If the OPC began to enter into ecumenical discussions with the PCUSA would someone be justified in thinking that the OPC had changed its estimate of the PCUSA? And would this change indicate a shift within the OPC itself to the point that you might plausibly argue that the denomination’s teaching had changed? In other words, what would it take for the OPC to recognize the PCUSA at least as a conversation partner?
On the matter of confessional statements, the OPC would have to get around the Barmen Declaration and the Confession of 1967. That’s enough to end the conversation.
On matters of practice and discipline, the OPC would have to overlook the ordination of women, the ordination of homosexuals, and the recognition of gay marriage. In questions about worship, the OPC would have to come to terms with a PCUSA hymnal that has some clunkers and that took the stuffing out of good hymns.
So with all these reservations, if the OPC went ahead and opened up discussions with the PCUSA, onlookers might well think that the OPC had lost its way, that the doctrine and practice that had once characterized the communion were no longer important, and that the OPC’s understanding of Reformed Protestantism had changed?
So now as folks like Ross Douthat wonder if changes surrounding sex and marriage will change not just discipline but the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, why don’t those same folks wonder about what Vatican II did in reclassifying Protestants as separated brethren? Sixteenth-century bishops only knew those outside the church as infidels, schismatics or heretics. Separated brethren did not become part of episcopal language until the 1960s. And this came at a time when the Protestant churches were liberal (at least from the perspective of communions like the OPC). Sure, they weren’t in the ballpark of going soft on homosexuality and marriage. But the Protestants the bishops had in mind were not in communions like the OPC but were in denominations like the PCUSA where Reformed orthodoxy was hardly firm.
What would allow the bishops to change that understanding of Protestantism? And isn’t this indicative of a change in doctrine — not technically in the language of the catechisms or papal documents? Doesn’t this reflect a change in the understanding of the doctrine that defined Roman Catholicism or the degree to which doctrine or liturgy matter? If folks who were once in error and whose views needed to be anathematized now look like Christians who are worthy of dialogue, hasn’t something changed?