Does the Tie that Binds Extend to Old Life?

I wondered after reading this:

Jevon is a Pastoral Resident and Church Planting Intern at Independent Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. What that means is that Jevon is a Bible-believing Christian who has devoted his life to serving Jesus Christ vocationally within the same denomination that we’re a part of. Jevon and I have a whole lot in common. Though we’ve never met personally, I can say with a great deal of confidence that our fellowship would be sweet.

But there is one observable difference: Jevon is black, and I am white. Because of the color of his skin, Jevon faces fears that I don’t face. That fact alone is profoundly disturbing to me, and it should be disturbing to all Christians. For at the foundation of Christianity is the belief that ALL men and women (no qualifications) are made in the image of God and deserve the dignity and treatment consistent with that reality.

I too like to think (all about mmmmeeeeEEEE) that I am a Bible-believing Christian who serves Christ and who has fellowship with Pastor Shurden through ecumenical ties between the OPC and PCA. And yet I wonder if the sweet, sweet fellowship that he assumes he has with Jevon Washington also includes confessional, spirituality-of-the-church Presbyterians like moi.

Or in this post-Ferguson era does Pastor Shurden feel more affinity with Michelle Higgins than with Chortles Weekly? If the basis for fellowship among Presbyterians is biblical teaching summarized in the Confession of Faith, then creed matters more than blood. After all, it takes more than being human to belong to a Presbyterian communion (though being human is pretty good).

Alliances, Ecumencity, and Being Reformed

The OPC’s 75th anniversary also coincided with the regular meeting of General Assembly. My pastor, whose energy consumes more calories in a day than I devour in the course of a week, wrote the daily report and perusing his summary reminds me of an important point about communions like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The pastor’s notes on Friday’s sessions included the report from the OPC’s Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Relations (CEIR), with a list of the various denominations with which the OPC has a relationship.

The OPC reserves the category of ecclesiastical fellowship for fifteen different churches, which include:

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC)
The Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRef)
The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (CRCN)
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales (EPCEW)
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland (EPCI)
The Free Church of Scotland (FCS)
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
The Presbyterian Church in Korea (Kosin) (PCKK)
The Reformed Church in Japan (RCJ)
The Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ)
The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)
The Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ)
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland (RPCI)
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)
The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA)

According to the OPC’s rules for ecclesiastical relationships:

Ecclesiastical Fellowship is a relationship in which the churches involved are Reformed in their confessional standards, church order and life though there may be such differences between them that union is not possible at this time and there might be considerable need for mutual concern and admonition. It is to be implemented where possible and desirable by:

Exchange of fraternal delegates at major assemblies
Occasional pulpit fellowship (by local option)
Intercommunion, including ready reception of each other’s members at the Lord’s Supper but not excluding suitable inquiries upon requested transfer of membership, as regulated by each session (consistory)
Joint action in areas of common responsibility
Consultation on issues of joint concern, particularly before instituting changes in polity, doctrine, or practice that might alter the basis of the fellowship
The exercise of mutual concern and admonition with a view to promoting Christian unity
Agreement to respect the procedures of discipline and pastoral concern of one another
Exchange of Minutes (Acts) of the major assemblies
Exchange of denominational church directories (yearbooks)
Exchange of the most recently published edition of the confessional standards
Exchange of the most recently published edition of the (Book or Manual of) Church Order
Exchange of the most recent denominationally published edition of hymnals or Psalters

Runner up to ecclesiastical fellowship is a corresponding relationship, an OPC category into which eleven churches fall:

The Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Free Church of Scotland Continuing
The Free Reformed Churches of North America
The Heritage Reformed Congregations
Independent Reformed Church in Korea
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)
The Presbyterian Church of Brazil
The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
The Presbyterian Church in Japan
The Bible Presbyterian Church
The Reformed Churches of South Africa

According to the rule book, a corresponding relationship is one in which:

. . . mutual contact with another church is undertaken to become better acquainted with one another with a view towards entering into Ecclesiastical Fellowship at some time in the not-too-distant future. It shall be implemented where possible and desirable by:

Exchange of official representatives at major assemblies
Joint action in areas of common responsibility
Consultation on issues of joint concern, particularly before instituting changes in polity, doctrine, or practice that might alter the basis of the relation
Exchange of Minutes (Acts) of the broadest assemblies
Exchange of denominational church directories (yearbooks)
Exchange of the most recently published edition of the confessional standards
Exchange of the most recently published edition of the (Book or Manual of) Church Order
Exchange of the most recent denominationally published edition of hymnals or Psalters

Finally, the last level of relationship is ecumenical contact and the OPC puts ten churches into this category:

Confessing Reformed Church in Congo
Presbyterian Free Church of India
Free Church in Southern Africa
Free Reformed Churches in South Africa
Gereja-Gereja Reformasi Calvinis
Gereja-Gereja Reformasi di Indonesia
Reformed Churches of Brazil
Reformed Churches of Spain
Reformed Presbyterian Church of India
Reformed Presbyterian Church North-East India

An ecumenical contact is a status reserved or denominations that belong to the International Council of Reformed Churches and .reflects an effort to follow the ICRC’s stated d purpose, “to encourage the fullest ecclesiastical fellowship among the member churches.”

It shall be implemented, as appropriate, by:

Meetings, both formal and informal, of delegates to the quadrennial meeting of the Conference
Welcome of official observers at the broadest assemblies
Communication on issues of joint concern
Mutual labors as members of the Conference in discharge of the purposes of the Conference

A couple of matters are worth highlighting about these lists and terms: 1) The OPC is often characterized as narrow and idiosyncratic but her ecclesiastical relationships extend well beyond the United States and (even) North America to places which U.S. parachurch agencies and alliances have no presence. 2) The list and definitions extend not to celebrity pastors but to actual churches.

