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Worship and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

William H. Smith shares several thoughts on the conservative movements currently forming within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). As a member of (and now pastor-elect in) a sister denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), I found his comments on worship to be most interesting.

I have said before, and will venture to say again that one of the most consequential decisions made by the PCA early on was its decision not to have a real Directory for Worship. Though this avoided a fight, and though the consequences were not foreseen by those who voted in favor, the effect of this decision has turned out to be to allow virtually anything in worship so long as one can convince himself it is allowed by Scripture and could somehow be subsumed under some understanding of the regulative principle.

Now you can go from PCA church to PCA church and not have a clue you are visiting churches of the same denomination. Despite the near universal willingness to have to diversity in “worship styles” I am unconvinced that the diversity is not diversity of substance or the triumph of style over substance. I just don’t see how you can have real unity of doctrine and spirit without unity in the way of worship.

The diversity of worship is often identified as a key differentiating factor between the OPC and PCA. There is certainly a large amount of overlap, but generally speaking, I believe it’s safe to say there is a broader range of diversity in the PCA. And given the recently adopted revisions to the OPC’s Directory of Public Worship, it appears this will certainly be the case for some time.

But worship isn’t the only difference; there are several issues in my opinion. It’s important to note that the OPC voted itself out of existence twice in order to join its close brethren. For various reasons it didn’t work out, and there are even more obstacles to union now than there were 30 years ago.

Rev. Hill identifies a significant tension and suggests that each of the distinctive groups in the PCA could find happy homes in other NAPARC churches or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). It will be up to the people of the “movements” within the PCA to substantiate his thesis or prove him incorrect.


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