Jerusalem council = PCA General Assembly?

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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Sort of a tangent from my recently revived thread about the Trinity...

It seems that throughout church history doctrinal debate was put to an end through the actions of the ecclesiastical hierarchy meeting to discuss questions such as the Judaizers, Arianism and Pelagianism. Assuming that the declarations of the Jerusalem council were binding upon all the churches, and that Reformed Christians (I think) have generally recognized three "ecumenical" councils or at least "ecumenical" creeds, the results of early councils, holding them as binding upon all Christians, what is our equivalent of the councils at Jerusalem and Nicaea, seeing how racked with strife and division the Church is? Do PCA and OPC general assemblies count? If so, does that mean that PCA and OPC declarations are binding on all Christians in the way we take the Nicene and Jerusalem councils to have been? If they aren't the same, is it even possible for us to have the same thing?



As an addendum, I was taught at First RP that Presbyterian ecclesiology is the ecclesiology of the New Testament and the early Church. Both the New Testament and Early Church seem to have a place for a "universal" council, but there was also only one denomination back then. How does modern ecclesiology have to change to adapt to these circumstances?


Puritanboard Commissioner

If so, does that mean that PCA and OPC declarations are binding on all Christians in the way we take the Nicene and Jerusalem councils to have been? If they aren't the same, is it even possible for us to have the same thing?
I'm not sure I'm understanding all parts of your question. Presbyterian polity is a big topic.

For the PCA (not an expert in this, and cannot address the OPC practice), the "pronouncements" are of different kinds. I don't think any are intended to bind people outside the denomination, maybe reference value, but not binding.

The General Assembly is a "court," the highest court of appeal and the final one in the denomination. Actual decisions are made and business is concluded there.

The "pronouncements" take different forms. In general, if someone is appealing a decision of a lower court (a Session or Presbytery), the General Assembly has authority to conclude the matter.

The PCA is a bit more "grass roots" than Presbyterianism historically and there is a lot of power at the Presbytery level, which is the middle level. Most matters that are appealed are concluded there and General Assembly decisions are often remanded back there, perhaps with advise or instructions, to be concluded at that level. Sometimes "study committees," give advice to be taken seriously but are not absolutely binding- and that is intended to be helpful to Sessions and Presbyterians trying to deal with difficult issues or situations, often theological.

For example, the General Assembly's study committee provided a great summary of "federal vision" theology error and gave a few key points to ask of people being influenced by this false set of doctrine. Officially, it is the opinion of the General Assembly, as the highest court, at a given point in time. While not absolutely binding, it is to be given "due and serious consideration" by lower courts. It often will become the de facto, though not the de jure standard. Other denominations can look at these reports and it may have some referential value, but it is not intended to be binding.

Most of the matters are judicial in nature, discipline against someone for doctrine harm or moral turpitude. Doctrine is reflected mostly through the church constitution which consists of the Book of Church Order and the Westminster Standards. Both contain doctrine but both can be changed through an orderly process.

So, doctrinal standards can be changed, but they apply only internally, not to the church at large, except maybe for reference value.

Is this at all what you are asking about?
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Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The only way I can think to describe the situation would be to draw the proverbial "tree" form, and note that the "stump" reveals a situation of greater unity than we presently enjoy.

It was important for the 16th century Reformers to acknowledge that what they wished to do was not go striking off on their own, but to reclaim a heritage, to affirm the only truly "catholic" faith: Apostolic Christianity. That Christianity was defined in such debates and resultant documents as the early Creeds. This was no other faith than that which the Reformers desired to repristinate.

I wouldn't put our regional "councils" at any such level as the first Ecumenicals. For one thing, they are localized; they are in no way universal. On the other hand, the local assemblies that drafted or adopted Creeds like the WCF were speaking for significant minority gatherings of the church. And as such they should be given greater notice than perhaps they are. And I think that the international Synod of Dort stands pretty high among the "creedal deliverances" of the church-universal.

So, to summarize, I don't think that any give OPC/PCA/RPCNA/ARP/etc. Synod or General Assembly speaks for the "church-universal" the way that the unified church-councils once spoke. These are but "regional" councils.

It would take a massive movement of the Spirit of God to get the vast majority of the Church (broadly conceived) to agree (as we think they ought) on the Synod of Dort. If churches worldwide could agree on that language as their self-expression of the Biblical gospel, suddenly there would be a unity that had not been seen in 1500 years.

PointyHaired Calvinist

Puritan Board Sophomore
The closest thing I know of to a Reformed Ecumenical Council was the Council of Dordt, 1619, where most of the Reformed churches in Europe sent members.

Of course, Thomas Cranmer had an idea of bringing Calvin, Bullinger, and Melanchthon together as a Protestant ecumenical council, but in God's providence this was not to be.
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