A Year of Two Anniversaries
I was not born into the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I was adopted into it. After I was converted in 1970, my first exposure to Presbyterianism was in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (which, in 1982, became part of the Presbyterian Church in America). Throughout my seminary days at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (1976–1979), I remained a member of the RPCES, although, for most of that time, I attended an Orthodox Presbyterian church and did my internship there as part of my last year of seminary training.
As I struggled with the schizophrenia of worshiping and being trained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and, at the same time, keeping my allegiance to the denomination in which I had been nurtured in the early years of my Christian life, the Orthodox Presbyterian pastor who mentored me as part of my internship told me one evening that I would probably be happier serving as a minister in the OPC.
While my first call was as a home missionary in the RPCES, in 1981 I was called as pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, New York. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of my installation to service in that congregation and, hence, the thirtieth anniversary of my ministry in the OPC. I am honored that it is also the seventy-fifth anniversary of the church that my wife and I have come to love with a passion that is exceeded only by our love for our God, our love for one another, and our love for our children. We love the Orthodox Presbyterian Church!
As I reflect on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary, I can do so having enjoyed the blessings of what I regard as an unusual range of exposure to this very special church. I am old enough to have known some of its fathers. Dr. Cornelius Van Til and Dr. John Skilton were close friends of ours (and of the church in Franklin Square), as is the Rev. John Galbraith, the oldest living minister in the OPC today. Over my thirty years as a minister in the OPC, I have had the privilege of serving on the Committee on Coordination, the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, and the Committee on Christian Education (as a member of the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training). I have also had the opportunity to visit and minister on five of our foreign mission fields. It is an honor to teach two classes for the Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC, and also to have served as a mentor to eight interns, six of whom are currently ministers in the OPC. Through all of this, I have become very familiar with my adoptive mother, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church!
Commitment to Scripture
What makes the OPC so special to me and to others? I think that, overall, it is the OPC's commitment to the Bible as the Word of God in all that it does. It was out of commitment to the Bible that the OPC's founding fathers took their stand in the Presbyterian Church in the USA, and it was out of commitment to the Bible that they established what would become the OPC. To this day, I am profoundly moved by the fact that those ministers who were ejected from the Presbyterian Church in the USA or who left it in 1936 gave up church buildings, church houses, pensions, and prestige in order to be part of a new church that, in its commitment to the final authority of the Bible as the Word of God, would be "the true spiritual successor of the Presbyterian Church in the USA." I cannot sing the last stanza of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" without thinking of this first generation of the OPC: "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever." May we never lose this commitment to the Word of Goda commitment that impels both necessary separation from unbelief and an equally necessary union with all that is faithful to Holy Scripture.
Commitment to the Reformed Faith
Out of the OPC's primary commitment to the Bible comes its commitment to "the full, glorious system of revealed truth contained in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms," which we commonly refer to as the Reformed faith. I was converted out of the intellectually and morally anarchistic 1960s, and I had my grounding in the Christian faith in a fundamentalist environment, so when I was introduced to the Reformed faith in the early 1970s, I cherished it for its full-orbed presentation of the teaching of the Scriptures and for its glorious affirmations about God, creation, providence, and redemption. I am so thankful to the Lord to be a minister in a church that is not embarrassed about our confession of these magnificent truths as expressed in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
Far from seeing this as a liability, I see it as one of our great strengths as a church. These grand truths of historic Christianity were reaffirmed and proclaimed during the Protestant Reformation, bringing light and liberation to a culture darkened and enslaved by ignorance and superstition. I am struck by the many similarities between the late medieval period and our own day. May the OPC's adherence to, and fervent declaration of, the whole counsel of God, which brought reformation of church and society beginning half a millennium ago, do the same in our own day, with all its modern versions of cultural darkness and religious superstition.
Commitment to Biblical Church Government
Growing out if its primary commitment to the Bible as the Word of God is the OPC's commitment to biblical church government. Put simply, we are speaking about the presbyterianism that is presented in broad strokes in Acts 15, Acts 20:17–35, 1 Peter 5:1–5, and other passages of Scripture. Let us never forget the profound implications of being part of a church regulated by the prescriptions and pattern of the Word of God. I am so thankful to be part of a church in which we have no popes, either over an entire church or over local congregations. I am so thankful to be part of a church that honors the offices of the ruling elder and the deacon, as well as the office of the minister. I am so thankful to be part of a church that takes seriously the checks, balances, encouragements, and helps that come from presbyteries and general assemblies.
I am so thankful to be part of a church that refuses to put its opinions and decisions above the Word of God. From its inception, the OPC has been committed to the truth that "all church power is only ministerial and declarative, for the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may presume to bind the conscience by making laws on the basis of its own authority; all its decisions should be founded upon the Word of God" (Form of Government, 3.3). In our day of both laxity and authoritarianism in so much of American church life, let us be thankful for the OPC's commitment to both the order and the liberty that come from adherence to the final authority of the Word of God. This, of course, is nothing less than the OPC's commitment to Jesus Christ as the only King and Head of his church, who rules his church by his Word.
Looking to the Future
So, in this year of two anniversaries that I am privileged to celebrate, I praise the Lord for the privilege of being part of the very imperfect, yet very wonderful, Orthodox Presbyterian Church. As I look ahead, I am so encouraged to see younger men who want to be ministers in the OPC because of their commitment to the commitments of the OPC. I urge them to be passionate in preaching and teaching out of these commitments, and always to remain wedded to a deep love of Jesus Christ and the gospel. I am so encouraged to see the birth and growth of OP congregations in which there is a beautiful outworking of biblical church government and the resulting church community life that is a foretaste of eternity.
I urge you ministers and elders to keep leading the congregations you are called to serve by practicing that holy militancy for ongoing biblical reformation which is necessary to keep the OPC from becoming conformed to this age rather than to the age to come. And I urge all of us in the OPC to have that biblical optimism which puts joy in our walk and gives confidence to our labors. With good reason, our founding fathers in the OPC clung to the promise of 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." For the first seventy-five years of the life of the OPC, the Lord has proved this to be true. Have no doubt that he will do the same in the years ahead of us.
Happy and blessed anniversary, Orthodox Presbyterian Church!
The author is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, N.Y. He quotes the ESV. New Horizons, June 2011.