Oh, to be cloned, times two

Synod 2018The week of June 11 was one of those times when I wished I could be cloned so I could be in two places at the same time. Actually, it would have been nice to be in four places at the same time.

The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) held their major, annual ecclesiastical meetings concurrently on the campus of Wheaton College, near Chicago, from June 11-15, 2018. As a regular contributor for Christian Renewal, I’d been anticipating and planning to attend this event for several years.

But having recently reported on concurrent regional meetings of a URCNA classis and an OPC presbytery, I knew how difficult it was to go from meeting to meeting and catch the most important discussions. Thus my desire to be clones.OPC

It addition to that, the annual Write-to-Publish conference was held from June 13-16 at–you guessed it–Wheaton College. Three members of my local writing group attended it, two of whom I’ve gone with in the past, but I couldn’t register. There was just no way I could immerse myself in the WTP networking and learning experience at the Billy Graham Center, while trying to stay on top of ecclesiastical action up the hill in the Edman Chapel and Coray Alumni Gymnasium. Therefore my desire to be in three places.

But there’s more, I’m working on a writing project with Leland Ryken, prolific author and long-time professor in Wheaton’s English department. Being in Wheaton gave me opportunities to discuss the project face-to-face with him, which is infinitely superior to email. Hence, my desire to be in four places at the same time.

Despite not being cloned two times, I had an amazing week bursting with blessings. I heard important discussions in both ecclesiastical meetings and greeted many pastor friends I hadn’t seen for years or had never met in person. I also touched base with my editor, John Van Dyk, whom I’ve seen only a handful of times.

Smiths
Diane and Pete Smith, organizers extraordinaire

While I didn’t participate in the Write-to-Publish experience, I ate lunch with writing friends three times. Over one noon break, the Three Amigos visited my favorite place on Wheaton’s campus, the Marion E. Wade Center, which houses fascinating memorabilia and books written by seven British authors: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Most of these would make my list of favorite authors.

Leland and I talked through several issues at this important stage of our project, and I enjoyed wonderful conversations with his wife, Mary, as well. I enjoyed fellowship with many other women, especially when I had the privilege of leading devotions for the Ladies Afternoon Tea on Tuesday in the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.

And I signed a lot of copies of my nine published books. As usual when I sign Little One Lost, God provided meaningful interactions when dear women shared their stories of loss. I’m both honored and humbled by these moments, which make me feel as if I briefly function as the ears and arms of Jesus.

Who needs to be cloned?sign

 

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Glorying in God’s Grace – book review

The Glory of Grace: The Story of the Canons of Dort

by William Boekestein; illustrated by Evan Hughes

© 2012 by William Boekestein,

Reformation Heritage Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 30 pp.

 

 

 

Readers of the third volume in the Boekestein/Hughes trilogy of children’s books will find themselves glorying in God’s grace.

The collaborative efforts of William Boekestein and Evan Hughes culminate in this lucidly written and engagingly illustrated concluding volume of the pair’s series on the Three Forms of Unity.

As in the two previous books, The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism and Faithfulness Under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres, Boekestein aptly conveys complex theological history in terms easily understood by children. Colorful illustrations by Hughes capture children’s attention and spread to page edges as an artistic background for block of easy-to-read large text.

Boekestein has masterfully simplified the Canons’ comprehensive history as well as the content of the Canons themselves, and included an epilogue summarizing the current status of the Canons and contemporary discussion related to them.

This thin hardcover, beautifully produced by Reformation Heritage Books, is the Boekestein/Hughes best effort yet and is highly recommended for family and church libraries, especially in order to complete this helpful set on the Three Forms of Unity.

Having personally wrestled with summarizing complex historical issues related to the Canons of Dort (see pp. 83-85 of Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, Reformed Fellowship, 2012) increases my admiration for Boekestein’s deft treatment and his emphasis on the glory of God’s grace.

The above book review by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 28 of the February 6, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

New Zealand Reformation celebrations

Venema-church door-1Reformation celebrations are rather rare in New Zealand. Yet churches belonging to the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) hosted some significant Reformation-related events in 2012.

Rev. Leo de Vos says about a meeting held on Reformation Day in the Reformed Church of Silverstream, “Some of our churches are not inclined to have services on special days while others are not used to holding any service to recognize the Reformation, so this was rather new.”

The Silverstream meeting was one of several stops on a New Zealand tour by Mid-America Reformed Seminary president, Dr. Cornel Venema, who traveled with his wife, Nancy, and others from the Mid-America community between October 23 and November 10. In addition to the Silverstream Reformation event, which was held in the Wellington area, Dr. Venema spoke at two conferences and preached on two Sundays at locations on both the North and South Islands.

