Differences between the PCA and the OPC

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by EKSB SDG, Jul 11, 2009.

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  1. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    Does that mean I can glue a couple parts of it together and wield it like Anduril? :)
  2. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Everyone here already thinks of you as Aragorn, so go ahead.
  3. Archlute

    Archlute Puritan Board Senior

    Tim, I might be laughing harder at what you said if there weren't so much truth reflected in that statement.

    I just had a discussion this afternoon with a presbyter who continually seems to go the route of "well, the spirit of what the BCO is "really getting at" here is...." Instead of recognizing what the BCO actually states. Or the "pluralism by presbytery" approach that tries to imply that it is valid for various presbyteries to have differing standards regarding "how things are done around here" (without deferring to the BCO), and not that every presbytery is technically bound in all parts to it equally.
  4. Spinningplates2

    Spinningplates2 Puritan Board Freshman

    Brother, I think you forgot to say, "In my opinion." Unless you have some secret knowledge you would like to pass on to us PCA members.
  5. DonP

    DonP Puritan Board Junior

    That would be a difference with the OPC in that most of their churches and ministers that I have been familiar with do go strictly by the book and get called on it if they don't. Many elders have it as closely memorized as the Confession, they stop the proceedings of Presbyterian or GA if there is a potential infraction of BOCO and correct it and stick to it there as well as in local sessions. And some members hold the elders to it as well.

    I wish they were as strict to follow the entire Confession.

    How ironic.
    But I think most do, but it ends up subject to interpretation or mostly "Wiggle room" as they term their acceptance of loose subscription instead of taking exceptions formally and recording them as the PCA is supposed to require.

    And I had the BOCO on my little PDA years ago and it is smaller than the book so no need for a big laptop if you have the confessions, BOCO and all the Catechisms and other docs all on a small PDA, Blackberry, etc..
  6. Montanablue

    Montanablue Puritan Board Doctor

    Heavens, are you serious?

    Church polity is, of course, extremely important, and I think elders should be very familiar with their body's BCO. But, memorizing it seems a bit extreme. Surely that time could be better spent memorizing or studying scripture?
  7. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    It may seem extreme, until you see abuse on a massive scale like in the PCA's NorCal Presbytery. Just this last Father's Day an Elder from north San Luis County (two PCA's in SLO County) took the pulpit at the other PCA in that County and without warning the elder in good standing involved told the congregation that he and his friends recommended that the congregation have a "vote of confidence" about whether the elder should be on the session or not. And then he proceed to tell the congregation (where the elder in question has been the only functioning RE for years) all the problems they have with him.

    The problems mostly being that he is conservative. He told the congregation that he and his good old boys were working with the elder under question to help him conform to Trinity Presbyerian's "position statement" which includes the following

    which means that woman can lead the Sunday service 12 times per year (although admittedly no one's informed enough there to put two and two together).

    Kathleen, I hope you never see a church constitution abused at this level, but if you do, you'll understand why the OPC is so serious about theirs. In fact, it has much to do with the reason the OPC was started.
  8. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritanboard Commissioner

    For those following, the constitution of the PCA consists of the Book of Church Order and the Westminster Standards subject to and suboordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

    The OPC has the same structure, reflected in their "Preface":
    In the PCA, it takes a majority vote at general assembly, then advice and consent of 2/3 of presbyteries, then a subsequent vote of general assembly to amend the book of Church Order.

    To amend the Westminster Standards, it takes a 3/4 vote at general assembly, then advice and consent of 3/4 of presbyteries, then a 3/4 subsequent vote of general assembly to amend the Westminster Standards.

    The OPC has a similar process, and I think takes majorities all the way through to amend their Book of Church Order and 2/3 votes to amend the Westminster Standards.

    The Book of Church Order does reflect some doctrine and does reflect our polity. All officers (deacons and elders) vow to receive and uphold it.

    From what I have seen, it is broadly followed- I have never seen anything like the kind of mocking disregard described here. Not saying that doesn't happen, but I've not seen it except in the case of one place that is deliberately not following its practice with regard to deacons ('deaconess') and that is being dealt with through the church courts.:)
  9. Wayne

    Wayne Tempus faciendi, Domine.

    Another basic difference, alluded to in Scott's post, is that the PCA comes out of the old Southern Presbyterian denomination (PCUS) and based its Book of Church Order on the 1933 PCUS BCO. The text of the PCUS BCO is a clear departure from what had been in use in the PCUSA prior to the War and the division of the Old School PCUSA in 1861.

    The OPC came out of what was at the time called the Northern Presbyterian Church, the PCUSA. Not surprisingly, the OPC based its initial Form of Government on the PCUSA Form of Government (1934 edition):

    Then over the last 60-70 years, subsequent changes have made the OPC's Book a more unique and distinctive document. Changes to the OPC Book are made less frequently and with more debate, while the PCA seems to make some changes virtually every year (though most of those changes are to a relatively small number of chapters--many chapters and paragraphs remain unchanged from the 1973 edition of the BCO).

    In sum, there are still many similarities between the OPC and PCA Books, but there are substantial differences too. For more specifics, see Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order : Project Home Page (though I will say this is still very much a work in progress!)

    That's enough overly detailed information for now. Is everyone worn out? Good, then I've done my job. Come back next week for our next session of "Polity Calisthenics".
  10. puritan lad

    puritan lad Puritan Board Freshman

    As one who attends both churches (for family reasons), here are some differences from my perspective and research. Others may weigh in to correct any historical errors here.

