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2012 General Assembly Report

Wheaton College

The 79th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, June 6–12, 2012. This running daily report was written by Alan R. Pontier 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. View a slideshow.

Wednesday June 6, 2012

At precisely 7:00 p.m. the Moderator of the 78th General Assembly, the Rev. Danny Olinger, called the 79th General Assembly to order. The assembly meets this year on the beautiful campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

Wheaton College is situated about 25 miles west of downtown Chicago. The college has approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

In 1853 a group of Wesleyans founded a school known as the Illinois Institute. The school struggled to survive and in 1860, the board called the Rev. James Blanchard, an educator, pastor and staunch abolitionist, to be the president. When land was donated to the school by Warren Wheaton, the Illinois Institute was renamed Wheaton College.

Wheaton College even has a connection to OPC history. J. Oliver Buswell was the third president of the school from 1924 to 1940. Buswell was also a founding member of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and one of the original ministers of the Presbyterian Church of America, later the OPC. Buswell left the OPC as a part of the division of 1937.

Direction sign
Direction sign

Alumni of Wheaton College include Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully and Nate Saint (missionaries killed in Ecuador while making contact with the Waorani people); also, Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry, John Piper, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Todd Beamer, one of the passengers on United Flight 93.

After calling the 79th General Assembly to order, Mr. Olinger led the commissioners in the singing of hymn 168, "I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art." The last verse of this hymn formed a good introduction to the opening sermon:

Our hope is in no other save in thee;
Our faith is built upon thy promise free;
O grant to us such stronger hope and sure
That we can boldly conquer and endure.

Mr. Olinger then read from his text, Genesis 1:1–2 and preached a message entitled "In the Beginning, God." He emphasized that the Bible begins with God, the Creator; not man, the creature. In contrast to both the teaching of Roman Catholicism and Protestant modernism, our doctrine must begin where the Bible begins: with God. Mr. Olinger also said that Genesis 1:2 sets the scene for the ongoing work of God. He takes a creation that is dark and brings light; he takes a creation that is disordered and brings order; he takes a creation that is empty and fills it with life. Just as God is first in our doctrine of creation, so, too, God is first in our doctrine of redemption. Again, we begin with God.

It is only when we begin with God that we can properly love God and the brethren. Again, this is in opposition to the teaching of modernism that begins with man in the hope of teaching man to love his neighbor. But because limitations are placed on God and modernism exalts man over God, this program fails. The Triune God: Creator, Redeemer, Consummator!

After the sermon, the assembly sang hymn 53, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation," which states:

Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
How thy desires e'er have been
Granted in what he ordaineth?

Following these opening events, the stated clerk of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Rev. George Cottenden, called the roll and also made motions for the seating of corresponding members.

Dr. Nicholas Perrin, Acting Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies at the graduate school, gave the assembly an official greeting from Wheaton College.

Mr. David Haney, along with Mr. Cottenden, made announcements regarding arrangements on the college campus

Nominations for moderator of the 79th General Assembly were opened. The Rev. Archibald Allison, the Rev. Dr. Anthony Curto and Dr. John Jambura were nominated. Mr. Curto was elected and was escorted to the chair by the Rev. Ross Graham, general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension.

Following the election of the moderator, the stated clerk presented the overtures, communications and appeals that will come to the assembly later in the week. The assembly then set the times for recess, convening and reconvening of the various sessions as well as adopting the docket.

Next, the assembly voted to establish a set of temporary Advisory Committees and assigned commissioners to each committee. Advisory Committees will begin meeting tomorrow (Thursday) morning. These committees help the assembly by looking over all the business that will come to the assembly, getting it in good order and making their own recommendations for the disposition of these matters.

The assembly recessed at 8:43 p.m. with prayer by the Rev. Tony Monaghan.

Thursday, June 7

Thursday dawned sunny and warm in Wheaton, Illinois. Commissioners to the assembly gathered for breakfast and then scattered throughout the campus to the various rooms where advisory committees began their work. The assembly divided itself into ten advisory committees whose purpose is to receive, review, and evaluate the reports of the denomination's permanent or "standing" committees. The standing committees of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church conduct their work year round. They administer some aspect of the church's life, such as its home and foreign missions, Christian education, diaconal ministries, interchurch relations, etc. When the Assembly gathers each year, these standing committees then report on the progress of their ministries. The advisory committees receive the reports, discuss their contents with representatives of the standing committees, and then advise the Assembly on what actions it should take. They also handle any communications, overtures, appeals and complaints sent to the Assembly.

Three "temporary" committees meet in addition to the advisory committees (AC's) to review presbyterial and standing committee records, as well as arrangements for future meetings of the General Assembly. An observer might wonder if the five or six hours that advisory committees meet is really a good use of time. Wouldn't the assembly be better off just plunging right into the great number of reports and issues which will consume it's time during the week? The answer is a resounding "no." These committees have proven year after year that they actually save the Assembly time, eliminate much confusion and help the church conduct its work in a more orderly manner.

The Assembly reconvened at 11:40 a.m. with the singing of hymn 598, "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah." In both word and music this hymn expresses the sublime comfort of dependence on our faithful Lord.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through;
Strong Delive'rer, strong Deliv'rer,
Be thou still my strength and shield.
Be thou still my strength and shield.

The Rev. Glenn Ferrell from the Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada led us in a devotional taken from 2 Timothy 1:13, "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."

After the devotional we had lunch and then returned to the work of the advisory committees. The moderator informed the assembly that we would reconvene at 2:30 p.m. to begin our regular work.

