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Question and Answer

Protestant Reformed Church and the Free Offer

Question:

My husband and I recently began attending an Orthodox Presbyterian Church and are still learning about the doctrines. Our son and his household attend a Protestant Reformed Church. We have discussed different doctrines with them. One of them is the well-meant offer of salvation. Do you know if there is a difference in the beliefs on this issue between the OPC and PRC? We have seen literature to suggest there is, but we aren't sure if the literature is the official stand of the OPC or simply the opinion of some.

Answer:

Your perceptions regarding the issue of "the free offer of the gospel" are correct. In general, the OPC and the Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) differ dramatically on this point. And to be honest, the PRC differs from almost every other Reformed church on this point, many of whom would consider the PRC to have hyper-Calvinistic symptoms in this area.

The disagreement has been a long-standing one between us. It started way back in the 1920's, when the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) debated both this issue and the issue of "common grace." Those in what is now the PRC thought they saw liberalizing tendencies in the CRC, which certainly were indeed clearly manifested some 70 years later in the 1990's to the extent that the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC, a conservative and Reformed inter-church relations organization) voted at its 1999 Meeting to suspend the membership of the CRC in NAPARC,

Those in the PRC, however, tend to see all things in the Scripture through the prism of the doctrines of salvation, and especially "election." They consider those of us who demur from this to be in error. Along these lines, I believe that the PRC's doctrine of creation is consequently deficient. In other words, if salvation is magnified to excess and creation is de-emphasized correspondingly, serious errors will result, even in one's doctrine of salvation!

I believe hat the PRC tends toward theological "pietism" because of this, failing to see God's delight in "the world" of his creation. Hence their errors in regard to "common grace." In their view, "the world" becomes eclipsed by God's eternal decree of election. On the other hand, if a word-study of the word "world" is done in the New Testament, one can see that God's redemption has a focus on the world, and not simply the elect. The two are complimentary and not in opposition. Some see I John 2:2 arguing for the coordination of these two great themes, and not their opposition, but there are many passages of Scripture that speak of the redemption of God's created world (Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:16-20; and Rev. 4:11 with Rev. 5:9-10.)

If election is the focus of the Word, then they may be right. But I think election is just one of the significant themes (plural) that God brings us in the Scriptures, and that to promote election to undue prominence skews God's revealed (biblical) intentions.

"The Free Offer of the Gospel" (as John Murray and Ned Stonehouse proposed in their report to General assembly on this topic, also available as a booklet from Great Commmisson Publications) argues that while the Lord teaches us about election, He also proclaims a conditional gospel to all men: If you believe in me, then you will be saved!

The teaching of John 3:16 summarizes this proposal. Its purpose is not to teach about man's power to believe (as the Arminian believes) but rather the conditional offer that "Whosoever believes...will not perish, but have everlasting life!"

Our position would argue that, since we are not omniscient (as is God), all we can do is take God's word seriously in what He says. Ours is not to reconcile his teachings in such a ways that "the free Offer" is destroyed by His self-revelation of His Sovereignty (i.e., doctrine of election). If there be some tensions between these two, we believe it our responsibility to humbly submit to it, not eviscerate one for the other.

I hope this helps. It is an area of deep theology, and is not easily penetrated! The PRC has written a seemingly endless series of articles on this subject; but the vast majority of the Reformed churches are not convinced. And, to this point in time, the PRC has not been persuaded by this reaction. The two groups have decided to march separately.


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