New Horizons

A New Directory for Public Worship?

George R. Cottenden

The Seventy-fourth General Assembly (2007) marks the climax of a task that has been under way in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for almost six decades—the revision of what we now call our Book of Church Order (BCO). In June the Committee on Revisions to the Directory for Public Worship will submit its Amended Proposed Revised Version (APRV) of the Directory to the General Assembly for approval. If approved, it will then be sent to the presbyteries for ratification.

This is a momentous event for the Committee, some of whose members have been working on this task since 1989. It is a momentous event for the whole church as well. Once the Assembly has completed dealing with this matter, it will have brought to a conclusion a process of revision that began in 1948, when the Assembly erected a committee to revise the Form of Government. That work was completed in 1979. Revision of the Book of Discipline was completed and became effective in 1983. That left the Directory for Public Worship (DPW) to undergo a thorough revision.

That work of revision has engaged the energies of a remarkable cross section of the church's office bearers. Over the years, the following men have served on this Committee (and its predecessors): Edwards E. Elliot (chairman), Edward L. Kellogg, Lawrence R. Eyres, Kent T. Hinkson, Donald J. Duff (chairman), Glenn D. Jerrell, Jack J. Peterson, Dwight H. Poundstone, George C. Miladin, Henry W. Coray, George R. Cottenden (chairman), John P. Galbraith, John V. Yenchko, Gregory E. Reynolds, Bernard J. Stonehouse, Robert D. Knudsen, Moisés Silva, John O. Kinnaird, Larry E. Wilson, and Danny E. Olinger.

But why is a revision needed? Has not the present Directory served us well? Indeed it has, and we should be grateful to the Lord for the men who, in so short a space of time at the beginning of our church's existence, prepared this document. Its principles, basic structure, and even some of its terminology have strong grounding in, and continuity with, Presbyterian and Reformed liturgical history. For example, the beautiful definition of public worship found in chapter I.5—"communion with God in his public ordinances"—is drawn from the Westminster Assembly's Directory for the Publick Worship of God.

One of its most significant strengths—see chapter II.2 and chapter III.1—is its explication of worship as a meeting, ordained by the triune God, between him and his covenant people. One factor that made the OPC's DPW unique in the history of American Presbyterianism was its conscious drawing together of the American, Scottish, and Continental Reformed traditions. Previously, Presbyterian directories consisted largely of directions for pastors and sessions. The OPC's DPW went beyond that by including statements of principles, including this core principle that worship is above all else a meeting between the triune God and his covenant people. In large part, this was drawn from the Continental Reformed tradition. The DPW then draws out the practical implication that worship involves a dialogue, with God addressing his people in some elements and God's people responding to him in other elements. This principle has always been at the heart of a Reformed understanding of worship, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church codified this important Reformed principle of worship in its Directory.

The Committee has been conscious of the need to preserve and build upon these and many other important characteristics of our present Directory. Yet we have also been aware of the need for the Directory to be strengthened in some areas.

The present DPW assumes the validity of Presbyterian and Reformed liturgical tradition without specifically indicating the scriptural underpinnings of that tradition. Moreover, at times it assumes Reformed worship practices without spelling them out. Originally, this was not a weakness; the DPW reflected the shared assumptions of most of the ministers and ruling elders in the OPC. But God has blessed our church with many new congregations and many new members—including ministers—who have come from all sorts of backgrounds. This has presented the OPC with new pastoral needs. In particular, there has been a growing need for a fuller explication of the truth, goodness, beauty, and power of biblically Reformed worship. What could once be assumed must now be more thoroughly spelled out.

The revision seeks to set forth more consistently the implications of the fact that public worship is "divine" (II.4) and that it is "before all else a meeting of the triune God with his chosen people" (II.2). The active role of each of the persons of the Trinity in a worship assembly is better explicated.

Closely related, the revision expresses greater harmony with the church's doctrinal standards in its treatment of the sacraments. It makes clear our Confession's commitment to the Calvinistic doctrine of the sacraments—that the Lord's Supper is an objective means of grace by which our Lord grants true communion, personally applies himself and his benefits to those who receive the sacrament in faith, and refreshes and refurbishes them for his service (see, for example, Confession 29.7, Larger Catechism 168, and Shorter Catechism 96). It also guards against the understanding that the Supper is merely a devotional tool by which we examine ourselves, remember what our Lord did for us long ago, and recommit ourselves to his service.

In its membership vows, the revision more clearly spells out the responsibilities of church membership and the corporate character of our covenantal faith. It also adds an explicit confession of God as the triune God, since that can no longer be simply assumed as implicit in the other vows.

The revision shows greater conformity to the fact that, according to our standards, baptized covenant children are members of the church, albeit noncommunicant members. On this point, the present DPW betrays some accommodation to baptistic, revivalistic, individualistic elements in our religious culture. This is especially problematic when the DPW treats the public profession of faith by a covenant young person identically to the public profession of faith by a new convert from paganism, but other sections are also affected. The section on reception into communicant membership has been enlarged to parallel the treatment of these matters in the Book of Discipline II.B.

The revision seeks to clarify the issues involving the leadership of public worship. In 1990 the General Assembly adopted an overture that added to the Directory a new section III.8. This made explicit provision for ruling elders to lead in some parts of worship. As many have noted, III.8 is not well integrated into the rest of the document. Some have argued that it has the appearance of contradicting other provisions in the Directory, which seem to assume that the minister alone leads worship. The issue of leadership has now been addressed more comprehensively, first of all to explicate the scriptural rationale behind our practice (where we so unmistakably swim against the stream of modern evangelicalism), and then to reflect a genuine commitment to a true consensus and to bring inner coherence to the DPW.

The APRV contains two sections that are not in the present Directory. One makes provision for times of special thanksgiving. The other provides for times of prayer and fasting. Yet these additions are by no means new. The Committee has simply restored, in somewhat condensed form, sections that were included in the Directory produced by the Westminster Assembly, but were inexplicably omitted from the OPC's Directory and some of its more immediate predecessors.

The revision is organized with a more logical outline. It is formatted in a manner that makes it easier for a pastor to use it as a handbook. He will not have to be turning back and forth to different parts of the BCO when receiving new members or administering the sacraments. While this does result in the duplication of some material and therefore the lengthening of the book, the benefits to the pastor outweigh this perceived deficit.

The Committee has been in discussion with presbyteries, sessions, and individuals throughout the past seventeen years. We have received and considered 2,069 pages of communications. What we have been discussing was always a work in progress. Our finished proposal was posted on the OPC's website at the end of December. The church, and especially the men who will be commissioners to the next General Assembly, will have had a full six months to study the APRV in the form in which it will be presented, and thus to prepare for the consideration it will be given at that time. The prayer of the Committee is that the Lord will use this time in the life of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to teach us by his Word and Spirit about the kind of worship in which he delights. The study of these matters has been a tremendous blessing to those of us who have served on the Committee. We desire that the whole church might share in that blessing as well.

The author is pastor of Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pa., and chairman of the Committee on Revisions to the Directory for Public Worship. Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2007.

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