At 2:30 Mr. Curto reconvened the assembly with the singing of hymn 30, "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past," a hymn that contrasts the changelessness of our God with the impermanence of man.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op'ning day.
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come:
O be our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

The Rev. LeRoy Miller opened in prayer.

One of the blessings that we experience at the assembly is the presence of representatives of churches from around the world. We are reminded that we are not alone in our work for the Kingdom of our Lord. The Body of Christ is truly universal, encompassing people "from every tribe and people and language and nation." Mr. Mark Bube, General Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions, introduced six fraternal delegates from other denominations. They are:

Toward the beginning of every assembly a poll is conducted which gives an indication of the range of ages of the commissioners. The men were counted in each decade in which they had been ordained. The poll revealed that:

There were 21 men who were first-time commissioners.

The stated clerk, George Cottenden, presented his report to the assembly. This was quickly followed by the report of the trustees of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The trustees have oversight over all the legal and tax issues related to the denomination. The trustees also submit a budget to provide for the ongoing work of the clerks, the historian and various expenses of the committees that serve the assembly.

As a part of the trustees' report the assembly elected Mr. Cottenden for another year as stated clerk. In addition, Mr. David Haney (ruling elder) and the Rev. Samuel Bacon (minister) were elected to the class of 2015 of the trustees. The Rev. John Mahaffey was appointed as assistant clerk.

The assembly then moved on to the report of statistician, Mr. Luke E. Brown. A highlight of the report was the encouraging news that the OPC now has 275 churches, 51 mission works and 30,279 members.

Assembly floor
Assembly floor

The Rev. Dr. Richard Gaffin, Jr., president of the Committee on Foreign Missions, introduced Mr. Mark Bube to present a visual overview of the work of our foreign missionaries. As part of this overview we heard from Dr. Jim Knox and the Rev. Al Tricarico who serve at our mission among the Karamojong people. We were also reminded of the dangers that some of our missionaries and especially some of the pastors that we work with face. May our Lord continue to protect his servants from harm, and may he give them strength to bear faithful witness. Associate general secretary Rev. Doug Clawson presented the need for more missionaries to fill the opportunities that the Lord has placed before us.

After the report of the committee Mr. William Papke and Mr. Mark Green, both ruling elders, were elected to the class of 2015. Ministers Glenn Jerrell, Scott Johnson and Paul Browne were also elected to the class of 2015.

A written communication from the Reformed Church of Quebec was read to the assembly by the stated clerk. Mr. Bube led in prayer for that church.

Dinner time arrived and we were treated by the staff of Wheaton College to a Bar-B-Q dinner. A beautiful thing happened as we walked back to the meeting hall from dinner. The College Church's carillon was playing hymns. We looked at the tall steeple that rises over the town. White clouds framed the tower while the tunes of powerful, familiar hymns that we have known from our childhood floated over the campus. At this time deacons arrived for the beginning of the concurrent Diaconal Summit.

At 6:30 p.m. Moderator Curto called the assembly to order. We sang hymn 76, "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven." A theme that appears frequently in John Calvin's writings is the "fatherliness" of God's actions toward his people.

Father-like, he tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame he knows;
In his hands he gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes;
Praise him, praise him,
Praise him, praise him,
Widely as his mercy goes.

The Rev. John Van Meerbeke led in prayer.

The Committee on Christian Education gave its report. The Rev. Alan Strange led off with a stirring and biblical perspective on the reason why we have a Committee on Christian Education. Mr. Olinger then summarized the work of the committee and Mr. David Winslow presented the work of the Timothy Conference, a ministry of the committee that encourages young men to consider the calling of God to the gospel ministry. The committee also oversees an internship program. About ten percent of OPC congregations requested interns this past year.

Our committee also works with Great Commission Publications. The Rev. Dr. Bruce MacRae from the Presbyterian Church in America addressed the assembly regarding the work of GCP.

The committee is also overseeing the production of the Psalter-hymnal for future use in the OPC. Mr. Strange gave an update on this ongoing work.

Elections to the committee were held. First an election was held to fill the class of 2015 for the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training. The Rev. Tom Tyson and Mr. David Winslow were elected. The men elected to the subcommittee also serve on the larger Committee on Christian Education. Dr. Darryl Hart (ruling elder) together with the Rev. Archibald Allison and the Rev. Dr. Sid Dyer (ministers) were elected to the class of 2015.

The Rev. Chad Bond led the assembly in prayer for the Committee on Christian Education.

Next, the assembly moved on to the report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. The Rev. John Hilbelink, the chairman of the committee, introduced the work of the committee and the report that was presented to the assembly. Commissioners who are also "church planters" being supported by the committee were introduced to the body. Retiring general secretary Rev. Ross Graham gave an assessment of the ongoing work of church planting. Twelve mission works began to receive support in 2011. There are already six new works begun in 2012. The Rev. Charles Muether, church planter in Pella, Iowa, spoke about the planting of an OPC in a city already heavily influenced by Reformed churches. The Rev. Matt Figura from Cookeville, Tennessee spoke about his work in revitalizing a church that had been on the verge of closing. The Rev. Richard Gerber, associate general secretary of the committee, also presented some of the latest developments in OPC church planting. He was followed by the Rev. Larry Oldaker, regional home missionary for the Presbytery of Ohio, who spoke about his work.

Mr. Graham returned to the podium and demonstrated the Home Missions web page which is accessed through the OPC's website (www.opc.org). Click on "Home Missions" on the left side of the home page.

