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John P. Galbraith, OPC founder and statesman

 

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Rev. Galbraith speaking at the 2011 OPC GA

On June 30, 2016, the Lord called home Rev. John P. Galbraith at the age of 103. Rev. Galbraith was a highly-respected minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) who earned a reputation as a servant leader. He was the oldest living minister in the OPC and the last survivor of those who founded the denomination in 1936.

Rev. Galbraith’s humility is expressed in his opening words to those gathered to celebrate the OPC’s 75th anniversary on June 11, 2011. At 98 years old, he spoke slowly and paused often for breath, saying to the crowd who welcomed him with a standing ovation, “You’re all so kind. I don’t know if you dwell so much, as often as I do, on one of those well-known, well-remembered statements of the Apostle Paul, ‘The good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do.’ And you give me your applause. I thank you.”

The death announcement released from OPC Stated Clerk, Rev. Ross Graham, stated. “His accomplishments in the development of the ministry of the OPC were unparalleled.”

Less than three weeks prior to Rev. Galbraith’s death, Reformed Forum posted “The Life and Ministry of Rev. John P. Galbraith” podcast. In this documentary-type interview, Camden Bucey wove together audio clips from recent interviews with Rev. Galbraith and Rev. Danny Olinger, General Secretary of the OPC’s Committee on Christian Education. Rev. Olinger, who is widely-recognized for his extensive knowledge of OPC history, spoke at length about Rev. Galbraith’s contributions to the OPC and his “unmatched” integrity. He concluded: “We’re fortunate that we’ve had such a great man with regard to integrity and commitment to the scriptures to try to help the Reformed world.”

On the occasion of Rev. Galbraith’s 100th birthday in 2013, Rev. William Shishko (minister of the OPC in Franklin Square, New York) wrote a tribute in honor of Rev. Galbraith, who had become known “Mr. OPC.” He concluded:

Of all of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s many blessings, one of the foremost is to have had…Rev. John Galbraith as Christ’s gift to us. He is, indeed, Mr. OPC. His service continues to make an impact on the church of which he has been a part from the first day of its existence. In fact, no other OPC minister has influenced the course of the OPC more than John Galbraith. He would be the first to deflect this tribute, giving all glory to God…. The entire Orthodox Presbyterian Church praises God for his grace in giving us the life and labors of Rev. John Galbraith, Mr. OPC.

FAITHFUL SERVANT

John Patton Galbraith was born on March 10, 1913. He studied under J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and became friends with him, even attending Machen’s trial in Trenton, NJ, and his appeal at the General Assembly in Syracuse.

On June 11, 1936, seminarian John Galbraith was one of about 130 people who stood to show their commitment to the new denomination that would become the OPC.

Following Galbraith’s graduation from Westminster in 1937, he was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Presbytery of Philadelphia and served the Gethsemane congregation for three years.

At the new denomination’s fourth General Assembly, he heeded the call for someone to write a defense of the OPC. In 1940, his booklet Why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? was published and became the best-selling denominational literature in the OPC’s history.

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Danny Olinger and John Galbraith

During the Reformed Forum podcast, Rev. Olinger credited that tract with earning Rev. Galbraith the name as Mr. OPC. “It sold all through the 40s and 50s and was reissued in the 60s,” he said. “It established him as someone who knew the issues and could articulate them very well.”

Rev. Galbraith served Grace OPC in Westfiled, NJ, from 1940 until 1942, and the OPC in Kirkwood, PA, from 1942 to 1948. Having served these congregations during the first 11 years of his ministry, Rev. Galbraith remained a pastor at heart. But his gifts soon were put to administrative use within the fledgling denomination.

In 1947, he was elected as Moderator of the OPC’s 14th General Assembly. Rev. Shishko relates in his tribute: “It was during that assembly (after which many of those who favored a broad evangelical course for the OPC left the church), that John Galbraith made his mark as the ecclesiastical statesman he would become. A heated floor debate had ensued between Minister Clifford Smith and Dr. R. B. Kuiper, who was…revered by John Galbraith. That deep personal respect (and, no doubt, the sympathies he had with Kuiper’s position) did not prevent moderator Galbraith from gaveling down the heated debaters. As moderator, he did his duty and told them both to apologize for their conduct on the floor. They did. And John Galbraith established his reputation as a man governed by principle rather than by personality—something that has made an inestimable impact on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”

Rev. Galbraith was appointed as General Secretary for the Home and Foreign Missions Committees in 1948. He continued serving both committees until 1961, when he began his full-time work as General Secretary of the Committee for Foreign Missions.

Rev. Olinger explained that the OPC struggled to pay its missionaries and operated with a deficit in this area every year. “When Mr. Galbraith became the General Secretary, he instituted the Thank Offering to make up the deficit and have something to move forward.” Rev. Olinger also spoke about the amazing way OPC missionaries have gone into “hotspots” at difficult times in history, saying that Rev. Galbraith “did all the spade work that allowed our missionaries to work in these very tough areas.” He added, “He did these types of things over and over again as General Secretary and he was just amazing at it.”

FAITHFUL SERVICE

Rev. Galbraith’s influence extended beyond his thirty years of work for foreign missions. He served on numerous other denominational committees and twice as Clerk of the OPC GA. After his ‘retirement’ in 1978, he threw himself into other avenues of service for the cause of Reformed Christianity, which included stints as president of ecumenical councils such as NAPARC.

