The Seventy-fifth General Assembly met at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington, beginning at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday July 9, 2008, with a terminus no later than noon, Wednesday July 16, 2008. This running daily report was written by the Rev. James J. Cassidy and edited by Stephen Pribble, Linda Foh and Barry Traver.
Lord willing, this running daily report will be updated several times a day. Refresh your browser to see the latest version (choose View, Refresh or View, Reload page). Thank you for your prayers for God's blessing, that the work of his church may be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40).
Navigation: jump to Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. To go to a slide show of General Assembly photos, click here.
Seattle, Washington, is the site of the Seventy-fifth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Seattle has a population of over a half million people, with a greater metro area of over 3.4 million. It is also the city of origin for Starbucks Coffee and 1990s alternative/grunge music. Many of us Generation-Xers who grew up listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam know Seattle as a legendary city. Of course, the dark and lost worldview communicated through this kind of music makes the city of Seattle a desirable place for 150 OP ministers and elders to descend.
Seattle is in many ways a beautiful city with the snow capped peaks of Mount Rainier looming on the horizon. The famous Space Needle pierces the clouds and dominates the Seattle skyline. Just outside the city limits, in Tacoma, Washington, sits Pacific Lutheran University, home of the Seventy-fifth General Assembly.
On Wednesday afternoon commissioners arrived in town to a mild and sunny Seattle. The Assembly began its business with the worship of our great and glorious God. The moderator of last year's Assembly, the Rev. Robert Y. Eckardt, led us in the singing of "The Mighty God, the Lord" and preached the Word from Matthew 16:13-23. He reminded commissioners that Christ will build his church. Peter is not the center of the passage, as some have made him. He is nothingand we are nothing. We may not have a pope but we tend to hold up some as if we would like them to be pope! We must avoid this mentality as the OPC, as we have in the past. The church did not belong to Peter, and it does not belong to us. It is Jesus' church. Therefore, we must avoid ambition, fear and narrow perspectives. How do we do this? By praying that God's will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
The Assembly responded to the Word preached by singing "The Church's One Foundation."
After the roll call was taken, the Rev. Jack J. Peterson introduced fraternal delegates from churches of like faith and practice. Throughout the meetings of the Assembly, commissioners will hear from delegates from the Presbyterian Church of America, the Reformed Church in the US, the Bible Presbyterian Church, and others.
Then we came to an important time during the opening session of the Assembly's work, the election of this year's moderator. The Rev. Ross Graham rose and nominated the Rev. Alan Strange, associate professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. There being no other nominees, Mr. Strange was declared elected as moderator. Mr. Graham escorted Mr. Strange to the podium, at which point the Assembly gave a rousing applause.
Commissioners received their Advisory Committee assignments and recessed for the night. A note for those who may be unfamiliar with "GA lingo": an Advisory Committee (referred to as an "AC") is a committee which reviews items of business for the GA.
Commissioners woke up to a cool and crisp morning. Today the advisory committees met in different locations throughout the campus. Some committees met with standing committees of the denominationHome Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education, the three Worldwide Outreach ministries of the OPCto review their reports. Other advisory committees met to discuss communications and overtures (e.g., letters from presbyteries requesting the General Assembly to take some action).
Before lunch the Assembly took a break from committee work to gather for the preaching and hearing of God's Word. The Rev. Glenn Ferrell preached, reminding the commissioners of their calling to be watchman, warning the people of God (and themselves!) about God's just judgment. Let us take heed, lest we fall! As watchmen on Zion's walls we are to proclaim faithfully the good news of Jesus Christ and forgiveness of our sins in him. Mr. Ferrell reminded us from Philippians 1:6 that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Commissioners went back to work hard in their respective committees, after which they gathered again for dinner and fellowship. The Assembly conducted further business in the evening, in which our faithful stated clerk, the Rev. Don Duff, presented his report concerning his work on behalf of our denomination. He thanked the church for her support and expressed how much he enjoys serving in this capacity. In light of this it is appropriate that Mr. Duff was re-elected to serve as stated clerk for another year. Mr. Duff announced that he had asked the Rev. John Mahaffy to serve as assistant clerk.
The Rev. Stephen Phillips reported for the trustees, the stewards of our church. Mr. Phillips and ruling elder Bill Redington were re-elected as trustees.
Luke Brown, OPC statistician, reported. The number of congregations grew by eight churches, and our membership by 221 souls. That is a growth of approximately .77%. While that percentage is small, it is in part due to the loss of one larger congregation. Nevertheless, Mr. Brown reminded us that God is indeed growing his church and will continue to do so as we remain faithful in service to him. Mr. Brown was re-elected as statistician.
