Focus on Fellowship: An outside look at the Reformed Churches of New Zealand

Imagine a country of lush hills, placid lakes and majestic mountains surrounded by spectacular coastlines. A country with mild temperatures, where Christmas can be celebrated with a picnic on the beach. Then imagine that the country’s language is English, and within its borders exists a solidly Reformed federation that not only embraces the Three Forms of Unity, but also the Westminster Confessions. Wait! We don’t have to imagine that idyllic scenario; it already exists in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ).

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy increased global awareness of New Zealand’s stunning scenery, but the RCNZ may be the country’s best-kept ecclesiastical secret. As the only foreign federation with which the URCNA is currently in Ecumenical Fellowship, the second step of unity, it should become more familiar to the North American Reformed community.

Many within that community have close ties to the churches in New Zealand. During the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Richard Venema, Rev. G.I. Williamson, Rev. Raymond O. Zorn, and Rev. Tom Tyson pastored churches on the islands. Rev. Jack Sawyer served in the 1980s and continues to maintain many personal and ecclesiastical ties. He notes that Revs. Barry James, Carl Reitsma, Bob Brenton, and Dr. John Haverland have served in the RCNZ, while Revs. Nathan Ketchen, Daniel Wilson, Tim Rott, and Bruce Hoyt currently serve in New Zealand.

“Frank Van Dalen grew up in the RCNZ under G.I. Williamson,” he adds. “He studied at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, served as an ARP missionary in Pakistan, and is head of World Witness, the Board of Foreign Missions of the ARP. We are close friends.”

pastors-wivesNorth Americans arriving on the New Zealand scene in the twenty-first century include Revs. Peter Kloosterman, Leo DeVos, and Peter Moelker. And some Kiwis have close ties to North American believers; Rev. Andre Holtslag and Rev. Erik Stolte graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary while Albert Couperus is a current student at the Seminary in Dyer, IN.

Dr. Cornel Venema maintains relationships forged during his New Zealand childhood, frequently traveling and speaking at conferences there. Dr. Joseph Pipa and Dr. Tony Curto also have traveled extensively among the RCNZ churches.

The RCNZ consists of 20 churches located from the Auckland area on the North Island to Dunedin on the South. Churches hold two worship services each Sunday and generally also a service on Christmas Day and Good Friday. Worship focuses on the preaching of the Word, but also contain prayer and singing. Morning services usually include corporate confession of sin as well as assurance of God’s pardon. One of the three creeds of Christendom (the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed) are normally recited in unison at the second service. Churches celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper every three months and regularly administer baptism to infants.

The RCNZ currently uses a Psalter Hymnal published by the CRCNA, but the federation is making good progress on its own songbook. A committee formed in 2005 has completed the psalm section and is now working on hymn selections.

Each church is governed by elders under the Presbyterian model of a local session and an area presbytery. National synods meet every three years.

To assist Christian Renewal readers in becoming better acquainted with Reformed believers in New Zealand, subsequent articles will profile a few of the RCNZ pastors and their congregations.

The above post is updated version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on page 12 of the November 14, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

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