The 180th Synod of the RPCNA met at Indiana Wesleyan University (yes, Wesleyan) from June 28-July 1, 2011. Ruling Elder, Steve McMahon (Midwest Presbytery), was nominated as the Moderator. This was only the second time in RP history that a ruling elder has been elected to this office (according to some reports).
Monday evening began with a gripping sermon from Matthew 16 titled, “I Will Build My Church” by Dr. Jerry O'Neill. The members then took time to remember some of the pastors who had died in the past year. Drs. D. Carson, K. Hoffman, and C. Chao were among them.
Tuesday began with a sermon from this writer on Colossians 1 followed by an extensive discussion concerning the finances of the denomination. The finances appear to be generally stable, although there are a number of boards and agencies that could use more funding (ie: Global Missions and Home Missions being the two most crucial, according to the Scriptures).
The state of the presbyteries appears to be quite stable. Each presbytery is growing, planting churches, and experiencing the smiles of our Heavenly Father. The Atlantic Presbytery is welcoming an American Presbyterian Church into their number. The Great Lakes/Gulf has three congregations that are seeking to unite with them. There is church planting in the South- including a mission in South Carolina, which has not seen an RP Church since before the Secession. The Japanse Presbytery is currently managing nearly $200,000 worth of donations for tsunami relief. And, as you know, the Pacific Coast is celebrating 100 years and is seeking to plant in Tucson, AZ.
The East Asia Committee reported on a recent trip, in which JON and DR met with the leaders of between 20,000 and 30,000 Reformed Presbyterians that are seeking to organize as presbyteries and to have those called to the pastorate and eldership ordained and installed. The Synod made this committee a commission, which gives these men the power to act on behalf of Synod. Ordinations and the organization of presbyteries will result in a denomination that is 3-4 times larger than the North American branch! Thanks to God that the door was not closed (Not Hoi Moon?), but instead built in the way that He saw fit!
Pastor Rut Etheridge led us in worship Wednesday morning. “The Struggle of a Pastor's Heart” was the sermon's title. Doug Lee, the Executive Director of an organization that oversees our chaplains gave a report on our chaplains. It was reported that Chaplain Leach has recovered remarkably from his stroke. He also mentioned Brent England and his work with Hospice.
The Sudan Report was reason for giving praise and thanks to our great God and King! Last year at this time there were 300 members of the Sudan RP Church. At the time of this meeting, there are over 1200 members to Sudanese RP Church. Many churches have been planted, pastors trained, saints discipled and idols burned! For an oral report along with video and photos, go to the following link:
The Sudan Report brought tears to many eyes and was evidence of the great love that Jesus Christ has for building His Church in all parts of the world. As a plug for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course: many of the principles of global church planting were employed in a distinctively Reformed Presbyterian way. If you are ever able to take this course, it is worth the time and energy. Now back to what we did at Synod...
The Psalter Revision Committee gave their report, along with the final changes to the 5th edition of the Book of Psalms for Worship. A new rendition of Psalm 136D was sung and proved to be a worshipful rendition of the psalm. The committee was dismissed with thanks. They had worked for a number of years to update and improve our book of praise. Lord willing, it will prove to be sufficient for the next couple of generations of RPs.
The Synod took on a huge task last year by forming a committee to study sexual orientation. Our own, Howard Huizing, was able to sit on that committee. Forty-six pages of biblical, confessional, and pastoral material was produced and were adopted by the Synod. This paper will be passed to our sister churches in the USA and around the world, and this writer believes it will set the standard for confessionally reformed churches' position of homosexuality. This paper will be available later in the year as a book from Crown and Covenant. It may also include, in the introduction, the real life stories of RPs who have struggled with sexual identity issues. This will be the new gold standard for biblical counsel on this issue.
