11 May GS 2001 art 45
GS 2001 Article 45 – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Committee 2 presented its proposal on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Synod adopted the following proposal unanimously:
- 1.1. The Report from the CCOPC portion in the Report of CCCA to General Synod Neerlandia 2001.
- 1.2. The “Reaction of the CCCA to the CCOPC report” in the Report of CCCA to General Synod Neerlandia 2001.
- 1.3. Letters from the Churches at Burlington-Ebenezer, London, Elora, Winnipeg-Redeemer, Houston, Barrhead, Hamilton, Lincoln, Langley, Coaldale (2),Surrey-Maranatha, and Winnipeg-Grace.
- 1.4. Letters from Br. J. Werkman, Br. D. Teitsma, Br. W. deHaan.
- 2.1. Br. D. Teitsma interacts with the Report of the CCOPC. Reports are sent to the churches for interaction and not individuals. Individuals must address their consistories. His submission is thus inadmissible.
- 2.2. Br. J. Werkman appeals to Synod to rescind article 130 of Synod Fergus. Br. W. DeHaan interacts with the decisions and Considerations of Synod Fergus regarding the matter of unity with the OPC. Individuals who wish to interact with decisions of a Synod should begin by addressing their consistories (articles 30 & 31). These submissions are thus inadmissible.
- 2.3. The Maranatha Church at Surrey: the two submissions are considered inadmissible, as they were late.
- 2.4. The letters from the other churches are declared admissible.
- 3.1. The CCOPC recommends that Synod decide:
- 3.1.1 To reject unambiguously a general disqualification of office bearers in the OPC as “false shepherds,” as in conflict with the fact that our churches have acknowledged the OPC as a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- 3.1.1. To undo the changes made by General Synod Fergus 1998 in the “Proposed Agreement” with the OPC on the issues of the fencing of the Lord’s table and confessional membership, and to return to the original document, presented by the CCOPC to Synod Fergus, as sufficiently reflecting the Reformed Confessions.
- 3.1.2. To use this agreement as a basis for establishing a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC.
- 3.1.3. To acknowledge that the rules for ecclesiastical fellowship, as formulated by the OPC are compatible with our own rules for this relationship, as formulated by General Synod Lincoln 1992 (Acts, Art.50).
- 3.1.4. To continue the contact with the OPC by the CCOPC as subcommittee of the CCCA, with the mandate to continue the discussion on the existing differences in confession and church polity, including the proper fencing of the Lord’s table, and confessional membership.
- 3.2. The CCCA reacts to the report of the CCOPC and recommends that Synod decide:
- 3.2.1 To reject unambiguously a general disqualification of office bearers in the OPC as “false shepherds.”
- 3.2.2 To instruct the CCOPC to as yet fulfill Article 130 Recommendations F,G,H,I,J of Synod Fergus 1998.
- 3.2.3 To acknowledge that the rules for ecclesiastical fellowship, as formulated by the OPC are compatible with our own rules for this relationship, as formulated by General Synod Lincoln 1992 (Acts, Art.50).
- 3.3. The Church at Burlington-Ebenezer expresses agreement with the CCOPC.
- 3.4. The Church at Lincoln agrees with the majority opinion of the CCCA.
- 3.5. The Church at London expresses agreement with the three reasons of the CCCA for not agreeing with the CCOPC.
- They suggest that Recommendation 1 of the CCCA be deleted. They request that the recommendation of Synod Fergus be followed suggesting that the Presbytery and Rev. B.R. Hofford seek reconciliation. They contend that the statement of Rev. B. R. Hofford was a personal statement made in a specific context and has never been adopted by the churches. They emphasize, “The Canadian Reformed Churches should not, indeed can not, reject a statement they have never made.”
- They further request Synod to delete recommendation 3 of the CCCA report or indicate that the rules for ecclesiastical fellowship as formulated by the OPC are compatible on some points with our own rules for ecclesiastical fellowship but not with “Occasional pulpit fellowship, …intercommunion, including ready reception of each other’s members at the Lord’s supper…”
- 3.6. The Church at Winnipeg-Redeemer recommends:
- That Synod stresses to the CCOPC to stay within their mandate, and remind the committee that going outside of their mandate and appealing Synod Fergus’ decision is lording the opinions of the committee over the churches.
- They ask Synod to instruct the CCOPC to as yet fulfill Article 130 Recommendations F, G, H, I, J, of Synod Fergus 1998.