Elections were held for the class of 2015. The Rev. Messrs. John Hilbelink, Mark Brown, Dale Van Dyke and Jason Wallace were nominated. Messrs. Brown, Hilbelink and Van Dyke were elected.

Messers. John Mauldin and Gerald Barnett (ruling elders) were also elected to the class of 2015.

There was one place for a ruling elder in the class of 2013. Mr. Garrett Hoogerhyde was nominated and elected.

The Rev. Chris Sandoval led in prayer for the work and men of the committee as well as the church planters of the OPC.

Because there were only a few minutes before recess, the moderator asked Mr. Bube to present a "missions moment." Mr. Bube read an account of the witness of a sister in Christ who was called upon to suffer for her Savior, but who overcame the malice of her persecutors, succeeded in witnessing to many people and brought several others to know Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior.

Mr. Michael Montemorano, ruling elder from Franklin Square, NY, led the assembly in prayer as we recessed for fellowship and well needed rest.

Friday, June 8

The men of the 79th General Assembly rose to a beautiful, sunny day. The skies above Wheaton College were crystal blue. Some commissioners spent time before breakfast catching up on emails home; others finishing up a few remaining items of advisory committee business. 8:00 a.m. found us slowly drifting back to our main meeting hall. At 8:15 Mr. Curto, the moderator, called us back to order. We sang hymn 48, "O Lord Most High, with All My Heart." This paraphrase of Psalm 9 is set to the stately tune of Rockingham Old. It is a fitting Psalm for early morning praise.

O Lord Most High, will all my heart
Your wondrous works I will proclaim;
I will be glad and give you thanks
And sing the praises of your name.

Rev. Robert E. Tarullo led in prayer.

The Rev. Jack Sawyer from the Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Relations introduced the fraternal delegate from the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), the Rev. Maynard Koerner, who addressed the assembly. Mr. Koerner recounted some of the history that the RCUS shares with the OPC as well as some recent developments in the RCUS. Mr. Sawyer then led in prayer for our brethren in the RCUS.

The next committee to report to the assembly was the Committee on Coordination. One of the purposes of this committee is to recommend to the General Assembly a combined budget for the three-program committees (Christian Education, Foreign Missions, and Home Missions and Church Extension). The report was introduced by Dr. Timothy K. Jackson. Then Mr. David Haney took the assembly through a discussion of the recent pattern of giving in the OPC (encouraging) and the Ambassador Program. The Ambassador Program brings representatives from a number of presbyteries together to hear reports on the work of all parts of Worldwide Outreach. These "ambassadors" then return to their own presbyteries to encourage and inform the churches in their support of the combined ministries of the OPC. Mr. Haney also discussed some areas of biblical financial stewardship in light of our recent economic difficulties. Mr. Ross Graham introduced a new promotional brochure for Worldwide Outreach. After questions and discussion the assembly approved a Worldwide Outreach budget for the year 2013 of $3,695,000.

Mr. William Muether (ruling elder) and the Rev. Tony Monaghan (minister) were elected to the class of 2015.

The Rev. Randy Bergquist led in prayer for the men and work of the Committee on Coordination.

The Committee on Pensions reported on its work and the status of the investments which the committee oversees on behalf of the pension fund. The committee provides a retirement plan for OPC ministers, life insurance coverage plans and supplemental pension payments for those without adequate pensions. Mr. Roger Huibregtse presented a PowerPoint summary of the work and status of the pension funds.

Refreshment break
Refreshment break

At 10:00 a.m. the assembly took a short break for bagels and coffee.

After the break the Moderator reconvened the assembly with the singing of hymn 9, "All You That Fear Jehovah's Name." The basis of this hymn, Psalm 22:23–26, speaks of the joyous task of proclaiming the glories of God to many generations.

The Lord's unfailing righteousness
All generations shall confess;
From age to age shall men be taught
What wondrous works the Lord has wrought,
What wondrous works the Lord has wrought.

Ruling Elder Lou LaBriola led the assembly in prayer.

We returned to the report of the Committee on Pensions. Elections were held for the class of 2015. David Vander Ploeg, Roger Huibregtse, and John McGowan were elected.

Mr. Jack Sawyer introduced another fraternal delegate to the assembly. The Rev. Maarten Kuivenhoven, pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan represented the Heritage Reformed Congregations. The HRC has 10 churches with about 2,000 members. After Mr. Kuivenhoven's address, the Rev. John Hilbelink led the assembly in prayer for the HRC.

The next item on the docket was the report of the Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Relations. The Moderator, Mr. Curto, is also a member of this committee. Therefore he relinquished the chair and the moderator from the 78th G.A., the Rev. Danny Olinger, led the assembly.

The Rev. Dr. George Knight, Mr. Curto and Mr. Sawyer presented the report of the committee. The OPC has led the way in the work of bringing a greater unity between different confessionally Reformed churches. The committee reviewed our relationships with 36 different denominations both in the United States and around the world. The OPC, through this committee, seeks to express the unity of the body of Christ, but also to enter into relationships in which the churches can hold one another accountable to our historic confessions. Organizational unity without a true unity of faith is a sign of failure and weakness in the church. But a unity in our commitment to the Word of God and the historic Reformed confessions which leads naturally to greater organizational unity is a strength. The OPC not only pursues relationships with other churches individually, but also participates in the following interchurch organizations: the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) and the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).

Mr. Curto also related to the assembly his contacts with men and congregations of the Evangelical Reformed Church Westminster Confession. This is a group of churches and pastors in Austria that have recently discovered the Reformed faith. Later on, the assembly approved a recommendation to enter into a Corresponding Relationship with the ERCWC.

