Concurrent meetings of URCNA Classis and OPC Presbytery prefigure major assemblies

groupFrom March 15-17, 2018, the URCNA’s Classis Central US and the OPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest held meetings at Community Reformed Church (URCNA) in Schererville, IN, that prefigured the federations’ concurrent major assemblies in a few months.

Classis Central convened at 4:00 PM on Thursday, March 15, and concluded at 6:00 PM on Friday. The Presbytery of the Midwest convened at 8:30 AM on Friday and concluded its business about noon on Saturday. Before and during the overlapping times, delegates and commissioners enjoyed communal worship and meals as well as shared instruction and information.

On Thursday evening, men from both groups attended an educational presentation (open to the public) by Tim Geiger, President of Harvest USA and a Teaching Elder in the PCA.

2 Anderson instrumentalistsFriday morning began with joint opening devotions. Rev. John Vermeer, recently installed at Doon URC in Iowa, spoke from Ephesians 2:11-22. He noted that twisted views of the church inhibit fellowship, but true unity can be found in focusing on Christ. Members of the Community URC congregation provided accompaniment for singing from a Trinity Psalter Hymnal sampler. Rev. James Oord played the piano. Andy Anderson played bass, his son James played cello, and another son Isaiah played violin.

The afternoon began with joint devotions led by Rev. Shane Lems, former pastor and church planter of the URC in Sunnyside, WA, who is now minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, WI. From Luke 22:31-34, he spoke about Christ’s intercessory prayer that the faith of believers would not fail.

Dr. Alan Strange reported that printing of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal was scheduled to begin on March 19. Over 30,000 copies had been ordered, about 18,000 by URC churches.

Classis Central US: Colloquium Doctum and emeritation

Classis Central welcomed a minister from another federation and granted concurring advice regarding a minister who is being emeritated.

Jon and Kelli Bushnell
Kelli and Jon Bushnell

The most time-consuming matter on the agenda of Classis Central was a Colloquium Doctum conducted with Rev. Jon Bushnell, minister of First CRC in Prinsburg, MN. Sioux Center URC requested the CD and expressed its intent to proceed with steps for extending a call to him, should he sustain his exam. He did.

“It was extensive, exhausting and extremely encouraging,” Rev. Bushnell observed. “We covered everything from pastoral burn-out to the incomprehensibility of God.”

A humorous moment occurred when Rev. Spencer Aalsburg asked Rev. Bushnell if he would cast a presidential vote for an inexperienced Christian or an experienced non-Christian with good policies.

“It’s hard to say without knowing more,” Rev. Bushnell responded diplomatically. “Is he a Christian in name only? Are you running for president? Because I’d vote for you.”

Rev. Bushnell’s home church is Trinity URC in Visalia, CA. He is a 2011 graduate of Westminster Seminary California and served an internship at Prinsburg prior to accepting the church’s call. His wife, Kelli, is from DeMotte, IN, where she belonged to Immanuel URC. The couple has three young children.

The request for concurring advice in the matter of emeritation came from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, with respect to Rev. Tom Wetselaar, who has served the church since it formed in 1995. Rev. Wetselaar has been a faithful pastor for 30 years and has been in Classis Central the longest of any minister. His struggle with chronic back pain, combined with an unusually heavy burden of full-time pastoral ministry, led to a leave of absence in August and the eventual emeritation. Rev. Wetselaar continues to preach and counsel as opportunity arises and hopes for new avenues of ministry in Christ’s kingdom.

Rev. Jody Lucero chaired the meeting, Rev. John Vermeer served as Vice Chairman, and Rev. Ralph Pontier is Clerk of Classis. Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL, is scheduled to convene the next meeting of Classis on September 10, 2018.

Presbytery of the Midwest: Exams and expansion

The Presbytery of the Midwest examined several men at various levels and discussed a proposal to expand its geographic bounds.

