Southern California Creation Debate

By Michael DePeppino

Carson, California (February 4-5, 2000)-The First Stated Meeting 2000 of the Presbytery of Southern California of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church commenced under overcast skies and drizzle. The first Friday and Saturday of February brought more than the regular business of the Church. Long anticipated, a special committee was to present a report to the Presbytery on the view of Genesis one and two most commonly known as the Framework Hypothesis. Similar to the weather outside, the Framework Hypothesis exists under a storm cloud of controversy within the Southern California Presbytery. A large presence of Southern California OPC congregants at the meeting substantiated the significance of the issue to be debated, as did the presence of often absented Presbyters.

The last several years ordination candidates espousing Framework Hypothesis views faced pointed and searching questions by the Presbytery's members. Various positions presented over time concerned the Presbytery about the definition of the Framework Hypothesis, and inquiries abounded as to whether there was a single view on the Framework. A special committee was erected to clarify what exactly the Framework Hypothesis was, and whether it was in accords with both the Primary and Secondary Standards of the OPC. The instance of an ordination candidate holding Framework views who refused to take an exception to the Secondary Standards provided additional motivation to organize the study committee. The motion was passed in November 1997 to form the Committee, and it was organized by January 1998.

The Presbytery learned by the Fall of 1999 that it would be reviewing two reports, both of which were received more than three months prior to the February 2000 meeting in Carson, California. The Committee divided 5 to 4, with 5 Framework advocates and 4 Traditional Interpretation advocates, despite the apparent majority of Traditional Interpretation advocates within the Presbytery. The Committee distributed a report defining and defending the Framework Hypothesis, while a Minority of the Committee argues for a literal interpretation of Genesis one and challenges the Framework Hypothesis as un-Scriptural and contrary to the Westminster Standards.
An order of the day was set for 10:15 a.m. Saturday for the presentations of the reports. The presentation of the reports began with each side of the Committee giving a summary of their respective reports, a period of questions and answers, and debate on the recommendations. The Committee suggested that only teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders be allowed to ask questions. Various Teaching Elders and members of the Minority Committee argued to allow all seated Ruling Elders to ask questions. Presbytery allowed all Ruling Elders to ask questions. With summaries made and a few clarifying questions asked, the debate on the recommendations continued until 4:30 p.m., the order of the day. An adjourned meeting was scheduled for February 26, 2000 at Westminster OPC, Westminster, California at 9:00 a.m.

The Committee as a whole was given the charge to "evaluate the conformity of the Framework Hypothesis to the teaching of Scripture and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms...[and] bring information and recommendations to the Presbytery which will aid the Presbytery in evaluating the fitness of ministerial candidates who hold the Framework Hypothesis." Comparing the reports from the Committee and the Minority reveal the differences of emphasis and methodology between the sides as they attempted to fulfill the Presbytery's purpose for organizing the Committee.

The Committee's report emphasizes historical precedent in the OPC allowing divergent views on the interpretation of the Westminster Standards regarding the phrase "in the space of six days." Also emphasized is the notion of Animus Imponentis. Animus Imponentis means "the intention of the imposing body." The Committee argues that the Church has exercised her right to redefine the meaning of the Secondary Standards and what is essential to the system of doctrine ministers swear to uphold, thus allowing for a variety of interpretations on what "in the space of six days" means.

There was little exegesis defending the Hypothesis from Scripture in the Committee's report. Their challenge to the 24 hour, sequential-chronological view centers on the literal view proponents having to answer how there can be light created on day one before the sun was created on day four (deemed an extra-textual supernaturalism if the light of day one is not solar), a suggestion that the seventh day is an eternal Sabbath, how days one through three can be considered the same kind of days as days four through six given that they are all named 'days' by God, the anthropomorphic nature of the days of Genesis one, and the assertion that normal providence, not special
providence, was in operation during the creation week in light of Genesis 2:4-9.

The Minority report emphasizes an exegetical defense of the chronological, sequential nature of Genesis one with its literal 24 hour days. Considerable attention is also given to the exegetical difficulties with the Framework Hypothesis. The critique of the Framework in the Minority report points out how the obfuscating extravagance of the Hypothesis challenges the perspicuity of Scripture in a foundational text apparently misunderstood for millennia, the novelty of the view, the many various understandings of the Framework by those who hold to it, some asymmetry between the creation days, ignoring of textual indicators of chronological sequence, dangerous hermeneutics, making regular providence an aspect of the Creation week, its opening the door to evolution, creating problems that do not exist (e.g. creation of the sun on day four allegedly changes the nature of the days already named), errant application of anthropomorphism, and improper reliance on Genesis 2:4-9 to understand what has preceded in Genesis one.
Besides differing on the interpretation of Genesis one, each side of the Committee offers different understandings about the nature of ecclesiastical precedent and its relationship to interpreting and applying the Secondary Standards of the OPC. The Committee argues that there is at least an indirect endorsement of liberty concerning an ordination candidate's interpretation of "in the space of six days." It is maintained that the 19th Century Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. accepted a latitudinarian view of the Confession at this point, and that the OPC followed in the footsteps of the pre-1936 Church. Machen's espousal of the day-age view and the lack of historical knowledge as to whether Machen took an exception to the Confession is offered as an example of OPC precedent.
In response, the Minority argues that what has been does not imply necessarily what ought to be, and that even if in the past candidates were not required to offer scruples or state exceptions to the Secondary Standards about non-literal interpretations of Genesis one due to laxity, such precedents are not Constitutionally binding. Further, the Minority asserts that such precedents must be subject to specific guidelines if they are to become authoritative for Presbyteries judging a candidate's qualifications. If a denomination cannot change the actual wording of the
Confession, then redefining the Confessional Standards would have to be according to such guidelines as: 1. Making the Confession more Scriptural and not more accommodating to a broad range of opinions. 2. Any redefining must be done consciously by and with the full knowledge of the Church. 3.The reinterpretation must fit within the possible range of meaning of the original wording if the wording is not altered. The Minority denies that the Framework Hypothesis has been duly established as within Confessional bounds, it cannot possibly fit with the Confession's wording, and therefore candidates do not have the protection of the Confession for Framework views.