The Rev. Ross Graham reported on behalf of the Committee on Coordination. He emphasized that what we have is one united Worldwide Outreach of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This one ministry to make disciples of the nations manifests itself in three committees. He reminded us that the best way to support the work of Worldwide Outreach is through the regular budgetary giving of the congregations.
Next we began the reports of the three standing committees of Worldwide Outreach. The Rev. Danny Olinger, general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education, was introduced by the committee's president, Dr. James Gidley. Rev. Olinger spoke about the importance of training up a new generation of gospel ministers in the OPC. To that end this year saw the first annual Timothy Conference in Escondido, California. The Timothy Conference is for teenage men who may be interested in the ministry. Nearly 50% of OPC active ministers are over age 50. This means that the time to pray for and encourage young men to the ministry is now. The Rev. Dr. Bryan Estelle spoke to the assembly about his experience in talking to these young men about Reformed ministry. He noted how enthusiastic these men were in their participation and questions. Plans are already in place for the 2009 Timothy Conference. Elders and pastors, keep an eye out for young men with potential in your churches to send to the next conference!
Rev. Olinger spoke about the internship program. The committee gave over $220,000 towards the support of pastoral interns in the churches. The Rev. Alan Strange spoke about the Psalter-hymnal project. It is hoped that this resource for the church will be ready by 2011.
The Rev. Tom Patete of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) reported on the work of Great Commission Publications (a joint effort between the OPC and PCA to produce biblical education materials for the churches). Mr. Patete expressed thanks to the Lord for 33 years with GCP.
Rev. Olinger closed his report by reminding commissioners that the doctrine of the church is under assault today. We need to get back to a sound biblical doctrine of the church. As the OPC we stand on the infallible Word of God and thus a thoroughly biblical doctrine of the Christ's glorious body.
The General Assembly re-elected the following four men to the committee: ministers Greg Reynolds, Craig Troxel, and David Van Drunen; and ruling elder Paul MacDonald. After many years of faithful service to the committee, ruling elder John Deliyannides requested not to be re-elected to another term. In his place the Assembly elected ruling elder Timothy Jackson from Reformation OPC in Morgantown, West Virginia.
At this point the order of the day arrived. At 8:30 p.m. the Assembly recessed for the night to meet again, as God wills, in the morning.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Ps. 19:1-6)
Commissioners woke up to a chilly Washington morning! While the forecast promised that the temperature would reach at least 80 degrees today, its was cold enough at dawn that one could see one's breath in the air! But the air was clear and refreshing, preparing us for long day of rigorous work in service to King Jesus, the Lord of his church.
The Assembly opened its morning session with the singing of "How Vast the Benefits Divine," after which Alan Strange, our moderator, read Ephesians 1. How great is our salvation! How gracious is our God! For he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace! Amen and amen!
We received the report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE). The Rev. John Hilbelink, the president of the committee, introduced to the Assembly several OPC church planters. Our denomination has some fine men of God doing the work of evangelists!
The general secretaries Ross Graham and Richard Gerber then gave their report. Mr. Graham encouraged the commissioners with the fact that so far this year CHMCE has approved 20 men to receive support for church planting. Mr. Graham introduced the Rev. Don Poundstone, long time regional missionary for the Presbytery of Southern California. Mr. Poundstone is retiring this year, so he addressed the Assembly and thanked the OPC for their prayers and support. These will be big shoes to fill. We heard from Mr. Alberto Gomez, doing Hispanic ministry in Phoenix, Arizona. We also heard from the Rev. Jim Hoekstra, doing the work of church planting in the Presbytery of the Midwest. Mr. Gerber reminded us of our role in home missions (and this ought to highlighted for each and every member in the OPC, for there is work to be done by the people in the pew): "One of the most important things is prayer. As you pray, we are confident that Christ will continue to build new churches."
The following men were elected to the committee: ministers Jeffery Landis, Larry Mininger, John Shaw; and ruling elders Keith LeMahieu and James Van Dam.
The Assembly had an opportunity to hear about the work of the church in foreign missions. Jesus commissioned his church to "go forth and make disciples of the nations," and this is the OPC's way of obeying her Lord's glorious command. The president of the committee, Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. introduced their work and the general secretary, Mark Bube. Mr. Bube expressed hearty thanks for the Foreign Missions support staff and especially the Rev. Douglas Clawson, the committee's associate general secretary. "Mr. Clawson is a delight to work with," stated Mr. Bube, explaining that he works many hours traveling and encouraging our missionaries. Mr. Bube reported on various mission fields, many of which see daily persecution or at least the threat thereof. Because of this, it is not safe for us to report here on the specifics of each field. Nevertheless, the Assembly was encouraged with the fact that God is indeed blessing the work of foreign missionseven in the face of persecution. The Gospel is going forth to the furthest corners of the earth and disciples are being made among the nations!
