The 83rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is meeting at Sandy Cove conference center, North East, Maryland, June 8–14, 2016. This running daily report is written by David J. Harr and edited by Linda Foh and Stephen Pribble. Questions or comments may be addressed to Ross Graham, stated clerk. Go to Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
Before the 83rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was officially called to order on Wednesday evening, commissioners and other guests had the opportunity to attend the Pre-assembly conference entitled “Marriage, Sexuality, and Faithful Witness.” The conference, held at Glasgow Church (PCA) in Bear, Delaware, was designed to equip church officers to uphold the biblical view of marriage and sexuality in light of the increasing antagonism from the surrounding society. The conference featured three plenary addresses and a panel discussion.
The afternoon began with a lecture by the Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. Mr. Trueman addressed the subject of modern sexuality and identity politics. He traced how the rapid changes of recent years were fed by deeper movements in ethics and culture. A changing notion of personal identity set the stage for a radically new view of sexuality.
The second speaker was Elder Randy Beck (PCA), the Justice Thomas O. Marshall Chair of Constitutional Law at the University of Georgia School of Law. Mr. Beck’s lecture, “Living under Foreign Law” outlined the legal history that led to the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. He also described the current legal protections that the church enjoys along with areas where Bible-believing Christians can expect legal friction in the current culture.
The afternoon’s final speaker was the Rev. Tim Geiger. Mr. Geiger is the Executive Directory of Harvest USA, a ministry that equips the church to care for those who are struggling with sexual sin. The message provided practical instruction on how the church can pastorally minister to people in their midst who are wrestling with same-sex attraction and gender confusion.
The conference concluded with a panel discussion Q&A with all of the speakers. Joining the group was Ms. Jennifer Marshall, Vice President for Family, Community, and Opportunity and Fellow of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.
The pre-assembly conference will be available on opc.org in the near future.
The assembly this year is taking place at the Sandy Cove Conference Center in North East, Maryland. This beautiful facility is located on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. A colorful sunset over the water was the backdrop for the first evening of the 83rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The assembly was officially called to order at 7:30 p.m. by the Rev. Archibald Allison, retiring moderator of the 82nd (2015) General Assembly. The assembly opened with a worship and communion service. Commissioners and visitors packed the Sandy Cove chapel and joyful voices echoed with the singing of God’s praises. Mr. Allison preached on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, “Christ the Power and Wisdom of God.” In contrast to the failing wisdom of this world, Christ is the power of God unto salvation.
After the worship service, commissioners moved to the Chesapeake Auditorium where the bulk of the assembly’s business will take place. The stated clerk of the assembly, the Rev. Ross Graham, called the roll. For twenty-four commissioners, this is the first time they have taken part in a general assembly. A poll of the ministers and ruling elders indicated that 31 were ordained the 2010’s, 37 in the 2000’s, 32 in the 1990’s, 15 in the 1980’s, 12 in the 1970’s, and 9 in the 1960’s.
One of the first substantial items of business was the election of a new moderator. The floor was opened for nominations. Elder Paul Tavares from Covenant OPC in Grove City, PA was nominated. In the absence of other nominations, Mr. Tavares was declared elected and took the gavel from Mr. Allison.
The day was concluded as the assembly took care of several housekeeping matters. Communications were received, the docket was adopted, and commissioners were assigned to Advisory Committees that will work throughout the day on Thursday. The assembly adjourned for the night with prayer by the Rev. Jeremiah Montgomery, pastor of Resurrection OPC, State College, Pennsylvania.
The sun sparkled over the waters of the Chesapeake Bay as commissioners made their way to Water’s Edge Dining Room for breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. commissioners gathered in various meeting rooms to begin work with their assigned Advisory Committees. Advisory Committees help the assembly with its work. They are tasked with meeting with representatives of the various General Assembly committees and reviewing their reports and recommendations. Advisory Committees also review communications to the General Assembly and any judicial matters that have been appealed to the assembly. Each Advisory Committee then reports to the whole assembly with its recommendations. When an Advisory Committee reports that it is “silent” with regard to the work of a committee under its review, this silence is understood to convey approval of the committee’s work and concurrence with its recommendations.
At 11:40 a.m., the assembly reconvened in the Chesapeake Auditorium for a devotional service led by the Rev. Russell Hamilton, pastor of Pilgrim OPC in Bangor, Maine. Mr. Hamilton’s message focused on Romans 8:31–32. In that passage, Paul gives an encouraging word for weary believers—God is for us! If he has given us his Son, he will surely give us all things needed for life and godliness. The service was ended with a hymn of praise, “How Lovely Shines the Morning Star.”
After lunch, the Advisor Committees met to complete their work. The assembly reconvened at 3:35 p.m. with the singing of “Great God, How Infinite Art Thou!” and prayer by Elder D. G. Hart.