OPC examsCommissioners approved taking three men under Presbytery care: Ben Bessett from Neenah, WI; Elijah DeJong from Sheboygan, WI; and Carl Gobelman from Joliet, IL. Peter Bringe from Wentzville, MO, preached on Friday morning, and Nathan Strom from St. Paul, MN, preached in the afternoon. Commissioners voted to grant them license to preach in the churches. Andrew Fortenberry, from Hanover Park, IL, was approved for ordination, and Jared van Noord, from Green Bay, WI, was accepted from another denomination.

Commissioners approved sending to the General Assembly a communication regarding Presbytery boundaries in the Great Plains States. The neighboring Presbytery of the Central US contains only four churches and will petition GA to dissolve it and disperse its territories. One of the churches, Faith OPC in Lincoln, NE, wishes to affiliate with the Presbytery of the Midwest. It is anticipated that the Presbytery of the Southwest will receive the other three, which are located in Kansas and Oklahoma. Because some parts of nearby states are closer to Chicago (where the PMW is centered) than to Denver (where the Presbytery of the Dakotas is centered), the communication expresses the willingness of the Presbytery of the Midwest to add specific counties of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota to its geographical area.

Ben Snodgrass served as Moderator for the Presbytery’s meeting, and Camden Bucey was Vice Moderator. Christian McShaffrey is Stated Clerk, and Bruce Stahl is the Assistant Clerk. Brian De Jong serves as Archivist. The wide range of responsibilities struck Rev. McShaffrey.

“As those who acknowledge their own sin and weakness, we spend ample time in the Word and in prayer,” he said. “As those who have been forgiven, we sing much praise to our Savior. As those who guard the truth, we scrutinize candidates for ministry. As those who serve the church, we offer advice and shepherding as needed. As those who hold the keys, we adjudicate administrative and judicial matters. As those who love God, we seek to do all this in a decent, orderly, and Christ-honoring manner.”

Planning the meetings required cooperation between representatives in each federation. Rev. James Oord expressed gratitude for the dedication and efficiency of the Presbytery’s Ecumenicity Committee. “The whole event was a blessing to both bodies,” he said. He noted that despite full agendas, delegates and commissioners made the most of fellowship opportunities.

The above is an edited version of the article that appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

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Trinity Psalter Hymnal

Click on this link for how to pre-order multiple copies of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, the joint songbook project of the URCNA and the OPC. You can save shipping by picking it up at the concurrent meetings of the OPC General Assembly and the URCNA Synod scheduled for June of 2018 at Wheaton College.

83rd GA celebrates OPC’s 80th Anniversary

 

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Photos by Rachel Stevenson

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

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

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

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

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

Sexuality

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

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

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

Republication

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

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

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

Trinity Psalter Hymnal

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

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

commissionersChurch education

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

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

World Outreach

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

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

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

Fraternal relations

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

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

Military

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

Resolving conflict

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

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

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

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

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

Administrative

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

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Moderator Paul Tavares

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

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

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

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

OPC 80th General Assembly: California dream

Official photo from the OPC GA website

When the 80th General Assembly (GA) of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) met from June 5-8 in Moraga, CA, it was the first time in 23 years that the Assembly was held in California and the first time ever in northern California. Voting equipment detained due to a train derailment arrived just in time, but then malfunctioned. Despite that minor problem, business flowed efficiently.

“This GA went smoothly, finishing almost a day early,” says Assistant Clerk John Mahaffy (Trinity OPC; Newberg, OR). “I appreciated the good spirit and the fellowship.”

“Remarkably, ‘Machen’s Warrior Children’ have had three GAs in a row finish early,” says Rev. Jack Sawyer (Pineville OPC; Pineville LA), Administrator of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. “This, in part at least, is due to the sweet, brotherly spirit that has prevailed at these assemblies. But most especially the praise for this goes to the author of concord, our gracious God and his grace, mercy, and peace.”

Rev. Jeffery Landis (Covenant OPC; San Jose, CA) was elected as moderator. According to an online report by Rev. Arthur J. Fox (Calvary OPC; Middletown, PA), he had a “gentle manner and a good sense of humor” that kept business “moving along briskly.”

