Presbyterianism, whose bodies are also called Reformed Churches, share a common origin in the 16th-century Swiss Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin, and today is one of the largest Christian denominations in Protestantism.

OPC Distinctives

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  • OPC Distinctives

    Question:

    I am wondering about the beliefs of Orthodox Presbyterians. I am a protestant Christian and go to a non-denominational Church so I am trying to find to what denomination to call myself.

    Answer:

    The answer to your first question, "... what denomination can I call myself?" if you "go to a non-denominational Church" would ordinarily be that you would be classified as "Independent." Of course that doesn't say too much as to where you stand among all the denominations and non-denominational (or independent) churches in the Christian world.

    Many non-denominational churches include in their name the phrase "... Bible Church," indicating that they hold the Bible to be the inspired, infallible Word of God. That narrows the field somewhat. However, there are many varieties of Bible churches which are so distinct that it would be hard for them to live together due to their theological differences.

    So, first of all, let me set forth several groups of churches and indicate their outstanding distinctives. And, for the most part, independent churches might find themselves at home in any one of these.

    I'll start first with Presbyterians. "Presbyterian" means "governed by elders." (A minister is also considered to be an elder.) But their doctrine is "reformed," that is, they hold to Calvinism as a system of doctrine which they believe most correctly embraces all the Bible in a cohesive doctrinal system. English, American, Scottish, and some other Calvinists adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith and The Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the "Westminster Assembly of Divines," which met in London's Westminster Cathedral from 1642 to 1647. Doubtless, you have gathered some of this from visiting the OPC website.

    Two characteristics of this system of doctrine are that God has chosen His elect from out of our fallen human race from all eternity and that those He chose he calls to Himself through the hearing of the gospel message. It is He who chose us, drew to Himself through the hearing (or reading) of the message of the cross.

    This happens as a result of the Covenant of Redemption, in which God the Father covenanted with His Son that the Son would come into our fallen world as true God and man in one Person with two natures to accomplish the redemption of all who call on Him through faith, which faith God gives by His Spirit, apart from whom no one is able to believe, being dead in trespasses and sins. (See John 3:16; Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 6:44.)

    God's Covenant of Grace hass been in force throughout history, first, beginning with Genesis 3:15 throughout all ages till the death and resurrection of Christ, on the promise of a Savior to come, and second, from that time till the coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead at the end of this age, on the basis of a finished redemption.

    We call this the Reformed Faith because of its rediscovery and proclamation beginning with the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

    Returning to the rule of Christ over the church through elders (where "Presbyterian" comes in), we reject independency in church government. Our reason for that is that, since the death of the Apostles, there are no infallible prophets (since God's Word was completed during the apostolic era). Therefore, the Bible requires a plurality of elders to execute the rule of Christ through His Word and Spirit. And the New Testament Church instituted this rule of elders (also called bishops or overseers) for all the distinct congregations in the New Testament era. The Epistles of Paul are evidence of that.

    And Acts 15:1-35 give us the Presbyterian model for settling disputes in the churches. That is why, historically, Presbyterians reject independency, although there are some independent, Calvinistic churches who hold to the Calvinistic doctrines, yet admit no organic connection to other congregations of like faith and practice. They may govern by elders, but only on the local level.

    I've said much about Presbyterianism in particular, because I speak as a minister of the "Orthodox Presbyterian Church." "Orthodox" is derived from the Greek, meaning "Straight teaching." That is an emphasis of our denomination.

    There are many Presbyterian denominations throughout the world, and especially in the USA. We are distinct from many others—especially the older "main-line" Presbyterian denominations—because we believe they have gone beyond Scripture in what they teach and allow. Other denominations have lesser differences from the OPC, and with them we maintain "sister"-denominational relations. So much for the discussion of Presbyterians.

    There is also the Lutheran tradition, coming from Martin Luther and those who influenced Lutheranism after his death. Their basic differences are differences in government (they were originally state-established churches (in Germany and the Scandinavian countries). To a considerable extent they hold to regeneration (the new birth) by baptism, which Reformed churches reject. They also hold that Christ is physically present in the Lord's Supper. And they tend to be Arminian in their doctrines of salvation (although that was not true of Martin Luther himself). That is, unlike Calvin, Arminians hold that all of fallen humanity since Adam are born with the ability to repent and believe the gospel. In such churches, saving the lost is a matter of human persuasion rather that divine calling.

