The OPC’s Final Lesson

In this third and final article in this series, I will only be dealing with Rev. Jerrell’s final paragraph. You can find each of the previous articles in my series and in the broader debate at the end of this post.  The other points raised by Rev. Jerrell in his article are a bit repetitive.  His final paragraph, however, deserves attention. In it we find that the heart of the matter in the OPC is a matter of the heart.  Specifically, the issue in the OPC, and in all other institutions of western society today, is the relationship between emotions and constitutions, feelings and forms, rhetoric and reality.

If Presbyterianism is confused with procedure, it will prove to be hollow and devoid of the heart-warming pastoral shepherding that is embedded in a genuine Presbyterianism. Our hearts and minds should be attuned to our resurrected Lord and echo the words of the elders around the throne in glory as they sing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty.”

This paragraph is an example of what rhetoric teachers and logic professors call the “No True Scotsman Fallacy.”  This fallacy trades on a redefinition of a general idea to exclude an unwanted counterexample.  Consider a simple illustration:

Seamus: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
William: "But my uncle Angus is a Scotsman and he puts sugar on his porridge."
Seamus: "But no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."

In this example, Seamus makes a generalization about Scots.  William, however, brings forward a counter example to refute this generalization.  Seamus then redefines the general idea by saying that uncle Angus is “no true Scotsman.”  Thus, you have the fallacy. 

The final paragraph of Rev. Jerrell commits the same fallacy by redefining “Presbyterianism.”  He states that a “genuine Presbyterianism” is different from a procedural Presbyterianism. Seamus and William illustrate this for us:

Seamus: "No Presbyterian Church is procedural."
William: "But the OPC has a Book of Church Order that lays out their procedure."
Seamus: "But no genuine Presbyterian Church is procedural."

The issue of the day is one of definitions.  What is a Presbyterian Church?  What defines her over against all other Christian communions?  A related question arises here as well, what place does emotional response play in the work of the Church?  Is the church a therapeutic (in the modern psychological sense of that term) institution focused only on “heartwarming pastoral shepherding?”  Or, is the Church the Kingdom of Christ with a “government, in the hands of church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate (WCF 30.1)?”

Genuine Presbyterianism

“Presbyterian” means elder rule.  This term contains in itself the implication of an orderly proceeding.  For, to rule in the church, one must rule well.  And to rule well, one must rule according to an objective procedure; not according to a subjective whim.  We can say that, far from confusing Presbyterianism with procedure, Presbyterianism is procedure.

Another way to understand procedure is “principles of righteousness.” What we call procedure is merely an orderly collation of those principles we find in Scripture for discerning what is and is not righteous. Some of those principles are:

  • Those in a position to judge are to show no partiality to either party involved in the case (Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19, Proverbs 24:23; 28:21, James 2:1, 1 Timothy 5:21).
  • To establish the truth of an accusation requires witnesses and evidence (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:5, Matthew 18:16, 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19, Hebrews 10:28).
  • Those appointed to judge cases, whether civil or ecclesiastical, are oath bound to judge righteously, condemning the wicked and justifying the righteous (Deuteronomy 16:18, 25:1, Proverbs 17:15, 26, Isaiah 5:23-25, Amos 5:12).

This sample of righteous principles, just like the actual commandments, are not merely prudent ways of operating. Rather, they are the very way in which God, the Righteous Judge, deals in his courts:

  • God shows no partiality nor is a respecter of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, 1 Peter 1:17).
  • God often supports his covenantal (read legal) claims against the gods of the nations with evidence and witnesses (Joshua 24:22, Isaiah 43:9-10, 12; 44:8, Mathew 23:31, Luke 24:39; 24:48, John 5:32, Acts 1:8).
  • God always condemns the wicked and justifies the righteous, it is his very name (Exodus 23:7; 34:7, Deuteronomy 32:4, Nehemiah 9:33, Psalms 51:4; 67:4; 96:10, Proverbs 3:33, Isaiah 26:7, Jeremiah 11:20, Ezekiel 18:19, Hosea 14:9, Zephaniah 3:5, John 5:30, Romans 3:26, 30, Galatians 3:8).

Because these principles of righteousness are expressions of God’s own most holy and most just character they have been enjoined upon all who would rule over men in His Word (2 Samuel 23:3). These principles, then, are codified in every Presbyterian church as part of her procedure for adjudicating ecclesiastical cases.

