Reflections and writing by a scribe who blogs and ascribes glory to God.
One of the best things about Facebook is reconnecting with old friends, and I recently had an interesting exchange with a few far-flung friends from my school days.
We talked about the word God is leading us to choose for 2018. We may all view this word a little differently, but essentially it captures an attitude or quality we want to try to develop or focus on more during the coming year.
I’ve done this for the last couple of years, and I’ve been amazed at how much God reveals to me about that word during the course of the year. During 2016, God impressed upon me over and over the abundance of JOY in him and his word. Because I was alert for joy, I discovered it more in Scripture, in books I read, in other people, in creation, in myself, and especially in God. I’m convinced we can’t begin to comprehend the incredible fullness of God’s joy.
As I prayed and considered a word for 2017, I began thinking about PEACE. Frankly, I didn’t really want that word and was a little concerned about it. Why would I need peace? What might happen during 2017? Choosing the word generated a gnawing anxiety. Even my vivid imagination never created a scenario in which I would lose my sister, my mother, and my father within the year. But that’s what happened.
My sister’s health deteriorated quickly and she was placed in hospice care. We siblings kept vigil at her bedside for five days, and she went home to Jesus on January 12. Less than a month later, while we were still reeling from that loss, we learned that my mom’s cancer had returned with a vengeance. Her only option was hospice care. After eight extremely difficult weeks, the Lord took her home on April 10. The grief of losing our mother less than three months after our sister weighed heavily on us, but Dad’s loneliness, after 68 years with his beautiful bride, nearly crushed him.
His struggle with memory difficulties had made him heavily dependent upon her, and we doubted he could remain in his independent living apartment. Surprisingly, he lived there successfully (although not without a few concerning issues) for six months.
He had survived polio as a baby, but it may have affected his balance later in life. Falls or near falls brought him to the emergency room too often in too short a period during October. He spent ten days in nursing care, while we worked with his doctor and others to determine the proper placement for him.
In God’s providence, we were able to move him into an assisted living apartment in the same building. It even had a window overlooking the parking lot—his most crucial requirement! He adjusted amazingly well.
On Christmas Day, my husband and I planned to pick him up and bring him to our house for lunch. When we arrived, he was experiencing a great deal of pain. I called 911. We spent the rest of the day in the ER and hospital. That evening we learned that his abdominal aortic aneurysm, which we’d known for some years could kill him instantly, was enlarged and bleeding into his abdominal cavity. He could survive for a few weeks or it could be a matter of hours. He initially was doing so well, we thought we might have him with us for a month or more.
Two days later, he entered the Comfort House. He was alert, able to talk and sit in the chair. During his first night there, his condition worsened and he became unresponsive. On the last day of the year, a Sunday morning, he went home to be with his Lord.
In God’s gracious providence, I’d lived over six decades without a significant loss. In his bitter providence, he took three members of my original family home to heaven within one year. I definitely needed PEACE in 2017.
For several weeks, I’ve felt compelled to focus on HOPE during 2018. In the recent Facebook conversation, one of my school friends encouraged me to go with HOPE. She expressed her hopes for me “to start sleeping better” and for a year “with less grief and many healing memories….of great book sales and many inspired words written down” as well as “spontaneous laughter” and so on. May it be so. That is my HOPE.
My collaborative memoir with Uriah Courtney about his wrongful conviction, incarceration, and subsequent exoneration is now available. Such a thrill to finally hold the physical copy of the book in my hand this week!
What if America’s judicial system, designed to protect the innocent, convicts the wrong man and sends him to prison? Uriah Courtney was incarcerated over eight years–for a crime he did not commit. But God set him free–spiritually and physically–to a new life inside his heart and outside razor wire.
Exoneree relates how badly the judicial system can go wrong, but how intensely a dedicated few seek justice. It depicts God’s protection amid the horrors of incarceration. And while it shows dark depravity, it shines with divine transformation.
A sensitive man who loved the outdoors and his family, Uriah viewed life imprisonment as a death sentence. Yet God worked through this trauma to bring him new life. Uriah’s transparent narrative transcends most jailhouse conversion accounts, as he confesses how becoming a Christian helped him cope in some ways but didn’t solve every problem.
Even after his release and exoneration through God’s providence and the efforts of the California Innocence Project, Uriah faced unexpected challenges. In his warm and personable voice, Uriah describes how focusing on Christ helps him to continue overcoming the bitterness and anger often associated with trauma.
And that’s a story everyone needs to read.
Rev. Ralph Pontier began his ministry in sunny Florida, moved to northwest Iowa, and then much farther north and west to Alberta. After his emeritation, he and Lois moved back to Iowa, but this time to Pella, in the southcentral part of the state.
A 1976 graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Rev. Pontier was ordained in the Cape Coral CRC in 1977. In 1986, he accepted a call to First CRC in Orange City, IA. That congregation became the Redeemer Alliance Reformed Church in 1994 and joined the URCNA in 1995. Rev. Pontier then served Emmanuel Reformed Church of Neerlandia from 2008 until May of 2017. Interestingly, his formal ministry has been bookmarked by pastorates of nine years before and after a 23-year stint in Orange City.
