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distinctives

 

At its meeting in Hingham, Wisconsin on November 1-2, 2005, the American Presbytery of the Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church (CRPC) passed the following list of “Distinctives” which are intended to summarize the more notable distinctives which set the CRPC apart from other Presbyterian bodies. What follows was passed unanimously.

The Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church (CRPC) recognizes that there is much confusion amongst churches that bear the name of Reformed and/or Presbyterian. This confusion has resulted from differing positions on the authority of Scripture and those historic and biblical confessions upon which their churches were originally founded. As error crept in over time, it gained a foothold in various ways and ultimately became tolerated. While the Westminster Confession says in chapter 25:5 The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error it has come to such a state that …some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. However, it goes on to say Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will.

The CRPC earnestly seeks to remain in this latter category while seeking out others with which to unite. The CRPC believes that the original Confessional Standards as formulated at the Westminster Assembly and accepted by various churches in England and Scotland in the 1640’s, accurately summarize the Bible’s teaching. It also recognizes that other confessional standards (such as the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dordt) likewise represent the biblical foundation. However, many new varieties of errors addressed in these various confessions have arisen since the time of their writing, and many new ethical issues having arisen which were not addressed directly by these confessions. Therefore, there is a need for the church today to take a stand on issues either as clarifications of those already addressed by these confessions or those not addressed by them.

Additionally, there are some issues which are addressed by the confessional standards over which there is legitimate difference of opinion and which, in the opinion of the CRPC, should not be cause for division into separate covenantal federations or denominations.

Consequently, the following abbreviated distinctives summarize the CRPC’s commitment to walk together in obedience to the Scriptures with agreed upon allowance for differences within the general framework of a strict subscription to our Confessional Standards (specifically, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms from 1643), as well as both biblical and wise polity practices.

The CRPC has four major documents which are prioritized in authority as follows: 1) The Bible; 2) The Constitution (CONST), which include, among other documents, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), Larger Catechism (WLC) and Shorter Catechism (WSC); 3) The Book of Church Government or By-Laws composed of three directories: Directory of Church Order (DCO), Directory of Church Discipline (DCD), and Directory of Church Worship (DCW); 4) Appendices and Position Papers.

 

THE BIBLE:

We believe that the Bible is composed of the 66 canonical books acknowledged by the church over all ages and that:

[Quoted from Const. I,B,2,e)]

“higher critical” teaching which denies the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, denies the inerrancy of the Scripture or postulates any position which makes any portion of Scripture the product of evolutionary development or redaction, and/or teaches that any portion of Scripture is “not profitable” for the church to teach, use or expound today; is out of accord with Scripture.

 

THE ORIGINAL TEXT OF THE BIBLE:

[Quoted from Const. I,B,2,e]

The Canon of Scripture has been providentially preserved in the original languages via the Byzantine Majority Family of Greek texts (especially the Textus Receptus), and the Massoretic text of the Old Testament Hebrew. Such was the position of the Westminster Assembly. We therefore reject texts that omit passages from the canonical books of the Bible in the same way that we would reject the omission from or addition to the canonical books as asserted by the Roman Catholic Church’s addition of the Apocrypha and other attempts to rethink the canonicity of the historically accepted canon of Scripture.

 

VERSION OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE:

[Quoted from DCO 30:8]

The Authorized Version of the Bible will be used by the presbytery for public statements, unless the presbytery specifies otherwise by majority vote in each case. We do not accept as reasonable, any exclusive understanding of the Authorized or King James Bible as the only English version authorized by God for use in His churches (much less “inspired” or “inerrant”), though it is both acceptable and edifying for churches and brethren to use the Authorized Version as their church Bible or for personal use.

 

MIRACLES, SIGNS AND WONDERS:

God’s Word declares His authority over all creation and thus His ability to perform miracles and work extra-ordinarily as He wills. God, in times past, used these extra-ordinary means as part of His direct revelation. Now that the Scriptures are complete and the apostolic age has ended, we hold that the biblical teaching is that the ordinary use of these means has now ceased and that God speaks only through His word. For this reason we oppose the neo-Pentecostal movement and:

[Quoted from Const. I,B,2,f ]

…the charismatic movement including the use of extra-ordinary spiritual gifts and offices (which have ceased).

