The Chicago Metro Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) welcomed five new congregations during a celebration service held on May 17 at First Church in Lansing, IL.
The five Illinois congregations recently came out of the Illiana-Florida Classis of the Reformed Church in America (RCA). They include First Church and Grace Church, both in Lansing; Crete Church in Crete; Peace Community Church in Frankfort; and Missio Dei Church in New Lenox.
About 550-600 people filled the First Church sanctuary for the Sunday evening service. Pastor Ben Kappers (First Church) welcomed attendees and Pastor Ken Kuiper (First, retired) opened with prayer.
Then Pastor Aaron Baker, Moderator of the Chicago Metro Presbytery (CMP), welcomed the five new congregations into the PCA. Pastor Kappers describes this as “a joyful moment” and relates that a few Amens rippled through the crowd. “My own heart leapt a bit. After nearly two years of talking through much of this, it was good to have arrived.”
Following that welcome, Pastor Kurt Kruger (Peace) offered a prayer of gratitude. Rev. Ron May, past moderator of CMP, then conducted the ordination and installation of the five teaching elders (ministers): Revs. Kappers, Kruger, David Smith (Crete), Paul Vroom (Missio Dei), and Andy Nearpass (formerly of Grace). Pastor Nearpass was installed as a minister serving out of bounds since he currently serves on staff at Faith Church (PCA) in Dyer, IN.
Because the churches’ sessions played instrumental roles in the process, Pastor Al Guerra (Nueva Esperanza) and Pastor Brian Dennert (Trinity Presbyterian), ministers from local PCA congregations, jointly led a prayer for the ruling elders.
Pastor Smith introduced speaker Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor and CEO and John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. Dr. Duncan preached on “The Flock of God” from Acts 20:28.
Before reading the text, Dr. Duncan noted that witnessing the appointment of pastors and elders is a “visible evidence” of Christ’s reign at God’s right hand and that shepherds serve for the church’s work, growth, unity, and maturity.
Focusing on the first part of the verse, “Be on guard for yourselves,” Dr. Duncan noted that Paul urges pastors and elders to a “holy vigilance” regarding their own hearts and lives and their calling as “spiritual watchmen” over themselves, individually and collectively. Moving to the next phrase, he addressed the need for leaders to be concerned for the spiritual welfare of the local flock. He reminded elders of the “heavenly origin” of their pastoral call and work. Then he spoke about their purpose.
“Just in case you missed it, Paul repeats,” he said. “Elders are shepherds of God’s church. They are to show loving care and concern for the spiritual well-being of the whole body.”
Dr. Duncan concluded by showing from the last phrase of the text that shepherds have been entrusted with “God’s own inheritance,” purchased with his Son’s blood. “Paul reminds the elders of the exceeding preciousness of the people whom he has called them to pastor.”
Pastor Nearpass announced the offering, and Pastor Vroom closed the celebration service by delivering the benediction. Stirring congregational singing with a bluegrass flavor interspersed the program. Hymns included: “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship,” “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” “How Firm a Foundation,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
“We couldn’t decide on a worship style,” Pastor Kappers says. “Our congregations are a bit different when it comes to worship, so we decided to ask Brent Stutzman (of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hinsdale) to lead. He was on the guitar, we had a stand-up bass, and a banjo, together with our organist.”
Pastor Kappers described the atmosphere as “joyful,” saying, “These congregations have known that we were not ‘alone’ in the process from the beginning. But there was a palpable excitement in the air as we all came together to worship and celebrate.”
The evening’s offering was later distributed as an honorarium for Dr. Duncan and a gift to the Chicago Metro Presbytery. Pastor Kappers explains, “We wanted to give this offering so that we demonstrate an immediate willingness to partner in every respect with the presbytery and PCA.”
That desire to express immediate support arises from the churches’ inability to contribute to presbytery or denominational needs for the next couple years. The Illiana-Florida Classis of the RCA permitted the churches to leave with their property, but stipulated that each pay one year of full assessments and four years of classical assessments. The total differs for each congregation, but ranges for most from about $45,000 to over $90,000. First Church, with the most members, is required to pay the highest amount. Missio Dei’s exit fee was almost $9,000, significantly lower than the others because it had not officially organized as a church within the RCA.
Pastor Vroom says, “Since we had duly ordained officers as a church, Missio Dei was transferred into the CMP as a particularized church. Even the $8,908.80 was a hefty number for our young church (planted in 2007), but God graciously provided through a one-time offering at the church and through First Church (PCA)’s including us in their missions budget and Grace Church (PCA) taking up a special offering for us at Thanksgiving. God has been gracious to us!”
The five congregations and ministers now enjoy fellowship on a new level. “From my conversations with the other pastors, we feel more engaged and welcomed in the life of the presbytery after less than six months of membership than we ever did in the classis,” Pastor Kappers says. “Quite simply, our congregations are better fits and so are we. Moreover, there is a sense of mission and optimism that is contagious. Whereas much of our time and attention (speaking now for First Church) was directed at the RCA and bringing reform, now much of our time is spent focusing on local mission and crafting a Great Commission identity. Frankly, it would be difficult for us to have imagined this process going as smoothly as it did. We have been more than welcomed, we have been embraced. And the embrace is mutual.”
The Great Commission focus echoes in Dr. Duncan’s remarks about the celebration, which he described as “a great encouragement to me.” He added, “The transfer of these churches into the PCA is part of a larger realignment that is going on in American denominational life, a realignment that reflects two very different ways that denominations are responding to cultural pressures. As the culture grows more hostile to classic Christianity, some denominations are reaffirming their biblical commitments and continuing to engage culture with truth and love, while other denominations are accelerating their capitulation to the culture’s demand that Christianity conform itself to anti-Scriptural norms. All of the denominations that are capitulating to culture are shrinking and dying. Only denominations faithful to scriptural authority are growing and living. The congregations and pastors that joined Chicago Metro Presbytery (PCA) understood this. Their choice was careful and deliberate. They wanted to be part of a church that is true to the Bible, the doctrines of grace and obedient to the Great Commission.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the June 10, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal.