This paper was initially prepared as a paper in April 1995 for a church history course at the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Minor revisions were made in March 1998 to incorporate developments prior to the convening of General Synod Fergus in May 1998.
It aims to help come to a greater understanding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by examining its roots and history. It gives special attention to its ecumenical contacts with other Reformed Churches, especially the development in its relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches. May it serve in giving us a greater understanding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and an eye for the Lord’s work in her history.
OPC. Even the less well-read members of the Canadian Reformed Churches will have little difficulty in identifying the letters OPC as an acronym for the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches (OPC). Why such familiarity? The OPC is a federation of about 21,000 members, not much greater than that of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC). Furthermore, it is located in a different country, and virtually none of its local churches are in very close proximity to those of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Moreover, it has its roots in a different tradition, having a Presbyterian rather a Reformed heritage.
To one who has only recently placed his roots in the Canadian Reformed Churches, and hence somewhat ignorant about developments in the North American ecclesiastical scene, the amount of discussion concerning the OPC was a little perplexing. Why all the attention? And so a study on this topic was merited, if only to be informed. A simple historical study of the OPC was to be the initial focus of this paper, but the abundance of existing and comprehensive contributions to OPC history would make such a study redundant, and at best a regurgitation of well-digested materials.1 While a precursory study of OPC history was naturally inevitable, it was decided to focus more specifically on the ecumenical contacts of the OPC, particularly those with Reformed Churches.
A number of self-imposed limitations should be made clear from the outset. Firstly, to remain as objective as possible, an effort was made to restrict ourselves to primary sources as much as possible, and to avoid being dependent on secondary sources. To that end, extensive quotations of Synod and Assembly decisions will be necessary on occasion. Numerous and extensive opinions have been expressed on the subject of the OPC in various articles, but these have been purposely bypassed. Secondly, although the ecumenical dealings of the OPC with all other religious bodies is the subject of discussion, I am particularly concerned with relations between the OPC and the Canadian Reformed Churches, and thus extra attention was devoted to the development of this relationship. Thirdly, it bears reminding that the focus in this paper is strictly historical. I realize full well that relations with the OPC are the subject of extensive controversy, and it is not my endeavour to settle that once and for all. I am primarily concerned with the facts of OPC relations, rather than an evaluation of them.
The approach will then be as follows: I shall commence with a brief overview of OPC history. Attention will then be devoted to presenting a general picture of OPC ecumenical dealings, focussing especially on the relationships that have been particularly influential in this regard. Finally, the historical development of the relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches will be outlined.
The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century also touched England. The churches of England and Scotland were essentially Presbyterian, as was the Parliament which called the Westminster Assembly. The legacy of this Assembly (1643-49) was the standards that would become the basis of Presbyterianism, namely the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, still maintained by the OPC today. Church government was also one of the issues of the day, and particularly significant was the Presbyterian form of government promulgated by the Assembly, which involved tacit rejection of both the Episcopalian and Congregational systems.
When the Scottish, Irish, and English immigrated to America, they brought their Presbyterian faith with them, and thus the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) was formed. The Civil War divided the country, and also the PCUSA, which split along geographical lines. The OPC has its roots in the Northern Presbyterian church, a church which was strong, faithful, and influential during the 19th and early 20th century.
Modernism began its ruthless attack on the church in early 20th century, however, and was largely unchecked. Under the influence of the leaders of Princeton Seminary, amendments were made to the Westminster Confession in 1903 which toned down its Calvinistic character. The appeal of the evangelicals also was ever present, particularly when a proposed Plan of Union involving organic union of the evangelical churches in America was passed by the 1920 General Assembly. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, a Princeton professor, became a chief spokesperson against this plan, and another like it in 1934, and after the death of Dr. Benjamin Warfield, became a leading spokesman for fundamentalists in general.
Heresy, however, which already found an outlet in Charles A. Briggs towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, emerged more openly in a sermon entitled "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" by the Baptist Harry Emerson Fosdick in 1922. It culminated in 1924, when 1274 of approximately 10,000 Presbyterian ministers signed the liberal Auburn Affirmation.2 It opposed the five fundamentals of faith which had been affirmed as "essential and necessary" by the 1910 General Assembly, namely:
Despite an overture, the General Assembly of 1924 took no action regarding the Auburn Affirmation, effectively legitimizing toleration of doctrinal differences.
The struggle between Machen and the liberals was reflected in the conflicts at Princeton. Princeton had long nurtured solid orthodoxy, and even at this time Machen and his fellow fighters against modernism constituted the majority of the faculty.
However, the President of the Board of Directors, Dr. J Ross Stevenson, an evangelical, saw that the 1929 General Assembly undertook a reorganization of Princeton Seminary. Adherents of the Auburn Affirmation were among those on the new Board of Trustees, leading to the resignation of four faculty professors, namely Wilson, Allis, Machen, and Van Til. Together with MacRae, Stonehouse, Woolley, and Kuiper (and later John Murray), they established Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia as an independent institution and testimony to orthodoxy, which opened its doors on September 25, 1929.
The conflict further developed with Machen's opposition to the Foreign Missions Board of the PCUSA. He drew attention to the modernist agenda of this board, particularly by means of an overture in 1933 which he defended by a 110-page pamphlet. His plea to keep the missionary message pure fell on deaf ears at the 1933 General Assembly, however, and thus the outspoken modernism of the Foreign Missions Board was officially confirmed.
In response, Machen and others formed the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions on June 27, 1933. Immediate subsequent action was taken by the 1934 General Assembly, and those associated with the Independent Board were issued with an ultimatum: leave the board or the church.
Machen was brought to trial on December 20, 1934, by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, and was accused of
March 29, 1935 saw him declared guilty and suspended from office, a sentence which was upheld by the General Assembly of 1936. Several others were convicted in a similar manner. The official historian for the OPC, Charles Dennison, comments on this event as follows:
Reformatory movement had already established the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenantal Union on June 27, 1935, along with the regular publication of The Presbyterian Guardian. On June 11, 1936, the Covenant Union was dissolved, and 34 ministers, 17 ruling elders, and 79 laymen signed a statement to constitute the Presbyterian Church of America. The minutes of the 1st General Assembly report that it was to "continue the true spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the USA".6
The new federation struggled in its infancy. Machen's untimely death on January 1, 1937 was a great blow to the church. Moreover, it was denied its initial name after a lawsuit by the PCUSA, and so the name was changed in 1939 to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, as we also know it today. Assets were also extremely limited, since only two congregations retained their buildings after litigation. Dennison describes the situation as follows:
Machen, however put the problem in perspective by saying "How often in these days, when men put church buildings on one side and Christ on the other do they choose the building and let Christ go!"8
The difficulties were exacerbated by a new conflict. The two Presbyterian traditions, the Old School and the New School, had been united in their anti-modernist endeavour, but now an impending conflict between the two loomed. This conflict was foreshadowed by the resignation of MacRae from the Westminster faculty in April 1937 due to hostility against premillennialism. Dissension also raged over the continued independency of the mission board, and the conservative minority, mostly Westminster men, withdrew in May 1937.
The conflict came to a head at the General Assembly in June 1937. Already the OPC was at the crossroads of being evangelical or Reformed. Despite the opposition of the New School by Dr. Carl McIntire, the General Assembly abolished the liberal amendments to the Westminster Confession of 1903 and erected its own Foreign Missions Board, thus championing the Reformed line. McIntire, J. Oliver Buswell, and others favouring the premillenialism and the independency of the mission board advocated by the New School left the OPC to form the Bible Presbyterian Church.
Although the conflict had weakened the numbers of the OPC, the Reformed element triumphed, and strengthened by the departure of the dissenters. The conservative leadership of the Westminster faculty was extremely important in these early years, and the blending of Dutch Reformed and Scottish Presbyterian backgrounds in its ranks proved to be a bulwark for the struggling OPC.9
The 1940s were stormy years, but despite controversy the direction and ties between the Seminary and the church was clarified and cemented. Controversy particularly manifested itself in the Clark case. Dr. Gordon H. Clark was waived the usual requirements of two years theological study by a presbytery on July 7, 1944, but soon was the subject of a lengthy complaint at the 12th General Assembly. A subsequent committee reported to the next General Assembly with respect to the doctrinal aspect of the complaint, and was concerned with
The seriousness of the issue is evident from the 96 pages of reports on the issue appended to the minutes of the 15th General Assembly. The struggle as to which direction the church would take was resolved by the exodus of Clark and others who were unhappy with the present state of affairs and who promoted a more tolerant and broader influence.
Till this point, the alliance between church and seminary had been firm and invaluable. This interconnectedness continued in the 1950s, with the surfacing and resolving of a question concerning guidance by the Spirit outside of Scripture. Here the doctrines and practices of the Peniel Bible Conference were regarded as a deviation from Scripture.
The deaths of Ned B. Stonehouse and Edward J. Young, the return of Murray to Scotland, and the aging of Van Til and Woolley in the 1960s signaled the end of an era and "a changing of the guard....The seminary's nearly exclusive bond with the OPC was a thing of the past."11 Under the influence of the new President Edmund Clowney (1966-82), the seminary sought to cater to a broader constituency of ecclesiastical groups. New campuses were opened in Florida and California, and there was an increased enrollment of non-Reformed students. This broadening of interests was reflected by an increasingly greater representation of non-OPC members in the faculty and Board of the Seminary.
Events of more recent years have confirmed the increasing gulf between the OPC and Westminster Theological Seminary. Norman Shepherd, professor of Systematic Theology and an OPC minister, aroused controversy in 1975 over his formulation of justification and the covenant.
