Reflections and writing by a scribe who blogs and ascribes glory to God.
Angelica M Casas recently made a video for BBC, How US police line-ups jail the innocent, which highlights Uriah Courtney’s story, a classic case of mistaken identification. The video details problems and solutions regarding the ways line-ups are conducted. Only two weeks ago, Uriah and California State Senator Scott Wiener, who also appears in the video, testified at the state capital about mistaken eyewitness identification.
Uriah and I worked together for more than three years to craft Exoneree, the story of his wrongful conviction and over eight years of incarceration before new DNA testing led to his eventual exoneration. The book shows how mistaken identity contributed to his wrongful conviction.
The Uriah Courtney, Exoneree page on this website provides more information about our collaboration and the memoir.
Check out and “like” the project’s Facebook page.
On February 11, 2018, Faith United Reformed Church in West Olive, MI, enjoyed its first worship services in a new sanctuary, part of a recently-completed project to replace a significant portion of the building destroyed by fire on May 13, 2016.
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” Rev. Matthew Nuiver welcomed the assembly. He said that outside seeing his wife on their wedding day and their children when they were born, he didn’t know if he’d ever “seen anything more beautiful” in all his life than the congregation gathered for worship in the new space.
The call to worship came from 1 Peter 2:4-10, about God’s people as living stones and a holy priesthood. “That’s what we celebrate this day,” he said. “That God is making us a people together in Him and building us up to be a church to praise His holy name.”
The sermon, “Remember,” came from Lamentations 3:16-26 and was structured around the theme, “The Lord’s people remember their struggles rightly, so that they will find all of their blessings in Him.” Rev. Nuiver pointed out that we do that in humbleness, faithfulness, and hopefulness.
Rev. Nuiver referred at times to the fire and tied in the message with the upcoming celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He noted that struggles, even those far worse than the fire, help us humble ourselves before God and remember His faithfulness, which we tend to forget.
He admitted it was hard on May 13, 2016, to wait for what “we now know” would be February 11, 2018. But he stressed that in all our trials, “We fix our eyes on him. Not on this place, not on our circumstances. This is nice. But we long for the Lord. We long for heaven” and full fellowship with the Lord. “That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “This building was worth the wait, but how much more is Christ! How much more is the eternal life we long for! Blessed are those who wait on him.”
The evening scripture reading included The Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-15, and the sermon was based on Lord’s Day 15 from the Heidelberg Catechism, which deals with Christ’s suffering and death. Rev. Nuiver expounded on the question: “Why Are We Free?” under the following theme and points: The believer is free because of the completed work of Jesus Christ in His Suffering, Sentencing, and Shouldering. Stressing the great love of God, Rev. Nuiver urged hearers to exercise their blessing by being blessings to others.
A praise and prayer service was held on February 10, to allow members to experience the new space prior to their first Sunday of worship in it. Members met for corporate prayer, singing, and sharing reflections before splitting up into small groups that met in new rooms to pray, as Rev. Nuiver said, “for the Lord’s blessing and presence to be in and about this building.” He added, “Just to see all the wide eyes and smiles as people walked in and to hear what everyone loved and noticed was a joy.”
The gym and several classrooms were spared from the fire, which allowed the congregation to worship on site during the rebuilding process. A rented educational trailer provided additional classroom space. The local Christian school allowed the Faith congregation to host potlucks in its gym, while South Olive CRC and other churches opened their facilities for funerals.
Footings and most of the original concrete pad could be reused. The cornerstone from the old building was salvaged and installed on one side of the entry doors, across from a new cornerstone.
Many people who drive up to the church have remarked about its similar appearance to the old structure. The exterior is nearly the same, but the front of the building is closer to the road and the back extends farther into the parking lot. The worship space is similar, except the pews are slightly angled.
Rev. Nuiver said, “The most dramatic changes are seen in the warm color palette, which plays throughout the entire space, in the large narthex, and in the ways we were able to plan for classroom spaces and study and office spaces, making our building incredibly functional and beautiful in the now, and we pray in the future as well.”
The trial by fire provided the blessing of expanded fellowship and visibility within the community. It’s also been an opportunity for the congregation to witness God’s faithfulness and recommit to witness faithfully for the Lord.
“When we see a new and beautiful building, a resonant worship space, a restored study, and so many other blessings, we marvel at having been given something that allows us to serve and worship and reach out in ways that we couldn’t before,” Rev. Nuiver said. “We loved our old space, the sacrifices that were made to provide it, the memories that were made in it, and so many of the things that were lost that you cannot receive back by way of a purchase. But we are so thankful for the ways that many within and outside of our body prayed for us and provided for us and cared for us, so that what we now have is an even fuller reflection of the Lord’s great mercy, love, and faithfulness. And we pray that it will be used as a testimony to the same to the glory of His name!”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 5 & 6 of the March 23, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.
