Which Confession?

Since The Confessional Outhouse is a team blog, bringing together confessors of different confessions, it seems as if this is a good forum for us to investigate the differences, strengths, weaknesses of various confessional standards. Rather than creating a never-ending comment-thread with “Whose confessional standards are best? Go!”, I think it would be better to tackle smaller, more specific questions, with an (I hope) recurring series of posts by all of us Outhouse Sitters. So I have created the category “Compare & Confess”, and inaugurate the series with this post. (I have also applied the new category back to Revision II, even though the children’s catechism is technically not a subscribed confessional artifact).

So it has occurred to me that the Heidelberg Catechism is stronger than Westminster on the topic of Imputation of both Passive and Active Obedience. (To review, Christ’s Passive Obedience consists of his going to the cross and passively submitting to God’s just wrath on our behalf, while his Active Obedience consists of his actively, perfectly fulfilling God’s law on our behalf). Witness HC #60:

Q: How are thou righteous before God?

A: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin [there’s the passive]: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; [and there’s the active] inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

The best I could find in WCF is from ch. 11:

1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God…

3. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them; and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

It is common among Federal Visionistas to call the IAOC formulation a “Shibboleth” that one can reject while remaining confessional. It seems clear to me that “obedience” = “active” and “satisfaction” = “passive”, but I have encountered one FV who denied that parallel, asserting rather that the dichotomy “obedience and satisfaction” is compromise language that exists specifically because of proto-FVs among the Westminster assembly (with an alternate meaning I can’t remember). Not being a historical theologian privy to the doctrinal biographies of all the divines, or the minutes of all their meetings, I had no response to this. But the HC formulation seems to me much more explicit and undeniable in its affirmation of the imputation of both the active and passive obedience of Christ to the believer.

Now I have only heard of FV proponents existing within Westminster-confessing denominations: (OPC, PCA) — never any 3F denomination (CRC, URC, …?). Is this because the 3F are stronger on this point than Westminster?

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10 Responses to Which Confession?

  1. Rick says:

    I can think of two FV types who claim to confess the HC (I think they would classify themselves more as AA guys(see the ‘Graffiti’ page)). I believe John Barach still confesses the HC but is no longer in the URC. Steve Schlissel was in the CRC, then perhaps briefly in the URC but is now independent. I don’t know if these guys left because they felt the heat or not.

    So I think that the HC’s clarity helps us combat it better but it still arises in our circles.

    But I think WCF 11.1 and 3 are clear enough.

  2. What’s also interesting about the Heidelberg quote is that it contradicts Lusk’s claim that “imputation” never involves “transfer,” only “reckoning.” According to the HC, Christ’s righteousness is both “granted” and “imputed” to me.

  3. Echo_ohcE says:

    In WCF 11.1, I think you highlighted the wrong things, or rather didn’t highlight all you could have. When it says, “pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous”, that’s passive and active right there, but seen in their effects in us. Our sins are pardoned because of the passive obedience, and we are accounted righteous (justified) because of the active obedience. Just in case we miss the point, it goes on to say that it’s not because of anything we have done, but “for Christ’s sake alone”, in other words, what Christ has done for us. Then it goes on to explain how that works, excluding the notion that faith is a virtue that earns God’s approval, demanding that we rest not in our own righteousness, but in Christ’s righteousness.

    So I think the WCF is actually even more precise and explicit on this point than the HC.

    But there is also the Shorter Catechism, which says:

    Q33: What is justification?
    A33: Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

    Furthermore, the Larger Catechism expands this a little bit in question 70, and then follows that with this question:

    Q71: How is justification an act of God’s free grace?
    A71: Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

    There is also this in the WCF chapt 8, among other things:

    V. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.

    I think active and passive obedience is quite clear from the Westminster standards. Abundantly clear.

    People have claimed that there were people at the Assembly who didn’t believe in the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and thus the wording doesn’t include that, so as to not exclude them or their view. This is clearly WRONG. They even thought it important enough to include in the Shorter Catechism question on Justification.

    It MAY be that there were people at the Assembly who didn’t believe in it, but they clearly lost the fight. I can’t see how anyone who doesn’t believe in active obedience could POSSIBLY be happy with the language of the Confession. Yet we still have irresponsible wolves in sheep’s clothing who claim to be confessional but are not, who say that the Confession does leave room for thier Roman view. It doesn’t. There is no room for their view.

    That’s why the OPC and the PCA voted overwhelmingly to adopt reports that clearly state that fact. This represents the two most prominent reformed denominations that hold to the Westminster Standards. They voted in huge numbers to declare the FV nonsense contra-confessional. And when they voted that way, they did not vote to interpret the confession a certain way; rather, they voted that the FV view is contrary to what the Confession plainly says in uncompromising terms.

    There is no room whatsoever for the FV in the Westminster Standards. Not at all. That’s why they left Rome.

    The Federal Visionists are not Reformed. They are Roman. They are not confessional, they are contra-confessional. They are not true messengers of the Word of God, they are false prophets, preaching their own ideas as the Word of God, and claiming to be proclaiming what the Bible says.

    Gal 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–
    Gal 1:7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
    Gal 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
    Gal 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

    Woe to the FV proponents. Woe to them!

  4. Zrim says:

    Three cheers for the 3-forms! I can’t believe anyone would find these things in need of Revision…


  5. Rick says:

    Three cheers for both.

    To answer the question of the post title: Both.

    Does anyone know of a volume of Westminster and 3 forms harmony? I think I remember one but I don’t know if I’m right.

  6. RubeRad says:

    Is there any disharmony? Don’t answer, make a new post!

  7. RubeRad says:

    Echo, I appreciate all of your extra Westminster references, and I do agree with you that ICAO is definitely in there, but the mere fact that you needed to do that much explaining shows me that the simple and explicit language of HC60 more effectively affirms and communicates ICAO.

  8. Rick says:

    Rube, I was asking if there is a book out there (that anyone knows of) that shows the exact points of harmony.

  9. Pingback: On Infant Election: CoD and WCF « The Confessional Outhouse

  10. Echo_ohcE says:


    I would respectfully disagree. First, to look for a doctrine that is called the active obedience of Christ is anachronistic. In other words, the doctrine was not articulated in that way in those days.

    Second, I brought up places, many places, in which over and over again the same doctrine is taught, but merely in different language.

    Third, I don’t understand why the fact that this doctrine is taught in more detail in the Westminster Standards should lead us to believe that the Heidelberg is a clearer statement that would by implication leave less room for the denial of said doctrine.

    The HC is a catechism. It’s meant for children to memorize. The statements in the WCF are obviously going to be more detailed and exact.

    I should think that because the abbreviated name of the doctrine, namely the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, is not present at this time, the more exact they get to what is meant by that, the better.

    The same doctrines that we abbreviate as “the imputation of the active obedience of Christ” is articulated completely and thoroughly in the WCF.

    I think the HC is pretty clear, and I think it’s very helpful. I like the HC’s statement here. But there is no less room in the 3 forms for these errors than in the Westminster Standards.

    The language of both confessional standards must be twisted in order to justify these errors. And in fact, both sets of standards are twisted in order to justify these errors by those that promote them.

    As I’m sure Zrim is aware, there are all kinds of goofy things going on in the CRC, who hold the three forms. There is also all kinds of madness taking place in the PCUSA, who supposedly hold to the WCF. In both instances, error has crept in not because the confessions leave room for gross error, but because people began to ignore their own confessions, treating them as irrelevant or something to be interpreted however they want.

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