May 7 was Rev. Pontier’s final Sunday as Emmanuel’s regular pastor. At the noon service, he preached from Jude 20-21 on “Keep Yourself in the Love of God,” with the theme: Effective service and personal assurance require seeking God. His four points were: 1) The love of God in which we are to keep ourselves is a sovereign love in which we are kept; 2) Keep yourself in the love of God by building yourself up in the faith; 3) Keep yourself in the love of God by praying in the Spirit; and 4) Keep yourself in the love of God by waiting for the mercy of our Lord in eternal life.
At the 2:00 PM service, Rev. Pontier spoke about “What the Father Seeks,” based on John 4:19-24. His three points were: 1) He seeks worshippers. Worship is the most important thing we do as Christians; 2) He seeks true worshippers. Worship must be to the true God and in the manner he prescribes; and 3) He seeks true worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth. No longer do we worship at an earthly sanctuary. Rather by the Spirit, our worship is directed to the heavenly Zion, the true Temple.
Emmanuel held a farewell program for the Pontiers on Friday, May 12. According to Yvonne Harink, different church groups gave special presentations. The Men’s Society sang, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” the Young People’s Society organized a “How Well Do You Know the Minister” game, the Young Adults presented a humorous skit, the church choir performed some hymns, and various members shared stories and memories. The Women’s Society thanked Lois for nine years of active participation and presented her with a plaque of Isaiah 40:31.
“A power point presentation highlighted some of the memories of the last nine years, such as weddings, baptisms, professions of faith, church picnics, canoe trips, and Gleaners,” Yvonne wrote. “The congregation also compiled a photo album with a page from each family.” Children sang “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, and the congregation sang, “God Be with You Til We Meet Again.” She added, “After the program, everyone was invited to stay for food and fellowship, thankful for the blessings provided by a heavenly Father, and confident that He will provide also for the future.”
Rev. Pontier said, “I was deeply moved by the expressions of appreciation from the congregation while yet keeping the evening light-hearted. I was also grateful for the many greetings sent from URC and Canadian Reformed Churches, with two men traveling from as far as Lethbridge (seven-hour drive) to be there, and two local CanR congregations giving gifts to help express their gratitude for my ministry among them. Between the two Neerlandia CanR congregations, I preached a total of 53 sermons, and in the Barrhead CanR congregation I preached 33 times.”
More than a year ago, Rev. Pontier requested that his council grant him emeritus status effective May 8, 2017. In accordance with the Church Order, Classis Western Canada offered concurring advice. Rev. Pontier explained that he prefers the term ‘emeritus status’ to ‘retirement’ since he hopes “to remain active in ministry in various ways yet to be discovered.”
Following his official change in ministry status, he preached in URC and CanR churches in Edmonton on May 14 and returned to Emmanuel’s pulpit as a guest minister on May 21 for one service, during which two of his catechumens publicly professed their faith.
The Pontiers hoped to arrive at their new home near Pella, IA, on May 26. Part of the attraction to the area, no doubt, was the presence of two daughters. Grace is married to Rev. Doug Barnes, minister of Covenant Reformed Church. Sarah and Dan DeVries (Prairie City) and their family also belong to the congregation. Other siblings include David and Andrea Pontier in Oak Forest, IL, Jonathan and Tonya Pontier in Orange City, IA, and Rachel Pontier, who is transitioning from Houston, TX, to Macon, GA. Rev. Pontier and Lois have 15 grandchildren and anticipate another later this year.
Rev. Pontier does not view emeritation as inactivity. Even before the move, he was scheduled to preach in northwest Iowa for three Sundays in June. Synod Wyoming 2016 had elected him as alternate and Rev. Talman Wagenmaker as Stated Clerk. But upon the unanimous advice of the Grace Waupun council, Rev. Wagenmaker declined to take up the appointment, and Rev. Pontier will now serve as the federation’s Clerk. He has also been appointed as Secretary pro tem for NAPARC, subsequent to the resignation of Rev. Ron Potter for health reasons.
URCNA Church Order permits emeritation due to age or disability, but declares that a minister of the Word “is bound to the service of the churches for life” (Article 9).
“Ministers in good health ought not to be too quick to seek emeritation, especially if there is a shortage on ministers,” Rev. Pontier said. “But neither should older men try and stay on too long since age inevitably reduces stamina and vigor even where no obvious disability is present. The ministry is demanding and stressful, requiring vitality and strength. But each person and each situation is different, and it is good that there is no one rule binding on all.”
He said, “Retirement, as a time of self-indulgence, is a worldly concept that has no place in the lives of God’s people. But retirement as an opportunity for different avenues of service appropriate to age and changing circumstances is a gift not to be squandered.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the June 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.
Click on this link for how to pre-order multiple copies of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, the joint songbook project of the URCNA and the OPC. You can save shipping by picking it up at the concurrent meetings of the OPC General Assembly and the URCNA Synod scheduled for June of 2018 at Wheaton College.
Rev. Bradd L. Nymeyer was installed as the new Senior Pastor at First United Reformed Church in Chino, CA, on May 14, 2017. Following the 23-year ministry of Rev. Ronald Scheuers to the congregation, Rev. Nymeyer has some huge ministerial shoes to fill. But his 22 years of experience in pastoral ministry will help.
