Posts Tagged ‘Erskine College’

Since I was preparing to fly out to Tucson to be examined for transfer to the Southwest Presbytery of the PCA, I was not at the called Synod meeting regarding Erskine.  I still have many close friends in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I still want the ARP to prosper.  But, I am not up on all the “in”s and “out”s of this matter.  (Dr. William Vandoodewaard -how’s that for a good Dutch name- has a short summary of the actions and responses to date.)

I have sat in many a Synod meeting prior to this discussing matters pertaining to Erskine.  I know many have a great desire to see Erskine reflect the commitments of the ARP as a Reformed and Evangelical denomination.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order.  In the 50’s and 60’s many in the ARP had fallen under the spell of neo-orthodoxy.  The seminary had been compromised.  But men from seminaries like Reformed, Westminster and Covenant were entering the denomination.  In the 70’s the problem came to a head in the battle over Scripture.  The historical Reformed view of Scripture was affirmed, and the neo-orthodox view was rejected.

But a denominational statement does not instantly change the minds of men.  Some held to their views, and some of those men remain in the denomination today.  There were no witch hunts.  Most of those who held a more neo-orthodox view of Scripture and theology have retired or are close to retiring.  It would appear that Erskine seems to represent this fading minority more than the traditional majority.  Like most evangelical colleges, they use “academic freedom” to embrace ideas unbiblical ideas.  Institutions tend to drift left over time.  That is, unless they have a group of people who call them back to orthodoxy.  (Erskine professor Bill Evans has a great article on how misrepresentations of inerrancy have run rampant to stir up fear.)

This is a rare thing.  The ARP and the SBC are the only two groups I know of who have moved left and then moved back to the right.  It is never done without kicking and screaming.  I visited Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly after Al Mohler became the President.  I was considering a Ph.D.  at the time.  The students were angry, fearing that SBTS would be destroyed.  The old, established faculty seemed to resent him.

Erskine is going through the same fear, the same concern.  The status quo is being challenged.  People feel alienated, as though their understanding of the faith is being questioned.  In some cases that is true.  But Erskine is not an independent institution.  It is part of the ARP and under its authority.  It continues to receive funds from the ARP.  It is being loved by the ARP, and they are trying to love it well.  But since kinder, gentler means have gone unsuccessful, these more drastic measures are a kind of tough love.  In this day and age such love is not welcomed but resisted.  After all, isn’t this part of our fallen human nature?

If you have time, pray for Erskine and the ARP.  They need a new President (and Philip Ryken would have been a great choice if he hadn’t already gone to Wheaton).  It will take a strong man, a principled yet gracious man to make the changes that are necessary to make Erskine representative of the views of the ARP.  Sadly this problem distracts the ARP from considering the cause of the gospel and the health of its congregations.  But, by the grace of God, Erskine may once again strengthen the ARP and help them fulfill the great commission.

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You will note two common letters in those initials, in sequence.  RP.  Both the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, North America trace their roots back to the Covenanters who withdrew from the Church of Scotland so long ago because Arminianism and an Episcopal form of church government had infected the Church of Scotland.

What came up at the ARP synod was our future.  If you were to put this in courtship terms, we talking about spending some time getting to know one another.  Our hands probably haven’t even brushed accidentally.  But in the interest of biblical unity, we are talking.

The ARP has about 27,000 members which means it is smaller than the small city in which I live and serve.  We are over 200 years old and have not caved in to liberalizing forces.  On the theological map, I guess you could say we are between the EPC and the PCA.  As a pastor, I would be in the segment adjacent with the PCA.  We are found primarily in the Southeast, though we have a new Presbytery in Canada.  There are more ARPs in the Pakistani synod than here in the US.  There is also an ARP synod in Mexico.  Not bad for a small, largely rural denomination.

The RPCNA is about 6,000 members in churches that are primarily in the North and  Midwest.  There is a congregation in Orlando, FL.  Many of you have probably heard of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA.  It is their denominational college.  Their seminary is The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary  in Pittsburgh.  (We, of course, have Erskine College and Seminary in Due West, SC.)  The primary difference would probably be that they are exclusive Psalm singers.  The ARP has a few congregations that sing only Psalms.  But this is the one issue that decides whether or not we ever consummate.  There will have to be lots of conversations before that ever happens.

I was duly impressed by their representative who spoke to our synod last week.  He was struck by the enormity of the issue, referring to the Gordian Knot.  But repeatedly went back to the biblical passion for unity purchased by the death of Jesus.

None of us knows how this will pan out.  But it would be great if there were fewer Presbyterian denominations out there- not because of decline, but because of union.  I think that would be a great testimony to the power of Christ, the love of Christ to lay aside peripheral issues when we have all the BIG issues in common (after all, we are Reformed and Presbyterian).  So, perhaps we’ll go out together and decide we really like each other, and can do more for the kingdom together than apart.  That would be a great thing.  But it may take awhile.

7 Years Later, an Update: The ARP has issued an invitation for the RPCNA to join them at Bonclarken for a joint meaning. I am not sure of all the logistics, but the ARP has agreed to only use the Bible Songs book and without instrumentation in deference to the convictions of their brothers. I say “their” since I am no longer an ARP pastor but serve in the PCA now.

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