The first order of business was a brief address by the fraternal delegate from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Several different Presbyterian and Reformed denominations sendt representatives to the assembly to serve as fraternal delegates. These delegates cannot vote on matters but can make speeches on the floor of the assembly in support of particular issues. These delegates are also given an opportunity to address the assembly to bring greetings on behalf of their denomination. The delegate from the PCA was the first to address the assembly. The Rev. Marvin Padgett thanked the Lord for the good working relationship between the OPC and the PCA. Mr. Padgett has an intimate knowledge of this cooperative relationship because he serves as the Executive Director of Great Commission Publications, a joint publishing ministry of the OPC and PCA. Mr. Padgett reported that the PCA continues to grow and expand her ministry in the US and abroad. He noted that one big issue to be discussed at their upcoming assembly is the issue of racial reconciliation.
The first report on the docket for today was the report of the Stated Clerk, Mr. Graham. The Stated Clerk serves the General Assembly throughout the year by preparing the agenda and organizing the massive amount of material associated with each assembly. He also serves on several committees of the church and performs a host of behind-the-scenes administrative work. Mr. Graham reported that the Minutes/Yearbook of this year’s assembly will be available for electronic distribution for the first time. The clerk also introduced the assembly to the newly-published volume, “A Ministerial and Congregational Register of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” This publication gives biographical information about every minister who has served in the OPC since its founding in 1936 and historical information about every congregation that has been part of the denomination. He noted his appointment of Rev. John Mahaffy as assistant clerk for his 18th consecutive year serving in that position. Mr. Mahaffy will record the minutes of the meeting, aided by the Rev. Robert Van Kooten.
Next on the agenda was the report of trustees of the OPC. The trustees oversee the legal and tax issues related to the denomination. They also oversee the work of the stated clerk and track the budgets of various GA committees. Mr. Graham was re-elected as stated clerk for another two-year term beginning in June 2017. The Rev. Richard Ellis (Faith, Elmer, NJ) and Elder Edward Tress (Calvary, Glenside, PA) were re-elected to the board of trustees.
The OPC statistician, Mr. Luke Brown, gave his report. Mr. Brown collects and analyzes membership, attendance, and giving data as reported by individual congregations. 2015 was a year of slow growth. Membership was up just 0.24% and morning worship attendance was up 2.27%. It was encouraging to hear that total monetary giving increased by almost 5%. Mr. Brown encouraged the assembly to keep praying for unity, faithfulness and growth in our churches. At the conclusion of the report, Mr. Brown was re-elected statistician for his 31st year of service in that role.
The assembly then turned to the three program committees that make up the OPC’s Worldwide Outreach. The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE) was the first to report. The Committee on Home Missions exists to help the presbyteries and congregations of the OPC start new Presbyterian and Reformed congregations throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Home Missions General Secretary John Shaw reported that four new home mission works were begun in 2015. There were a total of thirty-eight mission works that received CHMCE support last year. The committee has budgeted for the start of eleven new works in 2016.
Three different OPC church planters gave brief reports on their respective mission works. The Rev. Mike Myers described how Heritage Presbyterian Church (OPC) is bringing the good news of Christ to the needy community of Royston, Georgia. The Rev. Jonathan Moersch is the organizing pastor in Capistrano Beach, California, an area with little Reformed witness. Finally, the Rev. Eric Hausler told the assembly of the work in Naples, Florida.
Elections were then held for the class of 2019 of the Committee on Home Missions. Ministers James Cassidy (South Austin, TX), Donald Poundstone, and John Currie (Redeemer, Ada, MI), and elder Gregory De Jong and Garret Hoogerhyde were elected.
After the dinner break, the assembly reconvened with the singing of “Come, Let Us Sing unto the Lord.” The Rev. Doug Vandeburgt brought fraternal greetings from the Canadian and American Reformed Churches. Mr. Vandeburgt rejoiced to report several recent instances where ministers from our two bodies worked together. The Canadian and American Reformed Churches look forward to ongoing fellowship and cooperative labor with the OPC.
The assembly then paused for a “Historian’s Moment.” This year marks the 80th anniversary of the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. To celebrate, the Committee for the Historian produced a series of six videos highlighting the extraordinary contributions of six different women of the OPC. These contributions will be highlighted in an upcoming book. The first video highlighted the dedicated labor of Mrs. Charlotte Kuschke. Mrs. Kuschke was a Christian school teacher and wife of the Rev. Arthur Kuschke. The assembly was deeply moved as this ninety year old saint greeted the assembly by video and urged commissioners to stay true to the truth of God’s word.
