To; All the members of New Life Church-Glenside
From: The Elders
Date: December 19, 1989
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ! As we look back over the past several years we truly want to “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Lives have been touched by our Lord’s power and grace in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all! Yet these have also been years of humbling ourselves, repentance, and faith. We have been stretched and challenged, often times beyond what we thought we could endure, and yet God has always proven faithful to us. As elders we are humbled and continually thankful for every member of this church who has publicly stood and identified themselves with our Lord Jesus Christ, and with us, a particular expression of his body in his kingdom.
Over the past several years there has been an issue which has frequently surfaced in our deliberations as elders. It has not dominated our discussion, and yet it continually surfaced as a matter of significance to us. This issue is our denominational affiliation. After quite a few years of discussion and exchanging and reading many letters, articles, memos and papers, and after much prayer, repentance and searching of our hearts, the elders at our session meeting on December 12, 1989, approved the following resolution, “That the Session recommend to the Congregation that New Life Presbyterian Church withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).”
While there was much sentiment for realignment to the PCA among many in our congregation and on our session several years back, as elders we felt it was wiser to wait. We were (and still are) the largest church in the denomination and we did not want to take action that would be “precipitous”, causing many other churches to leave the denomination following our lead at a time when there was much tension in the denomination.
Since that time quite a few churches have, in fact, realigned from the OPC into the PCA. Our daughter/sister church in Northeast Philadelphia was one of them. Our daughter/sister church in Fort Washington has organized in the PCA. New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido, pastored by Dick Kauffman (one of our former elders) has also made the move. Now we believe it is time for us to do the same. We believe this step would glorify the Lord, and would strengthen the ministry of New Life here in Glenside as well. We think you will agree with us that this would prove to be a positive, exciting, forward looking movement for our church to make in the times in which we live. We seek, therefore, your prayerful endorsement of the Session’s decision, that we might move ahead together with unity of mind and heart.
I. A brief history of this matter:
In 1936 the OPC was formed when a small group of churches and ministers separated themselves from the large northern denomination of Presbyterians due to that denomination’s defection from biblical truth. In 1974 the PCA was formed by a similar separation of conservative churches from the large southern denomination of presbyterians and for similar reasons.
In 1979 the PCA proposed to the OPC and to the RPCES (another body of presbyterians) a plan inviting them to join her ranks. That plan was referred to as “J & R”, meaning joining and receiving. J & R was a method of union devised in order to shorten the normal process of negotiated merger, which ordinarily takes many years. It was an attempt to demonstrate to the world the unity of the body of Christ which Jesus prays for in his high priestly prayer in John 17.
These seekings after biblical unity are complicated and sometimes rocky. In 1980 the PCA withdrew the invitation to the OPC. The RCES joined the PCA in 1982 via the J & R process. In 1984 the PCA reissued a J & R invitation to the OPC. In June of 1986 the General Assembly of the OPC rejected that invitation. A two thirds vote was needed for approval but the vote was only 54% yes and 46% no. In the several years that have followed, the OPC has made it quite clear that it does not favor a J & R plan as a method of union whereas the PCA has also made it clear that it does not favor a lengthy process of negotiated merger. Some in our denomination may disagree, but for all practical purposes the union between the OPC and P C seems extremely unlikely. Those of us who believe that the union of these two virtually identical churches is a biblical imperative made clear in our Lord’s will for Christian unity (John 17, Ephesians 4) have been very disappointed.
We now have a decision forced upon us in the absence of such union. Where do we belong? Where can we best move forward with the kingdom vision God has given our congregation? Both of these denominations are biblical in their doctrine and structure. Where does our church fi t most strategically in the light of our philosophy of ministry, and the times in which we live? We have concluded that affiliation with the PCA is clearly the better choice for us, since the prospect of union between the OPC and the PCA is dim.
II. Key Reasons for affiliating with the PCA:
A recommendation to move into the PCA is based primarily on positive assessment of the PCA, not on negative reactions to the OPC. We love both churches and believe we could function in either body. We should hasten to say that both denominations are imperfect, and we will add to the flaws and failures of either one. We recognize that the OPC has certain strengths that are not found in the PCA, but in general we believe that we can function best in the PCA. We believe that we are more in step with its general direction and priorities. We are enthusiastic about i s aggressive commitment to reach our nation and the world for Jesus Christ. In the PCA we see the following things:
1. The PCA is a church with vision. We are very enthusiastic about the ministry vision that characterizes the PCA as a whole. The PCA is committed to an aggressive vision that includes reviving America and reaching the world for Christ. In fact, World Harvest Mission (WHM), which had its birth through our church, has received enormous support in the PCA, even leading to a mutually helpful cooperative agreement with their denominational foreign missions program. (Something we have been unable to establish with the OPC.) We believe that we can commit ourselves enthusiastically to the priorities that have marked that church in recent years. They are the same priorities that we have as a congregation. We believe that in the PCA we will be in step with the general movement, able to learn and be stimulated by our brothers, and able to contribute to the movement.