Mr. Clawson urged men to pray and ask if God is calling them to the foreign mission field. He explained that there is an urgent need for a second evangelist for Haiti, Suriname, and Uruguay. Also there is a need for evangelists in Ethiopia, a deacon for Mbale, and missionary associates in various fields. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers!
The Assembly heard from a fraternal delegate: the Rev. Kevin Backus of the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC). Mr. Backus assured the OPC that the BPC loves the Reformed faith and greatly values their relationship with us. In fact, recent struggles in the BPC saw some leave their denomination because of its relation with the OPC. But the BPC stood firm, determined to stand with the OPC in the cause of the Gospel.
The Assembly recessed for its daily devotion with the singing the hymn, "The Mighty God, the Lord." Our missionary to Japan, the Rev. Woody Lauer, read from 1 Kings 3:10-28 and exhorted us to be fair and impartial. This means that we are to be wise as Christ, who is more wise than Solomon in all his glory.
The following men were elected to serve Christ on the Foreign Missions Committee: ministers Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., David O'Leary, Lendall Smith; and ruling elders David Gregg and Jon Stevenson.
After lunch the Assembly took its annual census. These are the results:
Commissioners ordained 2000-present 32
Commissioners ordained 1990-99 25
Commissioners ordained 1980-89 35
Commissioners ordained 1970-79 26
Commissioners ordained 1960-69 12
Commissioners ordained 1950-59 0
Commissioners ordained 1940-49 0
Commissioners attending General Assembly for the first time 25
David Haney reported for the Committee on Coordination, introducing a new packet called "If I Should Die ..." This is a very helpful folder designed to help folks with their estate planning. Folders will be made available to the churches, so look for more information.
The following men were elected to the committee: the Rev. Larry Conard, and ruling elder Paul Tavares.
The Assembly heard from a fraternal delegate: the Rev. Jonathan Merica from the Reformed Church in the US. Mr. Merica told commissioners how much some of the old-time ministers in the RCUS remember and appreciate the work of the early OPC ministers and Westminster Seminary. He encouraged us by saying, "We esteem you and consider you our beloved brethren." He further encouraged us to maintain this unity and reminded us that we are warned in Scripture that we are at war against a common enemy. Thus, as co-warriors we are to be watchful.
At this point we came to the time of considering the Amended Proposed Revised Version of the Directory for the Public Worship of God (APRVsee this page). The Rev. George Cottenden, the committee chairman, reported on the work of the committee and proposed the following procedural motions.
That the General Assembly adopt the following procedure:
The Rev. Craig Troxel reported for the advisory committee which reviewed this report. The advisory committee proposed a number of motions. But first there was a motion made to change some of the wording in Chapter II.A.2.a of the APRV. The APRV reads:
Because the hearing of God's Word is a means of grace, the public reading of the Holy Scriptures is an essential element of public worship. He who performs this serves as God's representative voice. Thus it ordinarily should be performed by a minister of the Word. Through this reading, God speaks directly to the congregation in his own words. For this reason the reader should refrain from interspersing the reading of God's Word with human comments. He should use an accurate, faithful translation in the language of the people. He should read clearly and with understanding, and the congregation should attend to the reading with the deepest reverence.
It was moved to replace the words "ordinarily should" in the third sentence above with "is fitting that this." After hearty debate, the motion failed.
Then the advisory committee moved their first two recommendations, which passed. The essence of what those recommendations did is:
Recommendation 1: In Chapter II.A the phrase "as Christ's ambassador" was placed after "the preacher must."
Recommendation 2: Replaced the APRV's language of "baptism signifying and sealing solemn admission into the visible church" with "baptism being a sacrament whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church."
A motion was passed to delete the line in II.A.5.c which read "It is neither a prayer requesting blessing nor a doxology offering praise." This was followed by the passing of the AC's third recommendation which deleted the word "always" in II.B.1.c which read:
He who leads in public prayer serves as the voice of the congregation. For this reason, he should pray in such a way, in clear words and always in the plural, that the entire assembly of God's people can pray with him; and it is the duty of the members of the congregation not only to hear his words but also to pray them in their hearts. To these ends he who leads should diligently prepare himself for public prayers so that he may perform this duty with propriety and with profit to the worshipers.
The AC presented its fourth motion which read as follows:
That the Assembly
The end of our evening session arrived, so the Assembly broke at 8:30 for the night to return again in the morning to continue its work on the Directory for the Public Worship of God. It is a humbling thing to know that we are working on something so awesome. This is all about the glorification of God's great name! May we not lose sight of this as we work to the point of weariness on this Directory. This is not mere word-smithing or an exercise in rhetoric or debating skills. This is to the end that God might be glorified in the worship of his people.
