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.

Kevin Easterday

7 years ago

I am a ruling elder and licentiate in the PCA, but I am not speaking for my church; this is merely my opinion. I would agree in principle with what Mr. Smith has said. Yet, I would also suggest a few factors for why we are in this situation in the PCA. First, it seems to me that the PCA was formed with a negative identity. In other words, they weren’t so much saying who they were, but who they were not. They were not the PCUS, nor the OPC. But saying who you are not is not sufficient identity. I am in no way trying to impugn the men who had the courage to do what they did. I am simply suggesting that they might have formed a better identity if they would have decisively said what they stood for, instead of mostly what they stood against. That may have been the product of the times, as this sentiment was strong in the country as a whole.

Secondly, I would suggest that the post-modern mindset of using the same terms, but assigning a much different meaning may be the cause of such diversity among those who would hold to the regulative principle. Because of redefinition, the regulative principle is interpreted much differently today than it was 40 years ago. In the same manner the political sphere reinterprets the U.S. Constitution, so also we have done with regards to the constitution of the PCA. We are almost becoming semantically paralyzed because we ignore what would have been plain when the BCO was penned, all the while complaining that it was not made clearer in the beginning. The fact is no one can see into the future to understand how it will be interpreted. But it is a flawed argument to use today’s acceptance of things; things which would not have been accepted 40 years ago, in order to recast the original meaning.

And thirdly, I would suggest that the modern mindset is to find justification for diversity, rather than continue to uphold “indefensible” traditions. This is rampant in our society. Statements are made by “learned” people who say that no one can defend marriage as the Bible defines it. And what’s worse, Paul told Timothy this would happen. Men will heap up many teachers to justify their lusts, all the while trying to silence the one teacher who is preaching the truth; that their lusts cannot be justified. Therefore, as Edwards preached, men are exceeding prone to bring their principles to agree with their lusts.

If we are to stem this tide, we must not give in to the modern mindset. And really, can anyone honestly say that the modern mind has not invaded and is pervasive in any faithful denomination? The only remedy is the gospel, and the only thing we can do is beg God’s mercy and ask Him, by His Spirit, to turn our hearts towards a right and proper understanding of these things. If we are to live “semper reformata,” our constant plea must be for wisdom and clear understanding. We can’t rely on the world to help us in this. We must rely on the Spirit who desires to lead us into all truth.


7 years ago

The Catholic Church has an old adage “lex ordandi, lex credendi.” Our law of prayer is the source of our law of belief. St. Paul himself appeals to hymns and liturgical songs as proofs for what he says. Our liturgies communicate the faith to our future generations. If we want to maintain unity in faith, it’s important to maintain unity in worship.

M. Roberts

4 years ago

On that day, after we have lost the hearts and souls of our society because we have not loved our neighbors and shared the hope that is within us, when America’s true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are so vilified that we must meet secretly in basements lest we be dragged from our homes and beaten (or killed), I hope that – as we meet in secret – we will find better things to do than squabble over musical tastes and styles.


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