The GA dealt with a variety of matters, mostly in the context of committee reports. Rev. Mahaffy relates how highlights of this Assembly were reports of reconciliation. “Two encouraging highlights were the reports of the two committees set up by the GA, one to visit the Presbytery of New Jersey and the other Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada. The first grew out of a series of appeals of judicial cases, and the GA several years ago recognized that there were issues that went far deeper than technical points of the Book of Discipline. By God’s grace, his blessing was on the work of that committee, though one church abandoned the OPC at the end of the process. The report of the Committee to visit the Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada was similarly encouraging. Both committees were dissolved with thanks.”

An article by Rev. Larry J. Westerveld (Trinity OPC; Hatboro, PA), who chaired the Committee to Visit the Presbytery of New Jersey, in the August-September 2013 issue of New Horizons describes the emotional scene in which the Moderator of the Presbytery repeatedly stepped down from the chair and read statements to six individuals, confessing the Presbytery’s sin and seeking their forgiveness.

Missions and Ecumenicity

The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension reported that six new church plants have been started in 2013, and more are anticipated in the second half of the year. The Committee on Foreign Missions testified that many believers around the world suffer for their faith. Missionaries are needed in several fields, including Uganda and Haiti. General Secretary Mark Bube reminded commissioners of the importance of prayer.

The Committee on Christian Education supervises the Psalter-Hymnal project, which has now posted online a list of 238 metrical psalms, considered in cooperation with representatives from the URCNA.

“For your readers, [URC minister] Adam Kaloostian was an exemplary fraternal delegate,” shares Rev. Sawyer. “Welcome, in my personal view, was his communication that the URCNA is seriously interested in deepening the ties between the OPC and the URCNA.”

Fraternal delegates from many other fellowships were present and shared how the Lord is working around the world.

Rev. Sawyer says, “As a member of our ecumenicity committee, I was especially pleased by the contribution of our fraternal delegates: ARP, PCA, RPCNA, RCUS, and the URCNA.”

Overseas delegates included the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, Presbyterian Church of Japan, and the Evangelical Reformed Church/Westminster Confession (from Switzerland and Austria), the OPC’s newest church in Ecclesiastical Correspondence.

Diaconal efforts

The Diaconal Committee reported extensive financial response to the Japanese tsunami and Hurricane Sandy. The PCA, RPCNA, the URCNA, and the Reformed Church of Japan have cooperated with the OPC in disaster response.

Chaplains and Military Personnel

It was noted that chaplains remain free to pray in Jesus’ name, although some problems may exist. The Assembly called OPC churches to a day of prayer for the spiritual and physical welfare of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a non-communicant member of the church, on June 30, 2013, the fourth anniversary of his capture.

Ministers

The GA approved an amendment to the Form of Government allowing retired ministers from other denominations to transfer their ministerial credentials to the OPC without a call and installation when satisfactory reasons are given and proper procedure is followed.

A problem with ministers who are not adequately compensated or prepared for retirement led to recommendations aimed at encouraging presbyteries to provide adequate financial support. After extensive discussion, the recommendations passed.

Overture

An overture seeking changes in the Form of Government section about licensing candidates was debated extensively and eventually referred to the Committee on Christian Education, which will report to the next Assembly. The 81st GA will meet at KuyperCollege in Grand Rapids, MI, from June 4-10, 2014.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-17 of the July 31/August 21, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

OPC GA held concurrently with diaconal summit

When the 79th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) met from June 6-12, 2012, at Wheaton College in Illinois, the denomination’s diaconal summit was held at the same time on the same campus. Commissioners and deacons met together twice in formal venues.

The 189 deacons joined approximately 150 commissioners during the Friday evening GA session at which the Committee on Diaconal Ministries reported. Mr. David Nakhla serves as part-time administrator of the Committee as well as short-term missions coordinator for the OPC, and becomes a disaster response coordinator when the need arises. Mr. Nakhla gave a power-point presentation on the OPC response to the earthquake and resultant tsunami that devastated areas of Japan in March of 2011.