Rev. Shishko’s tribute cites a dizzying list of service: 32 years on the OPC Committee on Pensions, the Committee on OPC Involvement in the Center for Urban Theological Training, the Committee on Methods of Worldwide Outreach, the Committee on Ministerial Training, a Special Committee to Study the Oversight of Ministerial Candidates, over 30 years on the OPC Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, delegate and OPC missions correspondent to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (where he served various years as second clerk, first clerk, and moderator), the OPC’s Committee on RES Matters, Committee to Confer with the Christian Reformed Church, and chairman of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). He also authored the article, “The Ecumenical Vision of the OPC” for Pressing Toward the Mark, a semi-centennial volume honoring the OPC in 1986.

“He just did it all,” Rev. Olinger said. “As far as one carrying on Machen’s vision for the church, he carried that mantle well.” He was “the greatest ecumenical figure in the history of our church.”

LIFE IN BALANCE

Rev. Galbraith’s commitment to the OPC and Reformed Christianity did not preclude his dedication to his family, according to Rev. Shishko. He married Ada Mae Kievitt in 1941, and they were blessed with two daughters. He often took the girls to Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, and the family spent a month’s vacation each summer in Maine. Although he sometimes traveled to foreign mission sites, whenever he was home on Saturday nights, he scrubbed the kitchen floor on his hands and knees to help out Ada.

His beloved wife died on July 5, 1995, but his two daughters were by his side when he passed away.

In his message to those celebrating the OPC’s 75th anniversary on June 11, 2011, Rev. Galbraith concluded: “I say to you, ‘Keep standing fast.’ That doesn’t need any exegesis. You know exactly what it means. Stand fast in the faith once delivered to the saints. Stand fast on the Word of God, and then get going on the things that God has given us to do. Teach our people well. Teach them to do their job, and to do it well. And to that I think I can say only my own amen and say also, to God be the glory.”

The above memorial report by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 9 & 10 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

83rd GA celebrates OPC’s 80th Anniversary

 

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Photos by Rachel Stevenson

The shore of Chesapeake Bay provided a scenic setting for the 83rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, when it met at Sandy Cove Conference Center in North East, MD, on June 8-14, 2016.

Throughout that time frame, this assembly celebrated the denomination’s 80th anniversary. Part of that recognition included displays and videos highlighting the contributions of six women in the OPC: Charlotte Kusche, Dora Duff, Mabel Danzeisen, Bobbi Olinger, Grace Hard, and Betty Andrews. The stories of these and other women will be featured in a book under production, Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

But one day during the OPC GA had particular significance: June 11.

Rev. Jack Sawyer said, “It was very moving to be in session on the exact anniversary date that J. Gresham Machen struck the gavel to convene the first General Assembly.” Because the General Assembly initially met more frequently than once a year, the number of Assemblies is three more than years of denominational existence.

sunsetThe Bay’s glassy surface served as a metaphor for a smooth Assembly. Although commissioners sometimes became bogged down in debate, most issues generated little controversy. Issues regarding sexuality were explored in a pre-assembly conference, the Committee to Study Republication presented a unified report, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal received overwhelming support, a study committee will examine the concept of publishing a study version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in updated English, a new church school curriculum was introduced, and various committees reported positive progress.

Sexuality

Before the GA began, commissioners had opportunity to attend a pre-assembly conference on “Marriage, Sexuality, and Faithful Witness” at Glasgow PCA in Bear, DE. According to the daily report posted on the OPC website and written by Rev. David J. Harr (Immanuel OPC; Medford, NJ), the conference “was designed to uphold the biblical view of marriage and sexuality in light of the increasing antagonism from the surrounding society” and consisted of three plenary sessions and a panel discussion.

Speakers included Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Elder Randy Beck (PCA), the Justice Thomas O. Marshall Chair of Constitutional Law at the University of Georgia School of Law, and Rev. Tim Geiger, Executive Director of Harvest USA (a ministry for those struggling with sexual sin). Also participating in the panel was Ms. Jennifer Marshall, Vice President for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation of Washington, DC.

During a later GA session, Danny Olinger (General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education) reviewed the work of the Special Sub-committee on Marriage and Sexuality, which had organized the pre-assembly conference.

Republication

Two years ago, the OPC formed a Committee to Study Republication, the concept that the Mosaic covenant is in some way a republication of the Adamic covenant of works. This year, the Committee presented a unified report.

According to the website article by Rev. Harr, the reporter “explained that the confessions teach the covenant of grace ‘was administered differently in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel’ (WCF VII.5). There are not ‘two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations’ (WCF VII.6). So the Mosaic covenant must be viewed in substance as a part of the covenant of grace, though administered differently than the new covenant. This confessional language of substance and administration helps us to define which views of the Mosaic covenant are confessional and which are not.”

Although the report is not an official denominational statement and does not carry constitutional weight, it will be distributed to presbyteries and interested parties for study and possible guidance in examining ministerial candidates.

Trinity Psalter Hymnal

Dr. Alan Strange detailed the history behind the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, which the OPC began developing in 2006 and eventually became a cooperative effort with the URCNA. The fraternal representative from the URCNA was Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen, who served as chairman for that federation’s songbook committee. According to Rev. Harr’s report, “He praised God that this joint venture of the OPC and URCNA has provided a wonderful demonstration of the unity of the faith that these two bodies share.”

