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URC seeks right house for worship in DC

 

bldg 2For the last five years, Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) has met for worship in the historic Grace Reformed Church building, located on 15th Street in downtown Washington, DC. Like other Gothic Revival style churches, the building features lofty spires and luminous stained-glass windows. But the architecture stands alone in its sculptural tributes to key places and persons of the Reformation.

About to enter the front of the building, you’d see an arch over the double doors that bears the name “Grace Reformed Church” and depicts Christ’s ascension. You might pause in surprise when you noticed the arch is flanked by shields for the cities of Zurich and Geneva. Lift your eyes higher, above the soaring stained-glass window to the very top of the building’s facade, and you’d see a carved figure holding the coat of arms for Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate, who commissioned the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism.

A Sunday School building echoes the Gothic Revival style as well as the theological emphasis. Dr. Brian Lee, Christ Reformed Church’s minister, calls the building’s outside wall on the south, “Washington DC’s version of the Reformation Wall.” Sculpted elements list Zwingli and Calvin, Bullinger and Beza, Ursinus and Olevianus.

How did the structures come to be embellished with such distinctly Reformed touches? The history page on the church’s website provides the answer. In order to appropriately represent the church’s philosophy, architect Paul J. Pelz studied the history of the Reformed church and became inspired by it. Sculptor James F. Earley incorporated the unique names and symbols, contributing to a final appearance that Pelz believed made Grace Reformed “more artistic than any church in this city.”

pewsThe Reformed Church Messenger, the denomination newsletter, agreed with that assessment while affirming the clarity of the building’s Reformed witness. An article about the church’s dedication in 1903 reported, “In erecting this building the Reformed Church has done an appropriate thing in a beautiful way…. Within and without it is as beautiful and artistic as it is substantial and complete…. It stands as a monument first of all to the power and grace of the kingdom of Jesus Christ but it represents at the same time the history and genius of the Reformed Church….. The style of architecture; the shields of Geneva, Zurich and the Palatinate; the emblems cut into stone arches over the entrances to the church and the memorials in the windows and the chancel, combine to make one harmonious story easily understood by anyone who knows the Reformed church.”

A structure with such Reformed elements seems the perfect place for the newly-organized URC congregation to meet, except for the fact that the building is for sale and Christ Reformed Church needs to find a new meeting location once it sells.

The building belongs to Grace Reformed Church, formerly a Reformed Church in the United States congregation, but now part of the United Church of Christ. The dwindling congregation, composed primarily of elderly parishioners, has realized for some time that it could not continue to maintain the building. In the summer of 2016, the church informed Christ Reformed that current rental arrangements would conclude soon.

FrederickAlthough the owners appear willing for the building to remain a place of worship and encouraged Christ Reformed to put together a proposal, that possibility does not seem likely. Church buildings in the DC area bring a premium sale price because real estate developers are keen to convert them into high-end condominiums or other lucrative secular uses. Because Grace Reformed Church, with its Sunday School building and parish house, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, its value could be even higher than average. While Dr. Lee hates to speculate, recent sales lead him to estimate the building could be sold for around $5 million. He foresees the proceeds being placed into a trust that would eventually benefit UCC charities.

While the loss of this unique location poses extreme challenges to the fledgling congregation, leaders and lay members are embracing the opportunity to assess and solidify the church’s vision and mission.

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Dr. Brian Lee

“This is a blessing,” Dr. Lee says, “especially for a newly-organized church like ours, a precious opportunity to ask anew where the Lord would have us plant our pilgrim flag and how he would have us serve him in this time and place.”

About a dozen volunteers, representing a broad range of the congregation’s demographic, are meeting for prayer and discernment. Part of their task is to determine questions and issues to bring before the entire congregation. Do they want to continue meeting downtown as the only Reformed witness in the city? Or do they want to move out to the suburbs, where most of them live? Do they want to continue focusing exclusively on Sunday worship and fellowship or find a facility that will permit the implementation of mid-week programs? Parking in DC is a problem, and many residents prefer not to drive in or out of the city. Church leaders feel it is important for members of the congregation to have input and play an active role in the important decisions that must be made.

Dr. Lee views this as a two-step process. The first step is figuring out, “How do we want to live our life together?” And the second step follows. “If we do that, what kind of building do we need?”

He explains that doing ministry in the midst of a city with a highly-transitory population is very different from the situation experienced by many URC congregations. Churches in smaller towns often enjoy a “generational aspect” that provides continuity and foundational resources. By trial and error, Christ Reformed Church has been discovering the “little details” that work within its metropolitan context. Although many city churches have updated worship or made compromises in other areas, Dr. Lee believes the congregation remains committed to the priority of worship that centers on the preached Word. Nevertheless, the church faces what he calls a “covenantal renewal moment.”

“This is a big step in the life of our church,” he says. “We’ve always been somewhat ‘accidental’ in our worship space, and we desire now to make a more intentional and long-term commitment in a particular neighborhood with a particular vision.”

Christ Reformed Church began meeting for worship on November 4, 2007, under the supervision of Zeltenreich URC (New Holland, PA). Classis Eastern U.S. concurred with the request for organization on October 14, 2015, and a celebratory worship service was held on January 21, 2016.

The congregation consists of about 70 total souls, although its composition is constantly changing. One family recently moved out of state, but two young women are being instructed toward membership. In addition to Dr. Lee, the church is served by two deacons and an elder. A former elder, who served for many years, continues as a member of the church.

As Christ Reformed Church faces the challenge of what may well be the loss of its historic and unique location, the congregation requests prayer for unity.

