Several months ago I made some editorial comments on a Presbyterian merger proposal and, along with those comments, a few remarks about urgings on the part of Dr. Edmund Clowney that the OPC join in a (conservative) Presbyterian amalgam. At the conclusion of those remarks I called attention to what I called “a lesson in all this.”
In The Presbyterian Journal (Aug. 6, ’80) Editor G. Aiken Taylor takes occasion from my editorial to write on the question, “Does Size Matter?” In so doing, however, he seems to have missed completely the point of my “lesson.”
And this is too bad! For I think it is a lesson which all the Presbyterians who are at present discussing the subject of merger might well consider, rather than being seemingly preoccupied with the possibility of getting together to form a larger and more influential denomination and even being charmed by the prospect of participating in a “national” Presbyterian church which might have some “standing” and recognition as far as churches go in this land of ours. Thus far I have read a lot about the benefits of merger, but very little about the question of Presbyterian distinctives. No one seems to examine the question whether those involved in the proposed amalgam are truly Presbyterian, whether the churches involved truly stand on the basis of and maintain the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Dr. Taylor begins his editorial by the following reference to what I wrote last March:
In an editorial comment on trends within the Presbyterian and Reformed families of churches, the Rev. H.C. Hoeksema of the Standard Bearer had something to say about the size of churches.
Wrote Mr. Hoeksema, whose publication speaks for the Protestant Reformed Churches, a tiny denomination of some 21 congregations and some 4,000 members: “It is, of course, not pleasant to be small, not to enjoy much growth in size…But it is a fact of church history and of experience that smallness and faithfulness to the truth go hand in hand.”
Dr. Taylor then goes on to adduce instances when, according to him, smallness did not go hand in hand with faithfulness to the truth and to suggest that it is more accurate to say that churches with rigid standards, “churches whose distinctives in worship or practice demand personal discipline or sacrifice,” seldom grow large and are likely to remain small.
At the conclusion of his article he writes:
Back to our original question: Does size matter? Size, pursued for its own sake, surely is a form of heresy. But so is smallness, defended as an excuse for theological, or pastoral, failure.
My own answer to Dr. Taylor’s question, however,—and this was true in the editorial last March as well as now—is, first of all, that size does not matter, whether big size or little size. The main subject of my discussion in the article referred to was not at all size, but an undue concern about size and desire for bigness as over against a concern about the truth and faithfulness. This will be plain from the fact that I was writing in the context of Dr. Clowney’s apparent interest in growth and in merger with the PCA. It is evident above all from the fact that I specifically wrote that the church “has but one, calling, regardless of the consequences,” in other words, regardless of whether it is big or small and whether it becomes bigger or smaller. But it is faithfulness to the truth of the Word of God and to the creeds that matters, in the second place. And if Dr. Taylor had quoted my “lesson” in full, instead of quoting part of two sentences from two paragraphs, this would have been plain. For here is the “lesson” to which I called attention:
It is, of course, not pleasant to be small, not to enjoy much growth in size, to be limited in financial power and in the ability to accomplish things. The CPC knows something of this by experience. We of the Protestant Reformed Churches certainly also know something of this by experience. We know what it means to struggle, to fight for survival, to sacrifice, to be despised, to be ostracized for the sake of the truth. We know what it means “not to count” in the ecclesiastical world.
But it is a fact of church history and of experience that smallness and faithfulness to the truth go hand in hand. And not infrequently has it been demonstrated in church history that outward growth in size and financial power and standing in the world goes hand in hand with a relaxing of the reins as far as doctrinal purity and faithfulness to the creeds are concerned. If you want to grow, you must not be too precise doctrinally, you must not be too insistent upon the truth, you must not enforce the creeds and the Formula of Subscription too strictly. Be content to be “evangelical.” Be content to be generally Presbyterian or Reformed. Be not righteous over much!
But remember: the end of that road is the loss of your heritage. All the large denominations which today are modernist and completely liberal have trodden that same path before!
The church has but one calling, regardless of: the consequences: maintain the marks of the true church!
The Lord will take care of the rest!
To date, in the current discussions about merger I have not seen much of the kind of concern about maintaining the marks of the true church called for above.
And I strongly urge that before the various Presbyterian groups involved in these merger discussions proceed with the merger, they examine themselves and one another with respect to the question whether the proposed amalgam-church will be really, and truly Presbyterian in the sense of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Perhaps that examination could begin with the PCA. Is it true that the PCA is already an umbrella large enough to cover millennials of all shades? Is it true that the PCA is already an umbrella large enough to include Arminians as well as those who are truly Reformed? Is it true that the PCA can still have communion with the PCUS, the so-called Southern Presbyterian Church, where most PCAs had their origin?
I am reminded of an incident a few years ago when Prof. Hanko and I visited at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. At an informal faculty luncheon we were asked a good many questions about-our Protestant Reformed Churches. One of the questions was whether there was communion between the Protestant Reformed Churches and the Christian Reformed Church. After I replied emphatically in the negative, I thought that turnabout was fair play. So I returned the question and asked whether there was communion between the PCA and the PCUS, from which the former separated. The answer was “Yes.” When I asked the further question, “Why then did you ever separate?” the response came rather quickly, “That’s a good question.” I thought, too, that it was a good question. But I have never received an answer to it. And it makes me wonder sometimes how much genuinely Presbyterian principle is involved in the existence of the PCA.