Dr. Cornel Venema and his wife, Nancy, never expected they would lead a tour group in Europe to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But in God’s providence, they were in Germany on the actual date marking the event.
Tony Aguilar, representing Levia Tour in New York City, contacted Dr. Venema and asked if he’d be willing to host a tour that included stops to significant sites in Reformation history.
“The itinerary was already in place, although I asked them to make a few changes after I agreed to work with them,” Dr. Venema explained. A concern that Wittenberg would be too busy on October 31 led to scheduling that visit a day earlier; a good move since many dignitaries were in Wittenberg for a celebration on the 31st and the tour group wouldn’t have had access to the Castle Church and other important sites for security reasons.
The group of 50 participants visited sites in Germany, France and Switzerland on the Reformation Jubilee Tour, which took place October 28-November 9, 2017.
The tour began with a worship service in a famous Lutheran church in Berlin. Dr. Venema preached from Romans 3:19-4:5 about Christ as the just and the justifier. Rev. Mark Minegar (Allegan, MI) led the group in prayer. Nancy Venema played the organ.
On October 30, the group took a bus to Wittenberg, where they visited the monastery that eventually became Luther’s home. Another site was Phillip Melanchthon’s house, and participants also viewed the Castle Church door, where Luther had nailed his 95 theses 500 years earlier.
This was one of the most memorial days for Rev. Ed Marcusse of Immanuel’s Reformed Church (URC) in Salem, OR, and his wife, Denise. The couple enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime trip as a gift from Rev. Marcusse’s current and former churches in celebration of his 25 years in pastoral ministry.
“Standing in front of the door of the Castle Church where Luther posted the 95 these was moving,” said Rev. Marcusse, “but even more interesting was touring the ‘Luther House Museum’, which the German government organized in commemoration of the 500-year anniversary.” He explained that when Luther married, Prince Frederick the Wise gave the then-empty monastery (where Luther had lived and taught) to him as a wedding gift. “This may seem like quite a large gift for one couple (the building is HUGE), but by the time he marries, Luther’s fame has spread all over Europe and on any given night he has between 30 to 300 visitors staying with him in order to soak up more of his teachings. His new wife, Katarina, feeds and houses them all. The daily life of the Reformer was well-chronicled in this museum.”
It was on the second floor of the former monastery that Luther frequently met with students after dinner for theological discussions. Notes taken during these “table talks” were published after Luther’s death.
To celebrate on October 31, tour members began the day with worship. They then traveled to Erfurt, the city where Luther attended university, became a monk, and was ordained a priest. Part of the day included a trip to Wartburg Castle near Eisnach. When Luther left Worms after being declared a heretic, Prince Frederick arranged for Luther to be “kidnapped” and hid for ten months at Wartburg Castle. During this time of seclusion, Luther translated the New Testament from the Greek into German, a step that propelled the Protestant Reformation forward. People now could read these Scriptures for themselves.
On November 3, the tour bus stopped in Worms, Germany, and participants visited the Cathedral where the Diet condemned Martin Luther of heresy. The visits to Wartburg Castle near Eisenach and to the Cathedral in Worms, where Luther took his stand in 1521 in the presence of the young emperor and an assembly of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, were highlights for Dr. Venema.
“Both of these places were pivotal in Luther’s reformation career, and you could not but be impressed by the courage that he was given by God’s grace to take his stand for the gospel and the authority of the Scriptures in the face of likely martyrdom,” he said. “North Americans, with our strict appeal to the separation of church and state and our history of religious freedom, have almost no sense of what Luther was facing and of the tremendous implications of his reforming work for the church and the Christian life in the world.”
The tour continued into France and arrived at Strasbourg, where participants visited the famous Cathedral as well as the homes of John Calvin and Martin Bucer. On the journey to Switzerland, the bus crossed a section of Germany and stopped at Constance. Group members viewed the building that housed the Council of Constance from 1414-1418.
Although the Council’s primary purpose was to deal with the schism caused by three men claiming to be the Pope, the Council made a sad and significant decision related to the Reformation. It condemned the Czech priest Jan Hus as a heretic and sentenced him to be burned at the stake.
The execution of Hus took place 102 years before Luther posted his theses. It’s interesting to know that Hus is reported to have said, “You are about to burn a goose [Husa in Czech means “goose”], but in 100 years a swan will arise that you will not be able to kill.”
A Lutheran church now stands at the place where Hus was executed, and tour members had a worship service there on the second Sunday of the trip. Rev. Marcusse preached from 2 Timothy 3:15 on Sola Scripture.
“It was personally moving for me to do this,” he said. “As I preached, the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ mentioned in Hebrews was running through my mind.”
The tour went on to Zurich, Switzerland, where Ulrich Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger lived and worked. In Lucerne, tour members viewed a famous lion sculpture and the highly-photographed Chapel Bridge with its octogan-shaped Water Tower. The group then traveled through the Alps, enjoying breath-taking vistas of some of its highest peaks.
