Report of the Committee to Examine the Current Doctrines and Practices of the Peniel Bible Conference

Presented to the Twenty-eighth (1961) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

General Assembly reports are thoughtful and weighty treatises on important matters but they are not constitutional documents. Only the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, the Form of Government, the Book of Discipline, and the Directory for the Public Worship of God of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church express the church’s official understanding of what the Word of God teaches.


The Report

The Twenty-seventh General Assembly, meeting at Manhattan Beach, California, elected a "committee of five to examine the current doctrines and practices of the Peniel Bible Conference and, if it is warranted, to specify grounds on which the Peniel Conference should be declared to be out of accord with the standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and report to the Twenty-eighth General Assembly" and also "to make a study of those errors which the Peniel Bible Conference alleges are found in the Report of the Committee to Study the Doctrines and Practices of the Peniel Bible Conference" (Minutes, 27th G.A., pp. 106, 112). To this Committee were elected Professor Murray, Dr. Knudsen, Messrs. Cummings and Atwell, and Professor Kline.

In pursuance of these mandates the Committee has undertaken a fresh study of the doctrines and practices of the Peniel Bible Conference, basing its study for the most part on the latest documents, and has also addressed itself to the study of the errors alleged to appear in the report submitted to the Twenty-sixth General Assembly. During the year one of the committee members, Mr. Cummings, was able to attend one of Peniel's summer conferences and confer directly with its leaders.

As a result of its study the Committee submits the following reports and conclusions. The report on the first directive deals most particularly with Peniel's doctrines of guidance and sanctification. That the Committee has not dealt directly with other matters pertaining to the doctrines and practices of the Peniel Bible Conference should not be construed to imply that the Committee has judged them to be in accord with the standards of our church. The silence of the Committee should not be taken to imply either approval or disapproval. The Committee has focused attention in its report on certain specific points, because in the time at its disposal these were the subjects considered to be of primary importance.

Furthermore, that the Committee has focused its attention on the most recent documents should not be thought to imply that the Committee considers earlier documents and the work of earlier committees to be without relevance. The word "current" had been inserted in the motion so as not to exclude the possibility that Peniel had undergone, or is in process of undergoing, an evolution as to its doctrines and practices. In the judgment of the Committee, however, it is proper to assume that what has characterized Peniel's doctrines and practices in the past also characterizes them in the present, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

It is the hope of the Committee that these reports may contribute to the increase of the doctrinal purity and unity of the Church.

The Peniel Doctrine of Guidance

The "Formulation" contained in "Document III" of the Communication of the Peniel Bible Conference to the 27th General Assembly may fairly be regarded as the most considered statement that has appeared up to date by the Peniel Bible Conference on the subject of guidance. In the esteem of the Committee there are many statements and cautions in this "Formulation" that are to be endorsed and welcomed. A good deal of emphasis falls upon the inerrant authority of Scripture, upon the dangers for faith and practice inherent in errant subjective mysticism, upon the necessity of testing all experience by the norm of Scripture, upon the basic requirement of self-denial and the constant mortification of self-will if we are to follow Christ and be led by the Spirit, and upon the communion of the believer with the Holy Spirit. To all such emphases the Committee accords its full consent and regards these positions as basic to any biblical view of guidance. Furthermore, the Committee does not dissent from the biographical accounts of the way in which such an eminent saint as Samuel Miller sought guidance in the practical decisions with which he was faced (p. 32), and it regards as eminently sound on the subject of guidance the quotation from Jonathan Edwards on page 34. The Committee does not believe that such a practice as that exemplified by Samuel Miller or the operations of the Spirit of God delineated by Jonathan Edwards are in the least degree alien to but rather in full accord with the views and sentiments entertained in the ranks of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Committee deems it unfortunate if the appeal to such examples was made on the assumption that disagreement with the Peniel Bible Conference involved divergence from the practices and principles set forth in these quotations, or if the appeal to these quotations in context was calculated to create such an impression. There is much more in the "Formulation" with which the Committee agrees and regards as closely germane to a biblical view of guidance.

In assessing the "Document," however, in its relevance to the focal points of dispute, the Committee is constrained to judge that the document as a whole is not characterized by the pointedness and clarity which would contribute to ready understanding and resolution of the main point at issue within our denomination. Nevertheless, it appears to the Committee that the Peniel Bible Conference takes the position that there is in or to the consciousness of the consecrated believer a witness of the Holy Spirit which is not derived from the data of revelation relevant to a particular choice but is additional to and distinct from the enlightenment imparted by the Holy Spirit through all the revelatory data pertinent to the case in point. Peniel expresses this in terms of "a sense of assurance concerning the rightness of some decision or act, which goes beyond the testimony even of enlightened reason" (pp. 35f.). And Peniel appeals to Romans 8:16 and avers that this assurance is akin to the witness of the Holy Spirit to our sonship. "Peniel simply states that at every stage of his development the Christian can enjoy and cultivate such a real relationship of fellowship with God that in every decision of his life he may look for this same sense of assurance that God is leading him in his choice" (p. 36).

With reference to this formulation the Committee submits the following observations and criticisms:

1. The quotation from Charles Hodge (p.36) is not to the same effect as that to which it is alleged to lend support. What Hodge says is that the Holy Spirit "enlightens the judgment and guides the conscience, so that the true and humble Christian often has an assurance of his sincerity"—the assurance, according to Hodge, is derived from an enlightened judgment and guided conscience. What Peniel claims is "an assurance beyond the testimony even of enlightened reason" (ital. ours). What Hodge says is that the assurance is "above what the powers of nature can bestow" (ital. ours). Peniel says beyond the testimony of enlightened reason. But enlightened reason is not to be equated with what Hodge means by the powers of nature. The powers of nature are but our natural powers.

2. It is not denied but rather affirmed that the believer often enjoys an assurance concerning the rightness of some decision or act and also the assurance of his own sincerity, an assurance generated in his heart, mind, and conscience by the Holy Spirit. This fact of assurance is not in dispute. And the believer often enjoys this assurance with respect to decisions on which the Scripture gives no express direction, decisions that are in the realm of what are called things indifferent. The question is: what is the source of this assurance?