The Presbytery of Philadelphia found little fault with his views, but Shepherd was nonetheless dismissed by the seminary Board of Trustees in November 1981. In an official statement, the board made it clear the reason for dismissal was not an unfavorable judgment of Shepherd's views, but that such action was expedient simply "to distance the seminary from a controversy."12 Even those in the OPC who were critical of Shepherd found the procedure offensive.
The Shepherd case was indicative of larger and growing concerns. Duff attributes the mishandling of the Shepherd case to the deteriorating relationship between Westminster and the OPC, and the triumph of Clowney's vision to make the seminary serve the broader base of American Presbyterianism and American Evangelicalism. Undoubtedly the deterioration of Westminster, which had earlier contributed so significantly to OPC history, impacted negatively on the OPC, leading an OPC committee to declare in 1985 that a major weakness of the denomination was its inability to assure "Reformed training of candidates for the ministry."13
Clowney's outlook for a broad American Presbyterian Church also affected the direction of the OPC, particularly with his involvement as a member of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relationships (CEIR). In 1975 Clowney was instrumental in the effort to negotiate a merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), and again in the 1980s with plans to unite the OPC with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
OPC membership today is around 21,000, with approximately 220 churches and mission works, and about 350 ministers. These are divided into about 12 regional churches, each governed by a presbytery. Membership has suffered a little in recent times by the departure of fairly large groups who were unhappy with the lack of progress in ecumenical relations with other Presbyterian bodies.
The constitution of the OPC consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Form of Government, the Book of Discipline, and the Directory for the Public Worship of God. The doctrinal standards are binding upon office-bearers only.
In addition, various committees are responsible to the General Assembly. The Committee on Foreign Missions is active in mission fields in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Middle East, Philippines/India, Suriname, and Taiwan. The OPC concern for missions has deep roots, since "the origin of the church lies in a controversy concerning foreign missions."14 The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension has 21 home mission congregations under way in 16 states. The Committee on Christian Education conducts several ministries, provides resources, magazines (such as New Horizons), training, and so on. In addition, there is a Committee on Diaconal Ministries, and a Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relationships (CEIR). It is especially the work of this last committee to which attention is now given.
Right from its inception, the OPC was striving not to be isolationist.
The 1st OPC General Assembly received greetings from the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), and an invitation to send a fraternal delegate to their synod. The presiding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church also sent a telegram of greeting. Significantly, the 1st General Assembly also decided "that a committee of three be appointed...to initiate and conduct...correspondence with other churches throughout the world holding the Reformed system."16 Thus the OPC wasted no time in seeking out other Reformed churches immediately.
The result was that the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th General Assemblies saw the presence of visitors from several other Presbyterian churches, as well as visitors from the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The CRC's Sunday school material was also recommended by the 4th General Assembly to the churches for use, and Peterson observes "We saw especially in the Christian Reformed Church a church who shared our loyalty to the Reformed faith."17
At the 8th General Assembly of 1941, a Committee of Nine was elected with the mandate
The Committee of Nine reporting to the 9th General Assembly of 1942 was divided. The majority report submitted the recommendation to work towards "the formation of a federation of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches" and "to study the matter of cooperation with evangelical churches."19 The minority report of Van Til and Thompson feared extensive cooperation with non-Reformed churches, and contended that:
Thus rather than cooperate with the broad base of evangelical churches, the minority report advocated concentrating on the Reformed faith for the present.
Again the OPC found itself faced with a dilemma: should it seek a broader appeal at the expense of toning down its distinctiveness? Again the OPC found itself at the crossroads of evangelicals and Reformed. Again, however, the Reformed rather than evangelical direction was chosen, and the recommendation to study cooperation with evangelical churches was defeated 26-31. Instead it was decided to work toward a federation of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, as suggested by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in a letter. Van Til was particularly influential in the triumph of the Reformed wing over evangelical tendencies.
The Committee on a Federation of Reformed Churches reported to the 10th General Assembly of 1943 that it had met with representatives of the CRC, the Reformed Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. The report stated that
The Committee’s evaluation was endorsed by the assembly, so no further action was taken.
In 1942, the 9th General Assembly had also received an invitation from the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC) to become a constituent member. The actions of the OPC at this juncture reflected caution, since they appointed a committee to investigate the ACCC, and to study the principles underlying cooperation with other churches. The result was a report entitled "Scriptural Principles of Cooperation with Other Churches."
Although it is sometimes suggested that the unity of the church refers exclusively to the invisible church, this OPC report of 1945 stressed that the "visible church must manifest in particular the unity of the invisible church." It is indeed true that the OPC is confessionally committed to the Presbyterian perspective on the "pluriformity" of the church, maintaining the teaching of the Westminster Confession that all churches are "more or less pure". Yet this perspective on the pluriformity of the church is obviously not seen as an excuse to avoid seeking visible unity. The report insisted that the church "is in sacred duty bound to seek organic union" with other churches of Jesus Christ.22
Furthermore, the OPC doctrine about the pluriformity of the church is also not regarded as a license to tolerate all kinds of doctrinal differences in seeking union with other Reformed churches. It is true that that the OPC does not regard the letters OPC as standing for "Only Pure Church," and that the 1945 report on cooperation stated that "complete unanimity on every detail of doctrine and practice" is not "a prerequisite for union." Yet it also added that "in no case may the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in its cooperation with other churches sacrifice, or even compromise, its distinctiveness." The OPC does not want ecclesiastical union at the expense of the truth. It has, as John Galbraith has written, "endeavored to walk the fine line between indiscriminate ecumenism and indiscriminate sectarianism."23
This need to maintain the truth was made clear in the report submitted to the 12th General Assembly of 1945 where it was stated:
For this reason, after attempts to change the constitution of the corresponding International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC) failed, the relationships with the ACCC and ICCC were severed in 1952. This serves to show that where the truth is compromised, the OPC has felt compelled to discontinue with ecumenical relations.
As a result of the contacts with the ACCC and ICCC, a Committee on Ecumenicity had been mandated by the 15th General Assembly of 1948 to set forth the principles of cooperation with other churches. It reported to the General Assembly of 1950, and ended its existence in 1951. It was revived in 1954 under the name Committee on Correspondence with Other Churches. It has been a standing committee since 1964, in 1965 assuming the name "Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR)". This committee has played an active role in the ecumenical relations of the OPC.
In 1956, the CEIR was asked to "give consideration to the Reformed churches throughout the world with which the Orthodox Presbyterian Church might seek correspondence."25 Its precise functions were defined more clearly by the 32nd General Assembly of 1965.
These rules have largely determined the role and function of the CEIR since its initial appointment. In 1967 the CEIR was mandated "to cultivate the fellowship of and give assistance to the people of Reformed convictions in denominations with which we do not have formal relationship for the purpose of enlisting their interest in the testimony of the OPC."27
Since that time the CEIR has been very active and establishing and maintaining ecumenical relations with various Reformed churches individually, as well as in various organizations.
When discussing particular ecumenical relations of the OPC with other ecclesiastical groups of Reformed persuasion, four especially come to mind, namely the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Ecumenical Synod (RPCES); The Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES); the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN); and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). A study of OPC ecumenical relations would be incomplete without also considering relations with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), since these relations have had a profound impact on the OPC, and so relations with the PCA will also be treated.
The RPCES was the result of a merger in 1965 between two groups. The first of these two groups was the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a mid-1950s offshoot from the Bible Presbyterian Church of 1937.28 The second group was the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod. The OPC had extensive contact with this latter group already since 1945, when a committee was established to investigate the possibility of union with them. This committee reported the following year that despite the
The General Assembly consequently established a committee to confer with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which reported to the 14th General Assembly of 1947 that "...the obstacles to union are not so great as to render it impossible, though at present impractical."30 The Reformed Presbyterian Church was subsequently asked if it would consider union with the OPC
By 1949, however, the Reformed Presbyterian Church had taken no action, and relations were discontinued. Contacts were initiated again in 1959, but were interrupted by union of 1965 between the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to form the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.
This signaled the beginning of a new relationship, and the Fraternal Relations Committee of the RPCES conferred with the CEIR with the "ultimate goal of organic union...on a Scriptural basis."32 A decade of discussion finally bore fruit in 1975, when the Assemblies of both Churches were to vote on a complete plan of union.33 The 42nd General Assembly of the OPC voted 95-42 in favour of the proposed union, but the vote in the RPCES failed to gain the two-thirds majority required to approve the plan.34
Joint discussions between the OPC and RPCES continued, but were retarded by the decision to include the PCA in future talks. By 1979, the General Assembly adopted a recommendation to include the PCA, RPCES (and possibly the RPCNA) in join discussions of future relationships, after being presented by a statement adopted by the joint committee of the PCA, RPCES and OPC as follows:
Contacts with the RPCES now took on a different character, and revolved around union with the PCA. The PCA extended an invitation of union to both the RPCES and the OPC in 1981. Both accepted the invitation, but the PCA presbyteries approved the union with the RPCES, which was subsequently absorbed into the PCA in 1982, but not the union with the OPC. OPC contacts with the RPCES from this point on thus fell under the umbrella of contacts with the PCA.
Stonehouse was delegated by the 13th General Assembly to attend the inaugural meeting of the RES in Grand Rapids, 1946. He returned with the report that the GKN, the Reformed Church in South Africa, and the CRC had established the RES as an ecumenical organization of churches that profess and maintain the Reformed faith. The RES admitted the OPC at its next meeting in 1949.
OPC concerns about increasing liberalism of the GKN also found expression at the RES in the early 1970s, culminating in 1972, when the RES was requested by the OPC
Official contacts with the GKN were terminated by the OPC in 1973, but the OPC continued to use the RES to chastise their former sister-church. In 1984, an OPC request to declare the GKN no longer eligible for membership was refused by the RES, and leading a re-evaluation of the relationship with the RES.