“We were very thankful for the number who came,” says Rev. Peter Moelker. “We had pastors and members attending from the Reformed Churches (RCNZ), but just as many from outside the RCNZ, including Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist.”The Reformed Church of Avondale hosted the Auckland Reformation Conference 2012 on October 26-27. Between 100 to 120 people attended the conference on “The Supremacy and Finality of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Venema spoke in three lectures on the supremacy and finality of the word of Christ, the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and worship through Christ.

venema speaking-2

“In that the Reformed churches of any stripe in New Zealand are all relatively small, it was a great opportunity for mutual encouragement in our desire to be faithful witnesses of the Lord in this increasingly pagan city,” says Rev. Moelker. “We had been praying that the Lord would prepare the way and that the Word spoken would be particularly helpful and challenging to us in our context. The Lord certainly answered that prayer.”

While in the Auckland City area, Dr. Venema also spoke informally at a breakfast meeting of pastors and office-bearers about recent theological discussion regarding the Two Kingdoms/Natural Law view.

At the Silverstream event on October 31, Dr. Venema focused on the finished work of Christ our mediator, based on Hebrews 10:19-25. He pointed out that worship should be a great privilege since Christ has opened the way and we no longer must worship through priests or sacrificial ritual.

“Approximately 150 people attended and sang beautifully,” says Rev. de Vos. “We do sing the roofs off of our churches in New Zealand! I believe that many people appreciated recognizing Reformation Day and the wonderful gospel message preached.”

The Reformed Church of Dovedale hosted the second conference, which was held at St. Christopher’s Anglican Church in Avonhead (Christchurch) on November 2-3.

venema speaking-1-c

“We deliberately held the conference at this church hoping to attract some of our local evangelical Anglican brethren, but sadly (for scheduling reasons as much as anything else) none came,” explains Rev. Andre Holtslag. Still, about 60 people attended each of the three lectures on “Contemporary Challenges/Opportunities Facing the Evangelical and Reformed Churches.” Under that theme, Dr. Venema addressed challenges to preaching as the principal means of grace, challenges to the churches in evangelism, and challenges to the Reformed understanding of Christ’s Kingship (the Two Kingdoms/Natural Law debate).

“The response has been quite favourable with folk benefitting from timely reminders about these important truths,” shares Rev. Holtslag. “We are hoping to make this conference an annual or bi-annual event as the Reformed faith needs wide exposure. I believe the addresses on preaching and evangelism were very helpful as we too can so easily get sidetracked by this new idea or that fresh approach.”

Dr. Venema, who spent several childhood years in New Zealand while his father, Dr. Richard Venema, served congregations there, had meaningful visits with many old friends and acquaintances. He was most moved, however, by the vitality of the churches.

“The New Zealand churches are few in number, and relatively small in size, but I was encouraged by the wonderful singing of the congregations (would put us to shame, I think), the simplicity of the lifestyle of the people, and even the openness of the young people of the congregations,” he says. “My father wanted so much to go along with us, but his age and health wouldn’t permit it. He would have been ‘pleased as punch,’ to use one of his favorite expressions, to see the vitality of the churches. I don’t mean to paint too rosy a picture, but I was personally moved by the visible evidence of the Lord’s faithfulness from generation to generation in building and preserving his church among the Reformed Churches in New Zealand.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-11 of the January 16, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

Lethbridge URC begins “preaching station”

On September 30, 2012, about 30 people attended the first worship service Trinity Reformed Church (URCNA) of Lethbridge, AB, held at a preaching station in Medicine Hat.

The term “preaching station” may be unfamiliar within United Reformed parlance, but it’s more familiar in Free Reformed dialogue. Trinity’s Rev. Hank Van der Woerd, who was in charge of three preaching stations at one time during his service as an elder in the Free Reformed Church (FRC) prior to attending seminary, explains “preaching station.”

“It means the consistory declaring a worship service in another town,” he says. “That’s what we call the model simply because we’re preaching there.”

“It’s distinctive from a church plant in that it duplicates Trinity’s services,” he adds. “We have a fairly thick umbilical cord to this thing.”

He and Trinity’s other pastor, Rev. Wybren Oord, travel alternate Sundays to Medicine Hat, usually with two elders but sometimes with a deacon and an elder. Medicine Hat is located east northeast of Lethbridge and the round trip consists of 368 km, nearly 230 miles.

“It’s about a two-hour drive one way,” says Rev. Oord. “We have just enough time to make it back to Lethbridge for the evening service.”