3. The Committee is cognizant of the fact that the operations of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers are mysterious and surpass our understanding. This is a subject that must be handled with great care lest, on the one hand, we fall into the error of attempting to define and restrict the modes of the Holy Spirit's working in the hearts and lives of believers and, on the other, attribute to him impulses and phenomena of which he is not the author. In either direction we can be guilty of grievous presumption. The Committee is aware that oftentimes there are impressions, impulsions, and inhibitions in the mind of believers which are the result of the Holy Spirit's operations but which they may not be able to explain in terms of the relevant considerations by which these impressions, impulsions, or inhibitions have been induced. It is a fact of our psychology that considerable influence is exerted in our consciousness by the subconscious in ways that we are not able to explain to ourselves or others. Sometimes these influences proceeding from the subconscious are sinister. But they may also be good. We are not to deny but gratefully acknowledge that the Holy Spirit works in the realm of our subconscious and from the reservoir of the subconscious produces effects which, in our conscious mind, are proper expressions of revelatory data which have been brought to bear upon our thought but which, at a particular moment, we are not able to recollect or evaluate. But these considerations or others of like character which might be mentioned do not warrant a doctrine of the "witness" of the Holy Spirit interpreted and applied after the pattern which the "Formulation" of the Peniel Bible Conference propounds.

4. It is to be recognized that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the data of revelation in our consciousness. He bears his witness by illumining our minds, by quickening our hearts, by instructing our consciences, by enabling us to perceive how the data of revelation bear upon the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, and by sealing to us the revealed will of God in its application to us. But this is a witness borne through and to the sum-total of relevant considerations as they bear upon our conduct.

5. In the judgment of the Committee Peniel takes the position that the above-mentioned assurance is often derived from a witness of the Spirit similar to that of the Holy Spirit to the sonship of believers (Rom. 8:16), that it is not derived from the Spirit's enlightenment of the understanding by revelatory data, and that it is one of the fruits of fellowship with the Holy Spirit. It is this position that the Committee controverts and seeks to show that it is without warrant of Scripture.

In support of this judgment the Committee offers the following reasons:

(i) In Romans 8:16 Paul undoubtedly refers to a witness which the Holy Spirit bears to our spirits respecting our adoption as children of God, and this witness is most likely to be distinguished from the witness borne by our spirits to the same fact. So we may have to distinguish between the witness borne by our consciousness through the operation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the joint-witness of the Holy Spirit to our consciousness. But, in any case, Romans 8:16 speaks of the witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirits. Other texts dealing with the Spirit as the earnest of the saints' inheritance and sealing believers unto the day of their redemption are to be taken into account as expressing what is coordinate with this inward witness of the Spirit (cf. II Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30). But hermeneutics requires that we take note of the precise scope of the witness referred to in Romans 8:16. It is a witness to the sonship of believers and the Committee does not find any biblical warrant for extending this witness to that with which Peniel is concerned in the quotations given above from page 36 of "Document III."

The witness of the Holy Spirit to our sonship (Rom. 8:16) is a witness borne to an antecedent fact and it does not itself create that to which the witness is borne. In this respect it is similar to the internal testimony of the Spirit to the Word of God. The internal testimony is always to the truth of Scripture and has no additional revelatory or regulative content. So it is with the witness the Spirit bears to the adoption of believers; it is a witness borne to a status which is derived from and constituted by another distinct action on God's part and has no independent or isolated validity.

(ii) In the context and particularly in the broader context of the discussion respecting Peniel's view of guidance it is the judgment of the Committee that in certain situations Peniel regards this alleged witness of the Spirit as the only index to God's will or, at least, as the decisive index constraining assurance respecting the proper course of action. If this judgment is correct, then Peniel must, in the premises, regard this witness of the Spirit as regulative and authoritative. It becomes apparent how far-reaching for the conduct of the Christian belief in such a witness of the Spirit can become and in the absence of biblical warrant how precarious the assumption is.

(iii) It is a fundamental datum of our faith that we are wholly dependent upon the data of divine revelation for our knowledge of God and of his will in all matters of faith and conduct. We have no access to his mind and will for us except by what he is pleased to reveal to us. There are but two sources of such revelation, what is called natural revelation and supernatural revelation. The former includes the light of nature and the works of creation and providence, the latter is for us exclusively the Holy Scriptures. If there is the supposed witness of the Spirit it must be a medium of conveying to us the will of God for our conduct. Since it is a witness of the Spirit flowing from the communion of the Spirit, it could not reasonably be classified as natural. So the inference seems inescapable that it must be a mode of supernatural revelation supplemental to the Scriptures, and the implication would be that there is claimed for the witness of the Spirit an additional source of revelation which impinges upon the doctrine that the Scriptures are the sole source of supernatural revelation. The position in question, therefore, is a deviation from the doctrine of Scripture set forth in the Scripture and in our subordinate standards.

(iv) The "Formulation" betrays at various other points the tension between the insistence upon the normative authority of Scripture, on the one hand, and jealousy for the regulative function of "the witness" of the Spirit, on the other. This appears in such statements as the following: "Some Christians, wishing to guard the uniqueness and sufficiency of the Scriptures as divine special revelation, would limit conscious guidance of the Holy Spirit to that which may be exegetically produced or inferred directly from Scripture and the principles contained in it, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit" (p. 30). "Certainly it is true that during subsequent centuries there was a strong trend among evangelical Christians away from the extreme position that the Holy Spirit never grants conscious guidance to the Church except through logical deduction from the express words of Scripture, and this trend is clearly represented among Reformed theologians" (p. 32). "As has been previously stated, since the nineteenth century, the most prevailing view of guidance is one which allows for some degree of 'non-exegetical' leading of the Holy Spirit" (p. 33). These statements and others of similar character, though given in the form of historical review, must be construed as representing the view of Peniel. The tendency, in the Committee's esteem, is to underestimate in the matter of the guidance or leading of the Spirit the regulating and directing function of Scripture. But, in any case, there is a plea for the "non-exegetical" leading of the Spirit. The only construction that the Committee can place upon such an expression is a leading of the Spirit that is not dependent upon Scripture. The exegesis of Scripture is no more than the setting forth of the meaning of Scripture and Scripture is to us a closed book for our instruction and guidance except as its meaning is apprehended. There is no direction derived from Scripture apart from exegesis. To speak then of "non-exegetical" leading of the Spirit is to speak of a leading of the Spirit that is unrelated to or divorced from Scripture. This is equivalent to the alleged "witness" of the Spirit and must be construed as something apart from Scripture since it is stated to be "non-exegetical."