The final day of the Reformation Jubilee Tour was spent in Geneva. Rev. Marcusse was impressed by seeing “Calvin’s church and especially standing in Calvin’s auditorium, across the street from his church, where every weekday at noon he would teach, working his way through Bible books verse by verse. These talks were written down by faithful scribes and turned into transcripts, which we hold in our hands today as his commentaries.”
Reflecting on the trip, Dr. Venema found it “sobering” that “many of these events and sites are long forgotten in a Western European society that is post-Christian and often ignorant (even hostile) toward its own history.”
He also sees a need for North Americans to develop a more balanced perspective. “I believe Christians, especially Reformed Christians, in North America face two challenges when considering the sixteenth century Reformation. The first challenge is not to ‘idolize’ a particular moment in history, to romanticize it, and to think that we need only to return to the past rather than continue to seek to be faithful to the Word of God and the gospel of salvation by grace alone. The second challenge is to recognize the importance of history in the unfolding of God’s purposes through time, to become better students of our own history so as to understand and appreciate more our reformation heritage and its continuing significance for the church’s life and ministry today.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.
Hope Reformed Church (URC) in Brampton, ON, installed Rev. John A. Bouwers on December 1, 2017. Rev. Harry Bout, minister emeritus of Immanual URC in Jordan, exhorted from 2 Timothy 4:1-8, on “Preach the Word!” Rev. Joel Dykstra, Wellandport URC, gave the charge to the pastor, and Rev. Matthew Van Dyken, Eternal Life Mission in Tepic, Mexico, gave the charge to the congregation.
Immanuel is Rev. Bouwers’ former charge, the church in which he was ordained following his 1992 graduation from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and the only congregation he served prior to arriving at Hope. The Hope consistory oversees the work of Rev. Van Dyken in Tepic, Mexico. Rev. Bout is a former pastor of Hope, who began the mission work in Tepic and continues to serve there for a few months each year. Rev. Dykstra is Rev. Bouwers’ brother-in-law: Julie Bouwers and Janice Dykstra are sisters.
In his charge to Rev. Bouwers, Rev. Dykstra spoke of the need for godly leaders to “push against the vain philosophies of our age with clear and compelling words.” Speaking of Brampton, he said, “This place, it seems to me, is the frontlines of the battle all our churches need to be engaged in.” He noted Rev. Bouwers’ efforts toward church unity and his faithful service among the churches during his years in the Niagara Peninsula.
“The Lord has blessed your time in the land of Goshen, surrounded by God’s people on every side,” he said. “But we’re not in Goshen anymore. This is the frontier. And this is where we need to be as churches. We need to be standing against the spirit of this age and shining the light of the gospel in this dark world.”
In addition to the three pastors participating in the service, twelve pastors and elders brought greetings from other churches. One was Hope’s most recent former pastor, Rev. Rich Anjema, who left in 2010 to serve Providence URC in Winnipeg, MB. Pastor John Van Eyk, from Trinity URC in Lethbridge, AB, also attended.
The Scripture text organizers put on the cover of the installation program, superimposed over a picture of Brampton, was from Acts 18:10, “…for I have many people in this city.” Unknown to them, Acts 18:10 was the text Rev. Bouwers had already chosen for his inaugural sermon on December 3. And, in God’s amazing providence, it was the text Rev. Bouwers found for his personal devotions the following morning (December 4) from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, updated by Alistair Begg.
John and Julie Bouwers leave behind more than the Immanuel church family, which has known him as its only minister for 25 years. They also leave behind six children and seven grandchildren, all of whom live in southern Ontario, most in the Jordan area. Brampton is located on the western side of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). But the Bouwers look to the future with Hope.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 10 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.
Pastor Zech Schiebout was installed as the minister of Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church, an OPC church plant in Pella, IA, on October 26, 2017. Although illness and losses initially brought the family back to the town where Zech grew up, God provided this new avenue of ministry.
Rev. Mark Vander Hart, Associate Professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN, led part of the service. He preached from 2 Corinthians 4:7 on “God Shows His Treasure in Jars of Clay.” He spoke about the glory of this treasure, the humility of the container, and the excessive power of God.
He explained an ancient practice of hiding valuables in clay jars and described the gospel as the “gem” and precious treasure that Christians have. He told Pastor Schiebout, “It is the glory of this message that has been given to you to announce.” He encouraged the congregation not to view their new pastor as either “Superman” or “a miracle worker,” but to encourage him in his task. He concluded by emphasizing how the power of Christianity lies not in God’s people or ministers, but in Christ as the head of the church.
Rev. Edward Jensen, pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, whose session oversees the Pella church plant, officiated the installation vows.
