George R. Cottenden
This month, when the General Assembly meets in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it will resume work on a directory for public worship. Two years ago, the Committee on Revisions presented to the 74th General Assembly its Amended Proposed Revised Version (APRV). This was the product of eighteen years of work by the Committee. At the 2007 and 2008 assemblies, the commissioners spent three full days reviewing the document, paragraph by paragraph. They proposed a variety of amendments. Some were adopted by the Assembly, while others were not.
By the end of the 2008 assembly, work had been completed on the body of the document, the part that is actually part of the Constitution of the OPC. Still to be considered are the suggested forms, which are not part of the Constitution and will be taken up separately. Under the procedure being followed, the next step is to open up the entire document for any final amendments, before voting on whether to send it to the presbyteries for ratification. The main purpose of that final review is to make sure that we haven't added amendments that conflict with one another or with other parts of the book. However, other, more substantive, amendments may also be considered. It should be remembered, though, that the past two assemblies have thoroughly considered, and rejected, several of the proposals that are still being made.
It has often been asked, "Why do we need to revise the Directory?" The decision to do so was originally made by the General Assembly way back in 1967. There isn't room here to rehearse all the reasons why a revision is needed, but they can be found in the Committee's reports in the Minutes of the last few assemblies. Reference has been made to a quotation in an article by the present writer in the June 2007 issue of New Horizons. In its broader context, that quotation gives one of the reasons why the Committee believes that a revision of the kind proposed is necessary:
The present DPW assumes the validity of Presbyterian and Reformed liturgical tradition without specifically indicating the scriptural underpinnings of that tradition. 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 God has blessed our church with many new congregations and many new membersincluding ministerswho have come from all sorts of backgrounds. This has presented the OPC with new pastoral needs. In particular, there has been a growing need for a fuller explication of the truth, goodness, beauty, and power of biblically Reformed worship. What could once be assumed must now be more thoroughly spelled out.
This reason has some bearing as well on the question whether the Church should have a directory or a "manual" for worship. A directory contains explicit directions regarding worship. It may also include advice, but it may require only what the Bible requires and forbid only what the Bible forbids. A manual would be a handbook of guidelines and principles that sessions could use as they saw fit in administering worship in their congregations. The fact is, however, that we have had a directory, and not a manual, as part of our Constitution since 1939. For the Committee to have proposed removing the Directory from the governing documents and replacing it with a nonbinding manual would have far exceeded the mandate given to it by the General Assembly.
What the Committee has recommended instead is to amplify the Directory with some of the characteristics of a manual, but to make clear in the language used what expressions are directive and what expressions are advisory. We attempt to do this more carefully and consistently than does the present Directory, which sometimes seems to mandate things, such as the placement of the "comprehensive prayer" before the sermon, for which there is no biblical warrant.
An issue that has been of concern to some is the matter of who may lead the congregation in worship, that is to say, who may conduct worship. More specifically, may nonordained persons play individual roles of leadership when the congregation is gathered on the Lord's Day for corporate worship? The concern is that by limiting such roles to ministers, ruling elders, licentiates, and, under limited circumstances, other men preparing for the ministry, the APRV lays down a restriction not required by the Word of God. Appeal is made to a 1991 study paper submitted to the Assembly by three members of a committee who argued for allowing some individual roles (short of leadership) in the worship service for nonordained persons. However, two other members of that committee submitted papers arguing, one of them with substantial biblical argumentation, against such a position. The Assembly took no action other than to refer all three reports to the Revisions committee to consider, which it did in preparing the APRV.
However one views the question of what constitutes leadership, what needs to be recognized is that the proposed revision is not more restrictive than the present Directory. If anything, it is a little less restrictive. The present Directory knows of no one other than the minister taking a leadership role in the service except, in an amendment that was added several years ago, ruling elders (DPW, III.8). The only other possible exception is in a brief reference to "the musical service" in DPW, III.6. It is apparent that the framers of the DPW did not see participating in the "musical service" to be a leadership function. The point is that if the APRV provisions in this matter violate the regulative principle, then so also do the provisions in the present Directory. The present Directory sets forth the worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and all ministers, ruling elders, and deacons of the OPC have said that they approve of it.
In a very real sense, the APRV is little more than the present DPW with its unspoken assumptions more clearly spelled out in the light of study of its historic antecedents, especially the Westminster Standards, the Westminster Assembly's Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645), the PCUSA's Directory for the Worship of God (1788), and forms from the continental Reformed tradition. In the judgment of the Committee on Revisions, the APRV does not prescribe anything that the present DPW does not already prescribe, nor does it proscribe anything that the present DPW does not already proscribe. If adopted, the APRV would have the same authority in the Church as the DPW does now, not more or less.
But why vote on a revision now, when it is obvious that some brothers and sisters do not agree with certain provisions in the APRV? Surely our goal should be a oneness of mind that is shaped by the Word of God. We have long debates in our presbyteries and in the General Assembly to try to persuade one another of what we believe to be biblical truth. This is as it should be. But, if unanimity were required to make a decision, no session, no presbytery, and certainly no general assembly could ever do its work.
Some of the positions reflected in the APRV will not be popular in the broader evangelical world either. However, the OPC has never held back from taking unpopular positions when those positions are warranted by the Word of God. It is that very fact that has often led to appreciation of our stands even by some who disagree with them. To be sure, this Assembly has the responsibility to judge whether everything required in the APRV really is either supported by the direct statements of Scripture or derived from them by "good and necessary consequence" (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.6). It must also make sure that things being advised are "according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed" (WCF, 1.6). In doing so, however, it should not disregard the careful labors of the last two assemblies as they worked through the entire document, paragraph by paragraph.
The prayers and labors of the Committee on Revisions over the last two decades have been with a view to aiding the OPC, and through her the broader church, more faithfully to worship our great God and Savior with understanding and devotion. Join with us in praying for this General Assembly, that its labors may minister to that end and that, through the debate, we may arrive at greater oneness of mind.
The author is chairman of the Committee on Revisions to the Directory for Public Worship. Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2009.