The Idea of Multiple De Jure Denominations is Incompatible with Presbyterianism

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mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
Many modern Presbyterians have gotten used to the idea that there are a number of independent denominations--the OPC, the PCA, the FCC, the RPNCA, the ARP, and so on--which all possess de jure legitimacy and authority as churches. But this attitude is incompatible with a presbyterian view of church government and the unity of the church.

In presbyterianism, the church is required to be united in formal unity, and, more particularly, church power is inherently collegial. There is no such thing as an independent congregation or an independent session of elders. By inherent virtue of their legitimacy as officers and church courts, individual sessions are required to submit to each others' authority. This is manifested by sessions uniting together in regional presbyteries and higher synodical assemblies. The officers and courts of Christ church are part of a universal eldership which bears rule over the entire catholic church of Christ, and therefore it is the right and duty of these officers and courts to share rule together by means of being united into a system in which higher presbyterial and synodical assemblies can be called which have binding authority over the churches. The highest binding council of the church must be an ecumenical council, which represents the entirety of the universal eldership of the catholic church.

In this presbyterian system, when denominations are divided, there is an implicit rejection of the de jure legitimacy and authority of each others' officers and church courts. This is why, in a presbyterian system, the idea of multiple de jure denominations is an impossibility. A recognition of legitimacy inherently and inalienably involves a joint submission of collegial authority--or in other words, unity under mutually-binding councils (that is, denominational unity). Divided denominations may, consistently, recognize each other informally as parts of the Body of Christ de facto, but there is no formal recognition of legitimacy and authority.

It is my contention that modern Presbyterians have not done a good job of taking these facts seriously. We have not been fully presbyterian in our attitude towards the implications of denominational division. We have tended to see the visible church as consisting of multiple de jure denominations, but this manifests what I call a semi-congregationalist view of church government and unity rather than a pure, biblical presbyterianism.

So what do you all think?

I've written up more full arguments for all of this in a number of articles. Here are three that might be most useful here for those who would like to see what I have said above argued out more fully:

One Gigantic Kirk-Session - This article sums up briefly the same reasoning used above, but gives some further examples and analogies.

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church - This article is a fuller articulation of the same reasoning.

The Presbyterian Unity of the Church - This article focuses on biblical evidence for a presbyterian view of the unity of the church and church government, including pointing out the implications for the meaning of denominational separation.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
So what do you all think?

I think you are correct that insufficient attention has been given to this subject, but there are numerous factors which have led to the divisions currently plaguing the church, and I doubt there is a simple diagnosis or remedy for them.

As the PRCE has been mentioned in the second post, I think it is necessary to state that a remedy like this does far more damage than the initial disease.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
You're definitely onto something here, but I agree that there is no easy solution. We want a real unity, not a pretend unity as the Steelites referenced above promote, and that will require hard work. The unity of the Presbyterian churches in a nation should be our prayer and earnest struggle, but it cannot come at any cost.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
individual sessions are required to submit to each others' authority.

I'm not sure I agree with that statement as being consistent with Presbyterian church government. It would seem that such a plan would be a blueprint for anarchy.

OPC, the PCA, the FCC, the RPNCA, the ARP

A line should probably be drawn between the OPC, PCA, and ARP as associational on one hand, and the FCC and RPNCA (which I confess I can't place at the moment) on the other.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
Or there's this approach from a few years ago:

Modern Reformation - Articles

I have honestly never figured out why this hasn't been pursued. It seems like a good idea that (while not perfect) would take a real and substantial step towards the unity demanded by the OP without falling into the dangers of the ecumenism that swept this country in late 19th and early 20th centuries. What are the arguments against it?
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Or there's this approach from a few years ago:

Modern Reformation - Articles

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) currently has something like this model, due to it being formed partly of several pre-existing organizations (for example the Reformed Episcopal Church). It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but it could provide a model for how Presbyterian/Reformed churches could pursue institutional unity while preserving institutional diversity.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I appreciate the idea for its obvious commitment to the unity of the Church, but I'm afraid it may turn out to be more divisive than it looks. If the powers of the proposed GA are limited - as the article suggests - in a way that Scripture does not limit the powers of a Scriptural church court, then is it a real, Presbyterian unity? I want one, united Presbyterian church in the U.S. as much as anybody, but I want it to be a real unity where we are one, Presbyterian church, not one where we are effectively pretending, but the "GA" is not actually functioning with the powers that Scripture gives a Church court.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
I want one, united Presbyterian church in the U.S. as much as anybody, but I want it to be a real unity where we are one, Presbyterian church, not one where we are effectively pretending, but the "GA" is not actually functioning with the powers that Scripture gives a Church court.