 

SCIENCE AND THE BIBLE:

Our biblical position is in contrast to much “science”, falsely so-called, yet accepted and taught in many churches and most schools around the world. True science will never contradict what the Bible teaches. We reject

[Quoted from Const. I,B,2,a ]

…any position which denies the world wide scope of the Noahic Flood (which destroyed the entire earth in water and all mankind save Noah and his family and destroyed all the clean and unclean animal life on earth except that which Noah took aboard the ark or which naturally swam in the oceans);

 

CREATION:

We hold to the biblical account of creation as six normal and literal contiguous days. While some of these days were before the creation of the sun and the moon, and some after, we accept all these days to be of the same length as the 24 hour days we have today. Creation was thus a miracle of God accomplished in a short period of time and not a process that took place over long periods of time, much less millions or billions of years. Consequently, we oppose:

[Quoted from Const. I,B,2,a ]

Any position which denies a creation in six literal, contiguous calendar days…theistic evolutionary theory; uniformitarian geology (positing many millions of years for the earth and the universe); Framework Hypothesis or Analogical Day View (that is, any poetic or linguistical construct of Genesis which hermeneutically denies or refuses to affirm six literal, contiguous, calendar days);

 

THE LOVE OF GOD:

Because of the many doctrinal errors that have resulted from a misunderstanding of the all-important doctrine of God’s love for His people, we have set forth our position and understanding on this critical doctrine so as to be clear in our understanding of the Bible on this all-important subject.

[Quoted from Const. I,B,2,a – Please download the full Constitution from our website to obtain all the footnotes for this section.]

SECTION 3. STATEMENT ON THE LOVE OF GOD

We confess that God is love, and that this describes His essential and unchanging nature, which is first of all and underlying all, a love for Himself.

We confess that God's creation was declared by Him to be "very good" and that His essential goodness extends without change or alteration to all that He has created.

Further, we confess that in Adam's fall all of his subsequent posterity sinned in and through him, and so all are liable to the just and righteous punishment due to his and their own sins. God might righteously have inflicted that punishment to His own greater glory in the vindication of His attributes of holiness, righteousness, and justice without any diminishing of His essential property of love.

We confess that God has been pleased to demonstrate His love nature by the sending and sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear the just punishment of His elect. This in no way diminishes His holiness, righteousness, or justice demonstrated in the deserved punishment of the sins of the reprobate.

Therefore we acknowledge and confess that the love of God which is demonstrated in the sending and sacrifice of Jesus Christ is unmerited, discriminating, purposeful, covenantal, effectual, and exclusive to His elect people, and that no power in heaven or earth can separate them from it. As this is so, we confess that God regards all those outside the redemption and righteousness of the Son with His just hatred, and that His divine prerogative in love toward His elect and hatred toward the reprobate is expressed to the end that He alone will be glorified in the fulfillment of His purpose by Jesus Christ.

We also confess that, although God knows all of His elect individually from eternity, it has pleased Him to call them individually in time, primarily by the means of the preached gospel. Since men are not privy to His unrevealed will and decree of election, it is His will that the gospel be preached to all men without distinction, that the elect may be convicted of sin and converted, and the reprobate hardened and rendered without excuse on the coming day of judgment.

 

SEXUALITY:

The Bible teaches that one man and one woman are the only rightful persons in a biblical marriage (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5-6, see also WCF 24:1) to which all sexual conduct should be confined. All sexual conduct outside of such a biblical marriage is sin. Therefore, we oppose bigamy, polygamy, bisexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, incest, bestiality, necromania, and paedophilia. (WLC 138, 139).

 

LIFE:

The Bible teaches that life begins at conception, and that it is sinful to destroy human life once conceived and that all reasonable measures should be made both to preserve and protect it. Therefore, we oppose abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. (WLC 135, 136)

 

THE ROLE OF MEN AND WOMEN WITHIN THE FAMILY AND CHURCH:

The Bible teaches that man and woman are both equal in the sight of God. However, we also recognize that just as there is equality of Personhood in the Trinity, yet with differing roles and responsibilities; so to with mankind, men and women have differing roles and responsibilities. Within the family, men are exercise sacrificial, loving headship. Within the church, we believe that the Bible authorizes men alone to hold ecclesiastical offices, though we heartily recognize the many gifts God has given to women to minister within the church. For this reason, within the church, we affirm:

[Quoted from Const. II, C]

Only men may be ordained to ecclesiastical office.

 

CIVIL MAGISTRATES:

“The Scriptures declare that civil magistrates are instituted by God for the good of both mankind and the church. We believe that God’s establishment of the family and the church as legitimate governments are distinct from the civil magistrate. Accordingly, we oppose Erastianism.” (Const. I,B,2,g)

We further acknowledge that God’s work at the Tower of Babel and His gathering of men into distinct tribes, nations, cultures, races and language groups has its divine purpose in hindering the growth of ungodliness.

 

BIBLICAL POLITICAL PROCESS:

It is the biblical duty of all believers to evaluate all political parties and candidates in light of biblical law. We therefore hold that the teachings of the Bible prohibit advocacy in the churches of a socialistic world view, and its consequent, redistributive (envy) mentality.

