Most people in the OPC have heard the phrase “General Assembly,” and many have some idea of what it is and does, but for others it may seem obscure. A brief description of how our church is structured may be helpful to some—think in terms of three layers:
1. The local church is overseen by the pastor(s) and ruling elders, together called the session. The session is responsible for the local ministry and the care of church members. At the end of 2013, there were 269 local churches (plus mission works) in the OPC, with a total membership of 30,758.
2. All the members of the local churches in a given area are part of what is called a regional church, and this is governed by a presbytery. The presbytery meets multiple times a year, when the ministers and a ruling elder from each of its congregations convene to oversee the work of the regional church. It is the presbytery that examines men for the ministry, undertakes or assists in the work of church planting within its boundaries, and can be appealed to when problems cannot be solved in a local congregation. In the OPC, we currently have seventeen presbyteries.
3. The General Assembly, which normally meets annually, is the highest governing body of our denomination. Each presbytery is allotted a certain number of delegates, who are sent to this meeting. While much of our denomination’s work is done through standing committees that operate year-round—for instance, the Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education committees—these committees report back to the General Assembly, which may approve, disapprove, or alter their plans. The Assembly may also instruct the committees to undertake actions, or it may erect other committees for specific purposes. The Assembly approves the budgets of the committees and elects their members. More than this, the General Assembly serves as the final court of appeal in matters of discipline. Just as disputed matters may come from a local church to a presbytery for resolution, so too may they come from a presbytery to the General Assembly.
Notice the implications of these comments for the OPC's relationship to other denominations, assuming a presbyterian view of church government. For example, "All the members of the local churches in a given area are part of what is called a regional church, and this is governed by a presbytery." All the members? Including the members of the PCA or the RCUS? No, only OPC members. What does that say? In a presbyterian system, it can only mean that these other churches are not recognized as formal, legal parts of the church in those areas.
"The General Assembly, which normally meets annually, is the highest governing body of our denomination. . . . the General Assembly serves as the final court of appeal in matters of discipline. Just as disputed matters may come from a local church to a presbytery for resolution, so too may they come from a presbytery to the General Assembly." The GA is the "highest governing body"? It is the "final court of appeal"? Well then, in a presbyterian system, this must mean that the OPC does not recognize the legitimacy of the sessions, presbyteries, or other synods of any other denomination--for if they did, they would have to allow these churches also to be involved in these concentric circles of mutual submission and appeals, and yet they actually allow only members and courts of the OPC to be involved. In a system of semi-independency, we could have separate, independent ecclesiastical governments, but not in a presbyterian system.
For more, see here and here.