A PCA ministerial candidate from Southern California (whom I know very, very well) who attends Covenant Seminary, was recently told his ordination would be denied because his positions were perceived as striking at non-negotiable tenets of the Westminster Standards. What were these horrid heresies? Denial of the Virgin Birth? Dismissal of the deity of Christ? Wearing a "Bultmann is the Bomb" t-shirt, perhaps? No it was these two explosive positions:
1. Adam was a son and did not have "merit" in the Garden of Eden.
2. Baptized persons are to be regarded as regenerate until they prove otherwise.
The first position is nowhere found in the Westminster Standards. Try as you might, you will never find the word merit in this connection. Though a federal head over humanity, Adam was not earning "merit" in the pre-fall world upon which he would earn eternal life for the human race. Comb through Genesis 1-2 as hard as you might, you will find nothing to base a theology of merit upon except this simple command God gave to Adam:
"You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die." Genesis 2:16, 17
You see, the presumption of a merit position is that Adam is an exact parallel of Christ (Romans 5) but there seems to be far more discontinuity than similarity. After all, carte blanche, Christ, as God, volunteered to come and become a man. Adam, on the other hand, was placed on earth and he had no choice in this most basic plank of existence.
There are some simple questions that arise from this equation. If Adam needed to earn "merit" to eat of the tree of life, why was there no prohibition nor barrier to his eating of it prior to the Fall. After all, the text above (Gen. 2:16, 17) indicates no barrier or prohibition for Adam. He may have been eating from it. Also, what was Adam earning via his merit? The text in Genesis 1 and 2 seems to be more naturally interpreted to indicate that he possessed everything and was in a position to lose his standing. I mean come on! He's in the Garden, he's being given a wife, he has access to the Tree of Life (no restriction has been placed upon its consumption yet), and he has personal, friendly, familial relations with God. Its all good. What is he gaining by earning "merit" that he doesn't already have? I think the most viable answer is that he is not earning anything through obedience but rather is to be obedient so that he does not lose that which he already has.
Next, the position of regarding the baptized as regenerate is a very common Reformed and Presbyterian position. John Calvin held to it. The basic thrust is that when one is baptized one is not considered an outsider, one is considered a Christian. This is what Westminster Assembly thought about this as well (see under: "Of the sacrament of baptism"). Think about what these two contemporary Presbyterian scholars are saying:
"But baptism is, of course, the physical sign of which baptism with the Spirit is the reality. It marks the point at which individuals are publicly identified as belonging to the covenant community, as a Christian." Sinclair Ferguson, "The Holy Spirit" pp. 145-146
"Baptism is the mark of union with Christ. It is a name giving ceremony, with a sign of cleansing, and a name that is given is the name of Christ." Edmund Clowney, "The Church" p. 80
This unfortunate candidate never ventured into the fiery waters of baptismal regeneration but stayed close to the shore of praxis. This "presumption of regeneration" that he held to was a practical matter. He believed that baptized children should be raised as Christians and not exhorted to convert like an outsider to God's people. He thought that Christian parents should lay hold of God's covenant promises that extend straight back amongst the ancient people of God. Oh well, its over now.
I think this article summarizes our current disposition in the Reformed world. We are so busy defending phantom-like models of perfection from the 17th Century that we have forgotten we are to be the light shining on a hill in the 21st Century. Do you think a postmodern seeker is really concerned with the absolute necessity of a particular view of extra biblical postulations on prelapsarian Adamic decrees? For that matter, who does? When you have answered that you will see clearly the cancer in Western Evangelical Presbyterianism.