What We Believe
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In light of a new focus on the office of elder, three elders who have been moderators of the general assembly have responded to several questions that I posed to them. They each represent outstanding service in the OPC. But each had different strengths. I am grateful that elders Jim Gidley, Paul Tavares, and Dave Winslow were each willing to reflect on their ministries on the front lines of spiritual warfare.

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Elder James Gidley, who moderated the 2000 General Assembly, is a ruling elder in Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

When I was in graduate school in the late 1970s, I wrote a letter to Edmund Clowney, then president of Westminster Seminary, asking his advice about whether I should drop out of my engineering studies and go to seminary. He advised me to stay where I was. Perhaps he didn’t want any more nerds in the seminary student body, but at any rate I took his advice and in time became a university professor.

In November 1985, I was ordained as a ruling elder at Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Morgantown, West Virginia, where I was teaching civil engineering at West Virginia University. The church was a mission work at the time and needed elders. Jim Alexander, Joe Camp, and Jim Thomas were ordained along with me.

Over the years, I have assisted the ministry of the pastor primarily through teaching adult Sunday School classes. For many years I have typically taught at least one quarter each year. In the last few years, while my congregation has been without a pastor, I have been called upon to do some counseling which would normally have fallen to the pastor.

I attended my first presbytery meeting in October 1987 and was elected as a commissioner to the 55th General Assembly (1988). I have attended about thirty general assemblies; my calling as a college professor has made me more available in the summers than other ruling elders. I was elected moderator of the 67th General Assembly (2000).

Since the early 1990s I have served on the Candidates and Credentials Committee of the Presbytery of Ohio. Throughout my time on the committee, I have had the responsibility of administering the English Bible exam. Candidates are often weak in several aspects of the exam, especially on Scripture memory. Perhaps their seminary studies have accustomed them too much to talking about theology rather than becoming intimately acquainted with the Bible itself. The two things need not and should not be separated.

In 1989 I was elected to the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training of the Committee on Christian Education, and I continue to serve on both. I have chaired the SMT since the mid-1990s, and I served as President of the CCE from 2003 to 2019. Among many other things, I helped to establish Ordained Servant, the SMT’s seminary visitation program, and the Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC. The MTIOPC came into being after a serious discussion of establishing an OPC seminary.

Since 2018 I have served on the Special Committee on Updating the Language of the Doctrinal Standards. The committee is charged with proposing changes to archaic language in the standards without changing their meaning.

The most heart-wrenching episodes in my service as an elder have involved church discipline. The general lesson I have learned is that church discipline requires us to excel in love and humility. Falling short in these virtues, which I have done too often, not only fails to fulfill the purpose of church discipline but also does great harm.

The office of ruling elder exposes a man’s faults and weaknesses. It is vain to think that our own efforts can accomplish the work of the kingdom, for nothing good occurs except by the work of the Holy Spirit. The greatest service an elder can do is to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon himself, the church, and the world.

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Elder Paul Tavares, who moderated the 2016 General Assembly, was a ruling elder in Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Born into an OPC pastor’s home, I was heavily influenced by the ministry of my parents and the many ministers and godly men and women that passed through our lives throughout my upbringing.

My father was called to Covenant OPC in Grove City, Pennsylvania, when I was nine. Over the next sixteen years the congregation observed and contributed to the development of my faith. At the age of twenty-five (six months prior to my father’s retirement) I was ordained a deacon, serving for ten years. Visitation of the sick, elderly, and shut-ins (including a nursing home ministry that provided hymn singing and devotional messages) were our regular responsibilities.

My interest in the work of presbytery began when I was elected to serve on the presbytery’s Diaconal Committee. That involvement brought me into a working relationship with the men of presbytery and deepened my knowledge and appreciation of how the church labors as a larger body.

Rubbing shoulders with the Lord’s undershepherds, observing how they strived to know God’s truth and will for his church, how they prayed for one another and sought to work as one, made a great impression on me. In particular, the care they showed for individuals and congregations demonstrated to me Christ’s love for his church. These were faithful shepherds that sacrificed their lives to build, strengthen, and watch over the flock that was entrusted to them.

Having been nominated an elder candidate, I began to sense that inner call to continue their good work. When approved by the session, and having received the congregation’s affirming vote, I was ordained an elder on June 6, 1989, with the words of the apostle, “Woe to me if I do not,” resonating in my heart.

Shepherding through hospitality, home and hospital visitations, Bible studies, and private conversations with prayer became a way of life. Particularly difficult matters were shared with the session for council and prayer. Hours spent in travel and ‘parking lot’ discussions have yielded rich blessings in the raising up of faithful elders and deacons.

Overseeing a minister’s doctrine and conduct is a daunting task. Their lives/ministry are dissected constantly, justly and unjustly. Some lack humility to acknowledge their failures. They need wise, constructive council and encouragement.

Ministers and elders are like bricks and mortar. Working together in Christ builds a beautiful structure. A failing brick stresses and mars the wall. Standing in the gap can be very painful, but necessary. They need encouragement when injustice rises up due to the sin or ignorance of others. Guiding others to the truth without discouraging them requires much prayer, patience, time, and self-sacrifice.