The assembly also voted to invite the Free Reformed Churches of Australia to send a fraternal observer to future general assemblies.

Elections were then held for the class of 2015. Messrs. Mark Bube, John Hilbelink and George Knight were elected, and the Rev. Robert Van Kooten led in prayer for the committee.

The time arrived for our morning devotions which were led by Mr. Randy Bergquist. The assembly sang hymn 602, "O God, My Faithful God." This is a prayer for the blessing, keeping and protection of God.

Keep me from saying words that later need recalling;
Guard me, lest idle speech may from my lips befalling:
But when, within my place, I must and ought to speak
Then to my words give grace, lest I offend the weak.

Mr. Bergquist read from Numbers 2:1–2, "The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 'The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers' houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.' " He showed from Scripture the significance of the arrangement of Israel's tribes around the Tabernacle, always having the presence of the Living God in front of them. How awesome and how terrifying! The tribes, always beholding the majesty of their holy God, might be stricken with a sense of their own uncleanness. Yet, between the tribes and the presence of God stood the tribe of Levi, the priests. Thus, the mediatorial priests bring assurance and comfort. Still, are these not types of things to come? Is this not a picture of the church in the presence of God, yet needing the ministry of Christ, our great High Priest? Is not the land of wandering a picture of our sojourn in the world, and is not the land of promise a picture of heaven?

The assembly then recessed for lunch.

At 1:15 p.m. the moderator called us to order. We sang hymn 12, "Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim." Based on Psalm 135 this hymn calls us to lift up the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.

Exalt the Lord, his praise proclaim;
All ye his servants, praise his name,
Who in the lord's house ever stand
And humbly serve at his command.
Forever praise and bless his name,
And in the church his praise proclaim,
In Zion is his dwelling place;
Praise ye the Lord, show forth his grace.

Dr. Norman De Jong then led in prayer.

Mr. Sawyer introduced the fraternal delegate from the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. The Rev. Leo de Vos brought greetings from the RCNZ and related the history of the spread of the gospel in New Zealand. Mr. de Vos also spoke about the decline of mainline churches in New Zealand.

Mr. Sawyer prayed for the RCNZ and Mr. de Vos.

The assistant clerk, Mr. John Mahaffy, reviewed and corrected the minutes of the assembly. The minutes are a record of the actions of the assembly. They are written as the assembly progresses through its work and submitted to the assembly for review and correction at various times during the week. The minutes were corrected and approved.

The next item of business was the report of the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel. Mr. Robert Coie (ruling elder) led the assembly through the report. The committee provides support, encouragement and counsel to military chaplains, military personnel and chaplains serving in positions outside the military, such as hospitals, police departments and prisons. The OPC also participates with other Reformed churches in the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel. Among other functions, the PRJCCMP endorses ministers for the military chaplaincy. Through the PRJCCMP we also help chaplains deal with sensitive ethical issues that they face in the military while at the same time serving the King of kings.

Mr. Coie also related the concerns of the Bergdahl family, members of the OPC, whose son is captured:

SGT Bowe Bergdahl, US ARMY, who is currently in the hands of the enemy and having served in the theater of Afghanistan (officially listed as missing/captured), is a covenant son of the OPC. He was captured three years ago the last day of this month (30 June 2009). His family has, in recent days, determined to break the public silence they believed was of most benefit to Bowe until this time, in order to broaden the word of Bowe's status and in order that God's people would pray and the nation at large would be more aware of his plight.
Please pray fervently that our always gracious God, who has allowed the events of the last three years to take place, would grant Bowe the grace to endure, bind up any wounds he might have, make provision for his health and substance, grant him the peace of God that passes all understanding and keep his mind and soul fixed on the mercies of Christ as the one who will never leave him nor forsake him. Please pray that there may be quickly a "way of escape" provided by our gracious God so that Bowe might return to his family and the freedom of the land he has served to defend. Pray that if he has not done so that he will truly become right with God.
Pray fervently for his family, that God would grant them peace in the midst of trial, and grant all of them much grace and wisdom as they deal with our government at various levels. Pray that God would encourage them daily, knowing that salvation of the Lord for his own. Pray that they will have peace in resting and trusting in Christ.
Give thanks to God, that to the best of our knowledge, Bowe is alive and probably in reasonable health. Give thanks to God for the sustaining grace, afforded at his hand, to the family. Give thanks to God for his people who have come together to support the Bergdahl family with prayers and visible acts of love.

Elections were held for the committee. The assembly elected CH (Capt.) Cornelius Johnson, USAF to the class of 2015. Mr. Gordon E. Kaufmann (ruling elder) was elected as an alternate member of the committee for one year. The Rev. Jim Cassidy led in prayer for the work of the committee, the Joint Commission and for SGT Bowe Bergdahl.

The business of the assembly has been moving quickly. To this point we have had not any serious debates or time consuming procedural issues. We give thanks for the goodness of our Lord.

John Muether, the historian of the OPC, reported on his work and plans for the future. The work of the historian will turn more and more toward the collection, ordering and protection of the archives of the OPC. The minutes of General Assemblies from 2005–2011 are available in PDF files.

Mr. Olinger reported for the Committee on the Historian. Through the oversight of several people, the historian was not elected in a regular manner as provided for in our rules. There were several apologies to the assembly for this oversight, but the situation was rectified when the assembly elected Mr. Muether to a three year term as historian.

Elections for the committee were held. Mr. Chad Bond was elected to the class of 2015.

The Rev. Don Duff led in prayer for the historian and the Committee for the Historian.