Rev. Chris Moulton, a seminary classmate of Zech’s and pastor of the Reformation Presbyterian Church in Sheboygan, WI, gave the charge to the new pastor and to the congregation. He read from Ecclesiastes 1 for both charges, focusing on different verses and aspects. In his charge to Zech, he emphasized the importance of verse 3’s question regarding the profit of a man’s labor. “I pray that you will have many years of fruitful labor,” he said, “but before you know it, Zechariah, it will all be over.” He stressed how the only thing that will remain will be the gospel of Jesus Christ. He charged the new pastor, “Preach the gospel.” Rev. Moulton concluded with the last part of 1 Corinthians 15, urging his brother to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work. Then his labor will not be in vain.
In his charge to the congregation, Rev. Moulton noted life’s cyclical patterns and repetitive nature, but how Christians can rejoice in God’s providence through all that. Even with a “new-to-you pastor,” church members can expect a certain level of consistency and repetition because “the same crimson thread of Jesus Christ runs through page after page of Scripture.” He encouraged the people to be as patient and loving to the pastor and his family as they would like him to be with them. Finally, he urged them to be “faithful plodders” along the road to glory on which God has placed them.
Pastor Schiebout is a 2009 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and previously served the Gospel of Grace Church (ARP) in Springfield, MO. His position at Hope is not yet full-time. He works about 40 percent of each week for Hope Church and about 60 percent for Eagle Electric (a family business).
Zech and Rachelle Schiebout met in Pella and never anticipated living there again, but they’re enthusiastic about the ministry. “My wife and I love the people of Hope Church and are excited to serve them. I never would have guessed we’d be living in Pella, IA, again, and I would have passed out if someone had told me a few years ago that I would be pastoring a church in a ‘churchey/Christianized’ place like Pella, so our being here is nothing but God turning my plans upside down.”
He realizes that despite Pella’s plethora of churches, many within the community need to hear the gospel. “We want all the hurting, broken, suffering, abused, cynical, abandoned, anxious, lonely and hopeless people (sinners like us) with whom we come into contact to find the same healing and hope in the good news of Jesus that we have found.”
Hope began in 2005, under the church planting efforts of Rev. Chuck Muether, who now serves as Director of Advancement for Heidelberg Theological Seminary. The church has seen changes in membership and meeting location since its early years. John Fikkert, an ordained Teacher in the OPC who attends (and sometimes preaches) at Hope and serves on the overseeing session, believes organization is on the horizon.
In its goal toward becoming self-governing, the church has elder candidates but not elders. Not being fully self-sustaining, it cannot pay its new pastor a full-time salary. But the hope is to meet both goals in the near future. “I actually think we are close on both counts,” he said. “Prayerfully, and by God’s grace, I think things could pull together in the next year or two.”
The congregation meets in the Memorial Building on Pella’s square. Sunday school for children and adults is at 9:15, followed by morning worship at 10:15. Evening worship begins at 5:30. Pastor Schiebout teaches a leadership group for men. And the group hopes to develop strategies to serve and reach the lost. For more information, visit the church’s website.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.
Uriah and I began communicating almost four years ago, and the book was published in December by the Cascade imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Here’s how the March 30, 2018, rankings compared with the previous day:
Math has never been my strong point, but even I can see that’s an exponential increase in one day. Praise God! May Exoneree reach everyone who needs to hear its message and touch many hearts!
When W. Robert Godfrey spoke to a group of Christian students at UCLA almost 25 years ago, he had no idea that college senior Joel Kim would one day take his place as President of Westminster Seminary California.
Rev. Joel Kim began serving as WSC’s fourth president on August 1, 2017, following Dr. Godfrey’s retirement. Rev. Kim received his M.Div. degree at WSC in 1997 and later obtained a Th.M. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a teaching elder in the PCA and has 16 years of ordained ministry experience in Presbyterian and Reformed congregations. He and his family attend New Life PCA in Escondido, CA. He chairs the Candidates and Credentials Committee of the Korean Southwest Presbytery of the PCA and has been involved with Southeast Asia Partnership. He has served WSC as Assistant Professor of New Testament since 2005.
Rev. Kim explained how his initial meeting with Dr. Godfrey set him on his WSC trajectory and formed a long-lasting relationship. “Bob Godfrey is one of the reasons I ended up at WSC. As a child of a CRC minister, I seriously considered attending another seminary.” But spending time with Dr. Godfrey during his visit to UCLA, “convinced me that I needed to stay nearby and attend WSC. During my years in seminary, he was my prayer group leader where we prayed for our denomination and our churches. Even now, he remains a trusted mentor and a dear friend from whom I learn daily.”
Dr. Godfrey said, “I am very pleased with the choice of my successor. Joel Kim is an excellent Christian, scholar, and minister, who is committed to the inerrancy of the Bible and the Reformed confessions. He will faithfully continue and advance our work here at the Seminary.”
Now that Rev. Kim has functioned as the Seminary’s president for a few months, he realizes more than ever that he has stepped into some very large shoes.