General Secretary Mark Bube then reported for the Committee on Foreign Missions. Mr. Bube summarized all the various fields where the OPC is actively seeking to win the lost and establish self-sustaining Presbyterian churches. The Rev. Calvin Cummings, Jr. reminded the assembly of how God has used the OPC to minister to the country of Japan over many years. Mr. Cummings has now retired from active service after 37 years ministry in Japan.
Three other OPC missionaries reported to the assembly−the Rev. Mark Richline, missionary to Uruguay, the Rev. Eric Hausler, part-time missionary to Haiti, and the Rev. Ben Hopp, missionary to Haiti. Just as Paul and Barnabbas reported back to the church in Antioch in Acts 14, the assembly heard how God had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
At the conclusion of the Foreign Missions report, the following men were elected to the committee: the Rev. William Kessler, the Rev. Philip Proctor, the Rev. John Van Meerbeke, Elder Hayo Jager, and Elder John Emmett.
The final report of the evening was given by the Committee on Christian Education. The work of Great Commissions Publications (GCP) was presented by the Rev. Marvin Padgett (PCA), Executive Director, and Rev. Mark Lowrey (PCA), Associate Executive Director. GCP publishes Sunday School curriculum and other materials for the OPC and PCA. Mr. Lowrey introduced the newly-revised curriculum for older elementary age children called G2R–a Bible survey of all the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
General Secretary Danny Olinger highlighted the work of the Special Sub-committee on Marriage and Sexuality. The subcommittee was formed to help the members and congregations of the OPC to uphold a biblical view of marriage and sexuality. The pre-assembly conference was part of the fruit of this subcommittee’s labor. More resources are being planned to continue to aid the church navigate these important issues.
The Rev. Alan Strange described the process of producing the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Back in 2006, the General Assembly instructed the Committee on Christian Education to produce a psalter hymnal with musical settings of all 150 Psalms and a collection of hymns. In 2011 the OPC entered into an arrangement with the United Reformed Churches of North America to work together on the project. In 2014, the OPC GA approved the collection of psalms. This year the General Assembly will need to vote on the collection of hymns for the Psalter Hymnal. A collection of 428 hymns was presented to the assembly for approval as a package. But the vote would have to wait until Friday because the order of the day arrived and commissioners needed some rest after a long day. The assembled was dismissed for the evening at 9 p.m. with prayer by Elder Mark Graham.
The work of the General Assembly began at 8:30 a.m. when Mr. Taveres, the moderator, called the assembly to order. The first order of business was the singing of God’s praises through the hymn “O Worship the King.”
After prayer by the Rev. Bruce Buchanan, the assembly was introduced to the Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen who greeted the assembly on behalf of the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA). Mr. Vander Meulen serves as the chairman of the Psalter Hymnal Committee of the URCNA. 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.
The assembly then returned to the report of the Committee on Christian Education and addressed Overture 1. This overture is a request of the Presbytery of Central Pennsylvania asking the assembly to direct the Committee on Christian Education to consider the preparation of a modern English study version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Such a version would seek to modernize the language of the catechism without changing its meaning. Representatives of the Presbytery of Central Pennsylvania were careful to explain that this modernized version would not hold constitutional standing in the church but instead would be available to the churches for study and memorization. Such a version could aid the discipleship of Christians for whom English is a second language as well as native English speakers. Commissioners had different convictions about the wisdom of such a project. But the assembly was agreed that the Committee on Christian Education should study the proposal and report back to next year’s assembly with detailed recommendations.
The assembly then returned to the topic of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. A series of three motions was passed to finalize approval. First, the collection of 428 hymns was approved as a package. Then the assembly approved the Psalter Hymnal as a whole. Finally, the assembly voted to communicate its decisions to Synod 2016 of the United Reformed Churches of North America, the highest assembly of that body. The Synod will meet next week and our brothers from the URCNA will vote on motions similar to those just passed by the OPC assembly. If the URCNA votes to proceed, the Psalter Hymnal will go into production. It will take some time to get all the necessary copyright approvals, but the hope is that the Psalter Hymnal would be available for purchase in late 2017.
Just before the morning break, the commissioners were directed outside for the annual GA photo. GA photographer Mrs. Tricia Stevenson and her husband the Rev. Jim Stevenson coaxed the group into position by the water’s edge. Mrs. Stevenson snapped a bunch of pictures, diligently trying to make this group of Presbyterians look as good as possible.
The assembly reconvened and held elections for the class of 2019 of the Committee on Christian Education. Elder James Gidley and Elder John Muether were elected to the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training. The Rev. Glen Clary, the Rev. David Harr, and the Rev. Alan Strange were elected to the committee at large.