On Saturday morning, commissioners met with the deacons to hear Dr. Philip Ryken, an ordained PCA minister and President of  Wheaton College, speak about applying Reformed doctrine to diaconal ministry.

The Rev. Dr. Anthony Curto served as the moderator for this year’s GA. Rev. George Cottenden was elected to another year as stated clerk, and Rev. John Mahaffey was appointed as assistant clerk. Statistician Mr. Luke E. Brown reported that the OPC now consists of 275 churches, 51 mission works, and 30,279 members.

Home and Foreign Missions

The OPC enjoys fraternal relationships with 36 denominations in the US and around the world. The assembly heard greetings by representatives from the PCA, the RCUS, the Bible Presbyterian Church, the Heritage Reformed Congregations, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated), the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, the Reformed Church in Japan, and the Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Commissioners approved an invitation to the Free Reformed Churches of Australia to send a fraternal observer to future assemblies. It also approved a recommendation to enter into a Corresponding Relationship with the Evangelical Reformed Church-Westminster Confession, a group of churches in Austria that recently embraced the Reformed faith.

“Foreign Missions continues to be at the heart of denominational life in the OPC,” says Rev. Jack Sawyer, Administrator of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. “The Committee on Foreign Missions report highlighted new open doors in Asia, South America, and Europe. The call of Rev. Eric Tuininga to labor in Uganda was highlighted and gratitude expressed to the URCNA for seconding him to us! New fields await and more missionaries are needed, especially in Haiti.”

Rev. Sawyer notes the pending retirement of Rev. Ross Graham as General Secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extensions “after a tenure that began in the 1980s, and which has seen the OPC top 30,000 members for the first time, and many new churches begun!”

Rev. Graham has written a booklet, How to Start an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which Rev. Sawyer says “is into its second printing and which has proven very helpful to other Reformed churches as well.”

Reporting on the OPC’s continuing church planting work, Rev. Graham said that in 2011 the denomination began supporting twelve mission works, while six new works have already begun during 2012.

Psalter-Hymnal

The Committee on Christian Education reported progress on its Psalter-Hymnal project and its hope for a cooperative effort with the URCNA.

A substitute motion calling for suspension of the Psalter-Hymnal work was defeated. The original communication was returned to the Presbytery of Philadelphia for its consideration.

Other business

In the official report on the OPC website, Rev. Alan Pontier noted that the 2010 GA had set up a special committee to deal with “difficult situations that had developed over several years in the Presbytery of New Jersey and one of her local sessions, specifically to seek reconciliation of parties offended by certain actions of the presbytery and session.”

According to Rev. Pontier, a temporary visitation committee reported that much progress has been made “in bringing reconciliation between the Presbytery and the offended parties, due to the unequivocal acknowledgment by the Presbytery of their errors and their humble request for reconciliation.”

Because more reconciliation needs to take place, commissioners approved that the committee’s work continue for another year.

Having accomplished its work in a timely manner, the 78th GA dismissed a day earlier than scheduled. There was little to cause contention during the Assembly, which Rev. Sawyer characterized as “harmonious.” He adds, “The peace and love evident among ‘Machen’s warrior children’ was manifest, and a great blessing.”

The next General Assembly of the OPC is scheduled for June 5-11, 2013, at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 8 of the August 1, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

78th OPC GA celebrates OPC’s 75th Anniversary

The following article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12-14 of the July 27, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.

You may wonder why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) celebrated its 75th anniversary at its 78th General Assembly (GA).

The first GA of the “Presbyterian Church of America” met in June of 1936 (long before the formation of today’s Presbyterian Church in America, which organized in the early 1970s). That GA was followed by another in November of the same year for further organization. Annual assemblies were held in 1937 and 1938, but a special GA became necessary in February of 1939 to determine a new denominational name. The Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) had won its lawsuit against the new denomination, which was no longer permitted to use its original name.

According to Assistant Clerk, Rev. John W. Mahaffy, the February 1939 GA “focused on the name issue, made a decision not to appeal the court ruling, and after extensive debate, selected the name Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” A subsequent GA met in May of the same year to deal with regular business matters.