- 3.7. The Church at Grand Valley overtures Synod to engage the ICRC, either to encourage unity between the OPC, PCK and the CanRC if Synod establishes ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC, or to seek advisory judgement from them if Synod does not establish ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC.
- 3.8. The Church at Hamilton points out that Synod Fergus 1998 did not thank the CCOPC for its work. Hamilton asks:
- 3.8.1 Synod 2001 to declare that Synod 1998 did not properly deal with the report of the CCOPC by amending the Proposed Agreement. Amendments should first have been given to the Committee for internal discussion and response. Now the Canadian Reformed Churches have publicly bound themselves to a formulation not mutually accepted by both churches. Instead of promoting discussion, this decision effectively terminates it.
- 3.8.2 Synod 2001 to declare that Synod 1998 did not acknowledge the progress made by the CCOPC and the CEIR in arriving at the Proposed Agreement. Thus, there is little left for the Committee to discuss with the CEIR. The matter is now in the hands of the General Assembly and has gone beyond the level of committee discussions. It is not clear how the CCOPC can make Recommendations to the next General Synod.
- 3.8.3 Synod 2001 to declare when Synod declares a church to be a true church and does not rescind that decision, there is an obligation according to our confession to live together as sister churches (Article 28,Belgic Confession).
- 3.9. The Church at Elora expresses agreement with the overture from Hamilton.
- 3.10. The Church at Winnipeg-Grace expresses agreement with the report of the CCOPC as well as the submission from the Cornerstone Church at Hamilton. Furthermore they note that the reaction of the CCCA was not signed and that they believe that the CCCA did not have a mandate to respond to or deal with the CCOPC report and that therefore it should be declared inadmissible. They contend that the CanRC’s have done the OPC a great injustice by not establishing ecclesiastical fellowship after declaring them a true church in 1977.They note that if Synod cannot establish ecclesiastical fellowship it should admonish the GKN for doing so.
- 3.11. The Church at Coaldale appeals to Synod:
- 3.11.1 To judge that Synod 1998 was wrong when it included the following in the first part of the “proposed agreement” (and insisted that the OPC agree that) “This means that a general verbal warning by the officiating minister alone is not sufficient, and that a profession of the Reformed faith and confirmation of a godly life is required.”
- 3.11.2 To judge that Synod 1998 was wrong when it included “as” in the second part of the “proposed agreement.”
- 3.11.3 To acknowledge, that over the years, we have at times used double standards with respect to the OPC and other churches with which we now have ecclesiastical fellowship.
- 3.11.4 To extend an invitation to the OPC to enter a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship using the 1998 “proposed agreement” in its original form as sufficiently reflecting the Reformed confessions.
- 3.12. The Church at Langley’s submission regarding the OPC is the same as 1,2 & 4 of Coaldale.
- 3.13. Submissions regarding Article 136 of General Synod Fergus.
- 3.13.1 The Church at Langley submission includes a recommendation that Synod 2001 decide that Synod 1998 erred in failing to judge that Rev. B.R. Hofford was wrong in declaring the ministers and elders of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to be “false shepherds”.
- 3.13.2 The Church at Houston recommends that Synod not make any pronouncement about the office bearers in the OPC since they are of the opinion that this would conflict with article 30 of the Church Order. At the same time they also recommend that Synod pursue other means so that the office bearers of the OPC are assured that they are not considered ‘false shepherds’.
- 3.13.3 The Church at Barrhead appeals to Synod to:
- 22.214.171.124. Judge that the Canadian Reformed Churches were inconsistent in accepting Rev. B.R. Hofford into the federation of churches without requiring that he first withdraw the declaration of “false shepherds” as it relates to the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic of the OPC (PMA of the OPC), while at the same Synod Coaldale 1977 (and each subsequent Synod) declared the OPC a true church (and by extension, lead by true shepherds).
- 126.96.36.199. Judge that the recommendation of Synod Fergus 1998 for Rev. B.R. Hofford and the PMA of the OPC to seek reconciliation was incomplete without recognizing in that recommendation the fact that the CanRC’s has/have also erected a road block to reconciliation by the very act of accepting Rev. B.R. Hofford into the federation without first requiring of him to withdraw his declaration, which very act in fact condoned the label that Rev. B.R. Hofford placed on the Presbytery.
- 188.8.131.52. Judge that it is necessary for Rev. B.R. Hofford to withdraw the above declaration before any meaningful dialogue can take place between Rev. B. R. Hofford and the Presbytery.
