Meeting of the CEIR of the OPC with the CERCU of the URCNA

On March 22–23, 2006 the committees for ecumenicity of both the OPC and the URCNA met in Willow Grove, PA to further their ecumenical dialogue.

Present from the URCNA: John A. Bouwers, Chuck Dykstra, Gary Findley, Casey Freswick, Don Hoaglander, Todd Joling, Ralph A. Pontier, William Van der Woerd, Harry Zekveld.

Present from the OPC: Mark T. Bube, L. Anthony Curto, George W. Knight III, Th.D., Robert B. Needham, Jack J. Peterson, Jack W. Sawyer, Thomas E. Tyson, Peter J. Wallace, Ph.D., and G. I. Williamson.

The meeting was chaired by the Rev. Thomas Tyson.

The OPC has invited the URCNA to enter a relationship of “ecclesiastical fellowship” (equivalent to the URCNA’s “phase two” of ecclesiastical relations). The committees have been meeting annually to discuss these matters since 2002. The two committees are involved in producing a series of “Statements of Agreement,” in order to provide a clear picture to the General Synod of the URCNA in 2007.

The two committees have agreed on the wording of statements on 1) The Holy Scriptures, 2) The Confessions, 3) Subscription to the Confessions, 4) Church History (especially regarding the formation of the OPC and the URCNA), 5) Church Designations and Distinctions, and 6) Church Offices and Authority. The purpose of this meeting was to finalize the first six statements, and to begin working on further statements on worship, preaching, sacraments, ministerial training and discipline.

Each committee presented a written statement on worship, preaching, sacraments, ministerial training and discipline, followed by an amicable and profitable discussion, which demonstrated that there is much foundational agreement in all of these areas. Each communion is concerned to govern its worship practices by Scripture, to preach the whole counsel of God, to administer the sacraments properly, and to exercise Christian discipline faithfully. While neither the OPC nor the URCNA have de-nomination-run seminaries, both are committed to a thorough theological education for the ministry. While the age for receiving members by baptism to the Lord’s Table by a profession of faith may generally be lower in the OPC than in the URCNA, paedocommunion is not permitted in either the OPC or the URCNA.

While the resulting statements will focus on the agreement between us, we recognized that there are details of our church order and practice where there are differences between us, such as:

1) The URC does not generally lay hands on ruling elders at their ordination, while the OPC does.

2) The URC generally uses the word “church” to refer only to the local church and the holy, catholic Church, while the OPC also speaks of the “regional church” under the oversight of the presbytery and the “whole church” under the General Assembly as further manifestations of the church.

3) The URC requires ministers to preach catechetical sermons, while the OPC does not. Some OPC ministers would be uncomfortable with such a requirement since they are committed to preaching through books of the Bible. While the method of catechetical preaching produced considerable discussion there was general agreement that the whole counsel of God must be preached. The URC allows for the observance of special days and encourages special attention to Christmas and Easter in its church order, while the OPC does not have such a provision.

4) The URC requires the use of particular forms for sacraments, ordination, marriage, etc., while the OPC allows for greater liturgical freedom.

5) The URC Church Order prescribes two worship services per Lord’s Day, while this is not the practice in some OPC congregations.

The meeting was characterized by great cordiality and frankness as well as warm fraternal fellowship.