    There are several denominations of Lutherans in America. Some are more biblical than others. But they all share in the doctrinal distinctives mentioned.

    Baptists, generally speaking (along with Congregationalists), are independent. That is, while they associate for fellowship and for missionary endeavors, they are not subject to one another, as are Presbyterians. And all decisions are made by congregational vote. Baptistic distinctives include their belief in baptism by immersion and "confessing" baptism. That is, baptism is their "confession of faith in Christ."

    Some Baptists have adopted Calvinistic doctrine as to salvation. Many of these consider themselves to be "Reformed Baptists" (even though they do not follow the Protestant Reformers in their view on baptism). But by far the larger number of Baptist churches adopt Arminianism in their view of salvation and evangelism.

    Just a word about Episcopalianism: Episcopalians derive from the Church of England. The church is governed by bishops (an office which in their view is distinct from elders). They are Hierarchical - that is, authority passes from Christ to Archbishops to the people, similar to Roman Catholicism.

    As to doctrine, Episcopalian churches were basically Calvinistic in creed. They vary from "High Church" to "Low Church" as to the sacraments (high-church Episcopalians or Anglicans are called "Anglo-Catholics").

    I could speak about "Dispensationalism," which was enshrined in the original "Schofield Bible." This theology found a home in Presbyterian, Baptist, and Independent denominations during the early and middle of the 20th Century. They are still with us today.

    Dispensationalists hold to blood-atonement and are generally Arminian, though some are 4- or 5-point Calvinists. Their primary distinctive is the belief that God administered His work of salvation on different principles in different ages (or "dispensations").

    Their main antithesis (at least in the older dispensationalism found in the old Scofield Bible) is between Law and Grace. The Mosaic period was (in some sense) under Law, while, since Pentecost, the church is under Grace.

    In eschatology (doctrine of last things), Dispensationalists are "pre-tribulational premillennialists" (which is different form historic premillennialism). According to this view (popularized in the "Left Behind" books), when Christ comes at the "Rapture," the saved will be secretly taken to heaven before the unveiling of the Antichrist. Then follows the "Great Tribulation," followed in turn by the Millennium, and after that the "falling away" (Rev. 20:1-3). Then will occur the "Great White Throne Judgment" and the beginning of the eternal state. The OPC does not hold to this view of future events.

    I have run too long already. If you have questions on this latter subject, please feel free to return with more questions.

    I close with an explanation of the confusion of the churches since the Protestant Reformation. This is a sinful world. and Christians still have the remnants of sin in them after conversion to Christ. That's the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:12-13. And Satan, though cast out of heaven, is very busy confusing the Lord's people. We in the OPC don't say that only "Reformed" believers are saved. In all of the denominational groups mentioned above God has His true people. It is not for us to separate the sheep from the goats. Christ Jesus will do that on Judgment Day.

    So we recognize our oneness with all the redeemed host, knowing that, when Jesus comes, we shall "know as we are known." The problem is not with unclarity in the Word of God, but is US! But must we give up and sail to heaven as kindergarten students of God's Word? Divine enlightenment comes, in God's measure, to those who study and absorb the blessed Book. By God's grace alone, the OPC has sought to stick to the Bible in all our controversies. We welcome all who are hungry for growth in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • #2
    Originally posted by William View Post
    I am a protestant Christian and go to a non-denominational Church so I am trying to find to what denomination to call myself.

    If you go to a "non-denominational" church, I suggest you classify yourself using the pastor's name. If his name it Smith, call yourself a Smithite. That's no more helpful than telling people you're independent, but at least they'll know your pastor's name.
    Comment>

    • #3
      Originally posted by William View Post

      There is also the Lutheran tradition, coming from Martin Luther and those who influenced Lutheranism after his death. Their basic differences are differences in government (they were originally state-established churches (in Germany and the Scandinavian countries). To a considerable extent they hold to regeneration (the new birth) by baptism, which Reformed churches reject. They also hold that Christ is physically present in the Lord's Supper. And they tend to be Arminian in their doctrines of salvation (although that was not true of Martin Luther himself). That is, unlike Calvin, Arminians hold that all of fallen humanity since Adam are born with the ability to repent and believe the gospel. In such churches, saving the lost is a matter of human persuasion rather that divine calling.

