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.

The battle for the church will never stop (Synod 2012)

At the closing session, Rev. Scheuers awarded his colleague and friend Rev. Ralph Pontier the “jack-in-the-box” award for his frequent verbal contributions during Synod 2012. Rev. John Bouwers looks on as Rev. Pontier tries his prize.

The introduction to this series of news reports about Synod Nyack 2012 compared Synod to a young adult, settling into positive patterns and making wise decisions. Each of the four synods I have observed demonstrated increasing maturity and unity, and these characteristics were more obvious this year.

One of the reasons for the maturity and unity certainly was an agenda that, while containing items that generated vigorous debate, did not include any divisive theological issues.

Another contributing factor was the convening consistory’s preparation, particularly for the work of advisory committees, which included implementing technology that facilitated uniform recording of information and smooth dissemination of it.

An important aspect of the smoothness of Synod Nyack resided in the delegates themselves, who seemed more experienced, better prepared, and paid greater attention to the discussions than at earlier synods. Few wasted valuable time by repeating previous speakers or with other unnecessary remarks.

The chairmanship of Rev. Ronald Scheuers contributed significantly to the smooth functioning of Synod Nyack 2012. His years of experience and knowledge of church polity gave him the necessary wisdom for difficult on-the-spot judgments, while his humility and compassion softened his admonitions and warmed his encouragements.

In his closing remarks, Rev. Scheuers noted that he had served 21 years in another church where synodical meetings were dreaded because “we always had to fight to try to maintain the reason, basis, and purpose for all that we did. We fought to maintain faithfulness to the Word of God.”

“The battle for the church will never stop,” he continued, “but it is such a tremendous joy to fight it side by side with you, who mutually love the truth and are willing to lay down your lives for it.”

“To that end I wish to comfort you and assure you with the truth that because Christ has purchased you, He will always preserve you. You are His sheep, and not one of His sheep will ever be stolen from His care. Go then to your homes, churches, and places of service with that confidence in Christ.”

Although the battle for the church will never stop, Rev. Ron Scheuers in his closing remarks encouraged delegates to go forward in service with the “confidence of Christ.”

This is the final news report by Glenda Mathes on the URCNA Synod 2012. This concluding article appeared on page 18 of the July 11, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

Keeping the website accurate and up-to-date

Revs. Keith Davis, Kevin Hossink, and John Vermeer

Gary Fisher was reappointed as the URCNA webmaster. The Website Oversight Committee was asked to develop documents detailing his duties as well as guidelines for posting material to the site. The consistory of Grace URC in Waupun will continue to oversee the Website Oversight Committee until the next synod.

Synod reminded the churches to update their own information on the website on a regular basis, rather than asking the Stated Clerk to do so. The churches have the capability to do this, while the Stated Clerk does not.

Delegates were also reminded that Classis Clerks are required to inform both the webmaster and the Stated Clerk of any new congregations organized under CO, Art. 22 or provisionally accepted into membership under CO, Art. 32.

John Van Dyk (editor of Christian Renewal) with Revs. Ralph Pontier and Ron Scheuers

The matter of posting reading sermons on the website was not adopted by Synod. Delegates agreed with the advisory committee’s grounds, which deemed this unnecessary. Recognizing the need of vacant churches, however, lists are being compiled of ministers willing to post sermons online or send sermons to churches when requested.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 16 of July 11, 2012 issue of Christian Renewal. 

Pictures were taken by Glenda Mathes during a social time, sponsored by Mid-America Reformed Seminary, following Monday evening’s worship service.

The buck stops at the border

Simpson Hall on Nyack College campus; home base for many delegates during the URCNA Synod 2012

A federation with churches in two countries—Canada and the United States—faces the problem of money flow. In this case the flow of money from north to south, from Canada to the U.S., is becoming increasingly clogged, and the mechanism in place to meet the challenge is no longer sufficient.

The Joint Venture Agreement (JCA) of the URCNA is not able to distribute funds from Canadian churches to American charitable causes and will no longer accept such monies.

When the JVA was established, the plan was that it would facilitate the distribution of financial gifts from URCs in Canada to URC causes in the United States. But tightening of restrictions on the transfer of funds outside of Canada has resulted in the unhappy situation of the JVA holding some funds intended for American charities without being able to forward them to those specific causes. Forwarding those funds is impossible unless the charity has a controlling percentage of Canadian representatives on its board.