“We have had only one GA per year since,” Rev. Mahaffy explains, “but that is why the 78th GA was the one celebrating the 75th anniversary of the church.”

Celebration and fellowship characterized the 78th GA when it met from June 8-15, 2011, at the Sandy Cove Conference Center on Chesapeake Bay near North East, Maryland. That family-friendly location contributed to the pervasive camaraderie. 

“General Assembly this year was marked by a particular tone of celebration because of God’s faithfulness to the OPC over the past 75 years,” observes Rev. Danny Patterson (Second Parish OPC in Portland, Maine). “Men were often heard, in their prayers and reflections, quoting Psalm 115:1, ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.’”

Rev. Danny Olinger, General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education, was elected moderator of the 78th GA. Rev. George Cottenden, retired pastor of Trinity OPC in Hatboro, PA, served his first year as the GA’s Stated Clerk while Rev. John W. Mahaffy, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Portland, OR, again served ably as Assistant Stated Clerk. 

A light agenda contributed to the celebratory atmosphere while special presentations highlighted the history and work of different OPC programs. More than usual ecumenical observers and delegates were present during this year’s GA to share in the celebration.

“The assembly was very blessed to have sister churches incur the time, loan the personnel, and shoulder the cost of travel in order to express their unity with us in Christ, and also in order to share our joy and gratitude on the occasion of this blessed milestone,” says Rev. Jack Sawyer, corresponding secretary for the Committee for Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. “I believe the number of fraternal delegates indicates that the OPC has exercised and continues to exercise, in the providence and by the grace of God, a far more wide-ranging and influential ecumenical influence in the Reformed world than her size would have led one to expect.”

In between welcoming various representatives from other ecclesiastical bodies, commissioners decided to cooperate with the URCNA in the production of a new songbook, discussed the OPC’s disaster relief effort in Japan, and handled one overture as well as one report. The singular overture before commissioners dealt with discord within a presbytery regarding subscription and creation issues. The report was from a special committee working to resolve tensions in another presbytery.

Cooperative Songbook effort

Reminding commissioners of Christ’s prayer for unity, Rev. Alan Strange, chairman of the Psalter-Hymnal Special Committee, reported that the Lord has opened a door to cooperative efforts with the URCNA. Although the two federations have worked separately up to this point, they have focused on different divisions that are complementary. The OPC Committee is finishing work on the psalm section, while the URCNA Committee has produced a hymnal proposal.

Rev. Everett Henes (Hillsdale OPC in Hillsdale, MI) wrote in his online report (opc.org/GA), “…the General Assembly voted to approve the Psalter-Hymnal Special Committee working together with the URCNA Songbook Committee with a view to producing a joint OPC/URC Psalter-Hymnal. The Assembly also approved extending an official invitation. The Assembly rejoiced that Psalm 133 could be seen in such a visible way with our brothers and sisters in the URCNA: ‘Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!’ (Ps. 133:1).”

Disaster Relief in Japan

The OPC has sponsored mission work in Japan for many years and some OPC missionary personnel were first responders after the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami. Mr. David Nakhla, the OPC’s first Short-Term Missions Coordinator who led a disaster relief team to Japan, explained how to coordinate mission efforts with ministry work. Congregations of the OPC have contributed over $375,000 in Japan relief funds. Mr. Nakla reported that Japanese Christians constitute only one half of one percent of the country’s population, but these few Christians are making a significant impact by proclaiming the gospel while providing disaster relief.

Rev. Calvin and Edie Cummings, who have served as missionaries in Japan since the early 1970s, were also present at this year’s GA. Rev. Cummings conveyed the gratitude of the Japanese Christians for prayer and financial support in the aftermath of these tragedies. He spoke of how God has used these events for good by opening the hearts of many people to the truth of God’s Word. He requested prayer for the missionaries and the church in Japan as they continue to minister and witness, as well as prayer for the Japanese people to see their need for forgiveness through Christ.

