What We Believe
i

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapters 28–29

Alan D. Strange

Chapter XXVIII
Ministers Laboring outside the Church

1. A minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church may under certain circumstances and conditions labor in churches other than those of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. A candidate for ordination who seeks or intends to labor in such a church may under certain circumstances and conditions be ordained by a presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Such labor may be distinctly missionary in its nature and purpose in that it may provide the minister with the opportunity of ministering the gospel to unbelievers and of promoting the cause which the Orthodox Presbyterian Church represents. Such labor may, in certain cases, be that of a pastor or of a teacher, presenting the Orthodox Presbyterian Church with the opportunity of providing other churches with a ministry which otherwise they might not enjoy.

Comment: Various circumstances may occur, and conditions may prevail, that prompt a minister of the OPC to seek to labor in a church other than an OPC. The same may be true for a candidate for ordination in the OPC, who has a call from outside the OPC. Perhaps examples of each will help clarify the rules here.

An OPC minister, for instance, may labor in a church in independency, or in some other denomination, that desires to be, in some measure, Reformed; not usually, however, in a congregation that is part of one of the NAPARC churches, as a man seeking ministry there would commonly simply transfer into one of those denominations. The minister in view here labors in that church, which remains, at least for now, outside the OPC, though the minister’s credentials and accountability remain in some particular presbytery of the OPC.

Similarly, a licentiate, for the second example, could be called to serve in such a church as described herein and could be ordained by an OPC presbytery for such a purpose.

The FG reflects at this point that “such labor may be distinctly missionary in its nature and purpose.” This brings into focus that not only may a minister laboring outside the church do so in the context of pastoring another church (as noted, in independency or part of a non-Reformed body) but also in the capacity of an evangelist serving, say, in a nursing home, hospital, university, or prison chaplaincy. It is important, to use the distinctive language of this chapter, that OPC ministers “have opportunity of ministering the gospel to unbelievers and of promoting the cause which the OPC represents.” Ministers, in other words, are called not only to labor as pastors, teachers, and missionaries serving the agencies of the OPC, but they also may be called to serve in other churches, teach in various Christian institutions, and do evangelistic work in other bodies, etc. In this way, the OPC can engage in official ministry beyond the bounds of its own churches and agencies, bringing a distinctly Reformed and Presbyterian witness that might otherwise be lacking in churches and agencies outside the OPC.

2. Although it is impossible to delineate all the practical circumstances and conditions under which it may be proper for a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to engage in such labor, the following general principles based upon the standards of the Church must be adhered to in all cases:

a. Ministers cannot undertake to labor in other churches if such labor requires the performance of functions inconsistent with their ordination vows or with the other provisions of the standards of the Church. They cannot undertake such work if the relationship requires that they preach anything contrary to the system of truth taught in the Holy Scriptures or requires that they refrain from preaching the whole counsel of God. Such work cannot be undertaken if the relationship requires them to conduct worship that is not in accord with the standards of the Church. Ministers cannot participate in the government of such churches if such government is contrary to the principles of presbyterian government set forth in these standards. And such discipline as the relationship may require them to administer must be in accord with the principles of discipline set forth in these standards.

b. Ministers who perform such labor shall remain under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the churches concerned shall be advised of this fact.

c. Though the churches in which such ministers labor are in no respect under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the presbyteries and the general assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church shall always exercise oversight of the work being performed by such ministers, and shall take due care that the work being performed is consistent with the standards of the Church.

d. Ministers may act as pastors of such churches provided none of the foregoing conditions is violated in the assumption of such a responsibility.

e. Presbyteries cannot install ministers as pastors of churches other than those of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

f. If ministers are installed as pastors under other auspices, the installation must not be such as in any way prejudices the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church over them. Such pastoral installation cannot take place if the installation formula prescribed by the church concerned prejudices this jurisdiction.

g. The ultimate objective of all such labor cannot be anything less than the establishment of such churches as churches of Presbyterian and Reformed testimony, provided that the churches concerned are not already such. To make the objective less than this would be inconsistent with the profession and vows made in ordination.

Comment: The leading comment in this section reflects, importantly, the significant reality that it is impossible to detail all the circumstances in which it is permissible for ministers to labor outside the church. This means that the minister’s presbytery will have to exercise discretion in his case. The rule here, arguably, should be one of charity on the part of the presbytery, not undue strictness. In other words, if a reasonable argument can be made for such outside labors, it likely should be granted to the minister seeking permission to do so. The section then proceeds, such discretion notwithstanding, to enumerate in letters a.–g. a set of general principles that must be adhered to in any case.