Official withdrawal from the RES occurred on June 10, 1988, by means of a "Statement of Resignation of the OPC from the RES.37 Withdrawal was prompted by a refusal on the part of the RES to enforce the removal of the GKN from membership.
Some of the concerns regarding the GKN at this time included its acceptance of homosexuals as members and office-bearers, its membership in the WCC, women in office, retaining heretical ministers, and a critical view of Scripture.
Though for much time there had been concerns about the RES, the OPC had maintained membership "because of conscience" in order to exercise its responsibility towards churches that were drifting away, but at this point they were compelled to leave "because of conscience". They left the RES with the warning that it recognize "the enormity of what it has done and is doing to churches seeking to be faithful to the Word of God" and cautioning it against spreading "the disease that infects the GKN" to other churches.39
Thus the OPC terminated contacts with the RES with a clear Scriptural witness against the apostasy in the GKN, and a clear and brotherly admonition.
The OPC enjoyed a sister church relation with the GKN since 1954, after the 19th General Assembly of 1952 received an invitation to enter into correspondence. This relationship was soon fraught with concerns, however, and the General Assemblies of the early 1960s expressed disapproval of the GKN's membership of the International Missionary Council. A Committee was mandated
Meanwhile, the GKN Synod of Groningen-Lunteren of 1963-64 stated that it was satisfied with the basis formula of the WCC, and saw no hindrances to membership. A proposed communication to the GKN was adopted by the 31st General Assembly, which concluded with the words "The Reformed Churches are respectfully urged to reject membership in the World Council of Churches and to maintain common witness with the OPC to the unity of the body of Christ."41
After this time, the GKN not only joined the WCC, but also ecclesiastical offices to women, and showed increasing signs of doctrinal deviation. The OPC Committee recommended "to bring to an end the sister church relationship that now exists between our Church and the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland."42 The following grounds were cited for this recommendation:
Contact with the GKN was officially terminated by 40th General Assembly of 1973, when the Assembly concurred with the recommendation to
The experience with the GKN illustrates very clearly that the OPC takes its relations with other churches very seriously. It also explains why the OPC persisted being a member of the RES as long as it did, and why it withdrew only when there was really no other alternative.
The CRC had been patronizing to the OPC already since the 1st General Assembly, which received a telegram of greeting. Since that time, fraternal delegates had been exchanged on a regular basis. Machen's vision for a fusing of Scottish Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed traditions at Westminster also served to make relations between the CRC and the OPC closer, since Van Til, Kuiper and Stonehouse were all initially from the CRC, only joining the OPC at its inception.
Relations developed a more official character when the 15th General Assembly of 1948 accepted a proposal from the CRC, proposing
After this time, there was a movement to work towards union between the two churches. Speaking at a CRC Synod in 1951, Stonehouse suggested "Perhaps we should walk together as one fellowship."46 An OPC Committee to Confer with Representatives of the Christian Reformed Church was established soon thereafter, and the CRC established a similar committee. In 1957, these committees passed a joint resolution that read:
The OPC Committee to Confer reported to the General Assembly of 1960 that the CRC Synod urged increased efforts "so that the way may be paved to possible eventual union."48 A position paper entitled "Biblical Basis for Ecclesiastical Union" was even included in the 1961 report by the Committee to Confer. Progress appeared to be in the making, and both churches commenced cooperating in home and foreign missions, youth programs, a system of pulpit exchange, and publishing efforts. The report of 1962 identified the greatest obstacle to union as church polity.
However, by 1967 the OPC Committee to Confer raised concerns about theological trends in the CRC, particularly with respect to "the infallibility of the Scriptures, the particular atonement, the special creation of man, and the ecclesiastical separation from unbelief in the World Council of Churches."49 The General Assembly felt that "these issues are of such vital importance that differences with regard to them could seriously affect our relationship."50
Over the next few years, joint meetings focussed on the discussion of these trends. The report to the 1971 General Synod observed that joint meetings "have dealt almost exclusively with the question of theological trends in the Christian Reformed Church, especially as those trends seemed to point in the direction of departure from the creeds of the church."51 The Committee to Confer became pessimistic of progress, stating that it was "not confident of much enthusiasm in the CRC for union with the OPC."52
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, contacts between the OPC and CRC became significantly reduced, although fraternal delegates continued to be exchanged. Already in 1973 the special Committee to Confer was dismissed and its mandate given to the CEIR.
It appeared that contacts with the Canadian Reformed Churches alerted the OPC to its responsibility with respect to the CRC. Concern was raised by the Canadian Reformed Churches’ Committee for Contact with the OPC (CCOPC) that "the OPC and the CRC continue to receive each other's delegates at their assemblies or synods, pulpit exchange continues to take place by local option, and there are voices within the OPC which oppose severing ties with the CRC."53 An OPC-CanRC progress report included in the Minutes of the 1991 General Assembly observed as follows:
The CEIR wasted little time in addressing these concerns, and already at the annual North American Presbyterian And Reformed Council (NAPARC) meeting in November 1990 discussed matters of concern with two CRC representatives, and planned a meeting for the following year.
While there is room for criticism with respect to the OPC-CRC relation, this relation must also be seen in perspective. At this time the OPC relationship with the CRC had been overshadowed by the intense attention devoted to developments with the RES and the PCA. Moreover, members of the CEIR readily admitted that the relation with the CRC was one of concern, and that if the OPC did not have a relationship with the CRC they would not initiate one, but they do have one and thus have certain responsibilities towards them.55
This recognition of the responsibilities to the churches with which it has relations appears to be typical of the OPC. Relationships are taken very seriously, and a form of "mutual discipline" exercised in love. Thus the OPC has also striven to remain faithful in their contacts with the CRC. In a Report to Synod Abbotsford 1995 it could be stated:
It was evident already then that the relationship with the CRC was under critical review. At the same time, one could expect that if the OPC was to be consistent with its history, this relationship would not be dismissed with reckless abandon, but that any severing would be executed with reluctance, and after the responsibilities of the "sister-church" have been fully exercised.
This proved to be precisely the case. In 1997, the General Assembly terminated its relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC. In a letter sent to the Synod of the CRC, it was declared:
The main ground for the termination of this longstanding relationship was the fact that the CRC had opened the special offices of elder, minister, and evangelist to women, contrary to the Biblical requirements for these offices. Although this decision was seen as necessary, it was made with much reluctance and sorrow. This was also communicated to the CRC, urging them to turn from the course on which they had embarked.
The PCA is significant to the history of the OPC because of the several attempts at union between the two churches in the last two decades. The PCA owes its existence to a separation from the PCUSA in 1973, on account of the rising tide of liberalism. Three-way talks between the PCA, RPCES and the OPC began around 1980, and already in 1981 the OPC General Assembly found itself with a letter from the PCA which read "the General Assembly of the PCA, in the bonds of our Lord Jesus Christ, invites you to come with us for the purpose of effecting and perfecting one Church among us."58
The CEIR recommended that the OPC "begin the application process to join the PCA", but a minority report submitted by Norman Shepherd recommended "that the OPC respectfully decline the invitation extended by the PCA to apply for membership in that denomination."59 The advisory committee had similar majority and minority reports, and it was decided to vote by signed ballot. The resulting 90-48 vote was only 2 votes shy of the required two-thirds majority, but a reconsideration of the proposal the following morning led to it being passed 93-41.60 This result was still subject to the approval of two-thirds of the OPC presbyteries and to the approval of three-quarters of the PCA presbyteries. The PCA presbyteries did not approve the application by the required three-quarters majority, and so the proposed invitation process was terminated without the OPC presbyteries voting on the issue.61
The invitation to join the PCA was repeated in a letter of May 7, 1984, this time with the required three-quarters of presbyteries voting affirmatively.62 Now the onus was on the OPC. At the 50th anniversary of the OPC in June 1986, the General Assembly again prepared to make the decisive vote. If the recommendation to join the PCA received the required two-thirds majority as it had in 1981, and was sustained by the presbyteries and a subsequent General Assembly, the OPC would cease to exist as of January 1, 1988. This time, however, the invitation was not accepted, and in its year of jubilee the OPC had chosen to go its own path.63
This decision appeared to be indicative of the direction the OPC would now take, since after this time interest in organic union decreased.64 Although there is still some talk of unity, many of those sympathetic to PCA practices and policy, frustrated at the lack of process, deserted the OPC in favour of the PCA. As had happened previously in OPC history, the departure of dissidents produced a more Reformed climate in the OPC, although many with evangelical leanings still remained loyal to the OPC.
Besides the more significant relations described above, the OPC has had contacts with a variety of Reformed groups.
The OPC has had official ties with the Reformed Churches in New Zealand (RCNZ) since the 21st General Assembly of 1954. Several OPC ministers have also served in the New Zealand churches, most recently including G. I. Williamson and Jack W. Sawyer.65 The two churches have also cooperated in mission work in Taiwan. The CEIR reported concerning the RCNZ in 1984 that "These churches have had a `sister-church' relationship with the OPC for many years, even though each church recognized the difficulty of expressing that relationship as fully and satisfactorily as either might desire."66
The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA), more popularly known as the Covenanters, have had discussions with the OPC since 1955, and have also provided significant financial support for OPC Sunday school resources. The two churches do have a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship. The CCOPC reported that the 56th General Assembly of 1989 "decided in principle to work towards organic union with the RPCNA.67 At a more recent General Assembly of 1991 the CEIR of the OPC noted concerning the RPCNA that "it should be noted that a `federation' of the two churches in place of or leading to union has been mentioned in our meetings, but no decision to pursue this has been made."68
The OPC has had friendly unofficial relations with the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), which has its roots in Germany, for about 30 years. On a more official level, the RCUS has provided support for OPC mission projects. More recently the OPC has extended an invitation for ecclesiastical fellowship with the RCUS, and these two churches now have an official relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship.
