AN APPEAL TO GENERAL SYNOD ABBOTSFORD, 1995
From the Church at Grand Rapids, Michigan
1. General Synod, Coaldale, 1977, decided, "With thankfulness to recognize the Orthodox Presbyterian Church as a true Church of our Lord Jesus Christ as confessed in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession." This same Synod decided, "To offer to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church a temporary relationship called 'ecclesiastical contact.' " Further, this contact (TEC) was intended "for the purpose of reaching full correspondence." (Art. 91, II, III).
2. General Synod, Smithville, 1980, with regard to the ecclesiastical contact with the OPC, stated that such a relationship "...since it is not permanent, does not include pulpit exchange, intercommunion, joint action, etc." (Art. 97, III,B,3).
3. General Synod, Lincoln, 1992, in responding to the assertion that recognition as true church implies sister church relations, said. "Synod considers that it is possible that churches, after having recognized each other as true churches, still need to remove through brotherly discussion, certain hinderances to full fellowship. Recognition as true churches does not in all instances imply immediate fellowship but does underscore the obligation to work towards this goal..." (Art. 72,IV,B,7).
1. With a view to fulfilling Christ's call for unity with all who profess His Name in truth, it is possible to recognize Christ's work in gathering his church in given circumstances without being required, before a full sister church relationship is established, to invoke the category of "true church" as we confess it in Article 29, B.C. We may note for example, the statement made by Synod New Westminster, 1971, in which it gratefully acknowledged "that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is a group of Churches that commit themselves to the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God, and that wish to maintain the creeds, based on this Word of God," and, "that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church desires to regulate and order the government of the Church in accordance with the Scriptural confession." namely that, "all its decisions should be found upon the revealed will of God." (Art. 92, Concl. 1&2).
2. Recognizing the OPC as a true church as confessed in ARt. 29 of the B.C. without at the same time establishing a full sister church relationship has resulted in a contradictory situation. By recognizing the OPC as a true church, we have said that, "It practices the pure preaching of the gospel." However, in contradiction of this recognition, we have also declared that our Temporary Ecclesiastical Contact does not include pulpit exchange. By recognizing the OPC as a true church, we have said that, "It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them." However, in contradiction of this recognition, we have also declared that our TEC does not include intercommunion.
By so using Art. 29 with the OPC, our Synods have failed to take into account the context of our Confession. The marks of the true church found in Art 29, are inextricably tied to what we confess in ARt. 28, about the "duty of all believers according to the Word of God, to separate from those who do not belong to the church and join this assemly wherever God has established it." The church which are admonished to join is then identified with its marks in Art. 29, and distinguished from the false church. Thus, our confession teaches us that recognition of a church as true requires unity with that church. Indeed, failure to join such a church is to "act contrary to the ordinance of God." On a federational level, this means that recognition of a foreign church as true implies sister-church relations.
General Synod, 1992's consideration that after having recognized each other as true churches we "still need to remove through brotherly discussion, certain hinderances to full fellowship," may explain the de facto situation with the OPC, but it does not comport with the normative confession of Arts. 28 and 29 of the B.C. It is conceivable that some form of administrative gap may exist between recognizing another church as true and realizing full fellowship (e.g., the time necessary for a foreign federation to accept the terms of sister-church relationship). But, in the case of the OPC, the hindrances to full fellowship are not merely administrative but of such a serious nature that in its report to General Synod 1995, the CCOPC could still not report that these hindrances have been removed, although eighteen years have intervened since the recognition of OPC as a true church in 1977.
Furthermore, General Synod 1992, said that, "Recognition as true churches does not in all instances imply immediate fellowship but does underscore the obligation to work towards this goal." In light of Arts. 28 and 29, B.C. it is not possible to conceive of a situation in which recognition as true churches does not imply simultaneous establishment of full ecclesiastical fellowship. The decisions of Synod 1992 with regard to the Free Church of Scotland (offering full fellowship at the time of recognition as true church) illustrates the inseparability of these two. In the case of the OPC the only reasons given for not coming to immediate fellowship are the serious impediments alluded to the above. However, the existence of such impediments to full fellowship--the inability to live out the federational implications of Art. 28, B.C. --proves that the recognition of the OPC as true church was a premature application of Art. 29, B.C.
3. The recognition of the OPC as true church 1977 was a misuse of Art. 29, B.C. also for an historical reason. The writing of the Belgic Confession, with its confession about the church, was adopted by the churches of the Reformation not only as Scripturally accurate but also as an historically accurate reflection of a concrete ecclesiastical situation. It is clear in reading Article 29, that the descriptions of the true and false church are given over against specifically the Anabaptistic sects on one hand and the Roman Church on the other. The characterization of the Reformed Churches as true and the others as false was the product of a series of historical developments in which as a result of confrontation with Scripture, it became clear which church was true and which was false.
Our contemporary use of Art. 29, B.C. must take this history into account. It means that the descriptions of true and false churches are not given as isolated or abstract theological statements which we may apply casually. Rather, they are to be used in a context similar to the one out of which the confession arose; that is, a context of confrontation with those who profess to be church. In such contact, we are not required to immediatly judge whether or not those whom we contact are true or false churches. Such a recognition may take much time and a period of confrontation in which it becomes clear whether or not the ones whom we contact present any obstacles to our entering into full fellowship with them. Only when it is clear that no such hindrances exist to full fellowship may we apply the characterization of Art. 29 regarding the true church.
In our application of Art. 29 to the OPC, this historical context was not recognized and respected. For the decision of 1977, jumped to the conclusion that the OPC was a true church before the process of confrontation over the removal of impediments was completed.
1. That Synod decide to rescind the 1977 declaration that the OPC is a true church according to Art. 29, B.C., and the concomitant decision to establish relationship of Temporary Ecclesiastical Contact, for the above reasons.
2. That an explanation and apology be sent to the OPC along with reaffirmation of our desire to continue a relationship of contact designed to lead to full correspondence.
We wish Synod Abbotsford, 1995 the guidance of the Holy Spirit to act according to the Word of God, to abide by the Three Forms of Unity, and to adhere to the Church Order of the Canadian/American Reformed Churches, in order that the churchgathering and unifying work of our Lord Jesus Christ may be honored.
For the Consistory of the
American Reformed Church at
Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.A.,
Rev. B.R. Hofford, President
G.P. Vellenga, Vice-President