The 77th General Assembly (2010) had set up a special committee to deal with difficult situations that had developed over several years in the Presbytery of New Jersey and one of her local sessions, specifically to seek reconciliation of parties offended by certain actions of the presbytery and session. The Temporary Visitation Committee for the Presbytery of New Jersey reported on its work. The Rev. Larry Westerveld summarized the committee's work. There has been much progress, for which we give thanks, in bringing reconciliation between the Presbytery and the offended parties, due to the unequivocal acknowledgment by the Presbytery of their errors and their humble request for reconciliation. There yet remains work to do in bringing reconciliation between the local session and the offended parties; therefore, the assembly approved, without dissent, a recommendation to continue the committee for another year.

The committee also recommended that the assembly advise members of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints that, except under extraordinary circumstances, they "should not to serve as counsel for those charged with committing an offense or for those who file or respond to an Appeal or Complaint."

As this recommendation was being debated we reached the order of the day and broke for refreshments.

At 3:45 we returned and sang hymn 6, "O Come, My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord Thy Maker."

Good is the Lord and full of kind compassion,
Most slow to anger, plenteous in love;
Rich is his grace to all that humbly seek him,
Boundless and endless as the heav'ns above.
Bless him forever, wondrous in might,
Bless him, his servants that in his will delight.

The Rev. Jason Roddy led the assembly in prayer as it reconvened. Following this the assembly returned to debate the recommendation of the visitation committee. After more debate the recommendation was defeated.

Mr. Duff led the assembly in prayer for the ongoing work of the temporary committee.

Mr. Bube introduced a fraternal delegate from the Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Daniel Mathuva. Mr. Mathuva addressed the assembly. For many of us this was our first introduction to the AEPC, yet there have been numerous connections and contacts between our two denominations that stretch back about fifty years. After the address, Mr. Bube led in prayer for the AEPC.

Our next item of business was a report from another temporary committee: the Special Committee to Visit the Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada. The Rev. Donald Poundstone presented the report. The committee is not finished with its work and requested that the assembly continue it for another year. This was granted by the assembly. Mr. Duff led in prayer for the ongoing work of the special committee.

The time for adjournment arrived after several announcements. The assembly adjourned for dinner with prayer by Dr. John Jambura. Dr. Jambura also prayed for the family of the Rev. Eric Watkins, whose two-year-old child is experiencing a medical emergency.

The assembly reconvened at 6:45 p.m. to take up the report of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries. For this session of the assembly about 189 OPC deacons who are attending the OPC's Diaconal Summit (meeting concurrently with the assembly) attended the assembly. Welcome, brothers and fellow servants!

Mr. Curto called the assembly back to order. We sang hymn 83, "O Praise the Lord, for He Is Good," a paraphrase of Psalm 107.

O praise the Lord, for he is good,
His mercies still endure;
Thus say the ransomed of the Lord,
From all their foes secure.

Mr. Kenneth Barnes opened this session of the assembly in prayer.

The Rev. Lendall Smith, president of the committee, began the report with a perspective on the work of the diaconate from Presbyterian history. Secretary of the committee Rev. Ronald Pearce continued with an overview of the whole report. Finally, Mr. David Nakhla (ruling elder) spoke to the assembly about his work as the Short-Term Missions Coordinator. Mr. Nakhla's position is relatively new, but he certainly has been busy. He not only serves as the short-term missions coordinator, he also, when needed, becomes the disaster response coordinator and, finally, serves the Committee on Diaconal Ministries as a part-time administrator. Mr. Nakhla presented a PowerPoint program on the disaster response to the earthquake in Japan that took place in March 2011.

At 7:30 an order of the day arrived and the assembly had to return to the report of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE). The deacons who had been attending left to continue their own meeting. They were sent out with prayer led by ruling elder Wallace King.

Cake for Ross Graham
Cake for Ross Graham

The Rev. Don Poundstone took the podium to address the assembly regarding the service of the Rev. Ross Graham. Mr. Graham is retiring from the role of general secretary of the CHMCE in 2013. The president of the committee, Mr. Hilbelink, then read a resolution of thanks for the work of Mr. Graham. The resolution is lengthy, since it covers all aspects of a long, multifaceted and blessed career of ministry in the OPC. The resolution will be printed in the minutes of the 79th General Assembly. After the resolution was read, the assembly joined together in singing the Doxology.

Mr. Graham then addressed the assembly.

Mr. Poundstone led the assembly in prayer which was followed by an audio/visual presentation covering the ministry of Mr. Graham. A reception for Mr. Graham will be held after the assembly recesses this evening.

At 8:05 p.m. the Rev. Al Tricarico led the assembly in prayer as we prepared for an evening of fellowship and rest.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

As the 79th General Assembly reaches the half-way point, the heat and humidity seem to be building for the weekend. Breakfast is not just the first meal of the day but also the time for renewing conversations from the last evening; discussing upcoming assembly business; catching up with old friends; encouraging; praying; iron sharpening iron. The breaking of the night time fast is less about food and more about the nourishment that comes from union with Christ and the fellowship of the saints.

At 8:16 a.m. the Moderator, Mr. Curto, called the assembly to order and we sang hymn 368, "The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear."

The Rev. Doug Clawson opened in prayer.