Trinity’s services in Lethbridge are at 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. The services at 2080 Saamis Dr. NW in Medicine Hat are at 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Coffee for all and a lunch for travelers are served between services. About 20-25 people usually attend, primarily Trinity members up to this point.

The preaching station began at the request of four Trinity families, who live in the Medicine Hat area and have driven the distance to Lethbridge for as many as 12 years.

“After driving the long journey from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge for over a dozen years,” says Rev. Oord, “the families thought it was time to begin efforts for a solid Reformed church for the next generation.”

Rev. Van der Woerd explains that the cost of travel, rent, and advertising is far less than the expense of hiring a full-time church planter. Ads run in local newspapers. About a quarter of the monthly budget funds local broadcasts of R.C. Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind weekend radio program, with a tag inviting listeners to attend Trinity’s services at the Medicine Hat location. Multiple daily radio spots are planned to alert listeners to the services.

Trinity has made a six-month commitment to the preaching station.

“We hope the Spirit will send people our way,” says Rev. Van der Woerd. He reflects that these “full-blown worship services” seem “viable,” and if the work progresses past the trial period, Trinity has the “flexibility” of calling a minister or hiring a candidate to intern temporarily.

“Our desire is to bring the good news of the Gospel to a major city in Southern Alberta,” says Rev. Oord. “We are not trying to steal sheep from other churches, but trusting that the Lord will use this instrument to draw a people unto Himself—people who have wandered away from the church and may not know how to return; people who have questions about God, religion, and the Reformed faith; people who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It is our hope that we may be used by the Holy Spirit to tell them about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 8 of the January 16, 2013, issue of Christian RenewalPhotos of the Saamis Tepee appear on the City of Medicine Hat website.

Avondale RCNZ: Reaching out to a diverse community

Reformed Church of AvondaleSome may envision New Zealand as a paradise of scenic landscapes and simple living on sheep ranches. But while the suburb of Avondale is only 30 minutes from the black sand and surf of the Tasman Sea to the west and only 20 minutes from the white sand of the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Reformed Church of Avondale sits within the highly populated Auckland City metropolitan area.

“Not a ranch in sight!” writes Rev. Peter Moelker. “As a reformed church holding unashamedly to the final authority of the Bible in all of life, our congregation has been providentially placed by the Lord in a city which is unashamedly opposed to the authority of the Bible in all of life. New Zealand culture seems to be increasingly turning a deaf ear to the church or to any counter-cultural call for us to recognize a standard or authority other than that of our own making. A perfect place for the gospel!”

“The world is literally at our door in Avondale,” he adds, “with a Buddhist Temple, Sikh Temple, and Islamic Center all just around the corner. The opportunities for proclaiming Christ and being a light in the midst of great darkness are truly plentiful.”

The congregation meets for Sunday worship at 10:30 am and 6:00 pm, with a Discipleship Hour (Sunday school and catechism) for ages 3-17 from 9:15-10:15 am. A special worship service in the Niuean language is held each Sunday at 1:30 pm.

“The ‘Niuean’ service has been held here at Avondale for about 30 years and includes a small group of immigrants from the Island of Niue, who worship in their native language,” explains Rev. Moelker. “Though this gathering of believers used to have a pastor who was also from the island, they are currently led by one of the older men of the congregation. Our elders assist this fellowship by leading worship once a month (in English!).”

According to Rev. Moelker, the 220 congregational members represent a variety of ethnic heritages reflecting the diversity of Auckland’s people groups. “We have members who trace their roots to Holland, Canada, Korea, Bangladesh, Scotland, South Africa, Singapore, England, Australia, Samoa, Niue, and Kiwi!”

The congregation is a mix of most age groups, although the 50-70 year old age bracket is under-represented. The youth group is active, the Discipleship Hour has 40 children, and six families are expecting new babies. Members work in information technology, education, accounting, construction, administration, the electrical field, the home, or are retired.

The congregation was originally part of the Reformed Church of Auckland, which existed from 1953 through 1963, when it divided into two congregations: the Reformed Church Mangere in South Auckland (which no longer exists) and the Reformed Church of Avondale in West Auckland. The Avondale church was officially instituted on January 1, 1964, and will observe its 50th anniversary, the Lord willing, in 2014.

“Interestingly enough,” says Rev. Moelker, “my wife’s uncle (Rev. Dick van der Vecht), who is no longer living, served as the pastor of the very same congregation from 1983-1989. We are currently living in the manse of the church in which our uncle and aunt lived 30 years ago.”

