12 Aug GS 1989 art 59
GS 1989 ARTICLE 59 – Address Rev. J. J. Peterson
The chairman gives Rev. J. J. Peterson, who is delegated to Synod from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the opportunity to address Synod. Rev. J. J. Peterson addresses Synod with the following words:
Brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ,
It is a great pleasure to be with you again. The welcome of Brother VanderWel to “Texas Jack” last night made me feel even more at home; I certainly experienced the fellowship of the saints from the moment I saw Brother den Hollander at the airport; and again when I renewed acquaintances on arrival here and also met those of you whom I had not met before; but “Texas Jack”, that, as we say, was great!
I had the privilege of being at Cloverdale in 1983. I have also met with your Committee on Contact several times, which included being at the installation of Dr. Faber. I also had the privilege of being in Edinburgh in 1985 as an observer of the ICRC and am looking forward to the meeting in Vancouver in June.
It seems I almost see more of you than the OPC! Those have been and continue to be enriching experiences in my life. There is a growing number of us in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the OPC, who share with you the redemptive-historical understanding of the Word of God. I am preaching right now on Ahab and Elijah and find Van’t Veer an invaluable help. We have rejoiced in the publishing of De Graaf’s Promise and Deliverance. We are enriched in our study of the passion of our Mediator by Schilder’s trilogy. That group is seeking through word and example to spread that way of reading the Scriptures. And you and your churches are a tremendous aid and encouragement to us.
We haven’t converted everyone yet to that understanding! And the OPC is in many ways a mixed group in their approach. We all confess the Reformed faith in its fullness. And yet there are those who love the approach of the Puritans. Others are theonomic. Some you would classify as scholastic and exemplarish.
In saying that I am trying to be honest with you, to show you how we are; and yet plead with you to help and support us.
We as a church have just passed through a traumatic time lasting since around 1980. I make reference to our experience with the PCA and the so-called J and R method; that is, join and be received just as you are and just like we are. The method kept us from “speaking the truth in love” to each other. It kept us from facing the issues of our separate existence. It is my personal conviction that the PCA is more broadly evangelical than Reformed. They are dominated in their approach to starting new churches by the “church growth” methodology. Some in our church were enamored by that too, and when the J and R was finally defeated recently, they left the OPC and united with the PCA. The question of the Unity of the church, pursued with a bad method has resulted in division.
In 1986 we celebrated our 50th anniversary of our separated existence as a church; or, if I may borrow a word, of our “liberation” from the unbelief of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. During the General Assembly that year we spent a day reflecting on where we had come from, on where we were and on what’s ahead. We thought of the grace of God in bringing us through a half century. We started as a very small group of churches and men who were united in their opposition to modernism, but not understanding what the gospel of the Reformed faith really meant. We owe a great deal to the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary for they taught us what it meant to be Reformed; men like J. Gresham Machen and John Murray, Cornelius Van Til and Ned Stonehouse (translated Steenhuis), Oswald T. Allis and later Joe Young, R. B. Kuiper, Paul Woolley. You recognize many of those names: giants of the Reformed faith. Among them were representatives of the Dutch Reformed, continental Reformed understanding of the faith. Even John Murray, Scot though he was, was deeply influenced by Gerhardus Vos. Dr. Machen consciously sought to meld together the Scottish Presbyterian and the continental Reformed.
As a church we were plunged into theological controversy early in our history. In 1937 the struggle was over fundamentalism, dispensationalism and premillennialism. In 1947, it was over the incomprehensibility of God, though the real issue was: shall we take the rough edges off the Reformed faith so that we may grow faster as a church. In the fifties the issue was pietism and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Each time, by the grace of God, the issue was resolved according to the Scriptures; the gospel of the Reformed faith. And now, in 1986, we were faced with the question, and of course this is how I personally understand the history, shall we leave all of that behind and cease our existence and our history, and join the Presbyterian Church in America? Will the unity of the church be served best by joining them or by staying apart? Will the gospel of Christ, the Reformed faith in its fullness be advanced or not? And that the General Assembly answered: we stay apart.
