Presbyterian versus Reformed Churches

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Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I am assuming the differences between Presbyterian and Reformed churches are primarily cultural, more than theological. I say this because Presbyterian and Reformed churches often have warm sister church relationships in a number of countries (including mine). And Reformed churches, like Presbyterian churches, appreciate the Westminster Confession of faith.

Is this a valid observation?
 

Ryan J. Ross

Puritan Board Freshman
I am assuming the differences between Presbyterian and Reformed churches are primarily cultural, more than theological. I say this because Presbyterian and Reformed churches often have warm sister church relationships in a number of countries (including mine). And Reformed churches, like Presbyterian churches, appreciate the Westminster Confession of faith.

Is this a valid observation?
I don’t even understand how your distinguishing these terms. Reformed according to what/whom? How would a Presbyterian church be terminologically different than a “Reformed” church? Just trying to understand what you mean by P versus R. A church is a theological concept and these adjectives aren’t mutually exclusive. In many ways, they reinforce the shared form of polity and ecclesiology.


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Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
There's also this: a Presbyterian church that takes subscription seriously is going to have its pastors and elders much more nailed down on some theological particulars. That's simply because, as a later development in Reformed theology, the Westminster Standards are far more detailed than the Three Forms of Unity. The only way Presbyterians get around it is with a looser view of subscription and/or allowances for exceptions. Reformed churches with the TFU generally have stricter subscription with zero allowances for exceptions.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
cultural, more than theological.
There are some theological differences, but minor and workable, in my view. There are more differences in the outworking of polity, which Wes touched on above.

Here is an address dealing with these issues that I gave to a joint meeting of a URCNA Classis and an OPC Presbytery, discussing how we might draw closer together in ecumenical relations: https://opc.org/os.html?article_id=667&issue_id=131.

Peace,
Alan
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sorry, I've got to say it again: versus!
All fixed. I'll try to remember next time :)

I noted with interest your desire to correct my grammar but not to contribute to the church discussion I genuinely raised. I did wonder if you come from a noble generation of the Pharisees? Our Lord did say their 'hart' was not in the right place :p :p

I could not resist good brother :)
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I don’t even understand how your distinguishing these terms. Reformed according to what/whom? How would a Presbyterian church be terminologically different than a “Reformed” church? Just trying to understand what you mean by P versus R. A church is a theological concept and these adjectives aren’t mutually exclusive. In many ways, they reinforce the shared form of polity and ecclesiology.
See the link in post 4
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
That's simply because, as a later development in Reformed theology, the Westminster Standards are far more detailed than the Three Forms of Unity.
It is interesting that Vos' classic article "The doctrine of the covenant in Reformed theology" says that the Westminster was the first Reformed confession to bring the covenant 'from the side' to the heart of the confession. I think that is significant because it does imply that the WCF is more developed in its understanding of Reformed theology.

As you will know Wes, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand subscribe to the Westminster Confession as well as the Three Forms of Unity. What is surprising though, they do not subscribe to the WLC and the WSC. I am not sure why.

But they have a warm sister church relationship with the OPC so that is an example of churches crossing the Presbyterian Reformed divide.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
All fixed. I'll try to remember next time :)

I noted with interest your desire to correct my grammar but not to contribute to the church discussion I genuinely raised. I did wonder if you come from a noble generation of the Pharisees? Our Lord did say their 'hart' was not in the right place :p :p

I could not resist good brother :)
All in good fun, brother. I always appreciate your sense of humour!