Peter Moelker family

A son of Dutch immigrants to Canada, Peter Moelker grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. He and his wife, Lisa, met at RedeemerCollege, from which he graduated in 1996. After briefly attending Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, Peter transferred to Mid-America Reformed Seminary for two years before completing his education at Calvin Theological Seminary and being ordained in the CRCNA in 2000.

In the fall of 2003, Rev. Moelker began the process of being received into the OPC and served an OPC congregation in New York from 2004-2008. Permanent visa complications led him to return to Canada, where he served as pulpit supply for an OPC mission work in St. Catharines.

“Having become aware of opportunities for service in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand,” he says, “I took up correspondence with the Reformed Church in Avondale in 2009, visited the country with my wife in February of 2010, and accepted the call to come and serve Christ in this congregation later that year.” He was installed on July 25, 1010. He and Lisa have four sons and three daughters: Nathan (15), Benjamin (13), David (10), Hannah (8), Josiah (5), Abigail (3), and Lydia (1).

“It was a joy to attend my first Synod of the RCNZ in 2011, which served as a good introduction to experiencing both the unity and diversity among the various congregations,” Rev. Moelker states. “One of the joys of serving in the RCNZ is being able to appreciate and apply our reformed confessional understanding of God’s truth from the heritage of both the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Three Forms of Unity.”

While Rev. Moelker recalls his initials days in the RCNZ with joy, he also looks forward with his congregation to proclaiming freedom in Christ to their diverse community.

“Our goal is to faithfully proclaim the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, so that those in our community, who do not yet know Christ and are in slavery and bondage to false religions with false hopes, may be set free and be united with us in our worship of the one true God.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 15 & 17 of the December 26, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal

Taking aim at church planting in Rifle, Colorado

A new church plant in Classis Southwest US of the URCNA began worship services on September 30, 2012. Rev. Brad Lenzner brought messages on “Free Grace for the Dead and Guilty” from Ephesians 2:1-10, and “The Way God Feeds Us (Part 1): Gospel Preaching,” based on Romans 10.

Rev. Lenzner, who pastored Emmanuel URC in Hanford, CA, prior to its closing in November of 2011, has been called by Coram Deo Reformation Church in Littleton, CO, to plant the church in Rifle, CO.

Rifle is located on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains and is about three and a half hours west of the Denver area, where Coram Deo is located. This distance makes supervision difficult, but not impossible. An elder or Rev. Carl Heuss will occasionally visit the church plant, known as Grand River Reformation Church (GRRC).

The group currently consists of 28 souls. Rev. Lenzner explains that one of the families initially visited Coram Deo and spoke to Rev. Heuss about the need for a Reformed church plant in the Glenwood Springs/Rifle area. Members of that family subsequently attended the URCNA church planting conference in Denver, where they expressed their desire for a church plant. Not long after that, another family from the Rifle area visited Coram Deo. Rev. Heuss put those two families into contact with each other. They formed a small group that began meeting in January of 2012 and steadily grew.

Coram Deo extended the call for Rev. Lenzner to serve as a church planter on July 1. Rev. Lenzner and his wife, Samantha, moved to Glenwood Springs (about a half hour east of Rifle) on September 1. During the month of September, Rev. Lenzner led a new member class that will conclude on October 10. Coram Deo will hold the memberships of those who commit to the church plant until it becomes an organized congregation with its own elders.

The group meets in a very reasonably rented retail space, located on the corner of an intersection in Rifle (101 West Third St). Worship services are being held at 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM. The group hopes to begin Sunday school classes in January of 2013.

“I’m praying that within the year we’ll have at least one elder and a deacon,” says Rev. Lenzner. “Lord willing, I’d like to see GRRC fully organized and financially independent within 3-5 years. And then I’d love to see us turn around and plant another URC congregation toward or in eastern Utah!”

He wants Grand River Reformation Church to faithfully preach the pure gospel, purely administer the sacraments, and exercise biblical church discipline. “I desire to see the pure gospel and Reformed theology spread throughout the Grand River Valley,” he says. “I long to see new converts to Christianity.”

More information about Grand River Reformation Church can be found on the group’s Facebook page and at the church’s website.

 

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 7-8 of the October 24, 2012, issue of Christian RenewalGlenda notes that she can’t take credit for the clever headline; that belongs to editor John Van Dyk.

GI Williamson: Reflecting on 60 years of ministry

Many men may be honored for 60 years in ministry, but few would equal the extensive influence of Rev. G. I. Williamson.

Rev. Williamson has spread the gospel in global contexts, preaching and teaching in the United States, New Zealand, and other countries. His written works have been translated into multiple languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Lithuanian, and Portuguese.