The first principle (a.) makes it abundantly clear that a ministerial member of the OPC laboring outside the church must do so in a way that is in keeping with his being a minister in the OPC, reflected particularly in his ministerial vows and the primary, secondary, and tertiary standards of the church. This section is at some pains to detail this: ministers laboring outside the OPC cannot preach in circumstances that forbid them from preaching the whole counsel of God, especially as set forth in the doctrinal standards, which give expression to the system of truth taught in the Bible; they cannot conduct worship contrary to the standards, as set forth in the DPW; they cannot participate in government contrary to Presbyterian principles as set forth in the FG; and they cannot administer discipline in a way that is contrary to the principles set forth in the BD. Finally, a minister laboring outside the OPC must do so in a way that is fully consonant with his being a ministerial member of the OPC.

Section b. stipulates that ministers laboring outside the church remain entirely under the jurisdiction of the OPC, and those churches in which they labor must be made aware of this and, obviously, have no problems with such an arrangement. Further, section b. makes the presbytery having jurisdiction over such a minister clearly responsible for his oversight, as well as the general assembly, as much as if the man were laboring in an OPC, though he is laboring in a church that is not under the jurisdiction of the OPC. Section c. makes clear that this permission for a minister to labor outside the OPC goes as far as permitting a minister to labor as a pastor of a church outside the OPC. In doing so, however, all of the cautions hitherto noted that apply when an OPC minister labors outside the church must be heeded. Presbyteries of the OPC can only install ministers of the OPC into churches of that presbytery in the OPC, as section d. sets forth.

Men may be installed, per section e., to pastorates outside the OPC by other church bodies, but such installations may not adversely impact the jurisdiction that the OPC has over these ministers. More specifically, the language employed by the installing body may not prejudice the proper jurisdiction of the OPC, which is the burden of section f. In other words, such installations may not in any way compromise the ministerial vows and commitments that the minister has taken as an OPC minister. Ultimately, as section g. reflects, the objective of allowing a minister to labor outside the OPC is to encourage and enable those churches, if they have not already begun to pursue closer Reformed and Presbyterian identity, to do so. All of this is with a view to such churches on the outside coming into the OPC, ideally, or at least coming closer to doing so. For a minister laboring outside the church, anything less than this goal—for the church in which he labors to become OPC or at least more consistently Reformed—would be contrary to his ordination vows as a ministerial member of the OPC.

3. The principles of Sections 1 and 2 shall also apply to the relationship of ministers to nonecclesiastical religious organizations.

Comment: Everything said in the two foregoing sections applies not only to ministers serving in churches outside the OPC but also applies to ministers who are serving in or with religious organizations that are extra-ecclesiastical, i.e., that are not under the jurisdiction of any church at all. Perhaps a man in a pastorate resigns to take up a teaching position in the religion department of a non-denominational Christian college. He may well be permitted to do so by his presbytery; every provision of sections 1 and 2 shall still apply to him, whether he does that or takes up the pastorate in a local independent church that may be looking to come into the OPC.

4. Such ministers shall report at least once each year to the presbytery under whose jurisdiction they are. This report shall concern their ministerial activities, and shall include especial reference to the relationship of these activities to the interest and welfare of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Comment: Ministers laboring outside the OPC would not report to a local session as ministers laboring as pastors in particular OP churches customarily do. Since they are not accountable to any particularly local session, ministers laboring outside the OPC must report to their presbyteries annually instead. The reports are to consist of, naturally, all the ministerial activities in which they are engaged, particularly as those activities might pertain in some way “to the interest and welfare” of the OPC. An example of this might be a minister laboring in an independent church (or one of another denomination) in which his report would particularly highlight the interest in and efforts of that congregation in becoming a part of the OPC.

Chapter XXIX
Organizing and Receiving Congregations

A. Organizing Congregations

1. A group of believers, meeting regularly for worship on the Lord's Day and under the jurisdiction of a session or presbytery, and not yet organized as a separate congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, shall be denoted in the records of the presbytery as a mission work. Such persons may be enrolled as members of an existing congregation or as members at large of the regional church. The mission work may, with the permission of the session or presbytery, use the name Church in its publicity.

