What We Believe

Report on the Eighty-Eighth General Assembly

Danny E. Olinger

On June 8, the Eighty-Eighth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church convened on the campus of Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. It marked the first time in thirty-six years for the assembly to meet in the Philadelphia area, the Fifty-Third (1986) General Assembly having met on the same campus. The assembly elected Mr. David Nakhla, ruling elder at Calvary OPC, Glenside, Pennsylvania, as moderator. In leading up to the assembly, Mr. Nakhla had visited Eastern Europe as the OPC Disaster Response Coordinator (see July New Horizons) and participated in the Diaconal Summit in Chicago (see here). His servant leadership was acknowledged by the assembly in the election, and with his steady hand and patient demeanor he proved to be a wise choice.

This was particularly evident when the assembly reconvened in the early afternoon of June 9 and Mr. Nakhla as moderator was called upon to make a sobering announcement. Earlier that morning, representatives of the Conferencing Office of Eastern University informed the Committee on General Assembly Arrangements that they had received reports from students and staff of four incidents of racially disparaging interactions with individuals associated with the OPC’s general assembly. After describing what had been reported, Mr. Nakhla informed the assembly that Eastern University had stated that any further reported incidents would bring about the immediate removal of the assembly from the campus. Mr. Nakhla then announced that the assembly would stay in recess for the rest of the afternoon, requested that the commissioners commit themselves to a season of prayer, and encouraged any with knowledge of the incidents to come forward.

The next day, during the morning session, the assembly passed the following statement of regret and sorrow without dissent.

The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly. There is no place in the church for such conduct.

The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God. Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people. In keeping with the law of God and the right order of the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Eastern University to confront offender(s) and to seek reconciliation.

The Committee on Arrangements then met with the Eastern University conference staff during lunch, expressed the assembly’s sorrow and regret for the incidents, and read the statement the assembly had adopted. Eastern was thankful for the seriousness with which the assembly took this matter, along with the assembly’s wholehearted and swift response. They considered the matter closed as long as no further incidents occurred.

Four days later, on the concluding day of the assembly, Mr. Nakhla updated the body about the incidents regarding reported racism on the campus. The first two incidents were confirmed to be an inappropriate attempt at humor by a commissioner.

Mr. Nakhla then reported that the person responsible for the reported third incident and most egregious statement was determined not to be an OPC commissioner, since, according to Eastern University, the one reported to have used the offensive language had not been seen on the campus since the incident. The final incident was due to a commissioner’s confusion as to whether an area of the cafeteria was self-serve or not.

Said Hank Belfield, Stated Clerk, after the closing of the assembly, “We all have been humbled and dismayed by these incidents. But we give thanks to God for the resolution that was reached with members of the EU community before our assembly adjourned, as well as the opportunity it gives us to reflect and learn from the experience.” Belfield also asked for prayer for the “ongoing efforts being made to work toward personal reconciliation with those individuals who were hurt.”

Mr. Nakhla expressed his thanksgiving for the faithful and diligent labor of the members of the Committee on Arrangements, who “striv[ed] tirelessly to seek to restore the trust that was lost in the midst of reports of hurtful conduct and speech. The Lord blessed those efforts with favor and appreciation from our hosts, who were encouraged to see the OPC take the allegations so seriously and strive for answers and reconciliation where possible.”

Nakhla also praised God for his grace to him personally—“I have never before in my life learned of so many people praying for me and felt buoyed by those prayers in a supernatural way.” He rejoiced “to see the assembly rally together toward the cause of restoring the honor of Christ and the dignity of his image-bearers in the midst of such circumstances.”

Report from the Statistician

When the assembly did take up its business, there was sobriety, but there was also the shared confidence that Jesus Christ was with his church and would lead his church. Among the first reports was that of the Statistician, Mr. Luke Brown. The report revealed that much had changed in the OPC during the thirty-six years between visits to Eastern University. In 1986, the OPC had 18,183 members on its rolls in 195 churches and chapels located in 10 presbyteries. In the providence of God, in 2022 the OPC has grown to 32,255 members on its rolls in 334 churches and mission works in 17 presbyteries.

The change was even more drastic in regard to the make-up of the assemblies. In 1986, commissioners Lawrence Eyres, Everett DeVelde, Edward Kellogg, Robert Graham, David Neilands, Robert Vining, Henry Coray, Dwight Poundstone, and John Galbraith had either studied under J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Seminary or joined with him in 1936 as founding members of the Presbyterian Church of America (later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). Now, in 2022, approximately a third of the commissioners had been ordained during the past decade. Twenty-six commissioners were attending their first assembly.