“I’ve come to appreciate my predecessors even more. They have served with so much wisdom, grace, and faithfulness,” he said, noting how each man brought “something unique” to the position of President. “Bob Strimple was a wonderful academic administrator, setting up the structure and curriculum of the institution. Bob Den Dulk was tireless in fundraising and building relationships for WSC. Bob Godfrey is such a fine speaker and teacher and promoted the school to a wide audience. Our institution is where it is because of God’s grace in providing faithful and trustworthy leaders.”
In his presidency, Kim hopes to carry on the faithfulness of previous leaders. “Like my brothers before, I want to be faithful. Faithful in teaching and upholding the unchanging and inerrant Word of God, engaging and articulating the confessional Reformed faith, and educating and modeling a life of pastor-scholar for our students. We hope to produce graduates who love the Word, serve the church, and exalt Christ in their lives and ministries.”
He additionally hopes to expand the Seminary’s worldwide outreach. “Our school is in a unique location,” he said. “We are about forty miles from the border to our south, with Mexico and Latin America as our neighbors. Head west and we face the Pacific Rim, where churches are growing and flourishing. As we continue to support and partner with local churches, we hope to engage and build up the global church, not only to bless but also to be blessed by them.”
The WSC constituency is familiar with Rev. Kim and appreciates his gifts. Donna Mastalio, a member of Christ URC in Santee, CA, has often heard him speak or preach and interacted personally with him. While she and her husband, Kim, have enjoyed a long friendship with the Godfreys, they are excited about Rev. Kim’s appointment.
“He’s a wonderful man,” she said. “The more we know of him, the more we are impressed with him as a person and as a leader.”
As Rev. Kim assumes the presidency mantle, WSC is in the middle of a visionary building project that consists of constructing 64 student apartments on the school’s campus. Commenting in the Fall 2017 WSC Update, Rev. Kim noted the hope is to provide affordable housing, especially for students from other states or countries. “We have students here from all over the country and the world. In many ways, the world is coming to us, and we are sending them out into the world.” He also expressed the hope that “this residential village will bless the students by enhancing the community of learning. This community of learning is important for seminarians who learn as much outside the classroom as inside. But just as important is this community for the spouses and children of seminarians who often do not benefit from seminary life. Our sincere hope and prayer is that this residential village will be a place of growth, both spiritually and communally.”
Dr. Godfrey’s 24 years of service were celebrated at a special event on May 24, 2017. Dr. Godfrey anticipates continued involvement with the school through assisting the new president during this transition period and teaching some classes. He said, “I will miss my contacts with students, but not the daily administrative responsibilities.”
In his retirement, Dr. Godfrey hopes to remain active in Escondido URC by teaching adult Sunday School and preaching occasionally. “I do hope to continue preaching and speaking in conferences from time to time, but probably not as much as I had been doing,” he said. He also intends to remain on the Board of Ligonier Ministries and keep serving that organization as a teaching fellow. He anticipates retirement will provide more uninterrupted time to focus on writing.
“I am working on a book on the Synod and Canons of Dort, which I hope will be completed in March, 2018, as part of the 400th anniversary of the Synod,” he said. “I have several other writing projects, including a book on a biblical defense of historic Reformed worship.”
Asked how he might advise future seminarians and young pastors, Dr. Godfrey said, “I would advise young men considering the ministry to get the best education they can to prepare them for a lifetime of studying the Bible. I’d encourage young ministers to remain confident that what the people of God need is not creativity or cleverness, but the Word of God. Preach it and teach it! Do not let it go stale in your hearts or ministries.”
He believes Reformed churches need to cultivate a “real knowledge” of the Reformed confessions and heritage. “So many alien voices inside and outside our churches would lead us away from the great inheritance that is ours of faithful, biblical Reformed teachers,” he said. “We need to get the Bible, Christ, the church, justification, and holiness right for ourselves and for generations to come. Our confessions will help us recognize the truth as we have it in the Bible.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.
The annual NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) met from November 14-16, 2017, at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.
This was the 43rd meeting of the Council, which now consists of 13 member federations. As usual, denominational reports followed by questions and prayers for those organizations took a great deal of time. According to Rev. Ralph A Pontier, NAPARC’s newly-elected Secretary, “One theme was repeated in several reports, that the work of missions is thriving among the churches.”
A more unique feature of this year’s NAPARC meeting involved a lengthy discussion regarding organic unity. Four matters related to the subject had been forwarded from the previous year, and delegates had been encouraged to be prepared to discuss them this year. Discussion began Wednesday afternoon and continued Thursday morning on four topics:
- How important is organic union among dissimilar NAPARC denominations? For example, do the denominations which focus on a specific ethnic/linguistic group in North America really need to merge with other NAPARC denominations?
- What denominational distinctives presently exist as obstacles to organic union? (Examples: exclusive psalmody, delegated or non-delegated assemblies or synods, strict subscription or good faith subscription, unique denominational histories, etc.)
