Presbyterians/Membership in the Church

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Question
Hi Pastor G,
I have just one question for you...In order to be a member in the OPC or the PCA, what must you confess or believe? I see much value in the Westminster Confessions, but I don't accept absolutely every word of it. Some of the doctrines contained within it are, in my opinion, incorrect. So I guess my question is, to what point are members allowed to disagree with the Westminster Confessions, if at all?

What about for being an elder or ordination? Is the standard higher? Thank you in advance for you help!

Answer
Justin,

When one becomes a member of a confessional church there are usually concentric circles of a required doctrinal fidelity.

The PCA's and OPC's Books of Church order have vows to which one must assent to be received as a member. These have to do with confessing Christ as Lord and Savior, and accepting the authority of Scripture as God's Word. The last vow promises to submit to the government of the church in case one is found to be delinquent in doctrine or life.

How this last vow plays out will vary between congregations. In my own congregation, we have had people become members who have had disagreements with the Westminster Confession, provided 1) They understand that this is what the church teaches and believes, 2) that they promise not to promote doctrine contrary to what we believe the Scriptures to teach, 3) they earnestly seek to understand those aspects of our faith with which they currently disagree. I can think of two cases in which the people who became members had a theological difference with the baptism of our covenant children, but as they lived in the church, witnessed its life, listened to the teaching, and searched the Scriptures, they have both come to embrace our understanding of baptism. I am glad of this latter fact, but would still be glad to have them as members if they had not yet come to that conclusion.

In Presbyterianism, Pastors, Elders, and Deacons are all ordained to an aspect of the gospel ministry. For ordination they must vow that they "sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture." Here too you will find some variation in application. Some congregations will insist on an adherence to every jot and tittle. However, most churches will allow for a "scruple" over language. An example of this would John Murray's objection to the Confession's phrase "covenant of works." He preferred the phrase "Adamic administration." There was, however, no difference in substance. By "Adamic administration" Murray meant exactly what the Confession meant by "covenant of works," but Murray for various reasons thought his phrase more accurate. Most churches will be fine with a scruple over the words, as long as theological concepts are not contradicted.

Strange as it may seem today, the Westminster Confession was written in its time as a consensus document. About 85% of it is "catholic" Christianity, that is, it teaches what all Christians believe are is summed up by the ecumenical creeds and the first seven ecumenical councils before the split of the church. The other 15% was the doctrinal consensus of Anglicans, Puritans, non-conformists, Baptists, etc. in the British isles at the time - not that everyone got their way (the Baptists very obviously formed a minority with regard to baptism), but the goal was to make a uniting document, not a dividing one.

I hope this helps.

The Lord bless you.

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Pastor G

Expertise

I am glad to answer questions about the Scriptures, Systematic, Biblical and Historic Theology, New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew (although my Greek is stronger than my Hebrew); and I am also glad to give pastoral advise and counsel.

Experience

A minister ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church since 1993. Prior to that I served as an elder. Former Senior Police Chaplain. College and Seminary-level lecturer.

Education/Credentials
B.A. Psychology and Theology, M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Law Enforcement Chaplaincy certification, ICPC

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