Tacoma, Washington, is a verdant area with great tall trees. Part of the reason why is because of the plentiful rainfall this part of the state receives on an annual basis. But there hasn't been any rain this week, nor would there be today. God's creation was manifesting itself in all its splendor, as the clear skies and bright sun illuminated the main shades of green which make up the full foliage of the northwest United States.
Commissioners opened the day with the singing of "Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare." Prayer was offered by the Rev. Jody Morris, pastor of Redeemer OPC in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the moderator read from Ephesians 2. By grace we have been saved!
The Assembly continued its consideration of the APRV III.A. Recommendation 4 of Advisory Committee 8 was the question on the floor as of last night when the time arrived for us to break for the evening. It was moved to substitute the footnote to III.A.4. The Assembly adopted the wording in the footnote in the following amended form:
Furthermore, it was determined to insert "membership" in III.A.4 and insert "these or equivalent" in III.B.1.b.(5) in place of "the following" in the second line.
The Assembly began its consideration of the APRV III.B. Recommendations 5-8 of Advisory Committee 8 were adopted, with 8 in the following amended form: "8. That the Assembly place the scripture references in lines 671-680, and 912 in brackets." These five recommendations which were adopted read as follows:
PCA fraternal delegate D. Clair Davis
After a short mid-morning break, the Assembly reconvened by singing "How Blest Is He Whose Trespass," and prayer by ruling elder Donald G. Jamieson, stated clerk of the presbytery of Northern California and Nevada. The Rev. Jack J. "Texas Jack" Peterson introduced fraternal delegate Dr. D. Clair Davis of the PCA. He expressed how happy he was to hear the foreign and home missions reports"God has been good to you!" Dr. Davis explained that the PCA grew by 1.5 percent last year, but 1/3 of the congregations are under 50 members, and 2/3 under 100. In other words, Redeemer Church in Manhattan is not a typical PCA congregation. "Have we traded in doctrine and life for church growth? I don't think so. If we did, we got cheated." He went on to say that WCF 15:5 (which reads: "Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins particularly") has something to teach us. We need to repent of not just being separate, but for what we have said and left unsaid. He encouraged us to get to know each other better, and have lunch with a local PCA pastor. And lastly, Dr. Davis shared something of what the PCA is doing to reach Muslims today. More and more Muslims are making their way into Europe and America, and thus we have an opportunity to reach them: "I urge you to support us and work with us in the conversion of Islam for the glory of Jesus Christ." After his address Dr. Davis received a standing ovation.
OPC men's chorus praising the Lord
After some more discussion about the APRV, the Assembly entered into its time of devotions. The Rev. Tom Tyson (Presbytery of Philadelphia) opened our time with the singing of "God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength" and read from Ezekiel 47:1-12. Mr. Tyson tied this passage in with Psalm 46, reminding commissioners that God is our refuge and a very present help in time of trouble. "There is a river," he boldly proclaimed, "which makes God's city glad." Moving from Genesis to Revelation, Tyson explained the significance of God's river which flows, as life giving water, from his presence to his people to bless them and make them glad. And here we remember that Jesus is the living water, and if we but drink of him we will never thirst again.
After lunch the Assembly reconvened with the singing of "The Heavens Declare Your Glory, Lord."
The Assembly debated recommendation 9 of AC 8 which read:
This recommendation was defeated. Instead, the language of lines 701-2 was replaced with this:
to believe in Christ, to confess him before men, and to appropriate for (himself/herself) the blessings and fulfill the obligations of the covenant.
We entered into the most extended debate of the Assembly thus far, and it concerned the language of the third membership vow which appears on line 780 (among many other places) and currently reads as follows:
Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?
The first proposed amendment to this vow was to strike the words "abhor and." Then a substitute was offered which would actually replace the words "because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin" with "out of grief and hatred for your sin, before God you repent of it."
Time out from debate
The remainder of the day was taken with debate on this subject. While other various amendments were offered, the core of the debate remained the same. On the one hand are those who wish to eliminate the idea of abhorring ourselves, and on the other are those who believe that that language is biblical and should stay in the Directory for Public Worship.
We will pick up here, if our good God wills, on Monday morning. But for now we break to prepare ourselves for the Lord's Day. For tomorrow we go up to the house of the Lord, and we will be glad!