“We’re not so much seeking a particular outcome, as we desire spiritual unity through this process,” Dr. Lee says. “And stay tuned to see how the Lord blesses us during this time. He is the Lord of Provision, and we know he will.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18-20 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

OPC church plant in Wisconsin: unique outreach efforts

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The McShaffrey family

Next time you vacation in the Wisconsin Dells, plan to drive less than 20 miles southwest to Reedsburg and worship with the saints at Grace Reformed Church. You’ll find sound preaching and warm fellowship in a congregation that reaches out in unusual ways.

The church began as a mission work of the Presbytery of the Midwest of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and was organized (particularized) as a church in 2007, with the ordination of three elders. Two deacons were installed in July of 2013.

Rev. Christian M. McShaffrey has been involved with the work since he graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 2003. He was ordained as an evangelist in 2004 and installed as pastor of the church in 2007.

“Though we are organized as a church, my work is not done,” he says. “While at Mid-America, I learned the ‘three-self’ formula of missions: 1) Self-governing, 2) self-supporting, and 3) self-propagating. The first two are done, but the third is yet future.”

The congregation consists of 48 communicant and 14 non-communicant members. They meet for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM in a PCUSA, whose space they rent at 148 North Park St. in Reedsburg. A luncheon at 12:30 PM follows the morning service. Members meet again for singing and prayer at 1:30, with a Bible study beginning at 1:45.

Rev. McShaffrey explains that the group originally met for morning and evening services, but because many members travel as much as an hour, evening attendance was lacking. When the congregation began renting its current facility, the worship schedule had to be adjusted around that church’s 9:30 AM service.

“The current schedule was based on necessity, but I have come to love it,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Attendance in ‘second service’ has increased, and the bonds of our fellowship have deepened by breaking bread together each Sabbath. During the summer months, some linger about at the church in fellowship until evening.”

A home meeting is held each Wednesday at 6:00 PM for prayer, study, and fellowship. Members also take the initiative to sponsor Friday evening hymn sings, summer sporting events, hikes at a nearby state park, or community service projects.

The church’s website (reedsburgchurch.org) highlights several ministry and outreach efforts. One link leads to the unique Serious Christianity website (seriouschristianity.org), which answers multiple questions about different aspects of the Christian faith. Its purpose is to challenge the many “mere professors” of Christianity out of their complacency into true conversion.

“As a church planter, I spent a lot of time talking to people in the community,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Almost everyone claimed to be ‘Christian’ and their claim was based on either 1) growing up in a church or 2) decisional regeneration. Antinomianism is rampant today.”

Visitors to the website can click on questions, which are answered with short, biblically-based articles. Other pages include comments from the Puritans and modern theologians. An “outreach” tab provides access to files for printing cards that invite people to explore the website by asking, “Do you take your Christianity seriously?”

A “diaconate” page on the church website introduces a couple of deacons, extensively explains their work and church guidelines, and offers links to other local resources.

We have a fairly active diaconate,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “We meet a lot of people by offering help. Of course, the majority of our work in done within the church. But I get about one phone call per week from strangers asking for help. Somehow, our church got the reputation of being generous, and I know that other pastors direct people to us. Having a public policy posted is helpful when it comes time to say, ‘No.’”

The website also includes links to Bible audio files and a way to request a free copy of a Bible.

“I believe that the Word of God is powerful. Reading it can change lives,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “One of our deacons is a Gideon and his love for distributing Scripture encouraged me to do the same. I get about one call per month. I order and ship directly from Amazon.com (because most people are not interested in meeting). I include my name and phone number in the front cover.”

Grace Reformed also offers Bibles through its radio ministry. It broadcasts sermons and prayer times as well as sponsoring daily Bible reading. When Pastor McShaffrey introduces himself to people, they often ask, “Are you the Christian who gives away free Bibles on the radio?”

The website includes an invitation page in Spanish, although it acknowledges that a specific Spanish-language ministry does not yet exist. The website even includes directions for taking a cab to the church service and having the deacons pay the fare.

Most church members participate in the annual Life Chain, in which pro-life advocates stand together to pray for God to forgive our nation and put an end to abortion. The Reedsburg group stands on Main Street for 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Rev. McShaffrey says, “It is a visual statement of solidarity by the local Christian community that abortion kills children, hurts women, and angers God.”

In addition to his ministerial duties, Rev. McShaffrey serves as Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest. He appreciates his education at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, saying, “I received sound theological instruction and was also encouraged by the good example of my professors in seeking the peace, purity, and unity of the church.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Church plant takes root in Romania

 

benediction-croppedIn 2013, Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, welcomed Mihai and Lidia Corcea, a young couple who had traveled from Romania for Mihai to study at Westminster Seminary California. During 2016, Mihai graduated on May 28, sustained his candidacy exam by Classis SWUS on July 19, and was ordained on July 24. The couple returned to Bucharest on July 25, where they began a church plant.

“It has been a tremendous blessing to see how the Lord has answered our prayers for Mihai and Lidia,” Rev. Michael Brown says. “I met Mihai years ago, when he and another member of the core group in Bucharest, Claudiu Stefu, travelled to Milan for its Reformation conference. He told me about the desperate need in Romania for solid churches to be planted. He explained that, besides a few Hungarian-speaking churches, there is no Reformed presence in Romania, nothing to reach the Romanian-speaking population. I was impressed with Mihai’s passion about bringing the gospel to his native country and planting confessional churches. It was obvious that he had given much thought about how to do in Romania what Rev. Ferrari was doing in Italy. We discussed the challenges and obstacles to planting a Reformed church in Bucharest. At the time, it seemed almost impossible, little more than a dream.”

ordination-2
L-R: Elder Dan Palmer, Elder Dr. Ryan Glomsrud, Rev. Mihai Corcea and his wife Lidia, Rev. Michael Brown, Elder Dan Plotner, and Elder Jonathan Taylor

He adds, “But of course, with God all things are possible. Within a couple of years, Mihai and Lidia left their jobs and home in their native country and made the long journey to California.” Mihai began his seminary studies, and the couple attended Christ URC, where they warmly bonded with their church family.