But would you want such unity if the came down on the other side of key issues from you? Certainly a unified Presbyterian body in this country is not going to be EP and may well have deaconesses. It might have a more nuanced position on creationism, and certainly wouldn't be geocentric.

If folks really want a unified Presbyterian denomination in this country, the solution is simple - everyone should climb into the biggest tent. Just bring your church into the PCA. But it has been my experience that when you merge groups, you end up with the lowest common denominator, which means a more diverse, dilute body, rather than a purer one.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Raymond and Wayne, for the two articles.

I read through the PRCE piece. While I don't agree with everything in it, the article does observe the same kind of thing I've observed about how un-presbyterian a lot of Presbyterianism is in North America today. "Independent Denominationalist" thinking has definitely got a strong following.

I think the Modern Reformation article has the right idea, in that it sees denominationalist for the evil it is. I appreciate the fact that Godfrey is making a concrete suggestion, rather than just bemoaning the situation as hopeless as so often happens. However, I agree with Austin that Godfrey's proposal lacks full presbyterian consistency. Why should the RPCNA synod, for example, in this united church, exercise discipline within its jurisdiction regarding exclusive psalmody, while such discipline is not pursued at the level of the General Assembly? Another error I think that modern Reformed people have often fallen into is the error of latitudinarianism--the idea that the church need not teach and enforce the whole counsel of God but only the "major" or "really important" parts of it. But Christ has commanded the church to teach all that he has commanded, not only some of what he has commanded. We are required to observe all of God's commands, not just the "major" ones. It is inconsistent for the church to use discipline with regard to some of the Bible's commands and not others. (This article by John Pressly, particularly the third section on "Ecclesiastical Communion," I think makes this argument well.) As Austin said above, to forbid the General Assembly from taking a position or using discipline regarding issues disagreed upon between the churches is to not give that court the power it needs to have in a presbyterian system. Godfrey's solution seems to be a recipe for unity, but it is really a recipe for papering over the causes of disunity.

I think that the Apostle Paul has given us the real and only basis for denominational unity in 1 Corinthians 1:10:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."

But the main point I want to stress right now is this: Before we can begin to figure out how to solve the problem of disunity, we have to take the problem with all the seriousness it deserves. I think that we are often hindered in recognizing the seriousness of the problem by these two things:

1. We don't really want to accept the full meaning of denominational separation in a presbyterian system. In a presbyteian view, denominational division means that the divided denominations are rejecting each others' de jure legitimacy and authority. I'm afraid that all too often we think that we can recognize each others' legitimacy while still being independent, but that is a semi-congregationalist way of thinking that betrays presbyterian principles. If we were forced to face the full implications of denominational disunity, it would force us to take those divisions more seriously.

2. We approach this whole issue with a defeatist attitude. "Yeah, the divisions of the church are bad. It's really a shame. But nothing can be done about it, so let's just go on to do other things and not really worry about it too much. Sure, multiple de jure denominations is an un-presbyterian concept, but it's all hopeless anyway, so why bother worrying about whether we are consistent or not?" Yes, working towards unity is a difficult task. But there is no reason to believe it is impossible, or at least that we can't make significant progress. Is the Bible able to be understood or not? Do we want truth or not? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then we should be able to make progress by the grace of God. So let's stop whining about how hard and impossible it will be and instead focus our attention on doing what we can. And let's not use the difficulties of the situation as an excuse to think we can be inconsistent in our presbyterian principles by ignoring the full meaning of denominational separation. Even if it is true that nothing can be done to bring greater unity, that would be no excuse to avoid facing up to reality and admitting what our divisions really mean. And I think that facing up to that reality will help sober us up and motivate us to do more. I think that semi-congregationalist thinking functions something like a drug that keeps us from feeling the real mess that we are in in the Reformed world.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
Thanks, Raymond and Wayne, for the two articles.

