The 80th General Assembly met at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California, from 7:00 PM Wednesday June 5 to 8:30 PM Monday June 10, 2013. This running daily report was written by Arthur J. Fox and edited by Linda Foh and Stephen Pribble. Questions or comments may be addressed to George Cottenden, stated clerk. Go to Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.
What is a General Assembly? Chapter XV of our Form of Government, drawing from such passages as Acts 15, where the early church met to resolve a doctrinal dispute, tells us this: “The general assembly shall seek to advance the worship, edification, and witness of the whole church. It shall seek to resolve all doctrinal and disciplinary questions regularly brought before it from the lower assemblies. It shall seek to promote the unity of the church of Christ through correspondence with other churches. The duties peculiar to the general assembly include organizing regional churches, reviewing the records of the presbyteries, and calling ministers or licentiates to the missionary or other ministries of the whole church directly or through its standing committees.” (A standing committee is a permanent committee of the church, such as the foreign or diaconal ministries committees.) “The general assembly is not invested with power, by virtue of its own authority, to make pronouncements which bind the conscience of the members of the church. Yet the deliverances of the general assembly, if declarative of the Word of God, are to be received with deference and submission not only because of their fidelity to the Word of God but also because of the nature of the general assembly as the supreme judicatory (governing body) of the church. Deliverances, resolutions, overtures, and other actions which have the effect of amending or adding to the subordinate standards shall not be binding unless they have been approved by the general assembly and presbyteries in the manner provided in this Form of Government for the amendment of the constitution.”
Interesting fact: of the three judicatories (GA, presbytery and session) only the general assembly is not permanent but convenes for a set time each year and then “dissolves” or ceases to exist. Each assembly is a new one and has no authority over the next one.
Each year the Committee on Arrangements, which organizes each assembly, makes an effort to have the GA meet in a different presbytery. This year we meet at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, in Northern California, a beautiful campus with a strong Spanish-American atmosphere. This is the first assembly in California in 23 years. Dinner tonight was enjoyed by many who spent most of the day traveling, and many a man from the East Coast will likely sleep well tonight after what will be close to an 18 hour day, including traveling.
The moderator of the previous general assembly, the Rev. Tony Curto, convened the 80th General Assembly at 6:58 PM with prayer and the singing of the hymn, “O Lord Most High, with All My Heart.” He then read to us from Joshua 14:6–15. He exhorted us to see what we do as the work of Jesus Christ, that he may be pleased to bless for the good of the church. The hope he expressed was that the Lord Jesus Christ would use the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to extend his Kingdom and the glory of God. There is one name that can change this world, and that is the name of Jesus Christ. He focused on the “Trial,” “Training” and “Triumph” of Caleb (one of the 12 spies sent out to spy out the land of Canaan). There were giants and fortified cities, and while the other spies said it could not be taken, Caleb and Joshua reminded them of God’s promise. He trusted that the Lord would keep his promise and give them the inheritance. As God gave his inheritance to Caleb, he will give us our inheritance as well. We need not fear. Nothing can prevail to keep God from keeping his word and accomplishing all that he purposes. We love Matthew 28 so much because God promised the nations to his Son as his inheritance (Ps. 2). We should believe this as a church and follow Christ in his taking of his inheritance. We will face giants but we must stand as Christ stood in his test. Christ stood strong. Young ministers should do the same, trusting in him as Caleb did. Middle aged men, persevering in the middle of their ministries, wondering if the congregation has changed, should persevere as Caleb did. Should ministers who are now fathers in the faith give up and turn over the mantle? We are called to be strong and realize that from one generation to the next he will raise up the next generation. If Machen were here today, he would thank the Lord and then tell us to run to the fields and carry the gospel to every kindred, nation, tribe and tongue.
The stated clerk, the Rev. George Cottenden called the roll, presbytery by presbytery, and each man stood to declare himself present. Corresponding members (those present but not commissioners, who are responsible for work in and with the assembly) were seated. Some fraternal delegates (men from other denominations here in the US and around the world) were seated as well. These men will address the assembly at various points.
David Haney gave a preliminary report for the Committee on Arrangements. This is the first time the OPC has ever held a general assembly in northern California. The Presbytery of Northern California worked hard to persuade the Committee this would be possible and proposed St. Mary’s College. He informed us that a shipment of supplies that had been sent was on a train that derailed earlier this week. In God’s providence it arrived this morning anyway!
The clerk presented the minutes of the 79th General Assembly.
Nominations for moderator of the 80th General Assembly were made; the men nominated were all pastors: Archibald Allison (Presbytery of the Dakotas), Larry Westerveld (Presbytery of Philadelphia) and Jeffery Landis (Presbytery of Northern California). Various speeches were made on behalf of each of these men. Prior to the election the electronic voting devices were tested and did not work, so paper ballots were filled out and counted individually by hand. Jeffery Landis was elected. David Winslow, who nominated him, escorted him to the chair and Mr. Curto gave him the gavel. Mr. Winslow led in prayer.
Overtures (requests for action by the assembly), communications, complaints (official requests for a grievance to be addressed) and judicial appeals were officially presented to the assembly. Convening, recess and meal times were set. These times include a time for devotions each day. The docket was adopted.
