The Idea of Multiple De Jure Denominations is Incompatible with Presbyterianism

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Scottish Lass

Puritan Board Doctor
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.
The only problem with lumping the ARP with the OPC and PCA is that our history is entirely different. I would like to think we could merge with the OPC or RPCNA, though that would take years of work. We/the ARP are having a joint Synod with the RPCNA in 2015, though. :)
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks for the links to Rutherford's book. I'm actually in the process of reading straight through that book right now. (I sure wish a print copy--without a million typos--existed somewhere! I'd transcribe it if I had the time.)

Let me make a general observation of what I've noticed in terms of the history of Reformed ecclesiology. It seems to me that the Reformed churches have never fully worked out the practical implications of their ecclesiology of the universal catholic church. There may be a number of reasons for this. The Reformed movement focused much of its energy on combating Rome and trying to convert the various nation they found themselves in. They tended to neglect the question of the international unity of the church and focused instead on uniformity within nations. The correct principles were developed--in Rutherford's book, for example, he deals well with the logic of presbyterian church government and its implications for universal unity in the church, the binding nature of ecumenical councils, etc.--but their practical application to delineating the boundary lines of the de jure visible church were never clearly worked out, at least on the universal level. Another reason for this is that back in the early days, including Rutherford's day, it was not yet entirely clear that things would go as they have since gone--that the Reformed church would end up split into myriads of separate denominations with different doctrinal positions on various matters. There was still a hope that Reformed unity would be maintained. For all of these reasons, it seems to me that Reformed catholic practical ecclesiology got stuck in a kind of formative state back in the 1600s, and then what I call the "Age of Denominationalism" dawned around 1690 and the practical ecclesiology of the Reformed churches never really advanced after that point, being stuck since then in the formative, inconclusive stage and never really coming to terms with the myriad denominational divisions that have occurred in the past few centuries. For this reason, I think that any real attempt to work out a clear, biblical, presbyterian, practical ecclesiology today will need to go beyond what has been done in the past. It can draw on the clear logic and principles of presbyterian church government, but its application of these principles and logic will have to engage in a bit of semper reformanda.

I think that what I am saying can be seen in the selection from Rutherford we've been referred to. It is difficult to pinpoint a clear, coherent practical system in Rutherford that would give us a principled way to think about the modern denominational divisions, though much of the rest of his book gives us plenty of argumentation in favor of the foundational biblical principles of presbyterianism--principles I've drawn on to make my central argument in this thread (an argument that Austin summarized excellently in #28 above).

It seems to me that if someone wants to oppose my main contention, he will have to present a coherent, principled alternative. I have argued that denominational separation implies mutual rejection of de jure legitimacy and authority. If someone wants to argue that it doesn't, he will have to show specifically and clearly how the presbyterian principle of collegial church government is satisfied in any other way. How can it be justified for churches to remain separate from other churches without this implying a mutual rejection of authority when church power is inherently collegial? In all the opposition I have see thus far to my position (both here and elsewhere), I've never seen a coherent, principled alternative presented to it.

In this article, I've articulated and responded to that which has come the closest I have yet seen to such a principled alternative. In responding to it, I think I've further established my basic position. The alternative position presented here is basically this: Separated denominations don't reject each others' de jure authority because they are not lawfully separated, lacking the power to so separate because they can't call a general council to decide the issue. My response is that it is indeed possible to call a binding council and deal with the doctrinal divisions that exist within the Reformed (and broader Christian) world today. In short, there is no reason why we must accept a situation where the de jure church must consist of a bunch of somewhat-isolated groups with different doctrinal positions, where no progress towards the purity and unity of the church can ever be made.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
How can it be justified for churches to remain separate from other churches without this implying a mutual rejection of authority when church power is inherently collegial?

The traditional concept of degrees of separation provides this justification.