Commissioners approved three motions: the section of 428 hymns, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal as a whole, and communication of these decisions to Synod 2016 of the URCNA. It is anticipated that the new songbook will be available late in 2017.           

commissionersChurch education

The Committee on Christian Education introduced G2R, a revised curriculum for older elementary children that overviews the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Commissioners supported a recommendation (from Presbytery of Central Pennsylvania) that the Committee on Christian Education consider publishing a study version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in updated English. The aim would be to retain meaning while making language more easily understood, especially for those who speak English as a second language. Although commissioners held differing opinions, they agreed the project should be considered and a proposal presented to next year’s assembly.

World Outreach

For 2017, commissioners approve a $4.1 million budget for Worldwide Outreach, which consists of the OPC’s committees on Christian Education, Foreign Missions, Home Missions and Church Extension. Last year’s Thank Offering to support these endeavors was over a million dollars.

Four new mission works in 2015 brought total efforts to 38, according to the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE) report. Eleven new works are scheduled for 2016.

Mr. Mark Bube, General Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions, reported on the many international fields where OPC missionaries are establishing churches. Rev. Calvin Cummings, Jr., who has retired after more than 40 years of missionary service, reviewed God’s work in Japan.

Fraternal relations

Rev. Jack Sawyer, Administrator of the Committee of Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR), introduced fraternal delegates from 11 federations: United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA), Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC), Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ), Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Reformed Church Westminster Confession (ERKWB, a small federation in Austria & Switzerland), Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA), Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), and Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (CRCAus).

“I’m very pleased with the way the GA handles the hosting of fraternal delegates,” Rev. Sawyer said. “As we space them out, they become a nice little break from the work and a highlight of God’s work in the church around the world.” He also appreciates that the OPC practices a “colloquium” style of face-to-face discussions rather than a “Facebook-type” of impersonal interchurch relations. This year’s GA approved moving to full Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA).

Military

The OPC actively supports the work of chaplains and others in military service. This year’s GA thanked Elder Robert Coie, who is retiring after many years on the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel.

Resolving conflict

An appeal and a communication arose from a Presbytery that has been struggling with a difficult situation for several years.

The appeal came from a session after its complaint that another local session had failed to act biblically was ruled out of order by both the other session and presbytery. The appeal was eventually remanded to the presbytery to address the substance of the matter.

The communication contained three complaints, but was submitted after the deadline for appeals and complaints. Given the truncated time, commissioners decided the issues could not be dealt with adequately at this year’s assembly. The session will be permitted to bring the complaints to the 2017 GA.

A Special Committee that has been working for two years to resolve conflicts within the Presbytery of the Northwest reported positive progress. This included a resolution of repentance the Presbytery passed without dissent and its request for the Special Committee to continue working on a standby basis for another year. The GA granted that request and encouraged the Presbytery to continue moving forward in reconciliation.

A recommendation to increase the Committee of Appeals and Complaints from three members to five members was approved by this year’s Assembly and, because it involves an amendment to the Standing Rules, will need to be ratified by next year’s GA before it takes effect.

Administrative

A Special Committee on Canadian Matters has been considering challenges of the OPC’s ministry in Canada, such as pastors’ pensions, tax matters, and mission donations. The Committee was able to present a preliminary report, but will continue its work for an additional year.

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Moderator Paul Tavares

The GA approved changes in the OPC pension plan, which appear aimed at improving participation and performance. Commissioners also approved the formation of the Committee on Ministerial Care along with changes to the Standing Rules that will initiate the process.

Elder Paul Tavares (Covenant OPC; Grove City, PA) served this year’s GA as moderator. Rev. Ross Graham was elected Stated Clerk for another two-year term. Rev. John Mahaffy recorded the minutes as Assistant Clerk for the 18th consecutive year, and Mr. Luke Brown was elected OPC statistician for the 31st year.

The next General Assembly of the OPC is slated to convene on May 31, 2017, at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Il. The following GA is scheduled to run concurrent with the URCNA Synod in 2018.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Transformation: From prison to pulpit

 

laying-on-of-handsIt’s a long journey from a prison cell to a church pulpit, but Lowell Ivey has traveled it by God’s grace. On May 27, 2016, the former prisoner was ordained and installed as the organizing pastor for Reformation Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, VA.

“My testimony is the Lord’s testimony as he’s worked by his mighty grace and power in my heart and life,” he says, “and even been so gracious as to give me a covenant family.”

Abandoned by his birth parents, Lowell grew up with a rebellious nature and angry heart. He began stealing as an adolescent and was sent to prison for armed robbery as a young man. During his first six years in prison, he hated Christians. He enjoyed arguing with them and trying to prove them wrong, even using the Bible against them.

“I thought I was very adept, very smart,” he says. “But I was a fool.”

Lowell found his identity in a white supremacist gang, and his attempt to murder a member of another gang landed him in solitary confinement. Alone in his cell one night in 2000, listening to the radio, he heard the gospel proclaimed.

“That radio program showed me the depth of my depravity and wickedness,” he says, “and that it wasn’t something I could change.”

He couldn’t change himself, but the Holy Spirit transformed him. “One moment I felt as if I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t repent. But the next moment, the Lord by his mighty power broke all that, took it all away. And I fell on my knees beside my bunk, weeping, asking him for forgiveness. But not only that, asking him to change my life, to change my heart so that I would begin to live only for his glory, the glory of my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

During the remaining nine years of his incarceration, Lowell gradually moved through the slow process of sanctification. He embraced the Reformed faith through Ligonier’s “Renewing Your Mind” radio broadcasts. He grew in that faith by reading catechism sermons of Dr. Joel Beeke (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary). And he contacted Rev. Nathan Brummel, (director of Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary), who regularly wrote to him and sent him theologically sound literature.

