[From the papers of Gordon H. Clark at the Sangre de Cristo Seminary.]
The Proposal to Abolish the RPCES
Ecumenicism with its mergers, proposed mergers, and delicate initial consultations of churches and denominations has been a noticeable development of this twentieth century. Not to waste time on matters of universal scope, one may refer to the preparatory discussion that led to the union of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1965. The Evangelical Church agreed to accept the tradition of the Reformed Presbyterian Church; the Synods were to be numbered from 1774; and the combined denomination celebrated it two hundredth anniversary nine years later. Some people think that history is trivial; others this that its lessens are valuable.
More recently a plan of union between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the RPCES was adopted by the OPC but rejected by the RPCES. This event in recent history can teach us certain lessons, and a bit of theology will prepare us for an understanding of those lessons.
In this twentieth century ecumenical activity has dominated ecclesiastical affairs. The proponents of mergers have often defended ecumenism by an appeal to John 17:11. Frequently and popularly this verse is supposed to indicate Christ’s approval of denominational mergers. Because of this wide-spread impression, it is our duty to see whether or not that exegesis is correct.
The New American Standard version translates the verse as follows:
“Holy Father, keep them in they name, the name which Thou has given me, that they may be one, even as We are.”
The phrase which above all demands our attention in these circumstances is “so that they may be one as we are.” Jesus prays for a oneness, a union, a unity of some sort. What sort of oneness did he have in mind? It is obvious that Christians cannot have and cannot even approach the Trinitarian union of persons. One reason is that we are not eternal. Nor for the same reason can we approach the Trinitarian omniscience, no matter how much more we come to know in heaven. God’s omniscience is not the result of a learning process; our knowledge is. We must therefore find some other sort of unity which, if we cannot perfectly achieve it, we can somewhat approximate.
It is possible for men to achieve a considerable degree of organizational unity. A baseball team is organized for the purposes of making money and playing baseball. It is a business corporation like any other, subject to the nation’s laws and the demands of the economy.
A Mozart sonata also has a unity, though it is neither a team nor a corporation. It has a unity of theme; and if a few bars of Beethoven were inserted into Mozart, the unity would collapse into disunity. Books also have or should have a unity of theme; and no one would care to have a chapter of Perry Mason inserted into Sir Walter Scott’s Fair Maid of Perth.
All these types of unity, including the unity of a business corporation, are what they are because of a unitary purpose. And if a corporation had two conflicting aims, its organization would be frustrated.
Now, the Trinity is not a business corporation nor a baseball team. Yet God governs the world teleologically, and the most obvious way Christians can be one is their having the same purpose. This purpose requires some organization. By reason of practical difficulties it seems to require several organizations. But it does not demand that the several organizations merge. Mergers, if otherwise Scriptural, would be matters of prudence or imprudence. Scripture does not demand them. Rather, the unity for which Jesus prayed was a doctrinal unity in which, to use Paul’s phrase, the participants had “the mind of Christ.”
If one consults six or eight commentaries, one will wonder how intelligent Christians could ever have come to use this verse in defense of ecclesiastical mergers. At this verse, or at verse 21, to which several commentator refer, they speak of one interest, one purpose, and a unity of faith. If they mention organizational unity at all, it is to reject it as the meaning of these verses. Some point out that organizational union would not result in the end Jesus desires. John’s report says that the aim of unity is to convince the world that it was God who had sent Jesus. A merger of organizations is not likely to have such a result. A unity of belief would be far more effective.
In the present proceedings some who favor the merger may reply that they agree with the interpretation just given. But I judge that many are predisposed to ecclesiastical union because of the constant use or misuse of these verses. They have been quoted so often and explained so infrequently that the weight of propaganda has produced a wide-spread acquiescence in any proposal of union. If Synod will keep in mind that there is no Scriptural support for this merger, its judgment will be less biased.
An evidence that this incorrect exegesis is operative in the thought of some of our members is the absence of any persuasive argument that this union would advance the cause of Christ. If there were a Scriptural command to unite, we would be obligated to do so. But since there is no such command, persuasive arguments are necessary. The evidence, however, rather indicates that more harm than good will result. Hence it seems that a wrong exegesis supplies the lack of prudent expectation.
Furthermore, those who make an appeal to Scripture should be embarrassed by their refusal to merge with the OPC a few years ago. Do you remember the situation? The two denominations had drawn up a plan of union. The OPC voted to accept it. Our church turned them down. Where then is the consistency and even the honesty of those who opposed union then but who now see some Scriptural requirement for joining the PCA?
Quite aside from any inconsistency with respect to Scripture, there is an historical embarrassment. Those of you who were members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church were actually members of the Bible Presbyterian Church, organized under the leadership of Carl McIntire in 1937. This was a most unpleasant and unfortunate disruption. With the later divorce from Dr. McIntire, and after a time of calming down had passed, the hope and aim of the Evangelicals ought, in my opinion, to have been a restoration of friendly relations with the OPC. Yet I gather that it was mainly the Evangelicals and not mainly the Reformed Presbyterians who voted against the OPC. Whatever excuse may be given for this rebuff to the OPC, it surely has no Scriptural support.
The situation now is even worse. As originally envisaged, the present plan was to unite the three denominations. But the PCA has voted to exclude the OPC. Is the OPC so apostate that the PCA must reject them? Twice now the OPC has sought a merger and twice it has been rebuffed. Unfortunate as it is, still such is the history we must not forget. If now the RPCES joins the PCA, the OPC will have suffered three rebuffs, one by the PCA and two by us.
This rebuff will be all the more invidious because what we then rejected was the result of lengthy consultations and an agreed upon form, whereas now we are blindly submitting to the dictation of the PCA.