- What denominational distinctives should be considered as valid obstacles to organic union under biblical scrutiny?
- Discuss the possibility of a structure that allows for both distinctives and organic union.
Rev. Steve Swets, pastor of Rehoboth URC in Ancaster, ON, viewed this as the meeting’s most significant discussion. “It was good to hear the brothers speak openly about the joys and difficulty of unity,” he said. “Some churches asked the FRCNA why they are slow in uniting with the HRC. Some asked the URCNA the same questions about the CanRC. It was an honest dialogue.”
In the official press release, Rev. Pontier reported: “The discussion revealed different ideas about the importance and feasibility of organic (organizational) union, but also a common commitment to giving visible expression to that unity which is already ours in Christ.”
As discussion continued, a motion was made to appoint an ad-hoc committee “to explore concrete ways in which we could begin to bundle our resources for greater visible expressions of our unity in Christ.” The committee would include a representative from each member church. Because the number of official delegates per federation at this meeting ranged from one to four, the body adopted a procedural motion to allow one vote per delegation. The main motion, however, was defeated.
“One thought that was expressed in discussion was that we would be asking a committee to do what we all were supposed to be doing together,” Rev. Pontier said. “I think the majority thought that a committee was not necessary and would not be able to do any better than what we could all do together.”
Another item on the docket dealt with religious liberty in light of the US Supreme Court’s action legalizing same-sex marriage. Delegates approved the Interim Committee recommendation that this matter would be best handled within the member churches.
A World Mission’s Consultation has been held for more than three decades. The 2018 event is scheduled for September 18-19 in Willow Grove, PA. Mr. Mark Bube will chair the event and Rev. Douglas Clawson will serve as secretary.
NAPARC called for three additional consultations. The OPC will host one on relief and diaconal ministry, convened by Mr. David Nakhla, part-time administrator for the OPC’s Committee on Diaconal Ministries. The ARP will host an event on theological training, convened by Dr. Kyle E. Sims. And the ERQ will host a conference on youth ministries, to be convened by Rev. Ben Westerveld.
Dues for NAPARC remain at $1,000 per member church. The website committee requested and received a $200 budget.
In addition to the election of Secretary Pontier, delegates elected Rev. Dr. S. Steve Park (KAPC) as Chairman and Rev. David Kim (KPCA) as Vice-Chairman. Dr. Maynard Koerner (RCUS) agreed to serve another year as Treasurer. An official resolution of thanks was adopted to express gratitude to Rev. Ron Potter (RCUS) for his 15 years of faithful service as Secretary.
Interspersed with NAPARC’s regular business were evening worship services and opportunities for ecclesiastical meetings among member representatives.
The KAPC is slated to host the next meeting of the Council in the Philadelphia area on November 13-15, 2018. According to the minutes, the docket will include these topics:
- As North American culture is becoming increasingly pluralistic and secular how might we develop a vibrant Reformed witness, although we are a small, minority group?
- Retaining the integrity of Reformed Confessionalism and Ecclesiology in a secular world.
- The Reformed Church and norms for gender, sexuality, marriage, and the family.
NAPARC Member churches
- ARPC – Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
- CanRC – Canadian Reformed Churches
- ERQ – Église réformée du Québec
- FRCNA – Free Reformed Churches of North America
- HRC – Heritage Reformed Congregations
- KAPC – Korean American Presbyterian Church
- KPCA – Korean Presbyterian Church in America (Kosin)
- OPC – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
- PCA – Presbyterian Church in America
- PresRC – Presbyterian Reformed Church
- RCUS – Reformed Church in the United States
- RPCNA – Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
- URCNA – United Reformed Churches in North America
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the January 18, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.
We want the gospel to be proclaimed to all nations, we pray for our missionaries, and we write out generous checks for mission endeavors. But how many of us would be willing to give up our comfortable homes and familiar communities to live and work in a foreign country among people who speak a different language?
The decision to serve as missionaries for Reformation Italy, beginning in June of 2018, was extremely difficult for Pastor Mike Brown and his wife, Janie. God’s will became increasingly clear through many circumstances and people over the last two years, but what finalized their conviction were unanticipated questions posed this past summer by their 11-year-old son, Iain.
In Pastor Brown’s letter to the Christ URC congregation he currently serves in Santee, CA, he related his conversation with Iain while they visited Italy’s far south.
‘Dad, who will be the pastor for the people here in Cannole?’ I carefully replied, ‘Well, we hope that God will send Vincenzo [a student at WSC] after he graduates seminary. But we need to pray about that.’ ‘Who will be the pastor in Perugia?’ ‘Well…We don’t know yet. We need to pray.’ ‘Don’t the people want Pastor Ferrari there?’ ‘Well, yes, the people are very happy with Pastor Ferrari, but…we need to pray.’ ‘If Pastor Ferrari goes to Perugia, who will be the pastor for the people in Milan?’ ‘Son, we just need to pray that God will supply a pastor, so that all the churches here can grow, OK?’ ‘Dad, I think we should pray and ask God to send you here. You could help them.’ I smiled and said something like, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ I went into the bathroom, closed the door, got down on my knees to pray, and cried.
