Orthodox Presbyterian Church Endorses Teaching of John O. Kinnaird

July 2003

At its 2003 General Assembly (the highest body in the church), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) reversed the conviction of Elder John O. Kinnaird and declared his teaching on justification to be consistent with Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Elder Kinnaird had been charged with and convicted of teaching a doctrine of justification by faith and works, contrary to the Word of God and the Westminster Standards. His appeal of that conviction to the Presbytery of Philadelphia was denied, and the conviction upheld. The OPC GA overturned the decisions of both local church session and Presbytery.

Here are excerpts from the teaching of Elder Kinnaird that the OPC has officially declared to be acceptable and Biblical:

"The answer to our question, 'Why do people need to be sanctified and glorified?' The answer is that when Adam sinned, he and all descending from him (WCF VI.3) lost the righteousness wherein mankind was created and, thereby, mankind also lost communion with God. If communion with God is to be restored, righteousness of a real and personal nature must be restored."

Comment: According to Kinnaird, it is our "real and personal righteousness" that "restores communion with God," not the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ.

Kinnaird: "God has appointed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness. All persons who have lived upon the earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ to give account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or bad. On That Great Day of Judgement, God's righteous judgement will be revealed. God will then give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good (we Presbyterians call this perseverance) seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be eternal wrath and anger [Romans 2:6-8] and destruction from before the face of the Lord. It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous on that Day of Judgment."

Comment: Note that Kinnaird says the judgment according to works will decide whether one receives eternal life or death. Those who will be "declared righteous," that is justified, and given eternal life will be "those who obey the law." He is not discussing degrees of reward, but salvation and damnation. In fact, he explicitly denies he is discussing degrees of reward:

Kinnaird: "Those who teach that the purpose of the Day of Judgement is not to reveal God's righteousness in his judgements (judgements that will be unto eternal life or death in accord with what men have done on this earth), but rather only to determine types and degrees of rewards to be given to Christians, are in error."

Kinnaird: "These good works are a required condition if we would stand in the Day of Judgment and they are supplied by God to all His people. Every description of the Judgment events speaks of these good works. Without them, no one will see God.... Who are these people who thus benefit--who stand on the Day of Judgment? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous."

Comment: Good works are a "required condition" of salvation. The imputed righteousness of Christ is insufficient. Those who will be "declared righteous," that is, justified, will be "those who obey the law."

Kinnaird: "It is not possible that any could be a brother to Jesus Christ and enjoy with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven, the presence of God the Father except that one be fully conformed to the image of Christ in true and personal righteousness and holiness. Neither the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which all Christians receive at justification, nor the infusion of the righteousness of Christ (a false and non-existent concept taught by the Roman Catholic Church) can suffice for that purpose. Christ does not have an imputed righteousness. His righteousness is real and personal. If we are to be conformed to his image, we too must have a real and personal righteousness."

Comment: Kinnaird asserts that the imputed righteousness of Christ cannot suffice for making us brothers of Christ or allowing us to stand in the presence of God. Kinnaird makes our "real and personal righteousness" sufficient for both those things, adoption and communion with God. Among other things, his language suggests that Christ's imputed righteousness is not "real."

Kinnaird: "Further, it seems to be alleged in certain circles that the Westminster creedal system is a faith-alone system. I judge it to be the very opposite."

Kinnaird: "On the Day of Judgement I will hear God declare me to be righteous. As to the reason for that, it is not because of the works, even though it will be in acord with the works. The reason will be: first, because it [God's declaration that John Kinnaird is righteous] will be true because God will have changed me so that I am really and personally righteous. After all, we will be crowned with righteousness. This is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in my sanctification in this life."

Comment: According to Kinnaird, God's declaration of righteousness is not made because of the imputed righteousness of Christ, but because "God will have changed me so that I am really and personally righteous." Had God not changed Kinnaird, such a declaration of righteousness presumably would not have been true. Kinnaird will be saved by his sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Again, the imputed righteousness of Christ is omitted from Kinnaird's soteriology, for he thinks imputed righteousness is unreal and impersonal.


Ten OPC Elders signed a Protest against the decision of the OPC endorsing the teaching of John Kinnaird. Among other things, the Protest declares:

"The decision of the Assembly to sustain the appeal opens the gate, in the judgment of the undersigned, to the use throughout the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of a hermeneutic that allows interpretations of Scripture that are out of accord with the whole body of the Word."

This writer applauds the Protest, and prays that there will be an overwhelming reaction in the OPC against this decision, and a return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But I would argue that the hermeneutical gate to Antichristian interpretations of Scripture was opened long ago in the OPC. Indeed it is the prevalence of this irrational, dialectical hermeneutic that permitted this decision to be made.

To change the metaphor, the cancer that has long been present in the OPC has now metastasized.

John O. Kinnaird has long been associated with Norman Shepherd and has defended him publicly. The OPC failed to deal with Shepherd properly 20 years ago, and now his protégés and sympathizers apparently control the denomination.

John Robbins
The Trinity Foundation
July 18, 2003

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