A church has a constitution which includes a subordinate standard like the Westminster Confession. Within that Confession there are matters which are essential to salvation, and other matters which are not so essential but important nevertheless so far the work and witness of the church is concerned. The teaching on the civil magistrate would be one of these areas. In Presbyterian history a number of churches have allowed for difference of opinion on this subject. Some churches have continued to maintain the historic reformed testimony. As it is a matter which does not relate to the doctrine of salvation it does not unchurch a communion to relax subscription to this article. At the same time subscription to this article is seen as important enough by one branch of the church to maintain a separate and distinctive witness. One might argue all day as to who is right and who is wrong, but the fact is both denominations maintain essentially the same teaching with respect to salvation and carry on the important work of nurturing souls in the faith. Since that is the case the church oversight must be recognised according to the charter and promises which have been given to the apostolic church. To deny this recognition would set oneself up as the only true church in the world and create a stumbling-stone to the gathering and edifying of the body of Christ, which would be a greater scandal than the original division.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
The collegial nature of church power in a presbyterian system requires that all parts of the catholic church (de jure) be subject to mutually-binding councils. So, for example, if the PCA and the RPCNA recognize each others' de jure legitimacy, they must--it is not optional, for church power is inherently collegial--submit to a common council that binds them both, and that council must have the same sort of binding authority that the synods and presbyteries within each denomination are considered to have. If the PCA and the RPCNA profess to recognize each others' legitimacy and follow through with the necessary practical implications of that by acknowledging a potential, binding common council with full synodical authority, then the collegial nature of presbyterial church power is satisfied; they have fulfilled that requirement, even if the united PCA-RPCNA church decides to allow diversity within its ranks regarding something like exclusive psalmody. So if that is the sort of situation you're suggesting, Rev. Winzer, I agree that it preserves presbyterian principles regarding the formal unity of the church and collegial church power.

However, I do not think that this sort of arrangement is what actually currently exists between the denominations of NAPARC, ICRC, etc. I do not think they recognize a duty to submit to common councils, and so I don't think they can be considered to recognize each others' de jure legitimacy assuming a presbyterian system. If they profess to recognize each others' legitimacy and yet they refuse to recognize any common council, they have abandoned presbyterian principles for a semi-congregationalist church polity.

(It helps in thinking about this to remember the distinction between de facto and de jure. A lack of unity under common councils necessarily implies a mutual rejection of de jure legitimacy, but it does not necessarily imply a mutual rejection of each other as de facto churches or parts of the visible church. If the OPC, for example, is divided from the PCA, they are not treating each others' church courts and officers as having formal authority, but that doesn't mean they don't recognize each other as in fact manifestations of Christ's people in this world. I describe this distinction further here.)

I would add also that if the PCA and the RPCNA were to have such an arrangement as described above, they would have preserved the presbyterian principle of collegiality in church government, but they will along with this have embraced what I consider to be an erroneous latitudinarianism by allowing differences of opinion over, say, exclusive psalmody to go unchecked and unresolved in the church. As Christ has called the church to teach and to exercise discipline with regard to all that he has commanded, and not to add to nor take away from it, a difference over something like exclusive psalmody can't be tolerated in the church. It may be possible for people to be wrong on the subject and still be regenerate, but that does not give church officers and courts the right to let such errors run free in the church.

What I would suggest, then, is that if the PCA and the RPCNA truly recognize each others' de jure legitimacy, they need to call a common council (or common councils) to deal with the doctrinal disagreements amongst themselves. If the council decides that exclusive psalmody is in accordance with the Bible, it ought to mandate this practice throughout the entire church. If it decides it is contrary to the Bible, it ought to mandate that no church embrace it. Only this will preserve all of the biblical principles of presbyterianism by preserving both the collegial nature of church government and the command to teach and enforce the whole counsel of God in the church.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
Here's another way of putting my main contention about the collegial nature of church power:

In a presbyterian system, because church power is inherently collegial (that is, all officers and courts, by virtue of their authority, are parts of a universal eldership ruling over the entire catholic church), the mutual recognition of authority inherently implies an agreement to submit to each other in mutually-binding councils. Therefore, when denominations do not recognize such mutually-binding councils, they are not treating each other as would be required by a mutual recognition of legitimacy.

