Evangelicals And The Presbyterian Tradition: An Alternative Perspective -- By: D. Clair Davis

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 42:1 (Fall 1979)
Article: Evangelicals And The Presbyterian Tradition: An Alternative Perspective
Author: D. Clair Davis

Evangelicals And The Presbyterian Tradition: An Alternative Perspective

D. Clair Davis

It is stimulating and encouraging to work through Professor Lovelace’s “task- orientated use of historical theology.” Certainly more church history should be written this way, with ample cogent contemporary application. However, Lovelace is so cogent as to approach editorializing. For that reason it seems wise that the Journal supply some accompanying comments, to which Lovelace has graciously consented. It must be acknowledged however that he has already raised and anticipated most objections himself; but to raise an objection is not always the same as to answer it.

Lovelace is concerned that the moderate party in the Presbyterian Church recognize the contributions which can be given by evangelicals, and hence avoid unduly harrasing them. The precedent he cites is the reconciliation between Old Side and New Side at the time of the Awakening and the subsequent harmony and mutual aid within the reunited church. Is this a good example? No, because Old and New Side intended to reunite on the basis of Scriptural teaching. While it is always necessary to study carefully the situation in the church as a part of bringing Scripture to bear upon it, and while Old and New Sides did have widely diverging opinions on, for example, whether or not the typical church member in good standing is really converted, still whatever agreement that could be reached was certainly largely on the common understanding of Scriptural teaching on regeneration and the nature of the church. It does not appear to this outsider that the present United Presbyterian Church really welcomes careful study of Biblical teaching on homosexuality and the suitability of women in the ministry, to say nothing of the doctrine of reconciliation, as expressed in the Confession of 1967. The consensus that the

church’s decisions are to be made on the basis of careful study of authoritative and sufficient Scripture just does not seem to be there today.

Also from a political perspective the present situation is tremendously different. In the 1740s the New Side party was significantly stronger than is the evangelical party today. It was more than isolated individuals or congregations, but was a presbytery! Whatever one may think of informal spiritual strength, it is after all presbytery which is the cornerstone of authority in the church. That presbytery not only ordained men whose views and education did not meet the conditions of Synod, but went on to send them into the territory of the Old Side itself, where they did very well indeed. In contrast, while the present evangelical party still has the same issue before it, the right to ordain leade...

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