The overture was once again before the assembly. In review, the overture requests that the GA establish a study committee to examine and give its advice as to whether and in which particular senses the concept of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Adamic Covenant is consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. After much debate, and a call for division, the overture was granted by a vote of 83–53.
4 thoughts on “OPC GA Republication Study Committee”
Regarding the OPC Denominational Study of the Mosaic Covenant and Republication,
by Mark W. Karlberg, Th.D.
As the five-man study committee begins its work articulating biblical teaching concerning the “republication of the covenant of works” in the Mosaic Covenant, itself an expression of the single, ongoing administration of the Covenant of Grace (extending from the Fall to the Consummation), we take note of events leading up to the present state of upheaval within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and beyond. Three former students of Westminster Seminary California – now members of the OPC’s Presbytery of the Northwest – submitted a paper, entitled “A Booklet on Merit in the Doctrine of Republication presented to the Presbytery of the Northwest,” for its Stated Meeting in April of 2013. This was done in conjunction with its request to overture the OPC’s General Assembly asking for a denominational study for the purpose of guiding and instructing the churches on what has become highly contentious doctrine within the Reformed communion at large. That paper has been revised for publication as Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock), released on July 10, 2014. Book endorsements include those of Richard Gaffin and Robert Strimple, timed for the start of the study committee’s work. Let no one be confused today where Gaffin and Kline stand! To be sure, differences between John Murray and Meredith Kline extend well into past history of Westminster Seminary. We have simply moved on to a new phase of the dispute, one bearing radically different implications and ramifications derived from Westminster’s current thinking on the subject of the covenants.
According to the view of Gaffin and Strimple, there is no works-principle functioning in the covenant God made with Israel through Moses, mediator of the old covenant. This means that the sole principle underlying the old covenant is the principle of (saving) grace, identical to what is the case in the new covenant. The blessings and curses of the covenant of law – fully and explicitly laid out in “the Treaty of the Great King” (the Book of Deuteronomy), as elsewhere throughout the Old Testament – are administered on the basis of Israel’s obedience or disobedience. If the position of Israel were secure in the earthly land of promise (Canaan) – which is the case for recipients of God’s saving grace with regard to reception of the heavenly, antitypical reward (life in the eternal kingdom yet to come) – there is then no place for curse and exile from the land. Such judgment upon Israel of old is, in the final analysis, inexplicable. What the Murray school of interpretation must conclude, to be theologically consistent (what is the aim of the systematician), is to say that believers under the new covenant are likewise subject to both the blessings and the curses of redemptive covenant in accordance with (non-meritorious) good works. This point is crucial: in this school of thought there is no genuine difference between the two economies of redemption, wherein reward is bestowed “on the basis of” or “in accordance with” the believer’s works of obedience. This is precisely the doctrine Shepherd and Gaffin have been eagerly advancing; and they have taken the argument one step further by eviscerating the law/grace antithesis entirely in their doctrine of the covenants (pre- and post-Fall).
Fundamental to the position of Shepherd and Gaffin is aversion to the works-inheritance principle, that which is antithetical to the faith-inheritance principle. With respect to the idea of the principle of works operating on the symbolico-typological level of temporal life in Canaan, Gaffin asserts: “the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.” Now the real question is whether perfect, meritorious obedience was required of the First Adam in accordance with the probationary test given him in the original Covenant of Works at creation. This Gaffin and Shepherd vehemently deny. Had Adam kept covenant with God, not yielding to the temptation of Satan in assuming equality with God (specifically in regards to the knowledge of good and evil), he would not have “earned” or “merited” divine blessing, so Gaffin and Shepherd contend. Only the Second Adam, we are told, can merit the reward of the covenant made with his Father on behalf of God’s elect by his own obedience. Hence, Gaffin and Shepherd’s renunciation of the Reformed-Protestant law/grace antithesis, what is essential to teaching concerning the Gospel of justifying grace. The Gaffin-Shepherd contention is nothing other than the dogma of Neo-orthodoxy, now one of the doctrinal planks in New School Westminster. From this theological point of view, Westminster has moved well beyond Murray’s “recasting” of covenant theology. Yet, at the same time, Murray remains the sacred cow.
The question the OPC is discussing is if Kline’s view is confessional. It is contrary to WCF, but not to the bible.