The 89th General Assembly, the Kingdom of God, and You

Jeffrey M. Scott

New Horizons: August 2023

The 89th GA

Also in this issue

Music and Worship

When I told the dear saints of my congregation that I would be gone for a week attending the OPC General Assembly, some of them probably wondered what a “general assembly” even is. Not a few of our members and attendees have come from independent, nondenominational congregations that do not have substantial connections to other churches, let alone the regional churches, presbyteries, and general assembly to which OPC officers and churches willingly submit themselves. And most of the members of OP churches will never have opportunity to attend one of our annual general assemblies. It was these brothers and sisters I was thinking about as the moderator of the Eighty-Eighth General Assembly, elder David Nakhla (Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania), called the Eighty-Ninth Assembly to order and welcomed Rev. Lendall Smith to lead the body in the worship of God. When I got home, how would I answer their questions about what this general assembly is that took their pastor away for a week, what happened when we met, and why it should matter to them?

The answers to those questions were framed for me in the first few minutes of the opening worship service of the assembly as the body sang “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing” and recited in unison the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed. In that moment, the Ozinga Chapel on the campus of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, was filled with what seemed like ten thousand voices, all joyfully trumpeting the praises and promises of our triune God. I thought, surely this is not unlike what the Apostle John heard from heaven when the 144,000 sang a new song before the throne of God and of the Lamb. It was “like the voice of many waters” (Rev. 14:2) and a reminder that, by virtue of Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and the pouring out of his Spirit upon the church, the kingdom of God is present today. This is manifested in the church and her members, who cheerfully surrender themselves to the worship and service of Christ the King.

No doubt the acoustics of the room and the exuberance of commissioners, not yet wearied by the work that lay ahead, had something to do with creating this heavenly atmosphere. I’ve participated in equally sublime times of worship in our local church. But it did get me thinking about how the general assembly manifests the kingdom of God in either ways or degrees that we don’t ordinarily experience in the local church. It is my hope that, by telling you about how the presence of the kingdom of God was manifested in the business of the Eighty-Ninth General Assembly, you will better understand not only what our general assemblies are but why they should matter to you.

The Good Order of the Kingdom

One of the first things a person will notice about our general assemblies is the orderliness of the proceedings. This does not come from a legal spirit but rather is meant to display the fact that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33). He desires that “all things be done decently and in order” and for the edification of the whole church (vv. 26, 40).

Long before the assembly began, the Committee on Arrangements, chaired by elder David Mahaffy (Sovereign Grace OPC in Oak Harbor, Washington), was at work coordinating with the host college’s staff, gathering a small army of servant-hearted volunteers from OP churches around the country, and building the technological infrastructure that helped the meeting to run efficiently. Rev. Hank Belfield (Providence OPC in Chilhowie, Virginia), the stated clerk of the general assembly, prepared and sent out the agenda many weeks in advance. This enabled commissioners to formulate intelligent questions from the floor about committee reports and recommendations as well as to make well-formed speeches during times of debate. The stated clerk and his assistant, Rev. John Mahaffy (Trinity OPC in Newberg, Oregon), kept careful record of the actions of the assembly that would be used to communicate its decisions to all our churches.

Rev. John Shaw, the general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, was elected to serve as moderator of the Eighty-Ninth Assembly. It was his responsibility to make sure members of the assembly conducted themselves in a charitable and orderly fashion, which duty he skillfully discharged with wisdom, well-timed humor, patience, and firmness.

The Mercy of the Kingdom

During the assembly’s opening worship service, Mr. Nakhla delivered an impassioned exhortation on Matthew 25:31–46, in which he described how Christ empowers his sheep to hold loosely the things of this world in order to exude a manifold ministry of mercy. One of the implications is that, through the church’s ministry of mercy, Jesus Christ manifests his power, rule, and the presence of his kingdom here on earth.

In addition to the diaconal work of local OP churches, Jesus has empowered members of the OPC to exude an increasingly manifold ministry of mercy around the globe in several ways. As administrator of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM), Mr. Nakhla later reported to the assembly that in 2022, OP churches gave over a million dollars to the CDM’s disaster relief efforts in Ukraine and in Neon, Kentucky. Over 170 volunteers went to clean up and repair the damage done to Neon Reformed Church by the July 2022 flood. Through the work of the CDM, members of the OPC participated in relieving the needs of refugees in Greece and South Sudan and supported the diaconal ministries on our mission fields in East Africa, Ethiopia, Haiti, Uganda, and Uruguay. Notably, at the Akisyon A Yesu (“Compassion of Jesus”) Presbyterian Clinic in Nakaale, Uganda, over eleven thousand souls encountered the presence of God’s kingdom in 2022, while being treated there in Jesus’s name.

