What We Believe
i

God’s Faithfulness in Affliction

Danny E. Olinger

New Horizons: August 2021

Report on the 87th General Assembly

Also in this issue

Questioning Self-Definition

Fraternal Address to the PCA General Assembly

The theme that permeated the Eighty-Seventh General Assembly—the faithfulness of God in affliction—was put forth at the opening worship service with the sermon of Claude Taylor, pastor at New Hope Presbyterian in Bridgeton, New Jersey. In his first words, Mr. Taylor told those gathered how he came to have this great privilege. He was standing in the place of his longtime friend and New Hope Church ruling elder David Haney, moderator of the Eighty-Sixth General Assembly, who had died and gone to be with the Lord. Mr. Taylor preached on 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

In the week that followed, testimony abounded from pastors, ruling elders, and committee representatives of God’s goodness during the pandemic. When the commissioners gathered for worship on the Lord’s Day, David VanDrunen preached from Psalm 119:65–80 on God’s goodness and faithfulness in affliction. Then, in the evening worship service that same Lord’s Day, Bruce Hollister told those gathered that, in the providence of God, he had prepared a sermon on 2 Corinthians 4, the same text as Mr. Taylor. Mr. Hollister rejoiced that the message of life out of death once more would be proclaimed.

Remembering David Haney

Before the election of the new moderator, Danny Olinger and David Nakhla presented a pictorial remembrance to the praise of God for Mr. Haney’s thirty years of service in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Mr. Olinger remarked that sixty-four years earlier, a young Orthodox Presbyterian from Bridgeton, Mr. Haney’s father, George, had traveled to Iowa to serve as pastor of First OPC of Waterloo, Iowa. There George Haney met and married Grace Vanden Bosch, the younger sister of the local Christian Reformed pastor. What a blessing it was for George and Grace to see the covenant faithfulness of God as David grew into a young man who wanted to serve Christ and his church. When the opportunity arose for Mr. Haney to leave a successful career to work for the Committee on Coordination, he gladly accepted it. Mr. Nakhla spoke about Mr. Haney’s pivotal role in mercy ministries, including OPC disaster relief. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Mr. Haney not only organized the OPC’s response but also participated in some way with eleven different teams in Mississippi and Louisiana. He also witnessed to Mr. Haney’s love for his wife, Becky, his children, Lauren, Shelly, and Scott, and his grandchildren.

After the presentation finished, acting moderator John Van Meerbeke addressed Becky and her family via Zoom on behalf of the assembly and assured her of the prayers of the commissioners.

A Representative Body and the Moderator

Since 1975, the OPC has operated with a representative assembly that is capped at one hundred and fifty ministers and ruling elders. Each of the sixteen presbyteries can send a certain percentage of its presbyters to the assembly. The range this year varied from the Presbytery of the Midwest sending eleven ministers and seven ruling elders to the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York sending two minister and one ruling elder.

Around two-thirds of the commissioners this year did not attend the previous assembly. Sometimes new commissioners can get up to speed on why an assembly is at a particular point in its consideration of a matter. Other times it is a struggle.

That is why it is always important to elect a moderator who can help the assembly move steadily through its business without sacrificing needed deliberation for the sake of efficiency. The assembly elected such a man for moderator in Zachary Keele, pastor of Escondido OPC in Escondido, California.

Mr. Keele’s calm demeanor and godly wisdom helped to guide the assembly through forty-three hours of business that included a record number of complaints on appeal (nine) and appeals in judicial cases (four) in the pursuit of the peace, purity, and unity of the church.

OPC Membership

Statistician Luke Brown reported that membership in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church grew during 2020 by 291 persons to 31,809. This total membership consists of 570 ministers, 23,304 communicant members, and 7,935 baptized children (non-communicant). There are 1,092 ruling elders and 930 deacons.

At year end, there were 290 local churches and 38 mission works. Eight congregations were organized as new and separate churches from mission works: The Haven OPC, Deer Park, NY; Christ Covenant, Crystal Lake, IL; Pleasant Mountain, Bridgton, ME; Providence, West Lebanon, NH; Emmanuel, Colville, WA; Firelands Grace OPC, Sandusky, OH; Wolf River, Collierville, TN; and, Providence, Cumming, GA.