Advisory Committees (temporary committees tasked to give advice to the assembly on the various matters before it) were assigned the matters they will consider. As various items on the docket come up in the agenda, the appropriate advisory committee will weigh in with advice. The members of these committees were then formally elected.
The assembly adjourned for the night.
Advisory committees met most of the day, but at 11:40 the Assembly gathered for a time of exhortation and encouragement by the Rev. Ken Wendland (Heritage OPC, Mobile, Alabama) from 2 Corinthians 4:7–12. God takes the raw material of our lives and shapes it into what will be useful in pastoral ministry. In particular he uses our suffering to make us fruitful. Fruitful Christian ministry involves death—literal or metaphorical. This serves two purposes. It makes us more like Christ by our union with him in his death and resurrection. It is also a means to bring life in others. These things are seen in gospel ministers in times of discouragement or mistreatment by others. It worked this way with Paul as a result of Stephen’s martyrdom. This was the pattern the Father used with the Son. Don’t lose heart, therefore! What God is doing in your life may have nothing to do with you, but everything to do with others.
What does an Advisory Committee do? Let’s see an example in the work of Advisory Committee 6, which considered the report of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (called, CEIR, for short—well, you can see why!).
The Committee heard from CEIR Administrator, the Rev. Jack Sawyer (Pineville OPC, Pineville, La.). He introduced the CEIR report by explaining the three different levels of relationships which the OPC maintains with other churches: (1) Ecumenical Contact, a relationship with churches with whom we do not have historical or close working relations but do have contact through membership in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (www.naparc.org) or the International Conference of Reformed Churches (www.icrconline.com) (2) Corresponding Relations, or the getting to know you stage of inter-denominational relations with a view to a deeper, stronger relationship after further consultation. And (3) Ecclesiastical Fellowship, or relationships with churches that fully share our commitment to the Reformed Faith and with whom except for providential, historical or geographical reasons we might actually become organically one church.
He also reported on contacts with and attendance by CEIR members in behalf of the OPC at denominational meetings of churches throughout the world. In every case the goal of our denomination is to seek to build relationships of trust and shared ministry with other churches of like faith and practice in order to nurture and flesh out the union we share through our mutual participation in the body of Christ.
He reported on and explained the significance of our membership in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) and the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). The advisory committee commended the CEIR for its work.
We also had the pleasure of having the representative of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, who expressed the church’s appreciation for our prayers and support for Pastor Dilson as he was in prison in Senegal for 150 days. He still awaits the results of his trial, which were due in 30 days. Seventy days have passed, and there is still no decision. This is considered a hopeful sign.
Most of the advisory committees have finished their scheduled time of work (some will meet during free time to finish their work), and the stated clerk, the Rev. George Cottenden, made his report. It is not just about the minutes. He prepares the agenda for the assembly, presents amendments to our constitution, oversees the publishing of the OPC Directory, the GA minutes, and maintains contact with various other denominations and answers inquiries about our denomination.
There was a series of technical changes to procedures that are followed in the conduct of assembly business. We will not review these, lest we lose your attention! It need only be remarked that such matters help the assembly function much more efficiently.
The trustees of the assembly presented their report. They are the ones who organize the details of the assembly and set the budget for its work. The stated clerk, Mr. Cottenden, has informed the assembly that he does not wish to be re-nominated to serve beyond the next Assembly. The Trustees are not prepared at this time to nominate his successor for election by the Assembly. Therefore, the Assembly authorized the trustees to appoint the next stated clerk for a period of up to three years, to start in June of 2014. They also proposed a budget for 2014 that will be voted on later in the assembly.
Mr. Landis seems more than capable of doing the work he was elected to do as moderator. He has a gentle manner and a good sense of humor with which he keeps the assembly business moving along briskly.
The report of the statistician was presented next. The statistician is Mr. Luke Brown (Trinity OPC, Hatboro, Pa.). This report is presented in the Agenda, with some churches not having given information as of this date to make the information up-to-date. During 2012 the number of local churches in the OPC decreased by five to 270, and the number of unorganized mission works decreased by two to 49. Thus, the total number of congregations and mission works was 319 at the end of the year. Total membership reached 30,555 at the end of 2012 with an increase of 349 members (1.16 percent) for the year. Morning worship attendance increased by 70 persons (0.30 percent) to 23,738, as measured in November. Sunday school attendance increased by 92 persons (0.76 percent) to 12,463. Total offerings of $51.0 million represented an increase of 3.30 percent from 2011. Of this total, general offerings increased 4.76 percent and benevolence giving increased 1.15 percent, while contributions for capital improvements decreased 9.26 percent. Average giving per communicant member increased 2.03 percent from $2,244 to $2,289. This report is based on reports received from each presbytery and from local churches and mission works comprising 97.5 percent of the total church membership. Mr. Brown was re-elected to his position.
It should be noted that after each report there is prayer for the work of each committee.
The assistant clerk, the Rev. John Mahaffy (Trinity OPC, Newberg, Oregon) was formally appointed to his position. He does a lot of the work of recording the minutes and a variety of other duties that are required to keep things running smoothly.
This is the first of the major committee reports, and Mr. Landis turned the chair over to Mr. Curto, the previous moderator, so that he, the vice-president of the committee, could present the report.
The agenda informs us that “The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension exists to help the presbyteries and congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to start new Presbyterian and Reformed congregations throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.” Therefore, this is the committee that oversees the planting of new churches.
Mr. Landis introduced members of the committee and a number of men who are overseeing church plants. He also introduced the new general secretary, John Shaw. He was the founding pastor of Mission OPC in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a son of the church (a lifetime member of the OPC). His wife and some of his children are here at the assembly as well, while others are attending a conference back home in Minnesota.
Mr. Shaw addressed the assembly and gave his life history. He expressed his awe at the greatness of the work and the privilege of seeing the Lord plant new Orthodox Presbyterian Churches. He sees a strong momentum in church planting. Already there are six new works in 2013, and more are expected in the coming months. A new regional home missionary will be called by one presbytery and many congregations are committed to planting new congregations. The committee and staff have experienced significant transitions in the past year. After 33 years of service to the committee Dr. George W. Knight III has asked not to be returned to the committee.
Mr. Shaw’s vision for home missions is this: We plant churches in a way that is biblical, Confessional and Presbyterian. This is the foundation for the work of home missions. The way this will work out may change over the next decades. We need to recognize that some of the population is moving to urban and metropolitan areas. Yet we should not forget the suburban areas. We also need to recognize the growing ethnic diversity of our nation. We need to utilize developing technologies such as various electronic media. We also need to grow in our practice of evangelism. Psalms 95–100 are instructive in teaching us that the nations are meant to praise the Lord, and the nations are coming to this country (Ps. 98:1–3). Commitment to the work of evangelism was Machen’s vision, and it is our heritage. This is the commitment of the committee, to include a zeal for the work of evangelism. Mr. Shaw’s commitment and energy were evident.
Mr. Shaw introduced some church planters, beginning with the Rev. Jeremiah Montgomery (Resurrection OPC, State College, Pa.), who gave the history of the work from 2010 to the present. This is a vibrant church. State College has representatives of over 55 nations living there. He spoke of his open air evangelism on the campus of Penn State University. This has been going on for over a year and one young man has come to Christ.
The Rev. Joseph Fowler (Gastonia, NC) was next. He spoke of being part of the church plant in its early days before becoming the organizing pastor. Through prayer and faithful work the congregation is growing.
These church planters are men of faith and prayer who are working out of full trust in the power and work of Christ in growing his church. They have found themselves transformed by the Lord as they worked and prayed.
The assembly recessed for dinner at 5:15 PM. Following dinner, the assembly reconvened.
Dr. Roy Taylor, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, brought greetings to the assembly. He expressed appreciation for the history of the OPC and Dr. Machen, and our denomination’s influence by example for the PCA. Mr. Sawyer led in prayer for the PCA.
The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension continued its report. The Rev. Glenn Jerrell, regional home missionary for the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario, was introduced and reported on his work. He is excited about the number of mission works that are ongoing.
Mr. Shaw called for prayer to the Lord of the harvest and encouraged congregations to contact the committee for help in starting new works, and to rejoice.
General Secretary Mark Bube presented the work of the committee. He began by reminding us that many suffer around the world for the cross of Christ but Christ is ours and we are his. In our weakness we see his strength. In missions we establish the worship of God and cast the net to bring his people in. The goal is the establishment of a healthy indigenous national church (i.e., presbytery) that is committed to the Reformed standards. We want to work ourselves out of a job, seeing a church that is itself sending out missionaries and no longer needs our missionaries. The most important thing we can do is to pray.
During an overview of the work on all of the fields, Woody Lauer was introduced and spoke of his church planting work in Numazu, Japan and the theological teaching he does in Japanese seminaries. He has also been involved in Bible translation. Woody is currently on furlough for seven months.
Mr. Bube also introduced missionary Heero Hacquebord, who works in Ukraine. He is working with the PCA’s Mission to the World to plant churches in L’viv. Among the means of outreach he uses is an English camp that, it is hoped, will reach the families of the people of L'viv. Elder and deacon training is taking place. One of the great challenges the mission faces is from people who consider them a sect.
Some of our missionaries are working alongside other missionaries on the field. For example, Mr. Bube announced that a cooperative agreement has been finalized with Calvary Presbytery of the PCA in connection with the work of the Rev. Octavius Delfils who is working with Ben Hopp in Haiti. And Mark Richline is working together with the Rev. Mauricio Rolim of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil in Montevideo, Uruguay. However, there remains a great need for additional missionaries on a number of fields, such as the need for an additional teacher at Knox Theological College in Mbale, Uganda, and additional missionaries in Haiti and Uruguay.
The assembly recessed for the evening at 9:00 PM.
The moderator called us back into session at 8:30 AM and, as with all the sessions, we began with singing a hymn (“How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place”) and prayer. Vern Picknally from the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario led us in prayer.
The Foreign Missions Committee continued its presentation of its work. Mr. Bube encouraged us to continue to pray for the mission field in prayer. He told us that Associate General Secretary Doug Clawson is tasked with finding candidates for the field. The Advisory Committee commended the committee for its pastoral care of the missionaries. There were then some questions asked of the committee by members of the assembly. It was noted that the mission to Uganda is wrestling to deal with the problem of polygamy righteously and in accordance with the Word of God.
A member of the Committee, Pastor David O’Leary, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, has resigned from the committee due to his health. Prayer for him is requested.
