Yes, There is a Difference

Lutherans aren’t the only ones who distinguish between themselves with letter acronyms. The Reformed do too, particularly the Presbyterians. They have PCUSA, PCA, and OPC. This corresponds to Lutherans ELCA, LCMS, and ELS. I’d never been to an OPC that’s Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I have now in a fashion.

I was all set to go to the OPC church near me – go ahead I dare you to type that into Google. It was Providence Presbyterian Church, Pflugerville for me. I went there at the appointed time on 12-27-20. There website said they were having services, but when I got there I found one car 5 minutes before service. At 2 minutes before, there was 5 cars; mine being the 5th. I opted to stream the service which the website said I could do, but I couldn’t. That’s how I ended up streaming Redeemer Presbyterian (OPC), Grand Rapids, MI.

First, the good and the bad then the ugly. The preacher’s insight that Jesus is just a piece of the world’s Christmas whereas for Christians He is Christmas. Jesus is just one place you can place your hope in the world’s Christmas, not the place. That will preach as we say.

He preached on the Presentation and said Luke presents Jesus subtly, sustained, and spiritual. This too could preach, but that last part devolved into: “Is the Holy Spirit working in your heart as He was in Simeon’s? Do you feel it? Do you have a sense of Him working in you?” This mirrored what was said in the corporate confession. The pastor prayed that the Lord “might give us a fuller repentance.”

In answer to his questions: I don’t know if the Holy Spirit is working in my heart or is that my GERD. Do I sense the Holy Sprint working on me? Or is that the Devil, the World and my Flesh. For an antidote to drowning in such subjectivity, read the Smalcald Articles, III: IIII, Of Repentance, and III: VIII, Of Confession, 3-6, 9-10. O indulge yourself. Read the whole thing here: .

The good and the bad were rolled into one as it is always when we mix Law and Gospel, but ugly was the form. Granted this might have been a TV stage, but I didn’t get that impression. Poinsettias abounded; there was no cross in sight, unlit Christmas Trees flanked the altar. On the altar was an earthenware pitcher and a loaf of bread. The pulpit was directly in front of this. As the preacher  and pray-ers (There were two; I don’t know if they were ordained or not.) moved and gesticulated, the symbols of the Lord’s Supper flashed in and out of the camera.

The prayer of intercession rivaled the sermon for length. The pastor gestured emphatically with his hands, modulated his voice, moved about behind the front and center pulpit, yet his eyes remained closed! This prayer of intercession turned into confession and assurance of pardon, so the Gospel was here, but no indicative absolution. Several times in the prayer he said, “as noted in our bulletin.” Was he telling God this?

Was all before my eyes merely form or was it indicative of substance? Front and center was a symbol of the Lord’s Supper, but they didn’t have a Reformed Supper neither did he mention it. Standing in front of the ‘altar’ and the symbol on it was a man who even when praying to God was preaching to men. There is theology not just in the words we pray but in the posture, gestures, and stance – see Luke 18, the Pharisee and the Publican. If you’re altar is not a place of the Real Presence, then you’re not turning your back on God when you pray. Still what does it say when you face people while you pray?

I’ve been to one each of the PCUSA, PCA, and OPC. The PCUSA was one of the few churches I’ve visited that I couldn’t say there was enough remaining of Gospel or Sacraments to be Christian. The PCA was a hodgepodge of liturgy and song that seemed particular to that local congregation. The OPC was less liturgy but more orderly – if that makes sense.

However, the OPC service brought home the fact that prayer is the main Means of Grace for the Reformed. But it’s a particular type: a prayer of absolute submission. This is apparent in both classic Reformed and the Evangelicals.

They draw comfort and encouragement from submitting to God, His will, His way. Contrast this to what at last frees Christian and Hopeful from the Giant Despair in Pilgrim’s Progress: the key to the Castle of Despair is called Promise. It’s  God doing, gifting, giving, not their surrendering, submitting, or acknowledging.

By the way, who else’s main way of worshipping is submitting? Muslims. Islam means ‘submission.’ Hmmm.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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