PCA vs RP vs OPC Differences

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RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hello All,

This has probably been asked before but I wasn't able to find details through searches. Can somebody provide a brief overview of the differences between PCA, RP and OPC presbyterian churches?
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
As an outsider, here is what I know, and I am certainly interested in being educated by some presbyterians on this site:

PCA - large denomination, came out of the PCUSA, wide spectrum from solidly confessional to trending towards "woke", has been trouble in recent years
RPCNA - small denomination but very old, exclusive psalmist (no instruments), confessional, solid
OPC - small denomination started in the 1930s through the efforts of J Gresham Machen and others, confessional, solid

Of the three, the RPCNA is the only one that practices exclusive psalmody.

And now I will wait for actual presbyterians to correct/add to my basic understanding. :D
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Just a correction on the PCA. The PCA came out of the PCUS before it (the Southern Presbyterian church) merged with the UPCUSA (the Northern Presbyterian church) to become again the PCUSA. The confessionalists claim the PCA was founded to be a continuing old school Presbyterian Church, continuing the stance of the PCUS conservatives in the first half of the 20th century in the PCUS. Others, those against strict confessionalism not surprisingly, say that was not so clear. The PCA has had a fight between the ever shrinking confessionalists and the broad evangelicals, which are now apparently progressives as far as the labeling, since at least the merger with the RPCES in 1982 if not since the founding in 1973. The subscription battle was lost with the forcing through of good faith subscription in 2002-4ish (I forget the year) and the stark downgrade grew at a really fast pace since then mirroring the swift changes in the country. Covid prevented this year's GA but the PCA is dealing with wokeness as far as racial issues and accepting A-side 'celebrate' gay men in the ministry. You had one or two small denominations form last year, by those giving up and leaving the PCA, one oddly ditching baptism as a confessional requirement, and one aiming to be more a mix of Old School New School, last I heard. One vocal conservative pastor's church I pay attention to as far as those visibly fighting the good fight, left for the ARP this year.
OPC has tinges of the issues in the PCA but nothing near the scale.
RPCNA is relatively serene compared to all that but has its own internal and different issues.
Both OPC and RPCNA benefit from small representative higher courts of their churches rather than the convention style PCA GA dominated by the permanent bureaucracy which is typically more in the control of the progressives.
If you are blessed to live where all three have churches, choose carefully, because all three can be like a box of chocolates.
 

G

Puritan Board Senior
In the PCA you literally could walk into anything from women being deacons (though not ordained), no psalm singing ever, American flags and Jesus images in the sanctuary, laymen and lay women being allowed to openly pray during a called worship service, and mass celebration of the RC Holy Day’s during worship services. And yes, I can provided sources for the above.

The PCA also lacks accountability in worship because only the Baptism & Sacrament chapters of their own DOPW are binding, the rest is NON-binding guidance. So add that to the “good-faith” subscription and you get to the foundation of the wide variance in the PCA. But even the chapter on the Lord’s Supper is not likely to always be followed nor censured for abuses.

However there are still solid and healthy PCAs around that avoid all of the above. I came from the SBC and only have the PCA direct experience. Word on the street is the OPC is much more consistent in liturgy from church to church. But if you read the BCOs for the OPC and PCA you will realize that on paper they are essentially siblings. However, I would say it seems the OPC generally maintains more integrity with their constitution.

RPCNA is the more confessionally conservative of the 3 in my opinion. However, they do currently allow for women to be Ordained as deacons (though the PCA and OPC do not offcicilly allow women ordination). RPCNA is not friendly to taking oaths required to work for the federal government or voting as it relates to asking others to take said oaths. On a positive note, they are exclusive psalmist and will not use instruments. I wish I had an RP or FPCOS (cont.) in my area! However I pray the Lord will keep reforming our local body, whom I love and seek to serve.:detective:
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
PCA - large denomination, came out of the PCUSA, wide spectrum from solidly confessional to trending towards "woke", has been trouble in recent years
RPCNA - small denomination but very old, exclusive psalmist (no instruments), confessional, solid
OPC - small denomination started in the 1930s through the efforts of J Gresham Machen and others, confessional, solid

PCA - a medium sized denomination which came out of the PCUS (formerly PCCS); later merged with the RPC,ES which emerged from a merger of breakoffs from the Associate Presbyterians and breakoffs from the OPC.

RPCNA - a small denomination which was never part of "mainstream" Presbyterianism in the US

OPC - a small denomiation which came out of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

All three are in confession through NAPARC.