As Lowell grew in the faith, he thought about the need for prisoners to be discipled in the Reformed faith and considered serving in prison ministry some day. Prior to his release, Rev. Brummel put him into contact with Rev. Phil Hodson, a local OPC pastor.

Lowell says about Rev. Hodson, “He was a mentor to me after I was released from prison and even invited me to live in his home for a time. I became a member of the church he serves, Christ the King OPC in Longview, TX, where I also met my wife, Mae.”

Still thinking in terms of prison ministry, Lowell began seminary training in Texas in 2010, but then transferred to Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS) in 2011. He attended Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Taylors, SC.

“In seminary, and through the influence of my pastor, Rev. Peter VanDooedewaard, I began thinking more about pastoral ministry,” he says. “While I wanted to continue ministering to prisoners, I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was calling me to a broader ministry.”

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Pastor Ivey, daughter Geneva, and Rev. Nathan Brummel

In Lowell’s senior year at seminary, the session of his church discussed having him serve a pastoral internship. Early in 2015, he received a call from Rev. DeLacy Andrews, Regional Home Missionary for the Presbytery of the Southeast, to see if he might consider helping establish the church plant in Virginia Beach. Although Lowell was interested, he and his church session agreed that he should proceed with the internship.

“My prayer at that point was, ‘Lord, I want to go wherever You lead me. If it’s Your will for me to serve in Virginia Beach, I know you will keep the door open,’” he says. “I let Pastor Andrews and the Pulpit Search Committee know that I was withdrawing my name from consideration for the time being.”

Lowell graduated from GPTS in May of 2015 with his Master of Divinity degree and went on to serve for the next year as an intern in his church. When Lowell’s internship neared its conclusion, Rev. Andrews contacted him again. The Virginia Beach group still had not secured a pastor. The Search Committee interviewed Lowell in January of 2016, and he spent ten days in Virginia Beach in February, preaching, teaching, and visiting families. On the last day of February, the congregation voted unanimously to request the Presbytery to call him as its organizing pastor.

Presbytery approved his call when he sustained his examination on April 22. Lowell and Mae and their two children moved to Virginia Beach on May 10, and he took up the work there on June 1.

“Looking back on it now, I can see how faithful the Lord was in leading me as He did,” he says. In addition to learning from Pastor VanDoodewaard during his internship, Lowell served alongside a refugee pastor who had suffered intense persecution, including imprisonment and torture. “The internship was crucial to my growth in pastoral ministry. I’m using the lessons I learned every day in my calling here in Virginia Beach.”

Several men who participated in Lowell’s ordination and installation service on May 27, have been influential in his journey from prison to pulpit.

Although Reformation Presbyterian Church is a mission work of the Presbytery of the Southeast, the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic has assisted in the effort. Regional Home Missionaries from both presbyteries, who have been involved with the church plant, took part in the service. Rev. DeLacy Andrews (RHB, Southeast) provided instructions regarding the office of minister. Rev. Steve Doe (RHM, Mid-Atlantic) gave the charge to the congregation. Rev. Jay Bennett, Moderator of the Presbytery of the Southeast, officiated the service. Rev. Peter Stazen, pastor of Grace OPC in Lynchburg, VA, and member of the provisional session of Reformation Presbyterian Church, led a prayer of adoration and the invocation.

Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., president of GPTS, gave the charge to the evangelist. Dr. L. Anthony Curto, Associate Professor of Missions and Apologetics at GPTS, supervised the laying on of hands and offered a prayer of ordination.

Rev. Peter VanDoodewaard, who had been Lowell’s pastor for five years, preached from Psalm 2. Rev. Nathan Brummel read Scripture.

“I am amazed at how God has poured out His grace in Jesus Christ upon Lowell,” Rev. Brummel says. “God has showered him with grace upon grace. He immediately transformed Lowell at the moment of his conversion from a proud racist member of a dangerous prison gang, into a humble, loving servant of Jesus Christ. God has given Lowell a Proverbs 31 wife and two beautiful covenant children. May God be glorified through Lowell as this new OPC minister begins his evangelistic and pastoral ministry in Virginia Beach.”

Rev. Phil Hodson was not able to be present, due to a death in the family. Having spent years as Lowell’s pastor and observing him in the church community, he says, “We have seen in Lowell a mature understanding of the Reformed faith, a faithful handling of the word of God, and a good grasp of biblical and systematic theology. We have also seen him attain to these things by adorning them with a faithful walk before the Lord. His manner and speech are crowned with actions that demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ. He joyfully confesses that he is a ‘prisoner of the Lord,’ and embraces whatever circumstances the Lord calls his to. He does not pursue the credit for labors he has been engaged in. Rather, he is focused on bringing attention to Christ and to serve His glory.”

Rev. Ivey explains that Reformation Presbyterian Church (RPC) has met since 2012, first with informational meetings and then home Bible studies, led by Revs. Andrews and Doe, Regional Home Missionaries. Worship services began in November of 2013, and the session began searching for a church planter in 2014.

Rev. Ivey says, “The church is vibrant, friendly, historically Reformed in terms of its confessional stance and its worship, and has a passion for outreach and evangelism in the Tidewater region.” He describes that area of eastern Virginia as containing 1.5 million people, more than 60 percent of whom profess no religious affiliation.