In our post-modern liberal society, however, procedure has been smeared as unloving.  The reason for this is not hard to discern.  As I pointed out in my previous article in this series, the post-modern is unconcerned with truth as such and only seeks power.  Procedure is a means for discerning the truth.  I do not mean truth in the abstract principled sense.  I mean truth in the concrete particular sense.  Procedure, in other words, is necessary to establish the truth or falsehood of accusations. “Murder is evil” is a universal abstract truth known through the light of nature and Scripture. “Pilate murdered Jesus” is a particular concrete accusation that must be determined through an orderly process involving evidence and witnesses. This process is known as juris prudence, or judicial procedure.

In this post-modern liberal society, however, accusations are taken at face value, impervious to investigative process for, as all officers in the church need to recognize, a post-modern liberal society does not care about truth as such.  I laid out the tactics of accusation in my previous article so I won’t rehash them here.  It is this horrible reality of the post-modern liberal world that we live that requires the OPC to double down on our Presbyterian principles, our Presbyterian procedure. For, if the church is anything, she is a court. The assemblies of the church (session, presbytery, and general assembly) are ecclesiastical courts oath bound to confess to universal truth of God’s Revelation and to establish or refute particular accusations through a judicial process. In other words, Presbyterianism is procedure.

Scriptural Presbyterianism

The conflict of the hour is not the only, nor even the highest, reason the OPC needs to double down on our Presbyterian Procedure.  The highest, noblest, and most pious reason to return to our procedural principles is that they have come to us from the Only Lord and Lawgiver in the Church: Jesus Christ. 

The reason our forefathers established a Presbyterian form of government is because they were convinced that a Presbyterian form of government, a Presbyterian procedure, is what they found in the Scriptures.  Time would fail me to recount all of the examples of this in both the Old and New Testaments.  One prime example will suffice: Matthew 18:15-20.

“Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:15-20

Upon a careful reading of this passage, you will notice the perfection of our Lord’s procedure: personal admonition, supporting testimony of multiple witnesses, appeal to the officers of the church, plurality and parity among those officers, authoritative censure after an orderly procedure, divine sanction upon this procedure by the agreement of heaven, and the present guidance of King Jesus to oversee all the proceedings.  A better government among men whether civil or ecclesiastical cannot be found.

Sadly, the 88th General Assembly of the OPC failed to follow this procedure.  And this is what must be corrected in future dealings.  The Lord Jesus has commanded it.  And we will render an account to the Lord Jesus on how we obeyed his command.  Today is the day. Let us not harden our hearts as in the day of provocation in the wilderness.

False Dichotomy

Our day is awash in an ocean of false dichotomies that drown sound thinking.  Rev. Jerrell’s final paragraph is but one example of this.  To say that we should have our hearts attuned to our resurrected Lord and join the heavenly assembly in singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” instead of following our procedure in cases of accusation is pitting two things against each other that are not in conflict. 

I agree, we should be attuned to our Resurrected Lord and we should be singing his praises day in and day out.  But to be in tune with our heavenly Redeemer’s melody, to harmonize with the King of Heaven means to follow diligently the will of our King in heaven.  Did not Jesus commission the officers of the church to teach the nations to obey every thing he taught?  And did not Jesus teach the pure, perfect, procedure all Presbyterian officers confess in their vows?  Thus, to be in harmony with Jesus, the only King and Head of the Church, is to follow his procedure.

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

Luke 6:46


The hour is late and the days are evil.  The OPC stands on a knife’s edge.  On one side, hungrily gaping at us is the horrid maw of post-modern liberalism, salivating at the chance to feast upon yet another American, Protestant, Conservative institution.  On the other side, gently inviting us with the warm life-giving rays of heaven is the happy and holy pasture of scriptural Presbyterianism surrounded by the walls of Biblical procedure.  And inside those walls?  The Lord’s pasture teaming with little lambs washed in the blood, brimming with hoary headed rams and ewes rejoicing in the faithfulness of their Shepherd who has led them through years uncounted along the paths of righteousness. 

We are on a knife’s edge, OPC brethren.  We can abandon our procedure and the world will welcome us. They will praise us. They will flood our churches. They may even invite us to write OPEDs in their publications.  But, if we abandon our procedure, if we fail to double down on our Presbyterian principles, we will lose our church. For the Lord will not suffer the candlestick of His Gospel to shine on a lampstand that fails to heed his Word. 

May God strengthen our hands for the work. 

Sword and Trowel, brothers.  Sword and Trowel.

The initial Christianity Today Article

My Response to that article

Rev. Jerrell’s Response to my response

The First Article of this series

The Second Article of this series