Twenty-Ninth General Assembly 1962 of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church


The 29th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was held in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, May 29 through June 1, 1962. The previous evening a devotional service was conducted by the Session of the Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church with Professor John Murray, moderator of the 28th General Assembly, preaching the sermon.

Of perhaps equal moment with the Assembly itself was the workshop-conference conducted the previous Saturday .and Monday. These workshops were sponsored by the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension and the Committee on Christian Education and, in the opinion of this reporter, can hardly fail to enrich the ministry of the church on a pronounced scale. The leaders of the eight sessions rendered outstanding service and often the discussion proved most fruitful as, for example, in consideration (If the relevance of the Gospel in current economic, social, and political ferment or in the remark of one pastor, “I found that I couldn’t begin to do what needed to be done by a seven·day week but that I could do a creditable job by a six-day week.”

Of the General Assembly itself two impressions stand out. First, here was a major church assembly where every consideration was based on an attempt to be loyal to Scripture. Differences of opinion abounded but apparently there was no single commissioner who questioned either the infallibility or the relevance of the Bible as the Word of God written. The second impression was that the church is still somewhat immature. This was evident in the slowness with which the Committee on Revisions to the Form of Government has, from year to year, presented its reports. Thus the Church has not yet come to grips with the anomaly of a denomination committed to covenantal theology whose teaching elders, whether pastors, professors or missionaries, have no membership in local congregations (they are members only of Presbytery, i.e. Classis). Nor has the question been settled as to whether the work of deacons is restricted to care for the poor or may properly include oversight of temporal affairs of the church. In the denomination’s first years a great many of her ministers were men in their late twenties or early thirties. After a quarter of a century they were humbler and that is in itself an indication that they were also wiser.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is indeed a young church. By every human standard it is a weak church. The statistical report showed a total baptized membership of just 11,700, not much more than some single congregations in the UPUSA Church. This group however is busy in an attempt to establish Reformed communities in 105 localities throughout the nation; it numbers 140 ordained ministers, many of them laboring as professors, missionaries, or writers; often it has given impetus to Christian Day Schools and otherwise oriented the culture in a Biblical direction in areas where the poison stream of modernism or the shallow stream of fundamentalism had robbed a once Presbyterian people of all but the last vestiges of their covenantal heritage.

The bulk of this Assembly was taken up in considering the work of the various standing (permanent) Committees and this consideration deepened the impression that the Church had significance beyond its numerical size. First to report was the Committee on Christian Education. Total sales of publications showed further sharp increase, with catechetical materials being especially in demand. It appears that each year there are more individuals and more individual churches, outside the denomination but often historically presbyterian, looking to the Committee for Biblically sound teaching materials. This was further shown in the fact that the first printing of the Trinity Hymnal was nearly exhausted in less than a year with some 25 per cent being sold outside the denomination. The report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension indicated that this Committee was aiding in the establishment of churches in fourteen fields and the Committee was encouraged by the Assembly’s enthusiastic endorsement of its plan to open three new fields a year.

The report of the Committee on Foreign Missions showed the Church had thirteen families engaged in work in Eritrea, Formosa, Japan, and Korea. Twelve persons were in correspondence with the Committee during the past year with a view to serving as foreign missionaries. In the face of the need to increase our outreach far beyond budgetary limits the Committee reported it was considering the feasibility of establishing a program whereby young people would serve for a period at their own or their families’ expense and also of exploiting the opportunity for technicians and professional people to further missionary work abroad while serving in “secular” employment in such countries.

The Committee on General Benevolence indicated that the work of the diaconates is expanding in areas beyond those easily handled on local levels and the Committee on Pensions made it clear that in material aspects the church is showing a commendable concern for the well-being of its ministers. The Assembly heard fraternal delegates from the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Eureka Classis of the Reformed Church in the United States, the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands. The report of the Secretary of the latter body relative to their membership in the Missionary Council of the World Council of Churches called for further correspondence. The sharpest debate of the Assembly was occasioned by the report of the Committee on Correspondence with other Churches to the effect that its chairman had, at the Committee’s request, acted as a representative of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at the conversations between Lutheran and Reformed representatives in Lancaster this past February. In the final vote, tantamount to approval, it was clear that the majority of the Assembly did not share the convictions of some that principle was compromised by such conversations.

The report of the Committee to Confer with Representatives of the Christian Reformed Church was heard with interest and the report of Dr. N. B. Stonehouse as fraternal delegate to the 1961 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church was the only such report printed in the official “Reports” provided for all members of the Assembly. During debate on an overture from the Presbytery of Ohio relative to possible pastoral representation on the Calvin College campus several delegates spoke warmly of the blessings they had received, or students from their congregations had received, while in Grand Rapids, and the word· ing of the Overture was changed to avoid possible misunderstanding. It was decided that the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension consider the advisability of continuing the ministerial contact with Orthodox Presbyterian students at Calvin College which has been begun by the Presbytery of Ohio.

For more than a decade the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has struggled with the “Peniel Question,” a debate centering about the matter of the Guidance of the Holy Spirit and the sole authority of Scripture. Last year’s Assembly received a report that seemed to provide the needed help in evaluating the alleged teachings of the Peniel Bible Conference as held by communicants of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and this Assembly, hopefully, initiated a fruitful course by electing a Committee to consider the Doctrine of Guidance without any reference to the “Peniel Question” as such, This Committee of three will study the teachings of Scripture and our subordinate standards on the subject, such study to include the role of the Scripture in guidance, the meaning of the communion of the Holy Spirit, and a setting forth of the proper realm of adiaphora. The Assembly appointed a Committee charged with utilizing radio and television for the presentation of the witness of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to the gospel, and with serving the local churches in the use of these means of communication.