I read through the PRCE piece. While I don't agree with everything in it, the article does observe the same kind of thing I've observed about how un-presbyterian a lot of Presbyterianism is in North America today. "Independent Denominationalist" thinking has definitely got a strong following.

I think the Modern Reformation article has the right idea, in that it sees denominationalist for the evil it is. I appreciate the fact that Godfrey is making a concrete suggestion, rather than just bemoaning the situation as hopeless as so often happens. However, I agree with Austin that Godfrey's proposal lacks full presbyterian consistency. Why should the RPCNA synod, for example, in this united church, exercise discipline within its jurisdiction regarding exclusive psalmody, while such discipline is not pursued at the level of the General Assembly? Another error I think that modern Reformed people have often fallen into is the error of latitudinarianism--the idea that the church need not teach and enforce the whole counsel of God but only the "major" or "really important" parts of it. But Christ has commanded the church to teach all that he has commanded, not only some of what he has commanded. We are required to observe all of God's commands, not just the "major" ones. It is inconsistent for the church to use discipline with regard to some of the Bible's commands and not others. (This article by John Pressly, particularly the third section on "Ecclesiastical Communion," I think makes this argument well.) As Austin said above, to forbid the General Assembly from taking a position or using discipline regarding issues disagreed upon between the churches is to not give that court the power it needs to have in a presbyterian system. Godfrey's solution seems to be a recipe for unity, but it is really a recipe for papering over the causes of disunity.

I think that the Apostle Paul has given us the real and only basis for denominational unity in 1 Corinthians 1:10:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."

But the main point I want to stress right now is this: Before we can begin to figure out how to solve the problem of disunity, we have to take the problem with all the seriousness it deserves. I think that we are often hindered in recognizing the seriousness of the problem by these two things:

1. We don't really want to accept the full meaning of denominational separation in a presbyterian system. In a presbyteian view, denominational division means that the divided denominations are rejecting each others' de jure legitimacy and authority. I'm afraid that all too often we think that we can recognize each others' legitimacy while still being independent, but that is a semi-congregationalist way of thinking that betrays presbyterian principles. If we were forced to face the full implications of denominational disunity, it would force us to take those divisions more seriously.

2. We approach this whole issue with a defeatist attitude. "Yeah, the divisions of the church are bad. It's really a shame. But nothing can be done about it, so let's just go on to do other things and not really worry about it too much. Sure, multiple de jure denominations is an un-presbyterian concept, but it's all hopeless anyway, so why bother worrying about whether we are consistent or not?" Yes, working towards unity is a difficult task. But there is no reason to believe it is impossible, or at least that we can't make significant progress. Is the Bible able to be understood or not? Do we want truth or not? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then we should be able to make progress by the grace of God. So let's stop whining about how hard and impossible it will be and instead focus our attention on doing what we can. And let's not use the difficulties of the situation as an excuse to think we can be inconsistent in our presbyterian principles by ignoring the full meaning of denominational separation. Even if it is true that nothing can be done to bring greater unity, that would be no excuse to avoid facing up to reality and admitting what our divisions really mean. And I think that facing up to that reality will help sober us up and motivate us to do more. I think that semi-congregationalist thinking functions something like a drug that keeps us from feeling the real mess that we are in in the Reformed world.

What would this look like in concrete terms? i.e. What should I do as a result of this thread?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Unless there's some particular reason to institute yet another overarching "power structure" (which things tend, unless mightily resisted, to suck power upward), I fail to see the real benefit to forcing through an organic union of (faithful) P&R churches.

I'm all for a blissful marriage, entered into by both parties who recognize the advantages, the strength of their united efforts. I harbor a secret longing for a unified witness that is truly confessional in common expression. If only random folks who saw a name on a sign out front had even a vague but accurate (!) apprehension of what we believe.

