Purpose of This Blog

The Final Goal of this Blog is to work towards the unification of the seceding denominations (and the one true original denomination) into a unified and public body of believers so as to properly fight the False Presbyterian Church (better known as the PC (USA)) and to subdue it from preaching a false gospel.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Is Realignment a Biblical Option?

John M. Frame

On Jan. 15 of this year, New Life Presbyterian Church (OPC) of Escondido, California, took its second and deciding vote to leave the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for the Presbyterian Church in America. I serve on the session of that congregation. Our reason was as follows: Our congregation has gifts from God, a strategic location, a burden and, we believe, a calling, to plant churches in San Diego County. For various reasons (space precludes details) most of the more gifted potential church planters in this area have preferred to work in the PCA rather than in the OPC. Thus we believed that we had good reason, indeed a divine mandate of sorts, to switch denominations.

For this decision we have endured much criticism. Words like "disloyalty," "betrayal," "abandonment," even "schism" have been used to characterize our action. Nevertheless, I believe that our decision can be justified biblically.

The term "schismatic" was used in the early centuries of the church to describe groups such as the Novatians and the Donatists who rejected the government of the one true church to begin their own "churches," in effect, the first denominations. Jesus Christ had established a single church, one in organization as well as spirit. To break away from that body was to despise the leaders God had provided, rather than to "obey" them as scripture required (Heb. 13:17). Schismatics were people who wanted to obey only the leaders of their own party (cf. I Cor. 1:10-17, 3:1-23). They wanted to be their own bosses.

On the other hand, there was evidently no problem at all, in the NT period and later, when people wished to move from one part of the church to another. Priscilla, Aquila, Paul, Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Mark and many others often moved from place to place in their missionary labors. Though there were some sad partings (as Acts 20:36-38), the missionaries moved on to spread the word.

Now today we live in a rather different situation. The church today is not organizationally one as in the first centuries, but is divided into many denominations. Often today, in order to "move from one part of the church to another," i.e., to work with other groups of Christians and benefit from their gifts, we must cross denominational barriers. That is how it is in our case. We want to work with some Christians who have developed an effective vision and plan for church planting; but we cannot work closely with them without crossing a denominational barrier. Is that "schism," or is it merely "moving from one part of the church to another?"

In some cases, such a move might be schismatic. Even today, it is possible that a church might want to switch denominations because of contempt for the government of his own denomination. Sometimes churches leave denominations and either become independent or start their own new denominations out of little more than a prideful desire to be their own bosses.

On the other hand, there are many situations where changing denominations is clearly not sinful. Church members often transfer from OPC to PCA and vice versa for many reasons: geography, better use of gifts, etc. Ministers of the one group have often accepted calls to the other group in order to follow God's calling and to make best use of their God-given gifts. When individuals make such transfers, no one ever seems to complain that they are being "schismatic," "disloyal" or whatever. It is well understood that these people are simply "moving from one part of the church to another" even though such a move involves crossing a denominational barrier.

But when a congregation moves, the response is often very different. People in the original denomination sometimes get very critical, even angry. But why should congregations be any different from individuals? Congregations, like individuals, have God-given gifts and God-given callings.

I honestly believe that New Life's action is not motivated by any contempt for the government of the OPC. Our action is provided for in the OPC Form of Government, and we are following that provision very carefully. In the very act of withdrawal, we are seeking to be subject to our OPC brethren. We have no desire for autonomy, to be our own bosses; on the contrary, we are joining another Presbyterian denomination which, just like the OPC, requires obedience to its standards and to its courts. Indeed, we have no real desire to be apart from our OPC brethren. Our fondest wish is that one day that denominational barrier (which, I believe, exists contrary to God's will) will be gone, and we will all be together in a united church. But until that happens, we must, in order to profit from the gifts of God's people in the other body, cross that barrier from time to time. But this is nothing more than "moving from one part of the church to another."