Comment: This section describes how a group of believers may become a recognized mission work of the OPC. Such a group may begin simply as a Bible study, perhaps led by a pastor or elder of a nearby OPC (or the regional home missionary or others in service of a sessional or presbyterial missions committee). The group functions under the authority of a session or presbytery. After they begin regular Lord’s Day worship (generally the most immediate goal), they are denoted in the records (minutes) of the presbytery as a mission work. Those part of such a group may become members of a local church that has oversight of the work or, if the presbytery has such oversight, members at large of the regional church that is governed by the presbytery having oversight. The mission work, if it wishes to use the name “church” in its publicity (advertising, mailings, etc.), may do so with the permission of the session or presbytery that has oversight of it.

2. A group of believers may be organized as a separate congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church only under the supervision of presbytery. The presbytery of the regional church to which the congregation would most naturally belong shall have the jurisdiction in the matter.

Comment: Such a group as described in 1, above, may be organized as and become a separate congregation of the OPC, i.e., a particular church in its own right, only under the oversight and supervision of the presbytery. As to the question of presbyterial jurisdiction, it shall be vested with the presbytery that has been overseeing such work or with the presbytery of the regional church to which the congregation would most naturally belong by reason of its location. If it has been under the oversight of a particular session, it would also customarily become a part of the regional church and be under the presbytery in which the session resides.

3. In organizing a mission work of an existing congregation as a new and separate congregation (church) the procedure shall be as follows:

a. The session shall designate a list of members for the proposed new congregation according to the preference of the members. This list shall become the charter roll of the new congregation.

b. The session shall call joint or separate congregational meetings of the continuing congregation and the mission work for the purpose of petitioning presbytery to organize the mission work into a new and separate congregation.

c. The session shall call a congregational meeting of the mission work for the purpose of electing ruling elders and deacons (Form of Government, Chapter XXV) and the calling of a pastor (Form of Government, Chapter XXII) to serve as officers of the new church.

d. When the above actions have been approved by presbytery, a service of recognition and installation shall be conducted by the presbytery or a committee appointed by the presbytery. At the appointed time the congregation shall be informed of the action of the presbytery and the moderator shall address to the members of the congregation the following question:

In reliance upon God for strength do you solemnly promise to walk together as a church of Jesus Christ according to the Word of God and the constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

The members shall answer in the affirmative by raised hand. After this the congregation shall be recognized as a new and separate church of the regional church and the officers shall be (ordained and) installed according to this Form of Government.

Comment: Section 3 and its subsections detail how a mission work of an existing congregation shall be organized as a new and separate congregation, i.e., how it shall become a separate congregation of the OPC. First, as section a. notes, it shall draw up a list of members, considering their own preference and consent, for the new and separate congregation being proposed. This list shall serve as the charter roll of the new congregation. Further, section b. notes, the session having oversight shall call a congregational meeting(s), either separately or jointly, of the church-planting congregation and its church plant, i.e., the mission work. This meeting shall be for the purpose of asking the relevant presbytery, by way of petition, to organize the mission work into a new and separate congregation. Then the session shall call a congregational meeting of the mission work for the purpose of electing ruling elders and deacons, in accordance with FG 25, and also for calling a pastor to the newly organized church in accordance with FG 22.

When these actions are duly approved by the presbytery having oversight, the presbytery, as section c. notes, shall set the time, date, and place for a service of recognition (for the church) and installation (for the officers). Such a service is to be conducted either by the presbytery or by a committee appointed to act on its behalf in this matter. At the time of such a service of recognition and installation, in keeping with section d., the congregation, having been duly informed of all that has previously transpired by the moderator of the meeting, shall have proposed to it the question about walking together now as a new OPC. Further comment about the question itself seems unnecessary. When the members indicate their affirmative response to the question (by the raising of their right hands), the moderator will declare that they are hereby recognized as a new and separate congregation of that regional church and proceed to ordain (as necessary) and install all the officers thereof.

4. In organizing a mission work of a presbytery as a new and separate congregation (church) the procedure shall be as follows:

a. While it is preferable to have members of a mission work as members of a local congregation under the jurisdiction of a local session, circumstances may make it easier to enroll such members as members at large of the regional church under the direct jurisdiction of the presbytery. In such cases the presbytery shall maintain a list of such members at large of a mission work.

b. When it appears that it is desirable and feasible to organize a mission work of the presbytery as a new congregation, the presbytery, with the concurrence of the members at large, shall designate the list of the members at large of the regional church of the mission work as the charter roll of the proposed new congregation.

c. The presbytery shall call a meeting of the members at large of the regional church of the mission work for the purpose of petitioning presbytery to organize them into a new church.

d. The presbytery shall call a meeting of the members at large of the regional church of the mission work for the purpose of electing ruling elders and deacons (Form of Government, Chapter XXV) and the calling of a pastor (Form of Government, Chapter XXII) to serve as officers of the new church.

e. When the above actions have been approved by presbytery, a service of recognition and installation shall be conducted by the presbytery or a committee appointed by the presbytery. At the appointed time the congregation shall be informed of the action of the presbytery and the moderator shall address to the members of the congregation the following question:

In reliance upon God for strength do you solemnly promise to walk together as a church of Jesus Christ according to the Word of God and the constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

The members shall answer in the affirmative by raised hand. After this the congregation shall be recognized as a new and separate church of the regional church and the officers shall be (ordained and) installed according to this Form of Government.