This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it! (Ps. 118:24)
Today commissioners delighted in the sabbath restgiven by God himselfby breaking from any business and attending worship at nearby churches. Buses were provided for commissioners to attend either Reformation OPC in Mt. Olympia or Emmanuel OPC in Kent. There was also a van available for men to attend the local Bible Presbyterian Church. But wherever the commissioners went, the reports were that the worship was glorifying to God, the fellowship sweet, and the hospitality (complete with fellowship meals!) warm. Thanks to all the believers of these three congregations!
This evening the Assembly gathered for worship at the Mary Baker Music Center where the Kent congregation hosted a worship service with communion. The Rev. Andrew M. Elam, associate pastor at Emmanuel OPC, welcomed commissioners and introduced the Rev. Peter J. Vosteen (pastor, Lynnwood OPC) to lead the worship service. Mr. Vosteen also made the following announcement for the prayers of the church:
Don Duff (at left) feeling better
We have been informed that the Rev. Donald J. Duff, stated clerk of the OPC, currently in Tacoma, Washington for General Assembly, was admitted to the hospital Saturday. Apparently he suffered a minor stroke, probably Tuesday before he flew out to GA. Don is expected to be in the hospital a couple of days, and then probably will fly home. Don had complained that he did not feel well, and had some difficulty keeping his balance. Your prayers for his recovery would be appreciated. We would also appreciate your prayers for those who will try to fill in for the load that Don carries during the Assembly.
Rev. Vosteen preached God's Word from 2 Kings 2. He spoke about how the presence of God in the Old Testament manifested itself in visible form. Earlier on, God did this in the form of the glory cloud and pillar of fire. But later he would do so through the prophetic office. Elijah ascends in the whirlwind, but the chariot of fire remained with Elishasignifying God's presence with the new prophet of God who has received a double portion from Elijah. Do we not see this also come to the New Covenant where Christthe new and better prophetascends to heaven through the clouds but sends down fire at Pentecost upon his church? As Christiansand as the churchwe have the Spirit, and thus we have God's presence. This means that we are different from the world and the culture in which we find ourselves. Their ways, then, are not our ways. Our citizenship is ultimately in heaven. We are called to be counter-cultural, not seeking our satisfaction in the things of this world, but in the fact that God is present with us.
Following the sermon we received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. We were reminded, as we took the elements by faith, that Christ broke his body and shed his blood for the complete remission of all our sins. We were also reminded that we have communion not only with Christ but with each other, thus showing that we are indeed one body in Jesus Christ. Amen!
After a day of Sabbath rest commissioners were refreshed for a day of work for Christ in his church. It was another beautiful and clear day. Seattle is known for its rain and cloudiness. But, so far, we've not seen any evidence of that! The weather has been absolutely perfect!
The Assembly opened its morning session with the singing of "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched," followed with prayer by Mr. David Winslow.
The order of the day having arrived, the Assembly moved to consider two overtures from two presbyteries. (An overture is a request from a presbytery asking the GA to take some action.)
Overture 2, from the Presbytery of New Jersey, came before the commissioners for consideration. It was read as follows:
At its April 22, 2008 stated meeting, the Presbytery of New Jersey, OPC, adopted the following: "That the Presbytery of New Jersey respectfully overtures the seventy-fifth General Assembly, OPC, to expand the bounds of the regional church of New Jersey to include the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico."
The recommendation from Advisory Committee 3 on overture 2 was: "That the seventy-fifth GA grant the request of the PNJ to expand its bounds to include the commonwealth of Puerto Rico." This recommendation passed.
Overture 1 from the Presbytery of the Northwest was before the Assembly. That overture read as follows:
At its stated meeting on April 27-28, 2007, the Presbytery of the Northwest determined to overture the seventy-fifth General Assembly to begin the process of amending the Form of Government XVI:7:a, so that it would read as follows (proposed changes shown by underlining and
... the session shall inform the presbytery as soon as possible, ordinarily at a stated meeting, of its intention to call such a meeting, and shall provide grounds for its intention. The presbytery, through representatives appointed by the moderator for the purpose, shall seek,
within a period not to exceed three weeks after the presbytery meetingas soon as possible, in writing and in person, to dissuade the session from its intention ...
The recommendation from the advisory committee on overture 1 was "That the seventy-fifth GA not accede to the request of the Presbytery of the Northwest to amend the Form of Government." This also passed.
The moderator read Ephesians 3. The Assembly was edified by the glorious truth that the love of Christ passes all understanding!
Discussion of APRV
The Assembly returned to the debate which it began Saturday concerning striking the idea of "abhoring yourself" in the third membership vow. The motion to replace that language was voted down, and the language of the APRV was retained.