      There are several denominations of Lutherans in America. Some are more biblical than others. But they all share in the doctrinal distinctives mentioned.
      Just wanted to share something here to clarify. There is nothing Arminian in the Lutheran doctrine of salvation, whatsoever. Nada. Zip. Zero. The Lutheran doctrine of free-will and election pre-dates Jacob Arminius and Calvin, and was codified by 1580 as written in the Formula of Concord of the same year.

      Here's some Confessional statements to help clarify:

      Augsburg Confession (1530) Article XVIII: Of Free Will.

      Of Free Will they (the Reformation Churches) teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the Word. These things are said in as many words by Augustine in his Hypognosticon, Book III: We grant that all men have a free will, free, inasmuch as it has the judgment of reason; not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God, but only in works of this life, whether good or evil. "Good" I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn diverse useful arts, or whatsoever good 6 pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being. "Evil" I call such works as willing to worship an idol, to commit murder, etc. They condemn the Pelagians and others, who teach that without the Holy Ghost, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching "the substance of the act." For, although nature is able in a manner to do the outward work, (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder,) yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc.

      Formula of Concord, Epitome (1580)

      II. Free Will.

      STATUS CONTROVERSIAE.
      The Principal Question in This Controversy.
      Since the will of man is found in four unlike states, namely: 1. before the Fall; 2. since the Fall; 3. after regeneration; 4. after the resurrection of the body, the chief question is only concerning the will and ability of man in the second state, namely, what powers in spiritual things he has of himself after the fall of our first parents and before regeneration, and whether he is able by his own powers, prior to and before his regeneration by God's Spirit, to dispose and prepare himself for God's grace, and to accept [and apprehend], or not, the grace offered through the Holy Ghost in the Word and holy [divinely instituted] Sacraments.

      Affirmative Theses.

      The Pure Doctrine concerning This Article, according to God's Word.


      1. Concerning this subject, our doctrine, faith, and confession is, that in spiritual things the understanding and reason of man are [altogether] blind, and by their own powers understand nothing, as it is written 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them when he is examined concerning spiritual things.

      2. Likewise we believe, teach, and confess that the unregenerate will of man is not only turned away from God, but also has become an enemy of God, so that it only has an inclination and desire for that which is evil and contrary to God, as it is written Gen. 8:21: The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Also Rom. 8:7: The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither, indeed, can be. Yea, as little as a dead body can quicken itself to bodily, earthly life, so little can man, who by sin is spiritually dead, raise himself to spiritual life, as it is written Eph. 2:5: Even when we were dead in sins, He hath quickened us together with Christ; 2 Cor. 3:5: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything good as of ourselves, but that we are sufficient is of God.

      3. God the Holy Ghost, however, does not effect conversion without means, but uses for this purpose the preaching and hearing of God's Word, as it is written Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Also Rom. 10:17: Faith cometh by hearing of the Word of God. And it is God's will that His Word should be heard, and that man's ears should not be closed. Ps. 95:8. With this Word the Holy Ghost is present, and opens hearts, so that they, as Lydia in Acts 16:14, are attentive to it, and are thus converted alone through the grace and power of the Holy Ghost, whose work alone the conversion of man is. For without His grace, and if He do not grant the increase, our willing and running, our planting, sowing, and watering, all are nothing, as Christ says John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing. With these brief words He denies to the free will its powers, and ascribes everything to God's grace, in order that no one may boast before God. 1 Cor. 1:29; 2 Cor. 12:5; Jer. 9:23.

      Negative Theses.

      Contrary False Doctrine.


      Accordingly, we reject and condemn all the following errors as contrary to the standard of God's Word:

      1. The delirium [insane dogma] of philosophers who are called Stoics, as also of the Manicheans, who taught that everything that happens must so happen, and cannot happen otherwise, and that everything that man does, even in outward things, he does by compulsion, and that he is coerced to evil works and deeds, as inchastity, robbery, murder, theft, and the like.

      2. We reject also the error of the gross Pelagians, who taught that man by his own powers, without the grace of the Holy Ghost, can turn himself to God, believe the Gospel, be obedient from the heart to God's Law, and thus merit the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

      3. We reject also the error of the Semi-Pelagians, who teach that man by his own powers can make a beginning of his conversion, but without the grace of the Holy Ghost cannot complete it.

