April 8, 1998
In your January 1998 Issue of The Outlook, at the top of page 9, under the heading RESTRUCTURING ECCLESIASTICAL FELLOWSHIP, please note the following introductory statement: “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church thinks it ‘flunked’ the test of dealing with the Christian Reformed Church and wants to avoid making the same set of mistakes twice. That was the message brought by the OPC Interchurch Relations Committee Chairman, the Rev. Jack Peterson…” As best I have been able to determine, including two conversations with him about this matter, this is an accurate quotation from Mr. Peterson’s remarks.
As a member of the OPC General Assembly Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR) since June of 1993, and therefore providentially in the position to have more than minimal involvement with and knowledge of that whole process which culminated in the severing of fraternal relations with the CRCNA, I take the strongest exception to the broad assumption of that (quoted) statement for the following reasons:
1. Reflecting on the extensive debate and voting of the last several OPC General Assemblies concerning the whole matter of fraternal relations with the CRCNA (including the 1997 G.A. in which the final vote to sever fraternal relations passed by a very large majority), I believe it is abundantly clear that a growing majority of G.A. Commissioners,year after year, wanted and expected unequivocal and substantial Biblical dealing with the corporate sines) in the CRCNA..
2. To the best of my knowledge, no identified, authorized or statistically valid poll of the OPC membership at large has ever been taken at any time to determine if “the church” thinks it “flunked” the “test” of dealing with the CRCNA. If the chairman of the CEIR thinks the OPC “flunked” the (unspecified) “test” of dealing with the CRCNA, he is entitled to such an opinion, but that opinion ought not to be implied or stated as representing the thinking of the OPC at large.
3. To the best of my knowledge, no court of the OPC has made such a declaration to the effect that such a failure (“flunk”) indeed took place.
4. In retrospect I do believe that we, as miserably imperfect, but blessedly redeemed sheep of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as committee members, certainly in some respects could have undertaken and accomplished our painful work in a better manner. But I also believe, unequivocally, that (in the aggregate), the OPC did what was righteous and Biblical in severing fraternal relations with the CRCNA by means of the measured steps we employed.
5. If “flunked” means only that we were instrumentally unsuccessful in stimulating the CRCNA to come to any admitted or observed corporate repentance, then I would agree that we “flunked” in that very limited and carefully defined sense alone. But I do not agree that real or presumed procedural language or other deficiencies in our inter-denominational discipline effort, therefore means that the whole process constitutes a “flunk;” in the sense that Mr. Peterson’s statement (as reported in your article) so generically implies.
6. That article statement, in its pejorative and broad wording, is so lacking in necessary definition(s) as to render it open to a number of ambiguous interpretations, the net effect of which, in my opinion, is to decrease, rather than increase, the kind of carefulness which honors the blessed name of Jesus Christ, the Head of His Church, and provides ecumenical communication which fosters the kind God-honoring interaction we presumably all desire.
Consequently, I very respectfully request that you print this “counter-perspective” letter in its entirety, lest the impression become widely accepted that there exists some kind of a denominationally approved assessment that our ecumenical effort directed towards the CRCNA somehow was significantly, or all wrong, or that a sizable block of OPC leaders thinks that.
Cordially, and with thanks, in Christ, be whatever consideration you grant this request.
Robert B. Needham CDR, Chaplain Corps, USN (Retired) Member: OPC Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations Pastor: New Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Hanford, California
P.S. The proper name of the OPC General Assembly’s Ecumenicity Committee is; The Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations.
cc: The Rev. Jack Peterson