The more serious implications of this statement appear in the application which follows: The "Formulation" proceeds to say: "The position which the church at large has taken is that, while the prophetic gift has ceased, and no further additions to the credendum of the Church are to be expected, the Spirit of Christ still works among Christians as the Architect of the Church, superintending its practical decisions; and that where wisdom is sought from God in decisions which touch on the vital issue of His kingdom, that wisdom, with the assurance that it is His wisdom and not our own, will be given" (p. 33). The clear import is that "wisdom" respecting decisions which bear upon the building up of the church and upon the vital issues of God's kingdom is to be derived from a source other than Holy Scripture. This follows from the premise that this wisdom belongs to the category of "'non-exegetical' leading of the Holy Spirit."

The Committee reprobates this position. It believes that if Peniel does not accept this position it was under obligation to express in the strongest terms its rejection. For scarcely any statement could more effectively enunciate the abandonment of the confession that "the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture."

Furthermore, with reference to this alleged "non-exegetical" leading of the Spirit and the "wisdom" to be sought from and granted by God, it is true that there is the illumination and quickening of the Holy Spirit by which believers as individuals and in their collective capacity as members of the body of Christ are imbued with understanding, discernment, and discrimination in virtue of which they address themselves with wisdom to the practical and vital issues of God's kingdom. And believers are also imbued with readiness to comply with the will of God which this understanding enables them to perceive. But there are two observations respecting this subject. First, the nineteenth century had no monopoly on this emphasis nor could it be said to have shown distinctive advancement in the enunciation of it. Secondly, to speak of the leading of the Spirit which pertains to this subject as "non-exegetical" is, to say the least, misleading. The understanding or wisdom referred to may never be conceived of as operative apart from Scripture as the deposit of God's revealed will, and is principally the enlightenment directed to Scripture so that believers individually and corporately may be able to interpret aright the mind and will of God as revealed in Scripture and apply the same to practical and vital issues as they emerge. This understanding is also brought to bear upon the data derived from the light of nature and the works of creation and providence. But, in either case, whether the understanding or wisdom has respect to God's general providence or to the principal source of our knowledge of God's will, namely, Scripture, to speak of it as "non-exegetical" is an erroneous analysis prejudicial to the nature of the Spirit's operations in the body of Christ and to the place which Scripture occupies in the faith and life of the church. For even when the light of nature and general providence are being considered, these must always be interpreted in the light of the special revelation provided for us in Scripture alone. Christian prudence, even in the ordinary affairs of life, is prudence derives from and dictated by the Christian revelation and in its possession and exercise may not be spoken of as "non-exegetical."

It is the judgment of charity to believe that representatives of the Peniel Bible Conference were unaware of the implications of these statements which are apparently endorsed but, in any case, not condemned and that these same representatives of Peniel will, on more mature reflection, recoil from these implications. But the Committee is constrained to infer that the Peniel Bible Conference is led into the endorsement of such positions by an unbiblical view of the "witness" of the Spirit and that a formulation such as is now being criticized is the logical result of the doctrine maintained respecting the "witness" of the Spirit.

The Committee hopes that the erroneous formulation dealt with in this part of its report will be repudiated by the Peniel Bible Conference. It is encouraged in this hope by the concluding paragraph in the "Formulation": "In the meantime, Peniel is open to further enlightenment on this very complex doctrinal question, and is convinced that the peace and unity of the Church need not be disturbed while the issue is under study" (p. 37). But the Committee also wishes to stress the gravity involved in a position which propounds a source of supernatural revelation respecting the affairs of conduct and the vital issues of God's kingdom other than that provided for us in Holy Scripture.

The Peniel Doctrine of Sanctification

In its doctrine of sanctification the Peniel Bible Conference stresses that the full provision for the believer's sanctification has already been made by Christ. Being united with Christ, the believer is a partaker of his benefits and has entered into fellowship with him. Whatever responses the believer makes do not contribute to his salvation but are simply an outworking or a realization of that which has in principle already been accomplished for him by Jesus Christ. Peniel also says that in his conversion, all of the responses expected of the believer have in principle been taken (Communication, pp. 13, 14). Peniel is concerned, however, that the church, in recognizing what has been accomplished for it objectively by Christ, should not forget the believer's own involvement in the process of sanctification. The Christian must be aware of the meaning of the fact that he has died and that he is risen with Christ (Communication, p. 14). Though he is delivered from the dominion of Satan, he is not yet perfect, being yet subject to temptation and sin (Communication, pp. 7f., 17). The people of God should be aware of the continual harassments of Satan, they should resist his temptations, and they should seek to experience in a living way within themselves the communion of the Holy Spirit. Where such communion is minimized, Peniel says, there will be increasing formalism and deadness in the church. With the denial of the work of the Spirit comes the denial of the Spirit himself and subsequently of the work and the persons of the Son and of the Father. Its emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit are in themselves commendable.

The interest of the Peniel Bible Conference in the sanctification of the believer and its emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit are in themselves commendable. Furthermore, there is little criticism to be offered to some of Peniel's most recent statements on sanctification. At least certain members of the Conference avowedly desire to develop what they believe is a Reformed, scriptural approach, desiring to avoid Arminianism, Perfectionism, and the extremes of Enthusiasm (cf., Studies, pp. 29f., 44f.).

The Peniel Bible Conference itself, however, lays great stress on the program and method it has developed to implement its ministry to the church (cf., Communication, pp. 12, 14). Though the Committee would not say that Peniel desires a method that is rigid as to all of its details, it is clear that the Conference has indeed developed a method, especially of counseling, and that this method is given a large place in its program. The background of this method appears in the Communication, where it states that a little realized truth is that the redemptive pattern or plan of salvation "... also provides an accurate guide to the progressive responses of faith" (Communication, p. 13).

