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The Revised Directory for Public Worship

George R. Cottenden

The Committee on Revisions to the Directory for Public Worship, at the instruction of the General Assembly, has posted here on this website the draft of the Amended Proposed Revised Version (APRV) of the Directory that it plans to submit to the Seventy-fourth General Assembly in June. This is a momentous event for the Committee, some of whose members have been working on this task since 1989. Once the Assembly has completed dealing with this matter it will have brought to conclusion a process of revision to the Book of Church Order that began in 1948 when the Assembly erected a committee to revise the Form of Government. That work was completed in 1979. Revision of the Book of Discipline was completed and became effective in 1983. That leaves only the third part, the Directory for Public Worship, to undergo a thorough revision.

But why is a revision needed? Has not the present Book served us well? Indeed it has, and we should be grateful to the Lord for the men who, in so short a space of time at the beginning of our Church's existence, prepared this document. Its principles, basic structure, and even some of its terminology have strong grounding in, and continuity with, Presbyterian and Reformed liturgical history. For example, the beautiful definition of public worship found in I.5 " "communion with God in his public ordinances" " is drawn from the Westminster Assembly's Directory for the Publick Worship of God.

One of its most significant strengths-see II.2 and III.1"is its explication of worship as a meeting, ordained of the triune God, between him and his covenant people. One factor that made the OPC DPW unique in the history of American Presbyterianism was its conscious conflating of the American, Scottish, and continental Reformed traditions. Until this point, Presbyterian directories largely consisted of directions for pastors and sessions. The OPC DPW went beyond that by including statements of principles, including this core principle that worship is above all else a meeting between the triune God and his covenant people. In large part, this was drawn from the continental Reformed tradition. The DPW then draws out the practical implication that accordingly worship is "dialogical," with God addressing his people in some elements and God's people addressing God in other elements. This principle has always been at the heart of a Reformed understanding of worship, but the Orthodox Presbyterian Church codified this important Reformed principle of worship in its Directory.

The Committee has been conscious of the need to preserve and build upon these and many other important characteristics of our present Directory. Yet we were aware of the need for the Directory to be strengthened in some areas as well.

The present DPW assumes the validity of Presbyterian and Reformed liturgical tradition without specifically indicating the Scripture underpinnings of those principles and practices. Moreover, at times it assumes Reformed worship practices without spelling them out. Originally, this was not a weakness; the DPW reflected the shared assumptions of most of the ministers and ruling elders in the OPC. But as God has continued to bless our church and to add new congregations and new members " even ministers " from all sorts of backgrounds, and thus as the OPC confronts new pastoral needs, there has been a growing necessity for a greater explication of the truth, goodness, beauty, and power of biblically Reformed worship. What could once be assumed now must be more thoroughly spelled out.

The revision seeks to set forth more consistently the implications of the fact that public worship is "divine" (II.4) and that it is "before all else a meeting of the triune God with his chosen people" (II.2). The active, supernatural role of each of the Persons of the Trinity in a worship assembly is better explicated.

Closely related, the revision expresses greater harmony with the Church's Standards in its treatment of the sacraments. It makes clear our Confession's commitment to the Calvinistic doctrine of the sacraments (that the Supper is an objective means of grace by which our Lord supernaturally grants true communion, our Lord personally applies himself and his benefits to those who receive the sacrament in faith, and our Lord refreshes and refurbishes them for his service [see, for example, Confession XXIX.7, Larger Catechism #168, Shorter Catechism #96]) and guards against the understanding that the Supper is merely a devotional tool by which we examine ourselves, remember what our Lord did for us long ago, and recommit ourselves to his service.

In its membership vows the revision more clearly spells out the responsibilities of church membership and to the corporate character of our covenantal faith. It also adds for the first time an explicit confession of God as the Triune God, something that can no longer be simply assumed as implicit in the other vows.

The revision shows greater conformity to the fact that, according to our Standards, baptized covenant children are members of the church, albeit non-communicant members. On this point the present DPW betrays some accommodation to baptistic, revivalistic, individualistic elements in our religious culture. This is especially egregious when the DPW treats the public profession of faith by a covenant young person identically to the public profession of faith by a new convert from paganism, but other sections are also affected. The section on reception into communicant membership has been enlarged to parallel the treatment of these matters in Book of Discipline II, B.

The revision seeks to clarify the issues surrounding the leadership of public worship. As many have noted, III.8 is conspicuous in its stark incongruity with the rest of the document. It is clearly an amendment inserted into the DPW at some point without adequate regard for its consistency with the whole document. The issue of leadership has now been addressed more comprehensively first of all to explicate the scriptural rationale behind our practice (where we so unmistakably swim against the stream of modern evangelicalism), and then to reflect a genuine commitment to a true consensus, and to bring inner coherence to the DPW.

The revision is organized with a more logical outline formatted in a manner that makes it easier for a pastor to use it as a handbook. While this does result in the duplication of some material and therefore the lengthening of the book, the benefits to the pastor outweigh this perceived deficit.

For a fuller treatment of these and other matters, the reader may want to consult our report to the last General Assembly. The Committee has been in discussion with presbyteries, sessions and individuals throughout the past seventeen years. What we have been discussing though was always a work in progress. The Church, and especially the men who will be commissioners to the next General Assembly, now have a full six months to study the APRV in the form in which it will be presented and so to prepare for the consideration it will be given at that time. The prayer of the Committee is that the Lord will use this time in the life of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to teach us by his Word and Spirit about the kind of worship in which he delights. The study of these matters has been a tremendous blessing to those of us who have served on the Committee. We desire that the whole Church might share in that blessing as well.

Please click here to view the revisions.

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