But I'm not in favor of prioritizing this expression of union, absent some kind of Spirit-wrought groundswell, an inexorable and inevitable summons that seems to draw all of us in without dragging of feet, and (importantly) without the least desire to compromise on any settled point of doctrine. Practically every call to unity these days--particularly among the liberals, but also found in big-tent conservative churches--is to the detriment of fine doctrinal precision. It's all blurring and least-common-denominator confession, which typically amounts to less (even) than the Apostles' Creed.

King Jesus could bring this all together overnight, if he so willed it. He hasn't willed it, apparently preferring to work for the present time through the dispersed congregations, synods, and councils of his Church. We--who are short-lived, but anxious to have our low-perched visions for unity satisfied from that insignificant height, and within our earthly span--tend to want to see our P&R world (in America) in a glorious aspect, one that rivals Rome's pretentious boast... Or at least the PCUSA's, right?

Well, I fear that such eager panting for this kind of beauty (as nice as it is) is akin to the idealization of beauty in the natural world. Yesterday's models are constantly being replaced, because reality intrudes on that vision. In like manner, the impressions of unity set forth by Rome and by others are actually a constantly turning kaleidoscope of distracting attractions, that obscure mundane, ugly, and conflicting details.

Our apparent weakness, our struggles for true unity at the level of a single congregation, our dispersion--all this is an exhibition of the theology of the cross. In that unlikely picture--as much as in the famous example of the riven and sin-wracked Corinthian church--the hidden power of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed. Where the world (and too often we also) sees a pathetic picture, an ineffectual and a false and a mockworthy expression of "faith"--Christ is at work in the ordinary means, perfecting strength in weakness.

The contrasting theology of glory must have it all now, and in bright array. "Give us a hierarchy! And buildings! And budgets! Give me a place where I may implement my vision of progress, our consensus, a coalition of the willing (willing to go along with some steering committee)." This will impress the world. This will consolidate resources, reducing redundancy, eliminating "waste." This is the theory of the mega-church; which is actually a kind of mini-denomination all to itself, and a micro-papistry: with its celebrity minister and (maybe) a college of cardinal-advisors and pastoral staff of lower-rung-bishops. And it could be found as well, in slightly different form, in the P&R church. What are we really thirsting for, as we pine for organic unity and lines of authority and accountability?


As I wrote above, I'm hoping for new expressions of unity among the P&R. I wonder what delights a marriage between (for instance) OPC and URC would entail. But we need to see it happen only as the Spirit himself (truly) forges the bond. Twice, PCA-OPC courtship ended in a failed engagement. Rather than bemoaning this turn (as some continue to do, assigning blame, etc.), we should understand not that it failed in DEFIANCE of Holy Spirit's call to oneness, but as a manifestation of his will. Do we similarly pout endlessly whenever a person-to-person engagement doesn't bring the two to say "I do?" No, we move on, and maybe even thank God. The glory of marriage isn't absolutely necessary to the spiritual health of anyone. And neither is organic union among the congregations and denominations of Christ's Church. Happy and healthful many times, even much of the time? Yes! thank God. But not a sine qua non.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
"What would this look like in concrete terms? i.e. What should I do as a result of this thread?"

I think that's an excellent question. Here's my basic proposal:

First of all, figure out what you think about the various matters of doctrine and practice. Secondly, figure out where people disagree with you in these matters. Thirdly, examine these matters yourself and hopefully in conversation with others in order to make sure you are right, and if you are, to convince others of the truth. Fourth, once that is done, the basis for divisions will be removed and denominational unity can happen.

I don't believe we will ever reach the fourth step entirely and universally in this fallen world. There will always be some degree of error. But I also believe that if we try, in reliance on God's grace, we will make significant progress. So what do we do if we do all of this but still end up with multiple denominations? We join the denomination that preserves the truth and continue in separation from the others on the grounds that, being in error and therefore schismatic, they lack de jure legitimacy and authority.