 

CHURCH GOVERNMENT DISTINCTIVES:

We hold ourselves to be a denomination adhering to Presbyterial church government (polity). By that, we mean that there is a divine warrant in Scripture for the existence of presbyteries and that they have been invested by God Himself with authority to decide on issues such as doctrine and disputes between churches, and additionally to provide godly advice. We do not believe the presbyteries (or classes or synods as they are sometimes called) are merely an administrative tool without divine warrant or authority. Many other things have developed within Reformed and Presbyterian church tradition which, while not disallowed by Scripture, have been found to tend toward corruption and hierarchical practices within the Presbyterial system. With these experiences in mind, and in order to avoid these same practices within the future of this denomination, we have taken the following positions on church polity structure:

No standing committees [See DCO 10:4]

All ecclesiastical ministries such as missions, theological education, deaconal aid are to be accountable to a local church. (See DCO 25:1)

Regional and broader presbyteries exist only during the actual time of their meeting. (See DCO 18:14)

Ministers are members of their local church. [See DCO 7:3; 23:19]

Doctrinal and ministerial credentials of ministers are under the authority of the regional presbytery, and not the local church. (See DCO 13:22; 23:19)

Ethical practices of the minister in his personal or official life, but not under the category of doctrinal or ministerial credentials, are dealt with at the local church level first, before coming to the regional presbytery. (DCO 23:19,20)

 

MISSIONARY AND MINISTRY ACTIVITY:

We believe that the local church is the backbone of all outreach of the denomination and for that reason broader presbyteries shall not establish a centralized missionary or evangelistic outreach, except through a local church, with which other churches may cooperate.

[Quoted from DCO 25:1]

SECTION 1. Foreign missions, their agencies and bodies are to be undertaken by local churches who may invite participation of other local churches

 

LORD’S TABLE:

We celebrate the oneness and unity of the whole true Body of Christ. However, we also recognize that because of sin, we cannot have that unity represented perfectly in one particular local church or group of local churches, and some churches have fallen so far from the truth that they can no longer be called true churches of Christ. Within our member churches, there are some basic requirements, but beyond that a good degree of flexibility on the practice of those requirements. All of this is reflected in our view of the Lord’s Supper which is as follows:

[Quoted from Const. I,B,2,j]

All churches must practice, in some manner, a guarding (“fencing”) of the Lord’s Table. Presbytery will not specify beyond this mandate. Thus, various means of guarding the Table are allowed: examination of visitors and members; closing of the communion to visitors; exhortation of the congregation concerning the Table. However, if the Table is closed in a particular CRPC church, the Table, nonetheless, will be opened to visiting members and officers of other CRPC churches and ministries.

 

SECRET OATHS AND VOWS :

Vows and oaths which give the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22) and which are secret and thus unable to be examined are considered to be “superstitious and sinful snares” (WCF 22:7) and therefore are to be avoided. (Const. I,B,2,i)

 

OWNERSHIP OF CHURCH PROPERTY:

DCO 3:13 Presbytery may not lay claim to the properties, lands, buildings, parsonages or other assets owned by the individual churches, members, or officers. No act of discipline (or otherwise) of presbytery may be construed as a claim to the title, ownership of the properties, lands, buildings, parsonages or other assets owned by the individual churches, members, or officers.

 

SUBSCRIPTION:

The issue of “subscription” has caused difficulties over the years within most confessional churches. We require every officer who disagrees with any statement in the confessional standards to state, in writing, said exception or “scrupple”. The only exceptions or “scrupples” that are allowed are those that have been carried through and agreed to by the broadest presbytery in existence within our denomination. The following represents our specifics on this:

All ministers in the CRPC are bound by oath to teach publicly only those things found to be in accord with the Constitution (as interpreted by the exceptions and clarifications herein stated). Those received who hold different views are bound not to teach them publicly or privately, though they may be discussed within the context of a broader assembly as provided by its rules and directories. (Const. I,B,2,l)

DCO 23

SECTION 4. The congregational presbytery will also inquire of any exceptions/scruples the potential ministerial candidate may have with regard to the Westminster standards. Any such exceptions/scruples shall be recorded and the congregational presbytery will indicate by vote whether it finds such exceptions/scruples to be allowable. The congregational presbytery will make these exceptions/scruples known to the congregation should it nominate the candidate to the congregation. The congregational presbytery, should a call be issued by the congregation, will forward those exceptions/scruples and the action taken to the regional presbytery for consideration.