The OPC was a charter member of this council, which was formed in 1976.69 Four delegates were sent to the constituting meeting, which included the CRC, the RPCNA, the PCA, and the RPCES (provisionally for one year) as charter members. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the RCUS both sent observers.
NAPARC is significant for OPC ecumenical relations because the OPC rules for fraternal relationships are those commonly adopted in NAPARC.
In 1984 the CEIR was authorized to send two delegates as observers to the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) in Edinburgh, 1985. One of the grounds for this decision was that "our church should enable itself to be as informed as possible on this development in international relationships of Reformed churches and to do so on a personal basis as much as possible."71 In 1993 the OPC was admitted as a member of the ICRC.
Since that time the OPC has been very active as a member of the ICRC. At the most recent conference in Seoul, Korea, in October 1997, the OPC submitted several items of correspondence regarding ecclesiastical unity.72 This included proposed policies for inter-church relations, together with an important document entitled "Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church." The 1997 ICRC decided to have a special paper prepared on this topic for the next conference, utilizing the material submitted by the OPC. This OPC document states important Biblical principles regarding ecumenicity, such as:
It also reaffirms the Scriptural requirements for such unity, and that this unity must be expressed in a visible manner, ultimately by seeking to unite into one organization, with mutual agreement on both doctrine and practice.
The OPC has had a wide range of ecumenical relations, particularly with Reformed Churches. It has had contact with Reformed and Presbyterian Churches world wide, from as close as North America, to as distant as the Reformed Churches of Australia.74 At present it has ecclesiastical fellowship with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Free Church of Scotland (FCS), the Presbyterian Church in Korea (Kosin) (PCK), the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Reformed Church in Japan, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ), the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).
The OPC is in the process of establishing ecclesiastical fellowship with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches. It is seeking to establish a corresponding relationship with the African Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in Uganda, the United Reformed Churches in North America, the Church of Christ in the Sudan Among the Tiv in Nigeria, and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated). Nationally the OPC is a member of the North American Presbyterian And Reformed Council (NAPARC), and internationally a member of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).
It is thus clear that since its inception, the OPC has been committed to the expression of visible unity amongst Reformed churches. This desire to unite with other confessionally similar bodies has its root in the Scriptural requirement that Christians manifest visible unity. Although confessionally committed to the doctrine of the pluriformity of the church, the OPC in no way uses this as an excuse to avoid striving for true visible unity amongst true churches of Jesus Christ.
1. FIRST CONTACTS
Canadian Reformed contacts with the OPC date back to 1960, when Classis Ontario North on 18th March proposed to undertake correspondence with the OPC.75 Classis Ontario South on 8th June requested regional synod not to comply with Classis Ontario North on the grounds that insufficient was known about OPC confession, church government, and practice. The result was that Regional Synod 1960 of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Ontario proposed to appoint deputies to study the possibilities for undertaking correspondence with the OPC.76
The outcome of these initial contacts was that Regional Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches of Ontario on 21 June 1961 observed that there were differences between the confessions of the OPC and the Canadian Reformed Churches on the matters of faith, covenant, church and church government.77 The Regional Synod of Sept 7, 1962, proposed further contacts, but General Synod Hamilton 1962 did not accede to this request on the grounds that insufficient information about the OPC was presented.78
Establishment Of Official Contact
Developments took a step forward at General Synod Edmonton 1965. The Synod received another overture, this time from the Canadian Reformed Church of Toronto, "to establish contact with the OPC by means of Deputies, in order that in due time correspondence with this Church be established."79 Positively, three considerations were observed, namely that as a Presbyterian Church the OPC was a fruit of the Calvinist Reformation; its confessions and church government are Calvinist in character; and in this century the OPC chose Orthodoxy as opposed to Modernism. Negatively, it was observed that there are differences in confession and church government. The net result was that synod decided to appoint three deputies for contact with the OPC and to request the OPC General Assembly to do the same. Since this was the first major step towards contacts with the OPC, it is worthwhile to note the instructions given to deputies:
1. to inform the OPC through her deputies about our confession and church polity, and to ask here whether on the ground of this confession and church polity she can accept the Canadian Reformed Churches as true Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ;
2. to discuss frankly with the deputies of the OPC the differences in confession and church polity which exist between the OPC and our Churches, and to compare these differences with the Word of God;
3. to show the OPC through her deputies from the rules adopted for Church correspondence to what effect this correspondence is for our Churches; and to make themselves acquainted with the views of the OPC in this respect;
4. to discuss with the deputies of the OPC the existing correspondence with other church-groups, which is being maintained by the OPC and our Churches;
5. to keep the Churches informed about the matters dealt with in their contact and to report to the next General Synod.80
And so the 31st General Assembly of 1966 received a proposal to establish contact with the Canadian Reformed Churches, which they accepted. The year 1966 was thus the starting point of official contacts between the OPC and the Canadian Reformed Churches.
As authorized by the 33rd General Assembly, the CEIR met with the Canadian Reformed deputies on October 4 and 5, 1966, in Rochester, New York.81 Many subjects were discussed, including the question of whether there was adequate basis for entering into the relationship of correspondence, and the committee could report to the 34th General Assembly as follows:
The committee discovered agreement in many basic areas of Reformed doctrine and doctrinal issues facing the churches today. The discussions seemed to clear up certain misunderstandings caused by differences in language and terminology. In the judgment of the committee there is good reason to pursue closer relations between our two churches, and the committee, unless instructed to the contrary, plans to meet with the Deputies again in October 1967.82
A second meeting took place on October 4 and 5, 1967.83 With respect to the first part of its mandate, the Canadian Reformed committee reported the following year that "The question whether the OPC can accept our churches as true churches on the basis of her standards and church-government was not discussed as it was no question for the committee [CEIR, REP] but its point of departure."84 Divergencies on six topics were discussed, namely the invisible church, the distinction of more pure and less pure churches, the assurance of faith, the covenant with the elect, the interpretation of the 10 commandments, and church government.85 The Canadian Reformed committee reported to Synod 1968 that
These and other points showed that considerable differences exist between the two churches in the implementation of the kingship of the Lord Jesus over His church. But as to the great principle of scriptural church-polity: the complete sovereignty of the Lord Jesus, as the Head over His body: the Church, and consequently of the Word of Christ as sole rule for doctrine and life, no difference existed.86
Among other things, it was resolved by Synod 1968
- gratefully to acknowledge the fact that the OPC can accept the Canadian Reformed Churches as true churches on the basis of their doctrinal standards and church government (Report Deputies, page 2);
- to express its gratitude that it is evident that in many respects the good fight of the faith is being fought in the OPC.87
It should be remembered that the recognition of the Canadian Reformed Churches as true by the OPC was more a tacit and indirect recognition by the CEIR, and not an official declaration of sorts.88
The deputies were instructed as follows:
1. to examine the divergencies in confession, church polity and principles of church correspondence which exist between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the OPC.
2. to compare these divergencies with the Word of God, to evaluate them as to the question whether they are of such a nature that they would prevent the Canadian Reformed Churches from recognizing the OPC as a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ and from entering into correspondence with this church.
3. to investigate how the Creeds, the Form of Government and the Book of Discipline function in the OPC and whether they are actually maintained.
4. to explain to the Representatives of the OPC why it is impossible for the Canadian Reformed Churches to have a sister-relationship with the OPC as long as they maintain the sister-relationship with the (synodical) `Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland', because of the deviations in these Netherlands Churches in, eg, doctrine, church polity, and interchurch relationship.89
Among those present at Synod Orangeville 1968 was Norman Shepherd, an observer from the OPC. Similarly William Wildeboer was present at the 36th General Assembly of the OPC in 1969 as a deputy of the Canadian Reformed Churches.90 From this time onward there was to be a regular exchange of "fraternal delegates".
Discussions continued with joint committee meetings addressing the issues of confessional divergencies, church polity, and the principles of church correspondence.91 The deputies of the Canadian Reformed Churches reported very positively on all three areas to Synod New Westminster 1971.92 The Synod was more cautious, however, and despite recognizing the OPC as a group of Churches committed to Scripture as the infallible Word of God, identified the OPC membership of the RES and correspondence with the GKN as "impediments to enter into correspondence."93 It also recognized that "divergencies in confession and in Church polity are serious enough to remain the subject of further and frank discussion."94 A letter was to be sent directly to the General Assembly of the OPC, requesting them:
1. to regulate, order and maintain church government wholly in accordance with the Scriptures;
2. to also terminate their relationship with Churches, that maintain correspondence with the (Synodical) Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands, as well as membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod;
3. to consider to adopt the rules for correspondence of the Canadian Reformed Churches.95
This letter was sent by the Committee for Contact with the OPC in March, 1972. The letter listed and explained the doctrinal divergencies of the Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism concerning the church, the assurance of faith, the covenant of grace, the descent into hell, and the law of God, and requested
...we would like to ask you to consider these points, which in our opinion imply the confessing of two Churches, a visible Church and an invisible Church, two covenants, one with the elect and one with the believers and their children; and two kinds of faith, one, including the assurance of faith and the other not including this assurance.96
This letter was referred by the General Assembly to the CEIR.97 With the approval of the next Assembly, a response was sent on August 10, 1973 which said that
The OPC believes that there is sufficient evidence to warrant our recognizing each other as churches which are committed to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God and which wish to maintain and give evidence of maintaining Reformed confessions based on that Word. We also believe that such mutual recognition calls for a fraternal relationship through which further progress may be made toward full acceptance of each other.98
At the same time the OPC was not prepared to adopt the Canadian Reformed Churches' rules of correspondence, but preferred a fraternal relationship between the two churches.99
A letter was sent in reply by the deputies of the Canadian Reformed Churches dated March 6, 1974, with requests regarding the doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences, the rules of correspondence, and fraternal relationships.100 Under these circumstances, the General Synod Toronto 1974 decided
not to take a decision regarding the fraternal relationship since Synod does not know what exactly is the contents of such fraternal relationship and since the Committee for Contact asked for a clarification of this relationship.101
The Committee for Contact was mandated to continue contact and to discuss and evaluate existing divergencies and the relationships of the OPC with other Churches.