Recognition of Service

But what had not changed was the presence of a particular servant-leader in the church, Mr. Mark Bube. In 1986, Mr. Bube, then a ruling elder at First OPC in Portland, Oregon, was a second-time commissioner to the assembly. Four years later, he would be called to serve as the General Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions, a position that he held with distinction until his retirement at this assembly. On Saturday, the assembly recognized Mr. Bube’s service, and that of his wife of forty-nine years, Kathleen, with a video tribute from OPC missionaries past and present expressing their thanksgiving for the Bubes’ service. Mr. Douglas Clawson, the new General Secretary, declared that no adequate words could express his thanksgiving and love for Mr. Bube: “On the one hand, we have stayed in some dismal places, eaten nearly inedible food, been sick with viruses, and had our freedom and lives threatened together. On the other hand, we have witnessed together the power of Christ to raise the dead, transform lives, and use his church to reveal his glory.” OPC missionary L. Anthony Curto said of his friend, “In April 1993, I sat down by Mark to eat a peanut butter sandwich in Tijuana, Mexico. In just a few short moments my ministry would take a turn I did not anticipate, and a relationship developed that I have thanked the Lord for continuously ever since.” The “turn” was Mr. Curto heading to Uganda in 1995. Once there, he testified that the Lord used Mr. Bube to mentor, guide, counsel, push, and encourage him through his years of labor, even to the point that he would sit for hours under the phone tree in Karamoja, the only place that he could get a signal, so that he could talk to his beloved brother in the Lord.

During the assembly, praise to the living God was also given for the service of Mr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. Mr. Bube read an appreciation for Mr. Gaffin passed by the Committee on Foreign Missions in light of Mr. Gaffin’s fifty-two years of consecutive service (1969–2021) on that committee. Mr. Danny Olinger, on behalf of the Committee for the Historian, then narrated a picture and home movie tribute to Mr. Gaffin’s service. Mr. John Mahaffy, who served with Mr. Gaffin for thirty-nine years on the Committee on Foreign Missions, said, “Dr. Gaffin invariably moderated meetings of the Committee with an even hand. He was always careful to hear any minority while keeping the Committee on task through its agenda. He modeled servant leadership. But what was central in his leadership was the conviction that the church be faithful in serving the risen Lord.”

Ecumenical Relationships

Ecumenically, the assembly invited the Sudanese Reformed Church and Gereformeerde Kerken Nederland (GKN—Reformed Churches Netherlands) to enter into a relationship of Corresponding Relations. Presently, the Sudanese Reformed Church has about 6,000 members in 16 congregations and 18 preaching stations. The 14 congregations of the Reformed Churches Netherlands have around 1,400 members.

United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) fraternal delegate Mr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed in Washington, DC, stated that the URCNA’s affection for the OPC is wide, deep, and growing. Citing the joint production by the URCNA and OPC of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, he declared that singing together from the same songbook is a great benefit for the common mission of the two churches. Illustrating the point, he said that when his teenage daughter gets to the point of leaving home, “if there is no URC nearby I pray that she would seek next a faithful OPC congregation, and stay within the Reformed family of our churches. Should she do so, I think that singing out of the songbook she grew up with will help keep her in this fold of confessionally Reformed Christianity.” He also said that the URCNA Synod, which met concurrently with the General Assembly in 2018 in Wheaton, Illinois, would be delighted to do so again. He encouraged the ecumenical committees of the respective churches to work together to that end, perhaps as soon as 2024.

Considering Overtures and Other Business

On the Lord’s Day morning of June 12, commissioners worshiped in local OPC congregations. That evening, a worship service conducted by the session of Calvary OPC, Glenside, was held for the assembly. Calvary pastor J. Mark Sallade preached on Acts 8:26–40, “Jesus Gathers the Outcasts.”

On Monday morning, the assembly entered into debate regarding Overture 1, which sought the amending of membership and baptismal vows. The assembly divided the question and passed the amending of the second membership vow and the adding of a new third vow. The new vow, if approved by a majority of the presbyteries, would read, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God the Son come in the flesh, who for us and for our salvation lived and died, rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again to judge the living and the dead?”

The assembly did not pass the amendment to the baptismal vow.

The assembly then moved to consideration of Overture 2. In response, the assembly formed a Special Committee to Help Equip Officers to Protect the Flock, which was tasked with the duty to collect, study, and develop resources to equip the officers of the church to protect members from sexual predators and domestic violence.

On Tuesday, the assembly hurried to complete its business in a timely manner. This included approval of standing committee records, the sustaining of an appeal of complaint, the presentation and consideration of another appeal, the approval of the general assembly operating budget for 2023, multiple elections, the continuing of the Special Committee on Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards, and a resolution of thanks. It was also announced in closing that the Eighty-Ninth (2023) General Assembly would be held at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, starting on June 7 and ending no later than noon on June 13.

The author is editor of New Horizons and General Secretary for the Committee on Christian Education. New Horizons, August 2022.

New Horizons: August 2022

Diaconal Summit IV

Also in this issue

Godliness, Good Sense, and the Heart of a Servant: Diaconal Summit IV

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