The Committee on Christian Education (CCE) exists to help assist in the teaching ministry of the church and is divided into two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training and the Subcommittee on Resources for the Churches. The former, composed of six members, is directly elected by the General Assembly; the latter is composed of the other members of the CCE. The six members of the Great Commission Publications (GCP) Board of Trustees representing the OPC are drawn from the entire CCE.
The Rev. Mr. Alan Strange, vice-president of the committee, presented the work of the committee, reflecting on Matthew 28:16–20. He emphasized the real presence of Christ in all we do.
He then introduced the general secretary of the committee, the Rev. Danny Olinger. He expressed his appreciation for the honor of serving in his capacity. He has seen the busiest year ever in his nearly ten years of service.
The Committee assisted in funding 19 internships in 2012, and 13 summer and 17 year-long internships have been funded this year. The budget only provided for 10 year-long internships. Consequently, the CCE reduced funding from $18,000 to $16,000 per church and cancelled the Ministerial Training Institute summer session to save funds. Over 50 men were interviewed from January to March who expressed interest in being interns.
The Committee is also concerned with the increasing educational debt burden that students in seminaries are facing. The Committee will seek to address this problem.
The Seventy-Third General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church authorized its Committee on Christian Education to seek to develop a Psalter-Hymnal by 2011—which includes musical settings of all 150 Psalms, in their entirety, with as much accuracy and as little archaic language and confusing syntax as possible—for use in our congregations. In 2012 the United Reformed Churches of North America were invited to join with us and overwhelmingly accepted the invitation. The committee presented a list of 238 metrical Psalms that will be considered next year. Up to the end of this year comments may be made on these (they are available for review through a link on the OPC web page). A list reflecting comments will be presented next year. Go to PsalterHymnal.org. OPCers may obtain the password from the CCE secretary.
The Committee sponsors the Timothy Conference, where young men recommended by their sessions are invited to attend and learn about becoming a minister. CCE member David Winslow presented information about this conference. At these conferences active ministers help present the prospect of ministry to the young men. One hundred ten young men have attended over the years, and they have been asked to write brief papers on what they learned. “Godly sparks” fly in the hearts of the young men. The latest New Horizons has an article by Danny Olinger that summarizes the work of the Conference.
Great Commission Publications then became our focus. It was noted, and lamented with sorrow, that executive director Thomas Patete, who served for 34 years, died suddenly in December, 2012. The president of the board of trustees, Mr. Strange, presented the work of GCP. This ministry began with a mimeograph machine in the basement of the Grotenhuis family in New Jersey. The family business still produces the material.
At a specially called meeting the board of trustees appointed the Rev. E. Marvin Padgett, a ministerial member of the PCA, to serve as transitional administrator. Mr. Padgett served as president of the board of trustees until his appointment as transitional administrator.
The Rev. Mark Lowery, director of publications, presented the newest aspects of the Sunday school curriculum and the newest book, a children’s version of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. They have recently revised the Junior High curriculum to have a middle school program. They are seeking ways to integrate electronic publishing.
Mr. Lowery presented what he called “A Firm Foundation” for teaching the next generation (Ps. 78:4, 6–7). The concern is that the next generation might know the glorious deeds of the Lord, set their hope on the Lord, not forget the works of God and keep his commandments. How do we do this? A complete plan has been developed using the Show Me Jesus and So What? material. The hope is to connect the material with the family in the home, and help people to study the Bible and learn the faith on their own. This includes toddler and preschool, younger elementary, middle elementary, older elementary, junior high and older student material (“So What!” curriculum). The curriculums utilize the First Catechism in the toddler and pre-school material, and even the book of Leviticus is taught. The goal is for the students to take ownership of the faith and the Scriptures and relate faith to life and life to faith. In addition there is a catechetical curriculum studying the Shorter Catechism.
The advisory committee expressed their profound gratitude for GCP’s pursuit of excellence. Questions were asked of the Committee. It is permissible to make printed copies of Psalter-Hymnal selections for use of the congregation, however, the copies cannot be taken home but must be destroyed.
After a break the assembly sang “Rock of Ages.” We were led in prayer by Mr. Jason Wallace (Presbytery of the Dakotas). The fraternal delegate from the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, Elder Solano Portela, was introduced by Mr. Sawyer and addressed the assembly. He thanked us for praying for their missionary, Rev. Dilson, who was imprisoned in Senegal for 150 days. He read excerpts from one of his letters. Mr. Dilson remains in Senegal awaiting the decision in his trial. Mr. Solano reported on his denomination’s mission works throughout the world. Mr. Cottenden led in prayer for the Presbyterian Church of Brazil.
Questions for the Committee on Christian Education continued. Many of them surrounded the production of the Psalter Hymnal.
An overture (request for action) from last year’s assembly, to amend the Form of Government in Chapter 23, paragraph 22, was considered. It was approved in the following amended form for proposal to the presbyteries for their consideration:
If a retired minister of another denomination desires to transfer his ministerial credentials to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, he may be enrolled as a member of the presbytery without a call and without installation, provided his reasons are satisfactory and he is received in accordance with the relevant provisions of Section 18 (of the Form of Government).