On June 1, 2012—exactly 60 years to the day from his ordination to the ministry—friends and family gathered at the Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Sanborn, IA, to mark this milestone.

Although an associate member of Cornerstone, Rev. Williamson remains in the Presbytery of the Dakotas of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Rev. Archibald A. Allison, Stated Clerk of that presbytery, and Dr. Leonard Coppes, emeritus pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Denver, CO, participated in the ceremony.

Rev. Williamson’s current presence in both the URCNA and the OPC evidences a ministerial career that has transcended denominational and well as national borders. He’s served congregations of the RCA in Michigan, the UPC in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, the ARP in Arkansas, the OPC in Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Iowa, the RCNZ in Auckland and Upper Hutt, NZ, and the RPCNA in Kansas. Most of his ministry has been in the OPC (37 years) and the RCNZ (17 years).

GI Williamson in 1952

Born in Des Moines, IA, he grew up in a family with strong ties to the old UPCNA, although he admits, “in my earliest years, we were in United Brethren Churches more than in the UPCNA,” but the family returned to the UPCNA during his teen years.

He didn’t actually become converted, however, until after stints serving in the army and playing saxophone during the big band era. While attending Xenia Theological Seminary, he learned the biblical tenets of Calvinism from John Gerstner. It was also during his student days that he discovered the Westminster Standards (with proof texts) in dusty books about to be thrown out from a closet being cleaning at his church.

“It was like 2 Kings 22:8-20 all over again,” says Rev. Williamson. “My life was forever changed.”

Rev. Williamson was ordained on June 1, 1952, in Westminster UP Church in Des Moines, IA, and soon became pastor of the UP church in Fall River, MA.

GI Williamson in his army band

“I came to sense the impending suicide of the UPCNA (which came in 1958 when it merged with the apostate PCUSA), so I served a brief time in the ARP before coming into the OPC,” he says. “A small group of people who had been under my ministry in the Fall River UPC urged me to come back to Fall River to launch an OPC there. So, in late 1955, I became a home missionary pastor of Grace OPC in Fall River, where I served for seven years.”

Rev. Williamson was called to the RCNZ in 1962 and when he arrived in New Zealand, Rev. Richard Venema was already there, serving on loan from the CRC.

“Incidentally, when I entered the ministry of the Reformed Churches of NZ in 1963, it was Rev. Richard Venema who presided at my theology examination,” says Rev. Williamson. “When Rev. Venema came into our OPC Presbytery a few years ago, guess what! Yep, I got to preside at his examination….”

GI Williamson played saxophone in this orchestra during the big band era

Rev. Williamson served six years in Mangere, South Auckland, and 11 years in Silverstream, Upper Hutt (near Wellington). Between those two charges in New Zealand, he served three and a half years in the RPCNA in Wichita, KS.

After leaving Silverstream, he came back to the US, serving the OPC in Carson, ND, for ten years. He helped start an OPC in Hull, IA in 1992, but he and his wife, Doris, became associate members of Cornerstone URC in Sanborn, IA, in 1995.

“When we came to NW Iowa to ‘retire’ we saw no future for the CRC denomination,” he says. “But when two major secessions took place in our area (Orange City and Sanborn), we saw it as a duty to try to work with these churches. Most of the people who came to our small OPC had come from the Orange City CRC out of which the Redeemer Church emerged. So our Session met with their Consistory and agreed to join them if they were willing to allow us freedom not to observe man-made special days such as Good Friday and Christmas. They were. So we did. And there has never been any conflict over this issue.”

Still active, Rev. Williamson frequently preaches and is scheduled for 15 prison ministry days this year. He writes studies for men and women willing to meet with him.

“I include in these studies references that I hope will lead them to further searching of the Scriptures,” he says. “I avoid the use of words well-known by Reformed people, but teaching them nothing but the historic Reformed faith.”

Rev. GI Williamson and his wife Doris

Rev. Williamson has written study guides on the Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He’s written Wine in the Bible, The Church and Understanding the Times, and The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God. He’s edited a study of the Larger Catechism by Dr. J. G. Vos, and he edited the OPC publication, “Ordained Servant,” from 1992 to 2005.

He has received emails from people all over the world who have been helped by his writings on the Confession and Catechisms. He says, “I am amazed and thank God that my work has gone out in a number of languages other than English.”

What means the most to him is hearing how something he said has impacted a life for Christ. He gives this example: “I once gave an address to the faculty and student body at WTS. My subject was ‘Fire in My Bones.’ I said, in effect, ‘If you don’t have that, you don’t belong in the ministry.’ I felt that I had done a very poor job with that message. But many years later, I was invited to speak at a PCA in Birmingham. And one of the ministers who came told me that it was that ‘poor job’ of mine that never left him, driving him to keep on in his calling for many years.”

