So Now the Covenanters are the Standard?

At the Shiloh Institute this week I (mmmeeeeEEEEE) played around with the question of center and periphery in conservative Reformed Protestantism in the United States. For some (not at the conference), the PCA is in the mainstream. One explanation is its size — it outflanks all of the other communions that belong to NAPARC. Another is that the PCA has anywhere between six and a dozen celebrity pastors (with none having the star power of TKNY). Another is that New Calvinism is popular and the PCA is in tune with that immature and attention-deficit-disordered (read young and restless) brand of Calvinism. Related is the Gospel Coalition factor. By virtue of encouraging and defending New Calvinism, PCA officers have seats at the table of a website parachurch endeavor that is seemingly big, popular, and influential.

If you want to put the OPC at the center of conservative or confessional Calvinism, you need to ignore the numbers and pay attention to history and language. The OPC has been around longer than the PCA. In 1937 the OPC coughed up a big wing of the PCA — the RPCES portion of the Bible Presbyterian Synod — that in turn equipped the PCA with its educational institutions, Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary. The OPC continues to draw upon the Reformed past as it attempts to understand God’s word. The variety of views on creation, the presence of two-kingdom theology, and the recent report on the doctrine of republication all indicate ways in which the OPC keeps alive expressions of Reformed Protestantism older and in many cases more substantial than twentieth-century conservative Presbyterianism.

As for language, English is the OPC’s native tongue, which means the OPC has never had to think of itself explicitly as an ethnic communion. And it is ethnicity in part that hurts the URC’s chances for defining the center and periphery in American Calvinism.

That leaves communions like the RPCNA (Covenanters) and ARPC (Seceders), both of Scottish extraction, on the margins of contemporary American Calvinism. They may be bigger or smaller than the other churches, but their histories are different from the OPC, PCA, and URC. All of the latter communions started in opposition to liberalism within an older denomination. The RPCNA and ARP don’t have the same dynamics and so don’t resonate as well with other NAPARC members.

But having said all that, shut my mouth. Now we hear from a PCA source that the RPCNA is at the center of contemporary Reformed church life:

The reason I know this is because the most Confessional denomination in NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) is the RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America). The RPCNA is the most historically confessional church in this council (which the PCA is a member), and yet, those who are claiming to be the confessionalists in the PCA, would not join with this, the most confessional denomination. Why? It is because they ordain women to the office of deacon. Yes, that is right. The most confessional of all the denominations in NAPARC ordains women to the office of deacon. They have practiced this since 1888, and have done so because it was studied, and found to be biblical. They have kept their strong confessional nature all this time, while still ordaining woman to be deacons.

Those in the PCA who are claiming the moniker of Confessional, taking it from anyone else who doesn’t agree with them on the issue of women’s roles, should in fact stop being so disingenuous. Instead of confessional they are more closely identified as Old School Southern Presbyterians, which is fine. But, please stop using Confessional like you have something that no one else does. It’s disingenuous and you are making a non-confessional issue, the defining issue.

Speaking of disingenuousness, does Jon Price really want to embrace the National Covenant (1581) to which the RPCNA still swears allegiance, as ground zero of Presbyterian confessionalism? And is he ready to put away the hymnal and the swaybabes?

Hey now.

At least the PCA is not the PCUSA (at least until Michelle Higgins gets her way):

Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA). We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7]

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19 thoughts on “So Now the Covenanters are the Standard?

  1. Saying that at least the PCA is not the PCUSA reminds me of a banner I saw at Penn-St Joes game. The St Joes’ banner said: ‘Hey Penn, at least you’re not Nova.’ But such a retort to the PCA relies on the kind of division and infighting that dishonors the Gospel.

    IN addition, when you write:


    As for language, English is the OPC’s native tongue, which means the OPC has never had to think of itself explicitly as an ethnic communion. And it is ethnicity in part that hurts the URC’s chances for defining the center and periphery in American Calvinism.

    did the OPC never have to think of itself explicitly as an ethnic communion because it has one native tongue or because English is the native toungue? IN either case, such a statement shows how oblivious a group can be.

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  2. “At least the PCA is not the PCUSA (at least until Michelle Higgins gets her way)”

    But if she really gets her way the PCUSA will become the CPUSA. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
    What’s with all these acronyms anyway? Whatever happened to my Ol’ Timey Calvinism when the only acronym was TULIP?