      4. Also, when it is taught that, although man by his free will before regeneration is too weak to make a beginning, and by his own powers to turn himself to God, and from the heart to be obedient to God, yet, if the Holy Ghost by the preaching of the Word has made a beginning, and therein offered His grace, then the will of man from its own natural powers can add something, though little and feebly, to this end, can help and cooperate, qualify and prepare itself for grace, and embrace and accept it, and believe the Gospel.

      5. Also, that man, after he has been born again, can perfectly observe and completely fulfil God's Law, and that this fulfilling is our righteousness before God, by which we merit eternal life.

      6. Also, we reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts, who imagine that God without means, without the hearing of God's Word, also without the use of the holy Sacraments, draws men to Himself, and enlightens, justifies, and saves them. (Enthusiasts we call those who expect the heavenly illumination of the Spirit [celestial revelations] without the preaching of God's Word.)

      7. Also, that in conversion and regeneration God entirely exterminates the substance and essence of the old Adam, and especially the rational soul, and in conversion and regeneration creates a new essence of the soul out of nothing.

      8. Also, when the following expressions are employed without explanation, namely, that the will of man before, in, and after conversion resists the Holy Ghost, and that the Holy Ghost is given to those who resist Him intentionally and persistently; for, as Augustine says, in conversion God makes willing persons out of the unwilling and dwells in the willing. As to the expressions of ancient and modern teachers of the Church, when it is said: Deus trahit, sed volentem trahit, i. e., God draws, but He draws the willing; likewise, Hominis voluntas in conversione non est otiosa, sed agit aliquid, i. e., In conversion the will of man is not idle, but also effects something, we maintain that, inasmuch as these expressions have been introduced for confirming [the false opinion concerning] the powers of the natural free will in man's conversion, against the doctrine of God's grace, they do not conform to the form of sound doctrine, and therefore, when we speak of conversion to God, justly ought to be avoided.But, on the other hand, it is correctly said that in conversion God, through the drawing of the Holy Ghost, makes out of stubborn and unwilling men willing ones, and that after such conversion in the daily exercise of repentance the regenerate will of man is not idle, but also cooperates in all the works of the Holy Ghost, which He performs through us.

      9. Also what Dr. Luther has written, namely, that man's will in his conversion is pure passive, that is, that it does nothing whatever, is to be understood respectu divinae gratiae in accendendis novis motibus, that is, when God's Spirit, through the Word heard or the use of the holy Sacraments, lays hold upon man's will, and works [in man] the new birth and conversion. For when [after] the Holy Ghost has wrought and accomplished this, and man's will has been changed and renewed by His divine power and working alone, then the new will of man is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Ghost, so that he not only accepts grace, but also cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the works which follow.Therefore, before the conversion of man there are only two efficient causes, namely, the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, as the instrument of the Holy Ghost, by which He works conversion. This Word man is [indeed] to hear; however, it is not by his own powers, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Ghost that he can yield faith to it and accept it.


      Hope that helps some...
      Comment>

      • #4
        Originally posted by RevT View Post
        Of Free Will they (the Reformation Churches) teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received through the Word.
        Hi RevT,

        I haven't anything to add or contend against. The only thing that makes me pause is the Lutheran reference to the will of man as "Free Will" when statements as above clearly oppose any autonomy.

        God bless,
        William
        Comment>

        • #5
          Originally posted by William View Post

          Hi RevT,

          I haven't anything to add or contend against. The only thing that makes me pause is the Lutheran reference to the will of man as "Free Will" when statements as above clearly oppose any autonomy.

          God bless,
          William

          Fair enough- and something I never thought about really. The way to understand it is the header "Free Will" is the header for the controversy being discussed, and thus free will (or lack of it) is being defined. It was a massive debate in the 1500's in Lutheranism (as some anabaptists and others influenced the church in Germany) and the Formula of Concord settled the matter as far as the Evangelicals (now called Lutherans) were concerned.

          Of course as you know it became a very hot topic in the Reformed Churches shortly thereafter- and I suppose still is if Google-ing "Calvinism vs Arminianism" is any indication. :) There's people out there building a career on that debate.

          I don't want to derail this very worthy thread though. I love what you have put up for us here.

          Comment>
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