I earnestly hope that we will learn to take that denominational barrier less and less seriously until it disappears altogether. Certainly you who stay in the OPC have no right, in the absence of compelling evidence, to judge the motives of those who wish to cross that barrier. Let God's word temper your initial emotional reactions. There is no need at all for realignment to cause bitterness between us. We continue to love you, and we treasure your love and faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that that love and respect will be mutual.

37 comments:

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

I support the concepts behind this blog. I am one who was disappointed with the PCA GA's refusal to take up the proposed initiative for uniting all the NAPARC denominations which was brought forth at the 2003 General Assembly in Birmingham.

I am curious as to why a Scottish accountant in Ross-shire is so passionately concerned about the Presbyterian situation in America.

Ebenezer Erskine said...

My apologies for making you think I was an accountant. I forgot to set the "industry" tag on my profile and evidently "accounting" is the default.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

So if you are not a bean counter, what is your vocation?

Brian Carpenter
bouletheou@hotmail.com

Ebenezer Erskine said...

I am an amateur theologian by training and my vocation is in the service industry.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I like what Frame is saying here but how do you think this post helps your cause?

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Then I am stil puzzled. What has provoked your passion for this particular cause (other than a disgust and disdain for the PCUSA, which I share and I suspect Ben Glaser does too.)

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Benjamin:

Dr. Frame articulates some understandings that I believe undergird the development of an ethos for this blog.

Rev. Carpenter:

My amateur theologizing (if that is a word) has led me to believe that there is a need for a unified Reformed voice coming out of the states to combat the heretical sounds of the WCC. The only way this can be done is if the NAPARC churches come together in a more than confederated way.

John Shuck said...

You are a piece of work, Ebenezer. Are you for real!?

Merrily Yours,
John Shuck
A proud member of the PCUSA "the false church".

We wait for you to come and subdue us.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

I personally do not see the WCC as that great a threat today, but perhaps things look different in Britain with the State Churches than they do from here. I assume you're either C of S or Free Kirk?

I think the WCC was perhaps a great threat in the late 60's and early 70's (Lloyd Jones was certainly concerned about it enough to address it) but the liberal denominations that primarily make it up are dying, both in Europe and in America (courtesy of people like John Shuck) The the support from the Eastern Orthodox churches is tepid, to say the least, and then there's Rome. Who knows what Rome is doing? (and frankly, who cares? At least as long as they're not setting Protestants on fire any longer.) In the United States they can't even meet their budget without emergency infusions of cash from the dying mainlines.

I'm far more concerned about the broader Evangelical movement and its infiltration into the Reformed church (and yes, into the PCA.) It is anti-intellectual, antinomian, and obsessed with worldly practices and measures of success. From this side of the pond, that looks like a far more substantial threat.

Ebenezer Erskine said...

John:

I have a feeling Satan has already "subdued" you well enough.

Rev. Carpenter:

I am currently a member of the Free Church. The WCC still has some sway on this side of the pond, especially with the state churches of which you mentioned. The evangelicals I presume you speak of (Joel Osteen, Billy Graham I presume) have no real power over here especially since I'd say 50% of the pop is functionally atheist. Though from what I read and what I hear it seems that this evangelical movement is exploding with serious consequences in North America.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Ebenezer (shall I abbreviate "Ben" and risk confusing you with Ben Glaser, or shall I abbreviate "Ersk" and sound silly? Or shall I not abbreviate at all?)

I'm not so hard on Billy as I once was. He made some big mistakes which still haunt us today, but we must remember how truly abysmal the church was in the 1930's and 40's. There was almost nowhere where a man could go and get sound doctrine. Most of the show was run by John Shuck's forebearers. He did the best he could with the very dull and inferior tools he was given.

Joel Osteen is a clown and everyone with half an IQ point knows he's a clown. Guys like that always have their day in the sun and then disappear pretty quickly or even self destruct from their own actions.

The real troubles IMHO are those who are obsessed with making the church look as much like the world as possible, all in the name of reaching the world. They draw crowds and wield influence, and American history shows that we are a people uniquely given to deception when crowds and influence are in the mix. The sad tale of Charles Finney has proved that decisively and his spectre still haunts American evangelicalism.

