Coming before the Thirty-third General, Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which convened April 26 at Oostburg, Wisconsin, was a brief report which proposed working toward organic union with the Christian Reformed Church. From an interested friend I received a copy of this report, which reads as follows:
REPORT OF THE CCMMITTEE TO CONFER WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF THE CHRISTIAN REFORMED CHURCH
The Committee to Confer with Representatives of the Christian Reformed Church held a meeting with the corresponding committee of the Christian Reformed Church in Princeton, New Jersey on January 24, 1966. All of the members of the Christian Reformed committee and all but one of the Orthodox Presbyterian committee were present. Your committee recommends:
1. That the General Assembly call attention to the advantages of supporting the Back to God Hour and of using Back to God Hour materials in the families;
2. That the General Assembly encourage, wherever practicable, (a) pulpit exchanges, (b) joint youth activities, (c) joint home missionary activities, (d) cooperative publishing, (e) mutual exchange of publications and the holding of common conferences, (f) representation at existing conferences and meetings;
3. That the General Assembly urge the reporting to church courts of successful activities of the above mentioned categories;
4. That the General Assembly request the Committee on Revisions to the Form of Government and Book of Discipline to invite. to a joint meeting the Church Order Revision Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, the Committee on Closer Relationship with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of the Christian Reformed Church, and the present committee to determine whether progress cannot be made in the immediate future toward agreement between the two Churches on principles of church government;
5. That the General Assembly declare its opinion that the present committee should work toward the definite goal of organic union between the Orthodox Presbyterian and the Christian Reformed Churches.
6. That the committee be continued.
Calvin A. Busch
Edmund P. Clowney
Bert L. Reber
Paul Woolley, Chairman
At this writing, I do not know what action was taken by the General Assembly; nor do I know whether a similar proposal will come before the Christian Reformed Synod at Pella. As far as mergers go in this day of ecumenicity, this is not a large one, of course; nor would it be counted very significant. Nevertheless, I believe it is worthy of comment because of its significance for the Reformed community. My comments are as follows:
1) This is probably one of the most significant reports coming before the OPC. General Assembly; yet it is extremely brief, and it appears entirely without grounds. It seems to me that it would be extremely difficult to discuss such a proposal, either pro or con, for the simple reason that it fails to state grounds and assumes what ought to be proved.
2) The main assumption appears to’be that there is a sufficient degree of doctrinal and confessional agreement to warrant organic union between these two denominations. This is not discussed in the report. Surely, however, it is exactly such doctrinal and confessional agreement which is basic to organic union. In this respect I can see no obstacle to merger. Both denominations are officially Reformed in their confession. Moreover, on matters such as common grace and the well-meant offer of salvation there is also no significant difference between the two churches. From this point of view, therefore, I can understand the recommendation that ‘the General Assembly declare its opinion that the committee should work toward the definite goal of organic union. It ought to be noted, however, that a decision to this effect would virtually commit the CPC to union, provided the CRC also favors it.
3) Whether the church political issues, which have proved rather troublesome in past discussions, can be resolved remains to be seen. It is, I think, noteworthy that point 4 speaks of agreement on “principles of church government” rather than on full agreement in practice. Perhaps this will be the way out of this problem.
4) I find it rather strange that the report recommends a virtual practice of organic union and a kind of trial union before the definite goal of organic union is achieved. Yet this is practically recommended in points 1 and 2. If these recommendations are followed, then it seems to me that the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches will commit themselves to such a degree before the union is consummated that it will be very difficult to retreat at a future date. Very strange, too, I think, is the recommendation that “successful activities of the above mentioned categories” be reported. Why not also possible unsuccessful activities? Surely, these would also be pertinent to any final decision.
5) The entire proposal leaves some significant questions that ought to be answered. The first of these,—and it should weigh heavily with the OPC,—is this: is the Christian Reformed Church actually faithful to its own official confessional and doctrinal position? As much as I know of the OPC, they cannot be in agreement with some of the liberal tendencies evidenced in Christian Reformed circles. I refer to matters like the inspiration-infallibility question, the Dekker Case, the World Council matter, etc. I know, too, that there must be some concern about these matters in the OPC, judging from the fact that the CRC’s fraternal delegate to last year’s General Assembly tried to quiet some of the fears about these issues. A second consideration is this: what will become of the identity of the OPC in such an organic union? The OPC is by far the smaller of the two denominations. Will this proposed merger actually be a merger? Or will it mean that the OPC will simply be swallowed up in the larger CRC and completely lose its historic Presbyterian character in the process? This question certainly should be considered; and the advisability of organic union is closely connected with it. Nor should any such merely practical consideration as a possible hope that the conservative OPC will buoy up the conservative element of the CRC be permitted to obscure this question. A third consideration involves Westminster Seminary. I am well aware of the fact that Westminster is not a denominational school. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the ministers of the OPC for the most part have been trained at Westminster. Should a merger be consummated, what will become of Westminster Calvin Seminary is, of course, the denominational school for the training of CRC ministers. Will Westminster be given equal status with Calvin, even though the former is not a church school? Or will Westminster become a kind of orphan through this proposed union?
In the light of the above considerations, I would suggest that a word of warning is in order for the OPC. It is this: CAUTION!