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  3. As Dr. Hart points out it is an odd move (read here: irrelevant) for the PCA ro point towards the ARP and RPCNA and their deaconnesses.

    Not only is the history of their presence in the ARP and RPCNA quite different, in the ARP at least, we got them precisely because the ARP was going headlong into PCUS liberalism in the late 1960’s. It was only by God’s grace that we did not complete that movement and have been slowly but surely returning to our confessionally Reformed heritage ever since.

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  4. This (besides his name and that he is married) is the sum total of the bio of one of the pastor/ writers at Vintage ’73

    “After 20 years as a salesman & a consultant he was called to gospel ministry. His church plant, Redeemer Community, meets in a farmers market, his office is in a union hall, and small groups meet in cafes.”

    Nuff said.

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  5. sdb,
    Of course it explains it, depending on what it is. Could never root for the Celtics or Bruins. However,, can easily root for the Sox and, despite my politics, even the Patriots.

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  6. Nowadays the RPCNA has what I think are strong (not necessarily decisive) biblical arguments for women deacons. But back in 1888, they were heavily into the bread evangelical reform movement with their National Reform Association. The 3 goals of that broad movement had been emancipation (achieved), “temperance” (= prohibition), & women’s suffrage (protofeminism). It seems likely that the reformist impulse had as much as the Bible to do with the ordination of women as deacons.

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  7. At least the PCA is not Pope Francis:

    Pope Francis says that the Church should apologize to homosexuals. But how should we go about it?

    The Holy Father made it clear, in that remarkable statement, that he thought individual Christians, not the universal Church, had mistreated homosexuals. Certainly I should apologize to anyone that I have offended. But I can’t apologize on behalf of others, especially if I am not aware of how they have given offense. What it is, exactly, for which apologies are due?

    Are we taking it for granted that on balance, Christians have done more harm than good for people with homosexual inclinations? Are we assuming that in any conflicts, the homosexual was the innocent victim? Can we ignore all the cases in which troubled young people went to a priest for help in dealing with their sexual impulses, and received wise and prudent advice that helped them both spiritually and emotionally?

    And if we apologize, will that apology be accepted? Or will it be taken as the basis for further demands by the gay-rights movement? The “early returns” on the Pope’s statement strongly suggest the latter.

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  8. Yes, the Church as an institution should apologize. And we could as individuals for any active or passive support we gave the Chuch in the ways that it treated the LGBT community unjustly or supported unjust treatment of the LGBT community.

    As for whether homosexuals were innocent victims of unjust treatment. That can only be determined on a case by case basis. And such a determination is independent of any wrong behavior practiced by homosexuals.

    As for your other question, you worry about too much. Take care of the apologies.

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  9. I remember visiting a URC congregation and feeling the strong Dutch-ness and neo Kuyperian bent of it all. Nice people but I felt that it was a bit parochial. I say that as someone that credits Dr. Clark and Dr. Horton for shaping my understanding of the Reformed faith.

    The congregation that I am a part of, though PCA, was OPC. It is rather ordinary, regulative principle, Christ centered preaching. Me and my wife fit in rather well.

    All of that to say, I think you have something here Dr. Hart.

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  10. An addendum:

    There is something to be said for a church that has no hobby horses, is confessional, and see to preach Christ faithfully in rightly regulated worship. The “problem” is that it’s boring. God willing perhaps there will be more OPC congregations in South Florida, my home.

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  11. I was once told that the RCUS and other NAPARC denominations sought biblical reasons from the RPCNA as to their position on women deacons via different NAPARC meetings, however the RPCNA has never responded.

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  12. @Curt
    “And we could as individuals for any active or passive support we gave the Chuch in the ways that it treated the LGBT community unjustly or supported unjust treatment of the LGBT community.”

    I’m curious how you decide how you come to apply the OT. On the one hand, you apply civil prescriptions for the nation of Israel to the church, but that same covenant includes things like the death penalty for homosexual conduct. Why should the bits about how the nation should welcome aliens, pay just wages, and punish oppressors serve as a guide for the political conscience of believers, but the bits about putting those who commit homosexual acts to death should not? I understand those who say it all applies (e.g., the reconstructionists), though I disagree with them. I don’t understand how one justifies picking and choosing other than to say one is looking for Biblical language to support one’s current stance.

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