Question #18: Is it a good idea for an EP church to be a part of a denomination that does not practice EP? If there is no EP denomination that meets our approval, is it ok to be an independent church?
For the Encouragement and Preservation of Biblical Worship
Question #18: Is it a good idea for an EP church to be a part of a denomination that does not practice EP? If there is no EP denomination that meets our approval, is it ok to be an independent church?
15 thoughts on “Question #18: Is it a good idea for an EP church to be a part of a denomination that does not practice EP?”
I have been wanting to deal with these questions for some time now. For myself, I am a member of a denomination that is not an EP denomination, however, my denomination is “friendly” to those of us who sing the Psalms only. The Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly (RPCGA) has a few EP churches but most sing a combination of hymns and Psalms.
Some might wonder if it is a good idea for an EP church to be in union with non-EP churches in this manner. The question is valid because we who hold strongly to the RPW believe it is a sin to sing unauthorized uninspired hymns in worship. In effect, we are joining with our brethren who are disobeying God in their use of uninspired hymns. This creates a problem that I hope to discuss here under this group of questions.
For those of us who are Presbyterian, or for that matter anyone in a denomination, we are always bound with godly men who share a difference of opinion on one issue or another. Whether it be over trivial matters or deeper doctrinal issues, we are bound to disagree on something. Perfect agreement is not the goal, or else we would be having church in our garages with our own families and no one else. Still, the subject of worship and what we sing to God is pretty important. We don’t want to trivialize it. But what we don’t want to do is to feel driven to independency because there is no perfect denomination to stroke our EP beliefs.
Is independency an option?
Can we live with our non-EP brethren?
Is EP important enough to leave a denomination over?
How can we dwell together in unity?
I would love to hear from some of our brethren who are part of larger denominations that support their Psalm singing. Give us some council here if you have some wisdom to impart. For those who are independent, how do you justify your lack of oversight with the Scriptures? Is there no denomination that you can join with?
I would add that it is a great blessing to dwell together with other churches that may not agree with us on Psalmody. It is a pleasure to find men who are not threatened by our exclusion of uninspired hymnody. We must confess that this attitude is quite rare. I give a great deal of credit to those men who are patient with us in our more strict beliefs. They have the right attitude and should be commended for allowing us to be with them.
It should be that the Psalms would bring us all together instead of being the cause of division. We can all agree that singing the Psalms is allowed in Scripture. The best attitude, of course, on the part of our non-EP brethren would be to turn to the EP position in order to allow us all to be one church. If we cannot achieve that goal, I am happy to be under the oversight of men who will allow me to act in accordance with my beliefs regarding the RPW. I am assuming there are many Presbyterian groups that would not allow an EP church to exist within their numbers.
The fact is that the EP position is a great threat to the liberties that are [illegitimately] enjoyed within our churches today. It is good to find men who are not threatened by our beliefs. Would that more denominations were more open to those of us who are EP.
There are various and sundry reasons why some EP churches don’t join existing denominations. True, none of those denominations are perfect. All have some imperfection or compromise that is unattractive. But even an imperfect denomination is better than independency. We are Scripturally allowed to dwell among those who are imperfect, we are not allowed to dwell alone.
I see your arguments, brother, and whilst I appreciate the irenicism displayed, I am left with some grave concerns. In particular if denominations can be mixed on the worship issue, is it right to remain in one that deliberately overthrows its former EP position? The Free Church of Scotland is a case in point. Are you asserting men should just disregard their vows and quietly accept the defection? Isn’t there appalling guilt in such inaction?
“Are you asserting men should just disregard their vows and quietly accept the defection? Isn’t there appalling guilt in such inaction?”
No, absolutely not. It seems to me that the case of the Free Church of Scotland is one in which a church committed to the principles that include EP chose to abandon that official position. In that particular church, men who had made certain vows were left with a decision to either leave and uphold their vows or stay in violation of them.
