General Assemblies are not always like this but the recent OPC GA did assume more the character of a national preaching conference (of course, minus the celebrity pastors) than a regular meeting of the church’s highest judicial body. All of the presentations from the OPC’s standing committees included historical overviews as well as substantial edification and exhortation from God’s word. Don Poundstone, a retired minister and home missionary, rounded out the proceedings with his address at the Saturday night banquet in which he argued, based on Christ’s responses to Pilate (John 18), that the OPC at its best had been a witness to the truth of Scripture and had affirmed that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Video recordings of most of the presentations are available here. (Foreign missions talks are unavailable because of the sensitivity of information regarding several fields of ministry.)
Arguably, one of the most moving parts of the Assembly came on Saturday morning during the presentation by the Committee on Christian Education. Part of the proceedings included a talk by Rev. John P. Galbraith, a 98-year old minister who actually studied at Westminster when Machen was still teaching and went on to serve in a variety of capacities, including General Secretary of both the Committee on Home Missions and the Committee on Foreign Missions. Even before speaking — which revealed a man with a mind still sharp and a tongue still eloquent — Galbraith received a standing ovation from commissioners and guests. The first words out of his mouth were those of the apostle Paul, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Galbraith then added, “And you applaud me?”
As near as I could tell, Galbraith’s deflection of applause characterized the week of presentations, devotionals, and sermons. Orthodox Presbyterians were glad to have reached the seventy-fifth birthday, but but they also knew that their history was not sensational or the product of their own faithfulness. (Self-promotion alert: see this point expressed in a different way here.) As cliched as it may have sounded, the truth that human accomplishments were less responsible than God’s grace for the OPC’s “success” was overwhelming sense among all those gathered. Part of the reason must have been that the last time the OPC met to throw a birthday party — in 1986 at Tony Campolo’s Eastern University — the church also voted itself out of existence. That is, the OPC accepted the invitation from the PCA to join and be received into the newer Presbyterian denomination. The proposal did not receive the super-majority of votes needed to be sent to the presbyteries for ratification. But a majority of commissioners in 1986 were willing to hitch their own and longer story to a communion that was less than fifteen years old. After twenty-five years of developments in both denominations, hardly anyone, at least in the OPC, regrets the rejection of J&R.
And so with quiet resolve and restrained joy Orthodox Presbyterians reflected on their past and heard preachers and missionaries recount the mighty deeds of God throughout redemptive history. It was by most accounts a time of great blessing for all who attended, and even prompted some to think that the OPC should sponsor its own national conference. Its speakers, like its history, would not be famous. And so the turnout would be light, insufficient to cover expenses. But those preachers would know their Bibles. Perhaps, just as important, they’d know their place — that the power of their words depends not on their own accomplishments or celebrity but on the God who gave them the word to proclaim.