“These confessional statements are subordinate standards in the church, subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him. While confessional standards are subordinate to the Scriptures, they are, nonetheless, standards. They are not lightly drawn up or subscribed to, nor may they be ignored or dismissed. The church is prepared to instruct, counsel with, or even to discipline one ordained who seriously rejects the faith expressed in the confessions.” (Book of Order, F-2.02)
Did you catch that? “These confessional statements … are not lightly … subscribed to.” This is amazing! For all these years I have been told that we are not subscriptionist, and yet, our very Book of Order acknowledges that we are. It does not say that we do not subscribe to the confessions. It says, instead, that we do not do so lightly. And this means that we do in fact subscribe to them!
This has to have profound consequences both for the meaning of our ordination vows and also for the authority of the confessions in the faith and life of the church. These are not museum pieces. These are the official and binding expression of the current faith of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The church is to instruct, counsel and even discipline those who ignore, dismiss or reject this faith. This suggests, conversely, that we are supposed to study, engage, and embrace the confessions. And it certainly means that we are not free to set these aside without due process and to do whatever we wish in the worship and life of the church.
After all, the Book of Order says so.
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV
Executive Director, Foundation for Reformed Theology