    From a pure doctrinal standpoint, the OPC and PCA are identical. Both are Reformed, Calvinist, Presbyterian (though the PCA is often more run by committee than pure presbyterianism), and both hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Both recognize the ordination of each others ministers; if you are ordained in one denomination, you can pastor in the other. They both co-own the Great Commissions Publications publishing house.

    The original Presbyterian split happened before the Civil War between the North (PCUSA) and South (RPCUSA). After the PCUSA became more liberal (1924 Auburn Affirmation), it excommunicated the true Christians like J. Gresham Machen, who also lost his position at Princeton Theological Seminary. These men formed what at that time was called the Presbyterian Church of America. After a lawsuit, they change their name to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

    In the late 1960's, the RPCUSA, led by Karl Barth, became more liberal and sought to reunite with the PCUSA (which it eventually did in the early 1970's). Of course, that meant that it would accept the ordination of those who held to the Auburn Affirmation. As a result, the true Christians left that denomination in 1972 and formed the current Presbyterian Church of America.

    Both the OPC and the PCA have their strengths and weakenesses, though individual churches may vary. The PCA appears stronger in evangelism in general. The OPC has been called the "frozen chosen", and that label is not entirely undeserved. In my experience, the OPC tries so hard to avoid being "seeker sensitive" that you rarely see any sort of outreach in the local church. The PCA is also more open to different instruments in worship, but does so in a balanced manner without having a rock concert gimmick to try and draw a crowd. The OPC is more puritan in it's worship, keeping it simple and reverent. Which one is better is more of an aesthetic question (No musical instrument debates please). Personally, I like the reverent worship of the OPC and it's use of the Psaltery. Less pleasing to man, but more glorifying to God.

    The OPC, on the other hand is stronger in doctrinal preaching. Their teachings are usually richer in Reformed Doctrine and the applications of that doctrine, whereas the PCA that I attended is sometimes ashamed to express their Reformed Beliefs for fear that it would ostracize them from the evangelical community.

    The real strength of the OPC, however, is it's church discipline. The OPC won't hesitate, if necessary, to put it's ministers on trial for heresy, whereas the PCA seems very reluctant to do so. In no case was this more apparent than in the Federal Vision/New Perspective on Paul controversy. When this began to be a problem, the OPC acted very quickly with a long resolution examining the teachings of the Federal Vision, it's history, and why it was a heresy. They then warned their ministers against teaching such at the risk of being defrocked. Today, FV teaching is alive and well in the PCA, and nearly non-existent in the OPC.

    I currently attend both churches, a member of the PCA on Sunday mornings, and an OPC service on Sunday evenings. One disturbing trend in the PCA is a move toward women having office in ministry.

    Again, this is what I have assertained from personal experience and studies...
  11. Montanablue

    Montanablue Puritan Board Doctor

    Do you think that these men were actually ignorant of the BCO or that they were blatantly disobeying it? From what you write, I wonder if they knew that they were disobeying the rules, but just didn't care.

    At any rate, I see your point. Like I said, I certainly agree that understanding and having a good knowledge of one's BCO is essential. I just think that being able to recite it verbatim is a bit much. Surely one can look something up if one is unsure about a point? The key seems to be being willing to consult the BCO and then adhere to it before engaging in a point of church polity...yes?
  12. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner


    The PCA came out of the PCUS. And I don't recall Barth as having been involved in a leadership role. And on the other side of the merger was the UPCUSA. The PCUSA was earlier and later.
  13. DonP

    DonP Puritan Board Junior

    Would you go out and drive a car without knowing the rules of the road?

    Its no different. When you are in a presbytery meeting and someone does something in violation of policy, if no one knows the policy then they go ahead and do it.
    So you have a lot of work to do to go back and undo it.

    Much preferable to have churchmen well schooled in polity. And I doubt most sit and memorize it in one day. ( I tried). It comes with frequent use and reference over time.
    This is why the church needs OLD people. And not allow all the intelligent young people to take over.
    There is no knowledge like that which comes from making lots of mistakes and paying their price.
    Experience is Amazing once you have it and see all the smart people who don't.
    A great aspect of Wisdom is: Wisdom = Knowledge + Experience.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2009
  14. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritanboard Commissioner

    Not to distract from the interchange, but thought it might be helpful to put this in context for those following.

    I'm not familiar with the situation or presbytery mentioned but, generally there are a couple things to note in the PCA's polity.

    Members are not required to comprehensively understand and agree with their church's doctrine but officers are. This is especially true with teaching elders.

    Other officers who govern the particular church (that's a presbyterian BCO term) vow they receive and accept the church's polity. Most of that is in the Book of Church Order.

    In practice, it's not really a case of studying and memorizing the BCO. My Pastor once said the BCO is a book we learn by using it. There are many things that are not directly scriptural but are procedural judgments yet almost everything relates to basic doctrines we confess in some way.

    That's why as I've come to understand a few churches are "doing their own polity" (by devaluing ordination, the office of deacon and created commissioned stepped down office titles), it's not only a violation of vows (serious discipline issue there), but also one of the doctrine of polity of our denomination:

    God governs his local church through a plurality of deacons and elders- qualified by I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, elected, ordained and installed by holy ordinance of worship, and taught to the people as doctrine.:)
  15. Montanablue

    Montanablue Puritan Board Doctor

    This is what I was trying to get at, but I don't think I said it very well. Thank you. I was not trying to demean the importance of having, understanding, and following a BCO at all. My point was more that rote memorization might not be the absolute best way to use and follow the BCO.
  16. puritan lad

    puritan lad Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Edward. I'll research a little more...
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