A 1992 graduate of Westminster Seminary California, Rev. Nymeyer attended Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids for one year before he was ordained in 1994 at the Phoenix Christian Reformed Church. In 1996, he was called to pastor the newly-formed Phoenix Independent Reformed Church, which affiliated with the URCNA within a year. He served that congregation for 12 years prior to accepting a call as the first pastor of the Sioux Center URC. After more than eight years in northwest Iowa, Rev. Nymeyer accepted the call to First Chino.
“I have loved each congregation that I have served, and each has been used by God to prepare me for continued service,” Rev. Nymeyer said. “I am excited about this next chapter in my life as well as in the life of the First URC of Chino. Mary and I are very thankful to God for the privilege of serving His people here in southern California.”
Four other ministers participated in Rev. Nymeyer’s installation service on May 14. Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California, led Rev. Nymeyer’s prayer group and taught him Church History during his seminary career. He has remained a long-time friend of the family, taking part in every installation service of Rev. Nymeyer. Rev. Andrew A. Cammenga, Minister Emeritus of Lynden URC in Washington, is Rev. Nymeyer’s father-in-law. Rev. Scheuers, Minister Emeritus of First URC in Chino since January, has been Rev. Nymeyer’s mentor for over 20 years. And Dr. Quention B. Falkena, Youth Pastor of First URC is a longtime friend of Rev. Nymeyer.
As Dr. Falkena read the instruction section of the installation form, Rev. Nymeyer looked at the three ministers sitting in front: Rev. Cammenga, Dr. Godfrey, and Rev. Scheuers. “It was very humbling to have them take part in the service, considering that they represent over 100 years of wisdom and service in Christ’s church,” Rev. Nymeyer said.
Rev. Cammenga read the vows of the minister, Rev. Scheuers read the vows of the congregation, and Dr. Godfrey gave the charges to the minister and congregation. Dr. Godfrey led the service, preaching on “God’s Word, Our Life” from portions of Deuteronomy 32 & 33. Rev. Nymeyer pronounced the benediction.
At the evening worship service on May 14, Rev. Nymeyer began a series on Joshua, preaching from Joshua 1:1-9 on “Be Strong and Courageous.” He noted that the book “records God’s faithfulness to His people” and the “continuation of what He has been doing for them.” It also “points us forward to the greater Joshua” (which means “God saves”), who is Jesus Christ.
The Nymeyers have been married for 32 years and have three daughters and one son.
It would be difficult for anyone to follow the long ministry of a man who was not only a popular pastor, but also a competent churchman: Rev. Scheuers served a total of 39 years in full-time ministry, providing servant leadership within both congregations and federations. But Rev. Nymeyer has served twice as chairman of Synod and functioned as Stated Clerk for the URCNA from 2010 until 2016, when his service ended due to the limit of three consecutive terms. He viewed the performance of these “opportunities” as “a huge honor and a privilege to serve God and the churches.”
Rev. Nymeyer admitted he found it “daunting” to consider taking up the position of Rev. Scheuers. When he spoke to Rev. Scheuers about it, he found him “as typical…very encouraging to me. My prayer is that I might obtain a double portion of his spirit, to serve God and His church with the same devotion to truth and love that Rev. Scheuers has demonstrated so faithfully in the past. I am honored to have him remaining in the congregation, and will continue to rely upon his knowledge and wisdom as I have in the past.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 13 & 22 of the June 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.
The URCNA Pastors and Missions Conference, held on May 15-18, 2017, focused on the theme: Reformed and Relevant—Reaching Our Generation with the Gospel. The facilities at Guelph Bible Conference Centre in Ontario provided a relaxing atmosphere and enjoyable activities for more than 30 pastors, many accompanied by their wives, who attended. Elders, lay persons, and students also benefitted from various presentations. Attendees could register for all or parts of the conference, while lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings were open to anyone at no cost.
“We were glad to see many come out and join us in some great singing and worship and hearing a message from our main speakers, Dr. Eric Watkins and Rev. Paul Murphy. Numerous young people came to those evenings and came away very excited,” said Rev. Richard Bout, URCNA Mission Director and a conference organizer. “This year’s conference was a great time of learning and fellowship. Our speakers and workshop leaders were from the OPC, Can Ref, PCA and the URCNA and did an excellent job in explaining the calling we have been given to be an evangelistic, outward-facing church.”
Two other pastors assisted Rev. Bout with planning the conference: Rev. Brian Cochran, Redeemer Reformation Church (URC) in Regina, SK, and Rev. Norman Van Eeden Petersman, who formerly served at Adoration United Reformed Churches in Ontario and is now pastor of Vancouver Associated Presbyterian Church (APC). The Vancouver church is the single Canadian congregation of the APC, a small Scottish federation of about twenty congregations that came into existence in 1989 by seceding from the Free Presbyterian Church.
“Our planning for this conference started in February of 2016,” explains Rev. Van Eeden Petersman, “when we agreed to work together to organize the 2017 conference.”
The conference consisted of two components: a pre-conference from Monday evening through Tuesday afternoon geared toward pastors, and a general missions conference open to lay people as well as ministers from Tuesday evening through Thursday morning.
The pre-conference sought to generate fellowship and reflection among attending ministers and missionaries and their wives. After Monday’s evening meal, Rev. Paul T. Murphy, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URCNA) spoke on “A Church for God’s Mission: Not a Mission for His Church—Understanding the Great Commission.”
