OPC General Assembly
Through the summer months many church assemblies and church councils hold their meetings. In coming issues we expect to point out some of the decisions which were taken in these gatherings.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church met in its forty-third General Assembly in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, beginning on May 27. This group of churches commemorated its 40th anniversary this past summer.
The OPC dealt with much routine business, as reported in its paper, The Presbyterian Guardian, but also with one serious case of discipline. For the first time in its history, the OPC was confronted in its General Assembly (comparable to our Synod) with a doctrinal problem This problem included the question of “speaking in tongues.”
The report in the Guardian stated this:
Though not the first major business before the assembly, certainly the most significant and time-consuming (three whole days and two evening sessions!) was the judicial case originating in the Presbytery of Ohio against the Rev. Arnold S. Kress.
The case was of interest partly because it was the first time in the forty-year history of the denomination that a .judicial case had ever come before a General Assembly. Other doctrinal problems had arisen in the past, but these were dealt with—if at all—by complaints against lower courts or by referring the whole thing to a study committee. In this case, a presbytery had drawn up formal charges of doctrinal error against a member, and both the presbytery and Mr. Kress had “gone the whole route” in seeking a judicial answer to the doctrinal questions.
More important perhaps .than such historical precedents was the doctrinal issue itself. Though the modern “charismatic movement” has swirled across many churches in recent years—and often left widespread wreckage behind—it had so far left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church largely untouched. Mr. Kress, though, had sought out the experience of “speaking in tongues” while a missionary in Japan.
Having been brought home by the Committee on Foreign Missions and given a special furlough to study the biblical teaching on the subject, Mr. Kress had produced several papers on various aspects of it. These documents then became the basis for the doctrinal charges brought against him by his presbytery.
Though originally charged with three related errors in doctrine (and a fourth charge on a different subject), Mr. Kress was found guilty by the Presbytery of Ohio on only one (and on the fourth separate charge). The verdict was reached on a charge that Mr. Kress had “asserted that the gifts of prophecy and tongues may continue in the church today.” This, the presbytery went on to charge, was “contrary to the Word of God which teaches:
“(1) Tongues were for a sign of judgment against unbelieving Israel—
“(2) Both tongues and prophecy were for the giving of word-revelation in the apostolic church—
“(3) Even private speaking in tongues is speaking in mysteries, i.e., word-revelation—
“(4) The gifts of prophecy and tongues were concomitant with the gift of the apostles—
Heb. 2:3-4; Cor. 12:12
It should be pointed out that Mr. Kress consistently had rejected the “second blessing” theology of many modern “charismatics.” He has also insisted that whatever the exact form of prophecy and tongues that may be found today, it can in no sense be understood as normative, infallible revelation of the kind that was incorporated in the Scriptures. . . .
The final vote of the Assembly was 72 to uphold the judgment of the Presbytery of Ohio and 39 voting against this. The writer of the article insists that the 39 votes in support of Mr. Kress were not in support of his views but rather because of a conviction that a clear case from Scripture had not been made against the Kress position.
This same Rev. Arnold Kress was held guilty of an offense in doctrine contrary to the Word of God in asserting that “the church ought not necessarily to exclude from the office of the ministry of the Word those who, although true believers, hold serious doctrinal errors such as Arminianism, or the denial of infant baptism, . . . contrary to Scripture which teaches that only those should be made Elders in the church who ‘hold to the faithful word which is according to the teaching (of the apostles)’ (Titus 1:9).”
After reaching a decision on the “tongues” matter, the Assembly did pass a resolution “urging Mr. Kress to accept the decisions of his brethren and further expressing its judgment that his ministerial gifts were of value to the church despite the adverse judicial decisions.”
There is no further report in this issue of theGuardian concerning the outcome of this case.
The OPC received reports concerning mission work it is doing in Egypt, in Taiwan, in Japan, in Korea. It also received the report that its mission in Eritrea, .Ethiopia, was forced by the government of that country to close. Some of this OPC mission work is done in conjunction with other denominations: the Reformed Church, U.S. (Eureka Classis); the Reformed Churches of New Zealand and Australia especially.
The OPC expends considerable monies for “Christian Education” which includes especially a Sunday school curriculum. This it is doing now in conjunction with the new Presbyterian Church in America.
The home mission program of the OPC includes four “missionaries-at-large” who serve as “church planting evangelists.” The committee of the Assembly which oversees its home mission work, also provides loans to newly-established churches or mission churches for the purchase of land, parsonage, or church construction.
A letter from the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, instructed its committee to contact the OPC in order to prepare a new plan of union. This was placed in the hands of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations for consideration.
The next Assembly of the OPC is scheduled for June 2, 1977, at Oostburg, Wisconsin.
R.P.C.E.S. General Synod
The Presbyterian Guardian gives also a report on the meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, whose synod met at Colorado Springs, Colorado, beginning on May 21, 1976. Here too there were decisions concerning the work of the Holy Spirit. A committee report of one and a half pages (based upon three earlier lengthy reports) was presented. This “signaled a shift away from the view of Warfield that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (as tongues, healings, prophecies, etc.) ceased with the end of the apostolic age.” The report concluded: “the canon of Scripture is closed, that speaking in tongues is not to be sought as an attestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that speaking in tongues is not to be encouraged or lauded, and that those who have had special experiences with God should guard against the divisiveness of making their private experience with God normative for all believers.” The reporter suggests that much was left unsaid and unexegeted, and that many in that church thought that more ought to be said of the work of the Spirit as currently interpreted and experienced. The conclusion was that the most useful “course under the circumstances was to agree on what they could agree on and not attempt any further clarifying consensus.”
This same denomination dealt with the role of women in the church. A lengthy report of some 49 pages and extensive exegesis emphasized that there was “but one authoritative church office, that of the elder. While women are clearly excluded from that one authoritative office, the report contended, they are not to be excluded from the non-authoritative office of deacon.” The report insisted that in the church there are but two groups: elders and non-elders. Also: male non-elders and female non-elders are equal in authority in the church. Much of the report was adopted, but the question of whether women could be ordained as deacons was sent back to the committee for further study. One suggested that the Synod would be known as the “Synod that recommits.” The approach taken concerning women in office differs somewhat from others taken in our day within various denominations. But it appears that the general approach is to destroy the scriptural principle little by little. One Christian Reformed man, a judge, recently recommended a similar approach with his own denomination. He insisted that the people generally would most readily accept women in the office of the diaconate. Once that gap is bridged, then there could be similar attempts with respect to the office of elder—and later, of that of minister. He thus encouraged the churches to ordain women deacons—and await any possible protests against the action taken.
So the various denominations have faced, and continue to face, many of the difficulties of this age. It would appear increasingly difficult to hold the line on the one hand against the liberalism which encroaches in our day, and on the other hand against the errors action taken of pentecostalism, etc., which have been troubling denominations.