On this background the Conference speaks of certain steps that they encourage the believer to take, as contributing to his sanctification: 1) knowing the old man; 2) meeting the cross; 3) resisting Satan; and 4) enjoying the communion and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

It is to be understood that the Committee does not criticize Peniel for encouraging experimental religion, the believer's active appropriation of the benefits which are his by virtue of his union with Christ. In the opinion of the Committee, however, there is reason to object to the particular fashion in which Peniel says that this appropriation should be made.

It is further to be understood that the Committee does not believe that the use or even the emphasis on a particular method by an individual or a group is in itself bad. It is of the utmost importance, however, how this method is conceived and what is expected of it. In the judgment of the Committee there is evidence that the Peniel Bible Conference so conceives its method that many of the errors it is avowedly eager to avoid are again introduced, and that these errors characterize its practices in the present as well as the past.

Although the Committee believes that Peniel's specific conception pervades its entire method, attention can best be focused on certain areas where it clearly comes to expression.

The particular conception that Peniel has of method comes out strongly in its practice of "meeting the cross" or "choosing the cross" (Communication, p. 14). In some of Peniel's descriptions of the meaning of this practice, there is little or nothing out of place. It is certainly true, as Peniel claims, that the believer should have an increasing awareness of the significance of his death and resurrection with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it may also be said that what is implanted in the believer at the time of his regeneration is the seed of the gospel in its fullest and richest sense, and that his responses are an outworking of that which is already present in him.

When one turns from certain explanations of the meaning of this practice to the practice itself in its actual expression, however, it becomes clear that Peniel does more than say that the believer should become increasingly aware of the meaning of his union with Christ. There is good reason to believe that Peniel thinks of meeting the cross as a distinct experience, or act of will that can be taken by the believer, generally under the direction of a counselor, an act from which certain results are expected to flow if it is really consummated.

That this is the case is shown from testimony concerning the counseling procedure used by certain adherents of the Peniel Bible Conference at Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Church [GA (1958), 70-71, 73]. In the interests of resolving a problem of a lack of fellowship with her Peniel friends, a member of Redeemer church "met the cross" under the guidance of her pastor. This did not seem to remedy the situation, and she was informed that she should meet the cross again, this time finally. Such a procedure implies that from meeting the cross a definite result is expected, viz., a certain definite sin, a certain designated sin, is to be overcome, and the absence of this expected result demands that the practice be repeated.

"Meeting the cross" as practiced by Peniel goes far beyond a growing awareness of the meaning of one's union with Christ and a growing expression of this union in his life. It is linked to a specific performance, to a particular act, and is referred to as the fundamental crisis experience of the Christian life [GA (1958), 75]. Following upon this fundamental crisis experience, the act of meeting the cross should be performed again and again, so that the self will be kept on the cross and the power of sin in specific areas of the believer's life will remain broken.

In the opinion of the Committee such a position does justice neither to the unity and complexity of the believer's life of faith in his wrestling with sin nor to the more organic aspects of the process of sanctification.

Similar observations can be made with reference to the practice of resisting or binding Satan. Here again, the Committee has little or no objection to certain of Peniel's general descriptions of the meaning of this practice. The Christian should seek by every legitimate means to know and to oppose the wiles of the devil. But again, especially in the practice of binding Satan, Peniel goes much further than to say that the believer should resist Satan and his enticements to sin.

Here again a definite act is performed, from which a definite result is expected. By a human act—though professedly on the foundation of the work of Christ—the power of Satan over a certain area of one's own or another's life is curtailed, thus freeing the way for the blessing and leading of the Holy Spirit [cf., GA (1959), 75].

As a practice, binding Satan involves, therefore, the idea that the blessing and leading of the Holy Spirit depend upon a definite step that the believer takes or upon a particular practice in which he engages. There are Christians in whom Satan has been bound, there are other Christians who as such are not altogether under the dominion of Satan but in whom he is not bound with reference to certain specific traits of their "old man."

As practiced by Peniel, binding Satan presupposes unduly that one can specify certain respects in which the believer's life is still under the control of Satan. The method involves specifying certain traits of the believer's life with reference to which Satan has not yet been bound, meeting the cross with respect to these traits, and binding Satan with respect to them. According to the testimony of certain witnesses, the ability to specify thus is given by the Holy Spirit [GA (1958), 72f., 79; cf., GA (1959), 74], as well as the ability to know whether Satan has really been bound with reference to them. Such specification fits in with Peniel's conception of its method.

It appears to have been a practice of Peniel to regard the presence of a particular person who is a member in good standing of a Christian church as inhibiting the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Such discrimination is meaningless if there is not a sharp distinction between him and the group of spiritual Christians, so-called, who have bound Satan and who are open therefore to the blessing and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Making such a distinction, however, opens Peniel to a flood of errors. It is not free from perfectionism, since a select group is thought to be free of evil influences, as least insofar as to satisfy the condition for enjoying the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Such a practice formalizes the relation of the believer to the Holy Spirit, as though the work of the Holy Spirit were dependent upon the will of man, even though it be said that these acts are performed by the prompting of the Holy Spirit himself.

It should be observed, however, that even though it was judged that Peniel had not met this issue in its report to the last General Assembly [cf., GA (1960), 105], and though Peniel has never disavowed this practice, it is the case, according to the testimony of a leader of the Peniel Bible Conference, that binding Satan was not practiced at the Conference last summer and that the abandonment of the practice is being seriously considered by the prayer council.

The same pattern of error emerges also with reference to Peniel's doctrine of the place and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. In Peniel's program the communion of the Holy Spirit has a predominant place. The Committee does not see anything inordinate in such an emphasis upon the Holy Spirit. John Calvin has been called the theologian of the Holy Spirit. It would be anomalous for any Calvinist to resist a strong emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church. Nevertheless, the Committee believes that Peniel so conceives the work of the Holy Spirit, particularly with reference to its method, that objections must be made to it at this point also.

As we have already mentioned, Peniel says that at the time of conversion one enters into fellowship with God. He becomes a partaker of the full benefits of the salvation wrought by Christ. But, consistent with its emphasis upon the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, Peniel also emphasizes the necessity of a continuing fellowship with him.