The RPC group meets for 11:00 AM worship at Fleet Reserve Association, 357 Edwin Drive, and for 6:00 PM worship at Indian Lakes Community Center, 1313 Indian Lakes Blvd, both in Virginia Beach. For more information on the church plant, see its website.ordination-group

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-18 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Smooth Sailing for RCUS Synod in California

 

2016-rcus-synod-cNo controversial issues came up during the 270th Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, when it met from May 16-19, 2016, at Grace Reformed Church in Bakersfield, CA.

“I would have to say that this year’s Synod was unique in that there were no major decisions or position papers to approve,” Clerk David Fagrey said. “Every year I’m increasingly thankful for the camaraderie we share in the gospel and in the Reformed faith.”

In addition to a host of normal business, Synod’s agenda included a few noteworthy matters, including cremation, Two Kingdom theology, and relations with the GKN.

Cremation

The previous year’s Synod had appointed a committee to study the theological and pastoral implications of cremation. Rev. Jim Sawtelle (Redeemer, Golden Valley, MN) said, “This is an increasingly pastoral challenge with the rise of the widespread acceptance of cremation. So questions being explored by the committee are things like: Is cremation consistent with a biblical practice and view of those who die in the Lord? How should the church advise its members about such a practice? Does the Bible speak to this issue clearly, or is it a matter of indifference?”

That committee asked for and was granted an additional year to complete its study.

Two Kingdom theology

The issue of Two Kingdom theology arose within the context of Western Classis, which had studied the matter and submitted a report to Synod. A synodical committee was appointed to read the material and bring recommendations or comments to next year’s Synod.

“The special committee was not directed to write a new paper, only to study the existing paper from the Western Classis,” explained Rev. Sawtelle, who chairs the committee. “Only one of the original authors of the paper in on the special committee. This was done purposely so that the special committee could read the paper with fresh eyes. The synod is very aware of the fact that a number of denominations and federations in North America are debating and studying this issue as well, and we are interested in how this discussion in the broader Reformed and Presbyterian community plays out.”

Relations with the GKN

For some time, the RCUS has been interacting with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) regarding matters such as homosexuality, women in office, and the Theological University of Kampen (TUK).

This year’s Synod directed its Interchurch Relations Committee to warn the GKN that if it persists in neglecting “our admonition and continues its present course of de-formation, contrary to scripture and the Three Forms of Unity (TFU) at its next synod, that the RCUS will break its fraternal relationship with the RCN, and consider our fraternal relationship to have ended.” If, however, the next RCN Synod indicates a return to acknowledging the “full authority of Scripture” and the applicability of the TFU to the above-mentioned issues, the RCUS will continue its relationship with the RCN.

Missions

The subject of missions may be a normal part of Synod discussion, but the scope of RCUS labors exceeds the efforts of some larger denominations.

The RCUS is actively involved with three foreign federations: the United Reformed Churches of the Congo, the Reformed Fellowship Church of Kenya, and Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church in the Philippines.

“While the needs for support of pastors, missionaries, theological training for such, and various diaconal support far exceeds our limited resources,” Rev. Sawtelle said, “we remain committed to giving financial and advisory support as much as possible. The Lord is truly building His church in these places.”

The RCUS maintains home mission efforts in several locations: Rehoboth Reformed Church in Cerritos, CA (Rev. Michael Voytek), Grace Reformed Church in Rogers, AR (Rev. Steven Carr), First Reformed Chapel in Dickinson, ND (Rev. Wes Brice, pulpit supply), Christ Reformed Chapel in Casper, WY (Rev. Matt Powell), Valle de Gracia Iglesia in Shafter, CA (Rev. Valentin Alpuche), Calvary Reformed Chapel in Stockton, CA ( Rev. Jonathan Merica), and Omaha Reformed Chapel in Omaha, NE (Rev. Randy Klynsma).

This year’s Home Missions Committee meeting took a different approach than previous meetings. Rather than interviewing missionaries and focusing on writing a report about their work, this year’s February gathering was organized more like a conference. Speakers addressed issues of concern, and missionaries were given time to share progress of their work. This format afforded more opportunities for interaction on issues, prayer, and fellowship.

Summary

In summarizing the 2016 RCUS Synod, Rev. Sawtelle said, “One thing that really struck me was just how much the cultural instability of our nation is stressing and challenging our churches with how to minister effectively to our own members, and then also, how to bring the gospel to our fellow citizens in our times.”

He added, “It is heartening to talk to fellow ministers and elders about such things and find wonderful unity of commitment among us to stand on the authority of Scripture, the Reformed confessions, and to proclaim Christ as the only hope for all manner of sinners and the brokenness that sin and rebellion has brought about. There is an increasingly hyper-individualistic spirit at work, even among Christians. Facing this spiritual battle is going to take an equally united spirit of unity in Christ and to His Word among Christ’s people.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Sioux Falls church plant organizes

 

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Pastors Lucero, Aalsburg, Donovan and Barnes

In a joint worship service held with Hills URC on May 8, 2016, the Sioux Falls United Reformed church plant formally organized as Christ Reformed Church (URCNA). Rev. Spencer Aalsburg led the service, installing two elders and two deacons as Christ Reformed’s first council. Attendees participated in a fellowship meal after the service and enjoyed a slide show and display of memorabilia. Since its inception, the church plant in Sioux Falls, SD, has been under the supervision of the URC in Hills, MN.

Once the church was organized, the council of Christ Reformed Church extended a call to Rev. Aalsburg. He has served the group since 2007, when he was ordained as Hills’ Associate Pastor to plant the Sioux Falls church. Rev. Aalsburg was installed as Minister of the Word and Sacraments at Christ Reformed Church during a special service held on Friday, May 13.

