At the 2002 Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Pastors’ Conference various positions were advocated like paedocommunionism which directly contradict the historic reformed faith and practice as it is represented in such historic confessions as the Westminster Standards.  The Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS responded to the Conference by issuing a call for repentance ( http://www.chalcedon.org/ ).  In various articles at www.christianculture.com Rev. Andrew Sandlin has defended the ministers of this Conference from the charge of ‘heresy’.  The Consistory of Messiah’s Congregation where Rev. Schlissel (one of the Conference pastors) labors has issued its own reply to the charges of the Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS (http://www.messiahnyc.org/article.php?sid=272&mode=threaded&order=0).  And Christ Church where Rev. Wilson (another Conference pastor) labors has also issued a response
( http://www.christkirk.com/images/RPCUS%20Response.html ).


Before commenting upon the Conference speakers and the response of the RPCUS to them, it is important that we have a sound, Biblical definition of the term “heresy”, since promoting heresy is the alleged charge against the Conference speakers.  Scripturally speaking, an aberration in doctrine and course which wrongly causes division in the visible church of Christ is a heresy. This definition is perhaps most clearly seen in I Corinthians 11:18-19: “…I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. “    All heresies involve issues about which the Bible does not permit the Church to compromise. Of course, some heresies are much more serious in nature than others.  Indeed, some heresies are damnable heresies. (“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”) But given the importance of the unity of Christ’s body, we should not underestimate the importance of avoiding heresy of any kind, whether damnable or not.

Rev. Sandlin offers readers a very different definition of ‘heresy’, however.  He writes: "I start from historic, orthodox Christianity anchored in the ecumenical Christian creeds...heresy is almost always defined in terms of deviation from classical Christianity." It seems that Rev. Sandlin is denying that issues like "justification through faith alone" which were addressed in the Protestant confessions but perhaps not as clearly in the early creeds are matters of heresy. He writes in one of his website articles:

"Doctrines that constitute denominational distinctives, like certain ones in Reformation churches, are not, properly speaking, issues of heresy or orthodoxy. Take "monergism" in soteriology, for instance. Reformation churches believe that God alone save sinners, and that men do not cooperate with God in salvation. This is and always has been a minority view in the universal church;12 but this should not unduly alarm Protestants, because, despite its importance, it is not an issue touching Christian orthodoxy. In short, you can be an Arminian and still be an orthodox Christian, albeit a badly mistaken one! Protestants are (on this point) in a distinct minority in our position, but that does not mean we are heretical. However, it also means that for a Protestant (or other) church or denomination to elevate its own distinctives (like this one) to criteria of Christian orthodoxy and anathematize all that disagree is to impose on the church an alien definition of orthodoxy - and heresy. "

If Rev. Sandlin’s definition were true, then we should seriously question whether Protestantism itself is legitimate.  (It is wrong to separate from a church which is orthodox in doctrine and practice, yet Rev. Sandlin's definition suggests Romanism is orthodox.) But Rev. Sandlin’s definition is quite erroneous in several respects.  Chiefly it is in error because Arminianism is heretical and dangerous, and Christ’s church must excommunicate those unrepentantly promoting this error.

Furthermore, it is erroneous because it fails to properly describe the Church's role in delineating what is heretical.  He writes: "Doctrines not delineated as central to orthodoxy may be important, but dissenting from them does not make one a heretic."  This makes it sound like until the Church delineates something as heretical, then it is not heretical. But this idea is seriously flawed, for scripture alone can delineate what is heretical; the Church can only recognize what scripture teaches.  Furthermore, scripture defines denial of "justification through faith alone" as heretical (the book of Galatians is adequate proof). (Now, that is a different question from whether these Conference speakers have denied "justification through faith alone." But we need to be clear about definitions before we even begin discussing the alleged charges against the Conference speakers.)

Rev. Sandlin writes on his website: "But they are elders, and any such dire accusations against them should first occur in private and before witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19)." But this objection fails to take into account the public nature in which the parties in question have made known their positions. If they had done it privately, then by all means privately addressing it would have been in order. But given that it has been done publicly, Galatians 2:14 is operative.  ("But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before [them] all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?")  Furthermore,  the RPCUS is a separate synod from the ministers at the Conference.  This very separateness, especially given that they are within the same country, implies that the RPCUS believes that outside synods and denominations should repent of their errors and be merged into their own.  If this were not the case, then there would be no rationale for maintaining the RPCUS as a separate synod and denomination, for Christ's visible church should be in unity unless there is justification for separation.  Therefore, it would be inconsistent for the RPCUS to do anything other than make a declaration like it has, if it is fully persuaded that the ministers at the Conference made heretical statements.

Having addressed the definition of heresy and the basic approach of the RPCUS in addressing what they regard as heretical utterances by fellow Protestant ministers, I would like now to make some comments about what the Conference ministers said and the specific charges of the RPCUS.  First, regarding most of the specific charges of the RPCUS, I believe it would be premature for me at this point to comment upon them; more thorough study of the Conference tapes is necessary at least on my part.

However, it is clear upon even a cursory investigation of the Conference that paedocommunionism was being promoted by at least some of the ministers speaking there.  Issues relating to baptism/paedobaptism and communion/paedocommunion  will necessarily divide Christ's visible church when there are differences of view on these among brethren. The church, for example, cannot be both antipaedocommunionist and paedocommunionist. So whichever side takes a position on this issue contrary to scripture is heretical.  And paedocommunionism is indeed the erroneous, heretical position  (see http://www.suburbia.com.au/~rlong/fnlee/docs3/paidocom/paidocom.html).  So while the RPCUS did not direct its attention primarily to the topic of paedocommunionism, this topic alone is warrant sufficient to charge some at the Conference with promotion of heresy.

One other aspect of the Conference that deserves comment is the very unfair and shallow historical treatment of the "Puritans", especially in the message on the "Legacy of the Half-Way Covenant."  It fails to distinguish Presbyterian Puritans and Congregationalist (eg, New England) Puritans, and their differences with regards to the requirements of communicant membership. Presbyterian Puritanism (whose doctrines were summarized in the Westminster Stds) repudiated the errors of the Congregationalists. It was Congregationalist errors that gave rise to the Half-Way Covenant, not Presbyterianism. So to suggest that Presbyterians must adopt Solomon Stoddard's "solution" of paedocommunion for the Half-Way Covenant problem, is to ignore that there was not the Half-Way Covenant problem in Presbyterianism.

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