The place that Peniel gives to the Spirit is shown by the following quotation, presenting the view of biblical anthropology of a Peniel adherent. At the creation of man God gave Adam not only his physical life but also the Spirit, "... and Adam became a Spirit-filled man ... who walked with and had fellowship with God. When man sinned, he forfeited that fellowship of the Spirit.... It remains, therefore, one of the great objects of redemption to restore man in an even fuller measure to this pristine blessing of the indwelling Spirit of God" (Studies, p. 81).

From Peniel's writings it is clear that this restored communion with the Spirit is thought of in terms of the leading or the guidance of the Spirit. In the Studies, immediately following the above quotation, there is a description of the results in the life "... thus fully related to the control of the Spirit of God" (Studies, p. 81). Elsewhere in the same study the terms "communion of the Holy Spirit" and "guidance of the Spirit" are used in very close connection with each other, and are nearly interchangeable (Studies, p. 73).

On the background of this interpretation of the communion of the Holy Spirit, it is not surprising that Peniel can speak in the strongest terms about the importance of guidance for the fellowship of the believer with the Holy Spirit, "... to deny the possibility of guidance in the will of God in such decisions is to deny all reality to the Christian's communion and fellowship with the indwelling Holy Spirit" (Studies, pp. iv-v).

Thus, while Peniel says, on the one hand, that our communion with Christ makes us responsive to the leading of the Spirit, it also says, on the other hand, that this leading of the Spirit, as conceived by Peniel, is a criterion of the depth of fellowship that the believer enjoys with Christ.

It is clear, therefore, that guidance, as conceived by Peniel, is set up as a criterion of the believer's communion and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. If such a close connection is found between the idea of the guidance of the Spirit and sanctification, any error with reference to the former would certainly affect the latter. Even apart from the merits or demerits of Peniel's view of guidance, however, the Committee believes that Peniel's view again lays an undue weight on its particular method, with a corresponding restriction of the biblical view of the communion and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, considering the emphasis given by Peniel to the Holy Spirit, we should expect that its view of guidance would also pervasively influence the other steps of its method. Indeed, that is the case. According to Peniel it is the Spirit who aids one to specify, or who himself specifies, the exact areas which are yes under the dominion of the "old man." It is the Spirit who gives the believers who are open to his guidance an insight into the specific character of the spiritual problems of another. It is the Spirit who aids them to determine whether one has really met the cross with respect to these sins. Judging from the testimony of several persons who have been associated with Peniel, it is participation in Peniel's specific program with respect to counseling and guidance that opens one to fellowship with the adherents of Peniel and which is also supposed to be the key to his deeper fellowship with God [GA (1958), 77, 81]. It would appear that it is participation in the method of sanctification as Peniel conceives it that raises one from the level of the "ordinary, carnal Christian" (Studies, p. 8) to the level of the Spiritual Christian [cf., GA (1958), 81].

In the Scriptures, to be sure, the distinction is made between the carnal mind and the spiritual mind. There are also scriptural admonitions not to walk as those who are carnal but as spiritual, filled with the Spirit of God. But if such biblical exhortations are linked with an unscriptural method, the result will be not to build the believer up in the faith but to plunge him into serious delusions about the progress of his own sanctification, to set him in a class apart, to make him censorious towards others, and to lead him to bind others also in a scheme of sanctification that will injure rather than aid them on the way to a closer walk with God.

The Committee is aware that Peniel is eager to avoid these errors [cf., Communication, p. 15; GA (1958), 81, 82]. Further, the Committee does not wish to attack personally the piety of any adherent or adherents of the Peniel Bible Conference. The Committee only wishes to point out that insofar as Peniel has brought its teaching with respect to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit into connection with its particular method, the cause of true holiness is not so much advanced as hindered. Without denying that Peniel has done many things of value in its ministry, it is still the judgment of the Committee that the application of Peniel's method has been disruptive, that the method itself has become a shibboleth in terms of which believers are gauged as to their spirituality, and that for this method exaggerated claims have been made as to the specific insights and results it is supposed to attain.


The Committee has adopted the following conclusions and respectfully submits them to the Assembly:

1. That the "Formulation of Doctrine of Guidance" in the Communication of the Peniel Bible Conference to the 27th General Assembly is erroneous in those respects specified as such in the report of the Committee, that these views constitute a deviation from the doctrine set forth in the Word of God and our subordinate standards, and that members of the Peniel Bible Conference who are office bearers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are obliged in terms of this office to disavow such erroneous views.

2. While the Committee is not prepared to specify distinct respects in which the Peniel doctrine of sanctification as expressed in the Communication of the Peniel Bible Conference to the 27th General Assembly is out of accord with the standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; nevertheless, as indicated in the report of the Committee, the particular conception of method entertained by Peniel, especially with regard to counseling, introduces unwarranted restrictions in connection with the process of sanctification and involves unwholesome tendencies as specified in the report.

A Study of Errors Alleged by Peniel in the Report of the Committee to Study the Doctrines and Practices of Peniel

I. With reference to the allegation of the Committee (p. 70, I, A) that "the leaders of the Peniel Bible Conference have developed a teaching and a method," it should be understood that the Committee did not intend to criticize "an orderly, intelligent, methodical presentation of the truth" (Document IV, p. 38). Nor is it apparent that the Committee intended at this point to charge the leaders of Peniel with error simply because a particular method had been developed. Hence the reply of Peniel scarcely meets the allegation of the Committee. The question at issue is not the mere fact of "method" but the propriety or adequacy of the particular method employed. The answer to this question does not fall within the interest of that part of the report of the present Committee which is concerned only with "a study of those errors which the Peniel Bible Conference alleges are found in the Report of the Committee" submitted to the Twenty-sixth General Assembly.

II. Peniel criticizes the statement of the Committee to the effect that "'the outward and ordinary' means of grace for the sanctification of the believer are 'his ordinances, especially the Word, Sacraments, and prayer' unconditioned and unrestricted" (p. 72, I, C). This criticism on the part of Peniel (Document IV, pp. 38f.) is warranted in the following respects.

1. The Shorter Catechism at the point in question is not dealing with the subject of sanctification. It is dealing with "the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption" (Q. 88). The Peniel statement is concerned with "holiness" or sanctification. It is not valid to take what the Catechism says on another question, namely, the outward means of grace, and apply it to the subject of holiness which is concerned with subjective transformation and into which other factors must of necessity enter.