- 184.108.40.206. Relay our regret to the PMA of the OPC, on behalf of the Canadian Reformed Church federation, that this matter was not dealt with correctly and in a timely manner.
- 3.13.4 The Church at Coaldale appeals to Synod to make the following judgement:
- 220.127.116.11. That Synod 1998 should have made a “simple finding of error” in the solemn declaration of Rev. B. R. Hofford that the ministers and elders of the PMA of the OPC were “false shepherds.”
- 18.104.22.168. That Synod inform the PMA of the OPC and the OPC Committee for Ecumenicity and Inter-church relations of this decision.
- 4.1. Synod takes note of the letter from the CCOPC to the CEIR dated February 11, 2000. Synod agrees with the sentiments expressed in the letter of the CCOPC to the CEIR, dated February 11, 2000, with respect to the “false shepherds” issue. This addresses concerns raised by the Churches at Langley, Coaldale and London.
- 4.2. In connection with the comments by Houston, Synod considers that the matter of “false shepherds” has been raised by the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and declared admissible by past assemblies (CO Articles 30 & 31).
- 4.3. The Church at Barrhead adds new elements to the issues dealt with in Art. 136 of Synod Fergus. In response to the concerns of the Church at Barrhead, representatives of the OPC have made it clear “that there is no need to address again the person, the statements, and the status of Rev. B. R. Hofford” (CCCA Report, page 18).
- 4.4. In connection with the suggestion of Barrhead it should be agreed that it is regrettable “that this matter [i.e. the ‘false shepherds’ issue] was not dealt with correctly and in a timely manner.” Further, as suggested by the Churches at Barrhead and Coaldale, it would be in keeping with the ongoing discussions to send a letter expressing our regret to the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and to the CEIR.
- 4.5. With respect to the concern of the Redeemer Church at Winnipeg it is true that the CCOPC went beyond its mandate when it interacted with the unexpected response of the OPC to the decision of Synod Fergus regarding the “false shepherds” label. This does not apply, however, to the CCOPC’s request to return to the original proposed agreement. A committee has the right to interact with its mandate but does not have the right to exceed it.
- 4.6. Synod Fergus had the right to alter the Proposed Agreement, but as pointed out by the Churches at Hamilton, Langley and Coaldale, it would have been advisable to send the revisions to the CCOPC.
- 4.7. Wrong terminology has crept in where the proposed amended agreement of Synod Fergus 1998 is referred to as the basis for ecclesiastical fellowship (Acts Synod Fergus, 1998, p. 157, Recommendation f). Ecclesiastical fellowship is based on the mutual recognition of each other as faithful churches of our Lord who submit themselves to the Word of God.
- 4.8. Under the heading Background of many of the appeals, Synod 1998 considered, “It should be understood that there is no doubt that the divergencies need to be discussed on an ongoing basis. But it should then also be realized that they can be discussed within a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship” (Acts Synod 1998, Art.130, Considerations B.4.c.,p.153).
- 4.9. Numerous Synods have consistently declared that the differences between the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity are not impediments to ecclesiastical fellowship but need to be discussed within the bounds of it. A listing of such differences can be found in the Acts of Synod New Westminster, 1971,Appendix, pp 64 – 71; and Synod Burlington, 1986, pp 142-151.“Permanent contact in the unity of true faith and continual discussion of divergencies may express the catholicity of the Church of God and enrich the body of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit, until we all attain to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Acts Synod Burlington 1986, Conclusion of the “Evaluation of Divergencies”,p.151).
- 4.10. Synod 1995 considered (Acts,Art.106, p. 71,V, Considerations B.3), “The practices with respect to the admission of guests at the Lord’s table, confessional membership, and contact with the CRC have not been proven to undermine the OPC’s confessional integrity as a true Church. It cannot be denied that these practices give reason for concern, but they are not proven to be a matter of the Westminster Standards. Rather, these are more a matter of the OPC living up to its standards. That the problem does not lie in the Westminster Standards as such is confirmed by the fact that the FCS, maintaining the same standards as the OPC, has different practices with regard to confessional membership and the fencing of the Lord’s table. Therefore, there is reason to continue to discuss these practices, but they cannot in the end be made a condition for ecclesiastical fellowship.”