Then there is the work to be done in the broader church. I first served on the Visitation Committee of our presbytery for several terms, visiting the churches once a year to inquire as to their well-being; the Candidates and Credentials Committee for twenty-five years, presenting church history exams; the Home Missions Committee for several terms, spending eight years traveling an hour twice a week in an effort to restart a church, and forty-five minutes once a week for eleven years to another community seeking to establish a work there.

Presbytery often called upon me to be a commissioner to the general assembly. There I served as chairman for various advisory committees over the years and was elected to the Committee on Coordination for eighteen years (serving as secretary for several years and President for several others). In 2016 I was elected moderator of the Assembly. Now retired and relocated to Florida, I look for the Lord’s next assignment in life.

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Elder David Winslow, who moderated the 1996 General Assembly, is a ruling elder in Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Westminster, California.

I was ordained as a ruling elder in 1982 in the Garden Grove (now Westminster) California Orthodox Presbyterian Church and continue to serve there almost forty years and fourteen re-elections to three-year terms later. My first pastor, Edwards E. Elliott, mentored me in doing door to door calling, recommended books to read, and encouraged me to attend presbytery meetings even before my ordination. My next pastor, William E. Warren, encouraged me to stand for election as a ruling elder, and he too set a sterling example of serving in the presbytery and on committees of the general assembly. Along with these pastoral encouragements, the Lord also gave me a thirst and some measure of aptitude for reading Reformed literature and teaching and serving youth.

Three months after being ordained, the moderator of presbytery, ruling elder Robert Coie, called and asked me to go to the general assembly to fill a vacant spot. That phone call changed my life and the horizons of possible service open to me in the OPC. Attending the assembly and observing the overall vitality of the church in her gospel ministry around the continent and world was a refreshing, invigorating experience in so many ways. It remains so to this day, some thirty-four assemblies later. Becoming a father quite soon after ordination helped to make me a better elder, in fact the 1985 General Assembly passed a motion excusing me “to go to be with my wife” for the birth of my first daughter. And I repaid that generosity by missing most of her birthdays thereafter because I was at GA.

In our presbytery I was able to serve for several decades on the Youth Committee helping in the administration and leading of camps, foreign missions teams, and backpacking trips for the presbytery. I also took turns serving on our judicial, ministerial oversight, visitation, and credentials committees and even got to moderate for a couple of years back in the 1980s. I have found that I serve best when I am supporting and enabling the ministerial vision of the presbytery’s pastors, evangelists, and teachers.

That last observation has also been true serving on general assembly committees and especially the Committee on Christian Education. Helping Danny Olinger and David VanDrunen execute VanDrunen’s brilliant idea for the OPC Timothy Conference gave me (and my wife Susan) so much joy; it was youth ministry at the denominational level with potential impact on the whole church for decades to come. Again, serving with Danny Olinger and Alan Strange facilitating the business aspects of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal project for the sake of two denominations (OPC and URC) has been among the most fulfilling work of my life.

As a Presbyterian I get it when Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:28 that in addition to all his trials he “faces the daily pressure of my concern for all the churches.” The blessing of serving on presbytery and denominational committees brings “all the churches” into my heart and mind, but unlike the apostle, I am keenly aware that the core of a ruling elder’s concern and service is a local congregation in which he has been called and elected to serve. I believe this awareness is a big part of why I have been a member of only one OP congregation for forty-five years. Going to presbytery and assembly committee meetings is almost always a collegial, brotherly experience of the highest order with elevated discussion, debate, and devotion, at least it has been that way for me. And presbytery is a meeting where you share the burdens of life in the local church with other ministers and elders. You are not alone in the joys and struggles of your own congregation.

The life of our congregation is daily on my heart and mind. Indeed, life in the local church is where elders face their greatest challenges. Determining when to institute formal judicial process in contrast to administrative discipline or continuing informal counseling is always very challenging. Making sure that I am actually helping the pastor shepherd the flock: making home visits, hospital visits, leading worship to the extent he requests, not leaving the tough pastoral situations for him to handle alone, and protecting him from unjust criticism are all challenging.

The greatest challenge I faced was a three-year period involving all of these aspects, which led to causing a ruling elder of long standing to be removed from office and defending that decision before the presbytery. Thankfully the session was unanimous in these tough decisions, but as clerk this involved hours and days of meticulous record keeping and communication.

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Working with men of this caliber, with which our little denomination is filled, has been one of the greatest privileges and joys of my life. How gracious our Lord is to gift and call such men into the office of ruling elder. Please remember your elders in regular prayer since they are on the front lines of spiritual warfare.

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, October 2021.

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Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
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Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

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Ordained Servant: October 2021

Servant Ministry

Also in this issue

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians Revisited

Poured Out Like a Drink Offering: An Ordination and Installation Charge

The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 4, “Images of the Spirit” (1980)

A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John, Part 2

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 22

Preaching the Word with John Chrysostom by Gerald Bray: A Review Article

Can We Fully Separate Ecclesiology and Polity? A Review Article

A Development, Not a Departure: The Lacunae in the Debate of the Doctrine of the Trinity and Gender Roles, by Hongyi Yang

On Virtue

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