In our situation, we have a group of churches bound together with differing beliefs. While I would certainly like for all of our churches to uphold a strict understanding of the RPW, the fact is that we all do not. But we have all come together with that understanding ahead of time, and as such we have allowed liberty in this area. I think liberty here is better than independency. Remember, we aren’t talking about just simply Reformed doctrine in general, we’re talking about singing the Psalms to the exclusion of other songs. This position angers people, so much so that we who are EP are outcasts and left with very few options. This option may not be ideal, but it can work.
Is this a subject (EP) which could warrant a church leaving to find a more consistent denomination? Absolutely. This matter is important enough. However, we are left with the following questions, “Where would I go?” I could solve the problem of worship, but I am left within a denomination such as the RPCNA that doesn’t hold to the original form of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). So other problems are introduced. I love the RPCNA, I just have not found it to be the answer to our dillemma of finding a denomination in which we would all agree on the issues that are important to me.
Speaking of pie in the sky, if we could get all of our Psalm singing churches to get along, I suppose it would be best for us to be a part of the same group. Again, not going to happen.
The original question is one that I would like to see discussed. Can a denomination exist with EP and non-EP churches? Are we who are EP compromising in a way that is detrimental to our convictions of the RPW?
Thank you for your considered reply. However, just to be crystal clear, am I right in concluding you think it WRONG for brethren to remain in a ‘mixed’ EP-Non EP denomination that was formerly explicitly EP, especially where this entails going back on one’s vows?
I am intrigued by your remarks re the RPCNA not holding to the original form of the Westminster Confession. I had been under the impression they were the only USA presbyterians that did- obviously naively! Is the departure from the WCF sufficient to warrant remaing aloof from them, in the circumstances of no better EP alternative?
Finally, what of the links to Free Church of Scotland people on here who have been instrumental in dismantling its EP position? The FcoS argument is that this issue never was important enough to divide
otherwise unified brethren. They also argue both points of view will continue to ‘permitted’ in the denomination according to local views and individual conscience. This seems quite unworkable, long term, to me, quite apart from the princiole involved
…what I mean is, that it assumes somehow in this ‘mixed’ enviroment there will not arise division on theissue at LOCAL level, ie within not just congregations but within Kirk Sessions, with various permutations of elders v minister, or some elders v minister and other elders, etc. It could only really work, in my view, if there were clearly demarcated EP and non EP congregations and both on offer in each area. There is also the problem of sustaining the argumentation for EP within the training college where one view or the other must prevail. An EP, after all, that is prepared to put up with non EP, is not actually EP by definition, is it?! I find the whole thing chaotic and it is lamentable the Free Kirk has defected to such an extent to get itself into this mess.
You ask some good questions here. I don’t really know if I have the answers, but here are some thoughts:
Regarding: “am I right in concluding you think it WRONG for brethren to remain in a ‘mixed’ EP-Non EP denomination that was formerly explicitly EP, especially where this entails going back on one’s vows?”
I am not sure on this one because a man would certainly be warranted in his leaving, however, staying and fighting would have merit as well. I have never been a part of an old denomination that I wanted to stay and fight for. This is a tough one. I have been encouraged by the stories of the men who have left over the issue of Psalmody, though I don’t think it has to be so for every man involved. I would leave.
Regarding the RPCNA, they have a Testimony that is added to the WCF. I was using that as an example to say that we could find “flaws” in any of the denominations that are known for being EP. I am not sure it’s a good idea to jump into a denomination simply because its EP, we have to examine the other distinctives as well. Though, if I had not found a home within the RPCGA, I would most certainly consider the RPCNA before I would ever think about being independent.
Yes, I agree that the FCS situation is quite sad. By abandoning its long established position it has created these divisions that extend all the way down to the Session level. I suppose one reason why we are able to coexist in my denomination is that we have determined within each church what our standards of worship will be. There have been no vows to uphold a denomination devoted to the RPW.
I wonder about your statement on being EP and tolerating the non-EP position. I feel this way at times, however, I think it is wiser for us to have a hand extended at all times to our brethren who do not hold to EP. If I want to advance the cause of EP, I must be a good ambassador for the cause. By closing all lines of communication I remove those opportunities to teach others about proper worship. Some may see that as a compromise. That’s OK. Maybe it is. But I know what its like to be ignorant of God’s commands regarding worship. When I was in that place of ignorance, I wish someone who had more wisdom had been holding out a hand to help me along. Also, we live in a time of gross ignorance regarding the worship of God. Abandoning all who have not “arrived” isn’t always the best approach when our numbers are so very few.