The time arrived for the devotional service and after singing “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!,” the Rev. Daniel Fincham (Presbytery of the Southeast) encouraged us from Romans 8:12–30. There is a road-map for every believer for growth—the beliefs we are to hold and the duties we are to fulfill. The experience of each believer varies but Romans 8:28 remains true for all—"All things work together for good." This needs to be understood in terms of our never being condemned, living according to the Spirit, our adoption, and suffering. Three comforts and supports for believers: first, the sufferings of this present age are not comparable; second, the Spirit intercedes and that of Jesus Christ; third, every experience works for good. The people who find all things work together for good are those who love God and who are loved by God, all by God’s grace. The promise itself is certain, that all things work together for good. The ultimate purpose is the final glorification of us and the preeminence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The lunch recess followed.
The moderator called us to order with the singing of “My Song Forever Shall Record.” Prayer was led by the Rev. James Megchelson (Presbytery of the Midwest).
The assembly reviewed minutes of the assembly through Thursday afternoon.
The Rev. Jonathan A. Merica, the fraternal delegate from the Reformed Church in the U.S., was introduced and addressed the assembly. He spoke of the RCUS’ use of the Heidelberg Catechism. Covenant children are expected to memorize the whole catechism in order to make a public profession of faith, and men seeking ordination to the gospel ministry are expected to do the same. Dr. Gaffin prayed for the RCUS.
At this point the assembly had had only one glitch—the electronic voting devices have not worked due to a needed receiver. But other than that, business is moving along at a steady clip. Exactly one half of the items on the docket have been concluded. There will be no Friday or Saturday evening sessions. Friday evening the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations met with all of the fraternal delegates present from our sister churches. Saturday evening was left free to allow for preparations for the Lord’s Day.
A poll was taken of the years when men were first ordained as presbyters. Here are the results:
1940s – 0
1950s – 1
1960s – 7
1970s – 14
1980s – 24
1990s – 34
2000s – 38
2010s – 8
Elections were held for positions on the Christian Education Committee. Mr. Bruce Stahl (St. Louis) prayed for the committee.
Elections were held for the Committee on Foreign Missions. Dr. John Jambura (Presbytery of the Northwest) prayed for the work of the committee.
After a brief break, we returned to the singing of “It is Well with My Soul.” The elections were completed and Mr. Archibald Allison (Presbytery of the Dakotas) prayed for the work of the assembly.
The fraternal delegate from the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the Rev. Lee A. Shelnutt, was introduced and addressed the assembly. They have 10 presbyteries with around 35,000 members and mission works around the world, including Pakistan for over 100 years. Soon they will go to Spain. Challenges abound in Pakistan, but the ARP is grateful for the opportunity to minister there. Its daughter Synod in the Islamic country is approximately 3 times its own size. Also, they continue to work through issues concerning Erskine College and Seminary in South Carolina. Mr. Bube prayed for the work of the ARPC.
Elections were held for the Committee on Christian Education. Mr. Randy Berquist (Northwest) prayed for the work of the Committee.
The purposes of the Committee are to recommend to the General Assembly a combined budget for the three program committees (Christian Education, Foreign Missions, and Home Missions and Church Extension) for the succeeding year to help the church maximize the use of its resources for the fulfillment of its tasks, to support the ministry of the pastors and sessions in their responsibilities to teach and encourage the practice of biblical stewardship in the church, and to help coordinate the promotion of the work of the three program committees in the development of support for their work.
Mr. Paul Tavares presented the work of the committee. Mr. Tavares reminded the assembly that the members in the pew play a vital role in the work of World Wide Outreach (WWO).
Mr. David Haney, director of finance and planned giving, presented the financial picture of WWO. Budget goals for 2012 were nearly met. He noted that the 2012 Thank Offering was the largest in the history of the OPC. He also noted that a significant gift received earlier this year has placed the WWO program in strong financial shape for 2013. Mr. Haney noted that each committee continues to use reserve funds which have been accumulated through bequests to supplement the work of their committees. Lastly, Mr. Haney noted that the work of implementing new denominational database software continues.
The advisory committee reported that it met with the Committee on Coordination and commends its work and faithful administration.
The committee recommended a World Wide Outreach budget which was approved.
There was an election for the committee.
The assembly recessed at 5:15 PM with prayer. After supper the commissioners enjoyed a free evening.
How do commissioners spend their free time during GA? The answer is “fellowship.” Some watch sports and talk about their favorite teams. Others discuss their congregations, or try to encourage and counsel younger ministers struggling with some aspects of their ministries. Lots of good natured kidding goes on between old and new friends. In every way the love of co-labourers abounds; this is how we rest and re-energize. One cannot leave such an assembly and fellowship un-encouraged. Pray for the commissioners and for the Lord to use our work and fellowship together for our good and the good of the church.
The assembly was gaveled to order by the moderator at 8:31 a.m. with the singing of “And Can It Be.”
This is what the committee says of itself: “Jesus is the Church’s ultimate comfort and strength, and often He uses His people as the channel for His mercy and love. What a privilege it is for the Church, in Jesus’ Name, to lift one’s heavy load of care, to meet a practical need, to express the kindness and goodness of God, and to relieve the widow’s distress. The Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM) on behalf of the OPC ministers Jesus’ compassion to individuals and to congregations in this nation and throughout the world. This is the CDM’s report on the opportunities the Lord has given us to demonstrate His tender mercies to many in this past year.”