All three adhere to the Westminster Standards, although the RPCNA does qualify Westminter via its "Testimony" and some PCA churches are so loose in their subscription that the claim to be confessional requires significant intellectual gymnastics.
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
Just a correction on the PCA. The PCA came out of the PCUS before it (the Southern Presbyterian church) merged with the UPCUSA (the Northern Presbyterian church) to become again the PCUSA. The confessionalists claim the PCA was founded to be a continuing old school Presbyterian Church, continuing the stance of the PCUS conservatives in the first half of the 20th century in the PCUS. Others, those against strict confessionalism not surprisingly, say that was not so clear. The PCA has had a fight between the ever shrinking confessionalists and the broad evangelicals, which are now apparently progressives as far as the labeling, since at least the merger with the RPCES in 1982 if not since the founding in 1973. The subscription battle was lost with the forcing through of good faith subscription in 2002-4ish (I forget the year) and the stark downgrade grew at a really fast pace since then mirroring the swift changes in the country. Covid prevented this year's GA but the PCA is dealing with wokeness as far as racial issues and accepting A-side 'celebrate' gay men in the ministry. You had one or two small denominations form last year, by those giving up and leaving the PCA, one oddly ditching baptism as a confessional requirement, and one aiming to be more a mix of Old School New School, last I heard. One vocal conservative pastor's church I pay attention to as far as those visibly fighting the good fight, left for the ARP this year.
OPC has tinges of the issues in the PCA but nothing near the scale.
RPCNA is relatively serene compared to all that but has its own internal and different issues.
Both OPC and RPCNA benefit from small representative higher courts of their churches rather than the convention style PCA GA dominated by the permanent bureaucracy which is typically more in the control of the progressives.
If you are blessed to live where all three have churches, choose carefully, because all three can be like a box of chocolates.
Can you explain what ARP is and your thoughts on that denomination? (I’m pretty certain I know who you’re referring to and have high regard for him.)
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
All three adhere to the Westminster Standards, although the RPCNA does qualify Westminter via its "Testimony"

I'll clarify this. The OPC and PCA hold to the American version of the Westminster Standards. The RPCNA holds to the original Westminster Standards, and its Testimony acts as "applying Scripture truth to the contemporary situation."
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I'll clarify this. The OPC and PCA hold to the American version of the Westminster Standards. The RPCNA holds to the original Westminster Standards, and its Testimony acts as "applying Scripture truth to the contemporary situation."
I had this conversation with Ray Joseph a very long time ago and he essentially granted after my pointing it out, that whether you are the OPC/PCA with a changed text of 23.3 or the RPCNA with a Testimony that rejections everything in 23:3 after the colon, it amounts the same thing. But I would much prefer to change one's confession to reflect what a church believes and avoid enshrining a text of a confession that one doesn't believe.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Can you explain what ARP is and your thoughts on that denomination? (I’m pretty certain I know who you’re referring to and have high regard for him.)
Well, it is the only Presbyterian denomination of the mainline that fought back from a liberal decline and turn things around. It has gotten more conservative too I think though some effects still there. It has women deacons like the RPCNA; think of it as the RPCNA but having rejected exclusive psalmody earlier in the last century. Right now if I was looking [for my church] to change denominations where I am, I would have ARP higher on the list than OPC. The ARP may not be any better on the Sabbath but I don't know that, but I've been told by someone in the presbytery for this area that the OPC will disappoint if the Sabbath is an important issue to me.
 
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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
I had this conversation with Ray Joseph a very long time ago and he essentially granted after my pointing it out, that whether you are the OPC/PCA with a changed text of 23.3 or the RPCNA with a Testimony that rejections everything in 23:3 after the colon, it amounts the same thing. But I would much prefer to change one's confession to reflect what a church believes and avoid enshrining a text of a confession that one doesn't believe.

There's more to the change than 23.3 that the American Church has brought about. There's also getting rid of the Pope as the antichrist, which is a major doctrine with major implications.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
There's more to the change than 23.3 that the American Church has brought about. There's also getting rid of the Pope as the antichrist, which is a major doctrine with major implications.
I was only addressing what seemed to be the implication that the RPCNA holds to the original confession; it doesn't. It changes it with it's second confession, the Testimony.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
There's more to the change than 23.3 that the American Church has brought about. There's also getting rid of the Pope as the antichrist, which is a major doctrine with major implications.
You got me curious because I'd never checked. Why is this statement in the Testimony? The testimony says, 'Many antichrists will be present in the world throughout history. Prior to Christ’s coming the final “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. He will be destroyed by Christ.'
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
Well, it is the only Presbyterian denomination of the mainline that fought back from a liberal decline and turn things around. It has gotten more conservative too I think though some effects still there.
You're absolutely right we fought back! You may still find some remaining vestiges of "looseness" here and there, but its definitely being stamped out (Soli Deo Gloria!). The ARP is reforming and it's a beautiful thing.
 