Comment: Section 4 and its subsections detail the particulars involved in organizing a mission work as a new and separate congregation of the OPC, what some call “particularization.” It is preferable, as section a. points out, to have members of a mission work as members of an OP congregation (presumably fairly close to it). Thus, the folks of the mission work enjoy the oversight of a local session, being under its jurisdiction and pastoral care. Sometimes, however, a variety of circumstances (perhaps distance) make such local oversight difficult, and it is preferable to have the members of the mission work as members on the roll of the regional church under the direct care and oversight of the presbytery. Often a committee (perhaps Home Missions or a special committee) is given the particular oversight on behalf of presbytery, and that committee reports to the presbytery under the appropriate rubric (shepherding committee, missions committee, etc.). In such cases, the presbytery, as the body of oversight, maintains the roll of the mission work whose members are on its regional roll.

When the mission work has developed so that it is viable to operate as a separate and distinct congregation, i.e., when it is desirable and feasible, which is a matter of judgment both locally and on the part of the presbytery, the presbytery may, in keeping with b., designate a charter roll for the new congregation from those of the mission work who have been members at large on the roll of the regional church. The presbytery may then call a meeting of those designated to be on the charter roll for the purpose of their petitioning presbytery, per c., to organize them into a new church. Further, as noted in d., the presbytery shall call for a meeting of the same group to elect ruling elders and deacons (per FG 25) and to call a pastor (FG 22), and these men will serve as the officers of the new church.

When the actions prescribed in a.–d. have been approved by the presbytery, a service of recognition and installation shall be conducted by the presbytery, or a committee appointed by the presbytery. At the time of such service, the actions of the presbytery shall be reported to the congregation, and the moderator shall propound to the members of the mission work seeking to become a church a question that expresses their desire and commitment to come together and to walk together as a new particular church. They shall affirm such by raising their hands. Then the congregation will be recognized as a new and separate church of the regional church. The officers shall all be (ordained as needed and) installed in keeping with the FG.

5. In organizing a group of believers who are not members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and are not an existing congregation of another church as a new and separate congregation (church) of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church the procedure shall be as follows:

a. Such persons as are associated together in a desire to be a new and separate congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church shall apply to the presbytery, through its clerk, to be received. In their application they shall state the reasons which have moved them to apply for membership in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

b. The presbytery, a committee of presbytery, or a session appointed by the presbytery shall examine the applicants as to their Christian faith and life and their knowledge of and willingness to submit to the standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. If the presbytery or the appointed session is satisfied regarding these matters it may proceed to approve them for membership and appoint a time for their reception and organization as a particular congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

c. At the appointed time the group of believers shall be informed of the action of the presbytery and the moderator shall address to them the vows of membership and the following question:

In reliance upon God for strength do you solemnly promise to walk together as a church of Jesus Christ according to the Word of God and the constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

The members shall answer in the affirmative by raised hand. After this the congregation shall be recognized as a new and separate church of the regional church.

d. The presbytery or the appointed session shall then see to it that there are officers to serve the new church according to the provisions of this Form of Government, Chapters XXV and XXII.

Comment: This section addresses the circumstances of a group of believers not organized as a church or mission work who wish to come into the OPC as a new and separate congregation. Such persons may apply to the presbytery of the OPC that would govern the regional church local to them, stating the reasons that they wish to be members in the OPC. The presbytery or its appointees (a local session or committee of the presbytery) shall examine the applicants in two primary areas: their Christian faith and life and their knowledge of and willingness to submit to the standards (both secondary and tertiary standards as befits each of those) of the OPC. If the presbytery is satisfied in all this, it may proceed to approve the applicants for membership and appoint a time for reception and organization as a particular congregation of the OPC.

As in other such cases, the applicants, having been informed of the actions of the presbytery, will come together at the appointed time to be recognized and received as a new and separate congregation of the OPC. They answer the membership vows and the standard question to that effect (will you walk together as a new OPC?) by the raising of hands. After that, the presbytery, or a session appointed for that purpose, will see to it that the new congregation has the officers it needs to function, in accordance with FG 25 and 22.

