Last night, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Presbytery of Ohio installed the Rev. Chris Malamisuro as the minister of Good Shepherd OPC, which is one of its mission works. The Rev. Bill Kessler preached from John 20:19-23, proclaiming the wonders that our ascended Lord would draw near and announce “Peace be with you” through His ministers. The Rev. Ken Montgomery and the Rev. Bob Eckardt delivered the Exhortation to the Congregation and Officers and the Charge to the Pastor.
What follows is an interview with Pastor Danny Hyde of Oceanside United Reformed Church about his recent address to the annual NAPARC meeting, which encouraged them to pursue Reformed ecumenicity. Pastor Hyde blogs at Meet the Puritans and is the author of numerous books on Reformed theology, such as Welcome to a Reformed Church.
1. Thanks so much for your willingness to answer a few questions, Pastor Hyde. First, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a Reformed minister?
Thank you for the opportunity, Zac. I am a born and bred native of SoCal. After being baptized in the Roman Church out of custom and superstition, my father was converted at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. I spent some time there as a young child in Sunday school, as well as in Mass during holidays with family. After the brokenness of my family finally came to a climax, I was finally converted in a Foursquare Church before heading off to college to play basketball. It was there that I became disillusioned with my Charismatic and Pentecostal experience. I went on a spiritual journey, investigating every major world religion before God found me at the right time, at the right place with the purity of the gospel in the Reformed confession. I went off to Westminster Seminary California with the goal of planting a Reformed church in an area of SoCal that had no Reformed church.
2. You obviously have a lot of responsibilities within your congregation, so why did you consider it important to attend the NAPARC meeting in Chicago?
I am thankful that I am given time off from my labors here at OURC to speak to a wider audience. When I was asked to be the annual speaker at NAPARC I was humbled that I of all people would be asked to do that. As a total outsider to the alphabet soup known as the conservative Presbyterian and Reformed world, I have my own particular vantage point on the problems that plague us. And I pray that I also have a unique perspective on the way forward. So, it was important because I believe that in our unity we find our strength to be salt and light in our culture that I agreed.
3. From an historical standpoint, why are there are so many different Reformed and Presbyterian denominations in America (I count twelve in NAPARC)? Also, what keeps them apart?
The different denominations find their roots in distinct reformations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For example, the United Reformed Churches (URC) and Free Reformed Churches (FRC) are rooted in the Netherlands reformation. There are historical reasons why the mother churches of these denominations in the Netherlands were distinct, which led to their distinctness when they arrives in North America. Because these churches originally spoke Dutch, and were from the European continent, this meant there would be differences with Presbyterians in England and Scotland who spoke English. So when these people came to the New World and later United States, their circumstantial and well as doctrinal differences became distinct denominations.
4. What was your message to the NAPARC delegates?
My message was a follow-up to Dr. W. Robert Godfrey’s address last year, A Reformed Dream. It was entitled, “From Reformed Dream to Reformed Reality: The Problem and Possibility of Reformed Church Unity“. In a word, the problem of unity is our sin, but the possibility is the power of the Holy Spirit.
[To read the manuscript of Pastor Hyde’s address, click here]
Thus far, I’ve articulated the purposes of NAPARC, which are:
- to work toward greater unity through official discussions
- to endeavor to uphold our common confession of faith
- to promote church planting (i.e., missions)
The final purpose for its formation is to assist one another in times of disaster relief (pretty pertinent to the recent storm) and in Christian education [Constitution, Art. III.4].
Imagine you worshipped in a Reformed church in Saskatchewan and there were no Reformed churches near you. After hearing about a natural disaster like the tsunami in Japan, you could be confused about where you could send aid if your denomination did not have a presence there. But having an official relationship with NAPARC churches would inform you that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which has a presence in Japan, is a trustworthy place to send your money – they hold a common faith and confession.
Similarly, what if you were part of a small church and became convinced that your community did not have an appropriate means of educating your children? Well, your unity with other NAPARC congregations would go a long way in finding like-minded people (assuming there were other congregations nearby) to partner in starting a Christian school or homeschooling coop. Similarly, NAPARC congregations frequently hold conferences together, giving Christians an opportunity to form new friendships and to learn about those from different Reformed backgrounds.
We live in a time in which Christian networks are all the rage. Various conferences, coalitions, and parachurch organizations are being formed in order to encourage evangelism and church planting across theological traditions. Cooperation amongst Christians is an encouraging thing to see. This is, in fact, one of the reasons NAPARC was formed, i.e., for the “propagation of the Reformed faith” (Constitution Art III.3) and to “promote cooperation wherever possible and feasible on the local and denominational level in such areas as missions…” (Constitution Art III.4).