I really think it is as simple as that, fundamentally. Of course, actually doing these things will be hard and very involved, but I think this is going to be the basic outline and everything else will be a fulfilling of this basic outline.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
Rev. Buchanan,

I agree that God works through his divided people, and that we should only go forward towards unity on the grounds of a cautious examination of the real causes of division and not compromise the truth. I also agree that we need not wait to serve God until we have the unity we wish we had.

However, we need to make sure that the above observations do not function as a means of obscuring other crucially important truths:

1. Denominational division, in a presbyterian system, does not amount to a bunch of denominations which are separate from each other but which recognize each others' de jure legitimacy and authority. Presbyterians cannot see things in this way. Denominational division is inherently, inalienably, a mutual rejection of legitimacy and authority. This cannot be forgotten. Any other way of seeing division is un-presbyterian.

2. Yes, this is not an ideal world. Yes, God is carrying out his purposes. Yes, we can serve God in non-ideal circumstances. But none of this changes in the slightest the fact that it is our duty to recognize and accept the truth of what denominational division entails and not to paper over that truth, and that it is our duty to do what we reasonably can to work towards unity in the truth and not allow the status quo to become comfortable to us.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I think there should be some kind of organic unity generally for the whole true visible church, not just Presbyterian ones. I'm just not sure that is achievable, or on lasting basis this side of heaven. Regarding the past, Presbyterians have rarely been united. The only time the church was united under Presbyterian beliefs was under a national church under the first reformation but even then that soon fell from unity in doctrine with the impositions of the government of James I. After the second reformation, a renewed unity in doctrine and church also only lasted briefly and rose and fell with political fortunes. The adherence to principles was not unified; witness the Resolutioner/Protestor division and how quickly the bulk of the nation turned from the Covenanters. It was a unity, but clearly with a considerable amount of hypocrisy.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Given the current situation, it does not seem to me that we are violating Presbyterian principles. For instance, the OPC and the PCA (to mention two close relatives) split from the Northern Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian churches respectively at different times over separate issues. The fact that they haven't been able to merge is sad, but the fact that attempts have been made indicates that this is not for lack of adherance to the Presbyterian principle.

Related question: is institutional separation on geographical lines contrary to the principles of Presbyterianism?
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
From memory (no citation) I believe Rutherford did not grant/conceive a church cross national boundaries. Each country had their own national church while still recognizing broader synods and councils; but it would be reps from the national church of each country, locale, etc.
Related question: is institutional separation on geographical lines contrary to the principles of Presbyterianism?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
For instance, the OPC and the PCA (to mention two close relatives) split from the Northern Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian churches respectively at different times over separate issues. The fact that they haven't been able to merge is sad, but the fact that attempts have been made indicates that this is not for lack of adherance to the Presbyterian principle.

Sorry if this is :offtopic:, but what keeps the OPC and PCA from merging. If they both have basically the same constitution, then why are they two distinct denominations?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
It seems to me that if one acknowledges that organic, structural, governmental unity is virtually impossible at some level of linguistic (especially), and national/cultural diversity, then one has basically conceded that God in Christ recognized from the outset certain limits on judicial or executive control across the church.

I feel quite strongly that Rome's push for ascendency especially after the 4th century goes perfectly contrary to the ideal of a decentralized amalgam-Church, whose unity is biblical, and creedal/confessional, but only governmental in federated relation by those who are first submitted to Christ. There's an imperial impulse in every organization, a Babel-principle that unchecked leads to centralized, bureaucratic domination. I believe Christ's Church-organization is "flatter" by design, and resists all papal-hierarchical tall-triangle notions.

Thus the purpose of synods and councils comes into full view. We need them locally/regionally/regularly, because in some sense sister congregations need and desire fellowship and governance as common-concerns dictate. I actually find our sister-denomination "overlapping jurisdictions" no problem at all, other than those times when someone flees (sinfully) to another home, and successfully evades ecclesiastic censure that is meet. But that's the (small) price we pay for freedom from ecclesiastical tyranny.

And we might need such gatherings occasionally upon the urgent call of Holy Spirit to transcend our ordinary self-governing existence; by self-governing I mean voluntary unions up through denominational bonds. Thus, an ecumenical council might well be called again (to the exclusion of the apostates) that should bring Christ's Church all together in the faith-once-delivered to declare the truth of God, with fullness and precision.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
But would you want such unity if the came down on the other side of key issues from you? Certainly a unified Presbyterian body in this country is not going to be EP and may well have deaconesses. It might have a more nuanced position on creationism, and certainly wouldn't be geocentric.