Canadian treasurer Pam Hessels was on hand at Synod and was granted the privilege of the floor in order to help explain the problem.

“What is the role of the corporation?” she asked. “Do you want to lose control of 51% of your ministry?”

She said the requirements basically mean that a Canadian organization must have control to meet federal government requirements.

While the JVA will continue to pay for federational expenses, such as Stated Clerk remuneration, it will no longer collect monies for non-Canadian charitable causes. It will explore options for distributing the existing monies it holds, although it is very likely that those funds will not go to the causes for which they had been designated.

Rev. Neal Hegeman, Academic Vice President at Miami International Theological Seminary (MINTS), described the “sister-church” oversight of his work and encouraged missionaries and church planters to consider similar arrangements by developing sponsoring relationships with Canadian churches as well as American churches.

In other financial news, the The US Board of Directors was granted authority to appoint interim board members and a treasurer should it become necessary. Synod thanked Rev. Richard Stienstra for his years of service on the Canadian Board of Directors and gave him a hearty round of applause.

Synod adopted a budget with suggested “askings” of $13.60 per family.

Synod adopts “Doctrinal Commitment” affirmations

OPC Chaplain Paul Berghaus led delegate wives and others on a tour of the US Military Academy at West Point, and visited with friends on the Nyack campus that evening.

In response to an overture, Synod Schererville 2007 appointed a study committee to report on the level of doctrinal commitment necessary for membership in the URCNA. That committee brought an evenly divided report to Synod London 2010, which accepted neither opinion, but asked the committee to come back to the next synod with a new report.

Taking a different approach, the study committee on Doctrinal Commitment was able to present a unified and pastoral report that lists eight affirmations (with explanations) regarding doctrinal commitment and membership in the URCNA.

Those affirmations are (for accompanying explanations, see online agenda of Acts of Synod 2012):

Affirmation 1: We affirm that we are a federation of confessional churches.

Affirmation 2: We affirm that every minister, elder, and deacon in our churches subscribes the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort because (quia) they agree with the Word of God.

Affirmation 3: We affirm that it is the responsibility of the pastors and elders of the local church to evangelize the unsaved, catechize converts and covenant youth, and teach their congregations in the aforesaid doctrines from the Word of God.

Affirmation 4: We affirm that those who desire communicant membership in our churches must assent to the confessions of our churches and evidence an educable spirit for continued growth in understanding.

Affirmation 5: We affirm that those entering into communicant membership in our churches must also promise submission to the government of the church.

Affirmation 6: We affirm that the consistory is responsible to receive persons into communicant membership in a way that is consistent with the Church Order—being satisfactory to the consistory and edifying for the congregation.

Affirmation 7: We affirm that those desiring communicant membership in our churches must promise to act in accord with the requirements of the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the Church Order.

Affirmation 8: We affirm that while assent to the confessions of our churches is required for communicant membership, pastoral sensitivity and congregational patience must be exercised toward those who do not yet possess full understanding of parts of such teaching, but who do not disagree with our doctrine.

Synod adopted the document under the newly defined category of “pastoral advice” and it will be sent to the churches with a preface that defines “pastoral advice” and explains its authority.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 16 of the July 11, 2012 issue of Christian Renewal.

URCNA Synod: Defining the meaning of synodical actions

Rev. Rick Kuiken greets Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, URCNA Stated Clerk

Those who have attended previous synods know the confusion created by the adoption of documents without a clear definition of how they are to be regarded by the churches. Synod London 2010 had asked the Ad Hoc Synodical Rules Committee to address this issue.

That committee drafted a document that defines synodical actions and describes their authority. After the advisory made some minor edits to the document, Synod adopted “Definitions and Authority of Synodical Actions” as Appendix D of the URCNA Regulations for Synodical Procedure.

The document defines four types of actions: Doctrinal Affirmation, Pastoral Advice, Study Committee Report, and Synodical Judgment. The official appendix will appear in the Acts of Synod, but the following paragraphs unofficially summarize each.

A Doctrinal Affirmation is an interpretation of the Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity on a specific point of their teaching. It serves the churches by directing them to the Creeds and the Three Forms of Unity, applying them in response to doctrinal questions that have arisen in the churches. It should be received by the churches with respect and submission, and it may not be directly or indirectly contradicted in preaching or in writing. The Scriptures, Ecumenical Creeds, and the Three Forms of Unity alone may serve as grounds in matters of discipline. It may be appealed.