I do not consider such rebuffs as conduct worthy of a Christian. Those of you who know the history you should know will recognize that if there is any man in these three denominations whom the OPC has treated harshly, I am that man. No one has a greater reason to dislike them. Yet so far am I from hating them that one essential condition for my joining the PCA is that the OPC be included. If the OPC wants to remain separate, it is free to do so by its own vote. But for the PCA to uninvite them is dishonorable and unchristian. If the RPCES now joins the PCA, it will have twice impugned the orthodoxy of the OPC. This is not only unecumenical, but much worse it is discourteous and dishonorable.
I also sense other dishonorable aspects of the present plan. According to a public statement those who urge this merger have sought legal advice and have claimed a legal right to refuse to return to the Reformed Presbyterians the various trust funds, including the Lamb Fund, the fund that supports WPM, and others. One must remember the history: in 1965 the Evangelicals had many members but little money. We had more money but fewer people. Yet the money was given for Reformed Presbyterian purposes. One notes, however, in these ecumenical processes that the majority is quick to claim the property. I do not suppose that those who favor this merger will have the courts put padlocks on our churches, as the UPCUSA has done in similar cases, but they have already sought legal support for retaining our assets.
There is something worse than even keeping our money. I cannot see how it can be interpreted otherwise than a matter of pure spite. The proponents of merger have informed us that they will not even return our charter. The return of our charter would cost them no money, but they are determined to destroy the Reformed Presbyterian Church and prevent us from continuing our history. Is this what Christ prayed for in his prayer for unity?
There is another reason for being less than enthusiastic for abolishing the Reformed Presbyterian Church. It may not seem so serious as the previous reasons, but I believe it is of more importance than many realize. Although we all reject the Romish notion that tradition is on a par with Scripture, some of us think that our historical roots are not valueless. Men of previous centuries faced problems that in essence recur today. A knowledge of their work would enable us to solve such problems much more quickly than otherwise. Indeed, a wide knowledge of their work would prevent such problems from even getting started. Most unfortunately in both denominations, as I see it, several members who favor this merger have very little sense of history. One of our members expressed to me his complete disinterest in our past. To my mind such disinterest is more serious than most people think.
In the present circumstances not only is recent history, which puts this merger in such a bad light, being obscured, but also the more remote history with its importance is virtually forgotten. Since 1688 and 1774 our theological principles have received less and less emphasis. It has often been said that a fourteen year old boy in those days knew more theology than candidates for ordination know today. Only last fall, in Presbytery, a seminary graduate and candidate for licensure was unable to answer a single word to a question on the federal headship of Adam, nor of course on its companion question of immediate imputation. The young man sat there totally speechless. But the Presbytery licensed him none the less – licensed him to preach a gospel he does not know. This general deterioration through the last three centuries should be reverse, no increased as the proposed merger will certainly do. This merger has no roots and in its shallow rocky ground, whatever happens to sprout will soon wither away. Why cannot we have a revival of interest in the Scripture, and, instead of reducing our message to a poorly defined and seriously truncated kerygma, why cannot we preach the whole counsel of God? So far as I can see, there is very little enthusiasm for our historic standards in the PCA.
Indeed, much to my distress, I fear there is little such enthusiasm in our own denomination as well. Probably very few remember Alexander Henderson. Patrick Hamilton, neither the first nor the last of our martyrs, but probably the best known, is nevertheless almost forgotten. Then there is Samuel Rutherford who, in addition to his Rex Lex which gave our United States its basic form of government, also published other important theological documents. George Gillespie, the brilliant expounder of church order and discipline would be aghast at our present state of deterioration in scriptural worship. And behind them was John Knox. Why, I ask, why should we cast aside the memory of our fathers and ignore their accomplishments?
Today these accomplishments are being cast aside. Neither the PCA nor the RPCES maintains the purity of worship Gillespie outlined. In considering a proposal to annihilate the Reformed Presbyterian Church and merger with another body, one should examine not only the official pronouncements of the PCA’s General Assembly, but also the publicized views of section of its membership. The Presbyterian Journal, for example, is not an ardent defender of the Westminster Confession. Not to mention its favorable attitude toward the tongues movement, one should not its recent attacks on so-called hyper-calvinsim. The article by Pastor Dunkerly of Pensacola is informative. After correctly defining hyper-calvinism, which most of these people neglect to do, Mr. Dunkerly proceeds to argue that much standard Calvinism is just as bad. Other opponents of the Confession, usually in letters to the editor, identify essential parts of the Confession with hyper-calvinism, not even recognizing the difference Mr. Dunkerly momentarily acknowledges. Now this is bad enough. But its seriousness is emphasized by the fact that there is no similar denunciation of Arminianism. I take this to be symptomatic of the actual theological consensus in the PCA. The several attacks on hyper-calvinism are instructive because hyper-calvinism is practically extinct. It survives only in a tiny group of so-called Hard Shell Baptists. But Arminianism is rampant everywhere.
In conclusion, I oppose this merger first because there is no Scriptural necessity for it. The verses commonly used to support ecumenicism have been seriously misinterpreted. The revers of this coin is that the unity Scripture requires is ignored.
Second, I oppose these proceedings because they are an unmerited insult to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Third, I believe this movement to be reprehensible because it aims to destroy the Reformed Presbyterian Church. If there are some ministers and congregations who wish to associate with the PCA, they are free to leave us. But their plan to abolish Reformed Presbyterianism is reprehensible. They are free to leave, but why should they try to compel us to abandon our principles.
Fourth, the missionary methods of the PCA are conclusive evidence that the PCA is not loyal to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. A distressingly large proportion of the missionaries they support are more Arminian than Calvinistic. Hence, not only does this proposal have no Scriptural necessity, it is definitely anti-scriptural.
Therefore I urge that it be resoundingly defeated.