Question and Answer

Leaving an OPC

Question:

If I desire to leave the fellowship of a local OPC church, have nothing against the OPC denomination in general, but just want to leave because of problems/issues at the local level that I think are irreconcilable, how do I get my name off the rolls of the church and begin fellowship elsewhere?

Erasure is considered a "form of discipline." What is meant by that? Erasure is under the heading "Cases without due process." What does that mean? Erasure discusses coming "as his own accuser." What does that mean? What is the significance of erasure, or of going to a different church? Can I get some letter of transfer or letter of standing if I go to a non-OPC church? A church with which the OPC has no fraternal relations? A church that is Reformed? How can I leave without being chased by Session?

Answer:

Your questions are hard to answer because I do not know the particulars. I'm not asking for them unless you really want me to know them. But I'll begin by answering your two questions directly.

1. How is erasure a form of discipline? To erase one's name from the membership roll without good spiritual reason calls for judgment on the part of the session that one is being removed from membership because of sin. It doesn't call for a formal trial. The Book of Discipline 5:2 gives three provisions for erasure:

"(1) When a member desires dismissal to a church of which the session cannot approve as a church of like faith and practice, nor a church which will advance his spiritual interests, and he cannot be dissuaded, it shall grant him a certificate of standing, unless the session institutes disciplinary action against him; on being informed that he has joined such a church the clerk shall erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in the minutes."

"(2) When a member of a particular church, whether or not he be charged with a particular offense, informs the session that he does not desire to remain in the fellowship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the efforts of the session to dissuade him from his course failed, it shall erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in its minutes, unless the session institutes or continues other disciplinary action against him."

"(3) When a member unites with a church of another denomination without a certificate of dismission, the session may erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in its minutes."

2. "Coming as his own accuser" differs from the above. Chapter 5:1 states: "When a person comes before a judicatory (in your case his session) as his own accuser, the judicatory may proceed to judgment without full process, determining first, what offence has been committed, and, if a serious offence (cf. Chapter 3:7.b.(6)) has been committed, what censure shall be pronounced." This is a case in which a member, or an officer has been faced with serious sin, acknowledges it before the session (or presbytery, if he is a minister). This does not involve all the procedure of a trial called for in Chapter 3 of the Book of Discipline.

I gather that you are not involved in a disciplinary charge as envisioned in the preceding paragraph. So, the three options stated first (in Chapter 5:2 above) are probably applicable.

Assuming that, and assuming that you want to leave the OPC in order to join another church, all that would be required of you would be to inform your session that you wish to transfer to another, specified, church and ask for a letter of transfer to that church and to be removed from membership in your particular OP church.

They then have a duty to inquire of your reasons in order to either dissuade you from leaving the church or to decide if they should grant your request. You should be willing to give them that opportunity, reasons for which I'll point out later. When you come with a desire to join another church, they will have to decide if they can honestly commend you to the care of that particular church. If it is another OPC or a denomination with which the OPC has established ecclesiastical relations, they cannot deny you a letter of transfer, and your name will then be removed without its being an act of discipline.

If, on the other hand, you wish to join a church of which the session cannot approve as one that will minister to you as a church should, then they may issue you a certificate declaring to that particular church, that you are a member of (your) church in good standing. You may then take it to that church which may, if it wishes, construe it as a letter of transfer and admit you to membership. But, if your session should feel you are guilty of a disciplinable offense, they may deny you a letter of transfer or a certificate of good standing and proceed to disciplinary action.

It would be however, another matter if you were just to ask simply that your name be removed from the church roll. Because, as a believer, you are a member of Christ's body, you should not ask for erasure from the membership of a believing church in order not to be a member of any church, Christ's visible body, and the session should not give you a simple letter of standing in that situation. They must seek to dissuade you from that course, but if they cannot they will erase your name and record in their minutes the reasons. It may be that the reasons recorded are critical: you have failed to be faithful in your attendance on worship or some other judgments. But these are a matter of the minutes and they may announce these before the congregation. But that will be the end of it.

Without knowing the circumstances, the above are the options. You may wonder why. It is because you joined your particular OPC under solemn vows. The last two membership vows are as follows:

"(3) Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord and do you promise, in reliance on the grace of God, to serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to mortify your old nature, and to lead a godly life?"

"(4) Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church and, in case you be found delinquent in doctrine of life, to heed its discipline?"

The word discipline is too often taken negatively. Yet it is a cognate of the word discipleship—following the Lord Jesus. So discipline is for the primary purpose of bringing a wavering sheep of Christ's flock back to following the Good Shepherd. There is nothing shameful in the process! We are all sinners; no Christians, members or elders, are perfect disciples. I think I can safely say that it is this imperfection in discipleship that is the basis of your unhappiness with your church. The big question is this: is it you, or the church, or both?

Put in another way, why do you wish to leave your church? You state that it isn't the OPC as a whole. I'm glad for that. I presume it isn't a doctrinal matter. And there my knowledge ends.

But elders are given immense responsibilities. Just read Hebrews 13:7 and 17. Verse 7 no doubt refers to those rulers (elders and ministers) who formed the churches to which Hebrews was written. I remember the founders of the OPC. It was their teaching that led me to become a part of the OPC. But all these godly men are with the Lord. Verse 17 speaks of those then living and ruling over the Hebrew Christian churches. Sixty-four years later your session has taken the place of Dr. Machen and other fathers of the OPC. They, like you, are sinners. But they are responsible for your soul. If they, through their negligence lose you and do you harm, they must answer to God in the day of judgment—a fearful thought.

If you have failed to keep those vows you took, you will have to answer. I fully believe the sin that has brought you to where you are may be fully the sins of the church, or your sins, or both. In any event, there are biblical remedies. If you, or the elders, or some of the members have sinned against each other, there are remedies. (1) Matthew 18:15-18 is for what you should do for those who you believe have sinned against you. (2) Matthew 5:23 and 24 refers to those who know that others of the Christian family believe you have sinned against them.

The former has to do with an offence taken. The latter refers to offence given or perceived to be such by a brother and sister in Christ. In both cases, the offended or the offender must seek the remedy through willingness to forgive and be forgiven. That's hard for some of us to do. But Jesus prayed for his murderers. Can we do less?

I stop here. I think I have answered your questions. If you want to return with further questions, giving circumstances (without names!), I would be happy to address your problem more precisely. What I want to avoid, and I presume you do too, is to do as so many do, just follow the example of those who "vote with their feet." That is, just walk out on the congregation to which you and they are bound by solemn vows. The remedies granted you in the OPC's Book of Discipline are honorable. But they should not be used until reconciliation is attempted. May God give you an abundance of his grace.


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