Mr. Jack Sawyer introduced fraternal delegates the Rev. Takashi Yoshida, Moderator of the Reformed Church of Japan (RCJ), and the Rev. Yasuyoshi Kawasugi, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the RCJ. Mr. Yoshida addressed the assembly. Following this, Mr. Sawyer prayed for the blessing of the Lord upon the brethren in Japan especially during their time of trial after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Mr. Sawyer then introduced Mr. Solano Portela (ruling elder) a fraternal delegate from the Presbyterian Church of Brasil (PCB). Mr. Portela spoke to the assembly and then Mr. Sawyer led in prayer for the PCB. This is the third assembly at which we have been able to welcome delegates from this church. This is a growing and warm relationship and we hope that the Lord of the Church will continue to draw us closer together for mutual help and encouragement.

At 8:45 a.m. the assembly was dismissed with prayer by Mr. Jack Pluister (ruling elder) to join the OPC Diaconal Summit for an address by the Rev. Dr. Philip Ryken, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and President of Wheaton College. Dr. Ryken called the church to put its whole system of reformed doctrine into practice in diaconal ministry.

Hymn 437, "O God to Us Show Mercy" was sung. Then the assembly was led in prayer by Mr. Mark Williams.

O God, to us show mercy
And bless us in your grace
Cause now to shine upon us
The brightness of your face;
That so your way most holy
On earth may soon be known,
And unto ev'ry people
Your saving grace be shown.

Mr. Sawyer formally introduced Dr. Ryken to the assembly and moved that he be seated as a corresponding member. Dr. Ryken is not only the keynote speaker at the Diaconal Summit, but also is serving as the fraternal delegate from the Presbyterian Church in America.

The assembly returned to the report of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries in order to pass the recommendations of the committee and elect the members of the class of 2015. Messrs. Robert Wright and Robert Keys (deacons) and Mr. Lendall Smith (minister) were elected.

The assembly then began to hear the report of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. The Rev. John Malin reported for the committee. The Rev. Stephen Oharek, chairman of Advisory Committee 10, also reported for the advisory committee and presented several procedural recommendations for hearing the three complaints brought to the assembly by a ruling elder who filed three complaints against actions of the session of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Franklin Square (OPCFS). The Franklin Square church had three mission works. The session of OPCFS had appointed commissions to oversee these mission works. The point of the complaints "is that the establishment of a commission for responsibilities as broad and comprehensive as are those involved in overseeing a mission work goes far beyond the 'specific interim powers' envisioned in FG XII:3."

Mr. Malin represented the complainant in the presentation of the complaints.

At 11:40 a.m. the assembly left the business of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints for the morning devotional. Devotions began with hymn 343, "Unto My Lord, Jehovah Said." The message was brought by the Rev. David Robbins from Luke 24:36–49:

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

His two main points were: (1) Christ is revealed, but not received, and (2) Christ is further revealed so that his disciples may believe.

After the devotional, the assembly recessed for lunch.

At 1:15 p.m. the assembly reconvened with the singing of hymn #438, "All Lands, to God in Joyful Sounds." Many of the psalm paraphrases that we are singing at this assembly are songs of longing for the spread of the victorious Word throughout the whole world.

Yea, all the earth shall worship thee,
And unto thee shall sing;
To thy great name shall song of joy
With loud hosannas ring,
With loud hosannas ring.

The Rev. Mark Marquis opened in prayer.

Before returning to the hearing of complaints the assembly was addressed by the Rev. Kim Batteau from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, Liberated. Mr. Batteau reviewed some of the history and current struggles of the RCNL. Mr. Sawyer led the assembly in prayer for our brothers in the Netherlands.

Mr. Sawyer introduced the Rev. Kevin Backus, fraternal delegate from the Bible Presbyterian Church. Mr. Backus was seated as a corresponding member.

We returned to the business of hearing the complaints. The Rev. William Shishko, representing the Presbytery of Connecticut and Southern New York, spoke on behalf of the presbytery.

There was a twenty minute period allowed for questions from the assembly to be answered by either side in the case. A lengthy period of debate followed. After a twenty minute break at 3:15 p.m. the assembly resumed debate. At 4:50 p.m., after several hours of intense but edifying debate, the complaints were denied.

The assembly recessed for dinner. However, this being Saturday, there will be no evening session. We will not resume work until Monday morning. Why no Saturday evening session? Several commissioners will be traveling tonight to various Orthodox Presbyterian congregations, some near to Wheaton, some farther away. There they will bring the ministry of the Word to many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The rest of us will retire tonight so that we might be prepared for the Lord's Day.

With the coming of Sunday we will remember that God made heaven and earth and all things in them in six days and he rested on the seventh. We will remember that on the first day of the week, our Lord shattered the chains of death, having given himself for us and for our salvation. We will anticipate that great Sabbath rest that yet remains for the people of God. We will cease from our regular work so that we might rest and find our rest in Christ.

This day at thy creating word
First o'er the earth the light was poured:
O Lord, this day upon us shine
And fill our souls with light divine.

This day the Lord for sinners slain
In might victorious rose again:
O Jesus, may we raised be
From death of sin to life in thee!

All praise to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
Whom, with the Spirit, we adore
Forever and forever more.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Many commissioners took the opportunity to visit local Orthodox Presbyterian congregations as well as other churches in the area. Bountiful fellowship luncheons followed the worship services.

A joint service was held in the evening at Wheaton College and several OPCs joined the commissioners. The Rev. John D. Van Meerbeke preached a sermon entitled "Heaven is My Home" from Psalm 84. The Rev. Dr. A. Craig Troxel administered the Lord's Supper, assisted by the elders of Bethel OPC, Wheaton, Illinois. Following the service, the congregation of several hundred enjoyed a time of fellowship and refreshments.