2. THE OPC RECOGNIZED AS A TRUE CHURCH
A Letter From The CEIR
Meanwhile, the CEIR had drafted a letter dated April 14, 1976 in response to the letter of March 6, 1974, which commented at length on the doctrinal questions and matters of church polity raised by the deputies of the Canadian Reformed Churches, "and again urged a fraternal relationship between our two bodies."102 This letter of response thoroughly addressed all the alleged divergencies as previously identified,103 and presented a fairly convincing case that many of the supposed doctrinal and church political divergencies could be reconciled without difficulty. It then asked whether the Canadian Reformed Churches were really prepared to say of the OPC, in terms of their witness over nearly forty years and their current testimony in their nation and in the world, that it shows the marks of the false church as given in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession.104
The question then becomes: How can we visibly be the one true church that we are under these circumstances? The answer we suggest is a fraternal relationship which would begin to realize the goals of negative discipline embraced in Rule 1 of your Rules for Correspondence as well as of positive discipline by means of the kind of activity described in Rule 2. We would invite you to consider a relation of this kind and if it is not found to be satisfactory, to offer an alternative proposal for our consideration.105
Unfortunately, because of unavoidable circumstances, the deputies of the Canadian Reformed Churcheshad got no further than a draft evaluation of the doctrinal portion of this letter, and had not yet studied the two sections relating to church government and fraternal relations, and thus did not complete its full mandate in time for Synod Coaldale 1977.106
Synod Coaldale 1977
The CEIR's letter was to play no small part in the decisions of the 1977 Synod. In response to the challenge, the Synod realized that
After 12 years of contact with the OPC by means of appointed Committees the Can. Ref. Churches must be considered able and willing to give a clear answer to the question of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations whether or not the OPC shows the marks of the true Church as confessed in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession.107
One wonders whether or not the Synod was indeed able to give a clear answer at this point, particularly since the most recent material was the communication from the OPC which had presented a compelling case for "ironing-out" the alleged divergencies, and this letter had as yet not been completely evaluated. Nonetheless Synod felt that contacts had gone on long enough to make a clear decision, and it was decided "With thankfulness to recognize the OPC as a true Church of our Lord Jesus Christ as confessed in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession."108
In addition, a new relationship of "ecclesiastical contact" was resolved upon, with the following considerations
b. It is desirable that the fellowship with the OPC finds expression in an officially established contact with rules defined for practical use.
c. A sister Church relationship with the OPC according to the adopted rules for correspondence cannot be reached at this time.
d. The term `fraternal relations' is also used by the OPC for relations with other churches and appears to be too vaguely defined and too broad for use by the Can. Ref. Churches.
e. Rules for ecclesiastical contact can serve as a basis for further discussion with the OPC with the hope and intent that eventually full correspondence expressing the unity of the true faith can be established.109
On this basis Synod decided "To offer to the OPC a temporary relationship called `ecclesiastical contact' with the following rules:
a. To invite delegates to each other's General Assemblies or General Synods and to accord such delegates privileges of the floor in the Assembly or Synod, but no vote;
b. to exchange Minutes and Acts of each other's General Assemblies and General Synods as well as communications on major issues of mutual concern, and to solicit comments on these documents;
c. to be diligent by means of continued discussions to use the contact for the purpose of reaching full correspondence.110
The General Assembly Of 1979
The decision of Synod Coaldale 1977 was officially communicated to the CEIR on February 23, 1978. Strangely, it was not mentioned at the General Assembly of 1978. Even in the report to the General Assembly of 1979, the decision was briefly recounted in only two sentences along with the rules for ecclesiastical contact, as well as the recommendation that
Your Committee recommends that the 46th General Assembly accept the offer of the Canadian Reformed Churches to enter into a temporary relationship called `Ecclesiastical Contact,' with the rules set forth above.111
Significantly more attention was given to the content of a joint meeting on October 26, 1978.
Interestingly, in contrast to the intense and lengthy reports, discussions and considerations underlying the decision of Synod Coaldale 1977 to offer a temporary relationship of "ecclesiastical contact", the General Assembly of 1979 accepted this relationship almost unknowingly. The actual report of the committee on ecumenicity and interchurch relations was simply included in the minutes without being read aloud according to Standing Rule Chapter VI, Section 7.112 Advisory committee # 8 was delegated to concern itself with the Report of the CEIR. Their recommendations concerning this report had four parts, the second with respect to the section concerning the Canadian Reformed Churches, and read "Advisory Committee #8 concurs with the committee's recommendation in the second paragraph of part II of its report."113
The above is significant, for it means that the delegates at the General Assembly did not hear the Report concerning the Canadian Reformed Churches, but only the recommendation of the Advisory Committee # 8, which simply said that the Committee concurred with the recommendation of the report.
The Assembly reconvened the next day, Tuesday May 22, at 8:03 am, to resume consideration of the report of Advisory Committee # 8 which had been presented the previous day. Until the Assembly recessed at 10:00 am, the following events occurred (in summary):
1. The minutes of the sessions of Monday May 21 were approved as corrected.
2. A delegate reported for the Committee on Date, Place and Travel re excusing another delegate for being absent from afternoon session on Thursday 24 May. Motioned and adopted.
3. The report of the CEIR was discussed.
4. The recommendation of part I adopted
5. "On motion the committee was instructed to seek consultations with the representatives of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America with regard to possible church union."
6. "On separate motions the recommendations in parts II, III, and VI of the report of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations were adopted."114
All the above occurred in less than two hours. The decision to accept the proposed relationship offered by the Canadian Reformed Churches was part II of the report of the CEIR, and thus was just one of several decisions made in the two hours. This means that the accepting of ecclesiastical contact with the Canadian Reformed Churches was, at best, discussed very briefly, and certainly not at length. One gets the impression that the decision was made almost automatically, without extensive deliberation. This stands in stark contrast to the way in which the decision had been made by the Canadian Reformed Churches.
3. THE RESULTING CONTROVERSY
Synod Smithville 1980
Deputies to Synod Smithville 1980 did not have a great deal to report besides a number of combined meetings and a lengthy letter sent on October 13, 1978 which evaluated the crucial OPC letter of April 14, 1976.115 The Synod, however, received appeals from six churches regarding the decision of 1977, as well as two letters. Amongst other things, the objection was brought forward that
The OPC obstructs its own discipline because common believers are not bound by the confessional standards, and because they have an `open table' and permits believers of `any' denomination to partake in the Lord's Supper over whom the session has no authority.116
Many of the appeals also objected to the fact that synod created a new relationship of "ecclesiastical contact" without giving grounds for the need or desirability of it. Concern was also raised about the OPC's relations with the GKN through the RES, and its relation with the CRC.
However, while Synod regretted that the evaluation of divergencies was not explained in detail by Synod Coaldale 1977, perhaps giving impression that recognition was "premature", it insisted that this does not imply that the 1977 statement was wrong.117 Amongst other things, it was decided "to publish, for the benefit of our Churches, a detailed evaluation of the confessional and church-political divergencies."118
The amount of attention devoted to the OPC at this synod clearly indicated that the decision of 1977 was the subject of controversy, and that not all was as it should have been.
The General Assembly of 1981
The 47th General Assembly of 1981 received a report from the CEIR which dealt more extensively with relations with the Canadian Reformed Churches.119 This report made reference to the significance of the 1977 decision, its acceptance by the 45th General Assembly, and the subsequent controversy concerning this decision.120 The CEIR also became aware of concerns on the part of Canadian Reformed Churches that OPC members know far less about the Canadian Reformed Churches than vice versa, and so commissioned Norman Shepherd to write an article about the Canadian Reformed Churches for New Horizons.121 The report added that
A list of the Canadian Reformed Churches, with addresses and times of Lord's day services is available (enclose stamped, addressed envelope) from Mr. Shepherd, and your Committee encourages the sessions of our churches to make these available to members who will be visiting in Canada.122
The next joint meeting between committees was an all day meeting on November 6, 1981, which included a discussion on "Divergencies in Confession and Church Polity between OPC and Canadian Reformed Churches".123
4. NEW DEVELOPMENTS
The Shepherd Case
It was around this time that Norman Shepherd was dismissed from Westminster Seminary amidst great controversy. The circumstances surrounding his dismissal raised some concerns with respect to the OPC, particularly because it led to the departure of Shepherd to the CRC.
The Hofford Case
Concerns over the OPC increased when news of the Hofford case filtered through to the Canadian Reformed Churches.124 In January 1982, Barry Hofford, minister of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Burtonsville, Maryland, concluded that Scripture required administering the Lord's Supper in a closed communion, rather than the open communion policy of the OPC.125 After appeals to the session and presbytery, the dispute finally was discussed at the 50th General Assembly in June 1983, and the final avenue of appeal for Hofford was closed. Along with some fellow members of the congregation, he was forced to secede.