2. The PCA is increasingly a national presbyterian body. Though it is a young denomination, it has grown quickly in many parts of the United states and Canada. It has a potential to make a difference for Christ in North America. It has over two hundred thousand members in almost a thousand churches. Thus, we see the PCA can have a significant role in our society by proclaiming the gospel, standing up for God’s truth, and living out of a visible lifestyle of love and unity. It is a denomination that is still at the formative stage. We can be a significant part of this new movement of the Lord. We believe that the PCA represents the kind of national presbyterian body that we have wanted to be a part of for many years.
3. As mentioned above, our daughter churches and other sister churches have already realigned, and there are many other similar churches in the PCA who share our vision and philosophy of ministry. These are few in the OPC. It is a wonderful privilege and joy to work with like minded pastors and churches.
4. Both denominations care seriously about the city. Yet, at this point in time, it appears that the PCA is self-consciously seeking to be more than a primarily white suburban denomination. The majority of its church planting works in the USA are in major metropolitan areas. Ministries are growing that reach Koreans, Blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese and French-Canadians. They have made a tremendous effort to work with Tim Keller to establish a church in New York City and there is also this same commitment at a regional level for our city, Philadelphia. We believe there is a great need for unity and a concerted effort in ministry if we are to make a serious dent in the problems of this great city. And if we don’t reach the cities of our land for Christ, we won’t reach the nation. So we are convinced that our urban ministry at New Life will be strengthened through the urban focus and fellowship in the PCA.
III. The process of re-affiliating:
The process is rather simple. The OPC Form of Government gives clear direction on how to leave the denomination. Furthermore, the scriptures do not seem to speak directly to denominations. Thus, the ethics of this sort of realignment do not seem to be a problem. But the session did spend a great deal of time discussing the ethical considerations of such a move, and only after we had concluded that it was biblically permissible did we come t o a recommendation.
We believe that the Scriptures teach that to leave one denomination is not necessarily to leave the body of Christ. It is, rather, to leave one part of the church to join another. Our action is not motivated by disregard for the government of the OPC. As mentioned above our action is provided for in the OPC Form of Government and we are following that provision carefully.
In the very act of withdrawal we are seeking to be subject to our OPC brethren. We have no desire for autonomy. On the contrary, we intend to join another presbyterian denomination which, just like the OPC, requires obedience to its standards and to its form of government.
The OPC Form of Government (Chapter 16, section 7) which we follow says:
“A congregation may withdraw from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church only by an affirmative vote of the congregation at two successive meetings of the congregation, duly called by the session, notice of the proposed action having been included in the calls for the meetings. The meetings shall be held not less than three weeks, nor more than one year, apart. If the vote of the first meeting is in favor of withdrawal the session shall inform the presbytery promptly, and the presbytery shall have the opportunity, at the second meeting, to dissuade the congregation from withdrawing. If the congregation, at the second meeting, reaffirms its previous action it shall be the duty of the presbytery to prepare a roll of members who desire to continue as members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and to provide for the oversight of these continuing members.
Thus we recommend the following schedule:
A. The unanimous session recommendation December 12, 1989, that New Life withdraw from the OPC and affiliate with the PCA.
B. Session decision announced to the congregation Sunday, December 17, 1989.
C. We are scheduling Saturday morning, January 6, 1990, a t 9:00 A.M. as a time for congregational discussion for anyone who feels they need extended clarification or discussion of this matter.
D. We are scheduling Sunday evening, January 7, 1990, at 6:00 P.M. as a called congregational meeting to have further discussion of this issue, prayer and the first vote.
E. If the first vote is affirmative, we would notify the presbytery at its February 3, 1990, meeting.
F. We would schedule the second congregational meeting for Sunday afternoon, February 1 at 4:00 P.M. in order to hear a delegation from the Presbytery and then to take the second vote. If the second vote is affirmative, we would then apply to the PCA for membership. A certified list of our members would be received without examination. Our elders and deacons would meet as a group with a committee from the receiving presbytery for a group exam and time to get acquainted. All ordained ministers would have to transfer their membership individually and would be examined by the receiving presbytery as it saw fit.
G. A special service of reception would be held by the PCA presbytery to welcome us into its fellowship.
IV. A final word:
In taking this action we want to make clear that we have a deep appreciation and respect for the ministry of the OPC. We have enjoyed its fellowship and are grateful for the birth of our church in its bounds. We have many brothers and sisters we love in the OPC and that will never change.
Yet our loyalty to Christ and his kingdom leads us to want to promote Him and His cause by placing ourselves within His church as strategically as possible. We believe that, for New Life Glenside, our work will be less hindered, and more encouraged, within the PCA. We believe that this is a time of great opportunity given to us by God as a church. Our hope is that God will grant us grace so that we will use the opportunity, not in a spirit of pride, but in a spirit of humility and repentance. We believe God is calling our whole church to a period of repentance and self-examination. We as elders want to encourage you to join us in humbling ourselves before God and seeking His mercy in the form of reviving grace. Certainly there are sins in all of us that the Lord wants to sweep clean.
Pray for a spirit of unity and harmony among us and of great love for our Lord and His church as we make this important decision together.
In Christ’s love,
Jack Miller, John Yenchko
for the elders