Mihai served a year-long internship at Christ URC, attending consistory and council meetings, teaching catechism classes to youth, and going on home visits with the elders. He also led worship and exhorted at least once per month.

“We were pleased with his maturity, humility, and wisdom,” Rev Brown says. “We had the joy of watching Mihai and Lidia grow in their faith as well as their love for Christ’s church.”
ordination-3-cRev. Brown says Mihai did “an exceptional job” on his candidacy exam, “which is especially remarkable when you consider that he did this in a second language.”

At Mihai’s ordination service on July 24, Rev. Brown preached from Ephesians 4:1-16 and gave the charges to the pastor and congregation. Rev. Corcea pronounced the benediction. He is now a Missionary Pastor, called to make disciples in Romania by planting a church in Bucharest and evangelizing the lost.

“I think the best way I can describe the church that we hope to establish in Bucharest is by the three parts of the Heidelberg Catechism,” Rev. Corcea says. “Our church plant should be a people gathering in a place where they understand their sin and misery, they receive the knowledge of God’s merciful salvation through the gospel, and they start living more and more according to all the commandments of God out of thankfulness for God’s grace.”

exterior-cThe Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest (Biserica Evanghelica Reformata din Bucuresti) began meeting in a rented building in downtown Bucharest. It is about three minutes walking distance from a subway station and two blocks from the city’s largest park.

“We chose this location because it is easily accessible to anyone by car or subway,” he says. “We are also very close to the financial district where most young professionals work.”

A few local Reformed Christians, who had became members of Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia (Rev. Ferrari’s work in Milan) four years ago, now attend services at 10 AM and 6 PM. Church members are inviting friends and family to worship, and the group utilizes social media, such as Facebook, and have a website, where they post video recordings of the sermons.

Although Milan is a two-hour flight away, the two church plants encourage each other. The consistory of Christ URC supervises both groups by maintaining regular contact with the pastors, encouraging them, and helping raise funds for support. Each church planter reports via Skype at Christ URC’s month consistory meetings and communicates weekly via email. The hope is for Rev. Brown and an elder to visit Bucharest in conjunction with their annual visit to Milan.

“We believe that an annual visit to our missionaries from a member of our consistory is an important component of effective oversight,” Rev. Brown says, “as it helps us to encourage them on the field and maintain our fellowship with them.”

interior-1-cAlthough a Reformed presence previously existed in Romania, the last Romanian Reformed church disappeared in the 19th century. Today 97% percent of Bucharest’s two million people are Eastern Orthodox.

While Mihai was growing up, his family left Eastern Orthodoxy to become Baptists. But he experienced a great deal of religious confusion as a young person. The Bible began to make sense for him when he started reading Reformed literature. His stint at Westminster and time at Christ URC have shaped the way he envisions the Reformed church in Bucharest.

“Spending three years in an URC church in California has helped me understand more that church is not an add-on to our ‘relationship with Jesus,’ but the main way through which God has promised to bless us. As I preach every Sunday and I look at the covenant children present in our church plant, I am reminded of God’s grace to them that they have the opportunity to grow up in a church where they are catechized according to the truth of the gospel. I rejoice in the fact that, Lord willing, they will not have to go through the same confusion and pain of not having a healthy church close to them.”

In addition to the work involved with planting a church, the Corceas plan to begin publishing Reformed literature that they have translated over the last three years. He says, “We hope that by this small Reformed publishing house, we will be able to raise awareness of the Reformed church and the Reformed doctrine and practice.”

The Corceas appreciate the financial support they received during Mihai’s seminary years, saying they are “greatly thankful” for the “love and generosity” of individuals and churches.

Rev. Brown explains that the Romanian mission work is funded by URCNA congregations who wish to participate in “this exciting opportunity to make disciples in Romania and establish a confessional and Reformed denomination in that country.” He adds, “We encourage all churches in the URCNA to consider supporting this mission, helping us to shoulder the burden of this worthy labor for Christ and his gospel.”

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the September 21, 2016, issues of Christian Renewal.

Rosaria Butterfield offers a Gospel perspective

rosaria-croppedHow should Christians participate in today’s culture wars? Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New Braunfels, TX, addressed that question by hosting a conference at which Dr. Rosaria Butterfield spoke about “A Welcoming Gospel.”

Rosaria Butterfield is the well-known author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, which chronicles her journey from a tenured professor, who self-identified as lesbian and atheist, to a minister’s wife, whose identify is in Christ.

Christ Presbyterian Church advertised the conference as “an effort to change from a field of battle to a place of hearing, understanding, and healing” and “lay down our arms, not to surrender our beliefs, but to embrace our LGBT neighbors with the compassion of Christ and to bind their wounds—and ours—with the gospel of peace.”

Over 250 people from all over southern Texas attended the conference on August 11 & 12, 2016. Rosaria began the conference on Thursday evening by describing her conversion experience as something that felt like “a train wreck” or “an alien abduction” or perhaps “a bit of both.”

She said, “I was actually not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief.” She defined homosexuality as “a fruit, not a root,” saying, “Homosexuality, at least biblically speaking, is consequential, not causal.” From God’s point of view, it is an “identity-rooted ethical outworking of original sin.”

Identity

Under the topic of “Identity” on Friday afternoon, Rosaria spoke about sexual orientation as a definition of personhood. She explained how sexual orientation went from a category invention in the 19th century to an idol in the 20th century to a civil right in the 21st century. She said, “In 2015, when five unelected Supreme Court judges appended (or attached) sexual orientation to the 14th amendment, sexual orientation metastasized from a description of one’s felt sexual desires to a national idol with civil right weight.”