If folks really want a unified Presbyterian denomination in this country, the solution is simple - everyone should climb into the biggest tent. Just bring your church into the PCA. But it has been my experience that when you merge groups, you end up with the lowest common denominator, which means a more diverse, dilute body, rather than a purer one.

Well, that's why I said before that although such unity is my earnest desire, it cannot be sought "at any cost." I do not want such unity if it means all joining the PC(USA), for example. Do I want a united Presbyterian denomination that agrees with all of my own church's distinctives? Well, ideally, yes. But I would accept less. I'd be content to have a unified, conservative Presbyterian denomination which allows individual Presbyteries and Churches to teach and practice confessional distinctives where they may be stricter on them. The point is, we all want visible and structural unity, I hope, but we should recognize that it cannot be solved in a simplistic manner that just patches a bandage over our differences by means of a superficial visible unity. With much respect to Dr. Godfrey, I do not believe this problem will be solved with a "GA" that does not function with the Scriptural powers of a true General Assembly akin to the one in Acts 15. That looks more like the unity of the Southern Baptist Convention, in which the member churches are basically autonomous, than a Presbyterian unity.

In my opinion, this is just not going to happen unless and until we have an established Presbyterian church. We had this kind of visible unity under establishments of the past. Throw away the establishment principle and promote Enlightenment individualism and dichotomizing (not merely distinguishing) church and state, and you end up with a million denominations, including Presbyterian alphabet soup.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
For instance, the OPC and the PCA (to mention two close relatives) split from the Northern Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian churches respectively at different times over separate issues. The fact that they haven't been able to merge is sad, but the fact that attempts have been made indicates that this is not for lack of adherance to the Presbyterian principle.

Sorry if this is :offtopic:, but what keeps the OPC and PCA from merging. If they both have basically the same constitution, then why are they two distinct denominations?

I think the main thing that keeps the two from merging is a difference of emphasis, which is rooted in conviction. Although most that is allowable in one denomination is allowable in the other, the PCA is more pietistic (in a Baptistic sense, no offense to Baptist brethren) than the OPC. The emphasis is upon mission, even at the expense of doctrinal clarity. The OPC, on the other hand, is much stronger on doctrine in most areas (the exception being Genesis 1-3), and I doubt most OPC brethren would feel comfortable with the PCA bringing their pietistic baggage along if a merger happened. PCA folks, on the other hand, are more prone to think of the OPC as not being evangelistic enough.

When it comes down to it, the differences are along the lines of Old Side/Old School vs New Side/New School. The OPC, though not requiring strict subscription, is traditionally Old Side/Old School. The PCA is traditionally New Side, with a mix of New and Old School.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
"Related question: is institutional separation on geographical lines contrary to the principles of Presbyterianism?"

"Each country had their own national church while still recognizing broader synods and councils; but it would be reps from the national church of each country, locale, etc."

We have to be careful with our terminology here. When I talk about denominational separation, I refer to a situation where two churches (whether they be in one nation or multiple nations) are independent of each other, not in principle submitting to each other in potentially mutually-binding councils. Presbyterianism has no problem with there being a national church in each nation, provided that these national churches are subject to each other in mutually-binding councils. What presbyterianism cannot tolerate is the idea of multple de jure denominations that are independent of each other in such a way as not to be bound together in common councils. My earlier arguments explain why this is the case. And I agree with Chris Coldwell's description of the historic view--national churches united by means of the potentiality of a binding ecumenical council. Unfortunately, what we have too often today are multiple denominations that are independent (i.e. not united under mutually-binding councils) but which claim to accept each others' de jure legitimacy and authority. But this is un-presbyterian (and unbiblical).