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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
You got me curious because I'd never checked. Why is this statement in the Testimony? The testimony says, 'Many antichrists will be present in the world throughout history. Prior to Christ’s coming the final “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. He will be destroyed by Christ.'

It’s stating that there are many antichrists and also the antichrist - the Pope.

I was only addressing what seemed to be the implication that the RPCNA holds to the original confession; it doesn't. It changes it with it's second confession, the Testimony.

The Testimony isn’t a second Confession. I already explained that. And while we do not hold specifically the original confession because we deny like 2 places, it is still the original in our Constitution contrary to th
 

G

Puritan Board Senior
@Romans922

Pastor Barnes, what are the 2 denials by the RPCNA (as a denomination) to the original Westminster?

Do officers in the RPCNA have to vow to uphold the testimony as well? Are men allowed to be officers if they hold to the Original with zero exceptions and differ from the testimony on those 2 areas?

I’m just trying to learn and not critique in the above by the way.
 
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W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Sophomore
@Romans922

Pastor Barnes, what is the 2 denials by the RPCNA (as a denomination) to the original?

Do officers in the RPCNA have to vow to uphold the testimony as well? Are men allowed to be officers if they hold to the Original with zero exceptions and differ from the testimony on those 2 areas?

I’m just trying to learn and not critique in the above by the way.
Obviously I am not a minister in the RPCNA, but I can answer some of this. Officers do take a vow to uphold the Testimony (http://reformed.com/leadership/vows/) but as far as I know there are multiple ministers who have exceptions with the Testimony (such as, deaconesses) and I believe there are some who only use the original 1647 WCF. I believe First RPC in Grand Rapids does that.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
There is definitely a reform movement within the RPCNA, and ministers coming in are taking exceptions to the Testimony’s exceptions/additions to the WCF. A few other things the Testimony addresses are tithing, the impropriety of participating in door prizes, and the use of alcohol (in effect recommending though no longer mandating abstinence). It seems that once the formalizing and elevating of commentary to the level of confessionalism began, it was easy to keep going.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
It’s stating that there are many antichrists and also the antichrist - the Pope.

Thanks for that clarification. I would have come up with the opposite result from havng read that in a vaccum - that the various popes through history would have been the many antichrists, and the Antichrist would be the man of lawlessess.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
What, no love for the ARP? Fine. Be that way. ;)

If I were to guess, he's looking at the NAPARC denominations with the most presence in Pittsburgh/Western PA where he's from. Although there are a handful of ARP congregations around there too.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
I've been told by someone in the presbytery for this area that the OPC will disappoint if the Sabbath is an important issue to me.

That depends on the presbytery. My presbytery, the Presbytery of the Southeast, is very firm on the Sabbath, probably thanks to the strong influence of GPTS on our assembly.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Sophomore
That depends on the presbytery. My presbytery, the Presbytery of the Southeast, is very firm on the Sabbath, probably thanks to the strong influence of GPTS on our assembly.
Exactly. I am a member of the PSE and the minister who presides over our the mother congregation of our mission work would discipline if one deliberately broke the Sabbath. We've discussed this before actually. While I don't know the details, I believed I've read/heard it insinuated the Presbyteries further west may have this problem. Our Presbytery is blessed by GPTS for sure.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
I'm a fan of the idea of the RP Testimony, though it does comment on enough issues that it's often hard for one person to agree with all of it. It is supposed to comment on more modern issues since the Westminster Standards were written.

There was a controversy at the time the ARP Church was formed in 1782 which in part led to the Old Light RPs (which are today the RPCNA) staying separate over whether to modify the Confession in place or to respond to the Confession with a Testimony beside it for modern issues. The ARP Church took the approach of modifying (and occasionally footnoting) the Confession whereas the RPCNA took the opposite approach.

Here's an example I like of the RP approach. In WCF 1:8 there is a statement, "The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them."

Some have interpreted this to mean that the Received Text (related to the family of Greek New Testaments that were in use at the time of the Reformation) is the preserved word of God for all generations, and tend to eschew the studies of Warfield and other Reformed theologians have made since the 17th century on this topic in relationship to additional manuscript evidence that continues to be unearthed and studied. The RP Testimony adds this note to this section of the WCF:

"The Church is responsible to examine the documents available to determine as far as possible what was originally written, and to study the translations as to their accuracy in conveying the meaning of the original, and to advise the public concerning them."