A pun is, of course, the highest form of comedy. And you are true master. I respect you for that, especially with your being from New Zealand. As I recall from a recent thread, English is not widely spoken there.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
There are some theological differences, but minor and workable, in my view. There are more differences in the outworking of polity, which Wes touched on above.
As Wes noted, the WCF is a more theologically developed confession than the 3FU, I did wonder if a greater way to achieve unity would be to encourage Reformed Churches to subscribe to the Westminster Standards as well as the 3FU, then you would have more common doctrinal foundations. The Reformed Churches of New Zealand subscribe to the WCF as well as the 3FU. [I guess polity would remain the sticky issue].
Here is an address dealing with these issues that I gave to a joint meeting of a URCNA Classis and an OPC Presbytery, discussing how we might draw closer together in ecumenical relations: https://opc.org/os.html?article_id=667&issue_id=131.
Thank you. I enjoyed the article. You started with Psalm 133. The Psalter of the Reformed Churches of NZ has both the Psalm written by the Free Church of Scotland, as well as the one from the Continental Reformed church (which Kuyper loved). The one from Scotland has been going through my mind these last 2 weeks.

You mentioned the development of covenant theology at the time of the WCF. As I noted in my Vos quote above, covenant theology is clearly more developed in the WCF. Perhaps this is another reason to encourage our good Reformed brethren to subscribe to this confession.
 

Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
As Wes noted, the WCF is a more theologically developed confession than the 3FU, I did wonder if a greater way to achieve unity would be to encourage Reformed Churches to subscribe to the Westminster Standards as well as the 3FU, then you would have more common doctrinal foundations.
Might seem like a nice idea on the surface, but it would definitely not work in the circles I move in. Most Canadian Reformed and Free Reformed (Aus.) people can live with having fellowship with churches holding to the Westminster Standards, but they themselves wouldn't want to be tied down to that level of theological detail. The TFU give a bigger tent. That's why strict subscription works in our churches.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I read of a small Korean Reformed denomination that subscribes to both the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. At an address to a gathering of international Reformed churches, a pastor in the denomination recognized that, to a Western Reformed Christian, this might look odd, but in a Korean context, where any Reformed churches are few and far between, and where Reformed theology is to most professing Christians entirely unknown, the confessional documents all appear very similar.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
When I went from Reformed to Presbyterian, I found differences in church polity to be the biggest surprises. I had been raised in the home of a Reformed pastor and felt I knew the ins and outs of how church procedures worked. Suddenly, I was Presbyterian and had to learn all over again. The two were close enough that I would think I knew how things worked, but be mistaken.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
I don’t even understand how your distinguishing these terms.
From a historical perspective, it would be a distinction between those of a Continental Reformed perspective versus those of a Scottish Presbyterian perspective.

Except for some outliers with confusing names like "Reformed Presbyterian" one can frequently distinguish them by their names - on one side, the URCNA, CRC, RCUS, Free Reformed, etc; and on the other side, the PCA, OPC, EPC, ARP, etc. (Yes, I threw in apostates on both sides for historical reasons).
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EDIT: Intended to add PCUSA on the Presbyterian side to make the paren accurate.
 
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kainos01

Puritan Board Senior
on one side, the URCNA, CRC, RCUS, Free Reformed, etc; and on the other side, the PCA, OPC, EPC, ARP, etc. (Yes, I threw in apostates on both sides for historical reasons).
Which, exactly, particularly on the Presbyterian side, are you identifying as 'apostate'? Or better put, which are you saying has renounced or abandoned the Christian faith? Serious charge, that.
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Which, exactly, particularly on the Presbyterian side, are you identifying as 'apostate'? Or better put, which are you saying has renounced or abandoned the Christian faith? Serious charge, that.
Oops - I had intended to throw in the PCUSA on the Presbyterian side for balance. Good catch on that.

On the Reformed side? The CRC, of course.
 

Berean by Grace

Puritan Board Freshman
I am a Reformed Baptist who reads and studies the Westminster Confession much more than the 1689 LBC. I go so far as to read and study Presbyterian materials more than Baptist Reformed. Just my two cents!
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
I am a Reformed Baptist who reads and studies the Westminster Confession much more than the 1689 LBC. I go so far as to read and study Presbyterian materials more than Baptist Reformed. Just my two cents!
Would that be due to the fact that has been written so much more material on that position, as contrasted with that written from our Baptist Reformed?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
'Reformed' is Presbyterian. To be reformed is to hold to a Presbyterian church gov't.
I am not using those words descriptively. For the purposes of this thread, which is contrasting the Continental Reformed tradition with the Scottish Presbyterian one, I am using the shorthand of simply referring to those two traditions as Reformed and Presbyterian, as the thread title does.