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Fellowship meal

Rev. Dan Donovan, minister of Cornerstone URC in Sanborn, IA, offered a meditation on 1 Timothy 4:6-16. Rev. Doug Barnes, who serves Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, and is a former pastor of Hills URC, presented a charge to the minister from Ephesians 4:1-16. Rev. Jody Lucero, pastor of Providence Reformed Church in Des Moines, IA, gave the charge to the congregation, based on Ephesians 6:10-20.

The installation service took place at Heritage Reformed Church, 3800 E. 15th St., on the east side of Sioux Falls. Christ Reformed rents the Protestant Reformed Church’s facility and meets there for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM and 6:15 PM.

According to Rev. Aalsburg, 60 to 70 people usually attend services. Membership is comprised of 11 families and a few singles for about 55 souls. “This includes 29 baptized members, and we’re expecting five more babies this year!” he says. “Thankfully, five more families and a couple singles have expressed interest in joining and are at various stages in the process.”

leaders
Church leaders

The church has seen significant growth in numbers and spiritual maturity since it began meeting in 2005. Although some of that growth has been internal, the group also makes an effort to welcome visitors and reach out to the community.

“We seek to create a variety of venues to begin and deepen relationships with the newcomers that the Lord brings,” Rev. Aalsburg explains. “Over all, by God’s grace, we’ve been told we’re a warm church and easy to visit—for which we’re very thankful.”

Events during the week include book studies that often draw people who are not members. Many non-members also are attracted to monthly events like picnics with sand volleyball or movie and pizza nights.

Rev. Aalsburg says, “These events are not only a great time of deepening fellowship among members, but also a disarming place to invite friends for an evening of community.”

The church hosts several annual events: a worship conference, a Reformation Day festival, a men’s day out trap shoot, and a Christmas sing. A Reformed Mission Services team has conducted a vacation Bible study during the last two summers. “These have been a great opportunity to build inner community and also receive guests,” he relates. “Most of the guests are not neighborhood visitors, but those friends who had been personally invited.”

Each year, the church hosts a booth at the county fair, distributing literature and engaging the public. They’ve recently begun serving free meals prepared by a local program.

cake“We have found it helpful to set aside times to process these events—how they went, and how we can be faithful to the Lord in word and deed,” Rev. Aalsburg says. “In the past, we’ve also had book studies on personal evangelism, which were well-received; however, this is an area we cannot study too much.”

Although Sioux Falls is located near the Dutch Reformed enclave of Northwest Iowa, Christ Reformed Church represents a wide ethnic composition. “The congregation comes from a diversity of backgrounds,” he says. “And over the years, we marvel at our God bringing together a people with different histories and experiences to worship Him and share life together.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

The Senator and the Seminary

 

wsc-commencement-presenters
Presenters at WSC commencement

Republican senator Ben Sasse, from Nebraska, spoke at the May 28, 2016, commencement service of Westminster Seminary California. His topic was “Never Again Will Jerusalem Grieve.”

Mark MacVey, Vice-President for Enrollment Management, said about the speech, “Senator Sasse reflected on his experience in the U.S. Senate and provided observations regarding the unique cultural challenges that our country is facing at this time, drawing some parallels to the plight of Israel. He encouraged the graduates, especially those that will be pastors, to understand these challenges and the effect they have on the everyday lives of the people in our congregations. Concluding that, ultimately, these are not problems that can be solved by government, but our trust and hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom that is to come.”

This year’s graduating class was the largest in WSC’s history. Of the 55 graduates, 26 received the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, while 29 received the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree. Graduates plan to serve as pastors, teachers, missionaries, scholars, and leaders in the PCA, OPC, URCNA, KAPC, CRC, or ARBCA. Students came from 15 states and eight foreign countries: Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, Turkey, South Korea (3), Romania, Malaysia, and Scotland.

About 750 people attended this 35th Commencement, which took place at 10:00 AM at Emmanuel Faith Community Church in Escondido, CA. A graduation reception was held in the WSC chapel at 7:00 PM on May 27.

wsc-gradsThe above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 10 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

Pella’s heritage: Broken teacups and blooming tulips

 

canalDuring the first week of May, 300,000 tulips in beds lining streets and filling parks of Pella, IA, usually bloom. Whatever the condition of blossoms, local people celebrate their Dutch heritage with an extravaganza of colorful parades, folk dancing, interesting exhibits, and delicious food. Copious amounts of food. Visitors can feed their inner child with funnel cakes, cotton candy, and sno-cones. Ethnic foods range from walking tacos to egg rolls. But highlights for those who graze their way through the three days are distinctly Dutch delights like poffertjies (tiny custardy pancakes), stroopwafels (small round waffles with syrup layered between), and vet bollen (deep-fried dough balls filled with raisins and covered with sugar). Pella bologna can be purchased in many forms, including on a stick. And tourists wait in long bakery lines to buy pastries, especially almond-filled Dutch letters, shaped like an S.

Each year, over 100,000 people flock to Pella’s Tulip Festival to eat the food and see the sights. A successful festival depends in large part on thousands of local volunteers who do everything from donning authentic costumes and scrubbing streets to pushing their babies through the parade in antique buggies. Generations of families carry on such activities as treasured traditions.

baby-paradeMany participants descend from Dutch grandparents or great-grandparents who settled in the area. A few trace their lineage to Dominie Scholte, the minister who led about 800 immigrants to America in 1847 to escape famine and religious oppression in the Netherlands. The colonists determined to name their New World settlement Pella, based on the Decapolis city where Christians found sustenance and refuge when fleeing from Jerusalem in the first century.