Understandably, our denominational seminary does not promote exclusive Psalmody.
I don’t really feel qualified to answer your questions for the reason that I am a Baptist. However, I have recently had a decision that I had to make in life that was similar to this. I am an EP Baptist that was transferred to a town with a couple of semi-reformed baptist churches and an EP RPCNA church. We attend the RPCNA church. EP was not the sole reason that we chose to attend the RPCNA church. However, it was part of the fact that the church is more reformed in worship. This view of worship trumped my views on baptism. This is a small scale example that I think can be expanded. My point is, if there is a choice between being a part of a denomination that worships in a scriptural manner and one that allows churches that do not, why not choose the first? There are several sound denominations that follow the RPW including EP (RPCNA, Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and Free Church of Scotland Continuing). I think that generally speaking, we are talking about more than just EP. Churches that do not follow EP usually don’t follow other Scriptural guidelines in regard to worship either. However, I understand what Mark is saying as well in not abandoning those are not exactly like us and it is a valid point from someone I respect on the issue. I guess I’m the last person that should be giving denominational advice since I am a Reformed Baptist. 🙂
You are certainly qualified! You illustrate for us just how difficult these questions can be. We all have discovered through years of trial and error that every denomination has flaws. I love your example of comparing EP to baptism. Obviously, the issue of baptism is extremely important to you, however, when you had to choose between the two you were faced with a very difficult decision. This hits home with me. When I was wrestling with the whole worship issue and I eventually was driven to EP, worship quickly moved to the top of my list of “life altering principles”. One could easily make the case that we as human beings were created for worship. There is no higher element to consider when choosing a church or a denomination. There are several considerations that are near the top, but it would be hard to find anything more important than worship. This is part of the problem in our churches today, worship isn’t that important.
So I get what you are saying when you chose EP over baptism. Great food for thought…
Hello, All. Just a few thoughts from a peon.
“Is independency an option?”
I think independency is *rarely* a viable/biblical option, particularly since there are so many Reformed & Presbyterian denominations in existence (and that, to our shame). I believe that we can, and must make all efforts to, live with our non-EP brethren, but this does not include “caving” by introducing/permitting uninspired hymnody into the worship service. Rather, this means – whether on a Presbyterial level, or some other forum – that we can come together and discuss these things. This means that, just as the Apostles and Elders of the earliest Church came together to hash out things exhaustively at the Jerusalem council, we should be willing to do the same. What is regrettable is that all too often, it’s easier to break away than work through the difficulty of discussion, prayer, vigorous yet charitable debate, and all of the efforts which accompany it.
“Is EP important enough to leave a denomination over?”
There simply is no easy or blanket answer for this. As has already been noted, if it required a minister/member, etc. to violate a lawful vow made, then said minister should exhaust all lawful means of redress and, if no ground is made, look for another Presbyterian denomination elsewhere, or – if such cannot be immediately be done, he might refuse to be a minister, until such a time presents itself where he may take up ministry under proper authority again.
“How can we dwell together in unity?”
Good question. Not sure I have the answer. But if we would take up more the duty of closet prayer, as well as having a charitable esteem of our brethren (within lawful bounds), and be willing to discuss these things, that’d be a good start. I’m thankful for all of the Erastians, Anglicans, Independents, Presbyterians, et al. were willing to come together for years and pray/talk/work things out, giving us that beautiful System of Doctrine in the Westminster Standards.
Just imagine what we wouldn’t have today if they’d all have stayed in their respective corners, refusing to come together? I’m not preaching unguarded ecumenism here, but rather *attempts* for professing Christians to come together and debate the merits of this or that. Even acknowledging that both the original Standards, as well as the American Revisions themselves, all point to the Psalter being the only acceptable form of sung praise in the worship service would be a good beginning.
Thanks for this site, Pastor Mark.
