Circumstances where a Subordinate Standard takes precedence over Scripture.
For some issues, in limited contexts, a Subordinate Standard is seen as more appropriate and authoritative, to the matter at hand, than Scripture.
Many denominations and individuals accept the Holy Scriptures as the source of all doctrine and the supreme rule in all matters of faith and morals. However, they do not all agree on the correct understanding of the Scriptures.
Most denominations have some form of secondary doctrinal standard and will be able to show how its various points of doctrine are derived from, and in accordance with, Scripture. Baptist churches usually subscribe to some standard which precludes infant baptism, and other churches usually have some standard which allows, or mandates, infant baptism. Both sides claim scriptural support for their view.
In a discussion as to whether infant baptism is right or wrong then arguments direct from the Bible would be used. Nothing in a particular Subordinate Standard is, of itself, relevant to that question. However, if a Baptist minister were to preach from the pulpit that babies should be baptised, and if he were to baptise one, that is a different matter. He might seek to justify infant baptism from the Bible in the same way that his Presbyterian and Anglican colleagues do; but that would be beside the point. As minister of a Baptist Church, his duty is to preach, by word and example, the particular understanding of Scripture which has been adopted in his denomination. The point at issue, his suitability for office, can only be decided by reference to the Subordinate Statement of his denomination.
Both believe that the Bible is authoritative but cannot agree on what the Bible teaches.
Questions of ultimate truth cannot be settled by a subordinate standard, but questions of what a particular denomination considers "heresy", or unacceptable, can.
The degree of assent which denominations require to Subordinate Statements varies. The main Presbyterian denominations in Scotland , including the national Church, require some form of assent to the Westminster Confession from ministers and elders (both of whom are ordained) but not directly from all communicant members. Some denominations may be stricter. Some may tolerate dissent. It may be acceptable for a minister to disagree with some things more than others, or to express divergent views in private, or with knowledgeable parishioners, which would not be acceptable addressed to a meeting of teenagers. Each denomination has its own rules and culture.
Has, indeed, the Westminster Confession been accepted as 'The Standard' in the Protestant assemblies, to which the text of scripture must take a subordinate place?
From 1711 until the early 20th century ministers in the Church of Scotland were asked the following question at ordination:
Do you sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith, approven by the General Assemblies of this National Church, and ratified by law, in the year 1690, and frequently confirmed by divers Acts of Parliament since that time, to be the truths of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and do you own the whole doctrine therein contained as the confession of your faith ?
An affirmative response was required.
The Free Church of Scotland still uses a very similar form of this question, though it says approven by the General Assemblies of this Church, rather than the National Church, and has no reference to law or parliament. However, since the early 20th century, the Church of Scotland has used this:
Do you believe the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith contained in the Confession of Faith of this Church?
and there is a preamble, spoken by the Moderator, which seems to give a somewhat qualified endorsement of the WCF
The Church of Scotland acknowledges the Word of God, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments to be the supreme rule of faith and life. It holds as its subordinate standard the Westminster Confession of Faith, recognising liberty of opinion on such points of doctrine as do not enter into the substance of the faith and claiming the right, in dependence on the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, to formulate, interpret or modify its subordinate standards, always in agreement with the Word of God and the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith contained in the said Confession.
There is a considerable degree of wriggle-rom built into this, as it is not clear what exactly are fundamental doctrines constituting the substance of the faith, and what aspects of the WCF are subject to liberty of conscience.
In the 1970s there was an attempt to downgrade the Westminster Confession from Subordinate Standard to Historic Statement with this amendment:
The Church of Scotland acknowledges the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed as Declarations of the Faith of the Universal Church. It is guided by the Scots Confession and the Westminster Confession as historic statements of the Faith of the Reformed Church.
To be approved this had to be passed by three successive annual General Assemblies, and in the two intervening years by two thirds of the Presbyteries, of which there were then 61. It did pass in 1972 and 1973 and was in each case approved by more than two thirds of the presbyteries. However the 1974 General Assembly voted to depart from the matter until an alternative Confession of Faith was available. This left the WCF intact as the subordinate standard of the C of S.
In 1986 General Assembly passed an act dissociating itself from certain aspects of the WCF, including the identification of the Pope as the Antichrist. However they did not alter the Subordinate Standard. The C of S is thus in the unusual position of repudiating aspects of its own Confession.
This year, 2018, an overtury from the Presbytery of Melrose and Peebles was accepted urging the Theological Commission to consider the Westminster Confession in the light of developments of Reformed and ecumenical theology since 1646. They are to report back to the General Assembly in 2020 and it is possible that there might then be an attempt to downgrade the WCF.
Meanwhile, South of the Border, a similar thing happened in the Church of England. The Westminster Confession has no official standing in England, rather the doctrine of the Church is in the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. Here too the ordination promise has been watered down. The preface refers to the C of E as "led by the Holy Spirit has borne witness to Christian Truth in its historic formularies, the 39 Articles. The ordinand must then say:
I do so affirm and declare my belief in the Faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic Creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness,
This is a watering down, adopted in the 1970s, of a much stronger endorsement previously required. Any change in the Church of England's standards of the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer would require an Act of Parliament. Nevertheless they are widely ignored.
In the twentieth century only one C of E minister was sacked for heresy, on the grounds he was an atheist, Actually he denied this, claiming that he did believe in God, and that one of the things he believed about Him was that He did not exist.
To summarise, north or south of the border, there is nothing to suggest that churchmen take their doctrinal standards more seriously than Scripture.