David Haney presented the work of the committee and explained how the committee, in 2012, felt that they could better address the many opportunities they faced through the establishment of subcommittees. The committee set up a Missionary Deacon Oversight subcommittee. The missionary deacons receive encouragement and counsel from this committee. This committee will also fund the work of new missionary deacons.
Other committees include Retired Ministers and Widows Committee (supports those who have retired, using an “Obadiah Fund” to make sure they are cared for, helping ministers be adequately prepared for retirement), Diaconal Training Committee (plans and runs diaconal summits), and Major Disaster Response Committee (coordinates the Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy disaster response efforts).
David Nakhla presented the work he does on Disaster Response and Short-Term Missions work.
The OPC has sent short-term mission teams to build the Hopps' house and help with VBS in Haiti. OPC short-term volunteers have been used to cover needs in Uganda when missionaries are on furlough. Short-term teams provided help both in Quebec and the Ukraine. Additionally, we have seen a previous short-term missionary to Uganda (Jesse Van Gorkom) become a missionary associate. In 2012, 187 church members representing 71 OPC congregations visited short-term one of the OPC foreign mission fields. More of the same activity is anticipated this year in Haiti, Uganda, and the Czech Republic. A disaster response team will return to Japan and four English Camp teams will go to Quebec. Domestic short-term opportunities are available in Key West Florida and at the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, New Jersey.
Disaster response teams went to Japan to do construction work after the Tsunami. In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey and New York. So faithful have the churches been in responding to the disasters that the line item in the committee’s budget for such disasters has not been used. Over $160,000 has been received for Hurricane Sandy. The PCA, RPCNA, the URCNA and RCJ (Reformed Church of Japan) have all joined with the OPC in its disaster response efforts. There is still a lot of recovery work to be done.
Short-term missions and disaster response opportunities may be accessed through OPCSTM.org and the OPC Disaster Response Facebook page. These opportunities are not just for young people; a recent team of young people to Haiti averaged 49 years of age!
The committee recommended that the General Assembly encourage each presbytery to include in its bylaws and instruments a statement that the phrase “free from worldly care and employment” in a ministerial call should be determined by (1) taking into consideration the terms indicated in the Salary Guidelines section of the report of the Committee on Home Missions in the latest minutes of the General Assembly; (2) including the family needs of the candidate under consideration; and (3) evaluating the composition and capacity of the congregation to meet these needs in its budget. Mr. Haney noted that often this is only thought about when the call is issued, and the committee suggests that the call be reviewed on a regular basis by the congregation. There was significant discussion about how to deal with the financial situation of men in present calls. Mr. Haney believes there is a significant problem with ministers who are not adequately prepared for retirement or not adequately compensated.
A break was taken at 10 AM and then the Assembly returned to continue the discussion on the recommendation after singing “O Father You are Sovereign” and prayer led by Larry Oldaker (Presbytery of Ohio). After the longest discussion of this assembly thus far, the recommendation passed.
There was a second recommendation: “That the General Assembly request the presbyteries to investigate (on a regular/annual schedule) whether all their ministers have adequate medical and life insurance coverage and retirement provision, including looking into the sufficiency of co-pay and other alternatives.” This passed.
The committee recommended as well that the assembly request churches to contribute $25 per member to the Diaconal Committee to support the work of the committee. This also passed.
Elections to the committee were held, the Diaconal Committee’s report was concluded, and the Rev. Samuel Bacon (Presbytery of New Jersey) led in prayer for the work of the committee.
Mr. Sawyer introduced the fraternal delegate from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Rev. David J. Reese, who addressed the assembly. Mr. Reese spoke of his appreciation for the OPC and the help OPC teachers and writers gave him in understanding the Reformed faith. He referred to them as mighty men of Israel.
We paused again for the daily devotional time and the Rev. Zachary Keele encouraged us from 2 Corinthians 2:12–17. Paul was honest about his sufferings. His critics used this to accuse him of not being a true apostle. So Paul shows how our sufferings are part of our ministry and how we should respond. Macedonia was a place of suffering, a car wreck he walked away from. He viewed himself as God’s captive being led to die in order to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. Roman captives being led in the victory procession would smell of defeat. But as Paul was led to death the world smelled the aroma of Christ’s death and the Gospel on him. Through suffering we obtain the victory. We bear the aroma of Christ and the Gospel. Who has the sufficiency, the courage to go through this? No one! But the strength is found in Christ, in union with Christ.
The assembly then broke for lunch with prayer and returned singing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
Mr. Sawyer introduced fraternal delegate Dr. Takanori Kobayashi from the Presbyterian Church of Japan (PCJ), which was established through the work of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1956. Dr. Kobayashi expressed thanks for the help rendered by our disaster response team during the aftermath of the earthquakes and tsunami of 2011, and touched all of us by extending his sympathy to those who have suffered from Hurricane Sandy and the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. He then humorously remarked that his excitement at being the General Assembly was like that of a child who is meeting his favorite cartoon characters! He referenced the Westminster Divines of the 20th Century, meaning Machen and the founding professors of Westminster Seminary as the OPC leaders to whom his ministry have been most indebted. The PCJ Seminary is committed to the Westminster Standards. He expressed thanks for the hard work of our missionaries, mentioning them all by name, and for the disaster response short term missionaries. He requested prayer for the church in Japan which suffers, with the rest of Japan, from an aging population, and additionally from aging ministers and professors. There is a great need, he said, for outreach to youth, foreign nationals living in Japan, and more missionaries.