Pastoral Advice is Synod’s application of the Scriptures and the Confessions to particular circumstances in the life of the churches. It expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care and should be received with respect. It would be unwise to disregard Pastoral Advice in preaching or writing. It may not however, serve as grounds in matters of discipline. It may be appealed.

A Study Committee Report is the documentation of the work performed in response to a Synod’s mandate, presenting one or more recommendations for action by Synod. It recommends an action to be taken by Synod on the basis of specific grounds. If a recommended action calls for Synod to adopt Doctrinal Affirmations or to provide Pastoral Advice, such an action should be clearly identified and distinguished as such. A Study Committee Report as such shall not be adopted by Synod; however, if judged of value, it may be referred to the churches for study. Any Doctrinal Affirmations adopted or Pastoral Advice given by Synod in response to a Study Committee Report should be received by the churches. A Study Committee Report cannot be appealed; however, Synodical actions arising from it may be appealed.

A Synodical Judgment is the answer of Synod to an appeal. Synod either sustains or denies an appeal by determining if and why grounds are valid or not and stipulating the grounds upon which the appeal is sustained or denied. A Synodical Judgment should be received by appellants with respect and submission, and shall be considered settled and binding, unless proven to be in conflict with God’s Word or the Church Order.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 15 of the July 11, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

URNCA ecumenical relationships: Phase Two with the RPCNA awaits ratification

Rev. Bruce Martin, fraternal delegate from the RPCNA, addresses Synod

The URCNA has two standing committees dealing with ecumenical relationships. CERCU (Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity) and CECCA (Committee for Ecumenical Contact with Churches Abroad). Both committees brought to Synod reports containing recommendations, which advisory committees passed on to the floor.

Although most recommendations were adopted quickly and unanimously, it seemed like Synod London 2010 all over again when it came time to vote on CERCU’s recommendation to enter into Phase Two Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America).

The RPCNA, sometimes referred to as “Covenanters,” grew from the branch of the Protestant Reformation that took place in Scotland, where the blood of many martyrs—including women and children—cries out from Scottish soil.

RPCNA believers have a strong emphasis on family, holding frequent family camps and a six-day “family-reunion” International Family Conference every four years that is attended by thousands of its members. Their worship practice includes exclusive Psalmody, sung a cappella. They also permit women to serve as deaconesses. That more than 100-year-old practice, rooted in the denomination’s interpretation of Scripture rather than the modern feminism movement, generated much discussion on the floor of Synod.

It was pointed out that deaconesses perform mainly works of mercy to women and children and that they have no ruling authority. One of the grounds for the recommendations noted that the RPCNA broke ties with the CRCNA in 2002 and supported the expulsion of the CRC from NAPARC over the issue of women elders. It was additionally noted that the URCNA is already in Phase Two with the ERQ (Reformed Churches of Quebec), which also permits women to serve as deacons.

After prolonged debate, the voice vote was too close to call and a show of hands proved inconclusive, but Synod adopted by ballot the recommendation to enter into Phase Two with the RPCNA.

This decision requires ratification prior to January 1, 2013, of two-thirds of the consistories in the URCNA.

In addition to proceeding to Phase Two Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the RPCNA, Synod passed a motion encouraging each classis and consistory to continue to engage the issue of an eventual merger with the Canadian Reformed Churches by seeking opportunities to promote unity and fellowship.

Even though it no longer has a specific mandate, the Proposed Joint Church Order Committee will remain constituted while churches review the provisionally adopted Proposed Joint Church Order (PJCO) with a view toward the possibility of an eventual merger with the CanRC.

At the recommendation of CECCA (Committee for Ecumenical Contact with Churches Abroad) and the advisory committee, Synod affirmed its Phase One relationships with the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA), the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKv), the United Reformed Churches of Congo (URCC), and the Calvinistic Reformed Churches in Indonesia (GGRT-NTT). Synod voted to enter into Phase One, Ecumenical Contact, with the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) (FCSC) and the Free Protestant Church in Argentina (FPCA).

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on paged 14-15 of the July 11, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

Sorting out the emeritation process

The view from the Nyack College dining hall

When a retiring minister moves to another location and begins attending a different church, there may be some confusion as to which church ought to be holding his ministerial credentials. Additionally, there exists within the URCNA a wide range of discrepancy in the practice of funding ministers’ retirement funds.

