Consider this portion of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly’s (RPCGA) Book of Church Order which is Dr. Kenneth Talbot’s (President of Whitefield Theological Seminary) denomination and helped author this BCO. We would all do well to take its concerns serious and learn from their heart for unity.
SECTION 6: Ecclesiastical Unity
A 6:1 In John 17:17-21, Jesus Christ our Lord states:
“Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent Me into the world even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent Me.”
A 6:2 There are three basic principles taught by our Lord in this passage of Scripture:
A 6:3 First, that sanctification is based on the truth of God’s Word, and Christ, therefore, prays that His Church will be bathed in that truth. “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.” The Church of Jesus Christ must be a sanctified church, that is, a church, which is committed to the purity of the fundamentals of the faith as, taught in our Reformed confessions. As the Apostle Peter states: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of-Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”.17 Therefore, the ultimate foundation of a true church is the doctrine of Scriptural sanctification.
The True Church will seek to be sanctified by the Word of the Living God. Another way of stating this principle is that a true church sees the Word of God as the final authority on all issues of life, faith and practice. This, of necessity, would include biblical doctrine and administering the sacraments and church discipline in the fellowship of those called by our God unto Christ Jesus.18
A 6:4 The second principle taught in this passage of Scripture is that Christ has sent us into the world to present the Gospel of His Kingdom as, He Himself preached during His earthly ministry. “As thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.”
A 6:5 The priority of the church is to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The Apostle Paul states that the Church is seeking- to “preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”19 Here is another mark of the Church of Jesus Christ, the calling of men to Christ by the blessed evangel. However, this will only be accomplished through a church, which is seeking true sanctification. This is our calling as a truly sanctified church. As our Lord teaches us, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever. I have commanded- you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.’”20 The evangelistic work of a true church is two-fold: first, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and secondly, to teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. The work of evangelism never ends in the life of the church.
A 6:6 The third principle is that of unity in the Church of Jesus Christ as living testimony to-the truth that Christ was, sent by God the Father.
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent Me. “
A 6:7 Here is the most fundamental principle and work required of the church. If the church is to be the testimony of true spiritual unity of believers, as expressed in Christ’s prayer, the living example of the work and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, it must not only verbally proclaim the truth, but it must have unity as a living testimony that what is spoken of concerning Christ and salvation is demonstrated in the life of the church, both spiritually and physically. Our Lord states in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” The church is to be one and have true unity in Christ Jesus. This is another mark of the Christian Church. It therefore requires that the visible church, of necessity, must seek to establish a physical unity as declared by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:3-6, to which he directs the church in this matter by stating: “… endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” When the church is divided and riddled with schism, then we have denied the directive of the Apostle and have willingly ignored the spiritual unity of the believers in verse twenty-one, especially as it would relate to the life of the visible church. John Owen, the English Puritan, wrote concerning the unity of the church:
“I confess I would rather, much rather, spend all my time and days in making up and healing the breaches and schisms that are amongst Christians than one hour in justifying our divisions, even therein, wherein, on the one side, they are capable o f a fair defence. But who is suff icient for such an attempt? The closing of differences, amongst Christians is like opening the book in the Revelation,— there is none able or worthy to do it, in heaven or in earth, but the lamb: when He will put forth the greatness of His power for it, it shall be accomplished, and not before. In the meantime, a reconciliation amongst all Protestants is our duty, and practicable, and had perhaps ere this been in some forwardness of accomplishment had men rightly understood when in such a reconciliation, according to the mind of God, doth consist. Where men have laboured as much in the improvement of the principle of forbearance as they have done to subdue other men to their opinions, religion will have another appearance in the world.”
A 6:8 The early Presbyterian Church believed in unity and a oneness of Christ’s Church. The Scot’s Confession of 1560 states concerning the Kirk that:
“. . . we believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, so we firmly believe that from the beginning there has been, now is, and to the end of the world shall be, one Kirk, that is to say, one company and multitude of men chosen by God, who rightly worship and embrace Him by true faith in Christ Jesus, who is the only Head of the Kirk, even as it is the body and spouse of Christ Jesus. This Kirk is Catholic, that is, universal, because it contains the chosen of all ages, of all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jews or be they of the Gentiles, who have communion and society with God the Father, and with His Son, Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of His Holy Spirit.”
A 6:9 George Gillespie the great Scottish theologian writing on the unity of the church, states:
“Yet there be no strife between us and you, for-we be brethren-and is not the Canaanite and the Perizzite yet in the Land? Oh, let it not be told in Gath, nor published in the streets of Ahkelon. Let it not be said that there can be no unity in the church without Prelacy. Brethren, I charge you, by the roes and by the hinds of the fields, that ye awake not nor stir up Jesus Christ till He pleases: for His rest is sweet and glorious with His well-beloved. It shall be no grief of heart to you afterward that you have pleased others as well as yourselves, and have stretched your principles for an accommodation in church government as well as in worship, and that for the Church’s peace and edification and that the ears of our common enemies may tingle when it shall be said, The Churches of Christ have rest, and are edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the joy of the Holy Ghost, are multiplied. Alas! how shall our divisions and contentions hinder the preaching and learning of Christ, and the edifying of one another in love? “Is Christ divided?” said the apostle. There is but one Christ; yea, the Head and the body make but one Christ, so that you cannot divide the body without dividing Christ. Is there so much as a seam in all Christ’s garment? Is it not woven throughout, from the top to the bottom? … Oh, brethren, we shall be one in heaven; let us pack up differences in this place of our pilgrimage the best way we can. Nay, we will not despair of unity in this world. Hath not God promised to give us one heart and one way; … Brethren, it is not impossible, pray for it, endeavor it, press hard toward the mark of accommodation. How much better is it that you be one with the other Reformed Churches, though somewhat strained and bound up, than to be divided, though at full liberty and elbow-room! ‘Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than a house full of sacrifices with strife.’”
A 6:10 We have a duty, as those called in the hope of Christ Jesus, to seek reconciliation among the Reformed churches and to seek accommodation on the diversity of thought concerning the non-fundamentals. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, 25-27 states:
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because 1 am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body… That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
A 6:11 The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 teaches us that: “The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.” 21 It is therefore impossible for us to create a perfect church on this earth until the second coming of Christ Jesus our Lord. Yet we must strive for unity and oneness. Can there be a living testimony that Christ Jesus has come in the flesh from the Father, if there is only division and schism dividing the church? The time has come for Reformed churches of the historical faith to put aside our differences by working toward laying a foundation for a common confession and allowing for accommodation, without compromise, within the ecclesiastical community. We have allowed our precisionist attitudes to divide the church, thus allowing liberalism to gain the upper hand in many denominations. The Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly expresses its desire for those of like faith, to come and associate with us in the fundamentals. of the Reformed faith, with the hope that one day we will share one common confession, as one visible church.