2. The use of the terms "unconditioned and unrestricted" is out of place in connection with sanctification. In the matter of sanctification there are conditions which must be present in the use of the means of grace, and Peniel is justified in instancing some of these conditions, those instanced being of central significance for holiness and the progress of sanctification.

3. Peniel was justified in referring to "the means of grace" in its statement regarding holiness and it properly instanced some conditions of the effectual use of these means without impinging upon the statement of the Catechism respecting "the outward means." The criticism of the Committee directed against "this subjective emphasis in the use of the means of grace" (p. 72, I, C) is not well-grounded and is scarcely compatible with the position taken by the Committee itself in the first part of the same paragraph: "The Scriptures, it must be recognized, teach the necessity of appropriating personally our death to sin through Christ's death for our sin and by virtue of our union with Christ by faith" (idem).

The central import of the Committee's report on Peniel's view of sanctification was that it restricted the effectiveness of the use of the means of grace to a particular method. As stated in the Committee's report, "According to the Peniel doctrine, the effectiveness of the means of grace for the sanctification of the believer is conditioned by and restricted to 'an experiential acquiescence to the crucifixion of the self life with the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, an appropriation of the resurrection life of Christ, and a daily reckoning of self to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.'" The Committee was justified in drawing attention to the restricted character and, therefore, inadequacy of the conditions laid down by Peniel for the effective use of the means of grace. Peniel itself has acknowledged that the language it uses is "admittedly ambiguous" (Document IV, p. 38). It is the judgment of the Committee that Peniel's allegations of error have not established that the previous Committee was in error in the basic thrust of its report on sanctification.

III. Peniel characterizes as strange the statement of the Committee as follows: "Our standards affirm the complete sufficiency of the Word by the Spirit for the sanctification of the believer" [p. 73, I, C (paragraph 2)]. The Committee was rightly jealous to guard the sufficiency of Scripture. But since the subject in hand is sanctification and since various other factors enter into sanctification, it is not apparent how the definition in question could properly be charged with not sufficiently guarding the sufficiency of Scripture. The statement quoted above, which Peniel regards as strange, is one that involves some confusion or, as least, some infelicity of expression. For the matter being debated is not the sufficiency of Scripture but what factors are operative in sanctification.

IV. Though not openly charging the Committee with error yet, by implication, Peniel accuses the Committee of an erroneous use of evidence when it says with reference to page 73, 1, D (1st paragraph) "we protest any conclusions based primarily" on the "testimony given by persons who formerly were, or claimed to be, adherents of the Conference" (Document IV, p. 40). With respect to this protest the following observations are in order.

1. The Committee appealed for its evidence to "the literature of the Peniel Bible Conference and reliable testimony of those associated with the Peniel Bible Conference" (p. 73, I, D). Even if the "reliable testimony" were exclusively that of former adherents, this was not the exclusive source of the Committee's conclusions.

2. The testimony of former adherents could not be dismissed as without relevance in the way the communication implies.

3. Peniel does not answer the Committee's criticisms offered on pp. 75f. But since treatment of this belongs to the other part of our report it is not included at this point.

V. Regarding p. 76, 1, D, 3, concerned with the question of "Resisting the Devil," Appendix A (Communication, pp. 15-20), insofar as the Committee may be drawing attention to an exaggerated emphasis upon such address there may be ground for criticism of Peniel practices. But the position of the Committee appears to be more than this. And if the Committee had in mind merely exaggerated emphasis, its statement should have made this clear. As is, the Committee can be interpreted as denying the propriety of direct address and this is not warranted. Our Lord's temptation in the wilderness was indeed unique in its significance for our redemption. But to maintain that we may not follow his example in address to Satan in the temptations we encounter in our own sphere is virtually to deny the relevance of his example. If we are to resist the devil, this implies that we are aware of his assaults, that his assaults are focused in our consciousness as a reality, and what can be a more appropriate and divinely certified mode of resistance than the sword of the Spirit?

VI. On the "guidance Doctrine" Peniel expresses its dismay "at what seems to be the pervading tone of this material" in the report of the Committee (pp. 78f.). It must be admitted that this part of the Committee's report is not characterized by clarity of expression or formulation. On the other hand, the 1957 Statement of the Peniel Bible Conference is itself a baffling document as far as the crucial paragraphs, namely 2 and 3, are concerned, and one cannot but express sympathy with the indictment that "the reader of the 1957 Statement is left in utter bewilderment whether a particular predication is supposed to be applied to one type of guidance or the other and can only conclude that the distinction between the two has suffered complete eclipse in the thought of the authors of the Statement" (p. 79). In reference to that which belongs to this part of our report the following remarks are relevant.

1. There does appear to be ground for Peniel's accusation (Document IV, p. 43) that there is an uncritical shift in terminology in the report of the Committee. The report itself acknowledges that there is a "form of guidance" in what it defines as providence (p. 78, parag. "This work of providential guidance") and then accuses Peniel of mixing the guidance of providence in its nondescript picture of guidance. The report itself uses the word guidance in two distinct senses—the one of providence, the other of moral imperatives revealed in Scripture. May not Peniel bring these two together in what is called a nondescript picture (Statement, parag. 2) without confusing the decretive and preceptive will of God?

2. The report (p. 79) severely criticizes G. T. Sloyer's statement but this criticism involves a false inference and therefore unfair and bad reasoning. Surely if we trust God and obey his revealed will, as Sloyer enjoins, God will make even the circumstances of his providence to contribute to the realization not simply of his decretive will but also the will that is consonant with his revealed will. The reply of Peniel (Communication, pp. 43f.) is a propos.