SECTION 10. The regional presbytery will inquire of any exceptions/scruples the potential ministerial candidate may have with regard to the Westminster standards. Any such exceptions/scruples shall be recorded and the presbytery will indicate by vote whether it finds such exceptions/scruples to be allowable and so inform the candidate. Any exception/scruple that is not allowed by the regional presbytery will be cause for refusing to ordain and/or install the man as a minister in the calling church. In the case of a current CRPC minister, an exception/scruple previously found to be allowable in his case will continue to be allowed by the regional presbytery. Any new or changed exceptions/scruples are subject to review and approval by the regional presbytery.

 

ORIGINAL INTENT:

In all cases where there are questions or ambiguity as to the meaning of the words of the confessional standards of this church, original intent of the confessional standards and the Scriptures shall be the final appeal as per WCF 1:10. [There is consensus on this position but the actual wording is in process of being approved.]

 

EXCEPTIONS BY OFFICERS TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CRPC:

The CRPC subscription is a strict subscription to our Constitution (which includes our Confessions), with the explanations and clarifications set forth in it in Const. I, B, 1 & 2.

Any exceptions to these standards by any church officers, not already set forth in Const. I, B, 1 & 2, are to be put in writing at the time of applying to the CRPC or at any time thereafter at which they are taken [see DCO 6:2; 8:3, 9:2; 21:2].

Any exceptions which are not set forth in Const. I, B, 1 & 2 must be approved by the broadest assembly or two thirds of the regional presbyteries, should a faster decision be needed.. [DCO 30:3, 1) ]. However, by allowing some latitude in exceptional cases, that latitude goes with definite restrictions. If someone's exceptions are approved through the above process, but not set forth in the Constitution in the process, then the following limitations apply:

[He] shall not be publicly preached, taught or promoted unless set forth in the Constitution I, B, 1 or 2. [DCO 30:3, 2) ]

[He] may not vote on any matters pertaining to any of his exceptions/scruples during any presbyterial or congregational meeting. [DCO 30:3, 3a) ]

In the event that the presbytery does not grant approval to his exception(s)/scruple(s), he may withdraw them. If he cannot do either, the presbytery may proceed to deal with the man as otherwise provided by the By-Laws. [DCO 30:3, 3b) ]

[He] may not propose any change for presbyterial consideration of any item to which he holds as an exception/scruple. [DCO 30:3, 4) ]

Exceptions or clarifications set forth in Constitution I, B, 1 or 2 may be discussed and debated from time to time for better understanding and clarification when it is agreeable to the presbytery in which such discussion or debate is being proposed. [DCO 30:4]

 

ALLOWABLE DIVERSITY:

Psalms and hymns: Use of biblically-based or biblically consistent hymns, singing from portions of the canon of Scripture other than the Book of Psalms, and modest use of musical accompaniment for the purpose of assisting congregational singing, are considered allowable practices in worship services. However, every church should agree that Psalms have been set forth in God’s word to be sung by His people and therefore, it is most desirable that they should be incorporated into worship in the churches. [Const. I, B, 2, i]
(NOTE: We welcome those who exclusively use the psalms and no musical instruments. We sing exclusively psalms at regional presbytery meetings and use no musical instruments. Except for the allowed diversity on this issue, we have a high regard for the "regulative principle of worship".)

Non-established practices: The following practices may vary from local church to local church but are not established by the broader assemblies. (It is understood that any member joining a local church will submit to the position of that church while a member even if they might transfer in from a church within the CRPC that held differently.)

• Specific age of communication at the Lord’s Supper with the proviso that all communicants must pass examination by the congregational presbytery (also known as a “Session”) for a credible profession of faith before admittance be allowed.
• Various interpretations of confessional Sabbath practices.
• Women teaching children in appropriate settings.
• In situations where the regular ministry of the word is not available, which male leaders may be authorized to lead in prayer, read Scripture, and/or read sermons (or administrate authorized taped sermons).

 

ATTITUDES WITH RESPECT TO ALLOWABLE DIVERSITY ISSUES:

Issues of allowable diversity set forth in Constitution I, B, 1 or 2 may be discussed and debated from time to time for better understanding and clarification when it is agreeable to the presbytery in which such discussion or debate is being proposed. [DCO 30:4]

In these or other discussions or writings, the public or private denouncing or deriding of individuals or churches which practice various positions set forth in Constitution I, B, 1 or 2 is not acceptable within the CRPC. Any discussion of said matters must be done in a gracious fashion, and in such a way as not to disturb the peace and unity of the church. [DCO 30:5]

It is not allowable to bring charges in any church court against anyone within the CRPC for a position set forth as allowable in Constitution I, B, 1 or 2. [DCO 30:6]

While diversity is allowed as set forth in the Constitution, those holding to one side or another are not allowed to use their position as a basis for disturbing the peace of the church. [DCO 30:7, 8]

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