Other highlights of his pastoral career have been ministering to church leaders in Egypt and learning from the people in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. He says, “I still think the functioning level of the eldership as I have encountered it in the Continental Reformed tradition is superior to what I’ve experienced in several denominations of the Presbyterian tradition.”

But the biggest highlight for him is the “awesome privilege of preaching the Word (I still get butterflies in my stomach before I preach).”

He encourages you pastors to take their vows seriously: “Do not publicly teach or blog anything that is contrary to the Confessions you have publicly vowed to uphold. If you do come to the conclusion that you have a truth that must be considered, even though it would involve a change in those standards, take it to your Consistory, Classis and Synod before you say a single word to publicize your views. I am astounded at the ease with which this rule is violated.”

Looking back, Rev. Williamson says: “My life changed from confusion and doubt to assurance and confidence after I discovered the Westminster Standards (with proof texts). I saw then and there that the poor state of the church today is due in large part to ignorance of these marvelous documents. God’s truth doesn’t change. What was true in 1648 is still true today. The church will never advance until it recovers what God gave us in these standards. When it has done that, it can then go further in the truth.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18-19 of the September 12, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

Milan church: Renovation and reformation

The meeting place of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Filadelfia (CERF) in Milan, Italy, is undergoing a major renovation. For some time, the congregation has been meeting in a 630 square-foot former computer store. The building, surrounded by apartments and factories, is located on the northern outskirts of Milan. Many people from southern Italy moved to the area during the 60s and 70s, seeking employment.

The church’s renovation consists primarily of constructing walls to separate the building’s open space into a worship sanctuary, a fellowship area, and two classrooms. The project’s initial funding was $22,000 (US funds); Christ URC in Santee, CA, contributed about half of that while other URCNA congregations gave the other half (through donations to Christ URC for the support of the Milan church). Although the renovation is off to a good start, another $30,000 is needed to finish the project.

Construction on the area that will be the front of the sanctuary.

“Christ URC is committed to supporting Rev. Andrea Ferrari (of Milan) and the long-term work of establishing the very first Reformed denomination in Italy that confesses the Three Forms of Unity,” says Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ URC, Santee, CA. “We thank God for the churches in the URCNA who are supporting this vital mission and helping us shoulder the burden of making disciples in that barren country. This is still much more work to be done, both in the building and, more importantly, in planting more churches. We pray that more churches in our federation might come alongside us and help.”

“If other funds will be raised for this purpose,” says Rev. Ferrari, “it will be a great blessing and we’ll be able to speed up the completion of the work.”

Rev. Ferrari says, “Not having an Italian federation of churches, we consider ourselves part of the URCNA, even if because of geographical and historical reasons we are distant from many of our sister churches. We sense a strong relationship with the URCNA and we try to pray constantly for the churches and for their ministries. For instance, this year our Consistory decided to collect twice every year an offering for URCNA missions (in June we sent the offering to support the Spanish ministry of Rev. Ruben Sernas). We also try to invite URCNA pastors so that we can develop a relationship with our sister churches and establish a model for a future federation in Italy.”

Dan Ventura surveys the worship place where he will exhort.

Dan Ventura, a student from Westminster Seminary in California (WSC), spent a six-week internship in Milan this summer. He exhorted 12 times, which freed some of Rev. Ferrari’s time for more study and sermon preparation.

“Dan also went with me in Romania for four days, where we are continuing to help a small group of believers to plant a Reformed church in Bucharest,” relates Rev. Ferrari. “We are seeing if it will be possible to have one young man to go to WSC and become ordained by a consistory in the URCNA.”

Rev. Ferrari often has traveled to the United States and Rev. Brown will make his fourth visit to Italy this October.

“For me personally, Andrea Ferrari is much more than a missionary our church supports, or even a colleague and Reformed minister. Over the past six years, he has become one of my closest friends,” says Rev. Brown. “When I visit the mission field, I am not only blessed with spending time in mutual encouragement with a faithful and trusted friend, but I am able to renew fellowship with one of the warmest and most loving congregations I have ever had the privilege of knowing. As anyone who has spent time with that church will tell you, the people of CERF are some of the most God-fearing and self-sacrificing Christians you will ever meet. And although I am only a quarter Italian by blood, they always make me feel as if I am 100% one of their own. For our unity runs deeper than the blood of nations, it is bonded in the blood of Christ.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the August 22, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

Short Synod for the RPCNA in 2012

 

 

Every four years, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) hosts a popular International Conference. Since 2012 is the year for the Conference, the RPCNA’s annual Synod was shortened to only three days, instead of its usual five. But three days proved to be enough as Synod finished its business 30 minutes ahead of the condensed schedule.

