29 Mar GS 1983 art 54
GS 1983 ARTICLE 54 – Address Rev. Jack J. Peterson
On behalf of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Jack J. Peterson of San Antonio, Texas, addresses Synod with the following words:
- Mr. Chairman, and brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ,
- My words will be supplementary to the letter that was read last night from the Committee on Ecumenicity and lnterchurch Relations.
- It is a joy for me to be with you at this Synod of Cloverdale 1983. I have met many of you on the pages of Clarion. I have met other of your men in the meetings of the Contact Committees in the past. I was privileged to attend the convocation of the Theological School at which Professor Faber was installed in his present position. And I enjoyed the fellowship with brothers Faber and Huizinga at recent meetings of our general assembly.
- I have come to you as a fraternal delegate of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is made up of about 170 congregations which total about 16,000 members. Our history as a separate Church goes back almost 50 years – a short history compared to yours. And the first 35 years of this century in the old Church were spent in the battle against growing liberalism. In that battle many united against the spirit of antichrist. When separation came in 1936 the number was far smaller. And when the separated Church settled down to do the full work of the Church, they found that unity in opposition to liberalism does not necessarily mean unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. So a year later a group left the Church over the issues of Christian liberty, independentism, and premillennialism to form the Bible Presbyterian Synod. In the 1940s a controversy arose regarding the incomprehensibility of God, which basically was a clash in the area of apologetics between the presuppositionalism of Professor Cornelius Van Til and the rationalism of Dr. Gordon Clark. That controversy culminated in 1947 with many of the Clark supporters leaving the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Several of them. by the way, are now in the Presbyterian Church of America. In the 1950s there was a controversy over the doctrine of guidance – how does the Lord lead His people in their living their Christian lives. That controversy has been resolved with the conviction that the Lord leads His people by His Spirit by means of His Word alone instead of mystical experiences.
- I say this to show that we have struggled with doctrinal issues in our midst. But in our dealing with doctrinal issues, the agenda has been set by the controversies at hand. Although we had been instructed at “old” Westminster Seminary by Van Til and Murray and Stonehouse in the historical-redemptive approach to Scripture, the issues involved in that approach had not had the quiet reflection needed for us to fully appreciate and adopt that approach as our own. Many of us, and I include myself among them, had unconsciously adopted a more scholastic approach to Scripture which was satisfied, more or less. with citing proof texts to answer the errors in the midst of controversy. Beginning in the 1960s a period of a less controversial nature was upon us. We were given time to reflect a little more on broader issues such as our approach to Scripture. Some in our midst began to appreciate the historical-redemptive approach to Scripture, the centrality of the covenant as expressing the relationship between God and His people with His promised presence among His people, and the reality of the promises and demands of Scripture. Contributing to this appreciation were the writings of Professor Schilder, Sidney Greijdanus on the controversy in The Netherlands over preaching. the two volumes of Ridderbos, the newly translated volumes of S.G. DeGraaf – plus the instruction of Professors Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin.
- Some in our midst did not and do not appreciate this emphasis. You would call them scholastics.
- But that is where we are. That is the background of the Shepherd case; a case complicated by the fact that Westminster Seminary is independent of Church control. Some of us are in full agreement with Professor Shepherd. Others strongly disagree with his position. Professor Shepherd, for reasons good or bad. has left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is now a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. And some of you have said he has jumped from the frying pan into the fire. For reasons that I have not yet been able to figure out, the antagonism against him and his teaching has not yet fallen on those of us who agree with him – rather, in some cases, a listening ear. I pray that this will grow into a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the historical redemptive reading of the Scripture, a more thorough Christocentric, covenantal understanding of the Word of Our Lord.
- Let me address one area which to me is significant, and which, to date, has not entered significantly into our discussions. That area is the distinct ion between the true and false church of Belgic Confession 29, and the distinction of our Confession of Faith which speaks of more and less pure Churches. some of which have so degenerated as to become synagogues of Satan, that is, the false Church. The approach of the Belgic Confession is much simpler. but does it adequately deal with the context in which we find ourselves? The approach of our Confession sees the Church-world around us in its sin fully fractured condition. Yes. there are the true and there are the false. But within the scope of the true. there is also variety. The marks of the true Church are seen in varying degrees – some pure, some less pure, some even on the border of the false, ready to capitulate totally to the evil one. And we have a duty to all these, to bear witness to them of the full truth of the Word of God so that the Spirit of God may bring true reformation. We recognize them as Churches of Christ, less pure, not in the pluriformistic way, but as existing in a sort of de facto relationship of discipline ; recognizing God’s covenant grace among them, but urging them on to greater faithfulness to the Lord and His Word so that we may come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. And in that way we are willing to risk recognizing their membership in the covenant by recognizing the validity of their baptism, and even on occasion inviting them to the Lord’s table if they happen to be in our midst.
- Brothers, it is good to be in your midst. I bring greetings from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Thank you for your strong stand for the Reformed faith. Many of us regularly read Clarion and know what you are.
- I have tried to show you a little bit more of who this Orthodox Presbyterian Church is, and how history has brought us to what we are and where we are. My prayer is that we may continue to walk together in those paths of righteousness tor the sake of His name, that the name of the Lord who is our God according to His promise, whose people we are, and who dwells in our midst – “surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”
- Thank you, Mr. Chairman.