Next the work of the Committee on Coordination was discussed. The goal of the committee is to recommend to the General Assembly a combined budget for Worldwide Outreach (Christian Education, Foreign Missions, and Home Missions and Church Extension), to encourage the practice of biblical stewardship in the church, and to help coordinate the promotion of the work of Worldwide Outreach. Elder David Haney, Director of Finance and Planned Giving for the OPC, reported for the committee. He detailed several reasons to thank the Lord. In 2015 the program committees of Worldwide Outreach were able to meet their budgets. That means that about $4 million went to the work of carrying out the great commission. The church can also praise God for the 2015 Thank Offering of over a million dollars. Following the report, the assembly approved a combined Worldwide Outreach budget of 4.1 million for 2017, a 1% increase over last year.
At the 11:40 a.m. order of the day, the Rev. Ryan McGraw gave a timely devotional entitled “Cultivating Christ-Honoring Speech in Church Courts.” Preaching from Proverbs 15:1–4, Mr. McGraw challenged the assembly with the need for the wise use of the tongue. One should leave General Assembly loving Jesus more because of the God-glorifying speeches we have heard on the floor of the assembly. Hymn 644 was a fitting conclusion: “May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day, by his love and power controlling all I do and say.”
Following the lunch break, the assembly reconvened with the singing of “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder.” The Rev. Douw G. Breed brought fraternal greetings from the Reformed Churches of South Africa (RCSA). The RCSA was established in 1859 and has 91,000 members in over 300 churches. Their federation has a history of active missionary work in the southern part of the African continent and India. Mr. Breed asked the assembly to pray for the RCSA as they seek to be salt and light at a time where their country is struggling with economic and political difficulties.
The assembly was treated to another brief video highlighting one of faithful women of the OPC. Dora Duff was a tireless laborer on the foreign mission field. She met her husband, the Rev. Clarence Duff in Ethopia. After being forced to leave the field due to Mussolini’s aggression in north Africa, Mrs. Duff longed to return to mission work. She personally petitioned the General Secretary for the Committee on Foreign Missions to send her and her husband to Eritrea because the need for the gospel was so great. They ministered in Eritrea until 1971.
The rest of the day was taken up with matters surrounding appeals and complaints. This is often the most complicated part of the General Assembly. The commissioners labor carefully to make sure that proper procedure is followed, to try to ensure justice in the courts of Christ’s church. It isn’t hard for an assembly to get tied up in procedural knots. These knots typically take time to untangle. But the goal is clear: care for Christ’s sheep.
This year the assembly dealt with a complaint coming from a local session on appeal. That session filed a complaint against another local session, claiming it had failed to act biblically. The complaint was ruled out of order by both the session complained against and by the presbytery on appeal. After much debate, the assembly determined to remand the complaint back to the presbytery, so that it could address the substance of the case.
The assembly considered a communication that presented a series of three complaints that came to assembly after the normal deadline for consideration of appeals and complaints had passed. The assembly determined that the lateness of the complaints made it unable to effectively handle the matter at this assembly. The session that brought the complaint to the assembly may submit their complaints to next year’s assembly.
The difficult afternoon and evening of labor was interspersed with more encouraging presentations. Following the afternoon break, the assembly watched a video about the life of Mrs. Mabel Danzeisen. Mrs. Danzeisen served in a quiet corner of the OPC and her name is not widely known. But she is a wonderful example of the backbone of the OPC. Mrs. Danzeisen taught at a one-room schoolhouse in Carson, North Dakota. For thirty years she served as a Sunday School teacher, Sunday School superintendent, and officer in the Women’s Missionary Society.
In the afternoon, the assembly heard from the Rev. Daniel Wilson of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ). Mr. Wilson is a North Carolina native and Greenville Seminary graduate who moved to New Zealand to minister in the RCNZ. The OPC and RCNZ have a long history of swapping ministers, a testimony to the close fellowship of these two bodies. Mr. Wilson described the need for more ministers in the RCNZ and urged OPC men to consider a call in New Zealand.
After dinner, the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (CRCA) greeted the assembly through fraternal delegate Rev. Reinier Noppers. Established by Dutch immigrants in the 1950s, the CRCA has 57 churches and 10 church plants. Through it started as an ethnic church, it has since developed into a very multicultural communion. Mr. Noppers encouraged the assembly with the words of Philippians 1:9, “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”
On a day filled with much difficult deliberations, it is good time to talk about some bright spots at the assembly. The assembly is able to function smoothly due to the diligent labor of many behind-the-scenes workers. Eight different young people serve as assembly “pages”. These pages are called into service at various points in the day to distribute printed materials, set out snacks, man registration tables, and give directions to commissioners. These enthusiastic and helpful young men and women range in age from 9 up to 20. The pages for 2016 are Rachel, Bethany, Jacob, and Joshua Stevenson (children of the Rev. Jim Stevenson of Providence OPC in Tulsa) and Tina, Maddie, and Emma Nakhla (children of Elder David Nakhla, Short-Term Missions and Disaster Response Coordinator).