Overture

The single overture facing commissioners this year came from the Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada, which has struggled in recent years due to differing views of subscription to confessional and extra-confessional documents, particularly with regard to candidates’ views of creation.

The overture asked for a special committee to assist the Presbytery in working through “a serious division” affecting its “functioning as a Church of Christ.” The overture noted this was a “continuing problem” going back as far as “September 1995 and made most evident” as a result of the 2004 Creation Report and its accompanying recommendations.

The first ground for the overture stated: “There has been an ongoing division over subscription to our secondary standards, the days of creation, and the application of the passed recommendations by the Assembly of the 2004 Creation Report.” The second ground read: “We as a Presbytery have tried in the last three years to work through our differences and have not been able to achieve reconciliation.”

A related communication provided additional background information, noting that during the last few years the “division…has been demonstrated at least six times when candidates have been questioned…when examined in theology.” It listed 15 different opinions held by Presbyters that “prevent…working together harmoniously….”

Assistant Clerk Rev. Mahaffy explains that “the issues involve not only creation, but also views of subscription and ecclesiology.”

The Assembly approved the appointment of a special committee to visit the Presbytery with a mandate to assess the causes and extent of the “serious division” and to “facilitate…reconciliation” before reporting to the next GA.

Report

According to Rev. Henes’ online account, a committee appointed by last year’s GA reported that its work within the Presbytery of New Jersey was progressing “with everyone working together and all parties receptive to the meetings.” The committee will continue it work for another year.

“For a couple of years the Assembly had handled judicial appeals and complaints involving that presbytery and a particular congregation in the presbytery,” explains Rev. Mahaffy. “Last year we set up a committee to do some pastoral work with those involved. This Assembly heard the brief report and there was no need for further action. I expect the committee will give its final report next year.”                                                                                   

Special presentations

Presentations highlighted the history and work of the OPC’s three major program committees: Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education.

Rev. Alan Pontier, pastor of Big Bear Valley OPC in Big Bear City, CA, and moderator of last year’s GA, writes that the Home Mission audio/visual presentation tracing the history of OPC church planting was “very well done and featured recently discovered movie footage of the early years of some of our churches.”

“Foreign Missions (led by General Secretary Mark Bube) gave an overview of the breadth of current OPC foreign missionary work,” he continues. “What struck me is how much work is getting done in several countries by a relatively small church.”

General Secretary Danny Olinger presented a historical overview of the Committee on Christian Education. Another part of this presentation was a speech by Rev. John P. Galbraith. Rev. Pontier relates that Rev. Galbraith has become a friend over the years and this presentation was by far “the most special event” for him personally.

“The main feature of this presentation was a speech by John Galbraith who is now 98 years old and, I believe, is the last living person to witness the forming of the OPC in 1936,” he writes. “Galbraith was not yet ordained at the time, but he and his family attended the meeting and helped constitute the church at what became the first General Assembly. Mr. Galbraith spoke for about 20 minutes (without notes) and in spite of his age was dynamic, gracious and clear.”

Rev. Henes reported, “At 98 years old, Mr. Galbraith’s body might move slower than it once did, but his voice was strong and clear as he opened with the words of the Apostle Paul from Romans 7:15, ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’ What followed was a presentation that was part history, part proclamation and part exhortation…. All those gathered expressed their appreciation and Mr. Galbraith could be heard saying, after the standing ovation ended, ‘All praise goes to the Lord!’”

Other features of this year’s GA included special worship services on Sunday and a Saturday evening 75th anniversary banquet. Following the banquet, Rev. Donald M. Poundstone spoke on “The OPC at Seventy-Five: A Witness to the Truth and the Heavenly Kingdom (Reflections on John 18:36-37).”

“The evening ended with prayer and the singing of the Doxology,” writes Rev. Henes. “All praise goes to God, for it is through his goodness and mercy that a church made up of imperfect people can make it through 75 years, remaining faithful to the proclamation of the gospel. May God see fit to grant us many, many more years of faithful service to his kingdom.”