All the more reason to associate the word, “reformed,” with another word, “church.” Without church, reformed makes no sense.

Mike Horton is More Fun Than Mark Dever (though Mark has his moments)

Justin Taylor made me do it.

He linked to Ray Ortlund’s blog from a couple days ago at the Gospel Coalition – calling it a “classic” in which the he warns TR’s (i.e., Truly Reformed) about the danger of falling into the Judaizer trap. Ortlund writes:

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

This is truly an amazing assertion by the Nashville pastor. Even though Reformed folks think they are following Paul in their teaching and ministry (let’s not forget the Jerusalem Council or the pastoral epistles which say something about presbyterian polity), they become Judaizers by following Paul and insisting that the church heed everything Christ commanded – from theology to worship and polity. I feel like I am in a Coen Brothers movie where up is down, white is black, and rodents are felines.

Ortlund’s post is standard fare among evangelicals who look for a lowest-common-denominator approach to Christian unity and so regard sticklers for doctrine and practice – like the Reformed – as sticks in the mud and unloving sectarians to boot. (Ortlund fails to remark that Baptists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans, who insist on the correctness of their distinct teachings and practices, are also would-be Judaizers. Rather than acknowledge that differences exist within the church because different parts of the visible church interpret the Bible differently, Ortlund, like many a pietist before him, disregards actual differences and chalks up resistance to unity as a lack of love – for both Christ and for other Christians. As the Church Lady might say, “isn’t that charitable?”

But the neat trick that Ortlund adds to this standard kvetch about Reformed particularists is a claim about the psychology and sociology of being Reformed. He comments on Gal 4:17 – “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” – in the following paraphrase:

“When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.’”

Ortlund adds, “What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self.”

Isn’t that charitable, indeed.

Is it so hard to imagine that other people with whom we disagree may actually have good reasons for what they hold, and that they may actually be trying to honor, serve, and love the Lord and his church? Apparently, Ortlund would rather speculate on motives and psychology.

Ortlund concludes with this plea to Reformed Protestants:

My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.

Brother Ray, I have been around the non-Reformed and they are not nearly as much fun as Reformed folks are. As much as I do enjoy Mark Dever’s company (sorry for name-dropping), I refuse to smoke a cigar or drink a Gin & Tonic in his company, not because I find him unworthy of such camaraderie but because I know my smoking or imbibing could get Mark in trouble. Baptists still bulk large in the prohibitionist camp and for that reason the merriment supplied by leisurely conversation over a pipe or a pint (better with both) is off limits to many of the Christian groups that Ortlund wants me to hang out with and have fun.

This may seem like a trivial point but it actually bears much more on the passage to which Ortlund appeals than it might seem at first. Paul’s battle with the Judaizers was over the misapplication of Scripture. In the Judaizers’ hands formerly God-made rules had become man-made norms because the work of Christ introduced freedom from the old covenant norms. In other words, the Judaizers were effectively substituting man-made rules for being Christian than the gospel that Paul was preaching. The Judaizers were denying Christian liberty in the way that contemporary believers do when they conclude that smoking or drinking is sin with (erroneous) appeals to Scripture. Without a proper biblical justification for their prohibitions they wind up enslaving Christians and thus burden the very gospel that Paul was out to protect among the Galatians.

In my own knowledge of church history, it is the Reformed (and other confessional Protestants) who understand much better than the “Jesus only” evangelicals the difference between the word of God and the words of men. And it is this difference that makes Reformed Protestants (with apologies to my friend, Mark Dever) more fun.

What's the Difference between the OPC and PCA?

In 1986 the OPC almost became part of the PCA. In the General Assembly report that laid out the rationale for Joining & Receiving, the OPC’s committee on ecumencity noted the following characteristics of the two communions. (Keep in mind that one of those denominations was 50 years old, the other only 14.)

•Attractive name (though indistinguishable for the general public from the PCUSA)
•Vigorous evangelism
•Aggressive church extension and foreign mission programs
•Expressed commitment to Scripture and the Westminster Standards
•Expressed determination to instruct members in the Reformed faith

•Commitment to the Reformed faith as the teaching of Scripture
•Theological and ecclesiastical stability that has had world-wide influence for the Reformed
•Practicing Presbyterianism vs. hierarchical and congregational practice
•Church-oriented mission
•Willingness to expend prolonged time and effort to establish soundly-biblical bases for programs and actions
•Revised Form of Government
•Enrichment of the church by willingness to use the insights of other Reformed churches at home and abroad
•International Reformed ecumenical participation

•Delegation of judicatories’ functions to commission
•Selective discipline
•Uneven indoctrination of new churches
•Problematical elements in the Form of Government
•Danger of loose subscription by officers
•Inadequate discussion at general assembly, a hindrance to mature biblically-based decisions
•Tendency toward domination of policy by staffs
•Competition among agencies for funds
•Methods of evangelism
•Opposing tendencies: bureaucracy/ congregationalism
•Involvement with non-Reformed foreign mission agencies
•Loyalty to regional (southern. presbyterian) distinctives

•No means of assuring Reformed training of candidates for the ministry
•No publication for exchange of opinion
•Weakness in local evangelism
•Growing ignorance of Church’s reason for existence
•Growing ignorance of the doctrine of the church
•Frequent inadequate preparation of covenant children and adult candidates for communicant membership

Aside from what these lists reveal about both communions, another consideration worth raising is how much has changed in 23 years in both churches. From the squint of oldlife, these differences appear even more glaring in 2010 than they did in 1986. But the biggest question may be why with these differences in front of them a majority of OPC commissioners voted in favor of J&R (not a sufficient majority, though, to send the matter to the presbyteries for ratification.