Used that way, the Reformed version of Presbyterianism that I grew up in had polity differences from the Scottish version we typically think of when we say Presbyterian. For example, those Dutch Reformed folk didn't think in terms of the minister being an elder, or consider a session/consistory distinct from the diaconate, or invite all their ministers to attend the regional presbytery/classis meetings, or take it as a sign of confessional rigor if a church refused to hold Christmas services (such refusal was, in fact, a violation of denominational rules). There are several notable differences like these.
 

Berean by Grace

Puritan Board Freshman
Would that be due to the fact that has been written so much more material on that position, as contrasted with that written from our Baptist Reformed?
Possibly, yet I do listen to the Dividing Line. So. ... there.... Reformed Baptist.... James White's The God Who Justifies is a great book!
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Might seem like a nice idea on the surface, but it would definitely not work in the circles I move in. Most Canadian Reformed and Free Reformed (Aus.) people can live with having fellowship with churches holding to the Westminster Standards, but they themselves wouldn't want to be tied down to that level of theological detail. The TFU give a bigger tent.
Wes, there is an easy way to motivate Australians to do this. You simply say if the Kiwi's can do it (ie, the RCNZ) then the Aussies certainly should be able to do it :) It is a strategy to motivate Australians; they don't like been told the Kiwi's are ahead :)

Seriously, I appreciate that there are some difference of conviction between Reformed demoninations but I am a little surprised that some are reluctant to subscribe to the Westminster Standards. For example you stated:
as a later development in Reformed theology, the Westminster Standards are far more detailed than the Three Forms of Unity.
I added:
It is interesting that Vos' classic article "The doctrine of the covenant in Reformed theology" says that the Westminster was the first Reformed confession to bring the covenant 'from the side' to the heart of the confession. I think that is significant because it does imply that the WCF is more developed in its understanding of Reformed theology.
If the doctrine of the covenant is foundational to Reformed Theology (and it is) it seems to me Reformed Churches would want to subscribe to a confession that gives Covenant Theology an important place in the confession.
That's why strict subscription works in our churches.
I am a little confused - I am not sure what the difference is between subscribing to the 'fuller' statements of the Westminster Standards and strict subscription to the Three Forms of Unity.

As a matter of interest I have often said if you want a rich study of Reformed theology, one that will give theological and spiritual maturity, a great way to do this is to study the WLC along with the Heidelberg Catechism.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
All in good fun, brother. I always appreciate your sense of humour!

A pun is, of course, the highest form of comedy. And you are true master. I respect you for that, especially with your being from New Zealand.
Thank you for the kind words. I will keep working on my Grammar as well as my Granddad :)

As I recall from a recent thread, English is not widely spoken there.
Now my good brother are you trying to start another New Zealand verses Canada debate :)
Or are you acknowledging that Canadaians are a little confused as to whether they are Americans versus if they live in North America :) :)
 

Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
I added:

If the doctrine of the covenant is foundational to Reformed Theology (and it is) it seems to me Reformed Churches would want to subscribe to a confession that gives Covenant Theology an important place in the confession.

I am a little confused - I am not sure what the difference is between subscribing to the 'fuller' statements of the Westminster Standards and strict subscription to the Three Forms of Unity.
Aye, there's the rub. Covenant theology would be one of the big reasons why many CanRC/FRCA ministers would not want to subscribe to the Westminster Standards. A lot of our guys (but not all) are monocovenantalists and the thinking is that this is allowable within the framework of the TFU, but not with the Westminster Standards.

With regard to your confusion: most churches that have subscription to the Westminster Standards allow exceptions. This is almost inevitable when these confessions have so much detail. Our churches have subscription to the TFU and we allow absolutely no exceptions. You're either all in or you're out. Because there's more wiggle-room in the TFU, that works fine.
 
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