Ben Ward (Covenant OPC, St. Augustine, FL) and Thomas Roof (Cornerstone OPC, Ambler, PA) run the complex sound system utilized by the assembly in the Chesapeake Auditorium. They operate eleven different microphones that need to be turned on at a moment’s notice to enable the commissioners to hear each other. The Rev. Robert Tarullo (Westminster OPC, Indian Head Park, IL) runs the invaluable electronic voting system and Elder David Mahaffy (Sovereign Grace OPC, Oak Harbor, WA) controls the video system. We praise God for these cheerful laborers.
The assembly concluded for the evening at 8:30 p.m. with prayer by the Rev. Bruce Prentice (Bethel OPC, Carson, ND). The assembly adjourned a half hour early in order to hold a reception for Cal and Edie Cummings in celebration of their retirement after 40-plus years of missionary service in Japan. Foreign Missions General Secretary Mark Bube read the resolution of thanks that will be printed in the minutes of the assembly, detailing the sacrificial service of the Cummingses to the Lord Jesus Christ. Cal and Edie each addressed the assembly, describing the blessed life that God has granted to them. Mr. Bube thanked the Lord of the harvest for graciously providing these faithful laborers. Commissioners and guests then enjoyed a reception of pizza and cake.
When Moderator Tavares took up the gavel to call the assembly to order, it was an act filled with historic significance. It was on this day 80 years ago that the Rev. J. Gresham Machen took up the work as moderator of the very first General Assembly in Philadelphia. On this 80th birthday of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the commissioners at Sandy Cove looked to God in prayer as they sought to be faithful to the legacy of faithfulness that has been passed down to them.
Sadly, the day began with difficult news. The Rev. LeRoy Miller had to be taken during the night to Christiana Medical Center in Delaware with a kidney blockage. Mr. Miller went into surgery Saturday morning to correct the problem. The Lord was pleased to answer the prayers of God’s people on his behalf. The surgery was successful and Mr. Miller was able to return to the Sandy Cove Conference Center by the end of the day. Praise the Lord for his fatherly care!
The Rev. Maynard Koerner brought fraternal greetings from the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). The RCUS is the much older sister of the OPC, having just met for their 270th General Synod. Mr. Koerner reported that the RCUS has been encouraged and challenged by the OPC’s work of missions and church planting. He praised the Lord for the good relationship between the two bodies and commended the commissioners “to God and to the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32).
The assembly returned to the work of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. The committee is seeking to increase its size from three men to five in order to aid them in their heavy workload. In order to make such a change to the Standing Rules of the assembly, an amendment needs to first be proposed to the following year’s assembly, then passed that following year. The assembly followed the committee’s recommendation and did indeed propose this amendment to the 84th General Assembly. Elections for the committee were held and the Rev. John Mallin and Elder Thomas Crumplar were elected.
Then the Assembly returned to its review of the work of the Committee on Coordination for one final action. The Rev. Donald Duff and Elder John Mazunik were re-elected to the committee.
The next report came from the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM). Elder David Nakhla serves as the CDM administrator as well as Short-term Missions and Disaster Response Coordinator. Mr. Nakhla reported that the committee provides assistance to diaconal needs that are too large to be handled by local deacons or presbytery diaconal committees. The CDM also seeks to provide training for local deacons. For example, the CDM will sponsor its third Diaconal Summit in June 2017. Contributions to the denominational diaconal fund are used to support the diaconal outreach of our foreign missionaries. For example, the CDM funds the work of the medical clinic in Naakale, Uganda. The committee also coordinates aid to help those affected by natural disasters, in the name of Jesus Christ. The committee is currently studying how it can partner with local churches around the world to help bring relief to those suffering from the current worldwide refugee crisis. Finally, the commissioners watched a brief video on the work of short term missions—an increasing focus in the OPC.
The assembly responded to the CDM report by passing a request for churches to support the work of the committee at the rate of $25 per communicant member for 2017. Elections were held and the Rev. Ron Pearce, Elder Alexander Zarek, and Deacon John Voss, Jr. were returned to the committee for another term of labor.
The Committee on Pensions began its report just before the morning break. The committee provides a retirement plan for OPC ministers and offers term life insurance plans. Elder Roger Huibregtse reported that 2015 was not a good year for the investments of the Pension fund, but over the long term the fund has done well. Before the assembly could take up the recommendations of the committee, the order of the day arrived for the morning break.
After its 20 minute recess, commissioners and visitors sang praise to God: “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord!” and prayed for God’s blessing.