And some have left us to join the PCA; so far five congregations and several ministers, and that hurts. And now, once again we must sit back and ask where are we as a church, where are we going, and where should we go? There are several different agenda: the redemptive-historical, the more scholastic, the puritan, the theonomic, the church growth, to name a few. Perhaps that is not a very pretty picture. It does make us unattractive to many. But that is the OPC: warts and all!
One other factor through the years has been our involvement in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (the RES) over the degeneration of the Synodical GKN. We began our witness against them 25 years ago. You know the issues: membership in the World Council of Churches, ordination of women to teaching and ruling office, the heresies of Kuitert and Wiersinga and the consequent lack of adequate discipline, the 1979 so-called pastoral advice allowing those whom they judged to be Christians, who were also practicing homosexuals, to remain members of the church in good standing, to partake of the Lord’s Supper and to hold office in the church, and the theological backing of that in God Met Ons and the relational concept of truth. And finally the reunion with the Hervormde Kerk. One aside on that, in speaking with one or two from the Gereformeerde Bond, they oppose the reunion because the GKN is too liberal for the state church! How times have changed. And we become the “weeping” brothers in a new way. We have sought to be faithful to our Lord and the Reformed faith in opposing such blatant and growing unbelief. The struggle has been hard and time-consuming. And finally at RES Harare 1988 we severed our ties with the RES, now the REC. In that forum we witnessed to the gospel of the Reformed faith and for our Lord. And our message was rejected.
In the midst of all this we have tried to meet with you too; we just have not had the time or energy to work with you as we should; but we’re ready now. We had a delightful and helpful meeting in January with your Committee on Contact which is reflected on in their report to you. And, if you renew their mandate, we have tentatively set February 1990 for another meeting to discuss those ‘divergencies’. We have had the same problem with the RPCNA (the Covenanters); we postponed talks with them while the PCA took stage center and now we have started discussions with them too.
I hope it won’t disappoint you if I do not interact with those divergencies: the fencing of the table, confessional church membership, the so-called invisible church, the covenant. I feel that that mandate belongs to the two committees and not to me as a delegated observer. The committee understands that mandate and is not only willing but also ready to talk with you.
With respect to the ICRC, we are cautious. We have questions — there are two I especially want to mention because they are of concern to us:
- 1. Are we, the OPC, acceptable to the ICRC? Can the Presbyterians of Scottish history coexist with the continental Reformed? The same question we face together, and
- 2. What is the vision of the ICRC? what is its reason for existence? its raison d’être? Let me say this, to give you a feel for what I mean.
The Reformed faith in this world is concentrated in central and southern Africa! Good, solid Reformed churches in Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa.
The oldest continually existent Reformed church is in Sri Lanka, founded in 1642! And they stood solidly with the OPC in Nimes in 1980, in Chicago in 1984 and in Harare in 1988!
We need the fellowship of these churches and they need us, too. That’s why we stayed in the RES as we did. We want an international organization of Reformed churches which will have a vision to embrace the truly Reformed on every continent in this world — the nations we are commissioned to disciple.
After all that, I still do not despair. It is the Lord’s church. I often turn to Isaiah 62 for encouragement, and I close with this:
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married . As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over His bride, so will your God rejoice over you. I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. The LORD has sworn by His right hand and by His mighty arm: ‘Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of My sanctuary.’ Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations. The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your Saviour comes! See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.’ They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.”
Thank you for your very gracious hospitality and the Lord’s blessing continue with you.
Rev. R. Aasman responds to Rev. J. Peterson with the following words:
On behalf of the 1989 General Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches, I would like to respond to the words of Rev. J.J. Peterson from San Antonio, Texas, our fraternal delegate from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
I first met Rev. Peterson in 1987 at the 54th General Assembly of the OPC in Grand Rapids, and again in a meeting between the Committee for Contact with the OPC and the Committee for Ecumenicity and Inter-church Relations, on January 24, 1989 in Philadelphia. Our meeting at General Synod Winnipeg is now the third time that our paths are allowed to cross. Each meeting has impressed upon me that rich, deep southern character and flavour of our brother which has led many in this assembly to address him affectionately as “Texas Jack”. However the most memorable moment in my meetings with Rev. Peterson is from 1987 when our brother pleaded that the Canadian Reformed Churches pray for the OPC in connection with the RES and the meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe (1988). Indeed in Acts of Synod 1986 it was indicated that in general we should pray for our OPC brothers and sisters. We trust that such prayer for each other was and is mutual.