In calling a pastor, the local church ordinarily promises to provide for him so as to keep him “free from worldly care.” The primary responsibility assigned to the Committee on Pensions is to assist the church to do that for its pastors into the years of retirement. Specifically, the Committee provides a pension plan for the ministers of the OPC (and also for full-time employees). The committee also provides a group life insurance plan for the ministers, officers and full-time employees of the church and their families. Finally, the committee makes supplemental payments to certain ministers with inadequate pensions. The Committee on Pensions endeavors to assist the churches in providing for the welfare and retirement needs of ordained officers and full-time employees of the Orthodox Presbyterian churches and committees through these programs.
Mr. Roger Huibregtse, president of the committee, presented the work of the committee. The committee has been involved in two new activities: engaged the Concord Advisory Group to consult on the pension plan. They have 24 years’ experience with religious groups, and they invest in socially responsible companies. The bottom line is that the committee is working to invest pension investments in as biblically responsible a way as possible. That is important because they are working with $25,000,000 in investments. In 1962 they had $8,187! Currently 263 are drawing from the Pension fund, including widows.
They also are working now with the Committee on Diaconal Ministries for coordinating care for retired ministers who do not have adequate retirement plans.
The committee business being concluded, there were elections to the committee and Mr. Bacon led in prayer for the Committee.
This committee is concerned with entering into and maintaining cordial and close relations with other churches in this country and around the world in accordance with the desires expressed in Psalm 67.
Tony Curto presented the work of the committee and spoke of his work on the committee as having a taste of glory as he visits in Africa or Europe and has fellowship with believers of every tribe and tongue. “These are the things the Lord is doing!” He introduced the CEIR administrator, Jack Sawyer.
To appreciate the wide ranging and important work of this Committee, one might wish to look at the list of churches with whom the OPC maintains formal relations, and the ecumenical organizations to which the OPC belongs.
To appreciate the profound work of this committee, look at the list of churches and Reformed Ecumenical councils with which the OPC is involved: http://www.opc.org/relations/links.html
FELLOWSHIP WITH CHURCHES IN NORTH AMERICA
Churches in Ecclesiastical Fellowship in North America (Very Close Friends; we are trying to build trust and share resources with one another)
Other Churches in North America
FELLOWSHIP WITH CHURCHES ABROAD
Pray about these relationships. The CEIR, on behalf of the General Assembly, seeks to foster deeper unity with all these churches through one-on-one contacts and through the ICRC and NAPARC. The goal is to work out the unity we share in Christ as expressed in the Reformed confessions and church polity, the building of trust that leads to shared ministry, shared material and personnel resources, and if possible, ultimately organizational unity.
Mr. Sawyer reminded us of a wonderful moment several years ago when the Presbyterian Church of Brazil fraternal delegate said, “We look you in your eyes and we see in you our mother.” His meaning was that the OPC, in their view, represents the legitimate continuation of the church which sent the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil as a missionary to that country over 150 years ago. His name was Ashbel Green Simenton, and he was a student of Charles Hodge at Princeton Seminary.
Mr. Bube spoke for the CEIR of his work with the ICRC and NAPARC committee's of review. Both organizations are in the process of self-evaluation with a view to facilitating deeper unity, and co-operative ministry among the member churches.
This committee exists to seek resolution of disputes over policy and judicial decisions when they are appealed from sessions and presbyteries. The details of the sole appeal this year are important to those who have appealed but to post these and the decision of the assembly might be unhelpful to the pastoral care of those involved. They will therefore not be posted.
Any member has a right to appeal a decision of a judicatory, up to the general assembly, and have complaints resolved at the highest level necessary to bring satisfaction. But if, in any case, the decision is not what was hoped for by the appellant or the judicatory, if the decision is made by the general assembly, its decision is final.
At 5:15 PM, the assembly recessed for the night to allow us to prepare for worship tomorrow at area OPCs.
On Sunday morning the commissioners and their families boarded vans and cars to worship at “local” OPCs: Delta Oaks (Pittsburg), Covenant (Berkeley), First (San Francisco), New Covenant (South San Francisco), Covenant (San Jose), Covenant (Monterey Bay), Trinity (Novato), and First (Sunnyvale). The 60–90 minute rides provided more time for fellowship. Some congregations had invited OP missionaries, committee general secretaries and commissioners as guest preachers. It was so good to meet and worship together with members of our sister churches. Each congregation provided a delicious lunch afterward. Some of the caravans took scenic routes back to the college.
At 6:30 p.m. the Berkeley congregation hosted a joint worship service for area OPCs and commissioners at the college and 347 were in attendance. The Rev. Wayne Forkner led the service and the Rev. Jeffery Landis preached on "Our Glorious Lord" from Revelation 1:9–20. The Rev. Michael Dengerink presided at the Lord's supper. As is our custom, an offering was received for Worldwide Outreach and $3,560.50 was given.
The assembly was reconvened by Moderator Jeff Landis at 8:30 AM with the singing of “Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee” and prayer by Mr. Allen Harris (Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic).
