Not all Presbyterian Churches are the same
Labels are often necessary for clear communication, but sometimes labels can be misunderstood. This includes the label “Presbyterian.” Outside of the world of Presbyterianism it is not always understood that there are actually many different Presbyterian denominations (just like there are numerous Baptist, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal and other denominations, as well as countless independent and non-denominational churches). This means that individual Presbyterians and Presbyterian churches do not all believe the same things, conduct church life in the same manner, or worship in the same way.
Nevertheless, it seems that many outside of our Presbyterian circles, especially many in the media and popular culture, just assume that whenever the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country makes a decision or takes an action it thereby speaks for all Presbyterians and all Presbyterian churches. As a result you will sometimes read misleading headlines that say things like, “The Presbyterian Church has decided on such-and-such…” (emphasis added).
The term “Presbyterian” is a perfectly fine term in itself. In fact, it is based upon a word found in the Greek New Testament, presbyteros, meaning “elder”; so it is actually a biblical word! Nevertheless the limitation of even good and otherwise-helpful labels like “Presbyterian” hit home to me this week.
Recently our church has been running advertisements both in a local newspaper (the News Herald) and a local radio station (WINT 1330 AM, “Integrity Radio”). In order to streamline our ad we used our abbreviated church name, “Lake Presbyterian Church (OPC)” (in the newspaper ad), or simply “Lake Presbyterian Church” (in the radio ad), instead of using our full name, “Lake Orthodox Presbyterian Church” (which is quite a mouthfull). It is not that we are somehow ashamed of our identity as Orthodox Presbyterian Christians; instead this decision to use our abbreviated church name was made for practical reasons such as saving space and time in the ads, and seeking to avoid the misunderstandings that could occur by using the name “orthodox” (which many associate with either Orthodox Judaism or Eastern Orthodox Christianity) in our advertisements.
As I learned this week, while seeking to avoid communicating a misimpression by avoiding the term “orthodox” in our church advertising, we may have unintentionally ended up conveying a different misimpression. I received a phone call from an older gentleman who had seen one of our ads in the paper. He politely informed me that he had heard that “the Presbyterian church” now approved of gay marriage, and he wanted to ask me if that was the practice of our church. He seemed relieved when I explained to him that our church belongs to a different Presbyterian denomination than the one which had made this decision, and that our church still holds to the biblical understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman (as stated in our confessional standards in places such as Westminster Confession of Faith 24.1; see Genesis 2:21-25 and Matthew 19:4-6 for some of the scriptural basis for our confessional teachings on the definition of marriage). I tried to explain to him that, while our chuch certainly does not advocate hatred against homosexuals, and while we welcome all people of whatever “orientation” to attend worship with us and to hear the gospel with us, at the same time our standard for faith and practice is not the ever-changing trends of contemporary culture, but the unchanging, transcultural standard of God’s Word, the Bible. (I expressed this to him in different words, but this was the gist of what I tried to communicate.)
I was glad that this gentleman called for clarification, and was happy for the opportunity to offer him the clarification he sought. But at the same time I wonder how many others who saw the same ad as he did have likewise come away from that ad with similarly wrong initial impressions of our church.
Maybe you, dear reader, have visited this website because you heard about us on the radio or saw our church ad in the newspaper. If so, I want to thank you for checking us out! And if you are unfamiliar with Presbyterianism in general or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in particular, then please understand that not all Presbyterian churches are the same, and that no one Presbyterian denomination (even if it be the largest one) speaks for all Presbyterians or all Presbyterian churches.
I would encourage you to get to know us better before you form an impression of us. Search through our website. Listen to some of my sermons. Read about the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. And come on out and visit us for worship! Feel free to call me or contact me by email if you have any questions. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, we’d love to have you come and check us out.
Below are a few resources I would recommend to those who are interested in checking us out further.
The doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (inclusive of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms):
The OPC Book of Church Order (inclusive of the Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for the Public Worship of God):
Fighting The Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by D.G. Hart and John Muether: