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The first General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church, as it was initially named, took place in Birmingham, Alabama, December 4-7, 1973. On their third day of business, the Assembly adopted the Book of Church Order as part of its constitution, adopted by-laws of incorporation, and set up a committee to deliberate on charismatic gifts. In their evening service of worship that day, the Rev. Don Patterson brought a message entitled “At the Crossroads.” Then, concluding the day’s business, the Assembly adopted a number of recommendations which established the denomination’s board of foreign missions, and finally, adopted a public declaration, to be issued on the final day of the Assembly. This public statement, “A Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the World, from the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church,” was a declaration of the character and intent of the new denomination:


A MESSAGE TO ALL CHURCHES OF JESUS CHRIST THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, FROM THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE NATIONAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Greeting:  Grace, Mercy and Peace be multiplied upon you!

As the National Presbyterian Church takes her place among the family of Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ, we take this opportunity to address all Churches by way of a testimony.We gather as a true branch of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. We affirm our allegiance to Him as the sole Head of the Church and the sole Law-giver in Zion. We remember that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against His Church.

The constituency of this new denomination for the most part have separated themselves from the Presbyterian Church in the United 
States. The decision to separate has come only after long years of struggle and heartache on the part of many of us to return the Church to purity of faith and practice. Principle and conviction entered into that decision, reached only after much soul searching and earnest prayer. We have reluctantly accepted the necessity of separation, deeming loyalty to Christ to take precedence over relationship to any earthly institution, even to a visible branch of the Church of Christ.

In much prayer and with great sorrow and mourning we have concluded that to practice the principle of purity in the Church visible,
 we must pay the price of separation. We desire to elaborate upon those principles and convictions that have brought us to that decision.

We are convinced that our former denomination as a whole, and in its leadership, no longer holds those views regarding the nature and
 mission of the Church, which we accept as both true and essential. When we judged that there was no human remedy for this situation, and in the absence of evidence that God would intervene, we were compelled to raise a new banner bearing the historic, Scriptural faith of our forefathers.

First, we declare the basis of the authority for the Church. According to the Christian faith, the Bible is the Word of God written and carries the authority of its divine Author. We believe the Bible itself asserts that it has been given by inspiration, or, more literally, has been “God-breathed” (II Timothy 3:16). “No prophecy ever came by the will of man; but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21). We declare, therefore, that the Bible is the very Word of God, so inspired in the whole and in all its parts, as in the original autographs, to be the inerrant Word of God. It is, therefore, the only infallible and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice.

This was the position of the founding fathers of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. We affirm with them in their “Address to All Churches” the application of this principle to the Church and her mission:

Let it be distinctly borne in mind that the only rule of judgment is the written Word of God. The Church knows nothing of the intuitions of reason or the deductions of philosophy, except those reproduced in the Sacred Canon. She has a positive constitution in the Holy Scriptures, and has no right to utter a single syllable upon any subject except as the Lord puts words in her mouth. She is founded, in other words, upon express revelation.Her creed is an authoritative testimony of God, and not speculation, and what she proclaims she must proclaim with the infallible certitude of faith, and not with the hesitating assent of an opinion.

We have called ourselves “Continuing” Presbyterians because we seek to continue the faith of the founding fathers of that Church.
 Deviations in doctrine and practice from historic Presbyterian positions as evident in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, result from accepting other sources of authority, and from making them coordinate or superior to the divine Word. A diluted theology, a gospel tending towards humanism, an unbiblical view of marriage and divorce, the ordination of women, financing of abortion on socio-economic grounds, and numerous other non-Biblical positions are all traceable to a different view of Scripture from that we hold and that which was held by the Southern Presbyterian forefathers.

Change in the Presbyterian Church in the United States came as a gradual thing, and its ascendancy in the denomination, over a long 
period of time. We confess that it should not have been permitted. Views and practices that undermine and supplant the system of doctrine or polity of a confessional Church ought never to be tolerated. A Church that will not exercise discipline will not long be able to maintain pure doctrine or godly practice.

When a denomination will not exercise discipline and its courts have become heterodox or disposed to tolerate error, the minority finds itself in the anomalous position of being submissive to a tolerant and erring majority. In order to proclaim the truth and to practice the discipline which they believe obedience to Christ requires, it then becomes necessary for them to separate. This is the exercise of discipline in reverse. It is how we view our separation.

Some of our brethren have felt that the present circumstances do not yet call for such a remedy. They remain in the Presbyterian Church in the United States. We trust they will continue to contend for the faith, though our departure makes their position more difficult. We express to them our hope that God will bless their efforts, and that there may come a genuine spiritual awakening in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

We trust that our departure may cause those who control and direct the programs and policies of the Presbyterian Church in the United States to reexamine their own position in the light of the Word. Our prayer is that God may use this movement to promote spiritual awakening, not only in the new Church, but also in that from which we have separated. If in the providence of God, such were to occur, we would gladly acknowledge that the grounds for separation and division would have to be reassessed.

We declare also that we believe the system of doctrine found in God’s Word to be the system known as the Reformed Faith. We are 
committed without reservation to the Reformed Faith as set forth in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. It is our conviction that the Reformed faith is not sectarian, but an authentic and valid expression of Biblical Christianity. We believe it is our duty to seek fellowship and unity with all who profess this faith. We particularly wish to labor with other Christians committed to this theology.

We further renew and reaffirm our understanding of the nature and mission of the Church. We have declared that Christ is King and only Law-giver in Zion. He has established the Church. His Church is a spiritual reality. As such it is made up of all the elect from all ages. This spiritual entity is manifested visibly upon the earth.

The Church visible is found wherever there are those who profess the true faith together with their children. As an assembly of those who do so profess this faith, we have established this denomination in the belief that it is a true branch of the Christian Church.

We believe the Church in its visible aspect is still essentially a spiritual organism. As such, its authority, motivation and power come
 from Christ, the Head, who is seated at the right hand of God. He has given us His rulebook for the Church, namely, the Word of God written. We understand the task of the Church to be primarily declarative and ministerial, not legislative or magisterial. It is our duty to set forth what He has given us in His Word and not to devise our own message or legislate our own laws.

We declare that the ultimate purpose of the Church is to glorify God. We believe this includes giving top priority to Christ’s Great Commission. We reaffirm the substance of the position taken by the founding fathers of our former Church regarding the mission of the Church:

We desire distinctly and deliberately to inscribe on our Church’s banner, as she now unfurls it to the world, in immediate subservience
to the authority of our Lord as Head and King of the Church His last command: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” We regard this as the great end of our organization, and obedience to it, as the indispensable condition of our Lord’s promised presence. It is the one great comprehensive objective, a proper conception of whose grandeur and magnitude is the only thing which, under the constraining love of Christ, can ever sufficiently arouse our energies and develop our resources so as to cause us to carry on with that vigor and efficiency, which true loyalty to our Lord demands, those other agencies necessary to our internal growth and prosperity at home.”

As a Church, we consciously seek to return to the historic Presbyterian view of Church government. We reaffirm in the words of that
 earlier “Address to All Churches” the following:

The only thing that will be at all peculiar to us is the manner in which we shall attempt to discharge our duty. In almost every department of labor, except the pastoral care of congregations, it has been usual for the Church to resort to societies more or less closely connected with itself, and yet logically and really distinct. It is our purpose to rely upon the regular organs of our government, and executive agencies directly and immediately responsible to them. We wish to make the Church, not merely a superintendent, but an agent. We wish to develop the idea that the congregation of believers, as visibly organized is the very society or corporation which is divinely called to do the work of the Lord. We shall, therefore, endeavor to do what has never been adequately done— bring out the energies of our Presbyterian system of government. From the session to the Assembly, we shall strive to enlist all our courts, as courts, in every department of Christian effort. We are not ashamed to confess that we are intensely Presbyterian. We embrace all other denominations in the arms of Christian fellowship and love, but our own scheme of government we humbly believe to be according to the pattern shown in the Mount, and, by God’s grace, we propose to put its efficiency to the test.”

As this new member of the family of Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ comes into being, we necessarily profess the Biblical doctrine
 of the unity of all who are in Christ. We know that what happens in one portion of His Church affects all of the Body of Christ. We covet the prayers of all Christians that we may witness and serve responsibly. We desire to pursue peace and charity with love towards fellow Christians throughout the world.

To the Presbyterian Church in the United States, in particular, we express our continued love and concern. You are our spiritual mother, in your arms we were nurtured, under your ordinances we were baptized, in your courts we were ordained to serve our Lord and King, and to your visible organization we thought we had committed our lives. We sever these ties only with deepest regret and sorrow. We hope that our going may in some way recall you to that historic witness which we cherish as our common heritage.

We greet all believers in an affirmation of the bonds of Christian brotherhood. We invite into ecclesiastical fellowship all who maintain
our principles of faith and order.

We now commend ourselves to God and the Word of His power. We devoutly pray that the Church catholic may be filled afresh with 
the Holy Spirit, and that she may speedily be stirred up to take no rest until the Lord accomplishes His Kingdom, making Zion a praise in the whole earth.

December 7, 1973
[Note: Again, this document was adopted on December 6th, but publicly issued on December 7th.]

Words to Live By:
The Latin phrase Semper Reformanda can be translated as “always reforming.” Yet some people take that to mean “always changing,” when in fact what the phrase implies is “always pulling back to what the Scriptures teach.” The Scriptures are our standard, both as to how we are to live as individual Christians, and for how we are to live as the Church—the Body of Christ. It seems so easy to forget that. But we must constantly be reminded of who we are as Christians, and what we are to be about, as the Church. And that’s where a document like the Message to All Churches can be a reminder of where we have come from, and where we want to go. More than anything else, we must always remember that our message is that of a risen Savior, God’s own Son, who redeems an elect people from their sins, that they might glorify and enjoy Him through all eternity.

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Today I thought I would dispense with the calendar and share a bit of recent research. This was fun and I thrive on this sort of thing:  Digging into the origins of practices can be illuminating. The following is offered without any comment on whether the practice is right or wrong. It is simply an exploration of how the practice came to be, and an observation that it apparently dates to a particular period in Presbyterian church history. As always, your insights and/or corrections are welcome and will be given due consideration.

On the Celebration of the Supper by the Courts

Over on the Puritan Board discussion group, ARP pastor Ben Glaser (Ellisville, MS) put forward a great question:—

“When did Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assemblies begin regularly having the Lord’s Supper at their meetings?”

The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) ended with the commissioners and attendees observing the Lord’s Supper. Each subsequent PCA General Assembly has opened with a worship service which includes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. And as per Rev. Glaser, such is the practice in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. So too with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod [1965-1982]. In short, the practice is widespread. Rev. Glaser’s own research indicated that the Associate Reformed Presbyterians began the practice of observing the Lord’s Supper at their Synod meetings in the 1930’s. He also had found that the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) has never adopted that practice.

So where did this practice come from, and when did it begin?

With a bit of digging, I began to look into the origins of the practice, and found that in the Southern Presbyterian Church, it wasn’t until 1912, at the 52d General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., that we find this:

The Standing Committee on Devotional Exercises presented the following resolution, which was adopted:

We recommend that it be a standing rule in our Assembly that immediately following the Moderator’s opening sermon, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper shall be celebrated, the retiring Moderator presiding.
— W.O. Cochrane, Chairman.

Switching over to the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (aka, Northern Presbyterian Church), we have to go all the way back to 1871 to find this report spread on their Minutes, at pp. 577-578:

6. The Lord’s Supper.—In regard to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in connection with the stated meetings of the judicatories of the Church, your Committee feel hardly prepared to recommend any absolute and universal change. And yet it cannot be denied, that grave objections exist as to the manner in which this sacred service is often observed. Too much, as a matter of form, crowded in between hours of pressing business, if not of exciting discussion, with little or no preparatory exercises, it is not strange that this, which should be the richest feast of blessing, the very climax of privilege, has so often proved dull and formal, and of little spiritual advantage. As originally instituted by our Lord, this sacrament was a “supper,” observed at an appointed “hour,” “when the even was come” of “the same night in which he was betrayed.” Might not many impressive associations be secured if, in the imitation of his example, it were, whenever possible, appointed for [I]an evening service[/I], exclusively distinct from all the business of the day?

“With desire,” he said, “have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” Ought not his ministering servants, in their stated assemblies, to guard against any influences which may tend to cool the ardor of their “desire” for the recurrence of the Sacred Feast?

“Let a man examine himself,” said the apostle, “and so let him eat that bread and drink that cup.” Ought not careful arrangements to be made for “attending thereto with diligence, preparation, and prayer”? And, unless due opportunity be given for such preparation, would it not be better, at our ecclesiastical meetings, not to appoint the formal service at all?
Your Committee recommend, that the attention of Judicatories be called to this important subject, and that, independent of past customs, they be enjoined to take such action with reference to it, as may seem most in harmony with the Divine arrangement, and best calculated to promote the spiritual welfare of themselves and the congregations with which from time to time they may meet.

Resolved, That the Committee of Arrangements for the next General Assembly be instructed, to provide for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, on the evening of the first day of its sessions.

Looking back in the older Minutes of General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (Old School), those prior to 1869, we find that meetings are opened and closed with prayer, as we would expect. And there is mention of devotional exercises, but there is no mention of any observance of the Lord’s Supper, so far as I could find.

Two possibilities occur then:
1. Either the observance of the Lord’s Supper at General Assembly (and presumably at Presbytery and/or Synod as well) was a practice that has its beginning among the New School Presbyterians.
or,
2. When Assemblies met for eight days or more, as they used to, the included Lord’s Day was an obvious time of worship and likely also for celebration of the Supper. So perhaps as Assemblies began to meet for six or fewer days, the need began to be felt for more structured times of worship, with inclusion of the Supper.

Testing the first thesis, I found in the Minutes of the 1868 New School Assembly, on page 42, this note:

The Assembly met, and united with a large congregation of Christian believers in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

That Assembly had convened on Friday, May 22d, 1868, and met Saturday in continuation. Then there is no reference whatsoever in the Minutes as to what that Assembly did on Sunday. Business continued again on Monday through the week, and on Friday, celebration of the Supper at 3 PM. Business continued on Saturday, adjourned, no mention of Sunday, and business concluded on Monday, June 1st. There was only the one observance of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, May 28th.

In the 1839 New School GA Minutes, on page 13:

On Saturday evening, a quarter before 8 o’clock, a Lecture preparatory to the sacrament was preached by the Rev. Dr. Williston; and on Sabbath, P.M., at 5 o’clock, the Lord’s supper was administered, in the First Presbyterian Church [Philadelphia], to the members of the Assembly, and to a large congregation of Christian Brethren, according to the previous arrangement.

Admittedly there, in 1839, celebration of the Supper took place on the Lord’s Day, but it was nonetheless administered to the Assembly. Also noted is the fact that the Supper was not observed at the opening of that Assembly, but rather was observed later while the Assembly was in session. Checking other New School Minutes, there does not appear to have been any celebration of the Supper in 1840, 1843, or 1855. But in 1849 and 1850, at each of those Assemblies, there was the observance of the Supper on Thursday, at 4 PM and 7:45 PM respectively.

So while they might have been spotty in their observance, there does seem to be a case for the idea that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the higher courts of the Church is a practice that comes out of New School Presbyterianism. It is only after the reunion of 1869-70 that the practice becomes regularized in the PCUSA.

Further research might be done on where the New School practice came from. Did it arise out of one of the New School Synods (Utica, Geneva, Genesee, or the Western Reserve)? Or perhaps one of the Presbyteries within one of those Synods? Or springing from the larger theology of the New School side, the practice might have even begun amongst the Congregationalists and so might show yet another influence of the Plan of Union. But that research will have to wait for now.

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