The Canadian Reformed Churches wish to express their gratitude that already in 1987 the General Assembly of the OPC commissioned the Committee on RES matters to demand the termination of the GKN in the RES, and failing such a termination, to withdraw the OPC from the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. We are thankful that this was not a hollow and therefore worthless threat. From our reading of the “Statement of Resignation of the OPC from RES, June 10, 1988” we also see that the withdrawal from the RES was not executed in a schismatic fashion, filled with pride and bitterness, but with a call and exhortation to the RES to recognize the enormity and seriousness of maintaining the GKN within the RES, demonstrating that the GKN harbors positions which are known to be out of accord with the Scriptures. These unscriptural positions are known to all of us and have just been mentioned by you, Rev. Peterson: women in office, ordaining of practicing homosexuals, a new hermeneutic, etc.
Appreciation for some elements of “Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church” may also be expressed, especially for the fact that the OPC does not want to take the easy way out with respect to the church’s ecumenical task by fleeing into fantasies about an “invisible church.” Instead the OPC shows in this document that she seeks ecclesiastical union between two true churches of Jesus Christ who exist alongside each other on the basis of the unity of faith! It is our hope and prayer that the OPC is truly responsible with respect to her ecumenical task and is cautious in whatever contacts she may have or be entertaining. This is said especially with a view to the relations between the OPC and the PCA, for the very reasons which you, my brother, have just stated.
However, we also like to call the attention of Rev. Peterson, and through him the attention of the entire OPC, to the relationship between the OPC and the CRC. We appreciate what CEIR has revealed to us about this matter. Indeed we see a parallel in the relationship of the OPC and the CRC to the discussions which the Canadian Reformed Churches had with the CRC some years ago. We had warned and exhorted the CRC on a number of issues, only to be confronted by indifference. Now we learn that the OPC is also warning and exhorting the CRC on a number of issues, only to be confronted with indifference. On this point we wish to give the OPC brotherly exhortation: be careful! Understand that in some ways the CRC is taking a parallel course to the GKN, and therefore, the good stand taken by the OPC with respect to the GKN must be seriously entertained with respect to the CRC. You know, brother Peterson, the OPC’s relationship with the CRC is not some formal or vague ecclesiastical relationship at a higher level, but it has a day-to-day application among the members so that the members of the OPC mingle freely with members of the CRC. The result may be that what you have pushed out the front door in the international scene via the RES, may slip right back in through the rear door in the domestic scene via relations with the CRC. If only for the sake of your children, please stand on guard!
We appreciate hearing also, both from the report of the Committee for Contact with the OPC and from you, Rev. Peterson, that the OPC’s relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches is being taken more seriously and enthusiastically. Let us have more contact in the future, that our discussions, exhortations, admonitions and observations may be mutually edifying.
At the same time we cannot and should not overlook what happened with respect to the Churches at Blue Bell and Laurel. These churches felt compelled because of conscience and obedience to God’s Word to leave the OPC. When I addressed the General Assembly of the OPC in 1987, I exhorted the OPC to have a frank and open dialogue on matters such as the fencing of the Lord’s Supper. Really, during the last three years we have only touched upon this—to the dissatisfaction and concern of many in our churches who desire a deeper and more essential discussion on the divergencies between our Three Forms of Unity and your Westminster Standards.
Rev. Peterson, if there is to be real growth and blessing in the relationship between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, then we cannot continue simply with sending observers to each other’s assemblies and have general discussions with each other. We will have to get to the essence of some differences between us. This is not said haughtily or with any hint of scepticism and pessimism. On some non-essential things there may be differences between us, especially taking into consideration our diverse backgrounds. But on essential things we must be one if we are to grow and advance in our contact together. May the Lord bless us in this for the glory of His own Name and the unity of His Church.
The chairman requests the assembly to sing Hymn 2:4.