Most of the Holland Colony camped outside St. Louis, while Scholte and two other men scouted for a suitable site in Iowa. The three selected a spot on the fertile prairie between the Skunk and Des Moines Rivers and purchased 18,000 acres at about $1.25 per acre (land in the area now can sell for $6,000-8,000/acre).

Many of the families initially lived together in a large shed constructed for shelter. Some stayed in sod houses for two winters, until they could afford to build more permanent homes. A few, like the Scholtes, moved into cabins purchased from previous inhabitants.

Scholte’s wife, Mareah, may have been the most reluctant settler. Accustomed to a more genteel life, she found it difficult to adjust to pioneer living. Although an accomplished woman, she is remembered for crying over broken china. Only a few items of her prized blue and white Delft survived the voyage. The remaining pieces paved a path from the family’s original cabin to the two-story house Scholte built to assuage his wife’s longing for her old home.

windmillAlthough the Scholtes are often idealized, they were flawed people. But the biblical record repeatedly shows how God uses broken people for His purpose. We are jars of clay—often cracked—through which the light of Christ shines by His grace (2 Corinthians 4:6–7).

Not every settler agreed with Scholte’s theological convictions. Some refrained from joining his church, believing that it did not follow the church order adopted at Dort. Later immigrants of similar beliefs joined with earlier settlers in establishing the True Dutch Reformed Church in 1866. The first congregation of its denomination west of the Mississippi River, this church became the First Christian Reformed Church, which still exists, and from which Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) and many other local and far-flung Reformed congregations sprang.

Nearly half of Pella’s almost 30 Christian churches remain Reformed in theological perspective. They embrace doctrines of grace often summarized by the TULIP acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance (or better, Preservation) of the saints. When it comes to the Reformed faith, you could say tulips bloom year around in Pella.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Renewed Strength

This morning, two of my favorite Scripture texts became real to me as never before. You probably love these passages as well. The first is Isaiah 40:28–31.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

The second similar text is Psalm 103:1–5.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 
All my adult life, I’ve considered these as beautiful, meaningful, and true verses. But they hadn’t come to expression in my life. I knew God did all these things in the figurative sense, even in the literal sense for some people. I saw God blessing me in many of these ways over and over; however, I felt older and weaker as I aged.

Yesterday was particularly brutal for some reason. Perhaps recent grief sapped my physical strength. Maybe my adrenaline reserves had been depleted. I suspect I’m fighting off a cold. Whatever the reasons, my physical strength seemed at an especially low ebb. Immediately after dinner, I fell asleep in my recliner. I woke and spent a brief time on the computer, before stumbling to bed at 10:00.

cloudy-skiesAnd I felt just as exhausted when I woke this morning. Although I’d slept fairly well, I was still tired. I crafted some correspondence and did a little online research that initially seemed a waste of precious time. Then I did my devotions.

I’m reading The One Year Chronological Bible, published by Tyndale, and I finished Job this morning. I absolutely love that book of the Bible! I love God’s direct speech to a mere mortal: “Brace yourself like a man” (Job 38:3, 40:7). I love God’s vivid imagery and relentless litany describing His power and sovereignty.

We’re all a bit like Job at times. When we suffer with no apparent cause, a niggling part of our sinful nature would like to give God a piece of our mind. Certainly, we’re tempted to ask, “Why?” But as someone once suggested to my husband and me, better questions to ask God might be, “What do You want to teach me through this?” and “How do You want me to serve You in this?”

As I spent time communing with God after my Bible reading, I realized how my earlier correspondence and online research had piqued my literary interests and fueled my flagging creativity.

The more I thought and prayed, the more I became aware of God’s blessings in my life and His awesome power. Is anything too hard for the God who laid the earth’s foundation and marked off its dimensions, who stretched a measuring line across it and laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:4–7)?

My spirit was refreshed and my strength renewed. I felt as eager to tackle my work as a war horse spoiling for battle (Job 39:19–25). I’m rising on eagle wings.

Puritan project

reformation_heroes_front__33203__81433-1294352909-1280-1280Since last March, I’ve been writing biographical sketches about Puritans. These will appear in Puritan Heroes, which I’m writing with Dr. Joel Beeke for Reformation Heritage Books. Puritan Heroes will be formatted similarly to RHB’s popular Reformation HeroesMarketed for all ages, it will be written to appeal to twelve-year-old readers.

This is a big project that I was reluctant to take on. Puritans? What do I know about the Puritans? The required research seemed staggering. And weren’t the Puritans a bit boring? How in the world would I make biographical information about them interesting to adolescents?

But the Lord led me to believe this was something I should do, so I signed the contract. My life seemed busy before, but it has been intense since. And, like most people, I have family and other commitments that keep me from focusing exclusively on work.

As usual for a large project, I created a chart to schedule my writing. I’d have about three weeks per Puritan. Wow! That was tight. A little too tight for comfort, but I kept on schedule…until what we euphemistically call “the holidays.” That oxymoronic time of year when we feast and fellowship with family, giving thanks to God for all He’s given us and (a short time later) praising Him for the great gift of salvation through Immanuel, God with us. The last two months of one year and the beginning of the next are full of joy, but always seems to include unavoidable stress. This year, my schedule became unexpectedly complicated with another project and family matters.

