Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Does My Regional Presbytery Not Include All the Churches in the Region?

I recently came across an article by Dr. D. Clair Davis.  Much of the article is problematic as it adopts a strong latitudinarian point of view, but he also makes a few comments that point out the real meaning of denominational separation in a Presbyterian context:

“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” “I believe in the holy catholic church.” What can that possibly mean? I am a Presbyterian; I believe that when Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus he was really writing to all the churches there. But when I go to my presbytery meeting, who’s there? The churches just like us, that’s who. No Baptists, no Lutherans, no Pentecostals—yes, no Catholics either. . . .

It’s easy to stand in front of a classroom and pontificate: “this is how we’re right and they’re wrong. What makes us special is how we’re different.” It’s a lot harder to do a seminar where everyone talks and I have to listen. What if what really makes us special is that we’re good listeners? What if we can hear God’s Word better in what others are saying, than in listening to ourselves talk? What if we want our presbytery, at least one of our presbyteries, to be all the churches within a couple miles of us?

Dr. Davis highlights the reality that the delineations of a presbytery are regional.  There is one catholic church, and all churches are to function in mutual submission to each other, and this is manifested regionally by the union of local churches in a presbytery.  Thus, the presbytery should include all local churches.  But, of course, the reality is that the professing Christian world is denominationally divided.  In the Salt Lake City area, where I live, there is an OPC, several PCAs, Lutheran churches, Anglican churches, Romanists, Eastern Orthodox, Latter-day Saints, etc., etc.  And yet the OPC church is part of the Presbytery of the Dakotas, which consists of all the OPC (and none other) churches within a larger geographical area.  The PCA, etc., are similarly divided from the other groups.

So if the presbytery includes all local churches, what does it mean when local churches are not united in one presbytery?  It means that at least those churches that acknowledge the duty of churches to be united in formal communion and mutual submission do not recognize the legitimacy and authority of the churches they are not in communion with.

Though Dr. Davis seems to lean strongly towards latitudinarianism, he does a service by using clear language to bring out the true meaning of denominational separation, a meaning that too many in the modern Reformed world seem to want to avoid seeing clearly.

For more, see here.

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