For more info on this I can recommend the White Horse Inn's series called "The American Religion" and Iain Murray's book "Evangelicalism Divided."

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Rev. Carpenter,

Bill Crawford in another Post called me "E.E." so that would work if you feel so inclined as to initial. As far as the real threat, the deal makers with the world. Are these the emergents I hear so much about from the WHI?

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Very well. I christen thee "Dubble E" or "Dub" for short. I'm from the South originally and we've got to have a nickname for everyone.

The emergent church is not the phenomenon I had in mind. I was thinking more along the lines of the influence that Bill Hybels and Rick Warren have had, among others.

As for the emergent church, I am not well enough versed on the movement to be an intelligent critic, but I am alarmed by most of what I see. There seems to be a relativistic epistemology, a contentless spirituality and a formless ecclesiology... a bunch of people sitting around telling each other "what Jesus means to me" without any philosophical tools for understanding what Jesus actually "means."

Here's a quote that summarizes my concerns nicely:

In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time traveling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network. But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake. -- Mark Driscol

Ebenezer Erskine said...

So Rev. Carpenter you are saying the big danger is the "church-growth" ministries of Willow Creek and Saddleback? Is this because the main goal then becomes not evangelizing but growth or because their particular theologies?

Alan said...

Hello, Rev. C and dubble E!
I just found this blog, actually E.E. found mine and I followed him back here. I just have to say that the two of you cannot seem to unite on the reason the reformed churches should unite. That was more of a joke, I think they should unite against everything both of you have mentioned. Although exactly who is involved may change my opinion, my wife is in the process of leaving the CRC and I would have nothing to do with fellowshipping with them. There is nothing reformed about that group outside of its name. From Alpha, PDL, contemplative prayer, ordaining women, paedocommunion, this group is headed straight down the road the UCC went and will very soon be shouting heresy from its pulpits.

In Christ
Alan

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Welcome Alan. Your thoughts are appreciated. By the way, where is your wife headed? URC?

Alan said...

Ebenezer,
That is not a short story, but I will try. I am a member of a PCA church in St. Louis, Missouri that is in the process of changing over to OPC. There are no underlying reasons of dissatisfaction with the PCA, just a political move, an OPC church plant has decided to merge with my church but they must remain OPC. Anyway, we were married in February and I moved up here to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We have found a PCA church 30 miles from here, the CRC church is the only "reformed" church in town, and are now attending the PCA church. I will, Lord willing, be attending Westminster Seminary in California next fall and we have visited there twice now and have already decided on a URCNA church not far from the seminary. Hope that does not muddy things too much.:)

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Good Providence and God Bless on your journey Alan. Feel free to enter into Rev. Carpenter and Gary's discussion on Exclusive Psalmody.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

"So Rev. Carpenter you are saying the big danger is the "church-growth" ministries of Willow Creek and Saddleback? Is this because the main goal then becomes not evangelizing but growth or because their particular theologies?"

Dub,

It's more complex than that, I'm afraid. First it starts with a false view of the gospel which is inherent in Arminianism, though Wesley himself never took it to these extremes.

If you believe that the evangelist's job is to "persuade" the potential convert to "let Jesus into his heart" and then merge that concept with the marketing principles which are America's unique contribution to the world, then you will inevitably set out to avoid giving any offense to the potential "customer" at all. So it starts with doing things like asking unconverted people, "Why don't you come to church." Then collecting the data and changing what unconverted people don't like. Traditional hymns? Gone. Formal dress? Gone. Long sermons? Gone. Sunday mornings too early or inconvenient for you? We'll do it another time.

Now, some of those things are legitimately indifferent things. Some are not. But then we start monkeying with the gospel itself. Don't want to hear you're a sinner in danger of eternal damnation at the hands of a wrathful God? No problem. We'll give you a six part series on building your self-esteem or being a better dad or handling your finances instead. Then you'll throw in a gospel pitch at the end, but it won't be the real gospel. It will be a message about how Jesus can enhance your life if you'll just let him.