The 181st Synod of the RPCNA was held at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, from June 27-29, 2012. Rev. David Long, from the RPC in Lafayette, IN, served as Moderator.

“Throughout the proceedings of Synod there has been an overwhelming sense of awe concerning what Jesus is doing in our midst,” wrote Pastor Nathan Eshelman, of the Los Angeles RPCNA, while covering the event for the Aquila Report.

Sudan

An evidence of Christ’s work in the RPCNA was seen as the denomination entered into a fraternal relationship with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, a church planted by the RPCNA. The relationship is similar to what the RPCNA enjoys with the Reformed Presbyterian Churches of Ireland and Australia.

Growth

The RPCNA has seen gradual growth of ten percent over the last ten years. During the past year, most of the six presbyteries in North America and the one presbytery in Japan received new congregations and/or began new mission works. Over 35 percent of RPCNA membership resides in congregations planted within the last 30 years.

“This growth was very encouraging to Synod, but along with the growth come challenges,” wrote Drew Gordon, Editor of the RP Witness, in a report published on the Sola System blog (http://thesolasystem.blogspot.com). “The Home Mission Board has been stretched to the point that it needs to raise more funds or eventually to cut back on funding some new works. Also, on the Global Mission front, new works and new presbyteries bring culturally related challenges.”

Japan

One unique challenge facing the RPCNA is the relationship with its Japanese presbytery. According to Drew Gordon, the PRCNA’s Judicial Committee was tasked with “clarifying the place of the Japan Mission and Japan Presbytery in the current structure of the church.” He explains that when the Japanese mission work became a presbytery, the hope was for it to eventually become an “indigenous denomination.” The current existence of both a Japan Mission and a Japan Presbytery “brings challenges” since both are under the oversight of the RP Global Mission Board, but language and “cultural barriers” as well as distance “can make coordination very challenging.”

Both the Global Mission Board and the Japan Presbytery desire continued movement toward the Presbytery “becoming more self-supporting, self-governing and self-sustaining,” but they also want to maintain a strong and supportive relationship with each other. The current plan is to continue the Board’s oversight of the Presbytery for the next 10 years, during which financial support gradually will be reduced.

Also at Synod, Japan Presbytery expressed thanks for generous donations to the Japan Relief Fund, which surpassed $200,000.

Committees

Concerned to maximize resources in effective church planting endeavors, the RPCNA Synod approved forming a study committee to examine if current boundaries between presbyteries are optimal for church planting or if they should be adjusted.

As the denomination grows, many churches are employing more than one pastor, so Synod established another study committee to study the multiple pastoral staff model. According to Pastor Eshelman, this action followed the presentation of a paper requesting definitions of the terms “senior pastor, associate pastor, and assistant pastor.”

Delegates were almost evenly divided on whether or not to keep the RPCNA’s “Understanding the Times” committee. Pastor Eshelman explained that the committee “has lost some of its original intent” since many traditional practices such as “solemn assemblies, covenanting, and fasting” have fallen out of use in the denomination. But Synod voted to retain the committee by a vote of 62 to 61.

Homosexuality

Last year’s Synod adopted a “biblical testimony” on sexuality that recently appeared in book form as The Gospel and Sexual Orientation by Crown & Covenant Publications. A summary pamphlet is now being prepared for publication.

Schools

Geneva College has filed a lawsuit challenging the new government-mandated health care system that would force it to pay for health care that includes abortifacient drugs. The College reported to Synod on its continuing legal battle.

Delegates approved a recommendation to appoint Dr. Jerry O’Neill to another five-year term as President of the Reformed Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. They also elected Pastor Barry York as Professor of Pastoral Theology.

International Conference

The International Conference planning committee anticipated 1,600 attendants for this year’s Conference, but registration has topped 2,100. This represents about one-third of the households in the entire denomination.

Rev. Eshelman wrote, “There will be a great need to exercise the fruit of the Spirit with such large numbers of people all together. Of course, the psalm singing will be like nothing you have ever heard!”

The next synod of the RPCNA is scheduled for June 24-28, 2013, in Marion, IN.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-13 of the August 1, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

PCA GA handles a variety of issues

The 40th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) met from June 19-21, 2012, in Louisville, KY. The 1,120 commissioners, consisting of 832 Teaching Elders (ministers) and 288 Ruling Elders (elders), elected Dr. Michael F. Ross, pastor of Christ Covenant PCA in Matthews, NC, as Moderator. Dr. Roy Taylor serves as Stated Clerk of the PCA and posted a summary of the Assembly’s actions on the Administrative Committee’s website: http://www.pcaac.org.

