Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Affirmations that amount to denials

Men will always find a way to interpret confessional statements in accordance with their own preferred views and not those of the document in question. It should always be borne in mind that the affirmations of orthodoxy that a man makes will only be as good as the actual correspondence between his beliefs and the confessional statement he voluntarily subscribes to.

The case of the liberal presbyterian minister, and at one time president of Union Theological Seminary, Henry Sloane Coffin is a case in point:

In subscribing to the Westminster Confession of Faith Coffin did not believe that he was accepting the doctrines stated in the Confession. Rather, as he later maintained:

"The formula [of subscription] means to me that under the supreme authority of Christ I receive the confession as setting forth in seventeenth century thought and language the principal doctrines which have grown out of and foster the religious experience of protestant evangelical Christians, and which it is my privilege to teach in the best thought and speech at my command for those to whom I minister."

This interpretation of the subscription vow gave Coffin a great deal of leeway in accepting the Confession...In any event, Coffin did not believe that creedal differences should bar one from ministry. There was no inconsistency, he maintained, "in worshipping and working, or even in occupying a position of leadership, in a communion with whose creed, or ritual, or methods one is not in full sympathy."

Bradley J. Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, & Moderates, p. 85-6

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