She said, “Gay marriage did much more than change the definition of marriage, it changed the definition of personhood. When a culture embraces a category of personhood that rejects God as author of our person and purpose, we lose our grip on any truthful understanding of who we are, and we no longer then have access to categories like sin, grace, heaven, hell, repentance, faith, forgiveness, restoration.”

Rosaria urged Christians to embrace biblical truth and not to bow to the idol of sexual orientation. If Christians accept it as a definition of personhood, believing there is such a thing as a gay person, “then on what grounds do you oppose it as a civil right? You’re either a bigot or a theonomist. But if you don’t believe that this is a category of personhood that God assigned to His people, that’s the bridge of gospel hope.”

with pastor Dick Jones
Rosaria with COC Senior Pastor Dick Jones

Community

Speaking Friday evening on “Loving Community,” Rosaria discussed the need for Christians to go beyond fellowship with like-minded believers to open their homes and hearts to needy neighbors. She said, “I believe that Christian hospitality and the community that develops from it is the ground zero of our life in Christ.” Having experienced the closely knit companionship of her gay network, Rosaria initially felt that “Christians were living on a starvation diet of community.” She urged listeners to “create places of compassion,” saying, “Home is where isolation is broken…where suffering meets accompaniment. Home is the best place to incorporate people who need you into the rhythms of life together.”

Audio recordings of the three conference sessions are available online at sermonaudio.com under speaker Rosaria Butterfield. After each conference speech, Rosaria also answered questions from the audience.

According to conference coordinator Jana Henry, “It was apparent in the unrecorded Q&A sessions, that many in our community have loved ones and family living the gay lifestyle. They are hurting, unsure how to handle it, and Rosaria gave them some very wise advice. From Christians who have same sex attraction, to parents of children who are marrying their same sex partners, all came together to hear a message of God’s love and how we can best express it to a fallen world.”

Rosaria also spoke to ministers and their wives at a special luncheon on Friday. She addressed the unique position in which they find themselves as they attempt to relate to others and how their ministries differ from those of lay persons.

Andrew Moody, pastor of San Antonio Reformed Church, said, “Listening to how God used a Reformed pastor and his wife to befriend Rosaria and point her to Jesus in the Scriptures is an encouragement that God works powerfully even through humble servants such as we are. May He give us more opportunities to forge such friendships with people in desperate need of His grace.”

The conference met organizers’ expectations with regard to the content of Rosaria’s messages, while Rosaria herself and listener response surpassed expectations. “Rosaria was winsome and approachable. She was very giving of herself to others,” Jana said. “We received overwhelmingly positive responses from attendees. Some admitted reluctance to attend and did not plan to come for all the sessions. After hearing Rosaria speak, her openness, her honesty and humility, they expressed enthusiasm for the conference and its blessings.”

One person wrote, “I was challenged to examine what I may be taking for granted when I respond to others. Am I holding myself at a safe distance and leaving a needy soul to twist in the wind? Rosaria’s admonishment, ‘To put the hand of the suffering into the hand of the Savior, you have to stand close enough to get hurt’ has returned to mind over and over again. Am I protecting myself instead of fulfilling the call to minister to others who need Christ?”

Jana concluded, “Rosaria emphasized that her problem was not that she identified as a lesbian, her problem was that she denied Christ. Looking through that prism, one could plug in any number of other sins in place of homosexuality and see that the message is about Christ overcoming sin. Changing one’s lifestyle will not bring salvation, but salvation through Christ will change our lives.”

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Rosaria speaking to pastors and their wives

Christ Presbyterian Church frequently hosts conferences that challenge Christians to think with a biblical world and life view, securing speakers able to communicate truth in particular spheres of influence. “A Welcoming Gospel” was a one-time event to address a current need in our culture. The church also hosts two annual conferences. Each spring, a women’s conference is held with speakers such as Nancy Guthrie, Melissa Kruger, and Aimee Byrd. In July, the church organizes an annual Patriotic Celebration with speakers that have included Tony Perkins (president of Family Research Council), Kelly Shackelford (president and CEO of First Liberty Institute), and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin.

In 2015, Crown and Covenant Publications (the publishing arm of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) released Rosaria’s second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identify and Union with Christ. Rosaria is currently at work on The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the September 21, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Wide range of responses to 2016 PCA GA’s actions

 

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Photos courtesy of the PCA GA 2016 website

The 44th General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) met from June 20-23, 2016. Responses to its actions ranged from trivial humor to full approval to serious concern.

A new denominational logo, which depicts a cross and an open Bible, occasioned social media remarks noting a resemblance to the helmet of Boba Fett, a Star Wars character. Even the Washington Times picked up the story, running a brief online article that cited tweets and featured a photoshopped image posted by the Facebook group, “Presbyterian Memes.”

The social media spate about the logo quickly faded, but some responses to other actions continued. The GA’s more significant actions dealt with racial reconciliation and the role of women. It also received noteworthy information regarding sexual brokenness and a department name change at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Racial Reconciliation

Racial Reconciliation was discussed at length on the final evening of the 2015 GA and came before the 2016 Assembly in the form of 43 overtures. Many of them echoed sentiments found in others, and the Overtures Committee incorporated elements from several into one, which commissioners approved.