“I was advocating a change in perspective so that instead of missions/evangelism being a line item on the church’s agenda/budget, that it is the raison d’etre of the church second only to worship,” he said. “This calls for a radical rethinking of how we do church and evangelism.”
Using several texts, he showed that God is a missionary God and that covenant is for the sake of the nations. He made several points of application. We should have a “go” rather than a “come” mentality about evangelism. We should view election missiologically, not just soteriologically. We ought not discuss covenant without mission. We shouldn’t distinguish between established churches and mission churches because every church is a mission church. We need to recover the office of believer as described in Q&A 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism to realize that every Christian is a witness. And many of our congregations need to ‘outgrow the ingrown church’ (as per C. John Miller). Rev. Murphy concluded by demonstrating from Luke 15 that God rejoices when we join Him “on mission.”
Reaching Generation Y
On Tuesday morning, Dr. Eric B. Watkins, Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in St. Augustine, FL, spoke about “Preaching to Generation Y: Reaching the Lost Without Losing the Reached.” He examined the challenges of preaching to a generation that has lost direction in many ways and seeks identity in the wrong places. He addressed questions such as: How do we engage a media-driven culture? What language will reach Generation Y without abandoning previous generations? How can we remain faithful to our time-tested creeds and confessions and yet reach a generation that is losing interest in history?
Rev. Harry Bout, emeritus minister of Immanuel URC in Jordon, ON, addressed a crucial topic in the second lecture of the morning. He urged pastors to “Take Heed to Yourself—Your Public Ministry and Your Private Walk.” Rev. Bout serves in the Niagara Migrant Ministry, is involved with Hispanic outreach in southern Ontario, and for several months each year works in Tepic, Mexico.
Participants could choose from three afternoon breakout sessions, one designed especially for pastors’ wives. Rev. Cochran spoke about “Training our Youth to Stand Strong in a Digital Age.” Rev. Neil Stewart, Grace OPC in Sheffield, ON, spoke on “Avoiding Burnout in the Ministry.” Mrs. Julie Murphy addressed other wives of ministers regarding their roles as “Women in the Trenches.”
About twenty pastors’ wives attended the entire conference, according to Rev. Richard Bout. He said, “We really wanted to build them up in the important role they have in their husbands’ ministries.”
The Tuesday afternoon sessions were followed by a prayer time, free time for fellowship, and the evening meal.
The missions conference began with Tuesday evening’s lecture, as Dr. Watkins spoke on “Reformed and Evangelistic: Cultivating Outward-Facing Church Plants.” He noted that Reformed churches face the challenge of cultivating a culture of evangelism. He explored ways self-consciously Reformed churches and church plants can effectively do evangelism by faithfully, yet creatively, bringing the gospel to those outside the church. A Question & Answer panel discussion followed.
Wednesday’s first session featured Dr. Brian Lee, Christ URC in Washington, DC, discussing “The Challenges and Joys of Urban Church Planting.” He began work as a church planter in DC in 2008, and the church organized at the beginning of 2016. The second morning session was on “Discipleship through Home Bible Studies” with Rev. Connan A.V. Kublik, New City Church (PCA) in Hamilton, ON. He spoke about the power of the gospel to accomplish true transformation as it is heard and believed.
The afternoon breakout sessions offered three choices. Rev. Mitch Persaud, New Horizons Church (URC) in Scarborough, ON, enlightened attendees on “Learning Cross-Cultural Etiquette.” Rev. Tony Zekveld, Hope Centre in Toronto, ON, addressed “Witnessing to Sikhs and Muslims.” Rev. Cochran spoke again about “Training our Youth to Stand Strong in a Digital Age.” Rev. Persaud and Rev. Zekveld repeated their presentations later in the day.
On Wednesday evening, Rev. Murphy spoke on “Reformed and Missional: The Challenge of Being an Evangelistic, Community-Centered Church.” Using Philippians 2:15 as an illustration of being the light of the world, he encouraged churches to do evangelism “in an organic and covenantal” way. Organic in the sense of seeing and meeting needs with the gospel as we “integrate and ingratiate ourselves into the community.” Covenantal as in taking advantage of family ties to follow up with evangelistic contacts. He challenged churches to “develop a culture of evangelism, which needs to be personal and loving.”
He said, “My application here was whether or not we would really love the unlovely and welcome them into our midst because that it what God did with you and me. I tried to promote the love of God for sinners so that we would be channels of that love to others.”
Another panel discussion and a time of refreshments finished the day’s events.
On Thursday morning, Rev. Bill DeJong of Blessings Christian Church (CanRC) in Hamilton, spoke on “Reaching Your Community with the Gospel: Practical Ways to Reach Out Locally.”
The conference concluded with Dr. Watkins speaking on “From Geneva to Disney World: Reformed Worship in a Postmodern Context.” In his description of the lecture, he noted, “The consumeristic narcissism or our postmodern context has created a serious challenge” for Reformed churches. It can be difficult to explain why they continue to worship as they do when many evangelicals are exploring other options. His talk suggested that Reformed worship is not only “distinct and beautiful,” but that it also has “a lot more to offer our postmodern friends than either they or we may have imagined.”
This was the second URCNA conference focusing on pastoral ministry and missions, although similar conferences have been held every other year since 2009. Pastors met for that initial conference on ministry at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. A missions conference in 2011 took place in Denver, CO. In 2013, the first combined conference was held at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN. Two committees planned that event, when the final pastoral ministry session also functioned as the first session on missions. A 2015 pastors conference took place in Escondido, CA.