Synod Cloverdale 1983
The Hofford case served to draw attention to OPC practices with respect to the fencing of the Lord's table. At Synod Cloverdale 1983 attention was drawn to both the Shepherd case and the Hofford case, as well as to the fencing of the Lord's Supper.126
The debate about whether or not the confessional and church political divergencies constituted an impediment in recognizing the OPC as a true Church, which had continued since 1977, also continued at this synod.
Besides deciding to continuing contact according to the adopted rules, the following decisions were made with respect to the OPC:
b. to publish, for the benefit of our Churches, a detailed evaluation of the confessional and church-political divergencies, showing proof that these divergencies do not form an impediment in recognizing the OPC as a true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
d. to complete the discussion and evaluation of the relationships which the OPC has with other parties, especially the RES, the CRC and the PCA.
e. to pay special attention to the new developments in the OPC, with respect to the so-called Shepherd case...the Hofford case...and the `fencing' of the Lord's Supper.127
The Controversy At Blue Bell
The Hofford case was not an isolated problem in the OPC, and similar concerns arose in the Blue Bell congregation. In October 1984, the majority of the congregation voted to leave the OPC, despite attempts by the presbytery to dissuade them.128 The Blue Bell controversy served to highlight and resurrect concerns about the doctrine of the covenant, confessional membership, ecclesiology, the autonomy of the local church, and the fencing of the Lord's Table.129
5. RESOLVING THE CONTROVERSY?
Synod Burlington 1986
This Synod paid attention to new concerns raised by the Shepherd case, Hofford case, and Blue Bell. The appointed deputies had provided extensive studies on all of these controversies. In addition, they had provided a lengthy report entitled "Evaluation of Divergencies", which served to underline the conclusion that the recognition of the OPC as a true church was indeed legitimate.130
Synod received this report as "the detailed evaluation of the divergencies which the General Synod of 1977 neglected to give for its decision to recognize the OPC as a true Church of our Lord Jesus Christ."131 Concerns about the fencing of the Lord's table were also to be passed on to the OPC through the CEIR. This matter was regarded by Synod as "a serious confessional divergency which is a major issue of mutual concern."132
Synod Winnipeg 1989
Concerns over the OPC continued at the General Synod Winnipeg 1989. The paper "Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church" which had been drawn up by the OPC was regarded as an encouraging development, as was the termination of membership in the RES.133 There were also other matters of concern, however, including the fencing of the Lord's table, the matter of confessional membership, and the relationship with the CRC. Even so, however, the Synod advocated patience "in recognition of the fact that the Canadian Reformed Churches and the OPC share the common bond of faith."134
It would be unwise to terminate the "ecclesiastical contact" relationship with the OPC unless it is clear that this relationship no longer functions, is unfruitful, or dangerous. From the Report of the Committee it appears that this is certainly not the case at present.135
Consequently, the Committee for Contact with the OPC was mandated, amongst other things
a. to maintain the contact with the OPC, taking into account the rules for Ecclesiastical Contact, with the understanding that the temporary relationship of "ecclesiastical contact" is designed to come to a full sister-church relationship in the unity of the true faith and is not intended to continue indefinitely, or become a relationship of permanent status.
c. to be diligent to continue the discussion on and the evaluation of the divergencies such as the doctrine of the covenant, visible and invisible church, the assurance of faith, the observance of the law, the fencing of the Lord's Table, confessional membership, church-political differences, and the contact with the CRC.136
Discussions between the two committees appear to become more intense, with the CEIR reporting to the 57th General Assembly of 1990 that "The purpose of our meetings is not simply to identify areas of difference between our churches, but to resolve them."137 There also appeared to be increasing attention paid to the matter of the fencing of the Lord's table:
On the matter of supervising the Lord's Table we are seeking to resolve the basis difference: our emphasis of the session placing the responsibility on the individual, after invitation and warning, to judge his own spiritual condition and whether to partake or not to partake, and the Canadian Reformed emphasis on the responsibility of the consistory to determine the right of a person unknown to them to partake.138
The issue of the supervision of the Lord's Supper reappeared at the next General Assembly. In a combined "Progress Report on Relations Between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Canadian Reformed Churches" it was observed that the OPC indeed exercises a restricted communion - "There is no question about whether there is restricted communion, but how to practice it."139 The OPC employs an oral warning, whereas the Canadian Reformed Churches require the use of attestations.
The matter was not ignored by the Assembly, and the following proposal was adopted:
That the Assembly elect a committee of three members to examine the method of admission of guests to the Lord's supper, and report to the 60th (1993) General Assembly, with recommendations if deemed advisable. Ground: The position of the OPC on this matter has been challenged by the Committee for Contact with the OPC of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Our commitment to our Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church demands that we be willing to make such an effort on such an important matter.140
In addition, the following was also adopted the same Assembly:
That the Assembly direct the CEIR to consider the desirability and feasibility of the OPC adding the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt) to its present confessional standards (the Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism) and of establishing a common Presbyterian and Reformed church order, so as to provide a basis for unity into one church body of those who are committed to one faith. Grounds:
(1) This would be a possible means of fulfilling the ecumenical mandate to unite churches committed to the Reformed faith.
(2) Some see this as desirable for church unity and union.
(3) The model of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand with which we have fraternal relations provides a precedent for the establishment of such a church.141
Synod Lincoln 1992
Deputies reported to Synod Lincoln 1992 that continuing divergencies were the supervision of the Lord's Supper and confessional membership.142 With respect to previous controversy concerning whether or not other divergencies were impediments to recognizing the OPC as a true Church, Synod decided
to conclude from previous Synods' decisions that the divergencies evaluated in 1971 and 1986 have been sufficiently discussed to confirm that these are not impediments to ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC, but may be discussed within the framework of church unity.143
It was also resolved:
2. to continue the discussion of divergencies which are considered to be impediments to ecclesiastical fellowship, and to see whether these divergencies stem from ecclesiastical and/or historical differences with the purpose of having these impediments removed.
5. to inform the OPC that the matters which still require resolution for the establishment of full ecclesiastical fellowship are
a. the matter of confessional membership;
b. the matter of supervision of the Lord's table;
c. the matter of the relationship with the CRC.144
Attention was also paid to the developments with respect to Blue Bell and Laurel.145 Probably the most significant development here is that the much discussed confessional and church political differences were officially considered not to be impediments to ecclesiastical fellowship. The hurdles that remained before establishing such a relationship were reduced to just three: the matter of confessional membership, the supervision of the Lord’s table, and the OPC’s relationship with the CRC.
6. RECENT REGRESS AND PROGRESS
Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the FCS and the PCK
Recent contacts with the OPC have reached an impasse because of the decision of Synod Lincoln 1992 to extend relationships of ecclesiastical fellowship to the PCK and the FCS.146 The CEIR commented on this development in a letter dated March 3, 1993:
These actions have left us thoroughly perplexed....both the PCK and the FCS have essentially the same position as the OPC in matters of confessional membership and supervision of the Lord's table! ... Brothers, we are bound to ask you: Are the Canadian Reformed Churches dealing fairly and evenhandedly with the OPC? Are you not applying a double standard in your interchurch dealings? Why is the OPC apparently being held to more rigorous and more exacting requirements for a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the Canadian Reformed Churches than other churches are? Why are we being subjected to more searching treatment by you than other churches receive? (Why, for instance, is there a separate committee for contact with us?; why is the CCOPC not a subcommittee of the Committee for Relations with Churches Abroad (CRCA)?)... We request that from now on the situation of Blue Bell and Laurel be discussed...as they may constitute an impediment to a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship....Brothers, our discussions have reached a critical point.147
In a more recent letter dated Jan 21, 1994, the CEIR pointed out an apparent inconsistency on the part of the Canadian Reformed Churches:
Does a biblical ecclesiology require that these differences [confessional membership, fencing the Lord's table, third-party relationships] have to be resolved before a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship can be established? But this is a question that, on the first two of the differences specified, the Canadian Reformed Churches currently give two, flatly opposing answers: "yes" to the OPC; "no" to the Free Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church in Korea (Kosin). How can we continue discussion under these conditions?148
From the above it is clear that the CEIR was questioning whether the Canadian Reformed Churches were dealing fairly and evenhandedly with the OPC, and not applying a double standard in interchurch dealings. In fact, they felt that that the OPC was being held to more rigorous and exacting requirements for a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship than other churches. This reaction to the decisions of Synod Lincoln 1992 made it very difficult for CCOPC to fulfil its mandate.
Thus although Synod Lincoln had come closer to ecclesiastical fellowship by limiting the number of impediments to this relationship to only three outstanding issues, other decisions made by the same Synod caused confusion. As a result, relationships became somewhat strained, and some frustration on the part of the CEIR was becoming evident.
The Denver Case
The situation in Denver, Colorado, complicated matters, where a congregation came out of the PCA and sought admittance to the OPC. After their minister, Mike Pollock, had sworn his ministerial vows in one of the Presbyteries of the OPC, he and his congregation came to the conclusion that they could not in good conscience join the OPC after all, and sought admittance to the Canadian Reformed Churches.
Although they were admitted into the federation of the Canadian Reformed Churches, this was not done without question or disagreement. Some insisted that since the Canadian Reformed Churches had recognized the OPC as a true church in 1977, the church of Denver had no good grounds not to join the OPC, and could not be admitted into the federation of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Others affirmed that since our relationship with the OPC was in an interim stage, between recognition as true church and complete ecclesiastical fellowship, Denver could join the Canadian Reformed Churches without contradiction. The Denver case served to illustrate the differences of opinion within the Canadian Reformed Churches. But it also proved to be another example of a church that could not in good conscience belong to the OPC. In the eyes of some, this fact made the recognition of the OPC as a true church very questionable, and the possibility of ecclesiastical fellowship even more questionable.