That may have been a turning point for Pastor Brown, but Rev. Andrea Ferrari had hoped his friend would join him in the work of Reformation Italy ever since Rev. Brown had assisted him during the summer of 2015. When the Browns returned for the summer months of 2017, Rev. Brown filled the pulpit in Milan, while Rev. Ferrari pastored a small group in Perugia. This period of ministry convinced both men that Rev. Ferrari was a good fit for the work in Perugia and Rev. Brown could serve well in Milan.
Having both arrived at the same conviction, they worked up a proposal suggesting this division of labor as Reformation Italy goes forward toward its goal of establishing a Reformed federation in Italy. The Christ URC consistory discussed the proposal and then sought counsel at the September meeting of Classis Southwest US.
“The delegates were very supportive of the proposal,” Rev. Brown said. “They have been familiar with CURC’s mission to Italy since 2009.”
The elders at Christ URC also sought the advice of the URCNA Missions Committee. Missions Coordinator Rev. Richard Bout and Rev. Paul Murphy traveled to Italy and recommended the plan to Christ URC’s consistory. The Milan and Perugia groups each voted unanimously in favor of the proposed pastors serving them.
Christ URC’s elders additionally conversed at length with the elders in Milan, a new elder in Perugia, and Pastor Ivan Forte in Turin. Revs. Ferarri and Brown had worked with Pastor Forte during the summer, helping prepare him for a ministerial examination.
Because Rev. Brown has traveled to Italy several times since 2009 and has studied Italian intensely in recent years, he is proficient enough to preach without a translator.
Christ URC’s council voted unanimously for the proposal at its October meeting. Churches within Classis Southwest US have expressed support, and the plan is scheduled for implementation in June of 2018.
Rev. Ferrari explained that Rev. Brown can immediately and effectively serve people who already know him within the established and organized church in Milan, a multicultural city similar to San Diego. “When Rev. Brown arrives, he will be able to concentrate at once and without any distraction on his pastoral responsibilities and refining his knowledge of the language/culture.” He added, “On the other hand, I have been visiting Perugia regularly in the last three years, knowing the people and the place so that it is much easier for me to labor there as a church planting pastor.”
Perugia is a university city and has a population of about 175,000 people, with a culture is very different from Milan, according to Ferrari.
“Because of the load of work and need for wisdom from more people,” Rev. Ferrari said, “we think that more than one consistory in the US should be involved in the work in Italy and also that the Missions Committee itself should determine a plan to be more present on the field to assist and encourage Rev. Brown and myself, helping us to form a class of mature elders and deacons in the churches.” Ordaining office-bearers in Turin and Perugia will permit the churches to begin holding Classis meetings, the first step toward organizing Chiese Riformate in Italia (CRI, Reformed Churches in Italy).
The Browns plan to sell their house and apply for a religious visa through the Italian consulate. Iain is preparing for the move by going to a private tutor and doing daily homework in Italian. The family hopes to commit to the mission for at least five years. Rev. Brown anticipates raising financial support from URCNA churches and private donors.
“Janie and I are confident that just as the Lord supplied our family’s needs while I was in seminary, he will provide for our family again,” he said.
Pastor Brown graduated from Westminster Seminary California in 2004, but began teaching a Bible study in Santee a year earlier under the oversight of the Escondido URC consistory. The congregation became an organized church in September of 2006 and Rev. Brown was installed in January of 2007. He and Janie love their church and have rejoiced to see God’s amazing work in it.
“He has established CURC as a congregation that has remained hungry for the gospel and willing to love one another,” Pastor Brown said. “He has marked this church with peace rather than controversy, and service rather than selfishness. On top of that, God has used CURC to produce several pastors and missionaries that are now serving the church in different parts of the world. He has done far more abundantly than we ever thought or imagined.”
The church has been involved with mission work in Italy since early in its organization, when they began supporting a ministry that published Reformed literature. Christ URC member, Simonetta Carr, translated projects for the editor, Rev. Andrea Ferrari, who pastored a Reformed Baptist church.
As Rev. Ferrari became more familiar with the Reformed faith, he and his congregation sought affiliation with more confessionally Reformed churches. Rev. Ferrari sustained a colloquium doctum in Classis Southwest US, and Christ URC ordained him as a missionary pastor to establish a Reformed federation of churches in Italy. He subsequently has preached primarily in Milan’s Chiesa Evangelica Filadelfia, but Reformed believers from other areas have been in contact with him after discovering the Milan church’s website.
The group in Perugia, about four hours south of Milan, has prayed for a pastor for years. For the last two years, they have gathered in front of a computer to worship with the church in Milan via Skype. About every eight weeks, Rev. Ferrari administers the Lord’s Supper and provides pastoral care. The congregation loves Rev. Ferrari and his wife, Christina, and looks forward to their arrival in June.