The Rev. Kyle Sims brought fraternal greetings from the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). Mr. Sims reported that the ARP is moving in a more evangelical and Reformed direction. They recently passed a declaration on race, confessing sins of the past and declaring a desire to pursue ministry among people of all different races and ethnicities. Mr. Sims urged the body to pray for the denominational seminary and college, Erskine College and Theological Seminary, as they face significant financial needs. Ministers and elders were encouraged to fellowship with local ARP leaders to develop deeper relationships between the churches.
The assembly then took up the recommendations of the Committee on Pensions. The assembly passed the recommendation of the Committee to change how participants receive their vested interest in the retirement fund. Under the new rules, participants would be 100% vested after two years in the plan. GA also authorized the Committee on Pensions to change the OPC Pension Plan from a trustee-directed plan to a participant-directed plan. This change will provide several asset-allocation options that will allow participants to choose the option that best fits their life situation. It is anticipated that the performance of the new plan will be comparable to or even outperform the current plan. An investment firm (Wipfli Hewins Investment Advisors, LLC) will oversee the transition and provide assistance to participants as they make investment decisions.
Following prayer for the upcoming meal, the assembly adjourned for lunch.
The Rev. Benjamin W. Swinburson brought a devotional message from 2 Kings 6:1–7, the story of Elisha and the floating axe head. The prophetic power of Elisha is a picture to us of the saving power of the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the midst of our weakness, our hope is in his strength. The assembly responded to God’s word with a hymn of praise, “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”
The assembly quickly completed the report of the Committee on Pensions by electing Elder Bruce Stahl, the Rev. Darren Thole, Elder David Winslow, Jr. to the class of 2019.
The Rev. Kurt Vetterli gave a fraternal address on behalf of his denomination, the Evangelical Reformed Church-Westminster Confession (ERKWB). The ERKWB is a Reformed body in Switzerland and Austria. Mr. Vetterli noted many similarities between our two churches: both came out of liberal bodies, both started small, and both face difficulties as the evangelical world around struggles with increasing liberalism. The ERKWB has been encouraged to have an OPC minister, the Rev. Tony Curto, visit Europe several times over the past few years for teaching and encouragement of ERKWB churches.
The assembly then turned to the Report of the Committee of Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR). CEIR is charged with pursuing and nurturing relationships with other denominations of like faith and practice as an expression of our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Rev. Jack Sawyer reported for the committee. The OPC has three different levels of ecumenical relationship that represent various depths of fellowship between the bodies. At present the OPC is in “Ecclesiastical Fellowship” (the highest level of fellowship) with sixteen churches. The OPC is also in “Corresponding Relationship” with ten churches. In addition, the OPC is in “Ecumenical Contact” with fourteen churches. The OPC also participates in a number of different interchurch bodies such as the International Conference of Reformed Churches and the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.
To promote this work, the assembly passed a few motions. The assembly voted to regularize its relationship with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia as one of full Ecclesiastical Fellowship. The assembly also proposed a change in its standing rules to the next assembly. The change would clarify the status of fraternal representatives of other denominations who visit OPC General Assemblies. The Rev. George Cottenden, the Rev. Tony Curto, and the Rev. Stephen Tracey were elected to serve on the committee.
Next, the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel gave its report. The committee provides support and encouragement to military and civilian chaplains who are ministers of the OPC. Through its participation in the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel, chaplains are officially endorsed to serve in the U.S. military. The committee also seeks to minister to those who serve in the armed forces and their families. Special thanks was given for the labors of Elder Robert Coie upon his retirement from the committee this year after many faithful and fruitful years of service. He has been instrumental in organizing God’s people to pray for chaplains and military personnel. The committee read a statement of thanks for the work of Mr. Coie, and the Rev. Richard Dickenson offered prayer.
After enjoying a break and afternoon snacks, the assembly reconvened with the singing of the hymn, “Sing Praise to the Lord.” Prayer was offered by the Rev. John Ferguson.
On this 80th anniversary of the OPC, the assembly was delighted to watch a brief video about another faithful woman of the OPC. This presentation featured the life of Mrs. Bobbi Olinger, the great missions lady of Southern California. As a member of Calvary OPC in La Mirada, CA, Mrs. Olinger was a tireless promoter of the work of foreign missions. She compiled detailed binders about each of the church’s missionaries, wrote skits about the lives of the missionaries for kids to perform, and gave talks in local churches about missions.
The assembly returned to its review of the work of the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel and elected the Rev. Richard Dickenson and the Rev. Chris Wisdom to the class of 2019. Prayer was offered by Elder James Van Dam.