People will come out in their thousands for a program like that. You'll draw a crowd, but not a congregation. You'll have decisions, but no salvation. Only now the "customers" are ideally vaccinated against the real gospel because they think they've "already done that."

So, on that theory of things we had a group come to Sturgis for the annual motorcycle rally who were going to do "evangelism." They were called the 'Hellfighters.'

Their tracts consisted of things like, "God loves you have a nice day" and "Have you got problems? Put them in the 'God Box.'" (i.e. give them over to God for him to solve.) We had a couple of Calvinistic Baptist seminary students come up from Southwestern in Dallas, who had come up to join this group and wanted to preach the real gospel, but found themselves stymied by these well-meaning people at every turn. I felt so sorry for them I bought them tracts from Way of the Master to aid them in real evangelism. The tracts began with the Law of God and asked "Are you a good person?"

The negative reaction from the Hellfighters was sad, but predictable. How are you ever going to keep people from going to hell by offending them by telling them they're going to hell?

I could go on and on, of course. I choose not to right now.

Alan said...

I would like to join in this conversation but I do not feel I could add anything. All I feel worthy of saying is, Rev. Carpenter, Amen to every word!!!

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Rev. Carpenter,

I hear what you are saying and find much to agree with. I'll have to do some more research into the types of things of which you speak.

Alan,

Do not be silent for that reason. Your thoughts are encouraged no matter what your "educational level" is currently. It would be good for a soon-to-be seminary student to engage these questions.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Alan,

It's an easy trap to fall into, and there are pseudo-Reformed versions of it as well. That is, I think, the PCA's biggest struggle. Many of my brethren are mentally Calvinistic and practically Arminian.

Whenever I hear a PCA guy lamenting about how "we've got to change how we do things to reach people group "x"... (the next generation, the university crowd, Hollywood and the 'arts community', the business community, the disaffected Republican lesbians who each have one gold tooth... whoever) I want to just throw up my hands and scream. All manner of mischief is inflicted on the Church this way, and her pastors ought to know better.

Reaching any people group is always fundamentally the same. Proclaim the Law of God, the judgment of God, and the free offer of the gospel of God. The elect will come, the reprobate will run away and probably hate you. That's not failure. That's success. That's how it works. That's how it has always worked. The disaffected lesbians have EXACTLY the same need as the university student and the business man and the member of the arts community. Nothing fundamental has changed in 5,000 years of church history on this front. Nothing.

When (if) you become a pastor, the constant temptation will be to avoid saying things that are true, but offensive.

But you will also be tempted (if you are orthodox) to retreat into a grumpy, defensive, unattractive little group of like-minded men. You will not evangelize. You will constantly and only exercise the spiritual gift of criticism. Your effectiveness will be marginal at best. You will have a real and genuine lack of love and kindness, and a real lack of patience with other people. Your piety will be a cover for pride, which is the worst of all spiritual cancers.

That's the catch. It's a hard path to walk... narrow and a deep ditch on either side. And you get to do it for $40K or $50K per year, a crummy denominational retirement plan, and crippling health insurance costs. Plus all the meetings you can stomach and you get to incur a stricter judgment from God.

That's why nobody in their right mind should seek the pastorate. It's only for those whom the Holy Spirit has drafted.

Alan said...

Ebenezer,
I did not mean I thought I had nothing to offer, I am just the opposite, I have opinions galore as you will find out if you are around me enough. I just meant I agreed with reb. Carpenter and thought he stated everything he said well.

Rev. Carpenter,
I have been called, I would never choose the job of evangelist, but I just can not see myself doing anything else. I am aware of the dangers and hearing them from your lips, so to speak, is an encouragement. Thank you for the warnings as well. It would be oh so easy to get into the kind of rut you describe, however, I believe this is one of the reasons God gave me the wife he did. I have a long sorted background I am currently putting on paper to send with my application to Westminster. I have decided I am going to put it on my blog in some posts over the next month or so, so I will not go into it now. Thank you again and I hope to get to know you better in the near future, we are very like-minded.

In Christ
Alan

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Alan,

I apologize if you thought I meant you had nothing to offer, that is not my intention, but I meant to say feel free to offer your opinions whenever you wish.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Alan,

I'll read it with interest. Do let us know when it's published.