The only way for two churches to refrain from submitting to common binding councils would be for the churches to exercise some kind of disciplinary procedure towards each other. Think of an individual session with an elder who has gone rogue and embraced some anti-confessional position. How must the session deal with this? Can it continue to recognize the legitimacy and authority of the elder but simply stop inviting him to session meetings or refuse to grant him the right to vote in them? No, this would be unjust. A formal disciplinary procedure is called for, and the conclusion of such a procedure would be the formal removal of the rogue elder's church authority. Only then does it become just to stop treating him as having sessional authority by not inviting him to meetings as a voting member, etc.

Similarly, if two denominations come to have different doctrinal positions such that they feel they cannot unite in common councils, they cannot simply continue to recognize each others' authority but ignore the practical implications of that authority by simply not inviting each other to common councils or refusing to submit to such councils. Rather, a disciplinary procedure must be followed by which the denominations formally come to reject each others' authority, and only then can the separation be just.

In short, the recognition of church authority inherently implies submission in mutually-binding councils, and so the only way denominational separation can be justified is if a church first engages in a lawful procedure to nullify the recognition of such authority. That is why I say that denominational separation inherently implies a mutual rejection of de jure legitimacy and authority. (This is the same line of reasoning I used in the first article I linked to in the first post in this thread.)
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
What I would suggest, then, is that if the PCA and the RPCNA truly recognize each others' de jure legitimacy, they need to call a common council (or common councils) to deal with the doctrinal disagreements amongst themselves. If the council decides that exclusive psalmody is in accordance with the Bible, it ought to mandate this practice throughout the entire church. If it decides it is contrary to the Bible, it ought to mandate that no church embrace it. Only this will preserve all of the biblical principles of presbyterianism by preserving both the collegial nature of church government and the command to teach and enforce the whole counsel of God in the church.

Practically speaking, all this would do would be to cause the churches to split again, only this time with bad feeling on both sides. If the situation you suggest is, in fact, what Presbyterianism demands, then the current situation is precisely what one would expect. The de facto/de jure distinction is not helpful insofar as the recognition of de facto authority implicitly suggests de jure authority. Our contention against, for instance, the papacy is a contention against his de facto authority.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
Practically speaking, all this would do would be to cause the churches to split again, only this time with bad feeling on both sides.

Your use of the phrase "split again" suggests that the PCA and the RPCNA are not in fact currently united. I agree. The implication, assuming presbyterianism, is that they do not currently accept each others' de jure legitimacy and authority. Since they don't recognize each others' authority, they will recognize no need to call a common council. In fact, such a council would be inappropriate from their point of view, because such a council would imply a recognition of authority that is not in fact recognized. So, in short, I agree that it makes no sense for these two denominations to call a common council. Instead, they need to simply continue to engage in dialogue and maintain the doctrinal positions they consider right in separation from each other. What I want to press, however, is that they ought not to engage in the pretense that they accept each others' de jure authority while they remain separated.

The de facto/de jure distinction is not helpful insofar as the recognition of de facto authority implicitly suggests de jure authority.

I am using the concept of de facto in this context to mean simply that the Body of Christ exists in a particular church. The idea of de jure, on the other hand, I use to refer to a church having courts which have formally recognized legitimacy and authority. The recognition of a denomination as de facto a part of the visible church does not necessarily imply a formal recognition of the legitimacy and authority of its church courts. For example, it is perfectly consistent to say both that the OPC is a manifestation of the Body of Christ in the world--that is, Christianity is there and there are probably regenerate people within it--and also that it exists schismatically and therefore that its courts lack de jure legitimacy and ought not to be treated as if they had such legitimacy.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I am using the concept of de facto in this context to mean simply that the Body of Christ exists in a particular church. The idea of de jure, on the other hand, I use to refer to a church having courts which have formally recognized legitimacy and authority. The recognition of a denomination as de facto a part of the visible church does not necessarily imply a formal recognition of the legitimacy and authority of its church courts. For example, it is perfectly consistent to say both that the OPC is a manifestation of the Body of Christ in the world--that is, Christianity is there and there are probably regenerate people within it--and also that it exists schismatically and therefore that its courts lack de jure legitimacy and ought not to be treated as if they had such legitimacy.