Synod Abbotsford 1995
It was these kinds of problems that faced Synod Abbotsford 1995. The relationship between the OPC and the Canadian Reformed Churches now spanned over 20 years, and could be described as a somewhat "stormy" relationship. There had been a period of great progress. The initial difficulties were essentially related to the doctrinal soundness of the Westminster standards, and the legitimacy of Presbyterian church polity. These difficulties had not been completely resolved when Synod Coaldale 1977 recognized the OPC as a true Church, and it was left up to subsequent Synods to provide the justification for this decision. These divergencies were then put to rest, as were concerns about OPC membership in the RES. OPC relations with the CRC continued to be a concern, but were understandable in view of how the OPC regarded seriously its sister relations, and appeared to have a short future.
But now there seemed to be a period of regress. The Hofford case and the controversy in Blue Bell had raised new concerns about supervision of the Lord's Table and confessional membership, and these issues remained unresolved. The Denver case has also did little to stimulate good feelings between the OPC and the Canadian Reformed Churches. In addition, the decision of Synod Lincoln 1992 to establish ecclesiastical fellowship with the FCS and PCK had left the OPC rather perplexed, and left the Canadian Reformed Churches open to the charge of inconsistency. A diversity of opinions in Canadian Reformed circles also did not assist in creating a united front to the issues.
Not surprisingly, Synod Abbotsford 1995 found itself dealing with many appeals and overtures. Many of them requested to rescind or declare premature the decision of Synod Lincoln 1992 in extending ecclesiastical fellowship to the FCS and to the PCK, and requesting to rescind the decision of Synod Lincoln 1992 which stated that the discussed divergencies such as the confessional differences were not impediments to ecclesiastical fellowship, except for the three outstanding issues of fencing of the Lord’s table, confessional membership, and the OPC’s relationship with the CRC.
Synod Abbotsford responded by denying these requests. The following mandate was given to the CCOPC:
- to work towards formalizing a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship under the adopted rules by using the statement of Synod Lincoln 1992 (Acts 1992, Art. 72, IV. A. 1. E. i-ii) as a guideline to arrive at an agreement with the OPC on the matters of the fencing of the Lord’s Table and confessional membership.
- to communicate to the OPC the discomfort in our churches with respect to their continued relationship with the CRCNA
- to communicate that there is a need to continue to discuss the differences in confession and church polity in accordance with the rules for Ecclesiastical Fellowship (Rule 6).149
Synod Fergus 1998
Synod Abbotsford 1995 thus reaffirmed Synod Lincoln 1992’s approach that there were only three outstanding issues to be resolved before ecclesiastical fellowship could be offered. When the OPC’s General Assembly terminated its relationship with the CRC in 1997, only two issues remained, namely, the matter of fencing the Lord’s table, and confessional membership. The CCOPC had been mandated to work towards formalizing a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship by using the statement of Synod Lincoln 1992 as a guideline to arrive at an agreement on these matters. This statement of Synod Lincoln 1992 was as follows:
- It is hoped that in time the OPC and the Canadian Reformed Churches may come to a common understanding and unified practice regarding the supervision of the Lord’s Table. This is not to say that an identical practice is required with respect to the supervision of the Lord’s table to come to ecclesiastical fellowship. It should be agreed, however, that a general verbal warning alone is insufficient and that a profession of the Reformed faith is required in the presence of the supervising elders from the guests wishing to attend the Lord’s Supper.
- With respect to "confessional membership" the different situations in the OPC and the Canadian Reformed Churches must be taken into account as resulting in various practices. It should be agreed, however, by the Canadian Reformed Churches and the OPC that all who profess their faith accept the doctrine of God’s Word as summarized in the confessions (standards) of the churches. This means that all members are bound by the Word of God in the unity of faith as confessed in the accepted standards.150
As a result of their mandate, the CCOPC focussed on striving for agreement on these final two outstanding issues. In order to achieve this, they drew up a "Proposed Agreement" on these two matters, and submitted it to the CEIR as follows:
Concerning Fencing the Lord’s Table: The churches of the Reformation confess that the Lord’s supper should not be profaned (1 Cor. 11:27, see Heid. Cat. Lord’s Day 30, Q&A 82; Westminster Confession ch. 29,8). This implies that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is to be supervised. In this supervision the Church exercises discipline and manifests itself as true church. This supervision is to be applied to the members of the local church as well as to the guests. The eldership has a responsibility in supervising the admission to the Lord’s Supper.
Concerning Confessional Membership: The churches of the Reformation believe that they have to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and are called to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned (Rom. 16:17). Anyone who answers the membership vows in the affirmative is bound to receive and adhere to the doctrine of the Bible. The patristic church has summarized this teaching in the Apostles’ Creed and the churches of the Reformation have elaborated on this in their confessions. Every confessing member is bound to this doctrine and must be willing to be instructed in it.151
In a report to the 1997 General Assembly of the OPC, the CEIR regarded this "Proposed Agreement" sufficient as a basis for establishing a relation of ecclesiastical fellowship. The General Assembly subsequently adopted this report, expressing the wish that the Canadian Reformed Churches would now enter into ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC. On this basis, the CCOPC recommended that Synod Fergus enter into ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC.
It has now been more than 20 years since the Canadian Reformed Churches recognized the OPC as a faithful church of Jesus Christ in 1977. Since that time there has been much discussion and debate, progress and regress in their relationship with the OPC. Finally the time has come where the CCOPC is ready to recommend a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC on the basis of a "Proposed Agreement" on the two outstanding issues. The CCOPC’s recommendations to Synod Fergus 1998 were as follows:
- To acknowledge gratefully the commitment of the OPC to be faithful to the Scriptures and to defend the reformed heritage.
- To acknowledge thankfully that with the statements on the Fencing of the Lord’s Table and on Confessional Membership an agreement has been reached on the outstanding issues.
- To note with thankfulness that the OPC, by terminating the Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the CRCNA has taken a clear stand in maintaining the truth and authority of the Word of God, and has removed another obstacle for the Canadian Reformed Churches to come to ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC.
- To invite the OPC to enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Canadian Reformed Churches, according to the adopted rules for this relationship.152
Is now the time for ecclesiastical fellowship? Certainly it is clear that the "Proposed Agreement" falls substantially short of the guidelines suggested by Synod Lincoln 1992. But whether this fact is an impediment to ecclesiastical fellowship is something to be decided by Synod Fergus 1998. But regardless of the outcome, there can be no doubt that significant progress has been made in the relationship with the OPC.
There are a number of striking elements which recur in the OPC’s history. One is the seriousness with which the OPC treats its relations with other churches. The OPC, it seems, feels very responsible to those with whom it has ecclesiastical fellowship, and endeavours to exercise its responsibilities to them when they wander from the truth by warning and admonishing them, often suffering a sick relationship right to the very end for the sake of the other. This was evident in OPC relations with the GKN, the RES, and most recently the CRC. This, I would suggest, bears remembering when evaluating the third party relations of the OPC.
Another recurring element is the constant battle for orthodoxy. Fifty years after the initial fight for orthodoxy, the OPC today is still largely orthodox and maintains the Reformed faith. Throughout its history, however, the OPC was compelled on numerous occasion to make the choice between an evangelical or a Reformed direction. Several times the OPC stood at the crossroads of Reformed and evangelicalism. At each critical juncture, it was the Reformed path that triumphed. On numerous occasions that choice was made easier by the departure of those with modernist or liberal tendencies, and so the OPC maintained its orthodoxy. On other occasions, a conscious decision was required. More recently that choice came when OPC decided not to unite with the PCA. Its recent affiliation with the ICRC and criticisms of the CRC tend to suggest that it will maintain that choice of the Reformed, rather than the evangelical direction. Reflecting on this aspect of its history, here it is possible to see the hand of the Lord in preserving a church faithful to the rich heritage of the Reformation by maintaining the Reformed faith.
And yet that struggle will continue. It remains to be seen whether the OPC will continue to resist the temptation to veer off onto the broad road travelled by so many evangelicals and so continue to walk on the narrow road of other truly Reformed Churches. For while the OPC seems to lean in the Reformed direction at present, the temptation of the evangelicals is ever present, as it is for all faithful churches of Christ. This is particularly the case now that the firm relations with Westminster Seminary are quickly becoming fast-fading memories - the Westminster which had been the bulwark of OPC orthodoxy in its earlier days. In addition, the OPC no longer has the scholarly Presbyterian Guardian which had for years promoted the cause of orthodoxy. Moreover, the church is not unified. While some are aware of the unique heritage of the OPC, others are attracted to the shine and glamour of the Church Growth movement, the outward success of the PCA, pietism, or theonomy.153
What does the future hold for the OPC? As always, the church still stands at the crossroads of a Reformed or a evangelical direction. Many, it seem, may not fully understand or appreciate the history of the OPC, and its constant struggle for orthodoxy. And so the questions asked by Donald J. Duff, which were relevant for so much of OPC history, are still burning today:
Ultimately the questions that must be asked and answered are: Is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church going to study and recapture its history and its heritage and build self-consciously on that basis, or is it going to drift in several directions until it breaks apart? Will the church be a unique and valuable witness in the nation and world, or will it be swallowed up in the general movements of the day? There is not much time in which these questions must be answered.154
Certainly the OPC’s ecumenical relations with other Reformed churches make it clear that the OPC is committed to being faithful to the heritage of the Reformation, and that it wishes to join hands with all other faithful churches of Jesus Christ. Just how soon it is that such ecclesiastical fellowship becomes possible with the Canadian Reformed Churches remains to be seen.
Revised March 1998
- For comprehensive studies of OPC history, see the Select Bibliography at the end of this paper.
- For a comprehensive account, see Edwin H. Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict, p17-36. The Auburn Affirmation is included in the Appendix, p205-8.
