St. Louis, Missouri (July 1, 1998)-The 26th General Assembly, overwhelmingly, indicated its support of New Jersey Presbytery in allowing that views of Genesis 1 other than six literal days did not constitute a violation of the Westminster Standards. The standing vote, which was not counted, was estimated by observers to be by a margin of at least 2 to 1.
In most judicial cases, the General Assembly no longer votes, but rather leaves the judgment to the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). However, under new rules adopted last year, if one-third or more of the voting members of the SJC file a minority report, the Assembly must hear both majority and minority opinions and, without debate, vote on them. In this case, the SJC had voted 12-9 to uphold New Jersey's position; and the nine dissenters had forced the issue by filing a minority report.
Leading off the debate was SJC Chairman John White, who stated that the real issues are two-fold: Did New Jersey Presbytery violate the Constitution in interpreting our standards?; and, What is the proper way of amending the church's Constitution? Mr. White stated that the PCA and predecessor denominations "have affirmed a variety of interpretations" of the confessional phrase, "in the space of six days." Referring to the three major views in the PCA-literal day, day age, and framework hypothesis--he contended that all three are within the parameters of the Confession of Faith. He further stated that "amending the Standards through judicial process is an unconstitutional way to amend the Constitution."
Dr. Paul Fowler, who professed to believe in a young earth, urged caution in insisting that the word "day" is used "so clearly and unambiguously . . . in Scripture and . . . in the Westminster Standards that it can only hold one interpretation." And Dr. Dominic Aquila stated that "if the language is so plain"-as maintained in the minority report-"we would not be here today." He also mentioned that other Reformed bodies, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, were wrestling with the very same issue.
Starting off for the minority was TE David Hall of Oak Ridge, TN, who argued that "our view is . . . simple and . . . straightforward." Challenging the notion that there were some in the Westminster Assembly who held that "in the space of six days" meant anything other than a reference to six literal days, Mr. Hall offered two "hard-to-get Cardinal tickets" to anyone who could cite a Westminster divine who adhered to a contrary view.
Attorney Dale Peacock spoke of the "fatal flaws" in the majority's position. Contrary to Augustine's view of instantaneous creation, Mr. Peacock said, "our Westminster divines adopted a position." He spoke of the fact that when the PCA was formed in 1973, it had adopted the same doctrinal position of the Westminster Assembly; and he added: "Twenty five years later, we have a doctrine created by New Jersey Presbytery," which the SJC says "they had a right to create, and that this doctrine is compatible with past renderings of the General Assembly." Averring that "the majority has erred grievously," the lawyer used Senator Samuel Ervin's terminology to refer to the SJC's position on the Confession of Faith: "judicial verbicide."
David Hall concluded the thirty minutes allotted to the minority by demonstrating that numerous participants in the Westminster Assembly adhered to the days of Genesis 1 being literal days. To interpret the Westminster Standards differently "is a blatant historical revisionism." Mr. Hall continued: "In the shadow of Busch Stadium, let me say that Charles Hodge and Warfield were the Babe Ruth and Mark Magwire of their day. But even Mark Magwire hits a foul ball occasionally." He warned that if the Assembly voted with the majority: "You won't get this vote back. This [case] will always be cited as a precedent."
Jack Williamson gave a ten minute rebuttal for the majority. He contended that the phrase "space of six days" does not preclude a day of long ages. He stated: "Beware of letting the SJC make Constitutional changes by judicial fiat." Attorney Williamson rhetorically asked: "Is this a proper forum . . . to decide the meaning of the six days of creation? The SJC was formed to decide cases. This is an abstract constitutional issue." Quoting from Book of Church Order 11, he stated that "every court has the right to resolve questions of doctrine."
After a few moments of silent prayer, with Moderator
Kennedy Smartt concluding with a brief oral prayer, the court
cast its momentous vote. Almost immediately, the anticipated
recording of negative votes on the majority report and affirmative
votes on the minority report began.