Monday, June 11

After a wonderful Lord's Day rest, the 79th General Assembly reconvened on the campus of Wheaton College at 8:15 a.m.

Moderator Curto, led the assembly in singing hymn 61, "O God No Longer Hold Thy Peace." Psalm 83, the psalm upon which this paraphrase is based, is an imprecatory psalm. It calls upon God to bring judgment upon those who seek to destroy his people, but who, in fact, make war on God.

Thine ancient foes, conspiring still,
With one consent agree,
And they who with the people strive
Make war, O God, with thee.
O God, who in our fathers' time
Didst smite our foes and thine,
So smite thine enemies today
Who in their pride combine.

Mr. William Montgomery (ruling elder) led in prayer.

The Rev. George Cottenden introduced the fraternal delegate from the Presbyterian Church in America, the Rev. Dr. Philip Ryken. Dr. Ryken was baptized in the OPC in Eugene, Oregon, raised in Bethel OPC in Wheaton, Illinois and served an internship at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ryken reported on the current state of the PCA as well as the work of Reformed University Fellowship, a campus ministry of the PCA. Among other matters, he explained some issues that the PCA General Assembly faced last year regarding converts to Christianity from Islam and the PCA's position on the sanctity of marriage. After the address, Mr. Cottenden led the assembly in prayer for the PCA.

The Rev. Jack Sawyer introduced the Rev. Kevin Backus, the fraternal delegate from the Bible Presbyterian Church. Mr. Backus reviewed some of the history of relations between the OPC and BPC and discussed the ministries and missions of his denomination. He also spoke of the deepening relationship between the OPC and BPC. Mr. Sawyer led in prayer for our dear Bible Presbyterian brothers. The order of the day had arrived, to consider all overtures that had not yet been acted on by the assembly. The Rev. Chad Bond reported for the advisory committee that presented the first overture to the assembly.

The first overture dealt with a possible situation that is not covered in our Form of Government. i.e., when a retired minister of another denomination desires to transfer his membership into an OPC presbytery. The overture proposed an addition to our Form of Government to cover this situation. After some discussion, the overture was recommitted to the advisory committee for perfection.

The Rev. L. Charles Jackson spoke for the advisory committee dealing with the second and third overtures. The second overture concerned a proposed change in the scheduling of future general assemblies so that they would not take place over Sundays. This was referred for consideration to the Committee on Arrangements.

A third overture concerned moving the publication of the Assembly's minutes from print to digital format. This was referred to the Stated Clerk.

At this time we returned to the report of the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. A fourth complaint had been carried to the assembly by way of appeal. The Rev. John Mallin reported for the committee. After the committee presented significant problems associated with this complaint, the moderator was asked to declare the complaint out of order. The Moderator so ruled. The committee then presented a recommendation that clarified the time by which reports for future general assemblies must be submitted to the stated clerk. A slightly revised form of the recommendation was proposed to the 80th General Assembly.

A further recommendation was made regarding the use of PDF files in the filing of appeals and complaints with the Stated Clerk. This would replace the current practice of submitting quadruplicate paper copies. The matter was referred to the stated clerk.

Elections were held for the Committee on Appeals and Complaints. The Rev. Alan Strange was elected to the class of 2015.

The assembly recessed for refreshments at 10:00 a.m.

We reconvened at 10:30 a.m. with the singing of hymn 45, "Now unto Jehovah, Ye Sons of the Mighty."

Now unto Jehovah, ye sons of the mighty,
All glory and strength and dominion accord;
Ascribe to his glory, and render him honor. In beauty of holiness worship the Lord,
In beauty of holiness worship the Lord.

The Rev. Mark Mueller opened in prayer.

The assembly continued elections for the Committee on Appeals and Complaints for the alternate member. This committee has a fourth member serving as an alternate. The alternate attends all meetings of the committee, but only becomes active should one of the other three members have to recuse himself. The alternate is elected for a one-year term. The Rev. Scott Willet was elected. The business of the committee was finished, and the Rev. Stephen Oharek led in prayer for the committee and for various other matters that had come to the attention of the assembly.

The Rev. Chad van Dixhoorn reported on a communication received by the assembly concerning the work of the Committee on Christian Education on the Psalter-hymnal. The advisory committee recommended that the letter be returned to the Presbytery of Philadelphia for its consideration. The presbytery could forward the communication to a future assembly after considering it. A substitute motion was proposed that the Committee on Christian Education suspend work on the Psalter-hymnal in order to report back to a future assembly after considering several questions that were set forth in the substitute. The substitute motion failed; therefore, the assembly returned to consider the recommendation of the advisory committee. The recommendation passed.

Consideration of Overture 1 (regarding the transfer of retired ministers from other denominations, see above) resumed. The advisory committee returned with an improved recommendation. There was continued debate until a substitute motion to refer the recommendation back to the Committee on Christian Education. At 11:40 the assembly was led in a devotional by the Rev. John Currie. The assembly sang hymn 642, "Be Thou My Vision."

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

Mr. Currie read 2 Timothy 4:1–5,

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The steward of the Word of God is to be sensitive to the "times" mentioned in this passage. First, the time coming when people will turn away from truth and turn toward myths. The steward of the Word must be grounded in truth and resist this trend. The second "time" is found in the first verse: the time of the Lord's return, his appearing. Understanding the time of our appearing in the presence of God and Christ keeps a proper perspective on the time when men no longer tolerate the truth. In this perspective we can fulfill the charge to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort ..."

Following the devotional, the assembly recessed for lunch.