Rev. Van Eeden Petersman describes participation in the 2017 conference as “a real joy.” He said, “Having speakers from the URC, OPC, PCA, and Canadian Reformed churches was a good way to have us reflect more broadly on our work and what it means to be, as Paul Murphy made plain, a church that exists for the sake of mission. After every session and during every mealtime, that was a lot of intense and focused discussion of what we are to be doing and how we can do better in our current contexts.”
Rev. Cochran described the messages by the main speakers as “very insightful and convicting,” causing many pastors to “repent of our lack of an outward focus on sharing the gospel with others” and encouraging them to “strive by God’s grace to cultivate a culture of evangelism in our churches.”
But the setting and schedule permitted plenty of less interaction and reflection as well. Attendees took part in basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, and horseshoes. Rev. Cochran described the conference as “a great time of refreshment and fellowship” and noted that “the singing of Psalms and hymns to God was wonderful.”
Pastor Rich Bout reflected, “We live in challenging times for the church, and we have a lot to learn in how to faithfully share our faith in the gospel with those around us. One of the special blessings of this time together was the posture of humility and prayer that the pastors and elders demonstrated as they took in biblical exhortation from a variety of angles.”
“Trumpet Call: 500 Years of Gospel Freedom” served as the theme for the spring conference of Grenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS). About 375 people (including people from Nigeria, South Africa, and Canada) attended all or part of the lectures presented at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, SC, from March 14-16, 2017.
A chapel service on Tuesday morning concluded the Seminary’s annual open house for prospective students and initiated conference activities. Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., President of GPTS, preached from Romans 3:1-4 on “Whose Fault?”
Lectures began on Tuesday afternoon with Dr. Joel Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, speaking on Sola Scriptura. Using Psalm 19:7ff and 2 Timothy 2:14ff as his texts, he first delineated doctrines that flow from Sola Scriptura. He then defined and clarified the sufficiency of Scripture, before bringing practical applications. He stated, “The heart of Sola Scriptura is that the Bible is sufficient for the faith and practice of the church.”
Dr. Robert Kolb, Professor Emeritus at Concordia Seminary and a widely-recognized expert on Luther, presented a lecture on “Luther’s Providential God.” He noted that while most people think of Luther’s primary emphasis as being on Christ, he also had a robust theology of God’s providence.
Following a Question & Answer session, Dr. Pipa drew from Ephesians 2:1-10 to speak on Sola Gratia. His three points were the function of grace, the purpose of grace, and the fruit of grace. He said, “Salvation, from beginning to end, is of Jehovah, the triune God, that He might be glorified in His people.”
Dr. Kolb then enlightened listeners on “Luther’s Preaching on the Parables.” The key to understanding this biblical genre, he said, is to “recognize the Person telling the parable as the main point of it,” and that Christ provides the proper interpretation for each one.
On Wednesday, Pastor Cliff Blair, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Charlotte, NC, preached from John 6:26-71 on Solus Christus. He spoke movingly of Christ as the focus of the entire Scriptures, the holy One of God, who is the center of it all. He urged listeners, “Set your feet on this rock, eat this bread, drink this blood, taste eternal life now, and know that you will have it forever and ever.”
Pastor Carl Robbins, Woodruff Presbyterian Church, used James 2:14ff to address the topic of Sola Fide. He noted that Protestants tend to warn against legalism, but fail to recognize the danger of antinomianism. In a memorable introduction, he compared the two threats to ditches on the sides of a narrow country road.
After another panel discussion, Dr. L. Michael Morales, Professor of Biblical Studies at GPTS, spoke on Soli Deo Gloria. Based on Matthew 4:1-11, he encouraged hearers to look to Jesus, who lived completely to the glory of God and glorified the Father through obedience to His Word.
Dr. Michael Whiting, author of Luther in English, led off Thursday’s lectures by exploring “Law as Friend and Foe in Luther’s Theology.” He noted that Luther’s famous paradox about believers being simul justus et peccator (both righteous and sinners) can guide our understanding of his paradoxical language regarding the law.
The last presentation by Dr. James E. McGoldrick, GPTS Professor of Church History, was about “Luther on Life without Dichotomy.” Based on 1 Peter 2:1-12, he spoke about Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which was in stark contrast to the prevailing dichotomy between clergy and laity. He stressed that a life of service is indispensible to the Christian life, saying, “True faith is always active in love.”
The conference concluded with a final Question & Answer session.
The above article by Glenda Mathes was one in the Reformation Conference Series and appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.
Classis Central US (URCNA) and Classis Manitoba (CanRC) met in Sioux Falls, SD, on April 3 & 4, 2017, marking the first time the two federations held classis meetings concurrently. Delegates from both classes had the privilege of the floor during joint sessions, but did not vote on items of the other classis. Federational-specific matters were presided over by the appropriate chair.
Plans for the meeting began last fall, when Rev. Todd De Rooy (pastor of Redeemer URC in Orange City, IA, and a member of the URCNA’s Committee for Ecclesiastical Relations and Church Unity) contacted Classis Manitoba personnel to determine interest. Then he contacted Rev. Spencer Aalsburg, whose Christ Reformed consistory was slated to convene and host the April 2017 meeting of Classis Central US.