The Bible does not require a situation where some universal bureaucracy tries to run everything in a micromanaging sort of way. What it does require is that there be collegiality and mutual submission in government across the worldwide church, such as is manifested in the entire church being subject to mutually-binding councils. An ecumenical council, for example, would not need to deal with every little issue that comes up, but in order to say there is full unity and mutual recognition of legitimacy it must be possible to call such a council, and its decisions must be accepted as binding in the same sense as any presbyterial or synodical decision is.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
I have dealt with the question of the calling of an ecumenical council in this article. I think it is a revealing subject, in that I don't think the existing Reformed denominations would agree to submit themselves to a binding ecumenical council which includes as voting members ministers and elders in, say, all the NAPARC or ICRC denominations. This refusal to mutually submit, in a presbyterian system, can mean only one thing: These denominations reject each others' de jure legitimacy and authority. Again, that fact has to be faced and acknowledged squarely.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
A person can ask three ministers of a Presbytery what they think of their confession of faith and receive three different answers. It is possible to attend worship in three different Presbyterian congregations under one Presbytery and find that they maintain different orders and forms of worship. In fact members of a Presbytery can reveal that they all hold different views as to what Presbyterianism is, or even whether it is the biblical form of government. Being tied up under the one Presbyterial body is not Presbyterianism.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
A person can ask three ministers of a Presbytery what they think of their confession of faith and receive three different answers. It is possible to attend worship in three different Presbyterian congregations under one Presbytery and find that they maintain different orders and forms of worship. In fact members of a Presbytery can reveal that they all hold different views as to what Presbyterianism is, or even whether it is the biblical form of government. Being tied up under the one Presbyterial body is not Presbyterianism.

I don't follow how this addresses Mark's position. He has not said that Presbyterians should continue to believe a bunch of different things but unite in one body. Rather, he has said that we should strive to achieve the unity of the faith, such that in one united body we all speak and teach the same thing. Or were you addressing Dr. Godfrey's proposal?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Rather, he has said that we should strive to achieve the unity of the faith, such that in one united body we all speak and teach the same thing.

If this is the case it will require an acceptance of the fact that while there are diverse views on doctrine, worship, government, and discipline, it is a "necessary evil" to have more than one denomination in order to facilitate genuine presbyterian unity, and that the focus of union must be on addressing issues of doctrine, worship, government, and discipline rather than creating one ecclesial body.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Rather, he has said that we should strive to achieve the unity of the faith, such that in one united body we all speak and teach the same thing.

If this is the case it will require an acceptance of the fact that while there are diverse views on doctrine, worship, government, and discipline, it is a "necessary evil" to have more than one denomination in order to facilitate genuine presbyterian unity, and that the focus of union must be on addressing issues of doctrine, worship, government, and discipline rather than creating one ecclesial body.

It would appear, then, that you disagree with Mark that one denomination forming by a breaking away from another denomination constitutes (or perhaps ought to be thought of as constituting) a rejection of each other's de jure legitimacy as church courts. I believe that is the main thesis he is advancing, so if you do disagree, it would be helpful to know why.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
It would appear, then, that you disagree with Mark that one denomination forming by a breaking away from another denomination constitutes (or perhaps ought to be thought of as constituting) a rejection of each other's de jure legitimacy as church courts. I believe that is the main thesis he is advancing, so if you do disagree, it would be helpful to know why.

There are degrees of separation. For a traditional Presbyterian view on this please consult the following from Samuel Rutherford:

The Due Right of Presbyteries: Or, A Peaceable Plea for the Government of ... - Samuel Rutherford - Google Books
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
It would appear, then, that you disagree with Mark that one denomination forming by a breaking away from another denomination constitutes (or perhaps ought to be thought of as constituting) a rejection of each other's de jure legitimacy as church courts. I believe that is the main thesis he is advancing, so if you do disagree, it would be helpful to know why.

There are degrees of separation. For a traditional Presbyterian view on this please consult the following from Samuel Rutherford:

The Due Right of Presbyteries: Or, A Peaceable Plea for the Government of ... - Samuel Rutherford - Google Books

Thank you; I will. I have read his shorter work A Peaceable and Temperate Plea to great profit, which touched on this subject as well. Thank you for linking to the relevant section in Due Right of Presbyteries.
 
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