Church Unity the Presbyterian Way

Celtic Cross

These are my reflections on an essay by William S. Barker in The Practical Calvinist entitled “An Historical Perspective on Joining and Receiving and its Impact on the OPC, PCA, and RPCES.”

Until I became a Presbyterian when my wife and I joined a PCA congregation in 2002, I didn’t realize how much fraction and division there is in the history of the Presbyterian churches in the United States.  Weren’t there many more Baptist denominations, and certainly more independent churches with little or no practical unity in the faith?  Since then I have also come to appreciate the efforts within the Presbyterian denominations in America to unify and rectify the label we’ve earned: “the split P’s.”

Reading Barker’s article on the unification method of “joining and receiving” in which the PCA has adopted to bring unity to various Presbyterian denominations gives me hope that the Reformed churches in the world may one day be united again under one umbrella.  The one Lord of the Church would certainly want organizational unity (in addition to primarily important confessional unity).  It saddens me that our dear brothers in, for example, the OPC have not yet been able to come to the majority opinion of joining the PCA.  Yes, there are compromises to make for denominations that are subsumed into the much larger PCA, but I believe the benefits certainly outweigh the drawbacks, especially when we take into account that Christ would have us be united in one communion.  The definite prospect of unity in the future has had an impact on my sense of call to ministry.  If I am called to serve a PCA congregation as a gospel minister of Word and sacrament, then I will most likely work in a community where several Presbyterian (and other Reformed) denominations will have congregations nearby.  I believe it is my responsibility (and also that of the congregation I serve) to reach out to those other brothers in the faith in order to work toward unity of purpose and faith at the local level.  Churches that work together in gospel ministry for the sake of Christ in a particular community will, I believe, be blessed by the Spirit more so than if we ignore each other—or worse, if we work against each other.  It is in this sense that I find Barker’s article lacking.  He seems to think that the OPC and PCA are doing just fine without each other now that they know what they stand for.  He seems to think that something must have to change in the unifying strategy of “joining and receiving” if the OPC and PCA are to ever be united.  But I wonder if just the passage of time (which always entails the change in attitudes, even if ever so slight) warrants a new effort to attempt organizational unity again.  It seems that the spirit of the age is on the side of unity.  Perhaps I’ll someday play a small part in giving it another shot.

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