The document, “Pursuing Racial Reconciliation and the Advance of the Gospel,” stated six resolutions. The first two recognized, confessed, condemned, and repented of “corporate and historical sins” in the past and “continuing” racial sins as well as “failures to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures” and “lovingly confront brothers and sisters” concerning racial sins. The third reaffirmed the GA’s commitment to racial reconciliation for God’s glory and the gospel’s furtherance. The fourth urged congregations and presbyteries to inform members about the resolution in order that they may “prayerfully confess their own racial sins” and strive toward reconciliation for the gospel advancement, the love of Christ, and the glory of God. The fifth brought attention to a pastoral letter (contained in Overture 55) as an example of how to provide leadership toward reconciliation. The final resolution reminded churches and presbyteries of sections in the Book of Church Order (BCO) that provide means for dealing with persons who continue to sin in these areas.

Some commissioners objected to the listing of continuing sins as inaccurate reflections of current practice. Others seemed to protest the practice of confessing past sins as a denomination. Rev. Reed DePace, pastor of First Presbyterian, the Church at Chantilly (Pike Road, AL) addressed this aspect in a guest post at Lane Keister’s “Greenbaggins” blog.

He wrote, “Regarding the issue of our denomination’s repentance for sins in the Civil Rights era, this is the most common objection raised by those who sincerely disagree with actions taken at the PCA 2016 General Assembly.” He believed it’s not that they fail to recognize the need for repentance, but rather “they do not agree with what we might call corporate-historic repentance.” He made a case, based on biblical models, why such a practice is “biblically valid” and applies to this matter.

Commissioners additionally approved the formation of a study committee to recommend specific steps toward racial reconciliation and the advance of the gospel. The GA also voted to create a PCA Unity Fund, administered by Mission to North America (MNA), to “raise up” future church leaders from minority groups.

27353609224_6ca0374c8a_zRole of Women

Against advice and over many objections, a study committee was established to examine the role of women in the PCA.

The proposal for a study committee came from the PCA’s Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC). The Committee of Commissioners (CoC), which functions in an advisory capacity for the GA, recommended against a study committee for two reasons: 1) the matter had been clearly decided in 2009, and 2) this issue had not come before the GA in a proper manner. The 37th GA in 2009 had stated that “the question of the role of women in the church is not a new or unstudied issue” and a study committee would be “unlikely to break new ground or shed new insights.” Both the 36th and the 37th GAs declared the “appropriate ways to bring” such issues before the GA are “through presbytery overtures” to amend the BCO and “the preferred method” of calling for “study committees should be through the Presbyteries.”

Many commissioners agreed with the CoC, 26 of them filing a formal protest.  According to a June 28 report by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra at ChristianityToday.com, protesters included Dominic Aquila, President of New Geneva Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs, CO, Andrew Barnes, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, MO, and Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr, President of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Stated Clerk L. Roy Taylor reported that the GA approved a response to the protest, which called it a “grave mischaracterization of the action.” On July 7, GPTS online published an extensive report about President Pipa’s protest, relating the GA’s response to it. Dr. Pipa left the hall shortly before midnight, during the closing session. After his departure, those favoring the study objected to the protest (that had already been received) on grounds it included ‘”intemperate language” (which may not appear in protests).

The GPTS report continued: “The objectors, led by World magazine founder and former G.A. moderator Joel Belz of Asheville, N.C., charged that Dr. Pipa’s claim that the study committee was being created ‘with no apparent respect to Scriptural or Confessional parameters’ was intemperate. The Assembly overwhelmingly accepted the objection, while still registering the Pipa protest, the result being that both the protest and the objection to it were accepted by the Assembly.”

The GPTS report fleshed out points of the protest as well as GPTS policy, which allows women to obtain degrees that do not lead to ordination. It concluded with moderate remarks from Dr. Richard Phillips, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, in Greenville, SC: “Given the way that gender roles have served as a battering ram against the walls of biblical authority in so many Protestant denominations, progressives should not be surprised that conservatives feel threatened by this initiative. Moreover, conservatives were alarmed that this motion originated not from a presbytery but from the denominational headquarters and were distressed when the moderator overruled a procedural objection against the action. Actual events should relieve much of this anxiety, however, as our well-respected moderator appointed a study committee that is amply stocked with complementarian stalwarts.”

According to By Faith’s online article, the study committee was to be composed of men and women, representing “the diversity of opinions” within the PCA, and would explore issues of: 1) the biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination; 2) the biblical nature and function of the office of deacon; 3) clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses; and 4) should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, to propose such changes for the GA to consider. The committee is to propose a pastoral letter that could be sent to the churches, encouraging them to promote the practice of women in ministry, appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries. A $15,000 budget was recommended for the committee.

27583693530_246169915f_zSexual Brokenness

The 44th GA received a report from the subcommittee on Sexual Brokenness in a Fallen World, which addressed the issue from a pastoral perspective and listed resources. Many commissioners attended and appreciated a seminar on the matter of human sexuality.

Covenant Theological Seminary

The PCA’s seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, has changed the name of its Systematic Theology department to Missional Theology.

Rev. Terry L. Johnson, pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA, expressed his concern about this and other GA matters in a post on the “reformation21” blog. “Missional is a fashionable term of recent coinage. This, of itself, is enough to raise suspicions,” he writes. “I heard the discussion while present on the floor of the Assembly and was alarmed, not comforted.” Although he has been assured the curriculum was not reduced, he remains concerned that incorporating “missional themes” may occupy “time and energy otherwise devoted to traditional” systematics curriculum, with a possible result of diluting “commitment to core dogmatics.”

Stated Clerk Taylor described three evening worship services as highlights of the GA. Dr. Tim Keller, Dr. Thurman Williams, and retiring moderator Jim Wert (a ruling elder) spoke at the services. Keith and Kristy Getty presented music one evening.

The 44th GA took place in Mobile, AL. The 45th PCA GA is slated for June 12-16, 2017, in Greensboro, NC.