B. Receiving Congregations

1. A congregation not belonging to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church may be received only under the supervision of presbytery. The presbytery of the regional church to which the congregation would most naturally belong shall have jurisdiction in the matter.

Comment: In addition to forming new congregations (missions works and groups of believers), presbyteries may also receive already existing congregations that either wish to leave their denomination or to come into the OPC from independency. Such a congregation is received only under the supervision of a presbytery, preferably and ordinarily the presbytery of the regional church to which the congregation would most naturally belong. It is to that presbytery that jurisdiction will belong in such cases.

2. In receiving an existing, local church not belonging to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church as a new and separate congregation (church) the procedure shall be as follows:

a. A congregation which desires to become a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church shall apply to the presbytery, through its clerk, to be received. In its application the congregation shall state the reasons which have moved it to apply for membership in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

b. The presbytery or a committee appointed by the presbytery shall examine the applicants as to their Christian faith and life and their knowledge of and willingness to submit to the standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

c. The elders of the congregation, if there be such, shall be examined as to their qualifications as set forth in Chapter X and as to their subscription to the formula for the ordination of elders in Chapter XXV, Section 6, of this Form of Government.

d. The pastor of the congregation, if there be such, shall be examined according to Chapter XXIII, Section 2, of this Form of Government.

e. When the above actions have been approved by presbytery, a service of recognition and installation shall be conducted by presbytery or a committee appointed by the presbytery. At the appointed time the congregation shall be informed of the action of the presbytery and the moderator shall address to the congregation the following question:

In reliance upon God for strength do you solemnly promise to walk together as a church of Jesus Christ according to the Word of God and the constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?

The congregation shall answer in the affirmative by raised hand. After this the congregation shall be recognized as a new and separate church of the regional church. Then the officers shall be (ordained and) installed according to this Form of Government.

Comment: What follows details the process of receiving an outside congregation into the OPC. First, of course, an outside congregation seeking entrance into the OPC should notify the clerk of the presbytery in which it seeks such entrance of its desire to be a part of the OPC. In the entrance application, the congregation needs to state its reason(s) for applying for membership in the OPC. Such reasons would commonly include why they wish to leave the denomination of which they are currently a part (or independency) and, positively, the reasons that the OPC is the new place to which they wish to go so that they may better and more faithfully serve the Lord.

In response to such application, the presbytery, or usually a committee thereof, shall proceed to examine the applicants (the members of the congregation seeking entrance) in terms of both their Christian faith and life and their knowledge of and willingness to submit to the standards, both the doctrinal and polity ones, of the OPC. This can be accomplished in different ways, depending on the particulars of the congregation. In whatever way it deems necessary, however, the presbytery must assure itself of the credibility of the professions of faith of all the members applying. Ordinarily, assurance of credible professions would be ascertained through the presbytery or its committee working with the local minister(s) and other church governors in securing such through oral interviews or written statements.

If the church has elders (as would one coming from, say, the PCUSA or CRCNA), they are examined as to their qualifications, in accordance with FG 10. Further, they are asked if they are willing to answer affirmatively to the ordination questions of FG 25.6. If there is a pastor, he shall be examined in keeping with FG 23.2. When all this is reported to and approved by the presbytery, a service of recognition for the church as a new church in the OPC and of installation of the elders and pastor(s) as newly minted OPC officers shall be held. At this service, conducted by the presbytery or a committee thereof, the moderator shall ask the members of the incoming church if they are willing to walk together as a new OPC in keeping with God’s Word and the constitution of the OPC. After they affirm such by raised hands, they shall be recognized as a new and separate congregation of the regional church, and the officers shall be duly (ordained, if needed, and) installed as OPC officers in keeping with the FG. Thus, a church may come from the outside into the OPC.

Alan D. Strange is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, and is associate pastor of New Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Joliet, Illinois. Ordained Servant Online, May 2022. A list of available installments in this series appears here.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

Submissions, Style Guide, and Citations

Subscriptions

Editorial Policies

Copyright information

Ordained Servant: May 2022

Pastoral Care

Also in this issue

Encouragement for Leaders from 1 Samuel 30:1–31

The Value of a Study Break for Pastors

Promoting Happy Pastors

The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work by Faculty and Friends of Old Princeton

Augustine’s Theology of Preaching by Peter T. Sanlon

The Ministry of Angels

Download PDFDownload MobiDownload ePubArchive

CONTACT US

+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church