November 23: A Union That Didn’t Quite Happen

The latter half of the twentieth century was marked by a number of unions between various Presbyterian denominations. There were splits too, but the number of mergers or attempted mergers was noteworthy. One attempted merger, never brought to completion, occurred over the middle years of the 1970s. Ultimately these talks between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) ended without creating the merger. Perhaps more accurately, talks of merger were transformed into a larger vision, as the OPC, the RPCES, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) and the PCA began a mutual discussion in the late 1970s, which finally led to the RPCES being received into the PCA, while the OPC and RPCNA continued on as separate denominations.

What follows is the transcription of a two-page document recently located in the PCA Historical Center. This is report on a second informal conference between the OPC and the RPCES. There was a prior report on the first of these conferences, but I cannot find that we have that document. If one of our readers does have it, please contact me at the PCA Historical Center.

THE BROACHING OF TRUTH AND TENETS

A SUMMARY of the second informal RP-OP Conference of Expressions  on the union of the two denominations at John Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Silver Spring, Md., Saturday, November 23, 1974, 9:00 a.m.

These two presbyteries are either indifferent to dangers or valiant enough to walk where angels fear to walk; mature in grace or ostentatiously obsequious; or those who really oppose the union do not come to these meetings but if there do not press their issues.

The Rev. Larry Vail of Grace OPC, Vienna, Va., led the brethren in a meditation on Ephesians 3:14-21. He stressed that Paul’s prayer has the impulse for church unity. He mentioned that this impulse is love and that this love is the fertile ground for faith, which in turn becomes the basis for the UNITY of the Body of Christ. A period of prayer followed the meditation.

Six topics of discussion were posted on the black board:

A. The Scope and Character of Eschatological Liberty.
B. Dispensationalism.
C. The Apologetical Significance of the Doctrine of God, Regeneration, Faith, and the Unity of the Covenant.
D. Neo-Pentecostalism.
E. Discipline as Held on Paper and Practice.
F. Organic Union and the Scriptural Mandate.

Dr. Robert Countess moderated the meeting. Dr. Countess is pastor of OPC in Manassas, Va. (until July, 1974, he was RPCES).

The Rev. Dominic Aquila, of Stony Point RPC, gave a summary of his paper on the first RP-OP Conference. Dominic reiterated that the issues of difference are not in the area of theology, church polity, etc., but rather in the realm of real suspicion and misunderstanding; not the content but the individual viewpoints.

An OPC brother expressed that suspicion toward OP evangelistic apathy can be substantiate, but only on the basis of isolated occurrence. Yet an isolated situation can never become a norm to characterize a denominational emphasis or the lack of it. A reply from the RP was that similar situations have occurred in the RPC and could have led to suspicion among the OP. To that the moderator gave an apt illustration from his personal experience.

An elder urged that real obstacles for union still exist on account of the lack of being sufficiently informed on the level of the elders.

The eschatological matter was more predominant at this meeting. References to the Larger Catechism Questions 86-89 were made. It was suggested, that if the RPC Standards do not show the change as given in the proposed Plan of Union, why then have the change, if it causes considerable difficulties to accept the proposed change. An RP man expressed that, as he sees it, this issue is more at the gut-level—emotional. He said the proof to that was exceptionally evident at the RP Synod in May, 1974. Another urged that distinctions have to be made clear, that there is a difference between the historic pre-millennial view and dispensationalism, in order to alleviate prevailing misunderstandings. Both denominations confessed to the fact that they have eschatological mixture and considerable liberty. Because of that the brethren were reminded that there are always emotional people in any group and that therefore certain attempts to make charges of heresy will be inevitable. The important part of that is, will the charge and response be done in mature love? A situation concerning RP minister ______ ________ and the OP Presbytery of ______________ was presented to illustrate the point of emotionalism. But the assembly was cautioned not to make that issue an illustration of an eschatological clash but rather a legitimate presbytery matter to which the assembly had not enough facts to draw illustrative conclusions. Some one else suggested the possibility of having something black on white to promote and protect eschatological liberty in the future in the merged denomination.

The other posted topics did not find such lengthy evaluations. Topic C was drawn out, and mention was made that this was more a matter of individual emphasis of those who are involved in this field. The differences that exist will continue to be more personal than normative.

Neo-Pentecostalism and issues concerning it SEEMED to be more settled in the mind of the brethren or insufficient facts thwarted any “juicy” discussion on this matter. It was pointed out that the Form of Government of both denominations expressed some implicit attitude (OPC FOG ch. 3, par. 1, and RPC FOG ch. 5, par. 1).

Christian liberty caused no aspects of disagreement. There seemed to be general agreement on the statement on holy living in the plan of union.

In conclusion, one should say that it is refreshing to get together with another denomination and find such large and wide range of harmony. Thanks to God’s eternal grace, we have the more excellent way to settle the differences that exist. May it be said of us in the future that the love of Christ constrained us . . . rather than that emotional fulmination variegated us.

Respectfully submitted,

Hermann W. Mischte
Dominic Aquilla

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