On this historic day, it was fitting that the assembly would hear the report of the Committee for the Historian. Historian Elder John Meuther described several projects that are in development. In the fall of this year, the committee will publish a new book entitled “To Live is Christ: A Biography of E. J. Young,” on the life of the Westminster Theological Seminary professor and OPC minister. Also in production is “Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The committee is gearing up to commemorate another historic anniversary, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. Beginning this October and continuing into 2017, New Horizons will feature a series of 15 essays on the Reformation and its impact on the OPC.
The Rev. Danny Olinger introduced one more video presentation. This one was on the life of Mrs. Grace Hard, missionary to Korea. She felt called to missions at age nine and hoped to go to Tibet to share the good news of Jesus. At Wheaton College she met and married Mr. Ted Hard who became a minister in the OPC. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet made missionary work there impossible, Mr. and Mrs. Hard were appointed missionaries to Korea in 1953. Mrs. Hard was the treasurer for the mission, taught Bible studies, and taught in Christian schools. She also taught seminary courses in Christian Education in Korea and later in India. In retirement she and her husband ran a Christian literature ministry.
The Rev. Brian De Jong was reelected to the Committee for the Historian.
Elder David Haney then approached the podium to report for the Temporary Committee to Study the Care for the Ministers of the Church. The committee was formed by the 81st GA in 2014 to investigate needs of OPC ministers and suggest ways in which care can be provided or enhanced during all phases of their ministry. The committee conducted a survey of ministers in 2014 to assess the needs. The committee communicated their preliminary suggestions to the Committee on Pensions and the Committee on Diaconal Ministries. Each of the committees is in support of the following recommendation: that the assembly establish a new committee, the Committee on Ministerial Care. The new committee would oversee the OPC Pension Fund, help ministers get counsel on financial planning and insurance risk management, and provide counsel to presbyteries on how to improve financial compensation for ministers. The new committee would also seek to provide non-financial support to ministers. This could involve things like mentoring, counseling, retreats, and sabbaticals. Before the assembly finished its debate on this recommendation, the order of the day for dinner arrived and the assembly concluded its business for the day.
The Rev. John Fesko prayed for God’s blessing on the coming Lord’s day as Christ’s sheep gather to sing his praises and hear his word.
The Lord’s Day was a helpful day of rest for the commissioners of the General Assembly after several long days of labor. Five different OPC congregations in the area welcomed commissioners and assembly visitors to their morning worship services. Each church provided lunch and warm fellowship.
After dinner at Sandy Cove, an evening worship service was held at the chapel. Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Pole Tavern, NJ organized and led the worship service. The Rev. Richard Ellis encouraged God’s people with a message from Psalm 131. Knowing that the Lord is powerful and loving, his children can rest on him even during chaotic times. Following the service, many commissioners took advantage of the beautiful evening to enjoy fellowship outside by the water.
The final full day of deliberations of the 83rd General Assembly began with the singing of praise to our God: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Throughout the assembly, piano accompaniment to the singing at the opening of sessions and at the end of devotional times has been provided by two accomplished musicians─Mrs. Gail Mininger, wife of commissioner Rev. Larry Mininger from Orlando, FL, and commissioner Dr. David VanDrunen from Escondido, CA.
The Rev. Kevin Backus addressed the assembly, bringing fraternal greetings on behalf of the Bible Presbyterian Church. Mr. Backus has attended twenty general assemblies and has become a good friend of the OPC. Reflecting on the 80th anniversary of the OPC, he thanked the Lord for our shared history and our ongoing friendship. When planting a new church, the Bible Presbyterian Church is careful to communicate with the local OPC presbytery. The Bible Presbyterian Church has also communicated with the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries so that they will be in a position to work together with the OPC on disaster relief if needs arise.
The assembly turned its attention back to the report for the Temporary Committee to Study the Care for Ministers of the Church. The GA approved the establishment and mandate of a Committee on Ministerial Care which was discussed in detail at our Saturday afternoon meeting. The assembly also proposed a series of changes to the Standing Rules that would allow for this committee to begin its work.
After our morning break and the singing of “Around the Throne of God in Heaven,” the assembly heard another fraternal address. The Rev. Jerrold Lewis is from the Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA) which has twenty congregations and 3 preaching stations. They partner with the Heritage Reformed Congregations in the work of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The FRCNA just finished a joint synod meeting with the Heritage Reformed Congregations and are investigating possible pathways to organic union. The FRCNA has benefited from their relationship with the OPC. For example, the General Assembly study reports have proven helpful.
The assembly enjoyed the final video on prominent women of the OPC. Mrs. Betty Andrews was a dedicated missionary of the OPC. She married OP missionary Rev. Egbert Andrews, and they ministered in Taiwan for twenty years. Mrs. Andrews taught Sunday School classes, taught a woman’s Bible study in Taiwanese, and used her musical gifts to serve the mission. After retiring from the mission field, Mrs. Andrews continued to serve the Lord at Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community. She visited the sick, played the piano, and prayed for hours. She still resides at Quarryville at age 98.