Largely due to COVID-19 restrictions, both morning worship attendance (-21.6 percent) and Sunday school attendance (-61.6) dropped dramatically. At the same time, however, total offerings increased 3.31 percent as members gave $67.6 million. Seventy-eight percent of the giving, $52.6 million, was spent on local church expenses. Thirteen percent of the giving, $8.9 million, was designated for benevolence offerings to missions, outreach, and diaconal ministry. Nine percent of the giving, $6.1 million, was used for capital improvements.

Christian Education

The first program committee to report was that of Christian Education. General Secretary Danny Olinger thanked the assembly for the prayers that have poured out on his behalf during his recovery from COVID-19. Mr. Olinger announced that in 2020—despite the pandemic—the CCE was able to co-sponsor thirty-one ministerial internships in which the committee provided a record-high $344,436 to local OP congregations.

Special note was also made of the service of Mark Lowrey, interim executive director of Great Commission Publications, in helping to keep GCP afloat during a time when most churches did not hold Sunday school classes.

Home Missions

Home Missions General Secretary John Shaw praised God for his faithfulness during the recent pandemic. Mr. Shaw reported that the Lord—faithful, sovereign, and good to his church—provided abundantly during this period. Five new mission works began receiving aid and four new regional home missionaries were added (Bradley Peppo, Presbytery of Ohio; Bruce Hollister, Presbytery of the Midwest; David Chilton, Presbytery of the South; and Christopher Hartshorn, Presbytery of Southern California). The committee also announced the publication of its newest evangelistic tract, What Is Truth? by Eric Watkins.

Foreign Missions

Quoting J. Gresham Machen, “The truly penitent man glories in the supernatural, for he knows that nothing natural would meet his need,” General Secretary Mark Bube stated that it is the goal of the Committee of Foreign Missions to advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom by taking the Word of God to the nations. Currently, there are seven active fields: Asia, East Africa, Haiti, Uganda, Quebec, Uruguay, and the Ukraine. Mr. Bube stated the highest priorities for the upcoming year are finding evangelists for Mbale and Karamoja, Uganda; Haiti; and Uruguay. He urged the commissioners to consider whether Christ’s Spirit might be inclining their hearts to consider foreign missionary service.

At the end of the report, it was announced that Richard Gaffin Jr. would not be seeking reelection to the committee. Mr. Bube praised the Lord for Mr. Gaffin’s calm, godly, and Christ-centered service to his Savior during his unprecedented fifty-two years of continuous service on the committee. Lord willing, the committee is seeking to honor Mr. Gaffin at the Eighty-Eighth (2022) General Assembly scheduled to be held on the campus of Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.

Diaconal Ministries

David Nakhla, administrator of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries, proclaimed that the ministry of mercy at the local, regional, and national level is a tangible expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. During the worldwide pandemic, deacons helped sessions to implement measures of safety, to visit shut-ins, and to extend funds to needy families. In 2020, donations totaling seventy-five thousand dollars were given to the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Fund. The majority of the fund has been used to help sister churches and ministries around the world, including twenty thousand dollars for Kenya and ten thousand dollars for Haiti.

A video was presented showing the response to the Midland, Michigan, flood in spring 2020, which ruined the homes of two OPC families. The video showed the efforts of over one hundred OPC volunteers in rebuilding the homes, and the joyful appreciation of the families.

Ministerial Care

Director of Ministerial Care John Fikkert shared that through phone, email, and Zoom, he had been able during the pandemic to field inquiries regarding the OPC 403(b) retirement plan, financial planning, counseling resources, and more. All ministers and full-time employees of the OPC or its congregations are eligible for participation in the plan. Approximately 46 percent of participants in the 403(b) plan are under the age of fifty-two.

Gregory De Jong presented the challenges of finding a firm that could provide financial planning assistance for ministers. Thankfully, a firm has been found, but the committee is first running a pilot program with a few ministers. If the pilot program goes well, the committee plans to announce the firm and make its services available at the end of the year.

Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations

The assembly passed the recommendation of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations to propose to the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) should be suspended from the ICRC. The RCN recently acted to permit the ordination of persons to the offices of minister and ruling elder contrary to Scripture. The committee noted that the constitutional process that a proposal to suspend or terminate a member church of the ICRC requires the initiation of another major assembly of a member church. The assembly also sought to encourage the RCN to restore the doctrine and practice of its church to be in agreement with the Holy Scriptures.