The Assembly voted to replace a section at the end of the fifth vow in III.B.2.b.(2), IV.B.2, IV.D.2, IV.E.2., and IV.F.2, that says "and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline" with "and to heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life." Then the phrase "sinful from conception" in line 802 was replaced by "conceived and born in sin." Furthermore, there was an attempt to eliminate in all the places where, in parentheses, the male/female designation is used (for example: him/her, himself/herself, etc.). However, this motion failed.
After this, the following motion was made:
After much debate, it was moved to postpone debate on this motion until tonight. Subsequently, it was postponed again until Tuesday morning.
Advisory Committee presented its recommendation numbers 10 and 11. They read as follows:
A motion was made to amend lines 941-51 by deleting them completely. Those lines come under the section on the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord's supper. The section concerns the words of exhortation and reads this way:
If desired, the minister may exhort the people of God, in the following or like words, to embrace in the sign the thing that is signified:
Beloved congregation, lift up your hearts from these visible elements even to heaven itself, where Jesus Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father, from where we look for him to return and perfect our redemption. All the promises of God are yes and amen in him. Every spiritual blessing is found in him. With joyful hearts, in Christian love, partake of his Table, giving thanks for the great love that he has shown to us. Let the death of our precious Savior so grip your heart that you are set on fire, so that you may also stir others to love God and follow his holy Word.
A motion was then made to substitute for this amendment the idea of swapping sections 4 and 5. This motion to substitute was passed and as such became the main motion to amend. This new amendment was then passed.
The next motion made was to replace line 990, which reads in the APRV, "The congregation shall then be dismissed with the following or other Scripture benediction" with "The following benediction is particularly appropriate when the Lord's Supper is celebrated." This motion was passed.
It is important to note at this point for our readers that the nature of our discussion concerning perfecting the APRV does not allow for all things done or said during the deliberations. There are main motions made which fail or which are not very significant which have been left out. Also, there are many debates and speeches offered which are very helpful, but we cannot record all that for you. Perhaps someday the OPC General Assembly will have a webcast!
It was moved to strike the last sentence of the exhortation (see above) which reads, "Let the death of our precious Savior so grip your heart that you are set on fire, so that you may also stir others to love God and follow his holy Word." This motion was passed. It was moved that the words spoken at the time of the partaking of the cup (at line 975) be changed from "drink ye all of it" to "drink of it, all of you." This motion also passed.
In addition we removed the word "humble" in the phrase "the humble elements of bread and wine" in line 919, as well as struck the word "broken" in line 964 where its says, "Take, eat, this is my body, which is [broken] for you; this do in remembrance of me." We also inserted at line 893 "[1 Cor. 10:17]" which is cited in that paragraph.
Mr. Troxel again reported for the Advisory Committee and moved recommendations 12 and 13 which read:
These two motions passed; however, a motion to amend lines 1015 and 1016 in the following way failed: "The session, when appropriate, shall satisfy itself that the member or members bringing a report has/have previously addressed the matter with the person who will profess his faith."
No idle hands in the visitors gallery
At this point in the meeting the following protest was filed (which was later withdrawn).
The undersigned protest against the action of the seventy-fifth General Assembly in mandating the use of the exact language of the membership vows, and furthermore in adopting language that is not acceptable to several members of the Assembly, thereby binding consciences beyond what was required of them at their ordination vows.
1. Under the existing DPW of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a session that wishes to modify the vows slightly may do so. No evidence was given on the floor of the Assembly that the Word of God requires that membership vows must be identical in all congregations. This suggests that this requirement may go beyond what is commanded in the Word of God.
2. The action of the Assembly is an administrative solution to a pastoral problem. Under the Assembly's version, a minister could say in his exhortation, "the OPC requires us to use this exact language, but it is not very clear or felicitous. We agree with the point that it is getting at, but it was a very poor choice of words," and then because they use the exact words of the vow, they would be in conformity with the letter of the DPW. The Advisory Committee's proposal would have provided pastoral oversight of sessions by requiring sessions to record their rationale for any alterations to the vows. The Assembly's decision provides no such pastoral oversight of the session.
3. In effect, the Assembly has said that if a session scruples over the proposed language (and all lawful recourse to changing the DPW fails), then their scruples have no place in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. They should either submit or leave.
For these reasons, the undersigned humbly request that someone on the prevailing side of the vote on the Advisory Committee's recommendation 4 please move reconsideration of that item.
At this point the commissioners took a break from a long day's work to eat dinner. When they returned to continue the work, they sang the hymn "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted."
A motion was made to reconsider the Advisory Committee's recommendation number 4. This was approved, so recommendation number 4 of the Advisory Committee was before us again. This time the Assembly voted to adopt this recommendation.
At this point, the mover of the protest rose and asked that the protest be withdrawn. With no dissent from those who signed the protest, the protest was withdrawn.
The last item of business was to consider AC recommendation # 14. This also was passed.