The Appeals and Complaints Committee finished its report and elections were held. Mr. Tarullo prayed for the work of the Committee.
There was a break at 10:00 AM for the annual group picture, and these and others will be posted online. After coffee we returned, singing “To God be the Glory,” and the Rev. Reid Hankins (Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada) led us in prayer.
Fraternal delegate Rev. Adam Kaloostian from the United Reformed Churches in North America greeted us. He expressed gratitude for the influence of the OPC in his life. He reported on the relationship of URCNA with the Canadian Reformed Church with whom they are seeking eventual merger. He stated the belief of his denomination that federations of true churches should seek visible and organic unity where it is possible to do so. They want more unity with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He expressed his love for the joint Psalter-hymnal project. Mr. John Muether prayed for the United Reformed Churches in North America.
These are requests from a presbytery for changes in policies or in the Form of Government or for some other action by the assembly.
Overture 1 was considered first:
The Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York overtures the 80th (2013) General Assembly to propose to the presbyteries the following amendment to chapter 21 of the Form of Government, i.e. “Licensing Candidates to Preach the Gospel”, section 4: That the three references to theology in this section be changed to the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The effect the Presbytery desired was to more clearly differentiate this exam from the theology exam required for ordination, and by clearly stating what would be covered to encourage men under care to complete licensure and be eligible to test their preaching gifts at an earlier time.
The Advisory Committee recommended this overture not be adopted, because it does not seem to do what it proposes to do and it limits the range of questions that would be asked to determine the candidates’ qualifications for licensure.
At the appointed time the assembly suspended debate for its daily time of devotions to sing “Children of the Heavenly Father” and to be led by the Rev. Alan Story who encouraged us from Romans 8:28 from which he has taken comfort after the death of his wife on December 29, 2012. Three doctrines: (1) God is sovereign over all things; (2) Nothing is ruled by chance or occurs by accident, wicked men do not control us or our circumstances; (3) all is controlled by the sovereign hand of God. God’s sovereign decree displays God’s love to his people; they benefit us expressing his love in all of them. Good here may be painful! Good is broader than the things that make us smile. It takes into account the spiritual things. This passage is about a relationship we have to God, and so the good Christians receive in God’s every providence is covenantal, the relational fruit of God’s purpose in his sending his Son so that it is his purpose in not sparing his Son but delivering him up for us all. This is the good that gives us comfort—knowing that God is there.
We broke for lunch with prayer and returned singing, “Now Blessed Be the Lord Our God” and were led in prayer by Jerold Barnett (Presbytery of the Central United States).
Debate on Overture 1 continued, and after extensive debate the overture was referred to the Committee on Christian Education, which will report and make recommendations, if any, to the 81st GA.
Overture 2 asked for communication of concerns to a PCA presbytery about the view of one of its ministers. The overture was not adopted.
The Rev. Robert Needham presented the work of this committee which has oversight of OPC ministers who serve as chaplains. When Christ ministered to the centurion in Matthew 8, he did not counsel him to leave the military. He had a heart to minister to the military, and so should we. Congregations are encouraged to sponsor individual chaplains. Mr. Needham noted that chaplains continue to have the freedom to pray in the name of Jesus—although he acknowledged that there may be an occasional officer who brings pressure not to do so.
The 80th General Assembly called for a day of prayer in the churches of the OPC for the spiritual and physical welfare and the release of prisoner-of-war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, USA, a non-communicant member of the church, on the fourth anniversary of his capture, 30 June 2013, and for God’s sustaining grace for both him and his family during this trial.
Mr. Marquis prayed for the work of the Committee.
After our break we sang “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord,” and Mr. Michael Dengerink (Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada) prayed.
Mr. Sawyer introducing fraternal delegate Rev. Kurt Vetterli of the Evangelical Reformed Church, Westminster Confession from Basel which has five congregations, three in Austria and two in Switzerland. He told us he considers himself an OPCer. He pastors a small congregation of 10 persons. He said they are just beginning. He is concerned about the increasing influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Austria and liberal evangelicalism in Switzerland.
Mr. John Muether reported on his work as the OPC’s Historian (Psalm 78:1–8).
The Rev. Brenton C. Ferry presented the work of the Committee for the Historian and spoke of some of the books sold by the Committee and of the reason for the Committee’s existence. History is our conscience, and the committee is committed to preserving our heritage and making it available to new generations of ministers.
After elections Mr. Sallade (Presbytery of Philadelphia) prayed for the work of the Committee and the historian.
Other committees erected for special purposes also reported: Visitation Committees and Committees to examine the minutes of presbyteries and standing committees.
The Committee on Arrangements made its final report. Budgets for GA purposes were approved and a resolution of thanks to St. Mary’s College was adopted. Unfinished business was concluded by 8:15 PM and the assembly was dissolved by moderator Landis, who called for the 81st General Assembly to meet at Kuyper College, Grand Rapids, Michigan on June 4–10, 2014.
This Assembly ended 1/2 day early and it is the third year in a row that the GA has ended ahead of schedule. In anticipation of this possibility several sight-seeing opportunities were planned for Tuesday for those commissioners who won't fly home until Wednesday.
This report was written by the Rev. Arthur J. Fox, pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Middletown, Pennsylvania.
Go to top