Thoughts on the 85th General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church

I really look forward each year to seeing all the “Fathers and Brothers” at the Bible Presbyterian Church General Synod. This year was our 85th General Synod and it took place in Grand Island, NY. The food and the company did not disappoint. My family came along for the week and we especially enjoyed time with the Andy Yong family.

On the day prior to the start of Synod we had our yearly meeting for the Presbyterian Missionary Union (PMU) under which I do my mission work with Sola – Appalachian Christian Retreat. A good development there is that we’ve been approved to use some missions funds each summer to hire an intern. This will help relieve some of the great quantity of work set out before us. I’ll most likely be looking for a seminarian each year to fill this role. More details will shortly be forthcoming.

The most substantial work at the Synod was likely the approval of a recommendation of the Declaratory Statement Study Committee that “the Declaratory Statement not be printed in future publications of the Constitution of the Bible Presbyterian Church, be it in print or any other media including the denominational website.” The vote was nearly unanimous with only a few audible nays and without any arguments raised against the recommendation. I believe this is a good move in the Reformed direction. (On that subject, to those unaware of today’s BPC, it should be noted that the BPC repudiated dispensationalism in a Synod resolution in 1996)

I was glad to have been on the Declaratory Statement Study Committee formed at last year’s synod and was pleased with our report and recommendation in it. In arguing that the Declaratory Statement “is not part of the Westminster Confession of faith, nor of the other parts which they [the men God used to establish the Bible Presbyterian Church] adopted as the Constitution” we were able to avoid a lengthy debate on the merits of the theology in the Declaratory Statement and to avoid having to send this to the presbyteries for approval as a constitutional change.

For those who don’t know what I’m taking about, I’ve written this brief history of the Declaratory Statement:

I.The History of the Declaratory Statement

A. 1903 PCUSA

The addition of a Declaratory Statement to the PCUSA’s confession in 1903 was only one of a number of changes made to their standards that year. “Through two successive Assemblies certain changes were considered and in 1903 modifications were made by adding a Declaratory Statement as to Chapter II and Chapter X, section 3; and changes were made in Chapters XVI, section 7, XXII, section 3, XXV, section 6, Chapter XXXIV on the Holy Spirit and Chapter XXXV on the Love of God and Missions were added.” (Edwin Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict, 19.)

Various church historians have contended that these changes came about as an effort to decrease perceived Calvinistic harshness in the Confession and so to open up the way for greater ecumenical relations and even mergers with Arminian denominations.

“…in 1903, the Confession was revised in such a way as to tone down the distinctive Calvinism of the Confession, or counterbalance it with the whole counsel of God—depending upon one’s interpretation. … a Declaratory Statement was appended to explain the Church’s disavowal of certain inferences commonly drawn from the Confession. It maintains that God’s eternal decree (III) is held in harmony with His love to all mankind on the one hand and human responsibility on the other; and that the expression ‘elect infants’ (X, iii) is not to be regarded as teaching that any dying in infancy are lost. It is significant that Loetscher considers those changes as bringing the confessional position of the Church into accord with the classic Dutch Arminianism of the seventeenth century. Revision was one helpful step toward reunion with the historically non-Calvinistic Cumberland Presbyterians in 1906 as well as other ecumenical endeavors on the part of the Church, such as the organization of the Federal Council of Churches in 1908 and the unsuccessful plan for ‘an organic union of the evangelical churches of America’ conceived in 1918 and put forward in 1920.” (George P. Hutchinson, The History Behind the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, 160-161.)

“These revisions were less extensive than those proposed in 1890 yet they meant a victory for the New School party and a definite toning down of the Calvinistic emphasis of the Confession of Faith.” (Edwin Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict, 19.)

B. 1936 PCA (OPC)

At the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America (later Orthodox Presbyterian Church) this new denomination adopted the Westminster Standards, in J. Gresham Machen’s words, “without the compromising amendments and Declaratory Statement which the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopted in 1903.” (Presbyterian Guardian, Nov. 28, 1936, 69-70.)

C. 1938 BPC

But when the Bible Presbyterian Church formed it didn’t fully follow Machen’s direction on the Declaratory Statement. At the First General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church on September 7, 1938 a “Committee on the Constitution” was formed to “draft and propose to this Synod an acceptable form of the words to cover the subjects embraced in Chapters XXXIV, and XXXV of the Confession of Faith in the form in which it appeared in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in the year of our Lord 1936, and the Declaratory Statement appended to the same.” (page 7)

While the minutes don’t clearly state so, presumably the chapters added to the Confession by the PCUSA were removed at this time. On the second day of the synod a motion was adopted to append a Declaratory Statement to the Confession. This statement was modified from the 1903 PCUSA as shown in the following table:

As I stated before, the Declaratory Statement will no longer be printed with the BPC Constitution. As Monty Python said, “And there was much rejoicing.”

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 85th General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church”

  1. Doug – From reading the Declaratory Statement passages you cite above, the primary content seems to be related to the so-called “free offer” of the Gospel (part of the Common Grace debate) and, consequently, the cessation of the publishing of the Declaratory Statement implies that the BPC is retracting itself from that particular article of doctrine. Is my assessment or am I reading too much into these statements?

    1. Mark, no explicit repudiation of the Declaratory Statement was made at this time, but merely the removal of it from the printing of our constitution. My own view is that the statement, while it intends to clarify the WCF, actually muddies the waters. I think you’re right to see that a supporter of the WMO might like the statement, and an opponent of the WMO would certainly oppose it.

  2. Doug,

    I am a little confused on your reference to dispensationalism. The BPC has never been dispensational have they? I know Buswell was a premillennialist but he does not seem to be dispensational in his Systematic Theology book. I hope you do not equate the two. How do you define dispensationalism?

    1. I mention the repudiation of dispensationalism as sometimes the BPC is thought to hold (or have held) to that position. So far as I can tell, it has never been held officially in any documents. As to whether any of the earliest ministers in the denominational were dispensational or not I do not know.

    2. I have been told, and have read, that in the early days of the BPC, there were dispensationalists, and fans of the Scofield Bible. Carl McIntire was not a dispensationalist but he didn’t go out of his way to refute them, as he found allies among their numbers. The BPC, however, never has been officially dispensational. To be fair, in several “mainline” Protestant churches in the 1920’s-1930’s, there were dispensationalists among the conservative/evangelicals of those denominations, such as the UPCUSA and the Methodist churches . When I was in seminary I had the privilege to know the late Rev George Haney who was at the time, Chairman of the OPC’s home missions board. He told me that, over the years in his work in that position, in his travels he visited many OPC churches and that even a few of them had dispensational leanings! The 1996 resolution was, I believe, a necessary and welcome action by our Synod at that time.

  3. The WMO and the FOG both imply that God is ignorant of who will be saved and lost in the eschaton and final judgment. Human ignorance seems to generate logical contradictions in the thinking of some churches in regards to their approach to evangelism and missions. Unfortunately evangelism and missions theology often compromises doctrine in order to attract converts, which in turn could and often does lead to a downgrade in that denomination. The Revoice movement and the adoption of sexual orientation as an unbiblical compromise is a good example of that, not to mention the pragmatic approach of the church growth movement.

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