Wednesday evening was taken up with greetings from fraternal delegates. Reformed Presbyterians from Australia, Scotland and Cyprus gave greetings and told of the work of Christ in their Synods. Pastor Andrew Quigley spoke of the work of the Scottish RP Church and how they are growing at an unprecedented rate. This is in part from the recent unbiblical actions of the Free Church of Scotland, as well as from pursuing church planting with vigor and prayer. We on the Pacific Coast have a lot to learn from Andrew Quigley's leadership (maybe he will speak for us at our family camp in one of the years to come?).
The ARP, OPC, RCUS, URC, FCS, and HRC all brought greetings to the RPCNA. Can you tell me what all of those letters mean? Even if not, they are Reformed and Presbyterian bodies with which we have some degree of fellowship. One of the delegates is a friend of mine from seminary and it was great spending time catching up on our various pastoral experiences since graduating from seminary together. For the second year in a row, fraternal churches have challenged the RPCNA on our position concerning women deacons. Two denominations this year asked us to review our theological position and practice. There was a motion to form a committee to give an answer for our current practice, but this motion lost. Dr. Spear directed the court to a 2002 exegetical paper on our position.
The International Conference was an area of great interest to the Court. The speaker will be Dr. Joel Beeke. The theme is “How to Live the Christian Life.” July 21-27, 2012 are the dates. We will be at IWU, which is a very beautiful campus. A fellow pastor and friend described it as “what Methodists can do with a large farm and endless funds.” It will prove to be a good place for our conference. People will be shuttled to the campus at no extra charge. Put it on your calendars because 2000 RPs from around the world are expected to be in attendance!
The Thursday morning worship was from Colossians 3 and the sermon was preached by the chaplain of Erskine College and Seminary. This is the ARPs college. The practice of having an ARP preach for us is a long standing tradition in the RPCNA. An RP also preaches at their Synod every year.
The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary gave their thanks to Don Piper for 25 years of service on the Board of Trustees. His seat has been filled by David Ashleigh. The Seminary sees the need for having a board member from Los Angeles since there are a number of students being supplied to the seminary from our congregation! One piece of controversy from the seminary was the board asking the Synod to allow for a ruling elder to serve as the president. Currently only pastors are allowed to serve as the president. This brought some debate, but in the end, the recommendation was returned to the Seminary Board for review. Most (all?) seminaries have only teaching elders as their presidents.
Crown and Covenant noted that each of their books will also be sold in electronic format. The RP Witness is moving to an every other month mailing due to high postage costs. This will be supplemented by an interactive website that will feature additional articles and other material. The ARP Psalter was published by C&C and is selling very well. This is good news for a denomination that is recently rediscovering psalmody after almost 70 years of allowing hymns in worship!
A request to amend the Directory for Public Worship lost. The request was to clarify that weddings and funerals are NOT public worship. The 1645 Directory for Publick Worship included these items, but they were not considered worship then either, but civil matters. The RP does not consider these gatherings worship, but the request was for further clarity.
Pastor Whitla spoke about the Youth Ministries of the denomination. The Pacific Coast Conference was mentioned as something the Synod Committee was very pleased with. The young ladies of our denomination were also given credit for being quite spiritually mature, but the Youth Ministries Committee is afraid that our young men are not stepping up and showing the leadership that they should. This will be an area of focus to this committee in the next couple of years.
The Finance Committee changed the way that congregational assessments (read: taxes) are done. There will no longer be a $40 per communicant member tax, now 2% of all undesignated funds will be the assessment. This should save smaller churches a great deal.
Overall the Synod was an important time to reconnect with fellow pastors and elders. There was much prayer, psalm singing, fellowship, and even some healthy banter. To those who were not members of the court, but were watching the deliberations during the week, it was clear that Jesus is central in the life of the RP Church. It was also clear that unity and truth are highly valued in our churches. Many spoke of the peace of our Courts being a highlight for them. Psalm 133 was lived out as brothers "dwell in unity" in the Courts of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And of course, the psalm singing was great!