The above is an edited version of an article that appeared on pages 9-11 of the August 24, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

RCA: Somber synod affirms joyful marriage

 

The 2016 General Synod of the Reformed Church in America affirmed marriage as “a joyful covenanting between a man and a woman,” but Synod’s atmosphere was more melancholy than joyful. And a similar level of disunity would strain any marriage.

Some delegates, who anticipated difficult decisions regarding denominational affiliation, felt a sense of reprieve.

“God showed His right arm of mercy upon the RCA, in my opinion,” said Rev. Mark Jicinsky, a delegate who pastors Ebenezer Reformed Church in Leighton, IA. “Many of us arrived thinking we needed to prepare to part ways with the RCA when Synod would finish, but not many left with those same feelings.”

Other delegates experienced Synod from a very different perspective. Rev. Jacinsky believes it was “an extremely difficult Synod, if not devastating” for many who were “shocked and saddened” by decisions. He said, “One thing was clear, the grief the last day of Synod was palpable as we all felt it.”

The lack of unity was recognized by denominational officials. “We do not have agreement as a denomination, and we do not have consensus,” reported General Secretary Dr. Tom De Vries. “[T]he decisions of General Synod illustrated how much diversity of thought there is within our denomination. For those looking for a more traditional view of marriage as between a man and a woman, the results of Synod were welcomed. However, those who sought to move the RCA to a fully open and affirming denomination experienced a General Synod that was not willing to go in that direction.” Regarding the mood of delegates, he added, “Synod ended on a somber note, with a recognition of nearly all delegates that the decisions of Synod brought pain to brothers and sisters.”

Still he expressed his hope in the future of the RCA, challenging its members to love one another “fully and completely” and through that “commitment to love…figure out how to find resolution and reconciliation that is God-honoring, and a witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.”

Ringing the bell
Ringing the bell at the RCA Synod (photos courtesy of the RCA)

General Synod met from June 9-14, 2016, on the campus of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL. In addition to actions related to marriage, delegates paved the way for commissioned pastors to become ordained ministers, approved matters related to mass incarceration, encouraged classes to develop family leave policies, and celebrated the RCA’s Transformed and Transforming ministry goal.

Human sexuality

General Synod took multiple actions related to human sexuality this year. Delegates voted in favor of elevating the Order for Christian Marriage liturgy to constitutional status. The liturgy had been recommended for use in the churches in 2002, however, becoming part of the constitution would make it the approved form for marriages within the RCA. The document states: “Christian marriage is a joyful covenanting between a man and a woman.”

The recommendation was one of five presented by a special council that met in April, at the direction of the 2015 General Synod, to find “a constitutional pathway forward” regarding human sexuality issues related to “ordination and marriage.”

The other four recommendations called for a report on the church order and past synodical statements, defined marriage as “between two persons,” suggested the establishment of “affinity classes” for like-minded persons, or recommended the appointment of a task force to explore “options and consequences…for grace-filled and orderly separation over time, should the different perspectives regarding human sexuality keep us from remaining as one.” Although delegates debated these four recommendations at length, none were adopted.

The recommendation to make the Order for Christian Marriage liturgy part of the constitution must be approved by two-thirds of the classes and ratified at the 2017 General Synod.

Another action requires the same ratification process because it would amend the RCA’s Book of Church Order. The approved amendment seeks to “assure that marriages solemnized in a church or congregation are between a man and a woman.”

When the original form of this amendment came before the 2015 General Synod, it suggested only that consistories or governing bodies should “determine what marriages may be solemnized in a church or congregation.” Synod 2015 deferred that initial amendment to Synod 2016 to allow the special council to work with it in April. The special council recommended no substantive change, although it suggested emphasizing the authority and responsibility of classes and consistories.

On the floor of Synod this year, a substitute motion was adopted that introduced the language “between one man and one woman.” That substitute motion was reviewed by a committee before coming back for vote. Delegates approved this final form: “The consistory or governing body shall assure that marriages solemnized in a church or congregation are between a man and a woman.”

Again, the above two actions require approval by two-thirds of classes and then synodical ratification in 2017.

Before Synod dismissed, delegates demonstrated compassion by passing this resolution:

No matter what position we as Christians have taken on the moral status of same-sex behavior, we reject all forms of mockery, degrading words and thoughts, economic oppression, abuse, threats, and violence made against members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we call on anyone involved in such behavior to repent and immediately begin walking in obedience to Jesus’ command to love.

A related matter dealt with reparative therapy, which encompasses the spectrum of treatments aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation. Last year, the General Synod answered an overture by directing a committee to study the issue and report this year.

In its research, the study committee discovered documentation of reparative therapy’s adverse effects, but no data supporting its effectiveness.

Synod floor
Synod floor (photos courtesy of the RCA)

General Synod responded to that report with a two-pronged approach. All statements regarding the use of such therapies will be removed from the denominational website. General Synod also declared “that the RCA does not support the use of reorientation/reparative therapy but does affirm the power of the Holy Spirit to transform all lives.”

Delegates also approved a motion directing the General Synod Council to “develop processes and guidelines for forming future special councils and RCA-wide groups so that the full diversity of the church may be accurately seen and represented.”

Commissioned pastors

In recent years, the RCA has been defining and developing the role of commissioned pastors. These are elders trained and approved by their classis and commissioned for specific ministry needs such as church planting, ministerial staff, or hospice service.

The 2016 General Synod approved an effort to facilitate the ordination of commissioned pastors as Ministers of Word and sacrament. The action calls for a meeting between the Commissioned Pastor Advisory Team and the board of trustees for the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency in order “to clarify a more seamless path from commissioned pastor training to the Approved Alternate Route process.”