Mr. Nakhla also reported on the efforts of the CDM to expand the OPC’s manifold ministry of mercy through its National Diaconal Summits, presbytery Summits, and the newly launched Reformed Deacon podcast at opccdm.org.

Stewardship in God’s Kingdom

In the parable of the talents, Jesus teaches that citizens of the kingdom are expected to faithfully steward the resources the Lord Jesus has given to them (Matt. 25:14–30). If the faithful stewardship of resources is empowered by the gospel of the kingdom, then the reports presented and budgets proposed to the assembly by the trustees of the OPC for the General Assembly Operation Fund and by the Committee on Coordination (COC) for the denomination’s standing committees were wonderful displays of Christ’s presence to rule in his church.

The careful oversight, judicious decision-making, and forward thinking exercised by those who serve our church in these capacities were strikingly illustrated by the representatives of the COC during a question-and-answer time, when one commissioner asked about the safety of our committees’ funds, in light of the recent banking crisis. Both COC controller, Melisa McGinnis, and COC treasurer, elder Keith LeMahieu (Bethel OPC in Oostburg, Wisconsin), gave precise, knowledgeable, and well-reasoned answers to questions about this complex and fluid issue. Mr. LeMahieu also reported that the COC has partnered with the Barnabas Foundation to provide stewardship resources, so that now OPC members can give non-cash assets to the church and its worldwide mission without tax implications, thus maximizing the resources the Lord has provided his people for gospel work.

It also pleases Jesus to bestow honor on servants who have proven faithful (Matt. 25:23). Throughout the assembly, exemplary service to our standing committees by several people was noted, such as that of Judith Dinsmore, Linda Foh, Abby Harting, Tin Ling Lee, and Charlene Tipton. Dozens of volunteers who generously gave their time to serve at the assembly were also acknowledged. The following men were publicly recognized for their long, distinguished, and faithful service: Rev. Mark Lowry (PCA) for twenty-seven years of service to Great Commission Publications; Rev. John Mahaffy for twenty-four years of service as assistant clerk of the assembly; elder David Winslow (Resurrection OPC in Westminster, California) for thirty-four years on the Committee on Christian Education; and the retired Rev. Roger Wagner for fifty years of pastoral ministry. Mr. Wagner asked the assembly for a point of personal privilege to honor his wife, Sherry, who has ministered lovingly at his side. By honoring faithful service, Jesus compels us all to labor for the dominical approbation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Expansion of the Kingdom

Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed that, when it is sown, grows up, spreads out, and becomes exceedingly expansive (Mark 4:30–32). One of the greatest privileges Jesus has bestowed on his church is the task of sowing that gospel seed, so that the kingdom of God expands. The OPC’s Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE) is tasked with assisting presbyteries and congregations to plant new churches as outposts of the kingdom of God.

In his report for the committee, Rev. John Shaw provided encouraging news about the start of eight new church plants in 2022, bringing the total mission works supported in that year to thirty-seven. Seven new works have already started in 2023. In answer to the prayers of God’s people, the Lord has raised up six new regional home missionaries since 2021 to spearhead church-planting efforts in our presbyteries, with at least two more slated to begin their labors this year. Mr. Shaw also gave an update on CHMCE’s developing program for church revitalization, noting how the committee is gathering a list of vetted men to provide mentorship to pastors serving churches in decline.

CHMCE president, Rev. Mark Sallade (Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania), concluded the committee’s report with the announcement that Mr. Shaw will complete his service to the committee on December 31, 2023. After Mr. Sallade read a resolution of thanks to Mr. Shaw for his ten years of distinguished service, the assembly concurred with the committee’s resolution by giving Mr. Shaw a standing ovation. Rev. Jeremiah Montgomery (Covenant OPC in Vandalia, Ohio) was introduced as Mr. Shaw’s successor, drawing the applause of the assembly.          

The report of the Committee on Foreign Missions (CFM) was one of the highlights of the assembly, not only because four of the foreign missionaries the OPC supports were present and gave riveting updates on their work, but because of the plea delivered by CFM general secretary Rev. Douglas Clawson. He began his report by reading Isaiah 6:1–8 and then urgently stated that there are many vacancies on OP mission fields and open doors for others, yet there is not even one ordained minister applicant, presently, who is standing up to say, “Here am I! Send me.” Mr. Clawson implored the commissioners to consider prayerfully if God would have them go. (See “A Need for Missionaries,” page 15.)

