Everywhere, Always and by All

Gunar Kravalis is a graduate of Knox College, Toronto, Ontario, and the minister at Burns, Milverton, and North Mornington, Ontario.

Ever since the 1984 General Assembly declared Living Faith to be acceptable statement of Christian belief, its use has grown steadily in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Along with many others I can affirm that it is an "acceptable statement" in that it has many fine qualities and refrains from openly affirming any heresy. But the devil is in the details and I believe a close examination of Living Faith reveals it to contain serious flaws. These weaknesses make it unsuitable to be adopted as a subordinate standard, which would make it an official creed or confession of the church. Creeds such as the Apostles' and the Nicene, and confessions such as Westminster summarize the teaching of the Scriptures, so that we know what we must believe for our salvation and how to live lives pleasing to God. As such they make clear the boundaries of orthodox belief. Creeds and confessions give believers their identity as Christians. For creeds and confessions to be effective they must be true to Scripture and the orthodox tradition of the holy catholic church. They must contain no unwarranted innovations in doctrine. Then creeds and confessions enable the church, as in the words of Vincent of Lerins (d. 450) "to hold fast to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all" (Commonitores).

Living Faith is unsuitable to be declared a confession of the church because some of its statements concerning soteriology (the salvation work of Christ) and eschatology (end times concerns), at the very least, do not exclude serious doctrinal error and at the worst encourage erroneous or heretical beliefs.

Living Faith is deficient on matters concerning salvation because it leaves open the door for the teaching of universal unconditional salvation or the idea that all persons will go to heaven regardless of what they believe or how they have lived. Universalists believe there will be no hell, only heaven. The final judgement will be a universal amnesty. Universal unconditional salvation goes against the clear teaching of the biblical text and the orthodox tradition of the holy catholic church; it is an unwarranted innovation in doctrine and therefore heretical. Living Faith encourages belief in universal unconditional salvation in 3.6.1 and 3.6.2 when it asserts that persons are chosen for salvation in Christ without any qualification. Nowhere are we told that some may reject salvation as Scripture and Westminster affirm. Thus we are left with the impression that all persons are to be saved in Christ. Universalism is also encouraged in 3.4.1 when Living Faith tells us that "Christ is the Mediator." Against this, Scripture and Westminster confess that Christ is the sole or only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12; WCF. VIII;ii). Living Faith, thus, invites the false conclusion that there can be mediators other than Christ.

The theme of eschatology is dealt with in chapter ten and here Living Faith is highly deficient. My first objection is the use of the phrase "a renewed world." The New Testament knows nothing of a renewed world but rather a new creation, where the old order is dissolved and the elements will melt with fire (2 Peter 3:10-13). A renewed world is the image employed by the Jehovah's Witnesses to describe their vision of Jehovah's Kingdom. Renewed world also leaves open the idea that human beings can renovate the present creation and bring the new order in via moral and social reform, yet another doctrinal error held by many universalists.

Item 10.3 is particularly weak. It defines hell as separation from God. How can this be when we are told that at the end "God will be all in all?" (1 Corinthians 15:28). Living Faith then fudges the doctrine of final judgement badly when it says, "Worthy of hell, eternal separation from God, our hope is for heaven, eternal life with God through the grace bestowed on us in Christ." Here we are neither assured that the reprobate will go to hell nor the elect will go to heaven. Downplaying hell means Living Faith must downplay heaven. Thus a believer can nowhere find an unequivocal assurance of salvation. Compare Living Faith's tepid statement to the orthodox Christian belief that all those who believe in Christ have a complete assurance of salvation, not a mere hope (WCF. XVIII:ii; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 16:30,31)! Of course if Living Faith's underlying assumption is universalism then it makes sense to minimize the doctrine of final judgement. People might think you actually believe in it!

Living Faith's many fine features should not blind us to the reality that the alien spirit of modernism has corrupted a number of key Christian teachings. For this reason it should not be adopted as subordinate standard. The church deserves a better confession than Westminster as it approaches the third millennium, not a lesser one.

Editor's Note: Living Faith was adopted as a subordinate standard of the Presbyterian Church in Canada by the General Assembly in June 1998.