods and councils may revise standards in light of Scripture, but individuals should not take exceptions.

    • [edited. Please do not make me edit your comments] Good Faith Subscription is essentially latitudinarianism. Now we have what? GF Subscriptionists looking at people in Bad Faith who don’t take exceptions. Huh? Am I missing something here? Maybe that the PCA was always more conservative than confessionalist and that is working itself out.

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