The Approved Alternate Route permits ordination eligibility without a master of divinity degree. The person must meet certain requirements, which are more extensive than those for a commissioned pastor and are listed in the BCO.

Mass incarceration

Another continuing discussion within the RCA is the subject of mass incarceration. This year’s Synod approved a document, “The Church and Criminal Justice: A Brief Exhortation,” for posting on the new “mass incarceration” page of the denominational website. Churches are encouraged to make use of the document, which laments multiple issues related to incarceration and injustice, including the evils of racism. Among several other things, it affirms a “biblical witness to God’s rich vision of love and justice for all humanity” as well as God’s providence in our lives. It recognizes “our own sinfulness” and the need for a “humane, fair, and appropriately limited” criminal justice system.  It calls for a perspective “shaped by the prodigal grace and mercy of God in Jesus” and for prayer that remembers those in prison.

Synod also approved a meeting of persons “interested in the study and work of mass incarceration as the beginning of a learning community.” According to a report on the RCA website, the estimated cost of the proposed meeting will be over $11,000.

Family leave

General Synod encouraged the classes “to develop and adopt family leave policies, commensurate with other professional positions in society, for ordained clergy serving in churches within their boundaries, as soon as practicable.”

While the recommendation came from the Commission for Women, based on a ministerial survey, the proposal would allow either women or men to devote more time in providing care for loved ones.

Transformed and Transforming

The RCA’s ministry goal, Transformed and Transforming, was highlighted throughout the 2016 General Synod with stories of positive transformation in individuals and churches. An interactive online tool, the Transformed and Transforming dashboard, is now available and shows at a glance how many churches, classes, and regional synods are involved with different aspects of the goal.

The CRCNA

While the RCA General Synod met from June 9-14 at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL, the CRCNA Synod met from June 10-16 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.  As a symbol of the denominations’ desires to continue working toward closer fellowship, the RCA’s General Secretary, Dr. Tom De Vries, and the CRC’s Executive Director, Dr. Steven Timmermans, communicated via a video dialogue.

The RCA Synod also committed $5,000 for a survey regarding worship practices, to be conducted in partnership with the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship, which is located at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.

Other business

The RCA will attempt to address the lack of unity within its ranks by beginning a denominational conversation regarding a Reformed perspective of the Bible. The General Synod Council is to consult with the Professors of Theology to develop “a process of denomination-wide discussion centered on a Reformed understanding of the nature, purpose, authority, and interpretation of Scripture; and further, to identify existing and/or develop new resources in support of this process.” A report on this effort will be presented to the 2017 General Synod.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the August 24, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal. NOTE: Mark Jicinsky has since become the lead pastor at Crossroads Fellowship, the CRC in Des Moines, IA.

Mid-America appoints new Vice President of Advancement

 

Mike Deckinga-1On May 4, 2016, Mr. Michael B. Deckinga began his position as the Vice President of Advancement at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN. The VP of Advancement nurtures the Seminary’s external relationships and advances its mission through marketing, communications, and development. Mr. Deckinga’s work includes managing fundraisers and gifts as well as providing input on matters ranging from technology to finance to planning for the Seminary’s future.

While still new to the position, Mr. Deckinga was enjoying his work, particularly its relational aspects. “It has been a really enjoyable two months here, and I have loved getting to know the faculty and staff,” he said. “I eagerly await the return of the students in the fall so I can begin to get to know them.”

Visiting with Seminary supporters has touched his heart. “I’ve especially enjoyed meeting many of our friends out on the road,” he added. “It’s such a blessing to hear their stories of how God has sustained them and their families, and I’m humbled that they choose to support Mid-America by lifting us up in prayer and sharing with us financially.”

Mr. Deckinga came to the Seminary after a successful ten-year career with the Sherwin-Williams paint company. He began as Assistant Market Manager, but quickly progressed to Market Manager, and then was promoted to Professional Coatings Sales Representative. He explains that because the paint supply business is more of a service industry than a consumer commodity business, it prepared him well for the multiple tasks he now faces.

“As a sales representative, I learned first-hand the importance of a quality professional relationship tailored to individual need,” he said. “As a market manager, I focused on relationships with my customers and employees, but other duties helped me develop a strong business acumen. This financial aspect taught me the importance of exceeding budgeted plans for the development of an organization’s sound future.”

He sees how these skills are being utilized in his work for Mid-America. “My previous career equipped me to handle multiple tasks simultaneously and taught me about being an effective and motivating leader, which is essential in working closely with other staff members in a ‘self-motivating’ environment.” He also learned a great deal about becoming a more patient person, and jokingly adds, “Picking out the right color for a den can be a tremendously hard decision for some folks.”

While Mr. Deckinga’s business experience has its benefits, he recognizes the priority of fostering personal relationships. “Everything comes down to the quality of the relationships built. This focus on relationships will continue for me in my duties on behalf of the Seminary.”

Seminary President Dr. Cornel Venema related how, when Mr. Deckinga was under consideration, “He impressed us with his enthusiasm for the task, energetic manner, and openness to developing in the position.” He added, “Mike’s strengths are his familiarity with and enthusiastic commitment to Mid-America’s statement of its purpose as well as his understanding of how students who aspire to the gospel ministry need to be prepared academically and vocationally for this calling.”

Mr. Deckinga was educated in Christian schools in the southwest Chicago area, graduating from Trinity Christian College in 2006 with a B.S. in History and minors in Theology and Business. He and Kim live in Beecher, IL, with their four children, who range in age from ten months to five years. Mike is Chairman of the Deacons at Lynwood United Reformed Church, where the family attends.

Dr. Venema explains that the Vice President of Advancement is not a new position, although it is part of a larger transition at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. Subsequent to the retirement of Mrs. Florence Kooiman, Vice President of Administration, Mr. Keith LeMahieu (who most recently served as Vice President of Development) assumed her role.