Will you be going OPC or PCA?

Alan said...

EE, I did not think you were saying I had nothing to say, I thought you thought I thought i had nothing to say, does that make sense?

Rev.
Well, I am driving 30 miles out of town to the nearest PCA church here in Cedar Rapids, IA. There are a dozen PCUSA, but no truly reformed churches here. In visiting Westminster we, my wife and I, have worshiped at a URCNA church with an outstanding expositor of Scripture, his name is Michael Brown and I can give links to his blog and sermons if anyone is interested. As long as I am speaking of links, my pastor from St. Louis is just finishing up Rom. chapter 8 and is already over 100 sermons, I could provide a link to those as well, should anyone want to spend time listening to some great exposition. I digress often as well, sorry

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Alan,

I understand. My fault for misunderstanding. I look forward to your postings.

polymathis said...

Wow. Haven't seen long comment posting like this in a while. (That's a compliment actually...).

EE: Rev. Carpenter's assessment of the American scene is something you should incorporate into your topics. Part of the problem of unity is the cultural situation a given denomination is in. As an American I can attest to that!

"That's why nobody in their right mind should seek the pastorate. It's only for those whom the Holy Spirit has drafted."--AMEN (from one whose "been there; doing that")

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Poly,

If I'm not mistaken, aren't you Wes White's OPC friend down in Denver? You've seen some of our presbytery meetings down there as a fraternal delegate, haven't you?

Brian

polymathis said...

Brian,

Yes, I admit I'm Wes' OPC friend from Denver. And, yes, I was at the Spring Rocky Mountain PCA presbytery meeting this year. Wes might have told you about the ordination exam I witnessed.

For my part, I seem to recall that you were on the OPC email group list a while back.

Hopefully, Lord willing, when I come up in the Spring for our presbytery, we can finally meet in person. Wes speaks well of you.

Have a blessed Sabbath,

shawn

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Poly,

I thought you wuz who I thought you wuz. Any friend of Wes' is a friend of mine if he can stand me.

If I was on an OPC email list, nobody told me about it. Now, that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to be on an OPC email list...

Where and when will your spring meeting be? Perhaps I could be a fraternal delegate.

BTW, Festivus has now been dusted off and reclaimed as a part of our one true holy catholic and apostolic faith on my blog.

Blessings,
B

polymathis said...

Brian,

Presbytery is in Carson, ND. The first Tuesday of April.

Wes has invited me to preach at his church that Sunday, so I'll be at Wes' house that Saturday as well. Try coordinating with Wes.

--shawn

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

I'll check with my people and see if I'm available. If I am, I'll have them get in contact with your people.

Is this a two day affair like ours is supposed to be?

B

polymathis said...

I wish I had people you could contact...just Wes...

We usually meet Tues. to mid-day Thrsday

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Well, Wes is pretty much "my people" too, so we'll both just tell Wes what we think we ought to do.

I probably won't be able to attend the whole thing. Tuesdays generally aren't bad. I teach Latin to seven homeschool students on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wednesday night is our family night at church. Thursday morning is a pretty important morning for me, though.

But I could probably come Tuesday and half of Wednesday.

Got any candidates on the docket? I'm curious how you do your exams.

B

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

email me so we can quit hogging space on Dub's blog with this stuff.

bouletheou@hotmail.com

ChrisNC said...

I realize that this thread goes way back, but I have a spare two cents, so I thought I'd contribute them here.

I am a member of one of the "micro-presbyterian" churches, the RPC-Hanover Presbytery. It had been involved in merger talks with a couple of other microterian groups, but the talks fell out over the issue of Freemasonry.

The church is the body of Christ, a divine organization. On the other hand, it is an organization made up of sinners. Redeemed sinners, yet still sinners. As long as that is true, there will always be human conflicts that will interfere with organization unity. However, it doesn't prevent fraternal fellowship with brethren who are in substantial agreement. Isn't fraternity with peace more God-honoring than a fractious organizational unity?