Home > Fisks, The Auburn "Affirmation", Theology > Truth or Dare: WCF Edition (Part III of series) : A closer look at the text of The Auburn Affirmation

Truth or Dare: WCF Edition (Part III of series) : A closer look at the text of The Auburn Affirmation

19 December 2009

[Elder’s Note:  My latest installment in the follow-up to the (12/5) article regarding Auburn Seminary’s actions within our diocese.  This installment is a fisk of the second paragraph of the Auburn Affirmation.   ]

I. By its law and its history, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America safeguards the liberty of thought and teaching of its ministers.

Well .. no on both counts.  Historically, North American Presbyterians have been at odds with one another over strict subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and looser theories of subscription.  They separated twice over the question of whether to be an inch deep and a mile wide (the Presbyterians on the frontier) or a mile deep and an inch wide (European minded Presbyterians in the established cities);  both times coming together after painful compromises had been made on both sides (I am generalizing to some extent – there were other issues involved, but subscriptionism was a bugaboo both times).  Shortly after they had come together a second time, a new controversy (Modernism vs Fundamentalism) had erupted.  The Auburn Affirmation belongs to this last controversy, rather than the Old-School / New-School or Old-Side / New-Side Presbyterian controversies. 

As for AA’s claim that liberty of thought is “law,” well .. if that were the case, there would be no need for an affirmation now, would there? 

At their ordinations they “receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.”  This the Church has always esteemed a sufficient doctrinal subscription for its ministers.

Again, apparently it wasn’t sufficient .. else there would be no need for the Auburn Affirmation. 

Manifestly it does not require their assent to the very words of the Confession, or to all of its teachings, or to interpretations of the Confesion by individuals or church courts.

The first two phrases in the list (“very words of the Confession,” and “all of its teachings”) describe looser theories of subscriptionism.  The last phrase is kind of odd – ‘individuals or church courts?’  Presbyterian polity rejects individual law but embraces the law of church courts.  Indeed, earlier in this paragraph, there is reference to the law of the Presbyterian Church in the US! 

 The Confession of Faith itself disclaims infallibility.

Out of a necessary modesty, yes.. Because the WCF’s system of doctrine affirms the infallibility of the Scriptures.  It nails that down fairly soundly, in Chapter 1

Its authors would not allow this to church councils, their own included: “All synods or councils since the apostle’s times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” (Conf. XXXI.iii).

Again, out of necessary modesty.  The writers of the WCF did not esteem their own document to be weightier than that of Scripture, or even equal to it.  The Affirmation is setting up a false paradox. 

Suppose I say to you, “I’m buying XYZ stock, because Warren Buffett bought it, and Buffett knows his stocks.”

And suppose you say back to me, “I’ll buy that stock too, because I trust your judgement in matters pertaining to the stock market.”

And then I would say back to you, “Fine – just don’t buy it on my say-so.  Buy it because Buffett the Expert bought it.”

If you follow the logic of the Auburn Affirmers, you would respond by saying, “I don’t understand.  You say don’t listen to what you have to say, but if I do that I wouldn’t listen to what you say;  In which case I’d listen to what you said..”

That’s the nonsensical path that the Auburn Affirmation takes.  An honest assessment of the WCF would simply be, it is being modest about itself but bold about the claims of Scripture.  That is the system of the WCF. 


 The Confession also expressly asserts the liberty of Christian believers, and condemns the submission of the mind or conscience to any human authority: “God alone is lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.” (Conf. XX, ii).

Sure .. In other words,(per the WCF)  matters of conscience are bound to the Word of God (Scripture), and not to an abstract entity floating around with Plato’s Forms called “liberty of Christian believers,”  as the Auburn Affirmers would have us believe. 

In closing, we see that the Auburn Affirmers can’t seem to decide what to do with the WCF.  They’ll defer to it to “prove” that they don’t need to defer to it.  Later, we’ll see that the Affirmers went completely against the system of the WCF (strict, good-faith, or loose) in explicitly rejecting the infallibility of Scripture.  They play the WCF against itself, and then against Scripture.  In the end, the last man standing is neither the WCF nor Scripture, but the “liberty” of pastors… and a select group of pastors at that.

Same story, different day. 

(to be continued)

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