As a member of the what could be called the “original” EP congregation in the OPC, it is certainly not easy being EP in a non-EP denomination. Our experience is that the OPC is grudgingly tolerant of EP. By that I mean it is not openly hostile 100% of the time. Of course it doesn’t help that we also stand against the observance of holy days other than the Lord’s day, (e.g. no christmas, easter, etc, so called).
It also places barrier for true fellowship, because non-EP are by definition worshiping in vain, because they are teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.
The reality of the matter is that non-EP denominations are well, dead ends (historically speaking). The reason annexed to the second commandment and the example of Jehu and the Northern Tribes of Israel sort of make it perfectly clear that if churches do that which evil in the sight of the Christ departing not from the sins of Jeroboam which made Israel to sin, or it’s contemporary expression of the singing of non-inspired song where God has required the Psalms, he will visit them for three to four generations but, after that we have no reason to expect there to be a “church” there any longer. The “institution” might remain, but a church of Christ, it will not likely be, but rather a synagogue of Satan. A brief look at Reformed church history in the USA from 1740 through current, will more than demonstrate that.
However, since Independent Presbyterian is, well, oxymoronic, a congregation really does need to be a part of a Christian church. When the days of visitation are over and the denomination in question has slid finally into apostasy, then it has to go and find a continuing church to be part of.
However, being an EP denomination is not a panacea, nor a guarantee of God’s favor. The RPCNA for example, voted in its Synod in 1939 to ordain women as ruling elders, and by God’s grace that did not get approved by a sufficient majority of the sessions, but well, that didn’t happen in a vacuum. The RPCNA in the late 1800’s departed from the pure and entire worship of God by substituting Welch’s for the wine in the Lord’s Supper. While the RPCNA resisted the lie of Isaac Watts that made the church to sin, it fell hook line and sinker for Welch’s counterfeit. Total abstinence was so important to the RPCNA that they bound the consciences of their members and officers. Despite Christ’s own example and command they also went the way of the doctrines and commandments of men. If ever there was a suggestion of Satan regarding worship (as we are warned against in WCF 21), the use of pasteurized grape juice in stead of wine is it.
Now the RPCNA by God’s grace no longer bind’s the conscience of its officers or members in this matter any longer, it still permits the use of Welch’s counterfeit, sort of like how Judah in the days of of Manasseh, after his repentance, even after his repentance, sinfully worshiped in the high places, but the the LORD their God only.
Remember, the second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship as God has appointed in his Word.
While EP is certainly necessary to pure, it is hardly “entire”.
Hello, brethren, once more!
Re your comments about the legitimacy of staying in to fight to regain EP where it has been explicitly repudiated, I feel it is only right to point out the defecting Free Church of Scotland has made it clear that the issue is now settled- the denomination is officially ‘mixed’ psalms and hymns and any who try to alter this back to EP will be disciplined. Personally, having taken such vows I could not knuckle under such a regime change with clear conscience. I am unware that remaining EP Free Kirkers intend a rear guard action. One simply encounters whining dismay when the vows specifically call for us to maintain, defend assert. The wording could scarely be stronger!
Do you know if the policy of disciplining those who want to revert back to EP is written somewhere or in an official document? I was under the impression that churches could remain EP if they so desired?
What i meant was that those who understand that their vows meant repulsing any inroads of non EP not just defending their own ‘small congregational corner’ have made no attempt to get this reveresed throughout the denomination. That in my book is a scandalous dereliction of the duty enjoined by those vows. It would be naive to think this new policy of personal preference can be cleanly and peacefully introduced. Nor can it by any stretch of the imagination work in the favour of EP. It will create disunity at LOCAL level, short of a policy of parallel EP and non EP congregations in each area. This airy assurance is a charade and the better men realise this but prefer to mount no serious counter action , allowing grumbling to act as a sop to conscience. I do not believe that is at all good enough, indeed it is both pathetic and disgraceful.
Sorry, on the point of a written record of this intention to discipline EP counter attacks, I think it should be clear from the transcripts of this year’s Annual May General Assembly. Using the draconian ‘line written in the sand not to be crossed’ strategy of the 2000 split, it was explicitly stated the matter could not be raised again without liability to discpline. The innovators are not patient people with their perceived ‘turbulent priests’!!