Another group in Turin, about 80 miles west of Milan, is led by Rev. Forte. Pastor Ferrari travels to Turin monthly to instruct church members in the Three Forms of Unity and the URCNA Church Order.
Rev. Ferrari explained that there is contact with a handful of Reformed believers in a part of the Italian “heel” with few Protestant and evangelical churches. The hope is for God to raise up Reformed pastors to minister to these groups and eventually form a federation.
Two Italian brothers are attending seminaries in the US. Vincenzo Coluccia, a member of the Turin church, left a position as an engineer and is in his second year at Westminster Seminary California. Ottavio Palombaro, from Perugia, is a student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids and attends Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.
As the URCNA Missions Committee sought counsel on establishing a Reformed federation in Italy, they were consistently advised to seek an experienced minister to come alongside Rev. Ferrari. Rev. Brown has 14 years of pastoral experience. He chaired the URCNA study committee on missions, helped write mission policies for the URCNA, and served as Chairman of the URCNA Missions Committee, on which he still serves.
Rev. Brown originally resisted the idea of becoming a full-time missionary and was reluctant to leave his home and church. “Janie and I were willing to go wherever God called us, but we quietly hoped that he would send someone else.”
He thought his 2017 trip to Italy might be his last. “This arrangement did not seem sustainable for CURC or for me personally. We agreed to go to Milan for three months because we believed it was necessary for the starving group in Perugia.” But then God used Iain’s words to convince him otherwise.
For more information on the work in Italy, see Reformation Italy’s updated website at www.reformationitaly.org.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.
One of the best things about Facebook is reconnecting with old friends, and I recently had an interesting exchange with a few far-flung friends from my school days.
We talked about the word God is leading us to choose for 2018. We may all view this word a little differently, but essentially it captures an attitude or quality we want to try to develop or focus on more during the coming year.
I’ve done this for the last couple of years, and I’ve been amazed at how much God reveals to me about that word during the course of the year. During 2016, God impressed upon me over and over the abundance of JOY in him and his word. Because I was alert for joy, I discovered it more in Scripture, in books I read, in other people, in creation, in myself, and especially in God. I’m convinced we can’t begin to comprehend the incredible fullness of God’s joy.
As I prayed and considered a word for 2017, I began thinking about PEACE. Frankly, I didn’t really want that word and was a little concerned about it. Why would I need peace? What might happen during 2017? Choosing the word generated a gnawing anxiety. Even my vivid imagination never created a scenario in which I would lose my sister, my mother, and my father within the year. But that’s what happened.
My sister’s health deteriorated quickly and she was placed in hospice care. We siblings kept vigil at her bedside for five days, and she went home to Jesus on January 12. Less than a month later, while we were still reeling from that loss, we learned that my mom’s cancer had returned with a vengeance. Her only option was hospice care. After eight extremely difficult weeks, the Lord took her home on April 10. The grief of losing our mother less than three months after our sister weighed heavily on us, but Dad’s loneliness, after 68 years with his beautiful bride, nearly crushed him.
His struggle with memory difficulties had made him heavily dependent upon her, and we doubted he could remain in his independent living apartment. Surprisingly, he lived there successfully (although not without a few concerning issues) for six months.
He had survived polio as a baby, but it may have affected his balance later in life. Falls or near falls brought him to the emergency room too often in too short a period during October. He spent ten days in nursing care, while we worked with his doctor and others to determine the proper placement for him.
In God’s providence, we were able to move him into an assisted living apartment in the same building. It even had a window overlooking the parking lot—his most crucial requirement! He adjusted amazingly well.
On Christmas Day, my husband and I planned to pick him up and bring him to our house for lunch. When we arrived, he was experiencing a great deal of pain. I called 911. We spent the rest of the day in the ER and hospital. That evening we learned that his abdominal aortic aneurysm, which we’d known for some years could kill him instantly, was enlarged and bleeding into his abdominal cavity. He could survive for a few weeks or it could be a matter of hours. He initially was doing so well, we thought we might have him with us for a month or more.
Two days later, he entered the Comfort House. He was alert, able to talk and sit in the chair. During his first night there, his condition worsened and he became unresponsive. On the last day of the year, a Sunday morning, he went home to be with his Lord.
In God’s gracious providence, I’d lived over six decades without a significant loss. In his bitter providence, he took three members of my original family home to heaven within one year. I definitely needed PEACE in 2017.
For several weeks, I’ve felt compelled to focus on HOPE during 2018. In the recent Facebook conversation, one of my school friends encouraged me to go with HOPE. She expressed her hopes for me “to start sleeping better” and for a year “with less grief and many healing memories….of great book sales and many inspired words written down” as well as “spontaneous laughter” and so on. May it be so. That is my HOPE.