It is important to note a difference between the “network model” and the “NAPARC model”, though. While the NAPARC model seeks cooperation in missions, this cooperation is exercised within official ecclesiastical structures. In other words, because these churches have an official relationship, they are able to hold their church plants and church planters accountable for their actions, methods, and message, even if the plant occurs across denominations.
While we would hope that networks and coalitions would move toward a more ecclesiastical expression of unity in missions (the ministry of the visible Church must be our primary means for fulfilling Christ’s Commission), there are things we must also learn from them. These informal partnerships are leading to numerous church plants, sacrificial giving of time and resources, and deep commitments to evangelism and loving one’s neighbor. Though there have surely been ways in which NAPARC churches have cooperated in missions, their boldness in the spread of the gospel is surely worth emulating.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10:23)
Theological liberalism has brought denominational giants down to their knees. So much so, that the “Mainline” denominations would be unrecognizable to the ministers, elders, and members that founded them in the New World. It would be like a civilian, who had fled her war-torn city, returning to see nothing but ruins and saying, “I don’t even recognize this place”.
Jesus Himself warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) Paul echoed Jesus, saying, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
In that chapter of Acts, Paul not only warned the elders of the Ephesian church of impending danger, but he also charged them with protecting their church. Given that Christ’s Church is larger than a single congregation and seeing the pattern that was given throughout the Old Testament (elders & Sanhedrin) and the New (cf. Acts 15), church leaders regularly meet together in order to protect their sheep. They do more than this but not less, and NAPARC facilitates it because we find strength against sin in numbers. “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12)
In the 1970s, the Reformed and Presbyterian Church bodies united together in a council called NAPARC. They recognized that, though they came from different cultural backgrounds, they were united in the truths they confessed the Bible to teach and believed in “the desirability and need for organic union” between its denominations (Art. 2).
One practical way in which this council has begun to bring greater unity to its member Churches is through regular “discussion and consultation” (NAPARC Constitution, Art. 3.1). To the uninitiated, this may sound like the same sort of thing that happens at the coffee shop, pub, or Evangelical mega-conference. What is in view, though, are official church meetings; some of them are regional (“Presbytery” or “Classis”) and some are denominational (“General Assembly” or “Synod”). When these meetings are held, representatives from the other denominations attend in order to observe the matters being discussed, to address the body on behalf of their denomination, and to foster greater trust, appreciation, and partnership. This also takes place at a yearly NAPARC meeting, when official delegates convene to address matters of unity directly. The 38th meeting will be held in a month.
In my previous post, I discussed the foundation of Reformed and Presbyterian unity, the “Six Forms”. But it’s important to avoid potential misunderstanding. The unity that these churches established with one another was surely a commitment to a set of doctrines, but that doesn’t mean unity was relegated to the realm of abstract ideas.
When the Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity set out a summary of Christian doctrine, they also speak to the great callings of the Church, worship and the Christian life. In [corporate, i.e., “the Body”] worship, we are addressed by the Triune God, who renews His covenant of grace with us in Word and Sacrament, and we respond to Him with thanks and praise. The Christian life is also characterized by seeking to obey God’s Ten Commandments in our daily lives and liberty from man-made rules and regulations.
The unity that NAPARC Churches have with one another consists in both head and heart. It is a composed “of churches of like faith and practice [NAPARC Constitution, Art. 2].”
The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council first convened in 1975 because of a commitment to the biblical teaching that Christ’s Church ought to, ideally, be united. The multiplicity of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations did not originate in post-Reformation church splits; rather, these denominations were previously distinct from one another due to language barriers. But after these immigrants arrived in the “New World” and English and became the language of their worship services, it became apparent that they ought to establish ecclesiastical (i.e., churchly) unity with like-minded brothers and sisters.
The basis of this unity was not a common religious experience (those ebb and flow and will vary from person to person). Instead, the foundation of this new council was a shared understanding of God’s word, which is expressed by the Westminster Standards (i.e., Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, and Larger Catechism) and the Three Forms of Unity (i.e., Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt).
In other words, what the Presbyterians, who had spoken English and descended from the United Kingdom, and the Reformed, who had spoken languages like Dutch and German and came from Continental Europe, recognized was that there were actually “Six Forms of Unity”.