Rev. De Rooy said, “Classis Manitoba agreed to postpone their scheduled March meeting and hold it in April in Sioux Falls, at Christ Reformed Church’s invitation, to be concurrent with our Classis.”
He explained the rationale behind the idea as “excitement” for the anticipated concurrent URCNA Synod and OPC General Assembly in 2018, the “success” of concurrent meetings between Classis Eastern US and the OPC, and a desire “to find the best way for our elders and ministers to have contact with elders and ministers in the Canadian Reformed Churches.”
The close proximity of URC and CanRC congregations in Canada promotes pulpit exchanges and other events that foster fellowship; however, the small number of CanRC congregations within the US makes such ecumenical efforts less viable.
Ministers and clerks of the two convening consistories, Rev. Aalsburg and Clerk Mark Hoogwerf (Christ Reformed Church-URC) as well as Rev. Steve Vandevelde and Clerk Jon DeWitt (Carmen East-CanRC), did much preliminary work to facilitate the event.
Men from both federations worked together to craft a schedule that allowed similar amounts of time for separate administrative sessions and incorporated joint sessions to discuss items of mutual interest on each agenda.
Classis Manitoba not only had to be willing to postpone its meeting, but delegates also had to be willing to dedicate more time to it.
“We were humbled by the willingness of our Canadian Reformed brothers to take the extra time to travel down to meet concurrently with us in Sioux Falls,” Mark Hoogwerf said. “They could have completed their business in a normal meeting that would allow most of their delegates to return home the same day. However, they were very open to making the sacrifice of spending up to seven hours on the road each way to meet in ecumenical fellowship with us.”
Nine Can RC participants traveled in two vehicles the seven hours from Manitoba. But Classis Central US covers such a large area that some of its delegates drove farther. For instance, those from DeMotte drove twelve hours.
Rev. Todd Joling (Faith URC, Beecher, IL) chaired, while Rev. Talman Wagenmaker served as Clerk for Classis Central US. Rev. Rick Vanderhorst (Grace CanRC, Winnipeg) was President, and Dr. Andrew Pol (Carmen West) functioned as Clerk for Classis Manitoba. Rev. Joe Poppe (Redeemer, Winnipeg) served as Vice-President.
Classis convened on Monday evening with delegates from both federations gathering for devotions. Delegates then met separately to deal with administrative matters and reports. This period was followed by a joint session at which representative from the OPC and PCA extended fraternal greetings and a representative from the CanRC reported on mission work in Brazil.
Tuesday morning began with delegates meeting jointly to hear more fraternal greetings and reports. After updates on URC church planting efforts in Chicago Heights, IL, and Quito, Ecuador, delegates approved continued support for those works. They also heard an update on URC Chaplain Rev. Andrew Spriensma.
URC delegates then dealt with three overtures. The first, submitted by Grace URC of Waupun, WI, requested several changes to Classis Central’s Rules of Procedure. Most of these were “housekeeping” changes, but one suggested that all examinees be required to submit a sermon manuscript for evaluation. All parts of this overture were adopted.
The second overture, from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, suggested that Synod 2018 revise Article 64 of the Church Order to be in line with Synod 2016’s pastoral advice regarding membership departure. The overture would add language about transferring, releasing, or erasing memberships in situations not included in existing Church Order categories. This overture was approved and will be forwarded to Synod 2018.
The third overture, also from Immanuel in DeMotte, asked Synod to adopt a “Marriage Affirmation & Gospel Testimony,” which affirms biblical teaching and addresses concerns raised at Synod 2016. Classis Central US voted to send this overture on to Synod 2018.
Following a lunch break, the concurrent meeting entered Executive Session, and Classis Manitoba reported on recent church visits.
Classis Central US then dealt with an appeal from an individual. The consistory had denied his request to pursue revision of the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession to bring those documents into agreement with statements about the ‘soul’ not being a “thing, but a characteristic/condition of a living body…and that…time in the Bible…is not literal.”
Delegates recognized seven of the appellant’s eleven grounds as valid, but three as invalid, and one as out of order. The decision to deny the appeal as a whole was adopted without dissent. Scriptural grounds were provided at several points of the response and the consistory was affirmed in its position that the confessions accurately reflect biblical teaching regarding the soul.
Although discussion on this matter lasted past the afternoon break, Classis Manitoba met separately after that time. Classis Central went on to appointments and offered pastoral advice regarding discipline matters.
Delegates met concurrently again for closing matters and prayer. Appreciation was expressed to Christ Reformed Church for hosting the meeting.
“We considered it a great joy to be able to host the spring meetings,” Mr. Hoogwerf said. “By God’s grace, numerous members of our small congregation were willing to joyfully serve. We were very grateful for the opportunity.”
Rev. Vandevelde thought he might find Classis Central US “less homogeneous” than Classis Western Canada, which he said “most of us know as ‘the URC.’” While he anticipated more diversity, his impression had been “that Classis US would not be hostile to some potential further organic unity, but more likely indifferent or hesitant, maybe reluctant.” For this reason, he was “keen” to meet URC brothers “face to face.”
Rev. Poppe described the concurrent meeting as “hugely beneficial.” He said, “There was a mutual recognition that we share a common faith, and that we truly are brothers in the Lord.”