Well, it has been a long day of hard work, but all very much worth it. It has been goodvery goodwork!
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised! Commissioners once again awoke to a beautiful day in the northwest United States. As we gathered for breakfast we enjoyed fellowship and mutual encouragement. We also nourished ourselves for the work of the day to come.
The morning session opened with the singing of "O Love of God, How String and True." Prayer was offered by the Rev. Stephen B. Green, and the moderator read from Ephesians 4.
A motion was made to postpone consideration of the motion recommit the APRV until tonight at 6:30 p.m. The motion passed.
Perhaps some information on the effect of the motion to recommit would be in order. This motion would, in effect, send the APRV to either the current committee on revisions or a newly formed committee. This would take it out of the hands of the General Assembly and would indefinitely delay its adoption. The motion also encourages a more "bare-bones" directory with the possibility of reassigning much of the APRV to a manual that would not bind the consciences of church officers.
The temporary committee to review presbyterial records presented its recommendations. Each of these recommendations was passed.
The Advisory Committee dealing with the APRV presented its 14th recommendation. After a proposed amendment failed, the recommendation passed.
The Assembly received the report of the committee on pensions. The pension fund continues to show overall growth, even though there was a decrease this past year. However, a positive word cannot be said for the OPC hospitalization plan. The following motion was approved:
That the seventy-fifth GA authorize the Committee on Pensions to take steps to terminate the hospitalization plan effective March 31, 2009, and to assist the churches and presbyteries in making transition for participants in the plan to other medical coverage.
A word of thanks was expressed by the committee to Garret A. Hoogerhyde for all his work for the committee.
After the lunch break the Assembly reconvened with the singing of "Christ Shall Have Dominion," followed by a fraternal address from the Rev. John Bouwers of the United Reformed Church in North America. The Rev. John R. Hilbelink prayed for URC.
The time for the report of the committee on diaconal ministries having arrived, the Rev. Ron Pearce reported on behalf of the committee. The chairman emphasized the importance of presbyteries to make sure calls to pastor provide adequate support, especially hospitalization.
At this point, the Assembly broke to have its time of daily devotion. The Rev. Arie van Eyk read from Mark 10:32-44 and reminded ministers and elders thatlike Christwe are to be those that do not seek to lord it over others or to be served but to be servants of all.
After lunch, the diaconal committee continued it report and offered the following recommendations which all passed:
e. The Committee on Diaconal Ministries shall consist of seven male members, with one minister being in each class, two deacons being in one class, and one ruling elder being in each of the two remaining classes.The Committee on Diaconal Ministries recommends that the General Assembly change its Standing Rules, Chapter X.2.e, as follows:
e. The Committee on Diaconal Ministries shall consist of nine male members, with one minister being in each class, two deacons being in one class, and one ruling elder and one deacon being in each of the two remaining classes. Preferably each of the deacons would be from a different presbytery.
The Rev. John W. Belden and ruling elder David Haney were elected to committee.
The time arrived for the presentation of the report of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. The report was introduced by Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary's New Testament professor, Dr. George Knight. He introduced the Rev. Jack J. Peterson, the part-time administrator, who supplemented the report of the committee. After reporting the work of the committee over the past year, the committee moved the following recommendations:
a. Faithfully adhere to the Reformed Faith stated in the confessional documents listed in the Basis, and whose confessional standards agree with the said Reformed Faith;with:
b. Adhere and are faithful to one or more of the confessional standards stated in the Basis, as each church has adopted one or more of these as its own standards, or adhere and are faithful to Reformed Confessions which are equivalent in content to the Confessions listed in the Basis (Art. 2), and which Confession (or Confessions) shall be proposed to be added to Article II of the Constitution.
George Knight and Jack Peterson
The report was received with much enthusiasm and encouragement. As the Psalmist says (Ps. 133),
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
How good and pleasant indeed! We are thankful for our brothers laboring in other denominations throughout the world. May they grow in faithfulness to the gospel, as well as in their numbers! To God be the glory for our common cause!
Ministers Thomas E. Tyson, Jack W. Sawyer, and Jack J. Peterson were re-elected to the committee.