In his Friday devotion on Acts 12:20–24, Rev. Matthew Holst (Shiloh OPC in Raleigh, North Carolina) reminded the assembly that “the voice of God will stand over the clamoring voices of men.” The reports received from our foreign missionaries testify to this truth. One of many such examples is from the Nakaale base in the Karamoja region of Uganda, where, Mr. Clawson said, for the first time in twenty years of missionary labor, it appears there are Karimojong men qualified to serve as officers in the church. Some of the children our missionaries ministered to in the early days of the mission are now men, “Timothy Men,” who have spurned the substance abuse and polygamy practiced by their forefathers and are becoming leaders who desire to minister the gospel of the kingdom to their people. Praise the Lord! 

Kingdom Discipleship

In the Great Commission, Jesus Christ called his church to the work of kingdom expansion but also to the discipleship of those who are gathered, so that they learn to live as citizens of the kingdom of God. The OPC’s Committee on Christian Education (CCE) exists to assist local churches to present each member of the body mature in Christ, “both in faith and life,” as Rev. Dr. Craig Troxel, president of the CCE, reminded us. In addition to detailing the efforts the CCE exerts to this noble end (including the production of various publications, Christian education material, and online resources), Rev. Danny Olinger, the general secretary of the CCE, also highlighted the conferences the CCE hosts throughout the year that are designed to encourage young men to consider ordained ministry in the OPC. Mr. Olinger reported that seventeen past attendees of the Timothy Conference have now become ordained ministers of the gospel in the OPC. With the latest expansion of CCE’s ministry through the new podcast, Ruling Elder, church officers are encouraged and equipped to continue laboring to see Christ formed in his people (Gal. 4:19).

The assembly also debated what to do with the fruitful labors of the Special Committee to Update the Language of the Doctrinal Standards. The committee presented to the assembly over thirteen hundred suggested updates to the language of the Westminster Standards, with the goal of making the Standards more accessible to uninitiated disciples. The assembly determined to have the CCE publish by 2025 the proposed changes as a modern English study version for the use of the church.

The Keys of the Kingdom

God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness and justice (Ps. 45:6; 89:14). Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom to ministers and elders, who open the kingdom to the penitent, close it to the proud, and judge all church controversies by the Word of God (Matt. 16:19; 18:18; Acts 15:2). An essential component of biblical justice is the right to appeal (Ex. 18:21–22; Deut. 17:8–11). The general assembly is the highest court of appeal in our church. At this assembly, one complaint came on appeal from a minister of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, and two matters of controversy concerning the OPC’s Book of Discipline, with proposed amendments, were heard and decided. While these cases were not concluded to everyone’s satisfaction, we are, nevertheless, assured by Jesus that he was there in our midst to rule (Matt. 18:20). 

The body also received encouraging reports from two special committees of the assembly that were constituted to promote peace and unity in two of our presbyteries, the Presbytery of the Dakotas and the Presbytery of the Southeast. Representatives of both committees detailed how God’s hand was at work through their peacemaking efforts to bring about measurable progress. The committees were dissolved with the assembly’s gratitude.

The Catholicity of the Kingdom

Our Confession of Faith states that

[t]he visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. (WCF 25.2; see 1 Cor. 1:2; Rev. 7:9)

The OPC’s Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR) helps our churches and presbyteries to remember to maintain this catholic or universal vision of the kingdom. The CEIR also forges and strengthens our bonds with churches of like faith and practice. One of the most enjoyable aspects of our general assemblies is the fellowship with many fraternal delegates who come to represent churches from around the world with which we have some level of relationship. Of the forty-nine such church bodies around the world, thirteen sent delegates to this year’s assembly to bring warm greetings. They came from North America, Brazil, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, Uganda, Scotland, and Switzerland. These addresses cheered the hearts of the commissioners, for, as Rev. Malcolm Macleod of the Free Church of Scotland stated, “the same heartbeat of God’s kingdom is beating in us all.”

The General Assembly, the Kingdom, and You

If this summary of the Eighty-Ninth General Assembly’s proceedings has had its intended effect, the reader now has a clearer picture of what the assembly is. It is the church at worship and work by which the presence of the kingdom of God is manifested in a broader and more fulsome expression than we ordinarily experience in our local churches. The work of the church conducted through the assembly’s committees is done by members of our local churches and ministers of our presbyteries. It is kingdom work that was started right outside each of our back doors. In that way, it provides each member of the OPC a way to experience and participate in the global work of the kingdom of God, through the pastors and elders who are sent from our local churches and by our presbyteries to represent us. May the presence of the kingdom manifested in the assembly’s ministry capture your interest and compel you to pray for, support, and find ways to participate in its ongoing work.  

The author is pastor of Covenant Grace OPC in Roseburg, Oregon. He quotes from the NKJV. New Horizons, August–September 2023.

New Horizons: August 2023

The 89th GA

Also in this issue

Music and Worship

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