The Legacy of Old School Confession Subscription in the OPC -- By: J. V. Fesko

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 46:4 (Dec 2003)
Article: The Legacy of Old School Confession Subscription in the OPC
Author: J. V. Fesko

The Legacy of Old School Confession Subscription in the OPC

J. V. Fesko

[J. V. Fesko is pastor of Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 3340 Trickum Road, Marietta, GA 30066–4663.]

I. Introduction

Theological debate within the Reformed community is like the proverbial gnat on a hot summer day. No matter how many times one swats at the gnat, the winged creature refuses to surrender his pestiferous activity. This is certainly true concerning the debate surrounding confession subscription, or the manner in which an officer accepts the confessional standards of his denomination. The debate regarding confession subscription is as old as the church itself and has especially pestered the Presbyterian Church for its entire existence. The debate like the ebb and flow of the tide is currently at the high water mark in both the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) as evidenced by the recent actions of the General Assemblies of both denominations.1 On either side of the debate there are advocates for two major positions: strict / full subscription, most notably from the pens of Morton Smith and George Knight, and loose / system subscription, most notably from the pen of William Barker.2

In the course of this long running debate both Smith and Knight have argued that loose / system subscription was advocated by the New School within the Presbyterian Church, which led to liberalism and the demise of the church. In contradistinction to the New School approach they both argue that they set forth the historic Old School position of full subscription, which is the only way that liberalism can be held at bay.3 This essay will challenge

this claim with an emphasis upon how the OPC has historically understood confession subscription. This essay will argue that the Smith / Knight (S/K) version of full subscription is not the historic Old School position on the subject. The essay will demonstrate that historic Old School confession subscription is different than the version that Smith and Knight set forth. The argument will first set forth the definitions and parameters of the S/K version of subscription. Second, we will compare the S/K version of subscription with Old School theoretical statements on the subject by an examination of a representative cross-section of well-known Old School theologians, and we will also examine the ecclesiastical practices of these theologians to see how theory works out in practice. Third, we will then examine the actions of representative OP...

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