- Donald J. Duff, "The OPC 1936-1986", p447.
- Committee Appointed by Regional Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Ontario of June 19, 1964. "Report on a Possible Approach of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church: Historical Section" p94.
- Charles G. Dennison (ed), The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1936-1986, p7.
- Duff, "The OPC 1936-1986" p448.
- Dennison, p7-8.
- Ibid, p8.
- The early faculty of Westminster included Cornelius Van Til, R. B. Kuiper, and Ned B. Stonehouse from the Christian Reformed Church, and John Murray from the Scottish Presbyterian Tradition. These men all joined the OPC at its inception in 1936.
- Donald J. Duff, "Evangelical?", p487.
- Dennison, p12.
- Duff, "Evangelical?" p488.
- Dennison, p13.
- Ibid, p17.
- Jack J. Peterson in Dennison, p49. The following overview of OPC ecumenicity has been largely gleaned from Peterson.
- Duff, "Evangelical?" p486.
- Ibid, p486-7.
- Dennison, p50.
- D. G. Hart & John Muether, Fighting The Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, p141-2.
- Ibid, p142.
- Dennison, p51.
- Ibid, p54.
- OPC Minutes 1965, p72.
- OPC Minutes 1967, p102.
- We observed earlier that the Bible Presbyterian Church had been founded when several ministers and elders left the OPC at the 3rd General Assembly. Thus the Evangelical Presbyterian Church had its roots in OPC history. See Dennison, p56.
- Dennison, p50.
- Ibid, p56.
- The complete plan can be found in OPC Minutes 1975, p137-150.
- The OPC Minutes 1975 p157 recorded the event as follows: "The Clerk reported the result of the vote on the Plan of Union as follows: OPC: Affirmative votes - 95; Negative votes - 42; RPCES: Affirmative votes - 122; Negative votes - 92. The Plan of Union thus received the required two-thirds vote in the General Assembly of the OPC, but not in the Synod of the RPCES."
- OPC Minutes 1979, p136.
- OPC Minutes 1971, p105.
- The statement can be found in full in Acts of Synod 1989, p181.
- Ibid, p181.
- OPC Minutes 1965, p93.
- Ibid, p99. The complete letter can be found on p94-99.
- OPC Minutes 1969, p104.
- OPC Minutes 1973, p144-145.
- Dennison, p55.
- Hart & Muether, p139.
- Dennison, p55.
- OPC Minutes 1967, p123.
- OPC Minutes 1971, p113.
- Ibid, p114.
- Acts of Synod 1992, p170.
- OPC Minutes 1991, p240.
- Acts of Synod 1989, p176.
- Committee for Contact with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Report of the Committee for Contact with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to General Synod 1995 of the Canadian Reformed Churches, p22.
- Proceedings of The International Conference of Reformed Churches, October 15 - 23, 1997, Seoul, Korea. (Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1997) p87.
- OPC Minutes 1981, p9.
- Ibid, p159-160.
- Ibid, p164-165.
- OPC Minutes 1982, p97-99. Note that the PCA presbyteries did approve of union with the RPCES, which occurred in 1982.
- OPC Minutes 1984, p21.
- See further: J. Geertsema, "The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is 50 years old", p442.
- Acts of Synod 1992, p171.
- Mary Ann Swanson, "From New Zealand to New York", p21.
- OPC Minutes 1984, p110.
- Acts of Synod 1992, p170.
- OPC Minutes 1991, p244.
- OPC Minutes 1976, p128.
- Acts of Synod 1992, p171.
- OPC Minutes 1984, p51.
- Proceedings of The International Conference of Reformed Churches, October 15 - 23, 1997, Seoul, Korea, p17-18, 84-102.
- Ibid, p101.
- The OPC Minutes 1981, p251 notes that in 1980 the Reformed Churches of Australia had their first ever Fraternal Delegate at a General Assembly.
- Acta van The Regional Synod 1960 of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Ontario, p4.
- Ibid, p7-8. "De synode...besluit een deputaatschap van vier personen in te stellen dat tot taak heeft na te gaan of er voldoende gronden zyn om de mogelykheid tot correspondentie te onderzoeken, en van zyn bevindingen te rapporteren aan de kerken in dit synodaal ressort drie maanden voor de regional Synod 1961. Grond: De Synode beschikt niet over voldoende gegevens omtrent de Orthodox Presbyterian Churches om een voorstel in dezen aan de generale Synode te kunnen doen."
- Acts of Synod 1962, p12. Concern was drawn to the following OPC standards: faith - LC 81; covenant - LC 31; church - WC XXV,1 LC 62-4; church government - Form of Government IX,4; X,2,3,4,7; XI,1,4,5; IV,4.
- Ibid, p26,67.
- Acts of Synod 1965, p30.
- OPC Minutes 1967, p97.
- Ibid, p98.
- OPC Minutes 1968, p97. The agenda was determined by the Canadian Reformed deputies with following questions:
Concerning the first point the CEIR observed that "It appeared that the practice of our two churches is similar although the membership vows are dissimilar."
- What is the function of the standards in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? How far are you bound by the literal text of the Confession?
- Defend membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
- What is your practice and what are the implications of your correspondence with other churches?
- Has the OPC fundamental objections to having rules of correspondence?
- What are the important changes expressed in the Revision of the Form of Government?
- Questions surrounding the broader courts and their authority to make binding decisions.
- What rules are there regarding admittance to the Lord's table? What restrictions?
- Questions relation to specific items in the standards of the church.
- Acts of Synod 1971, p59.
- Ibid, p61.
- Ibid, p62.
- Acts of Synod 1968, p51.
- See "The Deputies Report to Synod 1968" as published in Acts of Synod 1971, p59.
- Acts of Synod 1968, p51.
- OPC Minutes 1969, p113.
- OPC Minutes 1970, p101-102.
- Acts of Synod 1971, p64-69.
- Re divergencies in confession: Areas of concern were identified as invisible/invisible church; pure/less pure church; assurance of faith, covenant of grace with elect, meaning of the descent into hell, rules in addition to 10 commandments, meaning of 10 commandments. Yet "Deputies conclude on the ground of these considerations that the divergencies in confession between the CanRC. and the OPC are not of such a nature that they should prevent the CanRC from recognizing the OPC as a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ and from entering into correspondence with this church." (p66).
- Re divergencies in church polity: "Deputies conclude on the ground of this consideration that, although considerable divergencies exist in church polity and in the form of government, there is no difference in the essential truth of Christ's headship over His church and of the absolute authority which His Word should have in the government of the church. Although the differences should remain point of serious discussions, they need not prevent the CanRC from recognizing the OPC as a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ and from entering into correspondence with this church." (p67)
- Re issue of church correspondence: "Deputies conclude that although the issue of church correspondence need not prevent the CanRC from recognizing the OPC as a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ, it does constitute an obstacle on the way to unity with the OPC" (p69)
- Ibid, p44.
- OPC Minutes 1972, p30.
- Ibid, p154.
- OPC Minutes 1973, p140.
- Ibid, p141.
- Acts of Synod 1974, p100.
- Ibid, p58.
- OPC Minutes 1976, p129. The complete text of the letter can be found in Acts of Synod 1977, p95-101.
- See Acts of Synod 1974, p103-107.
- Acts of Synod 1977, p100.
- Ibid, p100-101.
- Ibid, p94.
- Ibid, p41.
- Ibid, p42.
- OPC Minutes 1979, p137.
- Ibid, p136.
- Ibid, p143.
- Ibid, p144.
- Acts of Synod 1980, p194-202.
- Ibid, p65.
- Ibid, 69.
- Ibid, p122.
- OPC Minutes 1981, p143.
- Ibid. "The Synod of 1977, as reported to the 45the General Assembly, decided to recognize the OPC as a true church according to Article 29 of the Belgic Confession, and on that basis, to seek to establish a relation of `ecclesiastical contact' with us. That Assembly approved such a relationship. Several communications from local congregations were before this most recent Synod, objecting to those decisions. Among reasons given were that the decisions were either premature or unwarranted in view of the difference in doctrine and polity that exist, and that the relationship brings these Canadian churches into contact with the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN) through the OPC membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod; others are troubled by the OPC relationship with the Christian Reformed Church, and still others by the form of relationship that the Synod has established with the OPC."
- Ibid. The article appeared in the May 1981 issue.
- OPC Minutes 1982, p98.
- A full account of the events of the Hofford case can be found in B. R. Hofford, "From OPC to CRC: Principle or Preference?".
- For a detailed exposition on the issues in question, see B. R. Hofford, Open Communion in the OPC.
- Acts of Synod 1983, p39.
- Ibid, p41.
- Dennison, p238.
- Acts of Synod 1986, p128-130.
- Ibid, p142-151.
- Ibid, p54.
- Ibid, p60.
- Acts of Synod 1989, p64. This paper, which was affirmed by the 54th General Assembly, can be found in full on p182-186.
- Ibid, p65.
- Ibid, p67.
- OPC Minutes 1990, p243.
- Ibid, p243-244.
- OPC Minutes 1991, p238.
- Ibid, p42,258.
- Ibid, p42,258-259.
- Acts of Synod 1992, p167ff.
- Acts of Synod 1992, p55.
- Ibid, p50-52.
- Report of the Committee for Contact with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to General Synod 1995 of the Canadian Reformed Churches, p6.
- Ibid, p7-8.
- Ibid, p14.
- Acts of Synod 1995, p75.
- Acts of Synod 1992, p50.
- Committee for Contact with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Report of the Committee for Contact with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to General Synod 1998 of the Canadian Reformed Churches, p3.
- Ibid, p5.
- Duff, "Evangelical?" p488.
- Ibid, p489.
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