One study committee brought its recommendations to Synod Nyack 2012, the synodical advisory committee clarified some of those proposals, and Synod appointed a new study committee to develop more detailed guidelines.

Before January 1, 2013, consistories must vote on changes to the Church Order provisionally adopted by Synod 2012. All changes to the Church Order require ratification by at least two-thirds of the churches.

The synodical advisory committee dealing with the study committee’s report on emeritation made several edits and additions to suggested changes in the Church Order.

In explaining some additional language, advisory committee chairman Joel Vander Kooi said, “Where real and meaningful ministry is taking place, that’s where real and meaningful oversight ought to take place.”

Some debate about a particular phrase led to a motion to recommit, but that motion failed after it was pointed out that the phrase in question was actually part of the existing Church Order.

Discussion was lengthy, but the required two-thirds majority was obvious when delegates voted on the advisory committee’s recommendations, which are aimed at providing guidance and conformity among the churches.

Additionally, Synod formed a new study committee with several directives in a very specific mandate “to give advice” concerning compensation and retirement concerns of ministers and “to determine” if churches presently address these matters without undue hardship on either the congregations or ministers. This committee will serve until the next synod with a report due by the deadline for the next synodical agenda.

The above article appeared on page 14 of the July 11, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

The changing face of URCNA missions organization

In the URCNA, missions is a given. What was not a given, however, was how to do it, organizationally, that is.

That delegates clearly desired to promote missions and church planting was evidenced by the quick adoption of the recommendations to establish a Missions Committee and to ask the existing Ad Hoc committee to serve in that capacity until the next synod.

Lengthy discussion, however, arose regarding the recommendation for a Missions Coordinator. Many delegates expressed concern about the expense of a full-time director and suggested that other less costly methods might be employed. There were also concerns about the local consistory losing its authority on some mission-related issues.

Several missionaries and church planters related how they’ve received crucial assistance from denominationally appointed personnel from other federations, and spoke with feeling of their longing for this type of support within their own federation.

Among those speaking was Rev. Andre Ferrari, a church planter in Milan, Italy. He explained that a group of believers from Romania contacted him because of “the principled ecclesiology” of the URCNA.

“So we are walking with them,” he said, adding that he didn’t know how that could continue due to his already full load as a pastor. “The best men during the Protestant Reformation functioned as members of a virtual missions committee.”

Speaking in favor of the motion, Rev. Chris Folkerts asked delegates not to focus so much on practicality, but rather to think in terms of biblical stewardship. He said, “Paul was the quintessential missions coordinator.”

Although the discussion was protracted, Synod overwhelmingly passed the recommendation for a Missions Coordinator, who will be appointed at the next synod.

It seemed that the lengthy debate allowed some delegates time to fully consider the issue, perhaps even leading some to change their mind. One of those delegates was Dr. Neal Hegeman, Academic Vice President at Miami International Theological Seminary (MINTS).

Dr. Neal Hegeman addresses delegates on the floor of Synod.

Dr. Hegeman said on the floor of synod, “I had come to synod fully planning to vote against the idea of having a Mission Coordinator. I have changed my mind.”

He explained there were three reasons for this. The first was that he saw movement from the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) to the Joint Venture Model (JVM), which he and others had presented at Synod Escondido 2001.

“International missionaries using the Escondido model are doing fine,” he said, “it has Canadian consistorial oversight and includes Canadian administration of funds. The JVA was with corporate URC Canada, which did not provide oversight and so the funds could not be given.” He had mentioned previously that his joint venture committee was willing to help United States missionaries work out similar arrangements.

Rev. Hegeman’s second reason was the shift he perceived regarding financing. He had felt the proposal would fail due to the expense, since he sees URCNA leaders as having a negative view of anything resembling quotas, but since the Mission Study Committee considered funding through supporting churches with minimal federational expense, a substantial increase of requested contributions may not be necessary.

He added, “Other missionaries are mostly funded directly by churches and so a two-tier system can be avoided.”

His third reason was the openness of the Mission Study Committee to new ideas and to incorporating the existing Joint Venture Committees.

“The Canadian government demands JVC and we cannot change that,” he said. “Even though the JVA failed, other JVCs are functioning well. So, we worked out the necessary compromises to come with a single report in order to vote for this and move forward.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 12 of the July 11, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.