- 4.11. Regarding the fencing of the Lord’s table, Synod Fergus failed to recognize sufficiently the progress made by the CCOPC and the CEIR. We should remember that the OPC agrees with the principle that “the celebration of the Lord’s supper is to be supervised.” The proposed agreement states, “this supervision is to be applied to the members of the local church as well as to the guests. The eldership has a responsibility in supervising the admission to the Lord’s supper” (Acts Synod Fergus 1998, p. 129). There is therefore agreement on the principle, while admittedly there is a difference in practice. Our concern is that both of the keys of the kingdom be exercised in connection with all participants at the Lord’s table, members as well as guests. According to our respective confessions, the implication of the principle is that supervision of the Lord’s table involves more than a verbal warning for unrepentant sinners to abstain from the table (see Westminster Confession, Chapter 29, section 8; Larger Catechism q & a 173; and Heidelberg Catechism, q & a 82).
- 4.12. Regarding confessional membership it should be noted that in the OPC those who make public profession of faith are required to respond positively to the question, “Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church, and in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline” (OPC Form for Public Profession of Faith, question 4).This is remarkably similar to the original wording of the second question addressed to the parents in the Form for the Baptism of Infants and the original wording of the first question in the Form for Public Profession of Faith, which were used in the Canadian Reformed Churches. This original formulation is still used by our sister churches in The Netherlands, the GKN. The promise made by those who wish to make public profession of faith in the OPC indicates a willingness to be bound by doctrinal instruction and admonition. Therefore there is a connection with the confessional standards of the OPC. After all, it cannot be denied that the OPC is a confessional church. The office bearers of the OPC have a responsibility in dealing with the members of the Church to uphold the doctrine of the Church, and the members, according to this fourth vow, are accountable to that authority. Throughout the past decades the OPC has continued to uphold the doctrines of Scripture, which we find in the Westminster Standards, the official testimony of their faith. With this in mind, we are able to go back to the original formulation of agreement presented by the CCOPC to Synod 1998.
- 4.13. Acknowledging each other as true churches implies unity of faith (see Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 21 & 22). This does not necessarily imply complete agreement on every point of doctrine or practice. The existing differences do warrant continued discussion to grow in the unity of faith (Eph. 4:3-6, 13). Both the CanRC and the OPC reject the legitimacy of the pluriformity of the church (see Biblical Principles of the Unity of the Church @ www.opc.org/relations/unity.html).
- 4.14. The Church at Hamilton is correct when it says, “When Synod declares a church to be a true church and does not rescind that decision, there is an obligation according to our confession to live together as sister churches (Article 28,Belgic Confession)”.
- 4.15. It is appropriate for us to apologise to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for the inconsistent manner in which we have dealt with them in comparison with other Presbyterian churches.
- 4.16. In light of the fact that several of our Synods have explained that the various divergences cannot be obstacles to ecclesiastical fellowship, and considering the long standing recognition of the OPC as true church, it is appropriate to come to ecclesiastical fellowship, making use of the agreement as proposed by the CCOPC to Synod Fergus 1998.
- 4.17. The rules for ecclesiastical fellowship as adopted by the CanRC are not essentially different from those adopted by the OPC. The Rules for Ecclesiastical Fellowship do not presuppose complete unanimity on all points of confession and church polity.
- 4.18. The concern of the Grace Church at Winnipeg, whether the CCCA had the right to interact with the CCOPC Report, is a matter of the interpretation of the mandate of the CCCA.
- 5.1. To thank the Committee for Contact with the OPC for its work.
- 5.2. To reject unambiguously a general disqualification of office bearers in the OPC as “false shepherds.” Such a disqualification conflicts with the fact that our churches have acknowledged the OPC as a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- 5.3. To express regret by way of letter to the Presbytery of the MidAtlantic and to the CEIR that the matter of “false shepherds” was not dealt with correctly and in a timely manner.
- 5.4. To apologise to the OPC for inconsistencies and lack of clarity in some of our dealings with them throughout the many years of our discussions.
- 5.5. To establish ecclesiastical fellowship under the adopted rules upon their acceptance of the proposed agreement, as formulated by the CCOPC and CEIR and presented to Synod Fergus 1998.
- 5.6. To continue the contact with the OPC by the CCOPC as subcommittee of the CCCA, with the mandate to continue the discussions on the existing differences in confession and church polity as noted in the Considerations and to work toward further unity.
- 5.7. To instruct the CCOPC to communicate this decision to the CEIR and delegate one or two of its members to the General Assembly in Grand Rapids in May/June 2001.
- 5.8. To send the above decision to the churches which submitted letters to Synod concerning these matters.
The chairman offered prayer of thanksgiving for this historic moment.