Not so. I do not hold the OPC to be schismatic or its courts to lack authority within their proper jurisdiction. To hold a church to be schismatic, I have to hold that the schism which separated us was illegitimate. But such schism never took place. It is a bit hard to hold that someone is a schismatic when they were never involved in a schism.
 

mhausam

Puritan Board Freshman
Philip: All churches that are divided from each other are the products of schism, because the church of Christ began in a united state. When the PCA divided from the southern mainline Presbyterian church, it could have united with the already-existing OPC. Why didn't it? Since church unity is not optional, this refusal to join with the OPC implied a rejection of the OPC's authority. And the OPC and the PCA are still not united. Therefore, the denominations still do not recognize each others' de jure legitimacy and authority.

Again, remember that the key issue is that church power is inherently collegial in presbyterianism. All officers and courts in the entire de jure catholic church are regarded as being part of a universal council of elders (or, as I call it in my article, "one gigantic kirk-session") ruling over the entire catholic church. Therefore, when two denominations do not recognize any mutually-binding synodical council, this necessarily implies a refusal to recognize each others' de jure authority and legitimacy.

If the PCA truly recognizes the authority and legitimacy of the OPC, then it must recognize the authority of a common binding council. In that case, the PCA and the OPC are already united in one church and there is no need to think of them as divided denominationally any more. But, of course, this is not really the way things are. In actuality, there is no mutual submission, and so the denominations remain divided, refusing to recognize each others' legitimacy (assuming a presbyterian view).
 

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
As a point of history (as noted by Scottish Lass) the RPCNA and PCA could not "split again" as they have never been in the same tree of American Presbyterianism.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
What I would suggest, then, is that if the PCA and the RPCNA truly recognize each others' de jure legitimacy, they need to call a common council (or common councils) to deal with the doctrinal disagreements amongst themselves. If the council decides that exclusive psalmody is in accordance with the Bible, it ought to mandate this practice throughout the entire church. If it decides it is contrary to the Bible, it ought to mandate that no church embrace it.

First, you left out a third possible outcome - they could decide that it is not mandated but permissible and encouraged (have you even looked at the PCA position on singing psalms? PCA Position Papers - 1993 Report of the "Psalm Singing" Subcommittee )

Second, as the largest of the more or less conservative bodies in the US, the PCA should be able to dominate any such synod or assembly. So my solution above would seem to be the most efficient - all the diverse group should join and submit to the PCA if unity is the goal to be prized over all others.

In retrospect, the PCA would probably have been better off without the RPC,ES joining, and the PCUS would certainly have been better off without the merger with the northern church. So I'm going to be a hard sell for your core position: Einheit über alle.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Philip: All churches that are divided from each other are the products of schism, because the church of Christ began in a united state. When the PCA divided from the southern mainline Presbyterian church, it could have united with the already-existing OPC.

Because they were southerners and the OPC was northern. One issue that affects some of us is one of geography. Logically, if the position you advocate were held consistently, every time an elder in a PCA church moves to a community where there is no PCA church, they would have to begin a plant, even if there were a perfectly good OPC church around the corner. This implication, to me, seems to be the schismatic one.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
decides to allow diversity within its ranks regarding something like exclusive psalmody.

This is not Presbyterian unity; it is a political compromise. Where diversity is permitted an exclusive position is rejected. The proper exercise of church power is built on the charter given to the apostolic church to teach the nations to observe ALL THINGS whatsoever Christ has commanded. An exclusive psalmodist holds that exclusive psalmody is a necessary consequence of the regulative principle. That office-bearer will never have the power to fully contend for his position because the constitution of the assembly allows for diversity. Should a point of discipline be raised in a body which allows for diversity it will naturally prejudice any exclusive position. Should a pan-presbyterian assembly conduct worship and choose songs other than the Psalms it will act divisively concerning the exclusive psalmodist. This is not Presbyterianism.
 
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