Covenanted Uniformity

Jim Dodson

I received and read your e-mail with great interest. I don't think that Mike Wagner's statement (Paleopresbyterianism Versus Neopresbyterianism--RB) necessarily puts the proverbial cart before the horse. However, in the interest of clarification, I will try to speak to him about this nuance. It would be a terrible mis-understanding, if he does not perceive that the basis of the Westminster Standards is in the Solemn League and Covenant (SL&C). The SL&C formed the legal basis for the Westminster Assembly -- it bound the Covenanters to carry out the Biblical provisions of the Assembly's findings (i.e., the Standards framed). The renewal/renovations of the SL&C (1648-51) is indicative of the serious attempt to work out the principles of that Covenanted religion. The SL&C stands as book ends, if you will, to the work of the Assembly. It is that which sets the proper historical context and forms the proper estimation (as well as the Covenant bounds) of the Covenanted Work of Reformation achieved at Westminster -- and adopted (as promised --covenanted) by the Church of Scotland. That same work was supposed to be adopted by the other two kingdoms. In 1646, Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici (Divine Right of Church Government by sundry London ministers--RB), the London presbyterian ministers show how far England had failed in implimenting the Covenanted Work in their national legislation. It was a great concern because the SL&C takes in God as a party to that Band. The SL&C is that which removes "pretended liberty of conscience" from the ranks of professing presbyterians. In 1649, Rutherfurd, in his Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience, takes the Independents [Burroughs, Goodwin, Nye, etc.] to task for refusing to impliment that which they swore to do in the SL&C. The SL&C is that which gives teeth to the Westminster Standards. They were not merely the recommendations of an advisory Synod (the Assembly had no legal ecclesiastical basis apart from the churches covenanting to receive its fruits), but the marching orders to be adopted as a standard of uniformity -- in doctrine, government, worship and discipline. In other words, not only did the ratification by Parliament establish them (the Covenants) -- that was in the civil realm; it was the ratification of these Covenants by the churches which bound the Church of Scotland (and the others) to the Standards.

This is the reason both ministers (as Mike Wagner points out) and the general communicant membership were required to have taken the SL&C -- the SL&C is the objective legal and religious basis of the Covenanted Work of Reform. Apart from the SL&C, you may well adopt all or part the doctrine, government, worship and discipline of the Westminster Assembly -- but you will NEVER hold those in the concrete, the purposeful intent, of the real Covenanters (only with your own [usually individual] intent). You will always be adopting it as an alien work (a work of no binding ecclesiastical import); NEVER in the true spirit of its framing. It will NEVER serve its designed end of COVENANTED UNIFORMITY; it will always be the object of debate ("how much do we have to believe?" etc.).

Thanks for your admission that the 1871 band is not an adaption of the National and SL&C. Truly, it was an additional bond. Indeed, it has no civil aspect. As such, Mr. McAuley, as you well know, did not believe he could serve the same Master under two divergent Covenants. The intent of Synod was to "bury" the old Covenants as one of your ministers said. (Incidentally, this attempt led the RP minister Mr. Shaw to write his Hephizibah Beulah in which he declared against the 1871 bond -- in favor of the National and SL&C.) If the intent of Synod and the 1871 "covies" was to BURY the "old covenants," is it not equivocating and making mental reservation -- even a refusing of the PLAIN and COMMON sense [i.e. the sense in which the banders intended] of the words (cf. WCF XXII.4)? The presbyterians considered it Jesuitical to take an oath in a private sense -- that not intended by the framer. You acknowledge that Synod's INTENT was to adapt -- or even replace -- the former Covenants, is it any wonder that a man of Mr. McAuley's staunch principles could not abide such equivocating? Is the RPCNA bound to both? Certainly not if they are -- as I believe -- divergent visions of Covenanted religion. One -- the true Covenanted Reformed faith -- encompasses both Church and State; the other -- the 1871 faith -- seeks Americanized Reformed faith -- one in which, I guess, the State will reform itself (no! that's what the NRA is for -- not the Church, silly). That is pluralism and the evil of voluntary associations canonized in the 1871 bond. "Forget setting the Church in order first; we'll just vote the rascals out in the State." (If the people are not really Reformed, who will they choose to set over them?) Shall the elder serve the younger in this case?

I believe that you are much more of Mr. Shaw's spirit -- grieved for the decline but can't see clear to follow Mr. McAuley's path. I pray the Lord gives you wisdom to understand, courage to act and grace sufficient for the great trials of our day. I value your input and appreciate your manly honesty in facing these matters. I trust all is well with you and yours -- May our Covenant Lord prosper you as He prospers your souls.

For Christ's Crown and Covenant, Jim
"God in his glory shall appear,
When Sion he builds and repairs."


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