Another part of the transition includes Rev. Andrew Compton’s recent appointment as Assistant Professor of Old Testament studies.

Dr. Venema said, “These changes, though they do not quite amount to a ‘changing of the guard,’ do remind us of the need to find staff and faculty who will be able to serve effectively and faithfully in the future.”

Mike Deckinga has embraced his new calling with joy. “Training men to go out to the nations to preach the good news of salvation in Christ is good work, and I am humbled and delighted to be a part of it,” he said. “Working alongside and for like-minded Reformed brothers and sisters, and getting to meet and develop relationships with similar friends of the school is invigorating. I thank God every day for His providence in my life and for calling me to this work.”

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Mid-America no longer going with the “Flo”

 

Vice President of Administration retires after 35 years

Over 100 people gathered on the evening of May 11, 2016, to celebrate Florence Kooiman’s 35 years of faithful service to Mid-America Reformed Seminary

Flo-Marcusse-1
Forence Kooiman with Rev. Ed Marcusse

. The bittersweet celebration also marked her retirement in the summer of 2016 from her position as Vice President of Administration.

Anyone who’s had much contact with the Seminary very likely knows Flo. She’s been the dynamo behind the scenes, the institution at the institution.

Florence’s pastor, Rev. Jacque Roets (Mid-America alumnus, 2001), characterized her as “courageous and humble,” performing her “hidden service” so that “the men in charge looked good.”

Dr. Cornel Venema noted how apropos the old joke: “Do you want to speak to the man in charge, or to the woman who knows what’s going on?”

He expressed his thanks for Florence’s energetic contributions over the years: running, reacting, multitasking, helping, and volunteering. He contrasted Florence’s devotion to the Seminary with the Lord’s example of the hired hand who doesn’t really love the sheep. Even though her volunteer work soon turned into full-time employment, Dr. Venema stated she remained “a volunteer all the way through.”

Board of Trustees President, Rev. Ed Marcusse, remarked how Florence was “in on the ground floor” of the Seminary’s establishment and how it “would not be what it is” without her and will not be the same. He described her in many ways, including: surrogate mother, life coach, time keeper, and sympathetic listener. He said, “You’ve made a huge difference in the lives of every single person you’ve met, and we thank you for that.”

An audio-visual presentation featured photos of Florence through the years and showcased greetings from many alumni and their families.

Alumnus and Board member Rev. Jim Sawtelle (1993 graduate) said, “I think the best way to describe Flo is ‘friend.’ She was a friend to every student.”

As a young mom, Florence attended the first Sem-Fest in 1981, a year before classes began. Because her daughter was starting Kindergarten, she signed up to volunteer two days per week.

She said, “The Board underestimated how much work there was to do in setting up a new school, so I spent quite a bit of time there in September. In October, Dr. P.Y. De Jong said, ‘Flo, you’re here so much, I think we should just put you on the payroll.’ That’s how I started my career at Mid-America.”

family sings
Kooiman family members singing at the celebration

Among the unique experiences that Florence recalled during the retirement party were two “sleepovers” at Mid-America. The first occurred on the original campus, when an Iowa blizzard with blowing snow kept many people at the Seminary overnight. After she and her husband, Orv, found places for everyone to sleep, the only spot left for them was on the mailbags in the janitor’s workroom. “They had an awful odor,” she said. “I can still remember the smell. That was a long night, and morning was a welcome sight.”

The second “sleepover” happened in Indiana, when Dyer police called Florence one night and asked if she could open the Seminary for flood victims. “The people arrived on flatbed trucks, and we created makeshift beds in every room.” Several nearby students and Professor Vander Hart assisted by bringing in blankets and helping with crowd control, which included herding dogs into one room and cats into another.

Dr. Venema mentioned some concern about Flo’s heart after the “Darth Vader episode,” and Florence admitted, “It probably took some years off my life.” She later explained, “I went out to lunch, and when I returned, I offered to take some boxes back to the storage room. When I walked into the room, the light was off. I switched it on, and there, by the back wall stood a person in a Darth Vader costume, mask and all, with a big stick in his hand. I screamed and collapsed to the floor, as this creature jumped over me and ran out.”

She recalled getting to know Board member James Folkerts as a boy when his father, Fred (1992 graduate), enrolled at Mid-America in 1989. James graduated from the Seminary in 2004, and his brother Christopher graduated in 2005.

With the assistance of individuals and churches in the area, Florence has helped dozens of students and their families settle into the community. She also answered countless of student questions, a couple of the more memorable being: Can I wear patent shoes with blue jeans? Where do I shop for a diamond ring?

Over the last 35 years, Florence has seen technology transition from the electric typewriter to a word processor with floppy discs to a computer. Filing documents has gone from metal cabinet to invisible cloud.

Her work at the Seminary was a godsend after the loss of her husband. “When God called Orv home, I felt my world had ended. But He revealed that He had plans for my life,” she said. “My family and the Mid-America community played an important part in my healing.”

A precious time for Florence was a trip to New Zealand with other Seminary personnel a few years ago. “I anticipated the scenery would be the highlight, but God showed me something even more beautiful. He filled me with joy at seeing what He had done and continues to do in the church through the training of men for the gospel ministry.”

As she anticipates this new chapter in her life, Florence praise the Lord for the privilege of serving Him at Mid-America. “Thanks be to God for allowing me, in spite of my human failings, to be a part of training men to proclaim His Word!”

Flo-Glenda-cropped
Flo and Glenda

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

John P. Galbraith, OPC founder and statesman

 

Galbraith-2011 GA
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.

Olinger-Galbraith
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.

Tavares-c
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.