I fell behind on the Puritans. Still, I’m more than halfway through the project with the first drafts for twelve of the twenty-two proposed subjects completed. I’ve focused on one at a time, and God has provided the information needed for each story.

Something surprising happened along the way. I fell in love with the Puritans. I felt an amazing affinity for each individual and rejoiced in their wholehearted faith. I had long known Anne Bradstreet as a fellow poet and kindred spirit, but many of these dead white men now live vibrantly in my mind as well.

41fser4qegl-_sy346_What joy to learn from John Howe about Delighting in God, to witness the marital love and fruitful ministry of Joseph and Theodosia Alleine, and to discover the “warm-hearted divinity” of Richard Sibbes (p. 128, Richard Sibbes, Early Stuart Preacher of Piety by Harold Patton Shelly).

Lord willing, Puritan Heroes will be close to being in your hands by this time next year. Meanwhile, I’m embracing the challenges and blessings of my Puritan journey.

God’s faithfulness in the fire

 

study-3A massive fire destroyed much of the Faith United Reformed Church building in West Olive, MI, on May 13. No one was inside at the time, and Pastor Matthew Nuiver was one of the first to notice smoke as he drove up that morning.

“Initially I thought maybe it was a brush fire,” he said, “but as I got closer I saw the smoke appeared to be coming from the steeple.” He immediately called 911.

The fire moved quickly, engulfing the sanctuary and collapsing its roof within 40 minutes of the initial call. Smoke from the fire could be seen almost ten miles away. More than a dozen fire crews responded to the scene, and tanker trucks from surrounding townships provided water to ladder units. A fire wall between wings helped firefighters keep the inferno from spreading through the entire building, although the part still standing sustained some damage, primarily from smoke and water. The sanctuary section of the structure was completely destroyed.

News crews were quick on the scene, and Pastor Nuiver had the opportunity to testify on television networks about God’s faithfulness in the midst of loss.

“Certainly it’s gutting, and we’re disappointed,” he said, “but these are things that God can provide for us again and replace. We’re thankful no one was hurt. And we know that God is always faithful, so we’re trusting him.”

He also emphasized that the church is more than a building, even though it holds many emotional associations from weddings, baptisms, and funerals. “Those connections are all there, and they’re very important. So we don’t want to minimize that, but at the same time, the church is the people. And we’re thankful for the ways we’re going to be able to rally around each other.”

Several members of the congregation, who gathered to watch the fire, comforted each other and also witnessed to reporters. Marc Jaarsma reflected on the baptisms of his four children within the building. “Those memories can’t burn. Those milestones, and those special occasions,” he said. He expressed his confidence that the congregation would get through this. “Obviously our faith and trust in the Good Lord is going to be primary in that task.”

Elder Arlan Rouwhorst, identified as the church custodian, said, “I know the people in this church, and it’s a bump in the road. God has so faithful to this congregation and will continue to be. I know that beyond a doubt.”

The cause of the fire was being investigated, but media reports indicated that it did not appear suspicious.

Offers for worship facilities and assistance flooded in following the fire. Pastor Nuiver said, “It’s just overwhelming how people have offered use of space and other assistance.”

The congregation met for a special prayer service on Saturday evening, May 14. Sunday services on May 15 were held at South Olive CRC in Holland, MI, the congregation from which many Faith members came about 20 years ago. Faith’s services were held at 11:15 AM and 6:30 PM, following South Olive’s 9:30 AM and 5:00 PM services.

“It was seamless as far as sharing the worship space,” Pastor Nuiver explained, “although the media people outside did make it a little bit of a circus.”

Tad Groenendyk, a member of Faith URC and seminarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, had been scheduled to preach on May 15, and the elders asked him to go ahead as scheduled. His morning sermon was “Rejoice in the Lord!” and was based on Philippians 4:4-9. Although there was some discussion regarding the appropriateness of the text, Pastor Nuiver encouraged him to preach on it, saying, “This is the very time we need to hear these words.” The evening sermon was “The Lord Conquers a Heart,” based on Joshua 2.

Pastor Nuiver commented online later that day, “Thankful for the power of the gospel and prayer and the way that He builds His people together to be a place of His dwelling.”

Dealing with the fire’s aftermath and the insurance process seems overwhelming. The section of the building still standing consists of a gymnasium/fellowship hall, kitchen, bathrooms, and several classrooms. The destroyed part contained the sanctuary, some classrooms, bathrooms, nursery, church library, and secretary’s office. It also included Pastor Nuiver’s study with his library of books.

He has received offers to donate replacements, but is still trying to determine what he had and what he needs. The congregation plans to continue sharing worship space with South Olive CRC at least through May, but the Council has yet to decide on a course of action for the longer term.

“There are lots of questions we still have to ask as far as going forward,” Pastor Nuiver said. Some of those include if the existing wing can be restored adequately and if it provides sufficient space for 300 people to worship, classes to meet, and a nursery to be provided.

Pastor Nuiver admits the difficulty of trying to figure out the new normal while dealing with the losses. “This definitely changes the narrative for our church in some ways, but I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.”

A couple of items pulled from the rubble and shown on television news demonstrate both loss and hope. A charred Bible, its cover burned off and pages singed, originally belonged to Pastor Nuiver’s great-grandfather. An encased shovel, donated by Pauline Dyke and her late husband Harris, was used to break ground for the building nearly 20 years ago.

“He saved it for us. That means we’ve got to do it over,” Pauline told reporters, smiling through her tears. She later added, “We know the Lord is good and He has a purpose for it all.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 14 & 15 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.