VII. Regarding Adiaphora, the appeal to Romans 14 in Document IV as the basis for the terminology "things indifferent" in Peniel's Statement is scarcely germane. The Bible nowhere speaks of "things indifferent." Perhaps the closest thing to it is Paul's declaration that "all things are lawful" (I Cor. 10:23; cf. 6:12). To similar effect are Paul's statements in Rom. 14:14, 20. In this sense of "lawful things" the terminology "things indifferent" has indeed been employed by Reformed writers. But it is a loose usage; for there is an important distinction between the concepts lawful and indifferent. The distinction may be brought out by the observation that we can meaningfully speak of one lawful thing or act but there must be at least two lawful things in view before we can meaningfully introduce the adiaphora idea. And the reason the adiaphora principle emerges only in the context of a plurality of lawful things or acts is that the making of a choice is essential to the adiaphora idea. Even where it is the choice between the legitimate use or the non-use of one object, e.g., a particular piece of meat, there is a choice between two things, i.e., using or not using, and strictly and concretely speaking, it is the choice not the object that is indifferent. The interests of clarity and accuracy would, therefore, be served if theologians would use the word "lawful" for objects and actions but reserve the term "adiaphora" for indifferent choices made among lawful objects and actions.

It is further to be observed that Document IV does not accurately represent the Report. It suggests that the Report condemns as "a meaningless abstraction" every instance of the use of the terminology "things indifferent in themselves," no matter what the context. That is not the case. The one place in the Report where the words "abstraction" and "meaningless" are brought into proximity is the following: "The realm of Adiaphora in the Peniel construction is a pure abstraction and a confession of belief in it is meaningless" (p. 82). The subject of predication here is not the mere employment of the terminology "things indifferent in themselves," without respect to context. The subject here is rather the significance of that terminology as used by Peniel; that is, the statement of the Report which is alluded to is directed against the Peniel version of the adiaphora doctrine as such.

Moreover, the charge made in the Report is accurate. For Peniel does not err merely to the extent of following others in a loose and abstract use of the terminology "things indifferent." Rather, as the Report observed, the realm of Adiaphora is in the teaching of Peniel reduced to the realm of so-called things indifferent. Inasmuch as the element of selection or choice on the part of a moral agent is the sine qua non of the adiaphora concept, to isolate certain things from such choosing and then to equate the adiaphora concept with these isolated things is surely an abstraction and indeed an abstraction which has robbed the term adiaphora of its meaning. In the case of the Reformed writers who use the language "things indifferent" the usage is in its context meaningful even if loose and abstract. For as used by them it means that the things so designated might be the objects of an indifferent choice. But that is precisely what Peniel is reluctant to admit and consequently Peniel's use of the terminology "things indifferent" is not merely an abstraction but a meaningless abstraction as the Report indicated.

Respectfully submitted,
Robert L. Atwell
Chairman of the Committee

Report of the Minority

A. Cf. Majority Report I and II. [Doc. IV, pp. 38, 39 re. G.A. (1959), pp. 70, I, A-72, I, C]. The criticisms made by Peniel in this section are gratuitous since the position which Peniel criticizes is not the position of the Report. As is clear even from the quotations of the Report cited in Peniel's own criticisms (p. 39) the Report heartily agrees that a fruitful use of the means of grace involves a proper receptivity on the part of the believer.

In diverting attention to this false issue Peniel has evaded and so failed to answer the real charge which was made in the section of the Report in question. The Report's contention is that the procedure which characterizes Peniel's devotional activity, while it cannot be equated with the scriptural prescriptions for the proper use of the means of grace, is nevertheless treated in Peniel practice as indispensable for an effective program of sanctification. Agreeably, the Report charges Peniel with an unwarranted restriction of the means of grace. Indeed, the contention of the Report is in effect that this Peniel procedure, even if somewhat flexible, is nevertheless of such a formal character that it virtually amounts to an extension of the divinely appointed means of grace. We believe that a fair study of the Report, interpreting it according to context, will show that the intent of the language "unconditioned and unrestricted" was to repudiate such humanly devised additions to, and in that sense restrictions of, the means of grace appointed by God. The question at issue is not the mere fact that Peniel has a peculiar method associated with its use of the means of grace, nor is the question so much one of the inadequacy or the propriety of that method, but rather of the pretensions of that method as practiced by Peniel.

The fact that the Report denoted the Peniel procedure as "a certain subjective experience [or "emphasis"] in the use of the means of grace" has been misinterpreted by Peniel as further evidence of the Report's alleged rejection of the truth that there must be a personal appropriation by the believer of the benefits of salvation. Once again a careful study of the Report should show that that was not the Report's intent. Its use of the word "subjective" simply reflects the fact that the formal Peniel method to which objection was being taken is largely subjective. It must be granted that the Report's use of the word "emphasis" in this connection is confusing. In its next paragraph, where the Report does deal with the matter of the relative amount of attention that ought to be given in the formulation of the doctrine of sanctification to the human part in that process as over against the divine part, the Report again uses the word "emphasis." However, the fact that that paragraph introduces the subject of the believer's subjective role in sanctification as "A further difference between the Peniel Statement on sanctification and the statement of the Confession" (italics ours) indicates that the expression "subjective emphasis" in the preceding paragraph refers, however infelicitously, to something other than the believer's subjective receptivity.

In the Majority Study of this question, adequate account is not taken of the fact that the Peniel Statement which was being criticized by the Report had itself already introduced the subject of the means of grace. Hence, the Report was entirely justified in evaluating the Peniel view of the relation of the means of grace to sanctification in terms of the Shorter Catechism's teaching concerning the means of grace.

B. Cf. Majority Report III. [Doc. IV, p. 40 re. G.A. (1959), p. 73, I, C, paragraph 2]. Admittedly the language of the paragraph under consideration is ambiguous; but if it be borne in mind that the Report was criticizing Peniel for the presumption of adding to the means of grace, it will not appear so strange that the Report calls special attention to the despite done to the role of Scripture by such an addition. Moreover, the very fact that the Report thus relates its criticisms of Peniel's method to the issue of the Scriptures' adequacy as a means of grace is itself a significant indication that the thrust of the Report's criticism was as interpreted above; namely, that Peniel's method presumes to serve as an appendage to the means of grace.

C. Cf. Majority Report IV. [Doc. IV, p. 40 re. G.A. (1959), p. 73, I, D, 1st paragraph; cf. p. 41 re. G.A., p. 74, I, D, I, middle of page]. The protest registered by Peniel against the use of what might well be the most pertinent of evidence for judging the nature of a particular Peniel teaching or practice, i.e., the testimony of former adherents of the Conference, cannot be seriously entertained. The protest serves, however, to point up the great gulf that exists in Peniel's esteem between the Conference faithful and those who demur to identification with the Conference. This attitude has without doubt been an important factor in the tendency of divisive Peniel enclaves to develop in the life of the local churches, as was observed in the section of the Report on "The Peniel Bible Conference and the Church" (G.A., p. 86).