Throughout the assembly commissioners have enjoyed an informative display of artifacts of OPC history in the lobby of the Sandy Cove Conference Center. The display highlights the contributions of faithful women in history of the OPC. The display was put together by Miss Abigail Harting, daughter of the Rev. Robert Harting, pastor of our church in Middletown, Delaware. Miss Harting has just completed a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University in museum studies and non-profit business management. Eager to use her gifts for the church, she volunteered much time and expertise to put together this display.
The assembly then heard a report of the Special Committee to Visit the Presbytery of the Northwest that was erected by the 81st GA, two years ago. The committee was given the task of helping this presbytery in dealing with conflicts that have divided it. The committee reviewed hundreds of pages of documents and made six different trips for face-to-face meetings. A theological dispute played a significant role in the present divisions. But in the committee’s assessment the more fundamental cause of divisions was the systemic failure to pastorally and effectively address concerns on the personal and corporate levels. The committee has seen fruit from their ministry. One evidence of this came in the form of a resolution of repentance that was passed without dissent by the presbytery. Another encouraging sign was the request of the presbytery to have the committee continue its work for another year on a standby basis. Through its questions and discussions, the assembly demonstrated a deep concern over the situation. It was determined to grant the request of the presbytery to continue the work of the committee for another year, urging the presbytery to continue the good work of reconciliation. The Rev. Chad Bond prayed for God’s rich blessing on the Presbytery of the Northwest and the work of the committee.
At 11:40 AM the assembly paused its deliberations to hear a devotional message by the Rev. Ken Montgomery, associate pastor at Redeemer OPC in Dayton, OH. Mr. Montgomery encouraged the assembly with the words of Psalm 133. It was a timely reminder of the fragrant blessing of unity that God grants to his people through his Spirit and the ministry of the Jesus, our High Priest.
After a refreshing lunch break, the assembly sang the hymn “Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow!” The Rev. Jack Sawyer read a letter from the Rev. Ben Westerveld of the Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ). Mr. Westerveld gave thanks for good growth in their churches. The ERQ gives thanks for the ongoing partnership with the OPC. Each summer OP churches send missions teams to assist St. Marc’s ERQ church in their English for Kids outreach.
The assembly then turned its attention to the report of the Committee to Study Republication. Two years ago, the assembly erected a committee to examine the concept of the Mosaic covenant as a republication in some sense of the covenant of works made with Adam. The committee was charged with advising the assembly as to what is consistent with the doctrinal standards of our church (the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms). The committee, consisting of five of the OPC’s most learned ministers, labored for the past two years and produced a detailed report. The committee explains that the key section of the standards is Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 7. The Confession teaches thatthere is one covenant of grace that “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, through 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.
The assembly voted to distribute the report to presbyteries and other interested parties for study. The report would not carry constitutional weight, as if it were the official statement of the OPC, but the assembly determined it would be a profitable document. The report includes a list of topics pertaining to covenant theology for presbyteries to consider as they examine candidates for the ministry.
Having completed work on this detailed theological report, the commissioners were encouraged by the arrival of the dinner break. The assembly regathered after the meal and sang “Jerusalem the Golden.”
Last year’s assembly erected a Special Committee on Canadian Matters. The committee is studying the financial and strategic issues related to the OPC’s ongoing ministry in Canada. The OPC has three churches and two mission works in Canada, and there are certain challenges associated with these ministries. For example, a U.S. citizen who takes a call to pastor a church in Canada cannot participate in the OPC pension fund without paying taxes both in Canada and the U.S. There are also tax-related challenges concerning contributions to Worldwide Outreach. The committee gave a preliminary report but was given another year to work on solutions to these challenging issues.
Toward the end of the evening it became clear that the business of the General Assembly would be wrapped up a half day early. The assembly passed a series of administrative motions. Presbytery and committee minutes were approved. The budget for the General Assembly Operating Fund was approved. Plans for the next two assemblies were discussed and approved. A detailed motion of thanks was read and passed. It thanked all those who served publicly and privately to make this assembly a success.
The commissioners rose to sing a final hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.” The moderator prayed for the work of the assembly and the ministry of the OPC throughout the world. After a benediction by the Rev. Archibald Allison, Moderator Tavares officially dissolved the 83rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He called for a new assembly to convene on May 31, 2017 at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois. The assembly responded by singing the Doxology. Indeed, God is to be praised as the one from whom all blessings flow. The 83rd General Assembly was filled with the blessings the Lord had graciously given. May he use these efforts for the furthering of the kingdom of his beloved Son.
This report was written by the Rev. David J. Harr, pastor of Immanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Medford, New Jersey.