Although 44 overtures and other matters were submitted prior to the General Assembly (GA), pre-assembly advice committees helped commissioners tackle docket items in a timely manner.

“Over all, the GA continued to be a force for the truth,” wrote Rev. Wes White, a PCA minister in Spearfish, SD, on his “Johannes Weslianus” blog (http://www.weswhite.net).

The GA decided to remain in the National Association of Evangelicals (NEA), declared that the Westminster Standards sufficiently address theistic evolution, prohibited the Lord’s Supper practice of intinction, accepted the initial work of a study committee on the Insider Movement, referred paedocommunion matters back to committee, approved its Administrative Committee’s funding, celebrated a “joining and receiving” anniversary, and dissolved a small presbytery.

NEA

According to Dr. Taylor’s online report (found at http://www.pcaac.org), a 2011 overture requested that the PCA withdraw from the NAE at the soonest possible date the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) was directed to study the issue. Commissioners adopted the IRC recommendation for continued membership, while closely watching developments.

Theistic evolution

Commissioners approved an overture stating that the Westminster Standards are sufficiently clear on God’s creation of Adam and Eve and that additional declarations are not necessary.

Rev. White sees this as a “loss for those who want to preserve a confessional and conservative Presbyterian denomination.” He believes “this action will have the effect of discouraging opponents of theistic evolution and encouraging its proponents.”

Intinction

Intinction is the practice during the Lord’s Supper of communicants dipping bread into a common cup of wine and receiving both elements together. By a 14-vote margin, commissioners approved a minority report prohibiting intinction.

Presbyteries and the next GA need to approve this addition to the Book of Church Order: “As Christ has instituted the Lord’s Supper in two sacramental actions, the communicants are to eat the bread and drink the cup in separate actions.”

Insider movement

Last year’s GA established a committee to study what has become known generally as the Insider Movement. Some advocates of this trend allow believers in contexts where persecution takes place to remain in their original faith communities. Another aspect of the trend is to remove references to God the Father and Jesus the Son from biblical translations in an effort to make the translation more acceptable to those from certain religious backgrounds, such as Islam.

Commissioners gave the committee another year to finish its work and recommended for study its initial report: “Part One: Like Father, Like Son,” which is available at: http://www.pcaac.org.

“The report of the ad interim committee on the Insider Movement was excellent,” writes Rev. White. “I thought this was the PCA at is best, using its unique resources for the good of world mission and a stand for biblical truth and the heart of the gospel.”

Paedocommunion

The PCA has a committee that reviews presbytery records and reports to the GA. The issue of paedocommunion came before the body through that avenue.

Don K. Clements wrote on The Aquila Report (http://theaquilareport.com) that three separate actions from the minutes of three different presbyteries dealt with paedocommunion: “In the minds of many, these actions were internally inconsistent, in two cases approving Paedocommunion, in another not approving (broadly speaking).”

After close votes and the failure of two substitutes motions, the three items were recommitted to the review committee, which was directed to bring a consistent report to next year’s Assembly.

Administrative Committee Funding

Funding for the PCA’s Administrative Committee (AC) was a hot topic last year, but became a non-issue at this year’s GA.

“The new funding plan was a snoozer,” write Rev. White. “It passed easily.”

According to Rev. Taylor, the new plan features: contribution requests to churches based on a percentage of the church’s operating budget rather than per member, a request (not a requirement) that all PCA ministers contribute at least $100 per year, a GA registration fee, fees for services as appropriate, and increased communication from the AC to the churches.

Part of the controversy last year dealt with the denominational online and print magazine: byFaith. The editor reported that the website (http://byfaithonline.com) has been upgraded and that free subscriptions of the print magazine will now be sent to individuals and churches at their request.

Joining and Receiving

This year’s GA celebrated the 30th anniversary of “joining and receiving” of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) with the PCA. According to Rev. Taylor, the RPCES adopted the PCA constitution and joined the PCA. In the process, the PCA gained a number of congregations as well as Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary.

Presbytery dissolution

Rev. Taylor wrote that “the Assembly approved the request of the Louisiana Presbytery that it be dissolved and its seven churches transferred to contiguous Presbyteries with new boundaries.”

The 41st General Assembly of the PCA is slated to begin on June 18, 2013, in Greenville, SC.

 

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-11 in the August 1, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.