One of the most difficult aspects of the work of the General Assembly every year is the work of hearing appeals and complaints from the presbyteries. For those who are unfamiliar with Presbyterianism, allow some explanation as to what exactly appeals and complaints are. In the OPC we have three courts of appeal: the session, the presbytery, and the General Assembly. At the level of the local church the governing body is called the session and is usually made up of the pastor and elders. If there is a problem in the local church, or if someone commits a sin from which they will not repent, the session is responsible to make a good, biblical decision on the matter. However, if there is a person involved who believes that the session erred in its decision, he may appeal the decision to presbytery (which is made up of all the elders and pastors in a given region; for example, the Presbytery of New Jersey is made up of the pastors and elders in the churches within the state of New Jersey). Now if this person is still dissatisfied with the way his case was handled by the presbytery, he then may appeal the decision to the General Assembly. In this way all the power is not concentrated exclusively in the hands of one person, or even in the hands of a local body. This is to protect against spiritual abuse and tyranny, as well as to provide accountability to each church. For Presbyterians, we are never alone; whether as an individual believer or as a congregation. This is what we call church "connectionalism."
Now that said, the report of the committee was very encouraging because there were no appeals or complaints this year! We might very well at this point cite again Psalm 133 as above (which was actually done by the chairman of the advisory committee for appeals and complaints). We are thankful to God for a year of unity in the bond of peace!
The Rev. Stuart R. Jones was elected to the committee, with the Rev. Thomas A. Foh as alternate.
Chaplains Paul Berghaus and Douglas E. Lee
The Rev. Robert B. Needham reported for the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel. He introduced to the Assembly General Douglas E. Lee (Army), and chaplains Capt. Paul Berghaus (Army) and Rev. Douglas Withington (Navy Reserves). In a moving moment Chaplain Lee presented Dr. George Knight with his personal Army general's coin in recognition of his service to him while he attended Covenant Theological Seminary, as well as to others who have benefited from the training Mr. Knight provided. Mr. Knight received a standing ovation from the Assembly. The committee offered two recommendations which passed (with some amending):
Following the fraternal address mentioned below, ruling elders Robert Coie and Ed Kauffman were re-elected to the committee.
After lunch the Assembly sang hymn "O Come My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord," followed by prayer offered by the Rev. Chad E. Bond. The Rev. Jack J. Peterson introduced the Rev. Sean W. Humby, fraternal observer from the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). The report was closed with prayer by Mr. Peterson.
After dinner the Assembly sang "Abide with Me: Fast Falls the Eventide," and Mr. Flye led in prayer.
John Muether and Chad Bond
Ruling elder John R. Muether gave the historian's report. He noted that the church has some significant upcoming anniversaries. Next year is the 500th year since the birth of the great reformer John Calvin. The committee is planning to have some lectures given on Calvin before the seventy-sixth Assembly convenes. In 2011 the OPC will celebrate its 75th anniversary, God willing; the committee is planning events for that special time.
The Advisory Committee to review the work of the Committee for the Historian made the following recommendation: That the Committee consider publishing in electronic form various publications from early OPC history, in particular, The Presbyterian Guardian, and report to a future Assembly. This motion was enthusiastically supported. The Rev. Danny E. Olinger and ruling elder Dr. David Noe were elected to the committee.
The Assembly continued to debate the motion to recommit the APRV to a committee. Good arguments were presented on both sides. We did, however, have to extend the order of the day for five minutes to finish debate and vote. When the votes was taken the moderator ruled that it failed. But division was called for, so we took an electronic vote. While the verbal vote did sound very close, actually the motion failed by a vote of 88 to 46.
Commissioners recessed in order to get a good night's rest and come back in the morning to do one more half day of work.
Well, here we are, the last day of the General Assembly! What a week! The singing was glorious, the ministry of the Word edifying, and fellowship sweet. Not to mention that God, in his providence, provided us with beautiful, picture-perfect weather. God was faithful to us, and there is a sense of satisfaction in all the work we did.
Ruling elder David E. Haney, who did a wonderful job making things move along smoothly, providing for our comfort and our every need, reported for the Committee on Arrangements. Some motions passed included:
Mr. Haney was re-elected to the committee.
Rev. Alan R. Pontier reported for Advisory Committee 10. The following recommendations were approved.
The Assembly again took up the work of amending the APRV. Some minor changes were made, but what is significant is that the General Assembly worked all the way through the APRV. Now that does not mean we are done yet. Next year's GA will have to approve the APRV and vote on changes to the rest of the Book of Church Order which are affected by the APRV. But much was accomplished this year, and for that we thank God!
The rest of our time was taken with small items of business and a little levity. The prestigious "Jack-in-the-Box" award was controversial this year. Initially, it was awarded to the Rev. Woody Lauer, missionary to Japan. However, he left before he could receive the trophy (a Machen bobble-head doll). So, the committee moved to give the award to the runner-up, the Rev. Dr. Peter J. Wallace. Congratulations, brothers!
The Rev. Alan Strange, our very able moderator, dismissed and dissolved the seventy-fifth GA with the benediction. Praise be to God for his grace and guidance in this Assembly!
James J. Cassidy is pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Ringoes, New Jersey.