Both sides of the Committee understand that hermeneutics is at the center of the debate, whether the hermeneutics involves exegesis of the Scriptures or the Secondary Standards. Both the defense of the Hypothesis and arguments as to its dangerous precedent and implications pivot upon how the Church will approach its authoritative documents. The Committee's hermeneutic on Scripture is that if a passage of Scripture is "undeniably contradicted by other passages, we will consider the interpretation to have failed. Otherwise, we must consider the interpretation to fall within the bounds of our Confession's hermeneutic." In response, the Minority report argues that such a hermeneutic is only part of the Biblical and Confessional Standards' hermeneutic. The Minority makes a reductio of the Committee's hermeneutic by showing events and teachings with only single mention in Scripture, asking if such passages were left open to literal or figurative interpretations(e.g. 2 Kgs 6:5; John 2:9; Acts 20:10; Rom 2:15). One can see why the Committee believes that it is at liberty to give a figurative interpretation of Genesis one, since they allege that a figurative interpretation is not contradicted elsewhere in Scripture. These allegations persist despite the
Scriptures establishing the Sabbath day upon God's example at the end of the Creation week.

Ruling Elder A. M. Laurie made a stunning departure from the rest of the Committee when he argued from the Presbytery floor that to adopt the Minority's stand was in essence a rejection of scientific advances made in
physics, biology and geology. Mr. Laurie reasoned that the Bible had to be harmonized with science in order for Christians, especially those in the physical sciences, to maintain intellectual integrity. No one on the Committee rose to challenge Laurie's stance, nor challenge him as to what constitutes scientific knowledge. The Minority stated repeatedly that they believe other Committee members when they said they are not motivated by a desire to harmonize Scripture with evolutionary philosophy and secularist science. Yet, Laurie's views lent support to the Minority's concern that even if the Committee's report does not argue for such harmonization, many advocates in Christianity today lean toward non-literalist views because of such motivations and that Framework hermeneutics offer no prevention against opinions like that of Mr. Laurie. Taken literally, Genesis one contradicts evolutionist science specifically on the issues of time, sequence, Divine activity, and process regarding Earth's origin.

Other interesting aspects of the Committee's report is their definition of the days of Genesis one. "The Framework Interpretation of Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 is the view which maintains that, while the six days of creation are normal solar days, the total picture of God's completing His creative work in a week of days is not to be taken literally, but functions as a literary framework for the creation narrative; and that the eight creative historical works of God have been arranged according to other than strictly sequential considerations, and that where there is sequential order it must be determined by factors other than the order of narration alone." The Presbytery sought clarification on what is meant by 'solar, non-literal days.' The Committee offered that the days of Genesis one were ordinary, non-literal days, but avoided using 'figurative' or 'metaphorical' in their explanations.

The Minority informed the Presbytery that the Committee's consensus definition arrived at during Committee meetings and printed in the Committee's report sent to the Minority is different than what was placed in the report distributed to the rest of Presbytery. The consensus definition stated that days of Genesis were not solar. This is a complete and significant turn around by those advocating the Framework Hypothesis, possibly to import the idea that the light of day one was solar light.

The success of either sides' recommendations rests upon whether the Presbytery is intellectually and morally satisfied with Framework methodology or with the Minority's success in making its point that a serious, system-challenging position threatens the authority of Scripture and the Confession in the OPC. The debate logically precludes any middle position that the Framework is an acceptable exception for future ordination candidates.

The Presbytery will also have to consider the recapitulation of the 19th and 20th Modernist and Liberal plea for "Scripture alone is the authority" inherent in the Committee's report. The Westminster Standards assert the primacy and ultimacy of the Scripture's authority in the Church, but not as an opposition to real, secondary authority in Confessions and Creeds. Creeds and Confessions exist for the purpose of stating just what the Church means
when she says she believes what the Bible teaches. Any rewording, deletions, and redefining of the Secondary Standards must be done consciously, constitutionally, carefully, and competently to comply more with Scripture's
teaching. Any method of change or change of content that undermines the Secondary Standard's adherence to Scripture is immoral vow breaking requiring clerical and congregational resistance.

The Committee report ends with the recommendation that ordination candidates holding to a view of the Framework Hypothesis consistent with the definition and qualifications in the report be credentialed and not be obligated to take an exception to the Secondary Standards. The Minority report concludes with the recommendation that the Presbytery refuse licensure and ordination to candidates holding to a Framework Hypothesis.

The Committee is composed of The Revs. William J. Baldwin, Dr. Steven M. Baugh, C. Lee Irons, and Donald M. Poundstone, and Ruling Elder A. M. Laurie. The Minority of the Committee is composed of The Revs. Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. and Alan Pontier, and Ruling Elders David Bulthuis and Michael R. Butler.

Mr. DiPeppino is a Ruling Elder in Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Costa Mesa, California.