At 1:30 p.m. the assembly reconvened with the singing of hymn 149, "Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth."

Teach me, O Lord, your way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may steadfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

We were then led in prayer by Mr. James Berry (ruling elder).

The assembly continued discussion on the substitute motion that was on the floor at the time of the lunch recess. The assembly voted to refer the recommendation regarding retired ministers to the Committee on Christian Education.

The assistant clerk, the Rev. John Mahaffy, reviewed the minutes of the assembly.

The assembly then moved to consider the report of the Temporary Committee to Examine Presbyterial Records. The committee is charged with reading all the previous year's minutes of the seventeen presbyteries. The committee then makes notations on those minutes and also calls attention to "exceptions" that they will bring to the floor of the assembly. Exceptions to the minutes are points at which the rules for keeping the minutes have not been followed or the actions of the body are out of accord with the standards of the church. The recommendations for notations and exceptions were presented to the assembly and approved.

The final communication that was dealt with by the assembly was a communication from the Presbytery of the Dakotas. The presbytery requested an exemption for a ministerial candidate who does not currently fulfill the educational requirements. The exemption was granted.

Mr. Jack Pluister (ruling elder) reported for the Temporary Committee to Examine Standing Committee Records. This committee performs a similar function to the one that deals with presbyterial records. The recommendations were presented. After some discussion and modification the recommendations were passed.

Mr. David Haney reported for the Committee on Arrangements regarding matters related to the closing of the assembly and transportation for commissioners as they return home. The assembly decided that the 80th General Assembly be held at St. Mary's College, Moraga, California, from 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, June 5 with a terminus no later than 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. The Committee on Arrangements is considering holding the 81st General Assembly in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mr. Robert Meeker was then elected to serve on the class of 2015. The assembly then set the budget for General Assembly Operation Fund. This fund provides funding for ongoing operating expenses associated with employees and committees of the assembly. The presented budget was passed.

The assembly took its afternoon break at 1:15 p.m. and reconvened with hymn 13, "O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord."

O come, let us sing to the Lord,
To him our voices raise;
With joyful noise let us
The Rock of our salvation praise.

Mr. David Winslow, Jr. (ruling elder) led the assembly in prayer.

The Rev. Donald Poundstone presented a resolution of thanks that was subsequently adopted by the assembly. The resolution is as follows: 79th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

June 6–12, 2012
We, the commissioners to the 79th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, heartily thank our sovereign and merciful God for all those who made our time in Wheaton most pleasant and productive.
We express our gratitude to the administration and staff of Wheaton College for their warm and gracious hospitality, and we extend special thanks to the following individuals: Mr. Fred Gizzo and his staff in conference services; Mr. Raul Delgado and Ms. Kimberly Farmer and their food-service staff with Bon Appetit; and Ms. Sara Miller and her staff in housing services. We particularly thank Ms. Jennifer Vincent for her service beyond the call of duty in caring for the needs of people with food allergies.
The Assembly acknowledges the untiring efforts of our Committee on Arrangements, Messrs. George R. Cottenden (agenda and schedule coordinator), David E. Haney (site-selection chairman and on-site coordinator), Robert M. Meeker (committee scribe), John R. Muether (displays and worship service coordinator), and Edward K. Tress (transportation specialist). Mr. Tress received able assistance in providing local transportation by the following individuals: Messrs. Chris Sudlow, Jonathan Wright, Tom Van Drunen, Lendall Smith, Zach Meadows, John Fikkert, Ryan Stoddard, Rick Larson, William Wall, Jeff Nelson, and Mrs. Carolyn Troxel.
We appreciated, once again, the cheerful service of several young men, Jonathan Hamstra, Caleb Moore, Jonathan Moore, and David Veldkamp, who ably assisted the clerks by distributing numerous papers and performing other invaluable tasks.
The Assembly gives thanks to our Lord Jesus for the competent direction of its Moderator, Dr. L. Anthony Curto, who led us through our docket with decorum and dispatch. In addition, we express gratitude to our devoted Stated Clerk, Mr. George R. Cottenden, and to our diligent Assistant Clerk, Mr. John W. Mahaffy. A big thank you also goes to Mr. Stephen L. Phillips for his administrative and technical help. All these servants of Christ aided us in the orderly and timely completion of business.
The Assembly is indebted to the session of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Wheaton, for arranging and conducting a worship service for commissioners and many other Orthodox Presbyterians on the Wheaton College campus Sunday evening. We also thank the people of Bethel, as well as the officers and members of our congregations in Batavia, Hanover Park, Indian Head Park, New Lenox, and Orland Park, for inviting commissioners to worship with them and for transporting, hosting, and feeding us a noon meal on the Lord's Day.
May our gracious Lord and Savior reward all his servants at this Assembly with joy and peace. "We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 1:2–3). To our great triune God alone be all praise and glory!

The Stated Clerk then recommended that the 79th General Assembly propose to the 80th General Assembly that the documents submitted to the stated clerk in judicial matters be submitted in a digital format acceptable to the stated clerk. The recommendation passed.

There were final instructions given to the assembly regarding transportation to the local airports and the assistant clerk conducted a final review of the minutes of the assembly.

At 4:15 p.m. the moderator closed the assembly with prayer. He then dissolved the assembly and called for a new assembly to convene at St. Mary's College in Moraga, California, on the 5th day of June, 2013. The assembly then sang the Doxology and departed.

Your scribe,
Alan R. Pontier

This report was written by the Rev. Alan R. Pontier, pastor of Big Bear Valley Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Big Bear Lake, California, and moderator of the 77th General Assembly.

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