Chaplains and Military Personnel

Chairman Richard Dickinson reported that many chaplains were disappointed that they were prohibited from holding worship services and interacting with others during the pandemic. There are seven OPC chaplains serving on active duty: John Carter, David DeRienzo, Daniel Halley, Joshua Jackson, Cornelius Johnson, Stephen Roberts, and Jeffrey Shamess. There are also eight men serving in active reserves or National Guard and nine men serving as civilian chaplains.

Historian

After twenty-two years of distinguished service as Acting Historian and Historian, John Muether, ruling elder at Reformation OPC, Oviedo, Florida, retired. Under Mr. Muether’s leadership, such books as Confident of Better Things: Essays Commemorating Seventy-Five Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (2011), Between the Times: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Transition, 1945–1990 (2011), Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (2016), and For Me to Live Is Christ: The Life of Edward J. Young (2017) were produced. Mr. Muether also authored Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (2008) and helped to oversee the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary celebration of the OPC in 2011. 

The assembly then followed the recommendation of the Committee for the Historian and elected Camden Bucey, minister from the Presbytery of the Midwest, as Historian.

The Committee for the Historian also recognized the extraordinary service of commissioners Stephen Phillips, George Cottenden, and John Mahaffy. The assembly marked the fiftieth time that Mr. Phillips served as a commissioner, the forty-ninth time for Mr. Cottenden, and the thirty-sixth time for Mr. Mahaffy.

Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards

The Eighty-Fifth (2018) General Assembly erected a Special Committee on Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards. Chairman David Noe reported that the committee had been at work the last three years with the understanding that the Eighty-Fifth General Assembly had authorized the committee to “propose specific linguistic changes” to the Westminster Standards. He stated that the committee’s understanding is that, when it submits its final report at a future assembly with recommendations, its purpose will be fulfilled. That is, if a future assembly believes in light of the committee’s final report that there are changes that are worthy of consideration, then that assembly will establish a new committee.

The committee shared a draft work of its suggested morphological (120), archaic (27), and other changes (23) to the Confession of Faith. The assembly approved the committee’s request that it be continued with the same mandate for another two years with the goal of bringing its final report to the Eighty-Ninth General Assembly.

Judicial Appeals

The two-year gap between assemblies because of the pandemic helped to create an unprecedented number of matters, thirteen, to be adjudicated. Two advisory committees on Appeals and Complaints were created and an extra day was added to the docket of this assembly so that all the appeals could be heard.

During the question-and-answer period of one appeal, a collie entered the doors and approached a speaker. As individuals sought to herd the dog out, the moderator commented that their efforts were appropriate because “it didn’t have the privilege of the floor.”

Of particular presbyterian polity interest, the assembly heard a complaint on appeal from some members of the Presbytery of the Northwest that concerned whether a complaint may be brought by one session against another session in another presbytery. The assembly sustained the complaint, meaning a session could bring such a complaint. However, the assembly denied the complaint on appeal by the same members of the Presbytery of the Northwest regarding the ability of ministerial advisors to vote in matters pertaining to an appeal of complaints against the session they are advising.

The assembly also sustained a complaint against the Presbytery of the Southeast where a minister was permitted to defend himself in a judicial trial by using language that the presbytery had previously determined to be an offense. The assembly passed amends that the presbytery acknowledge its error in allowing the minister to use reviling language and to communicate this to OPC members Aimee Byrd and Rachel Miller so as to preserve their good names.

A New Presbytery

The assembly adopted the overture of the Presbytery of the Midwest to divide the presbytery into two separate regional churches. The new Presbytery of Wisconsin and Minnesota will include the geographical region within those two states and the upper peninsula of the state of Michigan. The Presbytery of the Midwest will include the states of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska.

Day of Prayer and Fasting

As the assembly was nearing its close, it called for a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, August 21, 2021, “that the whole church may pray as one people, and call upon the Lord with one voice, that we might lament our distress and unworthiness before the Lord, confess our sin, and commit ourselves anew to the faithful service of the Lord our God; that we humbly implore God to send seasons of refreshment, pour His Spirit of wisdom upon us, and draw multitudes to the hope of the gospel by granting faith and repentance unto life.”   

The author is editor of New Horizons. New Horizons, August-September 2021.

New Horizons: August 2021

Report on the 87th General Assembly

Also in this issue

Questioning Self-Definition

Fraternal Address to the PCA General Assembly

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