Overture from Philadelphia Presbytery Regarding Church Unity

WHEREAS Scripture directs us to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" and declares that there is "one body and one Spirit . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" and sets as a goal that "we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God" and that "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ" from whom "the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds up in love, as each part does its work" (Eph. 4:3-6, 13, 15-16); and
WHEREAS our Lord Jesus Christ, in his great intecessory prayer, said, "My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them as you have loved me" (John 17:20-23); and
WHEREAS our Lord earlier said, "A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" (John 13:34-35); and
WHEREAS our ordination vows for ruling elders and deacons include a promise "to strive for the purity, peace, unity, and edification of the church (BCO 24-5); and
WHEREAS the purity of the church rightfully has a priority over the unity of the church as a defining characteristic of the true church; however, unity should characterize those churches committed to truth in doctrine and righteousness in life: "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:17-18); and
WHEREAS the Reformation of the 16th century reestablished a relatively pure church based upon sound doctrine, yet struggled to achieve unity among the Protestant churches; and
WHEREAS the Presbyterian Church in America at its founding in 1973 adopted "A Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the World", in which it declared, "In much prayer and with great sorrow and mourning we have concluded that to practice the principle of purity in the Church visible, we must pay the price of separation," it also declared, "It is our conviction that the Reformed faith is not sectarian, but an authentic and valid expression of Biblical Christianity. We believe that it is our duty to seek fellowship and unity with all who profess this faith. We particularly wish to labor with other Christians committed to this theology." (Minutes, 1st General Assembly, pp. 40-42); and
WHEREAS our testimony to the unity of the church has been partially realized through "joining and receiving" with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod in 1982 and through other means such as the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), yet has not been so clearly manifest as our testimony to the purity of the church; and
WHEREAS President W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Theological Seminary in California has published a modest proposal that could bring together as many as eleven Presbyterian and Reformed denominations committed to the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of the Synod of Dort) for a general assembly would become a particular synod continuing to function exactly as it does now as a denomination, with the general assembly or general national synod functioning mainly for the purpose of fellowship, cooperation where beneficial, and united testimony to the world, and with limited powers that would be carefully defined (cf. "A Reformed Dream", The Outlook, September 1997);
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Twenty-seventh General Assembly direct the Interchurch Relations Committee to explore the possibility of such a general assembly or general national synod that could meet with the NAPARC denominations and/or other such churches committed to the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity every third, fourth, or even fifth year as a step in the direction of a living testimony to the unity of the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ, speaking the truth in love.