He recommends that other classes consider such meetings and seek opportunities for them. Rev. De Rooy offered these thoughts: “All the delegates saw first-hand that the office bearers and churches of our two federations are doing the work of the Great Commission under the same Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, by the same power of the Holy Spirit. Our churches face the same challenges from the inside and the outside of the church. What we discover is that we differ in how we go about doing that work. There was a spirit of brotherly unity in the assembly of the concurrent Classis, and also in the many fellowship times over the two days.”
The subsequent meeting of Classis Central US was scheduled for September 11, 2017, in Waupun, WI, with Grace URC as the convening consistory. Carman West CanRC was slated to convene the next meeting of Classis Manitoba on June 23 or September 22, 2017.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.
Classis Western Canada met in a special session on April 7, 2017, in order to conduct colloquium doctums for two ministers. The consistory of Trinity Reformed Church of Lethbridge, AB, desired to call the two men to serve its congregation.
“This classis meeting was truly a joy to witness,” reported Stated Clerk Rev. James Roosma (Grace Reformed Church, Kelowna). “We thankfully moved quickly through the ordinary mandatory classis business in order to devote the vast majority of our time having a very good doctrinal conversation with the two brothers.”
The two examinees were Rev. John van Eyk, who has been serving the Tain/Fearn Associated Presbyterian Church (APC) in Scotland since September of 2008, and Rev. Thomas Albaugh, who recently retired after serving five years at the Redeemer OPC mission work in Pittsburgh, PA. Since September of 2016, Rev. Albaugh has been ministering to the Trinity congregation in Lethbridge.
Rev. Keith Davis (Bethel URC, Calgary) conducted the first half of the exam, questioning the ministers in the areas of practica, church polity, and ethics. Rev. Bill Pols (Orthodox Reformed Church, Edmonton) presided over the second half, examining the men regarding Reformed Doctrine and Confessional Knowledge.
“It was absolutely clear during the course of the these examinations,” wrote Rev. Roosma, ‘Rev. van Eyk and Rev. Albaugh’s commitment to the Christian faith and the 3 Forms of Unity was unwavering and their desire to serve Christ’s church in Lethbridge was for His glory alone.”
Each man successfully sustained his examination and will now serve Trinity as a Minister of the Word and Sacraments; however, according to Council Chairman, Lloyd Van Eeden Petersma, their roles will be different. Rev. van Eyk will function as the Senior Pastor and Rev. Albaugh will serve part-time as the Pastor of Congregational Life.
“As we are a large congregation with many older members, widows and widowers,” he explains, “Rev. Albaugh will focus much of his time visiting with these members as well as an active group of families and young people. This was something he did a great deal of as he served as an interim pastor and something that was very much appreciated.”
Rev. Albaugh and his wife, Martha, anticipated moving their household goods from Pittsburg to Lethbridge early in May. Rev. Albaugh, who was in the Christian Reformed Church for 12 years, believes the transition back to the continental confessions complements his ministry of the last few years and propels him into future service in the Lord’s kingdom.
“As an OPC minister, I have found the Dutch Reformed tradition to be a wonderful expression of the biblical faith,” he said. “The OPC and the URCNA have a fine working relationship together and a commitment to the preaching of a ‘Christ-centered Gospel’.” He described the move from the OPC’s Presbytery of Ohio to the URCNA’s Classis Western Canada as “smooth” and noted that “the leadership of both denominations has been a great encouragement to me and my family.”
Rev. van Eyk taught in Turkey at the beginning of May and planned to move in mid-June with his wife, Lucy, and six of their seven children. A married son, whose wife is expecting their first child, will remain with his family in Scotland for at least another year to finish his university education.
“I leave dear Christians in the Associated Presbyterian Church in Scotland, but I am excited to be ministering in the URCNA,” Rev. van Eyk said. “I was welcomed so warmly by the brothers at Classis Western Canada and the colloquium doctum demonstrated their commitment to the Word of God and their love for the Confessions. I am especially humbled and thrilled to be serving Trinity and have a real desire to proclaim Christ from his Word so that God might be glorified and enjoyed.”
Both pastors anticipated preaching for their first official Sunday at Trinity on June 25. Rev. Albaugh is a graduate of Westminster Seminary California, and Rev. van Eyk graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Prior to serving in Scotland, Rev. van Eyk pastored the Riverside Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, ON.
Classis Chairman Rev. Rich Anjema (Providence Reformed Church, Winnipeg), who now serves Providence Reformed Church in Winnipeg, became acquainted with Rev. van Eyk during the decade Rev. Anjema pastored Hope Reformed Church in Brampton.
“During those years, Rev. van Eyk was pastor of Riverside ARP in Cambridge. I don’t know the exact dates of his time there, but it overlapped my time in Ontario,” he said. “We had some natural connections since members of Hope Reformed and Riverside ARP were involved with what formerly was known as Cornerstone Bible Institute, which is now Redemption Prison Ministries.”
Trinity Reformed Church has been vacant since September of 2015. During that time, a variety of pastors provided pulpit supply. Mr. Van Eeden Petersma said, “In 2016 alone, we had 16 different ministers and four seminarians on our pulpit. We look back and quickly can see how the Lord has blessed us.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.