D. Cf. Majority Report V. [Doc. IV, p. 41 re. G.A. (1959), p. 76, I, D, 3]. The Report is at this point justifiably cautious. The Committee which prepared it was persuaded that there was an excessive emphasis on direct address to Satan in Peniel religious exercises. That is all the Report chose to say and it said that very clearly: "In this connection, the Committee would note, however, that according to reliable descriptions of certain private gatherings of certain Peniel adherents for prayer, considerable attention has frequently been given to the direct address of Satan. The Committee judges such an emphasis to be without biblical warrant and indeed to be a dangerous distortion of true Christian piety" (italics ours). Whether there is warrant for believers' ever addressing Satan directly is a matter enveloped in some mystery. The Report's silence on that point is, therefore, not merely understandable but commendable.

The Majority Study in dealing with this point concludes that one virtually denies the relevance of Christ's example if one does not allow that Christians may address Satan as did the Lord in his temptation in the wilderness. But it is certain that such a conclusion is warranted? The temptation of our Lord was not only redemptively unique; it was unique in that it was the temptation of one who was omniscient. And that is of immediate relevance to the question at issue. For while the Christian is not able to determine whether he is to construe a particular temptation as an encounter with Satan directly and personally nor does the Christian possess absolute certainty that the finite spirit, Satan, will be cognizant of the words addressed to him in a particular instance—such is the mystery surrounding the relationship of angelic spirits to mortal men—our Lord was not limited by ignorance of this dark area. Moreover, in the wilderness temptation of Jesus the kind of difficulty we have mentioned was obviated by the special, extraordinary self-manifestation of the Tempter.

E. Cf. Majority Report VI, 1. [Doc. IV, p. 43 re. G.A. (1959), p. 79, II, A]. Peniel charges that, by an uncritical shift in terminology, "decretive will" and "guidance of providence" become almost synonymous terms in the Report. This charge is unfounded. The Report plainly states the relationship of these two things in the following sentence. "By the guidance of providence is meant that the people of God are brought by Him to their appointed destiny, all things working together for their good, as one aspect of God's execution in history of His eternal decrees" (p. 78). The guidance of providence and the decretive will of God are not equated in the sentence quoted by Peniel from G.A., p. 79, paragraph 4. In interpreting this sentence it should be borne in mind that Peniel's failure to distinguish between the decretive will of God and the preceptive will of God is logically of a piece with their failure to distinguish between the guidance of providence and the guidance of precept. Their failure at both these points emerged again in the 1959 Studies and that observation is all that can fairly be gathered from the quoted sentence: "This same characteristic obscuration of the distinction between the decretive and preceptive will of God, between the guidance of providence and the guidance of precept, is evidenced in the 1959 Studies."

The Majority Study in its comment on this matter would defend the Peniel Statement against the charge of confusion between the decretive and preceptive will of God on the oblique ground that since the Committee Report uses the word "guidance" in two senses, Peniel might in all innocence bring the two senses together in a composite picture of guidance. The relevant facts are, however, that the Report is obviously aware that it is dealing with two kinds of guidance, defines the two kinds, and constantly distinguishes between the two; while the Peniel Statement nowhere distinguishes between the two varieties of guidance or gives evidence of recognizing such a distinction. This last fact the Majority Study itself acknowledges when it expresses its sympathy with the Report's judgment that "the distinction between the two has suffered complete eclipse in the thought of the authors of the Statement." It should not be forgotten, moreover, that the Statement was Peniel's response to the Church at a time when criticism had already been expressed of Peniel on this very matter. The Church was earnestly concerned to have clarification of Peniel's position with respect to these precise distinctions and all Peniel offered was the Statement's bewilderingly vague formulation in which the vital distinctions are completely ignored.

F. Cf. Majority Report VI, 2. [Doc. IV, pp. 43, 44 re. G.A. (1959), p. 79]. A most natural interpretation of the tract on marriage in the 1959 Studies is that given in the Report. If, however, the phrase "bring it to pass" found in that tract refers to God's preceptive will (as Doc. IV says it does) rather than to God's decretive will (as the Report interpreted it), then this tract does not afford evidence of the characteristic Peniel confusion between the decretive and preceptive will of God. To concede this, it should be noted, does not affect in the slightest the validity of the Report's appeal to this same tract in illustration of Peniel's abandonment of the adiaphora principle (cf. Report, pp. 81, 82). Attention may be called, incidentally, to certain unsatisfactory features in the comments of Doc. IV at this point (p. 44). For one thing the Document errs in appealing without qualification to the sanctions of the theocratic covenant of Deuteronomy as evidence of the principles governing the lives of individual believers. And for another, the Document betrays a most strange prejudice when it manages to identify the concept of Christian Liberty advocated in the Report as a sort of "fatalism"!

G. Cf. Majority Report VII. [Doc. IV, p. 45 re. G.A. (1959), pp. 80-82]. The undersigned concur with the minority report on this subject and would in addition simply draw attention to the fact that Peniel in Document IV (p. 44) emphatically reaffirms the unscriptural view of adiaphora criticized by both the Report and the present Committee.

Meredith G. Kline
Robert D. Knudsen

(While signing this report as a whole, Dr. Knudsen has no opinion on the particular points discussed in sections E and F.)

Action by the Twenty-eighth (1961) General Assembly concerning the Report

On motion the General Assembly declared that the “Formulation of the Doctrine of Guidance” in the Communication of the Peniel Bible Conference to the Twenty-seventh General Assembly is erroneous, as specified in the report of the Committee, in teaching that in every decision of life the Christian may look for a sense of assurance akin to the witness of the Holy Spirit to his sonship, in teaching that a witness of the Spirit is the decisive index constraining assurance respecting the proper course of action in daily life, and in teaching a non-exegetical conscious leading of the Holy Spirit, which views constitute a deviation from the doctrine set forth in the Word of God and our subordinate standards.


+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church