Other denominations simply keep the WCF in tact, but in practice use translations like the ESV and NASB. Many in the RPCNA use the ESV and NASB, but now have a less ambiguous Confessional basis on which to do so thanks to the clarification in the Testimony based on additional learning over the centuries.

Other issues that the Testimony addresses that are more issues today than when the confession was written include economic systems (Marxism, socialism, etc.) and theories of creation.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
It’s stating that there are many antichrists and also the antichrist - the Pope.



The Testimony isn’t a second Confession. I already explained that. And while we do not hold specifically the original confession because we deny like 2 places, it is still the original in our Constitution contrary to th
I'm with Edward; I'm not at all sure it means that but it is introducing some sort of clarification. I was actually surprised by this (no idea who edits these things and there is a heavy Steelite focus), but the Wikipedia entry for the RPCNA indicates it is a third denial (see below). When was the Testimony or this place in it at least drafted? Is the Testimony subject to individual interpretation where unclear or is there any record of discussions of the text of the Testimony where one can find out the thinking or intent of it in that place to be sure? Is there a consensus or difference of opinion on what that text means within the denomination? I see the Jerusalem Chamber is going to be getting to 25.6 soon so I guess I'll tune in to see what those RP men have to say.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church has held to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms since the 17th century. Instead of adopting revised versions of the Confession, as has been done by other Presbyterian churches in North America, the RPCNA instead keeps the original text but states objections in its official testimony, which is printed side-by-side with the Confession. Today, only three small portions of the original Confession are denied by the RPCNA, besides qualifying the Confession's naming of the Pope as Antichrist. As a result of adhering to these creeds, the RPCNA is doctrinally close to other Reformed denominations.

As far as this thing the Testimony, if a document has interpretive status and rejects part of the confession, it's an equal authoritative document, call it a testimony, commentary or think of it as second confession document that literally sits in parallel with the original confession. The ARP has authoritative footnotes that reject portions, the PCA/OPC change the text, the RP has a commentary that changes or expands the meaning of the confession. They all say in some way they hold to the WCF with exceptions. One may have a preference to method, but at the end of the day they all reject or change the meaning of the original WCF some way.
Thanks for that clarification. I would have come up with the opposite result from havng read that in a vaccum - that the various popes through history would have been the many antichrists, and the Antichrist would be the man of lawlessess.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
There was a controversy at the time the ARP Church was formed in 1782 which in part led to the Old Light RPs (which are today the RPCNA) staying separate over whether to modify the Confession in place or to respond to the Confession with a Testimony beside it for modern issues. The ARP Church took the approach of modifying (and occasionally footnoting) the Confession whereas the RPCNA took the opposite approach.
Does the Testimony date to 1782 or later or has it been changed over the years? Is there a history of the text or something that may shed light on why language was introduced and when?
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I recall we've discussed this and had the same observations on another thread. A friend and member of the presbytery governing Texas told me I would be disappointed in the OPC's stand on Sabbatarianism, and I've observed at least one RE of the same online attacking puritan Sabbatarianism
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Exactly. I am a member of the PSE and the minister who presides over our the mother congregation of our mission work would discipline if one deliberately broke the Sabbath. We've discussed this before actually. While I don't know the details, I believed I've read/heard it insinuated the Presbyteries further west may have this problem. Our Presbytery is blessed by GPTS for sure.
That depends on the presbytery. My presbytery, the Presbytery of the Southeast, is very firm on the Sabbath, probably thanks to the strong influence of GPTS on our assembly.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
I’d never heard your explanation of the testimony’s addition regarding the Pope as antichrist, Rev. Barnes. In reading it I have always thought the testimony is modifying the plain language of the Confession so as to allow belief that the Pope is not the antichrist. Is there anything else written on this from the RPCNA?
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I’d never heard your explanation of the testimony’s addition regarding the Pope as antichrist, Rev. Barnes. In reading it I have always thought the testimony is modifying the plain language of the Confession so as to allow belief that the Pope is not the antichrist. Is there anything else written on this from the RPCNA?
We need a commentary on the RPCNA Testimony's commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith! Or if when it is ancient enough, maybe adopt a Testimony about the Testimony commenting on the WCF. :smug:
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Does the Testimony date to 1782 or later or has it been changed over the years? Is there a history of the text or something that may shed light on why language was introduced and when?

The remnant RPs did not re-organize into a presbytery until 1798 (they didn't have any ministers to organize). I believe the first testimony was written in the early 19th century. I'll need to check my sources and see if I can find that.
 
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