The retirement of Rev. Ronald Scheuers may be his and his family’s gain, but it is certainly a loss within the URCNA. In decades of denominational conflict and as the new federation felt its way forward, Rev. Scheuers provided humble, servant leadership.
“During the early, growing years of the URCNA as a fledgling federation, Rev. Scheuers proved again and again to be a special gift of the Lord to the churches,” says Dr. Cornel P. Venema, President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary. “In a period of history marked by conflict and distress, immaturity and growing pains, Rev. Scheuers was steady at the helm—gentle in manner, solid in conviction, wise through experience, fair with others, and firm in his leadership. Lest you think I exaggerate, I am confident that delegates to assemblies at which Rev. Scheuers was elected chairman will agree with me.”
Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, who served many years as the URCNA’s Stated Clerk, concurs with that assessment. He says about Rev. Scheuers, “His service to the federation cannot be over-stated. His gentle, pastoral approach to difficult issues gave many great reassurance in times of uncertainty.” He adds, “His calm demeanor served him well in the three times that he served as chairman of synod. He is a churchman, a pastor, and a preacher, and excels at all three. His retirement will be felt by the entire federation, as well as his local congregation.”
The congregation of First URC in Chino, CA, marked the retirement of its senior pastor with a special celebration on Friday, January 6. The retirement committee decorated the fellowship hall, where attendees enjoyed a catered meal of tri-tip sirloin, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. About 200 people gathered for the meal, and many more arrived later for a program in the sanctuary, which seats 600 and seemed nearly full. Guests went beyond members of the congregation to include friends, former staff members, fellow ministers, and surprise appearances by relatives from Wisconsin.
The program featured a slideshow and video clips, a skit, and singing. The church presented Rev. Scheuers and his wife, Faye, with a gift of appreciation for his years of faithful service. Rev. Scheuers spent 39 years in full-time ministry, more than 23 of them in Chino.
“Our church family has been so good to us through the years,” says Rev. Scheuers. “We are grateful that we can retire in this area and continue to live among the people of the congregation of First Chino.”
On January 8, Rev. Scheuers preached his farewell sermon on the theme, “Let No One Take Your Crown,” based on Revelation 3:11. He noted three points: The Lord’s Coming, The Church’s Calling, and The Believer’s Crown.
First Chino has called Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, scheduled to be installed on May 14. He has considered Rev. Scheuers his friend and mentor for over 20 years. “He personally stood up for me when I was being dismissed from the ministry in the CRC, even though it was costly to his name and reputation in that denomination,” says Rev. Nymeyer.
While the congregation awaits its new senior minister, Pastor of Youth Quentin Falkena is doing what he can to help make the transition smooth. And he’s thankful for the excellent working relationship he enjoyed with Rev. Scheuers.
“I have had the unique and unparalleled privilege of working with Pastor Scheuers for over eight years,” he says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity that I have had to work beside him and learn from him what it means to be a faithful servant of God’s people and a dedicated churchman. His diligence, dedication, carefulness and compassion have made a significant mark on my own approach to pastoral ministry.”
He notes, “For most of eight years, Pastor Scheuers and I would meet every Tuesday. We addressed the particular needs of the week, and talked about who needed to be visited, or other matters that needed to be addressed. But it was also a time during which I could pick his brain. Our meetings concluded by reading Scripture and praying. I’ll miss the opportunity those meetings provided to spend time with Pastor Scheuers.”
The Scheuers family, however, anticipates spending more time with a husband and father whose health is gradually decreasing due to Parkinson’s disease.
“Right now, Faye and I are enjoying more time together, more opportunities to enjoy our family, which also includes our first precious granddaughter, as well as life with less stress,” Rev. Scheuers says. “If my health permits, I would like to do some writing and, perhaps, some traveling.”
Rev. Scheuers and Faye are originally from Waupun, WI, and both attended Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. Faye taught for six years in the Philadelphia area, while Rev. Scheuers attended Westminster Theological Seminary and fulfilled the CRC’s extra year requirement at Calvin Seminary. The two were married in Waupun on August 19, 1977.
The Scheuers have three adult children. Bethany is married to George Hoekstra and they have a toddler daughter, Kenna. Andrea, who has multiple handicaps, lives at home with her parents. Tim graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and is pursuing his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary with a goal of teaching at the college or seminary level.
“We are so blessed to have all our children living near us,” Rev. Scheuers says.
A minister’s interest kindled the internal call Rev. Scheuers felt as a young man. He says, “In my teenage years, my pastor, Rev. Clarence Werkema, deeply influenced and encouraged me to consider entering the ministry.”
In 1977, Rev. Scheuers was ordained in the CRC at Baldwin, WI. He went on to serve churches in Luverne, MN, and Kalamazoo, MI, prior to accepting the call to First Chino in 1993.
Reflecting on the highlights of his ministry, he says, “I was especially blessed to see a good number of adults come to faith in Christ through the years. We are greatly encouraged by the usage of the series of instructional material for young people, Life in Christ, which we edited and partially wrote. Some volumes have been translated into several foreign languages. I am also grateful to have been used of the Lord to give leadership on the classical and synodical level to our young federation.”
He concludes, “It has given me much joy and fulfillment to be used by the Lord to preach His Word and minister to His people.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the April 12, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal. Rev. Bradd Nymeyer has since been installed as the Senior Pastor at First URC in Chino, CA.